Bears’ kicking battle continues to heat up

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – In horse-racing parlance, Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry have sprinted out of the gate and are neck-and-neck in the Bears’ kicking competition one week into training camp.

Since arriving at Olivet Nazarene University last Thursday, the two young kickers have consistency demonstrated leg strength and accuracy. That was the case again in Thursday’s practice when Pineiro connected on 8-of-9 field-goal attempts, with a long of 60 yards.

“They’re attacking each and every day one at a time, so I’ve been pleased with that,” said special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor. “The nice thing is, when a guy is successful, it puts more pressure on the other guy and he’s been responding. Now the ball will bounce over to Elliott’s side tomorrow.”

After making a 38-yarder in team drills Thursday, Pineiro converted 7-of-8 field-goal tries during a kicking period. He hit from 33, 33, 38, 42, 45 and 50 yards. After missing wide right and short from 55, he nailed a 60-yarder.

Fry was given the first opportunity last Saturday and responded by making 9-of-10 field-goal attempts, including a 60-yarder. Pineiro answered a day later by converting 7-of-8 kicks, highlighted by a 63-yarder.

In slick conditions due to steady rain Monday, Fry connected on 8-of-10, with one of his misses coming from 51 yards when his plant foot slipped on the wet grass.

“I thought that was awesome,” Tabor said. “Obviously when you wake up on Sunday morning at the hotel and are going to Soldier Field, you’re not exactly sure what the weather is going to be. We’re really not concerned about the weather. You have to play it. I thought he did a great job with it. Yeah, that shows you something. But to be honest with you, a kicker in Chicago is supposed to do that.”

Having the kickers alternate practices is a key part of the evaluation plan.

“It’d be just like gameday,” Tabor said. “It’s their day. They have all night to think about it and get prepared. They don’t know exactly what the scenarios are going to be when they come out here, but it’s make-or-miss, do-or-die and it’s been real positive because on our side you never know how a guy’s going to react when he becomes the guy.”

Tabor revealed that the Bears will deviate from that plan and give both kickers a chance to compete during Saturday night’s Family Fest practice at Soldier Field.

The Bears will then open the preseason next Thursday night by hosting the Carolina Panthers. Tabor declined to reveal his plan for the kickers but indicated that he doesn’t necessarily put more weight on kicks in preseason games than on those in practice.

“To me, every kick matters,” Tabor said. “To me, it’s the same. It’s an evaluation. Just because we go out under the lights and in uniform and those type of things doesn’t mean anything to me. You’ve got to make your kicks.”

Both Pineiro and Fry have made their kicks in training camp, showing improvement from offseason practices when neither was overly impressive.

“To a man, OTA performance wasn’t good enough,” Tabor said. “They understand that and we’re out front with that. And they’re performing. They can only control what they can control, and I think both guys are doing that.”

Tabor insists that he isn’t surprised that Pineiro and Fry have picked up their games.

“I did expect them to do well,” Tabor said. “I know that when you go through this process, there are growing pains. We’ve experienced that and we’re still experiencing it. But they’re stepping up to it.

“It’s for real now. This isn’t OTAs where, ‘Hey, you miss some and let’s go tweak a few things.’ This is, ‘I need to make my kicks.’ Days are limited. Games are limited. And we’re going to still play on Thursday night against Green Bay and we’re going to need a kicker.”

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