On Tuesday, the first day of Bears minicamp, head coach Matt Nagy stopped practice about halfway through. It was time to put the team’s three kickers under a test he calls, “Augusta silence.”
All eyes on the kickers. Reporters, Bears alumni, coaching staff, 90-man roster staring at the three specialists. It was silent, as quiet as a golfer sizing up a putt for par. Doink, wide right, wide left. Each kicker missed his attempt in a different way from 42 yards out—0-3. One of the three, the one with the best headline potential, Chris Blewitt, was sent packing the next morning. You might say he had a chance, and blew it. The kicking competition is starting to feel a little bit like an episode of Survivor, and the Bears' Tribal Council voted Blewitt off the island.
Blewitt’s sudden release proved the Bears won’t hesitate to cut a kicker, even with just two minicamp practices to go. The remaining kickers, Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro, bounced back Wednesday after the rough Tuesday showing, going 2-for-3 and 2-for-2, respectively. Nagy said the timing of Blewitt’s release wasn’t done to put the other kickers on notice, “but that’s what they see, that’s what our team sees, so now today when they are put in a similar situation as yesterday, it naturally creates more pressure. I was proud of those guys for being able to make those kicks.”
Before Wednesday’s practice, running back Tarik Cohen said he’s closely following the unconventional kicker search, because of “what happened last year.”
“What happened last year” is probably the least painful way to sum up how the Bears' 2018 season ended.
“The way we practice now, we stop, everybody stops and you have to watch,” Cohen says. "It's the only thing you are seeing at that point in time, so you’re going to pay close attention to it.”
Cohen says he remained calm through the three straight misses on Tuesday, but Nagy admitted to frustration. “Whatever went through your head, went through mine,” he told reporters after that practice.
On Wednesday, Nagy stopped practice again and shut the music off for another Augusta moment. Fry and Pineiro both made 45-yard field goals and the players cheered. Cohen shouted and jumped up and down on the sideline.
At Bears rookie minicamp, Nagy had all eight kickers attempt a 43-yard field goal, the same distance ex-Bears kicker Cody Parkey infamously double-doinked off the posts, the final picture of the Bears season. Parkey’s first attempt was good, but the Eagles iced him and he missed the one that counted. On Wednesday, Nagy again recreated that moment, this time by icing Fry on a 53-yard attempt. It was good. Fry’s next attempt went wide right, by a lot.
Pineiro went next, and in what might have been some reverse psychology coaching, he was not iced. He was good from 53 yards.
Fry and Pineiro are the two kickers left standing—for now—as Chicago gets ready to go on break until training camp, though there’s a chance neither of them will be the one to win the starting job. Fry has no NFL experience, and most recently kicked in the AAF before the league folded. Pineiro has brief NFL experience, kicking for Oakland in one preseason game last year before landing on IR.
Cohen offered up another alternative: “A couple of players want to try out too.” During a break in the practice action, Cohen attempted a short field goal (around 23 yards). It didn’t go well, but he knows he can’t kick. Cohen said rookie running back David Montgomery has been one of the players talking up his kicking. Montgomery was a dual-threat quarterback and a kicker at Mount Healthy High School in Cincinnati.
“David Montgomery said he can kick,” Cohen says. “He kicked a 50-yarder in high school or something like that. I don't buy it. It was probably a punt.”
Montgomery is adamant he hit a 50-yarder, but of course it happened in practice. “They don't believe me,” Montgomery says. “I don't have any video evidence, but I do have a record at my high school for me kicking the farthest field goal.”
Montgomery hasn’t yet shown his teammates or coaches what he claims he can do, but if the Bears want to create more pressure-packed situations to challenge the kickers, why not let them face off against the rookie running back?