clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Augusta Silence’: How the Bears are ratcheting up kicker pressure by turning down the volume

As the Bears continue to sift through kicking options to replace Cody Parkey, they’ve decided the best way to replicate the pressure of a stadium at full throat is to create the opposite sensory experience.

Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor talks with coaches during practice at Halas Hall on Wednesday.
AP Photos

This is what ‘‘Augusta Silence’’ looks like: At any point during the Bears’ practice in organized team activities — be it after a defensive stop, a pass completion or a special-teams drill — play comes to a surprising halt. The Bears trot one of their three kickers into the middle of the field to try to make a field goal with the whole team watching.

This is what ‘‘Augusta Silence’’ sounds like: Nothing, except for the occasional tweeting bird, passing train or players shuffling their feet.

‘‘No one talks,’’ Bears special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said Wednesday.

As the Bears continue to sift through kicking options to replace Cody Parkey — they’ve got Chris Blewitt, Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro on the roster — they’ve decided the best way to replicate the pressure of a stadium at full throat is to create the opposite sensory experience. The Bears’ back field turns into the home of the Masters, with players standing in for patrons.

‘‘We’re getting the ‘Augusta Silence’ out here with the team, and that’s eerie,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘Probably not real. It doesn’t really get quiet all the time when you’re kicking. . . .

‘‘But to crave pressure and create pressure is for our whole team, not just the kickers.”

The Bears want the silence to be deafening.

‘‘When you stand back there and it’s silent and you’re alone out on the field, it is different than standing over here on the sideline,’’ Tabor said.

Nagy is quick to admit the quiet isn’t the same as the cacophony of a sold-out Soldier Field. He said the Bears are merely doing ‘‘as much as we can’’ in June. The coaches are ratcheting up the pressure in artificial ways, ranking the kickers after each practice and telling them the score. They choose the order in which they kick seemingly at random. All three are on alert at all times.

‘‘You’re going in every day, and you know that everybody’s watching,’’ Fry said. ‘‘You’ve gotta perform every day. You can’t have a bad day.’’

Parkey’s bad days — hitting four uprights in the same game, then double-doinking what would have been the winning field goal in the NFC playoffs — made this whole thing necessary.

‘‘It’s like a painful gift,’’ Tabor said in his first public comments since before the playoff game. ‘‘How you handle adversity says a lot about you. My glass is always half-full; it’s never half-empty.

‘‘I like where we’re at; I like where we’re going. What happened to us on that day, that was obviously not what we wanted. Do I love Cody Parkey? I sure do. But it didn’t work out.’’

Fixing the Bears’ kicker problem prompted an eight-man derby during rookie minicamp, a trade for Pineiro the next day and a three-man competition during OTAs.

‘‘It hasn’t been odd,’’ Blewitt said. ‘‘I guess it’s the same thing if there’s probably just one guy. Or two guys. Three or eight guys, like rookie minicamp.’’

Pineiro, who was in line to be the Raiders’ Week 1 kicker last season before suffering a groin injury, said he considers the competition fun.

‘‘It’s part of the game,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, everybody is going to have to compete. Quarterbacks and running backs have got to compete.’’

The Bears hired private kicking instructor Jamie Kohl as a consultant this offseason, a move Tabor said he wanted to make dating to his days as the Browns’ coordinator. Tabor appreciates Kohl’s technical prowess and ability to teach complicated issues simply but bristled at a suggestion it required him to give up a bit of control.

‘‘I look at it like this: He’s very good at what he does, and it’s another tool to give our players an opportunity to be successful,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘I think that’s what we all want.’’

The Bears are leaning on technology, too, to measure the velocity and trajectory of kicks. That helps to separate ugly makes from well-struck misses.

‘‘It’s just like golfers using all the technology they have to see where they’re hitting it,’’ Fry said.

Tabor can appreciate the skill level of his kickers. He pointed to Blewitt’s clutch performances at Pitt: In the final seconds of a game in 2016, he made a 48-yard field goal to beat No. 2 Clemson on the road. Fry hits a remarkably straight ball and was perfect in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. And Pineiro, a decorated high school soccer player, has ‘‘big leg talent,’’ he said.

‘‘They’re all battling, and it will be interesting to see how it’s going to play out,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘It’s not going to end up playing out by tomorrow.’’

A change might come soon, however. Nagy and Tabor were noncommittal when asked whether they would cut one of the kickers before the start of training camp in July. And there’s a very real chance the Bears’ Week 1 kicker isn’t on the roster yet.

The derby, then, is a long way from being settled.

‘‘Well, we’ll definitely have to have somebody Thursday night [Sept. 5] against Green Bay,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘I feel good about that.’’