Bears

Five things we learned from the first weekend of the Bears’ kicking competition 

Five things we learned from the first weekend of the Bears’ kicking competition 

Update, 6:45 p.m.: The Bears waived Redford Jones and John Baron II, and did not sign any of the four kickers at Halas Hall who were there on a tryout. 

The final practice of the Bears’ 2019 rookie minicamp ended with Matt Nagy calling out two names: Casey Bednarski and Redford Jones. 

Nagy then explained to the assembled group of drafted players, undrafted free agents and those there on a tryout what would happen next: Bednarski and Jones would have a kick-off that, essentially, boiled down to the loser being the first player to miss. But there was an additional twist: Bednarski represented the defensive players, while Jones was kicking for the offense.

Bednarski and Jones both connected 32- and 43-yard attempts as players heckled and cheered the contestants. Bednarski nailed his 48-yard try. Jones missed his. 

Defensive players mobbed Bednarski, who did his trademark backflip in celebration. Nagy then delivered the repercussions for the offensive players: They would have to circle up around Jones and do 25 up-downs while the losing kicker watched. 

“I thought it was awesome,” Elliott Fry, a kicker who wasn’t part of the competition, said. “That’s what you’ve got to do — you’ve got to create pressure situations, and obviously you can’t go out to Soldier Field and have 60,000 people there and have pressure on the line. That’s one of the best ways to create pressure and as kickers that’s kind of what it comes down to.”

The image of gassed offensive players doing up-downs at the end of practice — albeit the shortest one of the weekend — while Jones had to sheepishly watch is a defining one for how the Bears’ kicking competition may play out in the coming weeks and months. Here’s what else we learned after three days of closely following all eight kickers’ every move at Halas Hall:

1. Expect far fewer kickers present for OTAs. 

Nagy said the Bears, ideally, would have two to three kickers on the 90-man roster for OTAs, which begin May 21 at Halas Hall. He left the door open for the team to carry four kickers, but indicated things would have to awfully close for that many to be on the roster. 

From observing the eight kickers (Bednarski, Jones, Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry, Emmit Carpenter, John Baron II, Spencer Evans and Justin Yoon) in the competition all weekend, the top four seemed to be Bednarski, Blewitt, Fry and Evans (Bednarski and Evans were at rookie minicamp on tryouts, Blewitt and Fry are on the roster).

Bednarski, though, was informed the Bears will not sign him. Jones and Baron II were waived, and none of the other kickers at Halas Hall on a tryout were signed. So that leaves two on the roster, for now: Blewitt and Fry. 

While making the most kicks is the No. 1 aspect of this competition, it’s not the only one. 

The Bears used tracking technology to gather data beyond makes and misses, such as trajectory and ball speed, which will factor into their equation of who to keep and who not to keep. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, too, made a point to let his kickers know that simply making kicks at Halas Hall wasn’t going to mean they’d make kicks in the conditions at Soldier Field. 

“I think he said, this is not an Augusta fairway,” Fry said. “It’s going to be bumpy out there. That’s something you have to deal with.”

And from a mental standpoint, Nagy and Tabor aimed to push the limits of each of the kickers present to, as Blewitt said, “see what we were made of.”

So Nagy, Tabor, Ryan Pace and the rest of the Bears’ decision-makers will huddle in the coming days to pour over data, scouting reports and video of every kicker brought into Halas Hall this weekend. Perhaps someone like Bednarski kicked his way onto the roster, while someone like Jones (who was the only kicker on the roster not made available to the media Sunday) kicked himself off it. We’ll find out in the coming days, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to only see two or three of these eight players back at Halas Hall in late May. 

“They’re not going to be easy (decisions),” Nagy said. “The kicker position is one where we’re going to have to — we have to make sure that we are making the right decision.”

2. Cody Parkey will loom over this competition, but Nagy wants it to be in a productive way. 

During Friday and Saturday’s practices, Nagy called out the name of a kicker — Fry on Friday, Blewitt on Saturday — to attempt a field goal in the middle of practice, in front of the entire team and coaching staff, from 43 yards. That was intentional: It’s the distance from which Cody Parkey’s game-winning kick against the Philadelphia Eagles doinked off the left upright and crossbar at Soldier Field. 

“What coach said when he first brought us in here is you face adversity head on,” Baron said. “Like, we don’t shy away from that kick at all. That’s part of the game. If it comes down to that kick again, he needs the guy that’s going to go in there and make that. We’re not going to be scared of it; we’re going to fight it.”

Nagy showed not just the eight kickers, but his entire team — returning veterans included — a clip of Parkey’s infamous miss, driving home his message of turning the brutal end to last season into something positive this season. 

“No elephant in the room,” Nagy said. “This is where we're at. This is what happened last year. This is gone now. How can we improve? Well, that happened to be the last play of our season. So now if you're a kicker and you're in the room, you're going to feel uncomfortable. If you're a player or coach in the room, you're going to feel uncomfortable. So let's go test it out now.”

3. This process may not net the Bears their Week 1 kicker. 

An irony loomed over the daily kicking competition updates emanating from Halas Hall: The kicker the Bears will begin 2019 with may not have been there. 

Nagy said he feels “strongly” that the team’s Week 1 kicker was at Halas Hall this weekend, but there exists a possibility that would render this months-long competition utterly pointless. 

The Bears could whittle this competition down to three guys for OTAs, two guys for training camp and then keep the winner on their roster on cut-down day over Labor Day Weekend…and then, a day later, acquire a kicker off waivers and release the “winner” of the competition. 

At this early of a stage, nothing can be ruled out for how things will end, and who will wind up kicking field goals on Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. 

4. The media has a role to play in this. 

Usually, everything that happens in these minicamp/OTA practices at Halas Hall is considered off the record by the Bears’ media policy — meaning reporters are not allowed to provide specifics of what they see on the field. 

The team tweaked its policy, though, for rookie minicamp: Anything done by kickers on the main practice field was considered fair game for reporting, which is why we’re able to tell you what happened at the end of practice Sunday, for example. The bulk of the kickers’ work came on a different practice field, where reporters charted makes and misses to provide general thoughts on what we saw. It was impossible to not notice the reporters standing near the goalposts or on the sideline. And by giving us in the media more freedom to report what we see, it could have the effect of putting more pressure on the members of this competition. 

“I don’t think anyone really minded it,” Baron said. “We kind of expected it coming into it. But I don’t think it threw anyone off or did anything like that. Media is always to be around especially if you’re trying to compete at an NFL level.”

5. Blewitt is pronounced how you think it is.  

Nagy cracked a smile when he was asked about Blewitt in March at the NFL Annual Meeting in Arizona, saying the kicker’s seemingly-unfortunate last name was pronounced “Blue-Ay.” 

It’s not. 

“I heard he said I was French,” Blewitt said. “I’m not French. You know, it was fun, people are going to have fun with that.”

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

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USA TODAY

Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

If Mitchell Trubisky has the kind of break out year in his second season under Matt Nagy that Bears fans are hoping for, he should have no problem cashing an OVER 26.5 passing TDs ticket for bettors who want to back him.

Per Bet Chicago, Caesars is rolling out division props and they set Trubisky’s touchdown pass total for 2019 at 26.5 and his pass yard total at 3,744.5.

While both those marks would be career highs for Trubisky, this number will surely be seen as a slight by the hometown fans and continue to add to the polarizing nature of the quarterback formerly known as the Pretty Boy Assassin.

In Chicago, and if you’re team Mitch, this number is ridiculously low and you’re probably already pounding the over.

Outside of Chicago, and with some analytical support, there’s a lot of doubt about Trubisky’s future as a viable option as an NFL starter, so I’d guess the Pro Football Focus crowd is probably gonna take the under.

We rolled out some props of our own on the Under Center podcast last week including:

Will Mitch Trubisky pass for 10 or more touchdowns than Craig Kimbrel has saves? (Including playoffs for both)

26.5 regular season passing touchdowns probably gives Kimbrel the edge, but it’s right in range. 

And that Trubisky – Kimbrel prop prompted this bold response from our own Bears insider JJ Stankevitz:

I don’t think I’m in the 40 club with my guy JJ, but the OVER certainly feels like the move here. At least it better be if the Bears are gonna make any sort of NFC North title defense.