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All-Pro pass rusher applauds Bears decision to draft punter Tory Taylor

All-Pro pass rusher applauds Bears decision to draft punter Tory Taylor originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

When the Bears used their fourth-pick in last month’s draft to select punter Tory Taylor, one could sense the city of Chicago’s jaw collectively dropping. The wide expectation was that the team would add a pass rusher to the mix, or maybe another depth piece on the offensive line.

Quickly the decision became extremely polarizing with many on social media mocking the decision, and others wondering why the team added a specialist over a player who could have the chance to play more on offense or defense.

Former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman disagrees with the detractors, though.

“I don’t look at those guys as special teamers,” Merriman said on a recent episode of NBC Sports Chicago’s “Under Center” podcast. “I look at them as extra defensive players.”

Merriman played his entire Chargers career with Mike Scifres, one of the most prolific punters in franchise history. Over that time, he said the team viewed Scrifres as a 12th man on the unit. It’s easy to see why when you look at some of Scifres’ career highlights, like 2013 when he placed 53.6% of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while only giving up touchbacks at a 1.8% rate. Those numbers are spectacular.

Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower called Taylor’s mix of leg strength and precision “rare.” Add in Taylor’s ability to put major hang time on punts so the coverage team can run down the field, and the Bears believe he can be a weapon, like Scifres was for the Chargers.

“They’re basically saying we got a guy that’s going to put our defense in a better situation,” Merriman said. “I wasn’t opposed to that. It might be jaw-dropping to everybody else, but if you think a guy can benefit that defense on that level, you make that draft pick.”

The Bears defense is predicated on generating pressure with their front four and leaving seven players in coverage to make plays on the ball as often as possible. If Taylor can pin offenses deep in their own territory, it should play to those strengths.

“There’s really only a certain amount of positions in football where you can manipulate the game how you want to manipulate the game, and punting is one of them,” said Taylor on the final day of rookie minicamp. “I’m fortunate to be one of the guys on the field who has the ball in his hands and that means at that specific period of time you’re in control of the game and obviously I want to win.”

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