The Bears’ latest trick to create pressure for their kickers has been to do nothing at all. Quite literally, nothing: Stand still, be quiet.
Coach Matt Nagy and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor had a better term for it: “Augusta silence.”
Think of how quiet the scene at the Masters is whenever the tournament winner lines up his final putt. That’s what the Bears are doing when their three kickers — Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro — are called upon for mid-practice kicks. They’re staying as silent as possible.
“It just randomly happens that at some point in practice, it could be in the middle of a drill, offense and defense, they just have to leave and they go to the side of the field and we put (a kicker) out there,” Tabor explained. “And it's a pressure packed situation — (the kicker might not know when it's coming, so therefore how does he handle adversity.
“… And then it's just — it's quiet.”
Nagy and Tabor might have a few more tricks up their sleeves — maybe involving the media, as Nagy teased Wednesday — come training camp in an effort to create pressure. And kicking in front of throngs of fans still scarred from Cody Parkey’s double-doink might be pressure enough in Bourbonnais.
But as the Bears wrap up OTAs this week, they do so having a better picture of who and what they have in the three kickers on their roster. Tabor briefly summed up each kicker after Wednesday’s practice:
Blewitt: “He has a big leg. He has hit some big game-winners,” Tabor said, referencing Blewitt’s game-winning kick in college at Clemson while he played for Pitt.
Fry: “He hits a straight ball. If he does leak a little bit, that thing is leaking straight. He hits a really good ball.”
Pineiro: “He has leg talent. There’s no doubt about it.”
Each kicker has their own different qualities, both mentally and physically. The Bears’ use of tracking devices to chart data like ball speed and trajectory gives them a better idea of who’s not only making kicks, but avoiding “ugly makes,” as Tabor called them.
The Bears, too, have a set of narrow Arena League goalposts attached to their NFL-regulation goalposts on a practice field at Halas Hall. Fry said he figured those aren’t out of the ordinary for NFL or college teams, while Pineiro saw them in college and Blewitt said he hadn’t seen them used before. Either way, it gives the Bears another data point to on which evaluate these kickers beyond how hard they’re kicking the ball: How many times are they making kicks that go right down the middle?
“I think it has helped me, personally, a lot,” Pineiro said. “… It’s kind of windy out here, so just kind of getting an aiming point.”
The Bears still have three months to figure out who their kicker will be for Sept. 5’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers. That kicker may not be on their roster now (and that’s not a veiled reference to San Francisco 49ers holdout Robbie Gould). There’s still a ways to go in this competition, starting with veteran minicamp next week and then a decision from Nagy, Tabor and Ryan Pace about how many kickers will be on the roster for Day 1 of training camp.
But each kicker said Wednesday they’re a fan of how Nagy and Tabor have worked to put pressure on them. Those efforts will continue from the Bears’ brain trust at Halas Hall and Olivet Nazarene University until the team figures out if it has a solution to its kicking woes.
“Obviously you can never re-create the pressure in the game out here, but it’s the closest thing you can get,” Fry said. “In all the situations, whatever they are, we’re just focused on making the kick and trying to block everything out.”
Even if blocking everything out means blocking not nothing at all.