On the final day of Bears rookie minicamp, coach Matt Nagy found another creative way to put pressure on the kickers competing for a roster spot.
At the end of Sunday’s practice at Halas Hall, Nagy picked Redford Jones to represent the offense and Casey Bednarski to compete for the defense, with the losing kicker’s unit having to do 25 “up-downs” as punishment.
Alternating field-goal attempts, Bednarski and Jones both connected from 32 yards and again from 43 yards. But when Bednarski hit from 48 yards and Jones followed by missing his try wide left, the defense erupted in celebration and a jubilant Bednarski did a backflip.
“I thought I saw that,” Nagy said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye and said, ‘Did he just do that?’ And I guess he did. I would probably recommend to not do that. I think of [former NFL kicker] Martin Gramatica. He had a little celebration and [tore] an ACL. It’s probably not the smartest thing to do.”
The Bears entered their rookie minicamp with four kickers on their roster—Baron, Jones, Chris Blewitt and Elliott Fry—and four participating on a tryout basis—Bednarski, Emmit Carpenter, Spencer Evans and Justin Yoon.
Hours after the final practice Sunday, the Bears announced that they had released Baron and Jones, leaving only Blewitt and Fry on the roster.
Nagy had vowed to put pressure on the kickers in rookie minicamp, and the Bears coach did a masterful job. He ended the first practice Friday by having all eight of them try a field goal from 43 yards, the distance that Cody Parkey missed from late in the Bears’ playoff loss to the Eagles.
It was no coincidence that Nagy chose that distance, and he made sure that all the kickers knew the significance of it. Instead of burying his head in the sand and pretending the miss didn’t happen, Nagy wants to use it as a learning tool.
“I think in life, not just football, so many people are scared to talk about the quote-unquote elephant in the room,” Nagy said. “They don’t want to be honest. Or they feel uncomfortable by it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to use it as a positive. We’re going to try to learn from it.”
To that end, Nagy showed a tape of Parkey’s miss to Bears veterans when the offseason program began April 15 as well as to the rookies this weekend.
“This is where we're at,” Nagy said. “This is what happened last year. This is gone now. How can we improve? Well, that happened to be the last play of our season. So now if you're a kicker and you're in the room, you're going to feel uncomfortable. If you're a player or coach in the room, you're going to feel uncomfortable. So let’s go test it out now.”
While only two of the eight kickers—Baron and Evans—made the 43-yard attempt Friday, six connected on a 42-yarder at the end of Saturday’s practice: Bednarski, Evans, Blewitt, Fry, Carpenter and Yoon.
Nagy said the Bears likely will take 2-4 kickers in their OTA practices, which will be conducted from May 21 through June 7.
“It depends on what we see, what we decide on,” Nagy said. “If it’s four, then it’s going to be close. We have to juggle how we want to work that with reps. If it’s two, then there’s more reps for both those guys than if it’s three. We’re going to go back and go through that right now.”