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Special decay: Bears’ once-formidable units are struggling

Blake Costanzo John Carlson

Blake Costanzo, John Carlson

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Updated: November 6, 2013 6:10AM



Special-teams standout Blake Costanzo is furious. And so are fellow special-teams leaders Eric Weems and Craig Steltz.

There have been too many big plays by opponents. They have made too many gaffes. And it’s about time the Bears’ special teams return to form.

“It fires us up,” Costanzo said. “I’m angry right now. I know Weems is angry. I know all our guys are. Steltz, too. We’re not happy. We want to help the team win in any way we can, and we feel like we haven’t been doing that lately, and that’s not us. That’s not our personality.”

One of their hallmarks last year and every season under former special-teams coordinator Dave Toub was consistency. Big plays against them were minimal, while Devin Hester made plenty.

Through four games, the troubles on special teams have overshadowed any positives. Even Hester’s team-record 249 return yards against the Vikings have become an afterthought.

Punter Adam Podlesh’s struggles are one thing, but he’s not the sole reason why the special teams are the seventh-worst in Pro Football Focus’ ratings.

It started with Vikings returner Cordarrelle Patterson’s 105-yard kickoff return in Week 2. A week later in Pittsburgh, Robbie Gould had the second extra-point miss of his career when safety Troy Polamalu blocked his kick. Reserve safety Anthony Walters also was called for the Bears’ first roughing-the-kicker penalty since 2008, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made the Bears pay with a touchdown three plays later. Last week, Lions returner Micheal Spurlock had a 57-yard punt return.

In 2012, the Bears were the only team to allow fewer than 100 punt-return yards, ranking first with an average return of 3.4 yards. They also ranked fourth last year, allowing 20.7 yards per kickoff return.

“We have a bunch of guys, some young guys out there, [and] I just think we need to have a better mentality out there — a reckless-abandon, no-holds-barred, don’t-care-about-anything mentality,” Costanzo said. “We’re not playing with the passion that we should be playing with. That’s been the case with a couple of things. But I think we’re going to get it back as the season goes on.”

Costanzo makes a good point. The special teams under new coordinator Joe DeCamillis are filled out with rookies. It’s a notable difference from last season, especially considering Costanzo and Weems, two highly regarded special-teams veterans, were brought in to ­bolster Toub’s units.

Rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene have only gotten playing time on special teams. Running back Michael Ford and cornerback C.J. Wilson, rookies who weren’t drafted, made their debuts against the Lions playing only on special teams.

“They all want to do great,” Costanzo said. “But being a rookie, you’re hesitant sometimes. You don’t want to make a mistake. But they’ve got a couple of games under their belts now, and I think things are going to start to get better.”

Injuries also have hindered the units. Veteran defensive back Sherrick McManis sat out last week with a quadriceps injury, and Walters will miss the matchup against the Saints with a hamstring injury.

“It’s just one of the things you have to keep working through. That’s all I can say,” DeCamillis said. “I wish I had a magic wand. I would have already [done] whatever you do with a wand. I would have already raised it up and fixed it. But they’re working at it, and that’s all you can ask. Their attitude has been great . . . and we’re doing everything we can to get it fixed.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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