DECATUR, Ill. — The Bears will report to Bourbonnais for training camp on Thursday with everything on the table regarding their kicking competition — well, everything but making a trade for Robbie Gould.
Elliott Fry or Eddy Pineiro could emerge from training camp and four preseason games as the clear-cut choice to be the Bears’ placekicker when the 2019 season opens Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. Alternatively, both could not do enough to convince Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and the Bears’ brass that they’re the solution to the most glaring weakness on an otherwise Super Bowl-caliber roster.
So not only will Pineiro and Fry be competing against each other, they’ll be competing against a group of kickers around the league who could wind up on the trading block or the waiver wire in the coming weeks.
"We’re watching all the teams, all the competitive situations around the league — one of them will be kicker," Pace said. "We’re just watching that progress as we go forward. We know right now where we stand, where some of those battles are occurring. We’re watching those. And I’m sure there will be ones that will pop up that might surprise us."
The first 11 questions of Pace and Matt Nagy’s pre-training-camp press conference on Sunday involved the kicking position in some way, an indication of a few things.
First and foremost is what’s at stake for the Bears with this kicking battle. 2018’s season ended well short of the Super Bowl when Cody Parkey’s 43-yard kick double-doinked off the uprights at Soldier Field; if the 2019 Bears — with a stronger roster — suffer the same fate, it’ll go down as one of the biggest, most gutting disappointments in franchise history.
Second is an indication of how deep the Bears’ roster is: What else, really, is there to talk about in terms of training camp battles besides kicker? There will be a heated competition at the bottom of the team’s wide receiver depth chart, and the Bears need better play (and better health) from their tight ends. But this is a strong, talented roster across all units — except for kicker.
That’s not to say the Bears aren’t without their questions, from how good Mitch Trubisky will be to how the defense adjusts to Chuck Pagano’s scheme to how this team handles the high expectations created by 2018’s success. But those are topics that’ll play out during the regular season; the kicking battle has to be solved by Week 1’s kickoff.
And final reason for the "hyper focus," as Pace put it, on the kicking competition is the overwhelming interest in the topic from fans. Bears chairman George McCaskey said on Sunday his team’s kicking situation has come up in every interaction he’s had with fans over the last six and a half months.
“Thanks for the reminder,” McCaskey said he’s responded. “We’re working on that.”
How the competition between Fry and Pineiro plays out in Bourbonnais and then into preseason games will be fascinating to follow. Nagy hinted during the spring at throwing some curveballs at each kicker, and while he said Sunday he doesn’t plan on calling for field goal attempts on third down during preseason games, he did say he’s going to do what he can to make sure each kicker gets as many chances as possible to be evaluated.
“We need to figure out this position, right? We need to understand it’s a crucial spot first we’ve got to get right,” Nagy said. “I think the more opportunities that you have for these guys to prove who the are and what they could do, we’ll take ‘em.
“So there may be some questionable playcalls in the preseason. I’ll just leave it at that and we’ll go from there.”
For now, Pace characterized Fry and Pineiro as “even” heading into training camp. So may the best kicker win, whether he'll be in Bourbonnais on Thursday or not.
“Those guys are going to battle it out,” Pace said. “Obviously we’re scouring the waiver wire as we go forward. And it’s kind of open competition.”