- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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If they were smart, they would listen to him. If they were smart, they would stop by his corner of the Bears' locker room and ask Brad Maynard what he makes of this season, how he approaches his job and how he and place-kicker Robbie Gould consistently do it so much better than the rest of them do theirs.
"No one wants to hear what I have to say," Maynard says with a smile.
And he's probably right.
Punters and place-kickers are the skinny guys who played soccer in high school and stand on the sideline 98 percent of the game trying to stay warm. They are the guys who in a typical season might, just might, have to tackle someone once or twice.
And in the Bears' case, they're the guys who are mentally tougher, physically sharper and arguably performing better than anyone else on the field this season.
Gould, who scored 12 of the Bears' 30 points on Sunday, has connected on 91 percent of his field goal attempts this season. And Maynard has led the NFL in punts inside the 20-yard line since entering the league in 1997, was tops last season with 40 and currently ranks fifth in the league with 15 this season.
"We have to be consistent," Maynard says.
What a concept if everyone approached his job that way.
If anyone else forgot one of his rare mishits Sunday against Cleveland, a 12-yarder in the third quarter to the Bears' 30-yard line, Maynard did not.
"Yeah, but what does he do right after that?" long-snapper Patrick Mannelly says. "He comes right back and lays it on the 1-yard line. That's why he's a pro. That's why he's so good."
Maynard is, at age 35, a player at the top of his craft, perhaps the best directional kicker in the game.
"I enjoy not letting the return guy touch it," he says. "Last week, [Cleveland return man Joshua] Cribbs is one of the best in the league, and to not let him touch a ball is a good feeling. That's kind of my attitude every week. I don't know if it upsets some of our cover guys or not. There may be times when they wish they could make a play, but there are other times when I know they're tired and worn-down, and they appreciate that."
During his Bears career, Maynard has not been just the skinny punter guy but rather a legitimate weapon.
"You become a bigger part of the whole operation with a defensive-minded coach like [former Bears coach] Dick Jauron was and Lovie is," he says. "Offensive-minded coaches could do without a punter on the team. Defensive-minded coaches want that punt, want that field position. They want a guy who can pin the other team deep."
And if that often gets lost in the statistics, so be it.
"Statistically, you don't find what Brad is good at because he's so valuable in getting that field position for us," Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub says. "His numbers are never going to be great. He's never going to have the great gross because that's not what we ask him to do. If we ask him to punt the ball straight down the middle, he'd have a great gross. But we ask him to be directional, and that's what he does. He's very unselfish."
Maynard said he is blown away that next season will be his 10th with the Bears and 14th in the NFL. Despite the loss of numbers due to directional kicking, he says he feels stronger now than he did five or six years ago. And his confidence is something his teammates need to tap into.
"Every game, I feel good right now," he said. "There are no doubts in my mind about my ability right now. I know Robbie doesn't have any, and I think every time we trot onto the field together, I think he's going to make the kick."
From his perspective, Maynard has seen a lot, observed more. Leadership, he says, starts on the field but hardly ends there.
"And it's not always when things are going well," he says. "How do guys respond when things are going bad, when someone on the team might need a pick-me-up? Who's the guy there to help them out? There are a lot of different ways."
If they asked, he would tell them.
"Yeah, but I haven't been in the trenches with those guys, I haven't been beside them when they're battling," Maynard says. "Patrick, Rob and I have been side by side through a lot, but it doesn't compare to what these guys go through."
Maybe not. But whatever they're doing, their teammates would be well-served to follow their example.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
Who are the Bears' most consistent players? The former soccer players.