At the end of rookie mini-camp practice behind the Walter Payton Center on Friday, Bears coach Matt Nagy had his players — about 75 of them — line up at midfield and watch as eight kicking candidates each attempted a single field goal from 43 yards out.
The idea was to apply as much pressure on the kicking derby candidates as he could without inviting 60,000 Bear fans to Halas Hall. And the distance — of course — was not a coincidence. That’s the same distance from which Cody Parkey infamously hit the left upright and crossbar on a fatal miss that clinched the Bears’ 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the wild-card playoff game on Jan. 6 at Soldier Field.
“That was on purpose,” Nagy said.
The Bears’ arduous process of finding a reliable kicker is unlikely to produce an immediate winner — and that was underscored Friday when six of the eight kickers missed the 43-yard field goal. Only John Baron, an undrafted free agent from San Diego State and Spencer Evans, a tryout rookie from Purdue, made their kicks.
Among the most impressive kickers Friday were former AAF kicker Elliott Fry, tryout kicker Casey Bednarski from Minnesota-Mankato and Jones, an undrafted free agent from Tulsa. Fry’s excellence in the kicking portion earned him a field goal opportunity at the end of a late period in the team practice and he nailed a 43-yarder.
The other kickers are Emmit Carpenter from Minnesota, Justin Yoon from Notre Dame and Chris Blewitt from Pitt. Though it looks a little unwieldy now, Nagy promised that “there’s a method to our madness.” The Bears don’t go to training camp until late July.
“This is going to be a little bit of a process,” Nagy said. “What I want to do in going through the process is try to create situations where it puts a little heat on them. … So we snuck one in there in the middle of practice [Fry hit from 43 yards]. And then we did the eight at the end — 2-for-8, that’s not good enough.
“Now I will say this: We always look at the end result, which is 100 percent what matters. But … two of those eight holds and snaps [weren’t] 100 percent — I’ll leave it at that. So we’ve got to work through that. That’s why after [Friday] we’re not going to make rash decisions. We’re going to play it out.”
To facilitate the process, the Bears have hired noted kicking guru Jamie Kohl as a consultant to help special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace find the right guy.
Kohl has worked with Saints kicker Will Lutz among other NFL kickers. He also helped rookie Daniel Carlson re-start his NFL career with the Raiders last year after Carlson was cut by the Vikings.
“He’ll be here a lot … throughout the season,” Nagy said of Kohl, “and why not? [He’s] somebody that has expertise in that and understanding a lot more than I know. He’ll be good for the kickers and I’m looking forward to how that goes.”