It takes a certain type of mentality to play special teams.
Just ask Bears middle linebacker D.J. Williams, a longtime star since his days as one of the most highly recruited players out of De La Salle in Concord, Calif. That high school program is the subject of the movie "When The Game Stands Tall" — currently playing at a theater near you and based on a book of the same name by Chicago sportswriter Neil Hayes.
Players at Williams' high school had to apply for a job on special teams and fill out a questionnaire to be "hired" on a unit. The last question they had to answer: What would you do if you saw your mother running with the football?
In response, Williams convinced his own mother to try on his padded uniform. He kicked the ball to her, ran down the field and made a tackle. He videotaped the play and handed it in to coaches.
Nevertheless, he was deemed too valuable as a running back and linebacker to use on special teams.
Sadly, for the Bears, more goes into fielding a good special teams unit at the professional level than just the passion of players.
It's a delicate balance between personnel, coaching and franchise priority to field good special teams. When those units fail to perform there is more than one person to blame.
Running back Shaun Draughn wasn't singled out as the scapegoat for special teams woes when the Bears waived him Tuesday, but it's difficult not to think of him that way after his disastrous 49ers game that included missing a block on the blocked punt that led to the 49ers' first touchdown. He also had two holding penalties.
Everybody seems to view the Bears poor performance on special teams as an indictment on coordinator Joe DeCamillis. He's under scrutiny, but the problems begin well above him. General manager Phil Emery and especially coach Marc Trestman are ultimately responsible. Putting together successful units begins by prioritizing special teams while forming the roster and again with the active players on game days.
Sherrick McManis is the only one among the team's top seven special teams tacklers last season to return and he went down with a quadriceps injury against the 49ers.
Of the six players in each of the first two games to play more than 50 percent of the Bears special teams plays, two are undrafted free agents — running back Senorise Perry and linebacker Christian Jones. Rookie fourth round pick Brock Vereen played in 52 percent of the special teams snaps in Week 1, but was pressed into action in Week 2 on defense after Chris Conte and Charles Tillman went out.
There are a couple of points to be made. First, it's difficult for rookies to adapt on special teams because none of them played primarily on those units in college or even in high school. Also, special teams core players constantly are moving up in their positions as rosters thin with injury or cut to make way for positional depth.
Demontre Hurst played 31 percent of the special teams snaps against the Bills in Week 1 and was waived the next day. Draughn played 62 percent of the snaps in Week 1, 68 in Week 2 and is gone.
Why does Trestman get any blame? Legend has it when Norv Turner came to the Cowboys as offensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson in 1991, he was told a couple of games into the season that special teams would be a priority that week. Turner would get three wide receivers active, but one of them had to be the return guy.
Trestman hasn't put those kind of restraints on his offense. With injuries to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall going into the 49ers game, the Bears had five wide receivers on the active roster and another inactive.
Passion for special teams is required for players. It ought to be for the GM and coach as well.
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.