Bears

Bears remain confident in Cody Parkey after nighttime kicking session at Soldier Field

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USA Today

Bears remain confident in Cody Parkey after nighttime kicking session at Soldier Field

Neither coach Matt Nagy or special teams coordinator Chris Tabor seemed particularly amused by multiple Chicago TV stations sending helicopters over Soldier Field for Cody Parkey’s nighttime kicking session there on Wednesday, but both said the returns were positive for the 26-year-old kicker.
 
While the coverage of Parkey may feel over-the-top at times, it can also be viewed as a signal of the Bears’ return to relevance here in Chicago. Had it been Connor Barth missing four kicks off the uprights in a game during 2017’s dour 5-11 season, news choppers wouldn’t have flown over Soldier Field to shoot film of him practicing that the Bears would ultimately request be taken off the airwaves and internet.
 
“I get it, from this standpoint,” Tabor said. “We’ve all been at home, ‘Oh, the kicker missed it!’ There’s not a lot of people out there that can kick the ball. There’s been kicking troubles all around the league, multiple teams, guys working out multiple guys. There’s not a plethora of players out there that can do that skill.
 
“I just think he stays the course. That’s his strength. The good news is we didn’t see anything really technically wrong. Let’s tweak the line. Let’s get a little bit more comfortable in our environment and then let your God-given ability take over.”
 
Tabor had a good idea of who the Bears were getting in Parkey when they signed him to a four-year, $15 million contract with $9 million guaranteed in March (that guaranteed money figure is the third-highest among NFL kickers). Back in 2016, when Tabor was the special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, his team brought Parkey in one day before a Week 3 road game against the Miami Dolphins. Parkey missed three of six field goal attempts in that game, but came back a week later and drilled a 51-yard field goal against Washington that proved a lot about him to Tabor.
 
And it’s that prior knowledge of Parkey, coupled with what he’s seen from his kicker mentally since he got to Chicago, that gives Tabor confidence a day like Parkey had against the Detroit Lions won’t happen again.
 
“I know what’s under the hood with this kid,” Tabor said. “That’s why I’m excited for him. I believe in him. I know what type of day that was. We all get it. At the end of the day, we did win the game. That’s a positive.
 
“But you also understand that as we move forward in this journey, it’s going to come down to field goal kicks and that’s his job and he’s really good at it and I have confidence in him. I believe in him.”
 
The Bears invested all that money into Parkey back in March with the belief he would be the long-term solution to the kicking woes that’ve followed this franchise since Robbie Gould missed a game-winning kick and a game-tying kick in consecutive weeks late in the 2015 season, leading to his release (and subsequent career re-birth with the San Francisco 49ers). Part of the consternation, certainly outside Halas Hall, with Parkey’s struggles is in relation to Gould’s success — he’s made 70 of 73 field goals since the Bears let him go, including five and a game-winner in San Francisco’s 15-14 win at Soldier Field last year.
 
But Parkey did miss what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard try against the Dolphins in Week 6, and has missed five of his last 11 kicks at Soldier Field as fall continues its losing battle to winter along Lake Michigan. The Bears still believe he can make a critical kick in a close game, though, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
 
“He’s doing well,” Tabor said. “He understands. But I’ll say this about him: The good news is the way he prepares, he sets himself up to be successful. Last week, I have to admit: I’ve seen misses. I’ve never seen four misses hit the uprights before.
 
“… He actually struck the ball really well and then it just leaked on him. Every upright that it hit was the way the wind was blowing so to be able to go down to the stadium and continue with that thought process and learning the lines and finding those things, I think it’s gonna be very beneficial for him. He’d only missed one kick in Soldier Field. It’s a learning experience.”

Under Center Podcast: Shedding light on the Bears new DC from the golf course

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Shedding light on the Bears new DC from the golf course

Former Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt joins Luke Stuckmeyer and Bears insider JJ Stankevitz from the golf course in sunny Florida to shed light on his recent conversation with new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano (1:30), Ed Reed's Hall of Fame belief in Eddie Jackson (3:00), whether he'd prioritize Bryce Callahan or Adrian Amos in Free Agency (6:15).

Plus how he'd handle the Cody Parkey situation, since he had a similar experience with Jim Harbaugh when he was coaching the Bears (9:30).

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

Bears grades and needs: D-line looks set, from Akiem Hicks to Bilal Nichols

2018 depth chart

1. Akiem Hicks
Usage: 16 games, 74.1 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $10.1 million cap hit

Hicks is one of the very best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, leading all players at his position with 34 run stops (defined by Pro Football Focus as tackles that constitute a loss for the offense) while contributing eight sacks and 53 pressures. He finally earned the Pro Bowl bid he’s deserved for years and will remain an anchor of the Bears’ defense as it transitions from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. That he played nearly three-quarters of the Bears' defensive snaps, too, is a testmant to A) how tough is was to take him off the field and B) how well he conditioned himself to be able to play that much. 

2. Eddie Goldman
Usage: 16 games, 52.5 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.55 million cap hit

With so much star power highlight reel appearances surrounding him, Goldman perhaps was under-appreciated outside the walls of Halas Hall. But inside the Bears’ facility, Goldman’s impact was celebrated. His ability to absorb interior double teams allowed inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to shoot gaps and each rack up over 100 tackles, and coupled with Hicks few teams were able to effectively run the ball on the Bears. 

While Goldman indeed only played a little over half of the Bears’ defensive snaps, that was possible because of good depth behind him. Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — the lone position coach holdover from Fangio’s staff — crafted a plan that allowed Goldman to stay healthy, fresh and effective all season. With Pagano keeping the Bears’ 3-4 base scheme, Goldman will still have a highly important role a year after signing a four-year, $42.04 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. 

3. Roy Robertson-Harris
Usage: 16 games, 33.6 percent of defensive snaps, 27.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Robertson-Harris’ 28 pressures tied for fourth on the team behind the three guys you’d expect to be ahead of him (Khalil Mack, Hicks, Leonard Floyd). He was a disruptive presence able to play just about every defensive line technique, and he used his 6-foot-7 length to bat down two passes, too. 

Robertson-Harris will turn 26 in late July and could still have some untapped potential as a defensive lineman, a position he switched to only a few years ago. 

4. Bilal Nichols
Usage: 14 games, 31.2 percent of defensive snaps, 5.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $644,870 cap hit

Nichols came up with one of the biggest plays in the early part of the Bears’ season when he dropped Cardinals running back for a three-yard loss on third-and-two just after the two-minute warning, with Arizona driving in Bears territory. From there, Nichols was good for a few plays per game, immediately fitting in as an adept rotational player a few months removed from being a fifth-round pick.

Nichols tied with Robertson-Harris for fifth on the team with four sacks, and in Week 17 he thoroughly terrorized Minnesota’s offensive line: Four hurries, two hits and one sack (after the sack, he mimicked the “Viking Clap” to a largely empty U.S. Bank Stadium). Ryan Pace appears to have unearthed a solid contributor in Nichols, someone who will be a key part of the team’s defensive line rotation again in 2019. 

5. Jonathan Bullard
Usage: 16 games, 28.3 percent of defensive snaps, 15.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,026,630 cap hit

Bullard hasn’t quite capitalized on the potential that led Pace to draft him in the third round back in 2016, and was passed on the depth chart by Robertson-Harris and Nichols last season. He’s adequate against the run and his cap hit is low enough for him to stick on the roster in 2019. 

6. Nick Williams 
Usage: 2 games, 4.2 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Williams won a camp battle to secure a roster spot, but only appeared in two games (Week 1 and Week 9). 

7. Abdullah Anderson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bucknell alum and 2017 Patriot League defensive player of the year hung around the practice squad in 2018, and will get a shot at sticking in that role in 2019. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

Between Hicks, Goldman, Robertson-Harris and Nichols, the Bears have four strong contributors to their defensive line rotation. Add Bullard in there and the “need” lessens, though defensive line is one of those positions where you can never have too many bodies. 

Previous grades and needs: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OL

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