Few teams struggled as badly on special teams last season as the Bears through the early games. But by the year’s end, those units had righted themselves, and the organization’s feelings about special-teams play has been reflected in retaining of all four top special-teams tacklers this offseason.
The latest was Sam Acho, who agreed to a one-year deal on Monday after finishing fourth on special teams with eight tackles in addition to starting seven games at outside linebacker and totaling 60 tackles, good for fifth among defensive players.
“We started off (2015) about as bad as you can start and realized that our guys out there on fourth down were slow people,” coach John Fox said at last week’s NFL owners meetings. “And those are the things that you figure out.
“So we made a lot changes in the season — guys that were covering kicks that were a whole lot faster than what we originally picked the team for. We actually pretty played pretty decent on special teams — I don’t know if anybody on the outside thinks that— and we will get better. But there’s a certain talent that it takes — and speed is one of them — to play fourth-down defensive players.”
So far this offseason that Bears have re-signed Sherrick McManis (No. 1 with 17 tackles) to a two-year deal and Chris Prosinski (No. 3, nine) for one year, in addition to tendering a qualifying offer to Josh Bellamy (No. 2, 10) earlier this month.
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Acho signed a one-year Bears contract last year after four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He held one of the starting outside-linebacker spots through much of the offseason, lost his job to Jared Allen after becoming ill, then regained the position after Allen was traded to Carolina. The pass rushing of Lamarr Houston and Willie Young cut into Acho’s playing time but not his desire to return as a member of coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.
“I just love seeing things grow, and I love seeing change happen,” Acho said as last season concluded. “And especially change for the better. So I’d love to be a part of that change.”
Acho has started 39 of his 66 career games over five seasons with the Cardinals (2011 through 2014) and Bears (2015), producing 172 tackles, 13 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, three interceptions, nine pass breakups, eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (two on defense and one of his own teammate’s on special teams). The University of Texas product has also collected 22 tackles on special teams. In one postseason contest with the Cardinals, Acho registered seven tackles, including a strip-sack that was recovered by Arizona’s defense.
Acho finished his first season in Chicago with three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup in 15 games.