PHOENIX — The Bears’ kicking competition hasn’t exactly started yet, even if the team signed two kickers who emerged in tryouts at Halas Hall earlier this year. But Matt Nagy is already thinking about ways to enhance the competition when it does get underway, with the acknowledgement the Bears have to find a solution to the problem that double-doinked them out of the playoffs in January.
Generating pressure on kickers during OTAs/minicamp/training camp/preseason practices isn’t easy, given the laid-back nature of those compared to an actual game situation (though fans, surely, will be closely monitoring every field goal attempt that occurs in Bourbonnais). So something Nagy hinted at Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore: A reward, or punishment, for other players based on if a kicker makes or misses a field goal.
“I want to do everything I can — we’ll make sure that somehow, without having 70,000 screaming fans at Soldier Field and kicking it in Soldier Field we’re going to put pressure on them, and we’re going to make it so they kind of tighten up a little bit, as much as you can,” Nagy said. “You sit here and you watch these kickers at the Combine — you can hear a pin drop and they’re out there kicking with no pads on, no nothing. I want the real thing. How can you make that happen? You gotta kind of draw it up. When you have 90 players out there with an incentive of you gotta do this or they gotta do that if you make it or miss it, there’s a little bit of a challenge.”
When it was suggested to Nagy that he allow the media to be present to scrutinize every turn of the competition, he referenced one of 2018’s more interesting moments": “Well, that’s actually not a bad thought. Yeah, put the helicopter up there. That’d be good.”
Right now, the Bears have two kickers on their roster, neither of whom have kicked in an NFL game: Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt (Nagy said of the latter kicker’s seemingly-unfortunate last name, with a grin: “It’s French and it's Blue-Ay"). He’s not sure if the Bears have their 2019 kicker on their roster right now, leaving open the possibility for a free agent, draft pick and/or undrafted free agent to be acquired between now and the first week of September.
The Bears don’t want to overload their 90-man roster with kickers and take up an unsustainable number of spots during preseason practices. So if the Bears do add more players at that position, it may be just one, though it can also be a fluid situation. Nagy cited his old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, picking up kicker Harrison Butker on waivers after cut-down day in 2017, with Butker going on to make 90 percent of his field goals in the last two years.
Butker, though, also can serve as a lesson in a different way, given he was released by the Carolina Panthers prior to joining the Chiefs. Nagy said he doesn’t want to dismiss Jones or Blewitt before putting them through a competition and have them wind up finding success elsewhere.
“What if you have that guy?” Nagy said. “That’s how we gotta — everybody else says oh, no one knows who these guys are and they never kicked in a game but hell, I never coached in a game last year. … Somebody needs an opportunity. So wouldn’t that be terrible if we had two guys on our team right now that could be great kickers that we had and we let go or we did this — so we gotta give them an opportunity. Now that’s the fun part and it is, for sure, it’s a touchy situation because of what happened in the playoffs and because of the history of our team.”
Cody Parkey’s infamous missed game-winner in the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles will always be the undercurrent to whatever competition lies ahead. He was supposed to be the solution to the Bears’ inconsistent kicking game, the kind of guy who could make the big kick and earn the $9 million the team guaranteed to him last March. The pain and sting of Parkey’s double-doink won’t go away even as fans do pack Soldier Field in a few months.
All the Bears can do, though, is give themselves the best chance to get it right. They haven’t got “it” right, though, in a long time. But there’s an acknowledgement that they have to get this kicking thing solved, otherwise another promising season could end with more pain and frustration.
“We won’t know the answer until we go through some things, and who knows between now and training camp, who knows about anything,” Nagy said. “I wish I could tell you guys more. I don’t know. We’re just trying to make everybody else know that we know how important it is. You gotta make the kicks. That’s it. You gotta make the kicks. And so however we can put ourselves in the best position to make it happen, we’ll do that.”