Chris Blewitt

Bears cut Chris Blewitt as kicking competition takes another turn 

Bears cut Chris Blewitt as kicking competition takes another turn 

The Bears waived kicker Chris Blewitt Wednesday morning, leaving Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry as the remaining members of the twisting-and-turning kicking competition at Halas Hall. 

Blewitt initially signed with the Bears after a tryout in February and, along with Fry, emerged from rookie minicamp’s eight-kicker tryout with a roster spot. The Bears traded for Pineiro shortly after rookie minicamp. None of those three kickers has ever kicked in a regular season NFL game. 

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor described Blewitt as having a “big leg,” though the Bears are able to quantify just how big that leg is. The team has used tracking devices to collect data on ball speed and trajectory, as well as charting makes and misses and evaluating each player’s mental approach, to paint a full picture of their kicking competition. 

“A guy could make a field goal and the ball goes through sideways and it doesn’t look like an NFL kick,” Tabor said. “And everyone says boy, he made it — but that’s what I call an ugly make. And when you’re doing that in practice it’s probably going to translate into ugly misses in the game. So when you look at ball speed, how fast does he get the ball up and those type of things, those are important factors that are realistic at their position.”

During Tuesday’s veteran minicamp practice, though, Matt Nagy called for each of the team’s three kickers to attempt a 42-yard field goal with “Augusta silence,” and all three missed. 

“For today, we can't have that,” Nagy said. “We are going to figure this thing out but 0-for-3 today, no good."

As things stand with two days of veteran minicamp left, the Bears will head into their summer break with two kickers on their roster. That could change for the start of training camp, though Nagy has previously indicated some discomfort with carrying more than two kickers on the roster, let alone to Bourbonnais. 

So Fry and Pineiro will battle in front of throngs of fans at Olivet Nazarene University still scarred from Cody Parkey’s miss, and still hoping Robbie Gould could wind up getting his way and returning to Chicago. That’ll provide a pressure-packed environment for both even before Nagy throws each a few curveballs (which may or may not involve the media). 

There’s a chance one could be cut during camp and another kicker could be brought in. And there’s similarly a chance the Bears could declare a “winner” by granting a roster spot on cut-down day, and then release that “winner” a day later in favor of a player added via the waiver wire. 

"We have to just keep trusting our evaluation of these three kickers,” Nagy said Tuesday, prior to the team cutting Blewitt. “It's not just one person, it's all of us together. We talk it through and we figure it out and we do everything we possibly can to make sure that in the end when we get to the very end, we have the right guy there."

As Bears sort through kicking competition, 'Augusta silence' becomes the latest wrinkle

7-31bearshelmetgeneralviewgeneric.jpg
USA Today

As Bears sort through kicking competition, 'Augusta silence' becomes the latest wrinkle

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. 

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.”