Every night in bed, Connor Barth imagines a football field.
He’s kicking field goals from short distance and long range, from the left and right hashes.
“Your brain’s a pretty strong tool,” he said. “It builds a stronger reinforcement and a structure around what you’re doing already. Hopefully you go out there and are like, ‘Aw, I’ve already kicked this in my head.’”
He makes them all.
This year, that hasn’t happened outside of his dream world.
The Bears’ new kicker has made only 5-of-8 attempts this season — and 5-of-9, if you count the missed 54-yarder that was canceled out by a running into the kicker penalty Sunday against the Colts. He missed the 49-yarder on the next play, too, and said after the game he wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears brought in competition this week.
They did not.
“It means a lot, the front office and the coaching staff to believe in me,” Barth said. “I gotta go out there and execute. It’s pretty much a bottom-line business, especially at our position. It’s pretty easy to evaluate. You gotta make your kicks.
“I’m not nearly at the standard to where I hold myself. I should be doing a lot better.”
Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers pointed to Barth’s practice proficiency and solid striking — “The ball flight, the rotation of the ball, his timing, it’s all really good,” he said — as reasons for optimism. The snap and hold, by Patrick Scales and Pat O’Donnell, respectively, has been consistently good. Barth’s misses don’t have any common factors, Rodgers said: he grounded his foot on one try, missed one left and another right.
The fact remains: he’s an 83.7 percent career kicker who has made only 62.5 percent this season.
“Everything is pointing toward him being capable of making those kicks,” Rodgers said. “If we didn’t feel like he was capable of doing that, then I’m sure the decision makers would make a different decision.”
Keeping Barth is a reflection the free agent market as much as the Bears’ faith in him. The Cowboys worked out two kickers last week as insurance for Dan Bailey’s balky back: Robbie Gould and Kai Forbath. The Bears replaced Gould, their stalwart for 11 years who they cut a week before the opener, with Barth; Forbath beat out Barth in the Saints’ preseason — only to be cut two days later.
Barth, who has kicked for four teams since his 2008 debut, knew that Gould left him big cleats to fill.
“Robbie’s one of the best,” he said. “I just wanna be me.”
Barth has heard fans angry with him for the misses.
“C’mon, social media is social media,” he said. “It makes me laugh. I think it’s funny. You’re going to hear stuff. But at the end of the day, I mean, I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”
Barth isn’t one to waste time worrying. He grew up surfing in Wilmington, N.C., and said he brings a “beach mentality” to the locker room.
He’ll watch his missed kicks to see what went wrong — mainly looking to make sure his leg swings straight through the target — but doesn’t dwell on them.
“I only like to watch kicks that I make, because it reinforces positive thinking,” he said.
He learned the visualization techniques from a sports psychologist at North Carolina after a sophomore year in which he made 11-of-21 kicks. It worked; in his other three seasons, he went 29-for-32 the next two years.
That was the last time he struggled so much — until now.
“This is new to me as well,” Barth said. “Usually, I’m pretty consistent.”