Bears

As Bears' critical kicking competition starts back up, Ryan Pace is keeping his options open

As Bears' critical kicking competition starts back up, Ryan Pace is keeping his options open

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.”

NFC North standings: Bears remain in last place despite Week 2 win

NFC North standings: Bears remain in last place despite Week 2 win

The Chicago Bears defeated the Denver Broncos in thrilling fashion Sunday thanks to the right leg of kicker Eddy Pineiro. The winner of Chicago's summer kicking derby blasted a 53-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bears a 16-14 victory over Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos.

The win moves the Bears to 1-1 on the season, but didn't do much to help their standing in the NFC North. Chicago remains in last place despite the victory. They have company at the bottom of the division, however, as the Minnesota Vikings dropped their Week 2 game against the Packers, 21-16. 

Green Bay's victory moves them to a perfect 2-0 and in sole possession of first place in the North, while the Detroit Lions moved into second place with their victory over the Los Angeles Chargers (13-10).

The Bears have a winnable game in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, and the Packers could end next Sunday 3-0 after welcoming the Denver Broncos to Lambeau Field. The Lions face the toughest opponent -- the Philadelphia Eagles -- while the Vikings are home against the beatable Oakland Raiders.

For now, the NFC North standings are as follows:

1) Green Bay Packers (2-0)
2) Detroit Lions (1-0-1)
T-3) Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
T-3) Chicago Bears (1-1)

 

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Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

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USA Today

Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

DENVER – Over the last 18 months or so, the Bears’ defense has grown accustomed to having great performances overshadowed by the team’s kicker. When they get bailed out with a game-winning 53-yarder as time expires, however, it’s a spotlight they’re more than happy to share. 

“I knew it was good as soon as he pointed up to the sky,” Leonard Floyd said. “I knew he was going to make the kick.”

“You think about everything, all those games last year – especially that playoff game,” Khalil Mack added. You put pressure on that guy. Eddy P, birthday man. 

“He came out and nailed that mother f –.” 

Piñero’s coronation will certainly win the headline battles, but it was once again the Bears’ defense that kept them in the driver’s seat for three and a half quarters. The Broncos’ stats (372 total yards – 292 of them passing and 90 coming on the ground) are probably gaudier than Chuck Pagano’s unit would like, but they’ve now gone back-to-back games allowing just one touchdown. 

“There were some times there that they were tired,” Matt Nagy said. “Even at the end, you saw [Khalil Mack] come out on the fourth-down and so I just wanted to call a time out. I felt like it was more important for him to be out there on that fourth-down. He was tired. Those guys, you could feel it.” 

The game had shades of the 2018’s Week 5 loss in Miami, where scorching temperatures took a huge toll through the second half and into overtime. Between the thin air and unseasonably warm weather (the thermometer read 87 at kickoff), you could see why the Broncos have been astoundingly great in early-season home games. And while most of the players admitted that they felt the altitude in some way or another, no one was making excuses for the Broncos’ 12-play, 62-yard drive that would give them the lead with 30 seconds left. 

“Football is a tiring game,” Akiem Hicks said. “You play a lot of football and you just try to have the best results you can.” 

If anyone was happier about the win than Piñeiro, it was cornerback Buster Skrine. After the Broncos scored to make it a 13-12 game, kicker Brandon McManus missed the PAT. Skrine was flagged for being offside, however, and the Broncos got another chance from the one-yard line. Given new life and pretty advantageous field position, Denver went for two and converted, seemingly giving them a win. 

30 seconds and 53 yards later, the Bears were 1-1 – and now Piñero may not have to pay for his pregame steaks any time soon. 

“I was about to come in here and say I lost the game …” Skrine said. “ … “I’m about to post on my Instagram [taking my teammates] out to dinner and everything.” 

“Woo, hot darnit. We got it done – we needed that,” quipped Hicks, in his best country drawl. “It’s good to be 1-1. We’re going to go forward, we’re going to do what we need to do.”  

 

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