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Tabor, Parkey hope to spark special teams

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The following is the final of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

The Bears gave their special teams a major boost during the offseason by hiring coordinator Chris Tabor and signing free-agent place-kicker Cody Parkey.

Tabor has returned for a second stint with the Bears after serving as assistant special teams coach under coordinator Dave Toub on coach Lovie Smith's staff from 2008-10. Tabor spent the last seven seasons as the Browns special teams coordinator, working with Parkey in Cleveland in 2016.

Last year Parkey converted a career-high 91.3 percent of his field-goal attempts (21 of 23) in his lone season with the Dolphins. He has also played for the Colts and Eagles, making 76 of 88 career tries (86.4 percent).

Parkey was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he played for the Eagles after establishing an NFL rookie record by scoring 150 points, eclipsing Kevin Butler's mark of 144 he set with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears.

Last year Bears kickers Connor Barth (11 of 16), Cairo Santos (1 of 2) and Mike Nugent (4 of 4) combined to convert 16 of 22 field-goal attempts (72.7 percent).

Punter Patrick O'Donnell returns for a fifth season with the Bears. Last year he averaged a career-high 47.0 yards on 87 punts, nearly three yards better than his previous high of 44.2 in 2015. He also threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Benny Cunningham on a fake punt against the Vikings.

O'Donnell will be challenged in training camp by Ryan Winslow. The undrafted rookie appeared in 51 games over four seasons at Pittsburgh, averaging 42.1 yards on 226 punts. Winslow was named first-team All-ACC last year after leading the conference in punting with a 44.5-yard average.

Asked if the Bears will conduct a true competition for the punting job in Bourbonnais, Tabor said: "I think there's competition at all positions. Your play is your résumé. If there's another guy in here competing with someone, then it's always a competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone."

Tarik Cohen was the Bears' primary punt and kickoff returner last season as a rookie. The fourth-round pick from North Carolina A&T averaged 9.4 yards on 29 punt returns with one touchdown and 22.4 yards on 26 kickoff returns. He also had a 90-yard kickoff return in Detroit nullified by a holding penalty.

"He's a dynamic player," Tabor said during the offseason. "It's a big statement, but [he's] like a young [Darren] Sproles because he's not a real big guy, but he's built well in his lower half."

Cohen generated multiple highlight-reel plays last year as a rookie, but none was more spectacular than his 61-yard punt return touchdown Dec. 3 against the 49ers. Cohen raced to his right while retreating 15 yards, then reversed field to the left and followed a convoy of blockers to the end zone.

"He has some human joystick qualities to him where he can start and stop and make you miss," Tabor said. "The other thing you like about a good returner is that he's a risk-taker, and you want to have risk-takers. If we go back in history and look at Devin Hester, he was a risk-taker.

"But it also falls into the category where you have to use good judgment. So there's going to be times when you're going to want to push that envelope and there's going to be other times when you're going to want to say, 'Hey, [call] a fair catch and we'll play from there.'"

Also back this year is long-snapper Patrick Scales, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL he sustained in the Bears' third preseason game last summer.

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