Bears’ special teams yearning to make a big play
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter November 29, 2013 8:48PM
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Updated: January 1, 2014 6:12AM
Special teams almost saved the day last week against the Rams. Almost.
‘‘It was disappointing,’’ special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said of Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt return that was nullified by a holding penalty on Craig Steltz. ‘‘It was a great read on [Hester’s] part. Everybody but one guy [did his job], and it’s hard to really be too upset at him. It’s a deal where the guy started to fall down, [and] Craig should have let him go.
‘‘And he has before; he just didn’t on that play. It’s disappointing. We have five more games to get it done, and hopefully we can. The most disappointing thing is it could’ve led to more success team-wise.’’
Special teams have bailed out the Bears several times during the Dave Toub/Devin Hester era. But since Hester set a team record with 249 kickoff-return yards against the Vikings in Week 2 — including returns of 80, 76 and 42 yards — the Bears haven’t been able to parlay big special-teams plays into much.
‘‘We haven’t had a bad year, but we don’t want to be just all right or good; we want to be great,’’ said veteran Blake Costanzo, who leads the Bears with 12 special-teams tackles. ‘‘That’s what Joe D. has instilled in us. Our expectations are high. We haven’t played bad at all. But we haven’t made the impact plays that change games, and that’s what we want to do. We want to make plays that help us win games.’’
The Bears’ coverage units have been steady outside of two mishaps — a 105-yard kickoff-return touchdown by the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson on Sept. 15 and a 57-yard punt return by the Lions’ Micheal Spurlock at Ford Field on Sept. 29. The Bears have improved from 31st to 10th in kickoff coverage since Patterson’s return and from 30th to 19th in punt coverage in the last four games.
But as Costanzo said, they’re just not making enough big plays to make a difference. Part of the problem is the attrition caused by injuries, which have put inexperienced players and newcomers on special teams. That makes a difference.
‘‘When you have to plug in guys who haven’t done it, obviously there’s going to be a learning curve,’’ Costanzo said. ‘‘But there are no excuses. We have what it takes. We’re playing better, but we haven’t reached our full potential. We have confidence in everybody who’s out there. But we have to play hard and make a play that makes a difference, that wins us a game, finally.’’
The Bears have committed 15 penalties on special teams, including five in the last two games. But they had 22 last season under Toub, so it’s not like there has been a sudden drop since the coaching change.
‘‘The last two games have been abnormal [with penalties],’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘We’ve got to get that squared away quickly. And we will. There was some youth involved in it, and some older guys involved in it.’’
Despite the uneven season on special teams, DeCamillis emphasized bright spots.
‘‘From a coverage standpoint, they’ve gotten better every week,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘I thought [punter Adam] Podlesh came back from a rough start. They’ve responded to adversity well. When they’ve had something adverse happen, for the most part, they’ve come back and gotten better at it.’’
Now, the coverage units could be spread thinner if Steltz has to play safety for Major Wright, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury.
‘‘I know there’s a woe-is-me attitude some places, but [not] here,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘We scored a touchdown the other day — unfortunately it got called back. They’ve been doing some good things. I’m pleased with where we’re at, and we’ll keep cranking.’’