Inside the Huddle: Connor Barth up for Soldier Field’s challenges
Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears on Bears’ game days in the Chicago Sun-Times.
If you think kicking at Soldier Field is difficult, new Bears kicker Connor Barth suggests you give the practice fields behind Halas Hall a try.
“Out here [at Halas Hall] sometimes might be tougher because you don’t have anything blocking the wind,” Barth said.
Well, those Lake Forest winds helped Robbie Gould.
It was Gould’s success at Soldier Field — with its wind and shoddy surface — that astonished others. It’s where he became a fan favorite. Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers considered Gould’s consistency on the lakefront amazing. Legendary Bears kicker Kevin Butler called it uncanny.
On Monday night against the Eagles, Barth will kick at Soldier Field for the first time since replacing Gould, but also since his first NFL preseason game.
On Aug. 7, 2008, Barth made a 37-yard field goal and his only extra-point attempt for the Chiefs in their exhibition opener that season.
In 11 seasons, Gould made 139 of 167 field-goal attempts at Soldier Field. He attempted 205 extra points and missed one.
Barth said he plans to arrive at Soldier Field “extra early” with long snapper Patrick Scales and holder/punter Pat O’Donnell. He’s approaching the night as if he were on the road, making his pregame work crucial. He’ll kick from all over the field. It’s how he will get a handle on the conditions.
“You go out there and trust what you do in warmups,” Barth said. “However the ball is flying, you just got to trust that line.”
The weather should be on Barth’s side. Scales and O’Donnell suggested that the real adjustments come when the weather turns.
“It looks like it’s going to be a pretty nice night,” Barth said. “Early on in the season, with it being warmer out, it’s like a Tampa-ish feel. Tampa is on the bay, and it’s windy, so I’ve had some experience with some crosswinds and stuff like that.
“I just have to trust my technique and trust warmup. I’ll just see where the ball is going in warmups and go from there.”
A second week with Scales and O’Donnell has made Barth more confident, too. O’Donnell described Barth’s approach as “a little different than Robbie.”
“We’re starting to know each other’s tendencies and where our limitations are,” Scales said. “From a kicker’s point of view, it’s how he likes the ball to be held, whether it’s a more aggressive lean or more straight up and down or do you lean it forward and back. We just kind of fiddle with that. Connor seems like he’s pretty simple. I think he just likes it straight up and down.”
It helps that Barth has adjusted to new teammates on the fly during previous stops in his career. Gould’s first six seasons were spent with long snapper Patrick Mannelly and holder/punter Brad Maynard. How many snappers and holders has Barth had in his nine-year career?
“Too many,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been through a bunch. It would be nice to have the same continuity every year, but honestly, it’s maybe an advantage for me. I’ve had these experiences before.”
Having success on windy days at Halas Hall helps, too. On Thursday and Friday, Barth went 16-for-16 in practice.
“[Friday] was a good test,” Barth said.
The home opener will be different. But Barth isn’t going to overthink his Soldier Field debut.
“You just got to trust in the operation and trust in your ability,” Barth said. “And you just swing away.”
Getting Kevin going
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will simplify things for receiver Kevin White in an effort to jumpstart his season.
“[It’s] just making sure that when we’re putting in route concepts that we put the birds in the right place, [which] is what we say,” Loggains said. “[Receivers coach] Curtis Johnson has a lot of experience in New Orleans with this.
“[It’s] just making sure that we do stuff that Kevin is able to practice, and he gets the looks that he’s able to see.”
Getting White to play fast is essential.
“[It’s] just making sure that he feels really comfortable with the things he’s done,” Loggains said.
It hasn’t taken quarterback Matt Barkley long to realize that quarterback Jay Cutler is different than outside perceptions.
“I don’t get why there’s such a contrast,” said Barkley, who joined the practice squad on Sept 5. “I guess people just don’t know him. I love the guy. I know he works his ass off, and that’s what a lot of people don’t get and don’t appreciate.”
Barkley, a fourth-pick of the Eagles in 2013, has a unique perspective. He was a prized five-star recruit who turned into a four-year starter at Southern California, including two years with Pete Carroll.
“[Cutler’s] leadership is definitely a little different, but it’s just how he plays, whether it’s calling out guys or just demanding excellence,” Barkley said. “He just wants everybody to be better.”
Running backs Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard need to become trustworthy blockers if they’re going to spell Jeremy Langford.
“Langford’s playing more because he is the best in pass protection,” Loggains said.
But carries still are coming for Carey and Howard.
Howard’s workload is worth monitoring. The rookie played in an offense at Indiana that featured zone blocking. His patience and decisiveness showed up in the preseason. He knows how to set up linebackers.
“The more you press it, the more they’re willing to commit,” Howard said. “If you get them to commit to a certain point, you’re going to set them up for the block to be easier for the linemen.”
Howard also was a drafted partly because of his power.
“When you make that one quick cut, people might be trying to just get arms on you or just reach on arm tackles,” Howard said. “You have to be violent and strong enough to run through them.”