Bears punter Adam Podlesh wasn’t alarmed when he received a call from the fraud department at American Express this week informing him that his credit card had been used to buy 17 bottles of champagne.
Podlesh was the one who made the purchase, distributing the bubbly to members of the punt coverage team who helped him record a 40.4-yard net average this season, the best by a Bears player since at least 1966.
Adam Podlesh landed 21 of 89 punts inside-the-20 with just four touchbacks in 2011.
“Net average is the most important stat in my mind,” Podlesh said. “Obviously it has to do with how well the punter’s punting the ball, but the whole unit, they have to be able to perform to get that number up.
“If you think about it from a business standpoint, you want to [focus on] the bottom line. Are you making money net or are you losing money net? It doesn’t matter how much revenue you’re [making]. If you’re losing money, it doesn’t matter, and that’s essentially what the net punt is from our standpoint, which is the most important part.”
The Bears' punt-coverage unit thrived under special teams coordinator Dave Toub despite dramatic turnover throughout the season. Patrick Mannelly, Brian Iwuh, Kyle Adams and Anthony Walters were lost to injuries; Chris Conte, Major Wright, Craig Steltz and Kahlil Bell stopped covering punts when they were anointed starters; and Sam Hurd was released.
The Bears permitted just 5.4 yards per punt return in 2011, second in the NFL and the best by the team since permitting 5.2 yards per return in 1993.
“I thought it went really well,” said Podlesh, who signed with the Bears this past summer after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “There are a lot of spots that we can improve on. I know there are a lot of areas that I can improve on. But as far as how the punt unit played as a whole, we jelled really well.
“We overcame a lot of adversity when we had a lot of personnel changes. We had a lot of turnover throughout the whole year. So what we did this year was pretty special.
"The record is really great, but how consistent we played and making a difference in winning a game week-in and week-out was the most important part, and I feel that for the most part we did that.”
Podlesh, of course, fueled that success. His 43.9-yard gross average was the best of his five-year NFL career and the third highest by a Bears player since 1965, topped only by Todd Sauerbrun’s 44.8 in 1996 and Brad Maynard’s 44.2 in 2006.
Asked if this was the best season of his career, Podlesh said: “Yeah, I think so, especially going from a Florida-based team to Chicago, where the weather is a little more inclement. If you told me at the beginning of the season that we were going to be netting over 40 yards in Chicago, I wouldn’t have believed it.
“I think our coverage team has done a really great job, and they’ve bailed me out a lot of times, which is going to happen. You’re not going to be perfect. But I feel that for the most part I had a very good season, and it’s a good season to build off.”
Podlesh signed with the Bears as a free agent due to both the lucrative offer he received as well as the importance the team places on special teams.
“I knew that they really kind of put their money where their mouth is essentially, and I don’t mean that in just the literal, I mean that figuratively as well,” Podlesh said. “They really stress special teams here. Lovie [Smith] does.
“I was so surprised at one of our home games that we were announcing the special teams players. I’ve never seen that before. That right there shows that you really stress special teams. This is the only year I have to go with for this team, but it’s been a great experience. It’s great to be part of, especially if you’re a specialist. It’s great to be part of a team that is in your corner.”