Will Weems replace Hester?

Bears GM Phil Emery talked about recent free-agent acquisition Eric Weems and how he will impact the role of the team's current kick and punt returner, Devin Hester.

The Chicago Bears love their special teams units. The club puts a higher priority on the game's third phase than arguably any other team in the NFL.

The Bears finished first in overall special teams play last season, according to Football Outsiders, and annually rank near the top of the league. Coordinator Dave Toub is one of the best in the business and constantly receives accolades for his work with Chicago's ST units.

So it's no surprise the organization used free agency to snag two quality special teams players: Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems.

Costanzo is a linebacker by trade but has never started a game at the position. Instead, he's made a living as a coverage specialist.

KR Eric Weems
Fernando Medina/US Presswire

"Blake has done some dynamic things as a special teams player, evident in his four forced fumbles and one of them in the playoff game against New Orleans this past year," Bears GM Phil Emery said today in a conference call with local media.

The 27-year-old played for the 49ers last season and finished second on the club with 17 special teams tackles.

The bigger acquisition was Weems, a player who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010 for his duties as a punt and kick returner.

Yet the Bears already have Devin Hester, one of the best return men in the history of the NFL. His contract, though, originally called for a $10 million bonus to be paid out this season, according to ESPN,, which has some folks wondering if the organization might be in line to cut or trade him, considering his paltry production as a receiver.

Emery said that is definitely not the case.

"We have a very strong tradition about having multiple returners," said Emery. "I think [Weems] greatly adds and helps Devin in that relationship of having more than one weapon as a returner, as a punt and kick returner."

It appears the Bears plan to go forward with both players, allowing Chicago's coaches to keep tabs on Hester's reps.

The Weems move is more of an insurance plan in case Johnny Knox is unable to return from back surgery in time to start the season. Coach Lovie Smith said he doesn't have timeline for Knox's return.

"I wish I could predict that," said Smith. "I just know that every day -- and Johnny is here, believe me, like he's on staff here -- every day as you see him rehab and you get more and more confidence for him to recover from a serious injury. That's all I know."

Weems will be used not only as a returner but also as a gunner on punts and kickoffs. He has 41 special teams tackles in five season combined.

"Eric Weems we feel like is going to come in and contribute as a receiver, a punt returner, a kick returner and a cover player on [special] teams," said Emery.

Emery was a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 when Weems was signed as an undrafted free agent, and has always been impressed with his character and work ethic.

"The thing that I always noticed during the time I was there was his persistence and his willingness to anything and everything to help you win and the type of worker that he is on the field."

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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