The Bears should receive a major boost on special teams Sunday when they host the Lions with the anticipated return of veteran Sherrick McManis.
The longest tenured player on the team's roster has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury he suffered Oct. 15 in an overtime win over the Ravens.
"It's exciting to be back out there with the team and help them out," McManis said Thursday after practicing without restrictions for the first time since the injury. "I'm excited to get back out there. [The injury] is unfortunate, but things happen in football. It's something I couldn't prevent. But I'm feeling better and I'm going to be out there Sunday."
The Bears are hoping that McManis picks up where he left off earlier in the season. In a Week 3 overtime win over the Steelers, the eighth-year pro from Northwestern recovered a muffed punt that led to a touchdown and blocked a field goal that resulted in a Bears field goal.
Because of plays like that and the impact that McManis regularly makes on his teammates, Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers considers the veteran a difference-maker on and off the field.
"Sherrick is a really good person," Rodgers said. "He works really hard. His work ethic is contagious to other players. He's had a lot of success in this league as a special-teams player. Some of those things that have gone into those performances, other players have picked up. He spends time with the younger guys. He helps our group grow anytime that he's around and he's a versatile player with a lot of positional flexibility.
"There are not many corners in this league who can do what he does on kickoff coverage and play inside. Anytime you have those types of players able to fill those roles, it allows you some flexibility to play some other guys in some places they may be better suited for."
During the time he missed due to his hamstring injury, McManis continued to help some of his younger teammates. One of them, second-year pro DeAndre Houston-Carson, excelled on special teams, recording eight tackles in the three games that McManis missed.
"Sherrick is probably one of my better friends on the squad," Houston-Carson said. "If I have any questions about anything, he's always there to talk me through things. He helped me out a lot last year; took me under his wing. As far as on the field, he's our special teams captain and he's a great player. He's taught me a lot personally as far as how to approach the game and how to watch film, especially from a coverage aspect."
Being a team leader is important to McManis.
"I take it serious," he said. "The team voted me as one of the captains. That's a huge honor and I don't take that lightly. For me, it's just all about being authentic out there and being real with my guys and being out there to help them and them helping me as well."