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Pace wants 'major competition' at kicker


INDIANAPOLIS – Bears general manager Ryan Pace on Wednesday vowed to leave no stone unturned in his quest to find a new kicker.

The team signed Tulsa product Redford Jones to a reserve/future contract Jan. 28. But Pace will continue to focus on addressing the position after informing veteran Cody Parkey that he will be released when the new league year begins March 13.

"I promise we'll explore every avenue to better that," Pace told reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "We want to create major competition at that position. Obviously, it's important. Whether it's free agency or the draft or college free agency, we're going to continue to explore that."

Parkey missed 11 kicks during his first year with the Bears, seven field goals and three extra points in the regular season followed by a 43-yard field goal attempt that hit the upright and crossbar with :05 left in a 16-15 playoff loss to the Eagles.

"What we need to do is make sure that we put ourselves in the best position possible at that position so that when we get in that situation, we're making them," Pace said.

The general manager said that the Bears would "definitely consider" drafting a kicker if there is one "we feel is worthy."

The three kickers participating in this year's Combine are Utah's Matt Gay, Oklahoma's Austin Seibert and LSU's Cole Tracy.

While Pace acknowledged that most kicking competitions in NFL camps involve two players, he "wouldn't be opposed" to having three battle for the job.

The kicker position is among the most difficult to evaluate. Roberto Aguayo seemed to be a sure thing, starring at Florida State before being selected by the Buccaneers in the second round of the 2016 draft. Two years later, however, he's out of the league. At the other end of the spectrum is the Ravens' Justin Tucker, a three-time first-team All-Pro who has become the most accurate kicker in NFL history after entering the league as an undrafted free agent.

"They come out of nowhere," Pace said. "They develop at different times. Sometimes they get specialized coaching after college, so it can change. One thing we always have to consider is the conditions we're playing in, with our wind, our elements. There's a lot of things that go into it, no different than any other position. Some of it's mental, some of it's physical."

Pace didn't hesitate when asked about the most important characteristic he's seeking in a Bears kicker.

"I think leg strength is important, especially in Chicago," Pace said. "You've got to knife through the wind. That's something that I would say is a high priority for us."

The Bears are intrigued by Jones, who in three seasons at Tulsa converted 74.6 percent of his field-goal attempts (50-of-67) with a long of 51 yards and 98.3 percent of his extra-point tries (169-of-172).

"We had basically an open-kicker workout," Pace said. "We went into it and said, 'Hey, we're going to be unbiased and we're just going to let it come to us,' and he crushed that workout. It was impressive, so he's on our team."

At the open tryout, Jones apparently passed more than just the eye test.

"Sometimes you literally can almost turn your back and hear the way the ball is coming off their foot and feel the power and the pop," Pace said., "So you look for leg strength, you look for consistency, you look for trajectory, all their mechanics. Those are all things that go into play."

Pace acknowledged that it's difficult to evaluate kickers in a tryout because there's no rush or the pressure of a late-game situation.

"It is hard to judge in those situations, so it's a combination of the workout, interviewing with the player and then the game tape," Pace said. "A lot of things go into play, and in college sometimes you've got to factor in the snapper and the holder and there's all these different elements, which is why that position is a little tricky."

Although it's tricky, the Bears are 100 percent committed to solidifying the position heading into the 2019 season.

"The big challenge now is to find that guy who can come in here and make those kicks," said coach Matt Nagy. "It's not easy. There's no exact science to it, but we're going to do everything we can to exhaust every avenue possible, whatever that means, and I don't know if I have that answer yet. But I promise you this: We're going to give it all we've got."