Bears

A 20-year-old Dowell Loggains, a chance encounter and how the Bears' mesmerizing two-point conversion came to be

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USA Today

A 20-year-old Dowell Loggains, a chance encounter and how the Bears' mesmerizing two-point conversion came to be

Dowell Loggains knew he wanted to coach his whole life, so back in 1995 — his freshman year of high school — he started keeping a notebook of plays he recorded on video tapes (remember those?). One of those plays he wrote down happened in 2000, while Loggains was a freshman at the University of Arkansas. 

With the ball on the Green Bay Packers’ 2-yard line, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King handed the ball off to running back Warrick Dunn. Dunn then handed off to fullback Mike Alstott, who was running in the opposite direction. Alstott was met by a Packers defender, but flipped a pitch back to King, who caught it at the five-yard line and bolted into the end zone. 

Look familiar?

That play, designed by former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Les Steckel, was the inspiration behind the two-point conversion play the Bears ran Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. While Loggains was with the Tennessee Titans, head coach Mike Munchak lived next door to Steckel, and the Titans hired Steckel’s son in an offensive quality control role.

“I got to meet coach Steckel one day," Loggains said. "We go to Easter with (former Titans offensive coordinator) Chris Palmer, Mike Munchak and Les Steckel and his wife. I had this notebook and I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to ask you about this one play, You ran it 13 years ago.’ He called it doughnut.

“… So I’ve always had this play, as a coaching staff upstairs, we had this play. But you’ve got to have Zach Miller. You gotta have a tight end or a Mike Alstott that you trust with the ball-handling. So it’s just an option play off that. That’s where the play came from.” 

Miller is a former college quarterback who joked that he made the switch to tight end “because the option was my best pass,” so he was a perfect fit for the play. The Bears ran it in training camp and were holding on to it for the right situation — which also had to be with Mitchell Trubisky as the quarterback. 

Calling for the play in such a critical situation, with the Bears down by two midway through the fourth quarter, took some guts. But the Bears were confident in the design and their ability to execute the play — “there was a little smile going into the huddle, we were like we’re going to score and tie the game right here,” Trubisky said. 

The play worked to perfection, just like it did 17 years ago at Lambeau Field. Loggains wasn’t going to pat himself on the back for the innovative design — but he should thank his 20-year-old self for writing down that play. 

“Coach Les Steckel deserves all the credit for it,” Loggains said. “We just installed it 17 years later.”

Under Center Podcast: What did win over Bengals mean for John Fox and Ryan Pace?

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AP

Under Center Podcast: What did win over Bengals mean for John Fox and Ryan Pace?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin debate what the Bears’ blowout win in Cincinnati meant for John Fox and Ryan Pace. Plus, how can Mitchell Trubisky and Adam Shaheen grow from how well they played on Sunday?

Listen to the latest episode here:

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

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AP

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

Jeff Rodgers had to gameplan for Devin Hester twice in his career as a special teams coordinator under John Fox: First, in 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, and second, in 2011 with the Denver Broncos. 

“You're holding your breath,” Rodgers, who’s in his third year as the Bears’ special teams coordinator, said. “There's been nobody like him in my generation.”

Neither of those games were necessarily the most memorable performances by Hester, who set an NFL record with 19 special teams touchdowns (14 on punt returns, five on kickoff returns). But the fact that Rodgers — like every other special teams coordinator from 2006-2016 — had to gameplan for Hester was notable in and of itself. 

“He was really the first guy that you really game-planned for and you saw different people take different approaches,” Rodgers said. “You see people try to punt the ball out of bounds. Well, defenses can combat that with some of the rush scheme so you may have to change that. Saw people try to kick fair catch balls and short because the reality is, if you played Chicago when he was rolling and you came out of the game with a 35 or 36 punt, which isn't great, but against him, you're usually taking that every time. He's as good as it gets.”

In that first meeting, on Oct. 10, 2010 in Charlotte, Rodgers’ strategy was to punt out of bounds or away from Hester to prevent him from fielding anything. 

At first, it didn’t work: Hester ripped off a 50-yard return on the first punt he fielded.

“We tried to punt the ball out of bounds and our punter put the ball about four inches from the sideline,” Rodgers said. “He reached in and got it and shot straight up the sideline.” 

From there, punter Jason Baker largely succeeded in kicking away from Hester, with his next six punts not being fielded or being fair caught. But the downside to that strategy was the Bears frequently received good starting field position — though having drives begin between the 40s was preferable to Hester ripping off a big return to set up a drive beginning in the Panthers’ red zone. 

A year later, Rodgers again had to figure out how to mute Hester’s success with the Denver Broncos. He was more successful in this Dec. 11, 2011 meeting, with Hester returning one kickoff for 25 yards and gaining 36 yards on two punt returns. Hester fair caught four punts, and one went out of bounds.

But Hester still notched returns of 26 and 10 yards despite Denver’s strategy to kick the ball as high as possible. 

“In Denver, we tried to hang it up there,” Rodgers said. “Did a good job on the first couple. Actually the best ball that our punter hit that day, that was the 2011 game, the best ball our punter hit that day with hang time and distance, he kind of circled around, went backwards, sideline, all of a sudden he turned a corner and you're holding your breath. We were able to get him on the ground, but he's a game-changer.”

The game-changing success Hester found as a return specialist should get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, unless the rather strange stinginess on special teamers in Canton continues. But there’s no doubt in Rodgers’ mind when it comes to how great Hester was — and how maddening it was to scheme against him. 

“I'd say (he) changed the game on both kickoffs and punts,” Rodgers said. “He's the best that's ever done it.”