Chicago Bears: Blake Costanzo

Bears add LB Jordan Senn

March, 11, 2014
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The Chicago Bears have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with linebacker Jordan Senn, the team announced on Tuesday.

Senn spent the past six years with the Indianapolis Colts (2008-09) and Carolina Panthers (2009-13), appearing in 83 games with seven starts. For his career, Senn has racked up 88 tackles, one interception, two pass break-ups and four forced fumbles.

Senn, a former special teams’ captain for the Panthers, has made 49 lifetime tackles on special teams. He played in 14 games for Carolina last season and registered six special teams' stops.

Senn could be earmarked to replace veteran special teams ace Blake Costanzo, who is a free agent. The Bears have made no attempt to re-sign Costanzo, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Costanzo led the Bears with 17 special teams tackles in 2013.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can't be executed until 3 p.m. CST March 11 when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago's pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the fourth part of our series we'll post all week.

2014 free agent: Blake Costanzo

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: Special teams -- 17 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery; Defense -- two tackles

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $25,000 workout bonus -- $740,000 cash value

Outlook: Costanzo led the Bears in special teams tackles but the team has made no attempt to re-sign him since the end of the regular season. The outspoken Costanzo didn't seem to click with first-year head coach Marc Trestman. However, Costanzo is a valuable contributor on special teams. He is sure to find work, but the prospects of him returning to Chicago are bleak. Costanzo received a $400,000 signing bonus from the Bears when he inked his two-year deal in 2012. That would be a great guaranteed number for Costanzo to strive for in the next round of free agency that begins March 11.

2014 free agent: Eben Britton

Position: Guard/offensive tackle

2013 statistics: None. Played in 13 games with four starts as an extra tight end.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and no bonuses and $4,200 workout bonus -- $718,200 cash value

Britton
Britton
Outlook: Didn't play the first three games before making his Bears debut Sept. 29 and later starting four games as an extra tight end in some of the club's run sets. In all, Britton played in 13 games and is a valuable backup with extensive experience as a starter. In fact, Britton could attract interest in free agency from teams wanting him to come in to compete for a starting job. Chicago will let Britton test the market to see how things shape up for him, and if he doesn't receive consideration as a potential starter, the Bears might look into bringing him back as a reserve with a veteran-minimum salary.

2014 free agent: Patrick Mannelly

Position: Long snapper

2013 statistics: One special teams tackle

2013 salary: $940,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus -- $945,250 cash value

Outlook: When Mannelly recovers from offseason hip surgery he will have a one-year, veteran minimum salary waiting for him from the Bears. Entering his 17th NFL season, Mannelly's skills are still sharp. Maybe he doesn't snap like he did five years ago, but he certainly appears capable of being effective and his usual near-flawless self for the Bears in 2014. There is a chance Mannelly, who turns 39 next month, could decide to walk away from the game on his own terms. That is always a possibility. But if the Bears' all-time leader in games played still has the itch to snap in the NFL, the Bears are expected to welcome him back with open arms. Why wouldn't they?

2014 free agent: Jonathan Scott

Position: Special teams/linebacker

2013 statistics: None. Inactive for all 15 games he spent with the team.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary -- $672,941 cash value

Outlook: The Bears cut Scott in early September of last season to avoid being strapped with guaranteeing his salary for 2013 due to the fact he was a vested veteran. The Bears brought him back less than a week later, and although Scott was with the team for the final 15 games, he never saw action. Scott, 31, will test the market, according to his representatives, and it's unlikely the Bears will look to re-sign him unless they run into trouble finding younger players capable of contributing as reserves.

Bears position outlook: Linebackers

January, 29, 2014
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Free agents: James Anderson, Blake Costanzo and D.J. Williams.

The good: Before suffering a minor shoulder fracture that forced him to miss seven games, veteran weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was in the midst of another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Despite sitting out almost the entire preseason due to a calf strain, Williams appeared to be stabilizing the position until he went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 18. Anderson led the Bears with 129.5 tackles. Rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic, forced into the starting lineup because of all the injuries, had a solid game versus the Baltimore Ravens in November with eight tackles and one key interception. He could be an outside linebacker in 2014. Costanzo topped the Bears with 17 special-teams tackles.

The bad: Obviously, the injuries to Williams and Briggs really hurt, especially after the Bears decided to let veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach leave the previous offseason. Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene predictably struggled on occasion when pressed into action as first-year players. The Bears' linebackers were often in the wrong place and out of their gaps, which played a role in the team having the worst run defense in the NFL. Even when Briggs returned late in the season, he was never the same.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Briggs has one year left on his current contract and is scheduled to count $6.5 million against the cap. The Bears really need a big year out of Briggs, so hopefully whatever unhappiness still lingers from the firing of Lovie Smith can be put aside for the greater good of the team. The last thing the Bears need is for Briggs’ contract to become a distraction in the offseason since the club has so many other holes to fill on defense. Bostic and Greene are locked in for the foreseeable future with cap hits below $1 million next year. Williams appears to be a prime candidate to return at another veteran minimum/incentive laden deal.

Draft priority: Moderate. Even with the selections of Bostic and Greene last year and the possible addition of Shea McClellin to the room in 2014, the Bears shouldn’t pass up a talented linebacker in the mid-to-late rounds if one remains on the board. There is a chance Costanzo leaves in free agency, meaning the Bears could have a large hole on their coverage teams. Bottom line: There is always value in selecting a good linebacker, especially given the ages/contractual statuses of Briggs, Williams and Anderson.

Cutler (groin) limited on Wed.

November, 6, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (groin) would have been limited on Wednesday if the club had conducted a full-practice, instead of an abbreviated workout due to the short week, according the league’s official injury report.

Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.

Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.

Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Blake Costanzo returned to practice on Friday inside the Walter Payton Center.

Tillman
Tillman was excused on Thursday for personal reasons, and Costanzo (knee) didn’t participate. Linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (groin) have not been cleared to return to work with the team. Tillman is expected to play Monday night at Green Bay.

“I was happy to see Charles out there. He worked the entire practice, got reps,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I know you'd be interested in that. He would have to tell you how he felt. I haven't had a chance to talk with him, but he did work through the entire practice and got a number of reps and went at full speed, and that was certainly good to see.”

According to the official injury report, Tillman participated in a limited capacity while receiver Joe Anderson (abdomen), Costanzo and safety Major Wright (knee) took part in the entire practice.

The Green Bay Packers declared tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb) out for Monday night’s game earlier in the week.

The Packers held out linebacker Nick Perry (foot) for the second consecutive day, while receiver James Jones (knee) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) worked in a limited capacity. Linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) participated fully during Green Bay’s practice on Friday.

If Jay Cutler left the Bears in a tight spot on offense because of the torn groin muscle that will keep him out at least four weeks, then Lance Briggs gave the defense a near-insurmountable task: to somehow improve without him on the field.

That’s right. The loss of Briggs weighs more heavily because at this point, he means more to the defense than the quarterback does to the offense. It sounds silly, but that’s simply the state of affairs these days at Halas Hall.

We expected the defense to fall off a notch this season, with the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher and the acquisition of two new faces (James Anderson and D.J. Williams) and the hiring of a new coordinator in Mel Tucker. But what we’re seeing is an injury-induced dive off a cliff.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Khaseem Greene
AP Photo/Scott BoehmThe Bears likely will choose between Khaseem Greene, above, and Blake Costanzo as the replacement for Lance Briggs.
In all, the defense -- which has allowed 21 points or more in every game, and gave up 499 yards to the Redskins -- has lost five starters. Briggs, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level, is expected to be out at least six weeks because of a small fracture in his left shoulder.

"There’s no simple answers. There are a lot of teams in our position in the National Football League,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Defensively, we’ve got to improve our fits, our assignments. We’ve been completely inconsistent. At times we’ve been outstanding, and at times we just haven’t done the right things.”

That’s what comes with thrusting young, inexperienced players into key roles. It’s a situation not likely to improve soon. The team still hasn’t decided who will call defensive signals in Briggs’ place. Right now, Jonathan Bostic and James Anderson are the likely candidates.

Bostic made the calls in the loss at Washington on Sunday after Briggs left the game in the third quarter.

The club also will choose between rookie Khaseem Greene and veteran Blake Costanzo as Briggs’ replacement.

“We’re losing a great leader in Lance,” Trestman said. “Arguably we’re going to have to work very, very hard to recover, but that doesn’t say we can’t. It’s been done before, we’ve got time to work through it and there’s no reason why as a football team that we can’t be confident we can rally around that position, find a way to win games.”

On the offensive side of the ball, that’s an easier proposition due to the quality of the replacement, the club’s revamped protection, not to mention all of the weapons surrounding him, with running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Cutler’s replacement, Josh McCown, demonstrated as much Sunday when he completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown to Bennett before finishing the game with a passer rating of 119.6 as the offense put up 34 points.

A 10-year veteran, McCown has logged 20 starts in the NFL and is considered “a glue guy” by general manager Phil Emery, and “a captain,” by Marshall “without the 'C' on his chest.”

Emery called McCown’s “ability to play the position” the backup’s greatest asset in his bid to replace Cutler without the offense skipping a beat.

“And probably foremost, just in terms of Josh and the person and the leader he is, the buy-in he has from his team in terms of being able to be a positive part of winning football on Sundays,” Emery said. “I didn’t notice it because I don't always watch the huddles, but Josh McCown is in every special teams break before they go out on the field. That to me signals to everybody what type of person this guy is. He could be content staying over on the sidelines with the headset and a clipboard, literally, but he's not. He's a big part of this team. He's a big part of the leadership group of this team.”

[+] EnlargeChicago's Josh McCown
AP Photo/Nick WassJosh McCown is "a big part of the leadership group of this team," general manager Phil Emery said.
McCown’s teammates agree. Cornerback Tim Jennings admitted Monday “it’s going to be tough not having Jay out there, but I also think Josh came in there and played great, and he gave a lot of confidence to the guys in this locker room.”

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said he has “all the confidence in the world” in McCown because “he came in yesterday, and he did his thing. He spread the ball around. He got us in good positions, and we had a chance to win the game.”

McCown, meanwhile, says the structure in place gives him a leg up from where he was two years ago, when the Bears first asked the veteran to start a game. It was 2011, he had been coaching high school football just before the Bears signed him, and he basically went in cold for his first start at Green Bay. McCown helped the Bears put up 21 points in a loss to the Packers, but helped the club break its five-game losing streak the next week in the season finale at Minnesota.

McCown says “I’m in a better spot right now,” having learned Trestman’s system from the ground up from Day 1 of the coach’s tenure in Chicago.

“The structure is in place and the emphasis has been put on individuals to do their job and do their part,” McCown said. “If we continue to get that, and we felt like we got that yesterday, it allows the quarterback to step in there, whether it’s Jay or myself, to function and play, because guys are going to be coached to be where they are supposed to be and do what they’re supposed to do. It’s going to look different between Jay and I; our skill sets are different.”

On offense, the highly productive results likely won't change, either. The same can’t be said for an already reeling Bears defense without Briggs.

Bears' defensive starters vs. Browns

August, 29, 2013
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CHICAGO – Defensive starters for the Chicago Bears in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns:

LE – Cornelius Washington
DT – Christian Tupou
NT – Zach Minter
RE – Aston Whiteside
WLB – Khaseem Greene
MLB – Blake Costanzo
SLB – J.T. Thomas
LCB – C.J. Wilson
RCB – Demontre Hurst
SS – Brandon Hardin
FS – Anthony Walters

Bushrod still sidelined with calf strain

August, 1, 2013
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Here are a couple observations from the Chicago Bears practice field on Thursday morning;

• Left tackle Jermon Bushrod remains sidelined with a right calf strain, although Bushrod is not wearing a walking boot as he was on Wednesday.

• Cornerback Tim Jennings remains excused for personal reasons.

• Offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson are both out with knee soreness.

• With Bushrod and Scott on the shelf, veteran Eben Britton is taking No. 1 reps at left tackle.

• Linebacker Lance Briggs has the day off.

• Middle linebacker D.J. Williams is present at practice but still in a walking boot after suffering a right calf injury on Wednesday. Williams is officially listed as week-to-week.

• Rookie Jon Bostic and veteran James Anderson are the starting nickel linebackers. Blake Costanzo and rookie Khaseem Greene also figure to receive increased reps at linebacker during the workout.

• Officials are working practice for the first time since training camp opened.

Forte practices, 'looked pretty good'

December, 27, 2012
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears conducted a full practice session Thursday with a few players who missed Wednesday's workout returning to the field, including running back Matt Forte (ankle), who "looked pretty good," according to coach Lovie Smith.

(Read full post)

DT Melton doubtful against Cardinals

December, 21, 2012
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is optimistic that cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) and wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) will be available against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, but the outlook on defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) is less promising.

Melton is listed as doubtful on the official injury report and could miss his second straight game after hurt his shoulder/chest in first half of the Bears' 28-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 25.

(Read full post)

Stock Watch: Urlacher continues rise

November, 6, 2012
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UrlacherBrian Cassella/Getty ImagesBrian Urlacher got in on the Bears' pick-six fun Sunday, returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown.

RISING


Up arrow
TBD
1. Charles Tillman, CB: Fresh off winning NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, Tillman got an early jump on the November award by forcing a career-high four fumbles against the Tennessee Titans. Tillman might even be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors if he can keep up the production. He has already forced seven fumbles this season, and 36 in his career, which are the most in the NFL by a defensive back since 2003, when he came into the league.

(Read full post)

Injury report: Sherrick McManis questionable

October, 20, 2012
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears have listed their top special teams tackler cornerback Sherrick McManis as questionable for Monday night due to a hip strain he suffered in the team's Week 5 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the bye week.

McManis, who played at Northwestern University, has thrived on special teams since the Bears acquired him from the Houston Texans via a trade on August 31. He leads the team with five special teams stops.

"We've been very pleased with (how he's done) in the role we pictured him being in when he got here," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a special teams player, but we've also been bringing him along as a corner. So I'm glad we brought him home."

Newly re-signed cornerback Zack Bowman would likely fill in if McManis is inactive against the Detroit Lions.

Wide receiver Devin Hester (quad) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb) are listed as probable on the official injury report.

Receiver Earl Bennett, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and defensive end Julius Peppers all returned to practice on Saturday after sitting out the previous day.

Rookie wideout Alshon Jeffery (hand) had already been ruled out earlier in the week.

Hester (quad) sits out practice Thursday

October, 18, 2012
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Receiver Devin Hester sat out of practice on Thursday, but the club expects him to be available to play Monday night when the Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions.

"We kept a couple guys out of practice today, a few guys," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Devin Hester has a quad injury. He should be OK, but we held him out today."

The Bears released their first injury report of the week Thursday, listing Hester as having missed practice with a quadriceps injury along with receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand), who has been declared out for Monday night, and linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb). The Bears club also excused punter Adam Podlesh, whose wife is expecting the couple's first child.

Cornerback Sherrick McManis (hip) participated Thursday in a limited capacity.

"(We're) in decent shape," Smith said. "It has been a long time since we've played. So we're anxious to get back into the routine."

For the Lions, cornerback Bill Bentley (shoulder), safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerback Jacob Lacey (concussion) and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (not injury related) didn't practice. Defensive end Cliff Avril (back) was limited along with defensive end Ronnell Lewis (eye), tight end Brandon Pettigrew (knee), linebacker Stephen Tulloch (knee), defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and receiver Titus Young (knee).

Jeffery aside, Bears appear healthy

October, 17, 2012
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Aside from receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand), the Chicago Bears appear to be a fully healthy team headed into their clash against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.

Returning for their second practice after a week of inactivity, the Bears saw nearly full participation during Wednesday's session aside from Jeffery, who is expected to miss multiple games, linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb), who is expected to play against the Lions, and cornerback Sherrick McManis.

(Read full post)

Linebacker picture still needs clearing up

August, 29, 2012
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CLEVELAND -- The most pressing issue for the Chicago Bears at linebacker is whether Brian Urlacher returns in time to play in the regular season opener, as coach Lovie Smith forecasted on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeGeno Hayes
AP Photo/Scott BoehmGeno Hayes has filled in for Nick Roach on the strong side with Brian Urlacher out.
Much further down on the list of concerns is the matter of who will be the No. 6, or perhaps No. 7 linebacker, depending on how many the Bears decide to carry when final rosters are set on Friday. Six is usually the magic number, and in recent years, the Bears had to cut quality players (Tim Shaw in 2010) because they could not afford to keep seven. But with Urlacher’s recurrent knee problems, a case could be made for the team to hold on to an extra linebacker for insurance purposes.

The four locks going into training camp were: Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and special teams ace Blake Costanzo. Former Tampa linebacker Geno Hayes also entered camp on firm ground but suffered through a couple rough patches in the early preseason games. Although it now sounds as if the coaching staff has seen enough from Hayes, who sat out Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed ailment. Hayes has filled in for Roach on the strong side since Urlacher re-injured his left knee of July 31.

“Geno has picked it up,” Bears linebacker coach Bob Babich said. “His whole deal was he wasn’t finishing plays. He’s athletic, talented, instinctive, but he needed to finish and play the way we expect our linebacker to play. He understands that, and he’s trying hard to do the things we ask him to do.”

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