Bears Begin Kicking Battle In Earnest, With Symbolism

The Bears have eight kickers competing during their rookie minicamp.

Chris Emma
May 03, 2019 - 5:24 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Practice came to a halt on the back field of Halas Hall on Friday afternoon, and Bears coach Matt Nagy had the rookies line up near midfield. 

Eight kickers on hand for rookie minicamp lined up to attempt a 43-yard field goal with all eyes watching. The distance of the kicks was no coincidence -- it marked the length of Cody Parkey's fateful, season-ending miss in the Bears' wild-card loss to the Eagles in January.

"They know," Nagy said. "They already know. They know loud and clear why. Yeah."

The kick by Parkey, which hit the left upright and bottom crossbar before bouncing out, got the Bears into this mess and remains ever present as they hold an unconventional competition to the side of minicamp. 

The Bears' eight kickers on hand at Halas Hall this weekend -- four signed as free agents, four there for tryouts -- combined to go 2-for-8 with their pressure kicks. One banked his kick off the left upright, reminding of Parkey's miss. Bears media rules prohibit naming who made and missed these kicks.

Nagy claims he has moved on from the disappointment of that Parkey kick in January and that the Bears are embracing the competition. Using the distance of 43 yards offered a bit of motivation and plenty of symbolism as the Bears aim to get the kicker position right this time.

The Bears had their kicking candidates working removed from practice on a separate field. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor oversaw the work alongside assistant Brock Olivo and team scout Breck Ackley, who was a kicker at Southern University. The team also brought in respected kicking coach Jamie Kohl as a consultant for this season.

The eight kickers include Redford Jones, Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry and John Baron II, who are all under contract. Casey Bednarski, Emmit Carpenter, Spencer Evans and Justin Yoon are on weekend tryouts. There are so many kickers that the Bears had to bring in three long snappers and three punters to hold. In 2018, there was one kicker, punter and long snapper at rookie minicamp.

It remains to be seen how many kickers will remain in the ongoing competition beyond rookie minicamp, and there's no timeline on identifying the right leg, Nagy said. The group could possibly head south to Soldier Field and practice kicking inside the challenging setting of the stadium.

As rookie minicamp started Friday, the eight kickers were challenged with an uncomfortable silence on the field, a light breeze out of the east working across their kicks and plenty of eyes watching. The Bears rotated snappers and holders, challenged them on varied distances and angles and hoped to find consistency out of the bunch while creating a large sample size.

"We start with a lot," Nagy said of the eight kickers. "In the end, end with one. Right? So, how are we going to do it? If a guy has a rough day, does he bounce back and have seven good days? Does he not? 

"We’ve thought about it, but we’re going to kind of create a game plan as to how we want to basically evaluate it and make a decision in the end. But right now, there’s no concrete answer. A lot of it’s gray."

While the specifics of the competition are required to stay at Halas Hall, the untrained eyes along the sideline saw Fry and Jones as the early favorites for this competition. 

Fry in particular kicked consistently from short range and long, working with the same form and arc on each kick. He was signed by the Bears in April after winning a prior competition and had previously kicked in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Fry is the only kicker of the eight with professional experience.

After impressing Friday, how will Fry respond Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning? Will his work vary inside the Walter Payton Center or at Soldier Field? Those are the questions the Bears are asking with all eight kickers present at Halas Hall.

The battle to become the Bears' next kicker is just beginning as they build pressure on the eight candidates.

"What we wanted to do and what I want to do in going through this process is try to create situations where it puts a little heat on them," Nagy said.

"We're not going to just go about and make rash decisions or anything. We're going to play it out."

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