Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Joniak: Bears Keep An Eye Out For Kickers

February 27, 2019 - 6:16 pm

INDIANAPOLIS (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – Jeff Joniak is reporting from the NFL Scouting Combine. Here are his latest observations.


First impression

Now camped out for my 23rd consecutive Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, I will fire off some impressions over the course of the week as it pertains to the 2019 Bears. My first impression is that General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy are feeling and fueling the high expectations for next season. They are very much in lockstep as they have been from the moment they met more than a year ago. They embraced the development and growth of the 2018 team but realize they are just starting the journey to be a contender.

“The hunger that was in our players’ guts and what was in their eyes when we talked and I met with them individually, you can’t make that up,” said Nagy. “They’re ready. They’re ready to get back at it. It’s hard to stay where we’re at, being 12-4.  We’re 0-0 now, so that’s going to be my biggest challenge as the head coach is to make sure there is no complacency and our guys realize that we’re now the hunted.”

Said Pace: “Just being honest with you, I feel more (pressure) … We put ourselves in this position and you’re never staying the same. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. We want to make sure we’re getting better.”

Both Nagy and Pace are banking on the continued growth of their core group of young players, some who already developed into Pro Bowl-caliber players, to yet-to-blossom starters and role players that have to realize their potential. It is the core philosophy to begin with for Pace -- to draft and develop and ultimately cultivate wins because of the home-grown talent.


Second thought

Pace reaffirmed my belief that he should never be counted out when it comes to making a big move in player procurement period of the off-season. Despite limited space on the salary cap and void of a first-and second-round draft pick in April, he dangled the carrot of “doing whatever is necessary” to find the right pieces for the roster.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the draft,” Pace said. “We could be aggressive and move up. Players could fall to us. I think we’ve shown we can trade around in the draft, so we’re really ready for every scenario.”

Pace is using this draft to prepare for future free agency, when the Class of 2019 hits the free market down the road. It’s an information-collection exercise that is an endless process and quite valuable.


Third degree

Pace is looking for significant competition during training camp at the kicking position. He said he is not opposed to having more than two kickers competing at camp, even if one of them is a kicker signed in free agency. Redford Jones is currently one kicker in the stable, and there will be more. He will also talk to the three kickers here at the Combine.

“The mental toughness is important. Confidence is important. What kind of adversity have they had in life and have they been able to overcome it on and off the field. We can feel a lot of those things here.”

It’s best player available for Pace when it comes to the draft, no matter the round. So, if a kicker is graded high enough for him, Pace said he will definitely consider drafting one.  

In January, Pace held a six-kicker tryout at Halas Hall, settling on free agent Jones from Tulsa. 

“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. “You look for leg strength, you look for consistency, you look for trajectory, all their mechanics.”

And Pace said Jones nailed his work out, despite agreeing it is hard to evaluate a tryout because there is no in-game pressure you can replicate.

Pace was asked about his self-assessment of cutting Robbie Gould a few years ago.

“I think we’re honest with all of those decisions,” Pace said. “Since then, we’ve been battling to get that position right and our goal this offseason is to correct that and we will.”


Fourth and short

The biggest decisions in free agency for the Bears start with safety Adrian Amos and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan. Both could command larger pay days than the Bears cap and budget will allow in 2019.  However, Pace is not ruling out both getting re-signed. The Callahan decision is a big one. He has not been able to stay consistently healthy, but is also a feisty, quick, and smart inside defender with blitz ability at a complex position.

“That’s a part of the task and challenge that we have,” Pace said.  “There’s so many things that factor into a players contract and those are all factors in Bryce’s contract, and we’re working through that.”

Much more to come throughout the week.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.