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Will De la Puente challenge Garza?

Posted Apr 7, 2014

Senior writer Larry Mayer discusses whether Brian de la Puente will challenge Roberto Garza for the starting job at center, the candidates to replace Devin Hester on punt and kickoff returns, and the likelihood of the Bears playing on Thanksgiving.

Wondering about a player, a past game or another issue involving the Bears? Senior writer Larry Mayer answers a variety of email questions from fans on ChicagoBears.com.

I was surprised that the Bears signed Saints starting center Brian de la Puente after re-signing Roberto Garza before the start of free agency. Will De la Puente challenge for the starting job?

Phil K.
Downers Grove, Illinois

The Bears signed Brian de la Puente to serve as a backup behind Roberto Garza at center as well as both guard positions. They were looking for someone like De la Puente who possesses NFL experience and the ability to play all three inside positions. That versatility is key given that teams generally only dress seven offensive linemen on game day. That includes five starters, one reserve who's capable of stepping in at either tackle position and another who can play center and guard. De la Puente started each of the last three years with the Saints, but he'll be a valuable backup with the Bears barring injury. Signing him fills another need that will create more draft flexibility.

Who do you see replacing Devin Hester as the Bears' primary kick returner this season?

Alan B.
Fort Worth, Texas

I imagine the Bears will hold an open competition for both the punt and kickoff return positions, and there are definitely some interesting candidates. Eric Weems was a pretty prolific returner with the Falcons; in 2010 he was named to the Pro Bowl as the NFC's special teams representative after averaging 27.5 yards on 40 kickoff returns with one touchdown and 12.8 yards on 18 punt returns with one TD. Weems had a third touchdown that season on a 102-yard kickoff return in a divisional playoff game against the Packers. Another possibility is free-agent acquisition Domenik Hixon, who excelled as a return specialist early in his career. As a rookie with the Giants in 2007, he returned a kickoff 74 yards for a touchdown in the regular season finale against the undefeated Patriots, and then averaged 25.3 yards on 10 kickoffs in the post-season en route to a Super Bowl championship. Hixon continued to return kicks for the Giants in 2008-09 before his career was interrupted by injuries. He missed the entire 2010 season after tearing his ACL during a minicamp practice and then returned in 2011 only to rupture the same ACL the second week of the season. Another contender figures to be former CFL star Chris Williams, an explosive 5-8, 175-pounder who signed with the Bears prior to last year's season finale. And don't forget second-year pro Michael Ford, a former LSU star who ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns in 2012, averaging 27.5 yards with four returns of at least 40 yards.

Do you think the Bears will play the Lions on Thanksgiving this year? It seems like it's been a long time since that happened.

Tom E.
Hollywood, Florida

I can tell you for sure that the Bears will not play the Lions on Thanksgiving in 2014 because the TV networks alternate every year and this year Detroit will host an AFC team (either the Bills or Dolphins) in a game televised by CBS. The Bears haven't played on Thanksgiving since 2004 when they lost in Dallas 21-7. They haven't played the Lions on Thanksgiving since 1999 when they lost 21-17. Overall, the Bears are 16-14-2 all-time on Thanksgiving.

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