BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The early stages of the Bears’ kicking competition here in training camp have been marked by two notable observations: A lot of made kicks, and a remarkably positive attitude toward the whole thing by the 17,000 fans who showed up to Olivet Nazarene University over the weekend.
Elliott Fry made nine of 10 field goals during Saturday’s practice — the first open to the public of training camp — and Eddy Pineiro followed by connecting on seven of his eight tries on Sunday. Those singular good days aren’t going to win either a job with the Bears on Sept. 5, but they represent an encouraging beginning for each of the kickers vying to solve an issue that’s plagued this franchise for far too long.
“How do you not love two kickers battling for one spot competing their tails off after everything that’s gone on with our team and our city?” coach Matt Nagy said. “I appreciate that.”
Nagy designed the training camp portion of the Bears’ kicking competition to alternate "on" and "off" days for each participant — so Fry was the only kicker to get action on Saturday, while Sunday was exclusively for Pineiro. That on-and-off plan allows each kicker to mentally prepare for practice just as they would if it were during the regular season, something both Fry and Pineiro appreciate.
“No. 1, it lets us rest our legs,” Fry said. “Obviously that’s a big deal with kickers, making sure you’re fresh every day, but I think just not having a confusion in getting some rhythm going, you know that today’s your day, just like it would be in a game.
“You’re not going to be in the season splitting reps between someone. It’s going to be your day and you’re going to go for it. So I think it’s making it as game-like as possible.”
Added Pineiro: “You just mentally prepare that you’re the guy that day. All the eyes are on you. You’re the guy that day, so I like it.”
Fry lobbied to kick a 60-yard field goal after what was supposed to be his last attempt during a portion of practice on Saturday and connected from that lengthy distance — “You’re trying to prove confidence out there,” he said. But Pineiro on Sunday wasn’t about to merely try to equal Fry’s long kick.
“You know you gotta come out and try to do better than the next guy,” Pineiro said. “The goal is being better than the next guy. (Fry) said 60 yesterday, alright, I’m going 63. I’m not going 60.”
Pineiro made that 63-yarder, resulting in a resounding cheer from the announced crowd of 8,813 on Sunday. How the crowds in Bourbonnais would react to the kicking battle — it’s their first time getting to see a Bears player attempt a field goal since Cody Parkey’s double-doink — was an intriguing question heading into camp. So far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Granted, that’s easy when Fry and Pineiro combine to make 16 of their 18 tries over two days. But as each player found a groove, the crowd started chanting their names: “El-li-ott! El-li-ott! El-li-ott!” and “Ed-dy! Ed-dy! Ed-dy!”
There weren’t any boos when Fry missed his first attempt on Saturday or Pineiro missed from about 50 yards on Sunday. At least within the confines of Olivet Nazarene University, fans seem to be far more encouraging to than discouraged by their team’s kickers.
“I’ve never seen so many people cheer so loud in a practice before,” Pineiro said. “I’ve heard it in a game, but in a practice it’s unreal. It’s awesome.”
That, of course, can change if Fry and/or Pineiro start stacking bad days instead of good ones. And the Bears’ four preseason games will represent the biggest tests for each. Any murmurs or boos are more likely to be heard at Soldier Field on Aug. 8 than down here in Bourbonnais.
But for now, an encouraging start is just that: Encouraging, yet merely the start.
“You expect it,” Fry said. “This is the NFL. You don’t expect guys to come out and miss. He had a great day, I had a good day and we go from here.”