In case the previous two articles weren’t obvious enough....training camp is about to begin! The wait is over; football is back. Bust out the jerseys and grills. And now, let us see what’s going on with the Chicago Bears’ special teams units.
Hint: there’s more going on here than the comedy routine at Kicker.
There will be more competition in this phase of the game than either offense or defense by a considerable amount. Besides the still-unresolved kicker position, we have new players competing at Kick Returner, and questions surrounding players who are currently on the roster. Plus, there will definitely be a youth movement to monitor, given that special teams is the biggest entryway for unknown players to prove their worth in the NFL.
But first, let’s address the figurative pink elephant who’s standing on the turf in Bourbonnais.
Fixing the freakin’ kicker position
Oh how easy it is to start a rant on this topic....the kicker position has been a complete mess since John Fox and the front office unceremoniously chased Robbie Gould out of town in 2016. Following the Goulden one’s departure, the path that’s been undertaken has led the franchise to seeking fool’s gold as opposed to finding a valid solution to the problem.
Cue the “Circus of the Clowns” to start playing in the background.
Seriously, the list of players who’ve either played or tried out for the Bears in the past three years is long and hard to read. The lowlights include Connor Barth, Roberto Aguayo — at least the Bears weren’t the team who spent a 2nd round pick on the guy — and the Uprights Sniper in Cody Parkey. Oh, and how about the Goose Island Field Goal challenge of 2019?
This stupidity and incompetence has to end.
Enter, hopefully, Eddy Pineiro and Elliot Fry. Neither of these players have ever kicked during the regular season in their respective careers. Pineiro, the former Florida Gators’ sensational kicker, is coming off a season spent on IR with the Oakland Raiders. Elliot Fry played collegiality at South Carolina, then “professionally” with the now-extinct Alliance of American Football league. It’s worth noting that Elliot Fry made all 14 of his field goal attempts for the Orlando Apollos.
Changes in philosophies and an addition has been made to the coaching staff as well. Jamie Kohl, who’s best known for running his kicking camps for collegiate athletes across the country, was hired in May to help solve the conundrum. Matt Nagy implemented the “Augusta Silence” challenge during the offseason workouts, and may intentionally call plays on offense to provide kickers with real-life scenarios to compete in preseason games.
There’s still a good chance that neither Pineiro or Fry ends up with the job in the end. Matt Bryant, for example, would be a highly logical “win now” type signing to solve the kicker position. I’m willing to bet that at least one more kicker will be added between now and the end of the preseason to compete for the job.
Competition heats up at Kick Returner
Okay, so with all the kicker shenanigans out of my system, we can look at a much more exciting element being added to the Bears’ special teams unit. Cordarrelle Patterson, the most productive returner in the league, was signed to a 2-year $10 million deal early in free agency. Tarik Cohen returns as their All-Pro Punt Returner.
So, kick and punt returner issues solved, right?
Wrong. The Bears also drafted Kerrith Whyte in the 7th round of the 2019 draft, and could be a contender for the alternate kick returner role, as well as a possible option to flex with Tarik Cohen. It’s also worth mentioning that Patterson will do much more than just returning kicks, too. He’s set to be the Bears’ “Trojan” on offense, a do-it-all player that can line up in any skill position.
This could turn into an interesting battle rather quickly. Whyte possesses a lot of raw speed and decent vision coming out of Florida Atlantic University. Anthony Miller did see some time as a kick returner last season, and may receive another look at the same position. Regardless, the most understated problem on the Bears’ special teams units might get resolved this season.
MegaPunt’s continuous development at Punter
Pat O’Donnell quietly signed a new contract with the Bears to return on a 2-year $4 million deal that’ll ensure some consistency remains at Punter. Unlike last year, he won’t face any competition whatsoever at training camp. The job is his until further notice.
Well, that’s good, I suppose. He is coming off a decent 2018 season that included a career high in kicks placed within the 20 (28, which is tied for his 2015 total) and a career best in punt yards returned at 150 yards. However, he also had a career high in touchbacks (7), and his handling of field goal set ups has been brought into question several times.
You’d think being the holder for a field goal would be the simplest job in the sport of football. Lemme tell you something, it’s not. And it’s easy to botch a field goal simply by pulling a Charlie Brown when handling the snap. I’m not an expert on this topic by any means, yet something always seemed off with O’Donnell’s set up for the kicker.
What we should look forward to is MegaPunt gaining better consistency with placing his kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and fixing whatever he’s doing wrong in handling the field goal snaps.
Bring out the cold drinks, crank up the speakers, and get your best recliner out of storage. Or, if you’re about to move into a new home like me, go find yourself a new throne to sit on. It’s time for some football.