Welcome to the Bears’ derby weekend.
On Derby Weekend, no less.
When the Bears start their three-day rookie minicamp Friday at Halas Hall, they’ll trot out a whopping eight men — enough to fill almost half the Kentucky Derby’s starting gate — vying to solve the Bears’ kicking problem.
Field goals have vexed the Bears since they cut Robbie Gould on the eve of the 2016 season. Only one team, the Buccaneers, can claim a worse field-goal percentage during that time.
The problem festered all last season before Cody Parkey double-doinked a field goal that would’ve won the NFC wild-card game against the Eagles. Six weeks and one “Today” show visit later, the Bears decided to cut him.
To replace him — at least for now, as Gould, their all-time leading scorer, continues to demand a trade from the 49ers — the Bears are holding a derby bordering on the bizarre.
For the next three days, they’ll get their first look at the following kickers, the first four of whom they have under contract:
† Former Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt — whose last name, coach Matt Nagy has joked, is pronounced “Blew-ay” — who last went to an NFL camp in 2017 with the Steelers.
† Redford Jones, who has been tutored by former Chargers great John Carney since his Tulsa career ended in 2017.
† Elliott Fry, South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer, who made all 14 field goals as a member of the Orlando Apollos before the Alliance of American Football folded last month.
† John Baron II, whom they signed as an undrafted free agent after the draft Saturday. As a senior at San Diego State, Baron made 17 of 22 kicks, all five kicks of 50 yards or more and all 27 extra points.
† Former Notre Dame kicker Justin Yoon, who made 17 of 21 kicks last year and 59 of 73 in his four-year career, headlines the Bears’ list of kickers attending camp on a tryout basis. He’ll be joined by two Big Ten tryout kickers: Purdue’s Spencer Evans, who made 18 of 23 field goals last season, and Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter, who made 17 of 23. Minnesota State-Mankato kicker Casey Bednarski, who made 15 of 23 kicks with a long of 55 yards last year, is just as famous for the video in which he makes a deep field goal shirtless and does a standing backflip.
“These guys have to compete,” Nagy said Saturday. “Get them out there and let them compete. It’s not going to be an easy competition. It’s about making your kicks under pressure, and it’s as simple as that. Either you make it or you don’t. We’re going to test them out.”
Nagy said the Bears “might get creative” with how they put pressure on the kickers. If there’s a timeline for finding one, he’s not saying.
“It’ll all play itself out — I know it will,” Nagy said. “[General manager] Ryan [Pace] and I have had long discussions about that, but I can promise you that Ryan has done an amazing job with his personnel scouts and turned over every rock to see who’s out there.”