After three days of rookie minicamp practices at Halas Hall, the elephant is still in the room.
Bears coach Matt Nagy deserves credit for his open embrace of the search for a kicker after the Cody Parkey failure. It’s an unorthodox, unwieldy, awkward process that has been called a carnival and a circus. But Nagy’s transparency at least made the first stage of that process bearable if not entertaining. Just think about what a disaster it would have been under John Fox.
Be that as it may, the rookie minicamp kicking derby over the weekend underscored the difficulty of the task more than it identified an ultimate winner. Casey Bednarski, a tryout kicker from Minnesota State-Mankato via the College of DuPage, unofficially was the weekend kicking derby “winner” after hitting from 32, 43 and 48 yards in a field goal kick-off against Redford Jones in front of teammates at the end of practice Sunday.
And it wasn’t enough to earn Bednarski a contract with the Bears, who did not sign any of the four tryout kickers following rookie minicamp. Jones, who hit from 32 and 43, but was wide left from 48, was cut, along with John Baron — leaving Elliott Fry and Chris Blewitt as the only two kickers on the roster.
That’s an indicator of just how muddled this competition was. Fry, Blewitt and Spencer Evans arguably were right with Bednarski in production. But nobody took such a big step forward to be considered the front-runner — or even look like a better option than Matt Bryant or the best veteran kickers likely available prior to the start of the season.
On the contrary, at this point it remains to be seen if the Bears’ kicker against the Packers in Week 1 is even on the roster.
“A great question,” Nagy said. “I feel strongly that it will happen, but I don’t know. There’s so many things that can go on between now and the start of the season that I wish I could tell you I knew this was going to happen. But I really, honestly don’t have an answer for you on that.”
It only gets tougher from here as the Bears have to whittle the competition for OTAs — May 21-23, May 29-31 and June 4-7 — before the veteran minicamp June 11-13. How many kickers will participate in OTAs? Even that was a tough question Sunday. “Anywhere from two to three maybe — four, who knows?” Nagy said. “It depends on what we see, what we decide on. But if it’s four, then it’s going to be close — we have to juggle how we want to work that with reps.”
Nagy appears comfortable having a rookie kicker on a team expected to make the playoffs. That could be a quandary in itself. Last year the Vikings dumped rookie kicker Daniel Carlson — a fifth-round draft pick — after two games in favor of veteran Dan Bailey because they were in win-now mode. Carlson resurfaced with the Raiders and made 16-of-17 field goals, including 3-of-3 from 50-plus yards.
But do the win-now Bears have the time to allow a kicker to develop if it comes to that? If Elliott Fry or Chris Blewitt or any of the minicamp kickers struggles early, the pressure will be immense. That’s got to be part of the decision as well. How patient can the Bears afford to be?
“There’s certainly going to be a growth factor with anyone that doesn’t have experience,” Nagy said. “But there’s teams out there that have gone into the playoffs with kickers with no experience that have made big kicks. You just don’t know that until they have the opportunity.
“And it’s not fair to these rookie players to say, ‘Well, you can’t be our kicker because you’ve never had a chance before.’ But then, with that comes criticism that you went with a young kicker. So that’s a balance.”
In other words, this saga is far from over. As diligent as the Bears have been in correcting an error, this is one process that is hard to trust.