BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – John Wirtel knows that if he walked through the crowd at Bears training camp in street clothes, very few if any fans would recognize him.
But being a household name only in his own household is just fine with the undrafted rookie long-snapper from Kansas, who plays a position where anonymity equates with success.
“I’d rather have people not know my name than know it,” said Wirtel, a Chicago-area native who graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 2013. “I like to keep my name out of the papers. It’s better when people don’t know me.”
Wirtel was thrust into the spotlight over the weekend, but he remained under the radar by excelling at his job. With veteran long-snapper Patrick Scales away from the team due to a personal issue, Wirtel handled all long-snapping duties for kickers Elliott Fry on Saturday and Eddy Pineiro on Sunday in practice.
Fry made 9-of-10 field-goal attempts, hitting nine straight after missing his first attempt, capped by a 60-yarder. Pineiro answered by connecting on 7-of-8 tries, including a booming 63-yarder that cleared the crossbar with room to spare.
The kicking competition at Bears training camp is a top storyline and has garnered national attention. But Wirtel isn’t letting the pressure on him affect his performance.
“I just try to focus on doing my job,” Wirtel said. “Setting them up for success is all I worry about.”
Wirtel hasn’t been perfect, but he has shown improvement. On Saturday, one of his snaps was slightly high and another was a bit low. But holder Pat O'Donnell did a masterful job of snagging the ball and spotting it perfectly. On Sunday, all of Wirtel’s snaps were right on target.
“It’s just getting comfortable, getting comfortable with the environment,” Wirtel said. “Now I feel like I’m starting to settle into a bit of groove.”
Scales is expected to return to practice Monday, but Wirtel will continue to get his opportunities. He hopes to keep his name out of the papers even while playing a key role in a kicking competition that will remain in an intense spotlight.
“This is unique,” Wirtel said. “It’s definitely special. It’s different for sure. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The bears hit the training camp practice field in full pads for the first time Sunday.