Eddy Pineiro will be the Bears’ kicker Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears’ long, winding search for a kicker — which featured that eight-kicker rookie minicamp tryout and replays of the double-doink and Augusta silence and Robbie Gould’s trade demand — is over.
“It’s a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders,” Pineiro said. “Just excited to be the guy. This organization believes in me and giving me a shot to be where I’m at. Just want to make them happy.”
The Bears feel Pineiro earned his job with a strong preseason in which he made eight of nine kicks and three of four PATs (which, of course, included his shank on Thursday). Coach Matt Nagy and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor were able to test Pineiro both physically and mentally over the last month and a half, and over that time came to trust their 23-year-old kicker.
“He deserves it,” Nagy said. “He earned every right to be our kicker. And we feel good about it.”
Pineiro on Sunday practiced at Soldier Field, affording him an additional opportunity to get used to the swirling wind and field conditions ahead of Thursday night's season opener against the Green Bay Packers. It was the only time this week he’ll go down to the lakefront to practice, but even expressing a willingness to make the trek to Soldier Field was more than Cody Parkey showed last year (he initially said he didn’t think there would be a benefit to it).
On a broader scale: The Bears will need to be patient with Pineiro moving forward. Over the last 20 years, rookie kickers who attempted at least 10 field goals in a season made 79.5 percent of their kicks. Some of the best kickers in the NFL didn’t have wildly successful rookie seasons, like:
Robbie Gould (2005): 77.8 percent
Stephen Gostkowski (2006): 76.9 percent
Greg Zeurlein (2012): 74.2 percent
Aldrick Rosas (2017): 72 percent
Sebastian Janikowski (2000): 68.8 percent
For every Gould or Janikowki there’s a guy who quickly burned out, like Roberto Aguayo (71 percent in 2016) or Zane Gonzalez (75 percent in 2017), of course. And just because a kicker is good as a rookie doesn’t mean he’ll stay good — Parkey (88.9 percent in 2016) being a prime example of that.
But Nagy is well aware of the history of rookie kickers, having mentioned it a few times over the last month. The challenge for the Bears will be to figure out if, when Pineiro inevitably misses, if it's the start of a troubling trend or more of an anomaly.
“Hopefully it’s the arrow-up deal where he hits a few early and he gets his confidence going and before you know it, he’s on a nice streak,” Nagy said. “And so we feel that out as a staff. And if it starts out a little slow or there’s inconsistency, that’s where the challenge of being able to — the frustration of how much it hurts you comes into play.
“But when that person knows that and understands it, there’s no surprises. And so we want to think of the glass half full, (like) he’s going to come out here and make every kick. And then if he does miss a kick or if he does miss an extra point … That’s a juggling act, where, until he proves himself in real live bullets, we won’t know that. I’m just hoping that he’s that guy that comes out and has a great year.”
Still, the stakes are particularly high for the Bears given the Super Bowl-caliber collection of talent surrounding Pineiro. This a team that already saw one shot at the Lombardi Trophy end in devastatingly early fashion thanks to a missed field goal.
But the Bears will enter 2019 confident in their decision to ride with Pineiro. All they can do now is trust in their evaluation of him, and hope when the time comes he makes the big kick, not misses it.
“I feel a lot better, I feel a lot more confident,” Pineiro said. “I’ve made eight of my last nine kicks in preseason, I’m feeling confident going into the season. Should be fun.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Be sure to tune in on the MyTeams App at 12 p.m. on Sept. 5 for the NFL Kickoff Show.