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First-and-10: A look at Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro’s ‘competition’

Veterans Graham Gano, Stephen Hauschka and Chris Boswell could be available if upstarts Joey Slye, Chase McLaughlin and Matthew Wright beat them out.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears
Eddy Pineiro knows he still has plenty of competition for the Bears’ kicking job, even after Elliott Fry was cut Sunday.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Eddy Pineiro’s reserved, almost sheepish response to “winning” the Bears’ kicker competition against Elliott Fry belied what seems like one of his best assets — he’s got an edge to him.

Pineiro not only had the stronger leg but seemed the more likely to develop into a Robbie Gould-like, headstrong kicker who thinks he’s the quarterback — the kind of attitude that comes in handy when you kick half your games at Soldier Field.

“You have to be mentally strong at that position. But that’s not the reason that [Pineiro beat out Fry],” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “But it certainly helps to have somebody [like] that. . . . I like that. Our team kind of has a little bit of swag to us that we’ve always preached, and that’s who we are. But you can only have swag when you make the kicks. That’s by no means a reason why [Pineiro was the choice].”

Pineiro’s approach when he met with reporters Sunday, after the Bears cut Fry, was an acknowledgement of reality: He hasn’t won anything yet. He knows the competition is down to him vs. Joey Slye, Dan Bailey, Matthew Wright and Chase McLaughlin — and possibly Graham Gano, Chris Boswell, Stephen Hauschka and even former Bear Cairo Santos, among others in preseason competitions around the NFL.

Here’s a look at the key kicking battles in the final two weeks of the preseason:

Panthers: Slye came in to hold the position as Gano recovered from a knee injury from 2018. But he’s 5-for-5 in two preseason games, with a 55-yard field goal against the Bears and a 54-yarder against the Bills, and has to be giving the Panthers something to think about.

Gano, 31, is just now coming back and would be an option if he’s available. He’s 43-for-46 on field goals the last two seasons and 3-for-5 on kicks from 50 yards and beyond, including a 63-yarder last season.

Steelers. The veteran Boswell and undrafted free agent Wright are in a serious competition that figures to yield a legitimate option for the Bears. Wright is 2-for-2 on field goals in the preseason, including a 46-yarder against the Chiefs on Saturday night. Boswell made 85 of 95 field goals (89.5 percent) in his first three years in the NFL before slumping last year (13-for-20, 65.0 percent).

Bills. Keep an eye on former Illinois kicker McLaughlin (4-for-5 from 50-plus yards for the Illini last year). He’s 2-for-2 in the preseason (38 and 23 yards) and putting pressure on the veteran Hauschka, who is 1-for-3 in the preseason after a rough 6-for-11 finish to last season.

Vikings. After they traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Ravens for Kaare Vedvik, it’s still possible the Vikings can keep Vedvik for punts and long field goals and Bailey for short field goals. The more likely scenario is that Bailey is cut. But after two subpar seasons, he’s likely further down the list.

The other preseason competitions are the Browns (draft pick Austin Seibert vs. Greg Joseph), Packers (Mason Crosby vs. Sam Ficken), Bengals (Tristan Vizcaino vs. Randy Bullock) and Buccaneers (draft pick Matt Gay a lock vs. Santos). And undrafted rookie Cole Hedlund — presumably holding Adam Vinatieri’s spot — is 4-for-5 with the Colts, missing from 51 yards.

Whatever happens, Pineiro knows the pressure is still on. In fact, with a conditional seventh-round pick on the line if he’s on the Bears’ roster for five or more games, he probably has to be the clear best option entering the regular season.

2

As recently as 1977, the Bears reported to training camp on July 17 — two months before their season opener — and had two-a-day practices without days off, playing in seven (!) exhibition games.

Times have changed. With Nagy leading the way, training camp and the preseason have become one big slog across the league: too many practices, with little or no outside competition. Eventually, the NFL is going to have to adjust, eliminating at least two preseason games and possibly shortening training camp. The current set-up has become problematic.

3

With the Bears’ defense in midseason form from the start of camp, and with Nagy keeping his starting offense on the sidelines in the preseason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the offense have become the great unknown of the 2019 season.

But it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. The Bears’ offense figures to be above average, with moments of excellence. This is an offense that — even after extracting the team’s defensive touchdowns — ranked 11th in the NFL in scoring last season (23.1 points per game). It’s unlikely the Bears got worse after offseason changes. Stand down.

4

After quarterback, tight end will be the position to watch entering the season. Trey Burton is recovering from sports hernia surgery, Adam Shaheen is an unknown with a back issue, and Ben Braunecker is dependable but not spectacular.

After that, it’s another series of question marks. Bradley Sowell is a converted tackle. Undrafted rookies Ian Bunting and Dax Raymond are intriguing and have a real shot to at least make the practice squad. Rookie Jesper Horsted is on the fringe of the roster.

From Burton’s health on down, the Bears have a lot to prove at tight end — especially considering how the Andy Reid/Doug Pederson/Nagy offense seems to depend on not only quality but depth at that position.

5

The over/under total on Trubisky’s performance against the Packers in Week 1: 18-for-28, 207 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — for a 95.4 passer rating.

6

With the Bears’ starting lineup so set this season, the annual rite of falling in love with a bottom-half-of-the-roster guy has lost some luster. And the cutdown to 53 won’t be quite as lamented as it used to be.

But final cuts still can matter. Last year, nickel cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc was cut, presumably in favor of Marcus Cooper or rookie Kevin Toliver. Not only could the Bears have used LeBlanc after Bryce Callahan was injured, but he also helped beat the Bears in the wild-card game against the Eagles.

7

With that in mind, players to watch Saturday against the Colts: guard Alex Bars; cornerbacks Clifton Duck and John Franklin; tight ends Dax Raymond and Ian Bunting; defensive linemen Jonathan Harris and Jalen Dalton; and wide receivers Jordan Williams-Lambert and Thomas Ives.

8

Linebacker James Vaughters is the kind of player who, in previous years, might have created a little more buzz after making plays in both preseason games. He recovered a fumble against the Panthers and had a strip-sack and fumble recovery against the Giants on Friday night. Undrafted out of Stanford in 2015, Vaughters has played the last three seasons in the Canadian Football League.

“This is my fifth year out of college, my fourth year as a pro, [and] that was the best play I ever made,” Vaughters said of the strip-sack of rookie Daniel Jones. “We played behind guys that have a nose for the ball, so watching them practice every day and watching them play, you get a feel for how they look at it. It’s not just a sack — it’s a sack-fumble and scoring. Best play in football: sack-fumble-touchdown.”

9

Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Raiders backup QB Mike Glennon completed 11 of 14 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns without an interception for a perfect 158.3 rating against the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

10

Bear-ometer: 10-6 — vs. Packers (W); at Broncos (W); at Redskins (W); vs. Vikings (W); vs. Raiders in London (W); vs. Saints (L); vs. Chargers (W); at Eagles (L); vs. Lions (W); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Lions (W); vs. Cowboys (W); at Packers (L); vs. Chiefs (L); at Vikings (L).