BOURBONNAIS - Maybe it’s the easy walk, the Jersey talk, who knows what it is that makes new young teammates think that Blake Costanzo is a new, young guy himself rather than a one-time All-Pro special teamer now in his eighth NFL training camp.
"I've got no grey [hair or beard]," Costanzo says, laughing and shaking his head. "It's funny because everybody thinks I'm new, young guy. They don't believe me. Rookies think this is my first year in the league."
Until practice starts.
Then Costanzo looks nothing like a rookie and a lot like a veteran in his eighth training camp, second with the Bears. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent from Lafayette in 2007, signed by the New York Jets (later waived), followed by two years with the Buffalo Bills, two with the Cleveland Browns and one with San Francisco before joining the Bears in 2012.
He was selected to the SI.com All-Pro team in 2009 after collecting a team-high 14 tackles on a Cleveland unit that led the NFL in kickoff coverage (18.9-yd. avg). Costanzo forced one fumble and three others, tied for first in the AFC and third in the NFL.
"He's got a great personality, fun, but he's also very, very skilled at what he does," said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "That’s why he’s been doing this as long as he has."
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Last training camp, when Brian Urlacher was out with a healing knee, coaches tinkered with Costanzo in the middle before deciding to move Nick Roach inside. Costanzo went back to being a leader on special teams and eventually was pressed into service at strong side linebacker at Green Bay.
He finished the year with the first eight positional tackles of his career, five in the Packers game and one of those for a loss.
This year he turned in his own highlight this camp with an interception in a "team" session and a touchdown return finished off with a flying dive into the end zone before Lance Briggs and the rest of the defense mobbed him.
"No question he's a guy who's always in the center of the good things that are going on. He is one of those guys you absolutely need banging the drum."
Scheme and personnel changes
Heavy attention has been paid to the changes in the offense with a new coaching staff and five new starters. That kind of turnover is standard stuff for special teams.
"I've been on different teams so I know how that goes,” Costanzo says. "But that's some of the fun part, too. You get the young guys to buy into it but that’s fun.
“Rookies, older guys, everybody gets together with a little bit of a special bond because that’s special teams.”
The Bears will continue to use starters as needed on special teams. And "teams," as they are every year, will continue to be the make-or-break unit for roster dreams of multiple young players.
The Bears were among the NFL’s elite special-teams units nearly every season under coordinator Dave Toub, now with Andy Reid in Kansas City. DeCamillis has brought in changes, but to Costanzo, one core element never changes.
"Joe has a little different ways of doing things in drill work," Costanzo said. "But special teams is special teams. You're looking for guys that are going to go down and give up their body, be selfless."
He added, with a laugh: "It's pretty much the same: block for Devin [Hester]. Personality is a big thing, and there are just little things in return games, schematics. But a lot of things have to be the same. Special teams is pretty much self-explanatory."
Everyone in the NFL has talent and football ability. Not everyone in the NFL makes it on special teams if they do not make an offensive or defensive unit.
There’s a reason that Costanzo has.
"He gets it," DeCamllis said. "He knows exactly what his role is, exactly what his job is. I like him."
And Costanzo likes what he does.
"I just have a good time," Costanzo said. "I love it. I’m 29 and this is my eighth training camp. I let go and have fun with it. You have to, because it can be over just like that in this business."