Bears Position Preview: Special Teams

The Bears' ongoing search for a kicker is set to linger in Bourbonnais.

Chris Emma
July 24, 2019 - 3:30 pm
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Leading up to the start of Bears training camp in late July, we're running a series of positional outlooks. This is the 10th installment. You can read all of them here.

(670 The Score) The lasting image of kicker Cody Parkey's troubled one-year tenure with the Bears wasn't the double-doink field-goal miss that ended his team's season in the wild-card round. It was of Parkey appearing on the "TODAY" show by his own choice, standing there waving and smiling at the camera.

The Bears stood by Parkey during his season-long struggles, including after his 43-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the left upright, the bottom crossbar and out in the team's 16-15 loss to the Eagles on Jan. 6. But when Parkey sought out attention -- and whatever else he hoped to gain -- by appearing on national television, his time with the Bears was effectively over.

Coach Matt Nagy called out Parkey for his "me" action. General manager Ryan Pace vowed there would be competition at kicker. By late February, Parkey was informed he would be released.

Nagy, Pace and the Bears committed themselves to this competition with the hopes of solving the kicking problem within the salary cap crunch that will soon create greater problems for the front office. 

The anger over Parkey's stunt still existed as Nagy had the Bears' eight kickers at a rookie minicamp tryout attempt 43-yard field goals like the one Parkey missed. The group combined to go 2-for-8, a sign the competition was a long way from over.

The kicking battle isn't only biggest special teams story entering training camp. It's also the most intriguing story surrounding the Bears as they arrive at Bourbonnais.

Projected depth chart

Kicker: Elliott Fry, 24

The Bears brought in Fry after he went 14-for-14 on field-goal attempts with the Orlando franchise of the Alliance of American Football before the league folded. He converted 66 of 88 field-goal attempts while becoming South Carolina's all-time leading scorer.

Kicker: Eddy Pineiro, 23

The Bears did trade for a kicker out of the Bay Area, but it wasn't the one many expected. Pineiro was acquired from the Raiders in May in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. A Florida product, he was a two-time All-SEC kicker who hit on 17 of 18 field-goal attempts in 2017.

Punter: Pat O'Donnell, 28

The Bears' punter since 2014, O'Donnell enjoyed a career-best year in 2018 that included his top distance average in 45 yards and equaled his top net average with 39.7 yards.

Long snapper: Patrick Scales, 31

Scales has been with the Bears since 2015 after spending the previous year with the Ravens. He has played in 39 career games, including 37 in Chicago.

Long snapper: John Wirtel, 23

There will also be a long snapping competition, as Wirtel enters training camp challenging the incumbent Scales.

Special teams coordinator: Chris Tabor

Tabor is entering the second season of his second tenure as Bears special teams coordinator. He's the man tasked with overseeing the team's kicking battle.

How they got here

The Bears signed Parkey to a four-year, $15-million deal in March 2018 hoping they had answered the kicking problem that had lingered since releasing Robbie Gould a week before the start of the 2016 regular season. It all went horribly wrong.

Parkey hit 23 of 30 field-goal attempts and missed three extra-point attempts in 2018. Included in those misses was a 52-yard field-goal attempt in overtime at Miami that would've won the game and ultimately given the Bears a first-round bye -- which also would've prevented that infamous wild-card game at Soldier Field from even being necessary.

Parkey missed four kicks -- two field goals and two extra points -- off the uprights in a win against the Lions in Novmeber. It proved to be unfortunate foreshadowing for what was coming.

The missed field goal in the playoff game proved to be Parkey's last with the Bears, who officially released him in March and moved forward with this kicking battle. During rookie minicamp in May, the team hosted eight kickers as part of a tryout. The group was narrowed to two with Fry and Chris Blewitt emerging from the tryout on the roster.

The acquisition of Pineiro added a third kicker to the mix. Then came a veteran minicamp practice on June 11 that featured Fry, Pineiro and Blewitt each missing kicks in front of Bears alumni. Blewitt was released a day later in a move that sent a message to the other two kickers.

Fry and Pineiro enter training camp as the two competing for the starting spot, though it remains possible the kicker for the regular-season opener isn't at Olivet Nazarene for the first practice of camp Friday morning.

Key storyline: The kicking battle!

What else would it be?

The kicking competition was on Nagy's mind as he watched from Augusta National while Tiger Woods won the Masters in April. Nagy thought of what redemption could look like for his Bears and was inspired. It helped him find closure to the Parkey saga.

While this battle between Fry, Pineiro and their own mental fortitude is a punch line everywhere except Olivet Nazarene's campus, it could be Bears' best option for the long term. Pace envisions his organization competing for championships for several years to come. Allocating significant money to a kicker would likely mean losing a key player elsewhere.

Pace has expressed confidence the Bears could identify their kicker for the future with a thorough process like this. It has nonetheless been challenging and reminded of what got them to this point with Parkey.

The Bears would love nothing more than a Fry or Pineiro kicking them to a playoff win next January.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.