Entering the offseason, the Bears asked Eddy Piñeiro to add weight to his 179-pound frame and get stronger in the weight room. The kicker complied, bulking up to 187 pounds.
Watching Piñeiro kick in person Monday at Halas Hall for the first time since last year's season finale against the Vikings, Bears special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor immediately noticed the difference.
"I'm going to be honest with you, the first day we went out and kicked—I hadn't seen him kick since the Minnesota game—you're looking at a bigger, stronger Eddy Piñeiro," Tabor said Thursday on a video call with reporters. "I was very impressed."
Piñeiro spent much of the offseason kicking at a park in Miami with Bears teammate Pat O'Donnell and working out at Bommarito Performance Systems, a popular training facility for NFL players.
"He has put on the weight that we asked," Tabor said. "He actually decreased his body fat and you can tell he is much stronger. When we went out and kicked, the ball is jumping off his foot really well."
The Bears acquired Piñeiro in May 2019 via a trade with the Raiders in exchange for a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft pick. He won a highly-publicized competition for the job with Elliott Fry in training camp and the first couple weeks of the preseason after the Bears had evaluated several other kickers in their rookie minicamp.
Piñeiro showed promise in his first NFL season last year, converting 82.1 percent of his field-goal attempts (23 of 28). The Bears were impressed with how he rebounded from missing 4 of 7 midseason tries to make his final 11 field-goal attempts over the last six games.
A year later, Piñeiro will be challenged by Ramiz Ahmed, who signed with the Bears April 17. Ahmed last kicked competitively at the University of Nevada in 2018, when he made 15-of-20 field-goal attempts (75.0 percent). After not playing football while attending UNLV and Arizona State, he made the Wolf Pack team as a kickoff specialist in 2017 following a tryout.
While Piñeiro won't be handed the job, Tabor is confident that the University of Florida product is primed to build on his first NFL season and perform even better in 2020.
Piñeiro gained valuable experience last year, especially in late-game pressure situations. His 52-yarder as time expired beat the Broncos 16-14 Sept. 15 in Denver and his 22-yarder with :10 remaining gave the Bears a 21-19 win over the Vikings in the season finale. He also missed a 41-yarder as time expired in a 17-16 home loss to the Chargers Oct. 27.
"He knows that he has to produce," Tabor said. "I know that he will because he's just that type of guy. I know he's done it. He had an opportunity where he didn't get it done. Those things eat at him. But the good thing is he's been in those situations and we've seen him come through. Now we want to see him take the next step.
"He's learning how to handle the wind here much better. I'm real proud of him. But we still have a lot of work to do. There's so much more growth. This player can really take off. I'm excited to watch."
After Piñeiro won the job last summer and performed well in his first season, Tabor believes the kicker is more relaxed but still doesn't feel as if he's "arrived" in the NFL entering his second year with the Bears.
"He understands what a season is going to feel like," Tabor said. "Last year was his first full NFL season. So I think that's why him putting on the weight and being able to handle as it gets colder and the ball isn't flying as far, being able to use some of those attributes that he has, that is going to benefit him.
"We're going to put pressure on him and he puts pressure on himself, and that's what I love about the kid. We have not arrived at that kicking spot. We are always a work in progress and we still have things to prove, and we're excited to get back out on the field."