Joniak's Journal: A Look At Potential Bears Kickers At The NFL Combine

Jeff Joniak
March 02, 2019 - 1:16 pm
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(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Jeff Joniak, the voice of the Chicago Bears, shares his updates from the scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

First Impression

Three kickers are here in Indianapolis trying to get drafted and all three are meeting with the Bears: LSU’s Cole Tracy, Utah’s Matthew Gay, and Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert.  Bears General Manager Ryan Pace is looking for a kicker with consistency, trajectory, proper mechanics, and leg strength.

“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.

Seibert believes he is a kicker with that power and pop 100 percent, he said.

“I’ve been known as a strong kicker…a big leg guy,” Seibert said.

Gay made eight field goals of more than 50 yards in his two years at Utah.

“I’ve got pretty good leg strength,” Gay said. “I feel like I can stay within my same stroke on those kicks and be comfortable in that range and still hit those. I don’t have to change technique or anything on those, which I think is a benefit. Those big ones are similar to the other one’s you take.”

Gay is a bigger guy at 6'1", 220 pounds, who was a college soccer player but walked on the Utah program in 2017. Seibert is 5'9", 214 pounds from Belleville, Illinois. He started kicking at the age of seven. Tracy is 5'11", 188 pounds playing one season at LSU where he was a Lou Groza Award finalist after transferring from Assumption college.

Second Thought

The kicking business is a small and tight fraternity. They work in camps together throughout their careers. They often workout together in the off-season adjusting their techniques and styles and comparing notes. They also experience the pressure of the job. Seibert shouldered a significant load at Oklahoma as the field goal kicker, the punter, and the kickoff specialist. He hit a rough patch in his Sophomore season.

“I started doing all three for the team,” Seibert said. “It was a lot to handle. I was 20 years old. We were a national championship competitor. So, I had a lot of stress on me and I hit a field goal off the upright against Ohio State, a 27-yarder — I shouldn’t have missed it. Hit a good ball. Just hit the upright. And then after that the fans really started criticizing me. 

"It’s football. I understand it now, but for me I don’t care what people think anymore. I got over that. I am used to it. I went through so much adversity at Oklahoma. If you put other people in my shoes, they probably wouldn’t be kicking. They would probably hang up their cleats. But for me, just having that competitiveness, the drive, not caring what other people think, I think helps me and makes me who I am on the field.”

Seibert kicked four full seasons at Oklahoma and missed 16 field goals and five extra points. However, he increasingly improved his success rate each season. After a game winning miss against Army last season, then made his final 14 field goal attempts for the rest of the season.

Third Degree

Gay quit college soccer to start kicking for Utah on the advice of a high school friend. He only played for two years, yet is a Combine invite trying to get drafted. He trained himself without a kicking coach until about two months ago when started working with former NFL kicker John Carney. 

“Kicking is a game of inches,” Gay said. “It’s a mental game. The difference between a great kicker that can make it is the six-inches between the ears. Some days it goes for you and some days it doesn’t.”

Making clutch kicks in big moments consistently is what every team is looking for in a kicker in what is simply a performance based business. 

“Naturally, I feel pretty good handling being able to stay calm in those moments. I feel like I don’t get to riled up. I feel like I am pretty calm and confident in those moments. That’s what you sign up for as kickers.”

Handling disappointment is critical, he added.

“You learn more from failure than you do from your success,” Gay said. ‘Focusing on that last kick is not going to make the next one go through.”

One of his best kicks in 2018 came in DeKalb in a win over Northern Illinois. It was one of only three field goal attempts he made in the game. Gay connected from 40-yards in a tight game with 4:38 minutes to play. He had a first quarter field goal blocked and a 43-yard attempt go wide right.

Gay missed nine field goal attempts in his two years, and was perfect on all 85 of his extra points.

Austin Seibert consistently works on his mental toughness through books and a psychiatrist. 

“Anything I can do to get an edge I’ve been working on,” Seibert said. “It really helped this year. For me when I go out there it’s to make kicks for my teammates. I don’t care about accolades, personal awards things like that. I want to win.  I wanted to win and do anything I could to help us win. I have a very strong work ethic and I rely on that.”

Seibert said his work ethic is his source of confidence. He is routine oriented and meticulous in his preparation.

Fourth and Short

Wheaton North high school and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is expected to throw today at the Combine, but will not run or test here. A high ankle sprain forced him to back out of the Senior Bowl in January. Only recently did he start running again. He hopes to show NFL decision makers he has an NFL caliber arm.

“Just show them how strong my arm is,” Thorson said. “I think they see it on film, but up close and personal is a little different. Thankfully, a lot of these guys have come to practice.”

Thorson’s pro day is March 12 and will only throw at that workout as well. The conversations with coaches and scouts are most important now.

“I’ve seen so much. I feel like I haven’t been surprised by anything these past couple of years. I’m talking to these guys about just how my mind works especially at the line of scrimmage," he said. "A lot has been put on my plate these past few years and I think that’s really prepared me for the next level.”

Thorson played 53 games at Northwestern even though he tore his ACL in the 2017 Music City Bowl. The right knee is no issue for the affable and confident quarterback.   

“I think some of my strengths are with our offense or what we taught to do from an early age at Northwestern is throws on anticipation in some tight windows," he said. "Another thing is my ability to skip the pocket and keep plays alive. I think that’s been a strength of mine and that’s allowed us to win a lot of games with me rushing for 27 touchdowns in my career and throwing for another 61. Another thing is just realizing different passes have different ball speeds on different routes. My understanding of the game is just at a really high level.”

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