Bears absorb faulty criticism of American Idol style kicking search

Gene Chamberlain

The search for kicker Cody Parkey's replacement – also known as the alternative to Robbie Gould – has drawn the Bears plenty of undeserved ridicule.

Criticism of their ability to find someone should have been reserved for last year, when they immediately tossed a bunch of money at Parkey and in return received a doinker instead of a kicker.

Within the past week and a half they've absorbed criticism from several Chicago radio sports talk sources. There was the claim by one longtime Bears beat writer that they were better off with Parkey than they are now. Then there was a factually incorrect article on The, the one saying they signed Green Bay area native Emmit Carpenter to a contract when he merely received a tryout.

Suggesting they were better off with Parkey than any of the three kickers being considered – Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro – is silly because not enough is known about those three. But in Parkey the Bears had a complete and proven mediocrity.

Parkey's 83.9 career kicking percentage is often tossed out to support his case, as if this is an asset. Yet 17 NFL kickers last year were 87 percent accurate on field goals. If they were looking for below average, then Parkey would have been front and center in the team photo. The Bears are looking for better. And besides, bringing back Parkey was entirely impossible unless they wanted to lose the rest of the team.

The tone to all the criticism is the Bears are going about this kicker search the wrong way by bringing in so many different candidates and not settling on one by now. They had nine come to Halas Hall for the rookie minicamp, but there have actually been many more than this considering a few of those under contract won kicking tryouts just to get their contract.

Originally they said eight, but punter Alex Kjellsten of McNeese State was allowed to kick field goals on the second day after only two of the eight made a 43-yarder on Day 1 of rookie minicamp.

And technically, there really weren't even nine kickers vying for the job at Halas Hall at rookie minicamp. There were four competing, and the other five were there only on a tryout basis hoping to earn a contract to challenge the other four competitors.

So if this is the wrong way, what then is the right way?

The right way surely isn't to draft a kicker. Only 11 of the league's 32 kickers last year were even drafted.

During the regular season, the right way or the time-honored path is bringing in another kicker or two from the traveling pool of young, unsigned and usually undrafted kickers pursuing jobs. This is how the Bears found Gould in 2005.

This is what the Bears are actually doing. They have merely taken a more expansive approach. It's more like a national manhunt or tournament to win the kicking job.

It is an American Idol for kickers.

During the season, there's no time for this type of massive tryout to get the best of the best.

Right now, however, there is all offseason to get it right. They have all the time in the world to sort through the most viable candidates. So why not use it?

The fear is they'll go through this process and the kicker chosen will bomb out like Parkey.

However, the hiring of kicking consultant Jamie Kohl helps to prevent this. It's a positive step since he obviously knows more about the mechanics of kicking than either GM Ryan Pace or coach Matt Nagy. Kohl runs kicking camps and has turned it into a science by using electronic equipment to measure kicking arc and ball speed.

What Kohl might not be able to determine is mental makeup of a kicker to withstand adversity, the very thing leading to the demise of Parkey. That's why it's good having these kickers around Pace and Nagy as much as possible during the competition. They can measure how they see each candidate responds to stress.

The public nature of the search is the most unusual aspect of it, and definitely the main reason they Bears field so much criticism. If they followed normal protocol, they'd have had kickers competing on a side field or in the Payton Center out of sight of the media, and then told everyone who they're signing perhaps without even revealing who the other candidates were.

Instead, Pace and Nagy chose to allow reporters to watch at rookie minicamp to ensure everyone knows all is being done to prevent a repeat of last season.

It would appear this is over now because organized team activities are the next offseason step beginning May 21, and media is allowed to watch only the Wednesday practices during OTAs. The practices go on three or four days a week.

Eventually it's assumed they'll have it down to two kickers by the time training camp starts, but all the while they'll keep an eye on the rest of the league in case another kicker is waived who might be potentially better than those competing.

By being thorough and exploring every possibility, the Bears are taking the right approach.

They've already had the wrong approach.