Bears not concerned about kicking battery timing being off


Bears not concerned about kicking battery timing being off

A week before Robbie Gould missed a pair of field goals — including what would’ve been a game-winner — the Bears swapped snappers, waiving Thomas Gafford and signing Patrick Scales.

Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers admitted changing one-third of a field goal battery can throw off the timing of the operation, but said he didn’t think the switch had anything to do with those two debilitating misses that helped send the Bears to an overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

“There’s always an adjustment,” Rodgers said. “That whole process is, from the snap to the hold to the kick, along with the protection — there’s a lot of elements that go into being successful or unsuccessful. I don’t believe that had a lot to do with it in terms of those two particular kicks, nor do I think that having a new snapper contributed to the ones that he made in the game.

“I just think it was an unfortunate deal that happened at a critical time, but we have total confidence in Robbie to come back and have a good last quarter of the season.”

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Gould didn’t do any finger-pointing after Sunday’s game and continued to take full responsibility for his misses on Wednesday, saying the holding and snapping hasn’t been a problem all year.

For whatever reason, though, the Bears decided to part ways with Gafford and bring in Scales, who turned pro in 2011 but didn’t make his NFL debut until December 2014 with the Baltimore Ravens. He bounced between the Ravens, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ravens again before signing with the Bears Nov. 28, so he’s familiar with the learning curve that comes with working with a new kicking battery.

“It takes a while,” Scales said. “It just takes a lot of reps. You gotta get comfortable with one another, there’s no set amount of reps or anything like that. The more you do it, the more comfortable you are.

“They know that it’s going to take some adjustment. They gotta get used to my snap speed, I gotta get used to their cadence, so the timing initially’s going to be off, but as the days go on, the perfect aspect is expected.”

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Scales said working with Gould and holder Pat O’Donnell has been a smooth transition, with Gould not leaving any gray area in what he wants from a snapper. Scales added that he thought the work he had with Gould and O’Donnell in practice rolled over well to Sunday’s game.

So Gould’s two costly misses come down to his own mistakes, though he remained confident that his issues on Sunday won’t affect him going forward.

“Look at my track record,” Gould said. “I started out the season on a pretty good streak, got to the bye week and probably haven’t been as strong as I had been in the beginning of the season. And I look forward to starting a new streak. That’s usually what I do in these situations. The guys, blocking, holding, snapping have done a great job all year, really it’s just me stepping up to the plate and getting it done.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.