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Chicago Bears sign veteran receiver Dwayne Harris — a possible replacement for Ted Ginn Jr. as the punt returner — to the practice squad

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 10/28/2020 By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune
a close up of a person wearing a costume: Dwayne Harris of the Oakland Raiders warms up prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, California, on September 15, 2019. © Daniel Shirey/Getty Images North America/TNS Dwayne Harris of the Oakland Raiders warms up prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, California, on September 15, 2019.

The Chicago Bears spent much of Monday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams backed up against their own goal line, in part because Ted Ginn Jr. did not field any of Johnny Hekker’s five punts.

Ginn’s job status as the punt returner is in jeopardy now that the team signed veteran wide receiver Dwayne Harris to the practice squad Tuesday after a tryout at Halas Hall.

Hekker landed all five of his punts at or inside the Bears 10-yard line, which has to make him a favorite to be NFC special teams player of the week. It’s the first time in 30 years a punter has landed all of his punts at or inside the 10 with a minimum of five kicks. That led to miserable field position for the Bears, whose average starting position was their 16-yard line.

“Obviously, when you lose a guy like Tarik (Cohen) — he’s one of the best in the league at returning punts — that’s a big blow,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Tuesday afternoon. “But at the same time, you have a guy like Ted who has been experienced in this league and has done it for a lot of years, especially when he was younger.

“There were probably two that he had yesterday that he probably could have at least caught that he didn’t. But you also have to give credit to the Rams. They did a good job of the way they were punting and where they were punting it. That’s part of the equation too. We’re not seeing some of that stuff that we’re used to seeing. And that happens sometimes when you have an elite player like Tarik back there.”

Harris, 33, is a 10-year veteran who played last season for the Raiders before a foot injury ended his season after three games. He also has played for the Giants and Cowboys and has averaged 10.1 yards per punt return with four touchdowns in his career. He had a 99-yard punt return for a touchdown in 2018 with the Raiders.

Harris also has averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return and has played sparingly on offense with 77 receptions in 106 games.

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Ginn is barely seeing the field on offense, playing four snaps against the Rams on Monday, and with the offense in a deep funk, the Bears cannot afford to give away yardage on special teams. Ginn signed a one-year contract in April for $1,187,500.

The question is how much better can Harris be than the 35-year-old Ginn?

“Dwayne is thick and strong, and while he doesn’t have that top gear anymore, he’s got enough speed and he plays faster than his timed speed at this point,” an AFC scout said. “He’ll go get the ball and he’s going to be tough to tackle.”

If Harris will go get it, that might be enough for the Bears to activate him to the 53-man roster before Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field.

The Bears created the spot on the practice squad by releasing defensive lineman Terry Beckner.


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