Bears’ special teams taking hit because of injuries
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org December 14, 2012 9:48PM
Blake Costanzo (52), celebrating a touchdown with Corey Wootton, needs to somehow step up his play on special teams with the unit down several players because of injuries. | Getty Images
Updated: January 16, 2013 6:10AM
The Bears are asking Blake Costanzo to do the impossible Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. They need him to ‘‘step it up.’’
Asking Costanzo to step it up is like asking Lovie Smith to tone it down. The very manic Costanzo already plays every kickoff and punt at a fever pitch. He’s tied with the almost-equally manic Eric Weems for the lead in special-teams tackles (11) and unofficially is a runaway team leader with probably twice as many altercations.
As the heart and soul of the Bears’ special teams, Costanzo’s infectious aggressiveness is being counted on to help fill a void created by injuries to Sherrick McManis and Craig Steltz that could leave the Bears vulnerable against ace returner Randall Cobb.
‘‘I definitely want to go out there and do something and get the guys riled up,’’ Costanzo said. ‘‘We’re going to do it as a team. [But] I want to be a leader out there and get these guys going.
‘‘We’re all excited. It can’t get any better than playing the Green Bay Packers at home for what’s on the line.’’
Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice have taken the most heat this week with the Bears in a 1-4 slump that has put their playoff prospects in jeopardy. But special-teams coordinator Dave Toub might have the toughest job of all. He lost three key players for the season last Sunday — McManis, Steltz and place-kicker Robbie Gould, who suffered a calf injury in warmups.
Gould was 21-for-25 on field goals this season, including 2-for-2 from 50 yards or longer. The Bears’ coverage units rank first in the NFL in punt returns (3.9 yards per return) and fifth in kickoff returns (21.2). McManis is their third-leading tackler on special teams (10), and Steltz is sixth (seven).
Replacing them isn’t as easy as inserting the next man on the depth chart. With special-teams players Weems, Kelvin Hayden, Zack Bowman, Geno Hayes and Armando Allen playing more on offense and defense in recent weeks, the special teams are even thinner than normal.
‘‘It’s very difficult at this point,’’ Toub said. ‘‘There’s not a lot of guys on the street that you can get in here and all of the sudden he’s a great player for you because he hasn’t been in the [meeting] room, he’s not used to your system. We have to get it done with the guys who are here.’’
Still, there are spots to fill. That’s why linebacker Jerry Franklin was getting a crash course in special teams after practice Thursday, working with linebackers J.T. Thomas and Dom DeCicco and fullback Evan Rodriguez.
‘‘Any time you have this many losses on special teams, it’s going to be tough,’’ Toub said. ‘‘Kyle Adams is going to have to pick up a couple more phases. Blake [Costanzo], he could possibly play on defense, so he may get less, too. Without telling Green Bay exactly what we’re going to do, we have some guys in the room that are going to have to step up.’’
Adams, a tight end who can do anything he is asked, is ready for the challenge of doing more.
‘‘We have one of the best special-teams units in the league. We take a lot of pride in that,’’ said Adams, a second-year player from Purdue. ‘‘Coach Toub is asking me to step up to do other things because of injuries. I take a lot of pride and responsibility to perform because I don’t want to let my teammates down.’’
The best advice Toub probably could give any of them is to follow Costanzo’s lead. He was looking for more from the special teams even before the injuries.
‘‘We have to come together more as a team,’’ Costanzo said. ‘‘The past couple of weeks, we haven’t done anything spectacular. We have to get back to letting loose, having fun and playing with reckless abandon like we had been doing.’’