Since releasing Cody Parkey in March in the wake of his season-ending field goal miss and untimely talk show appearance, the Bears have employed four kickers and tried out many more. They watched as six of eight kickers missing a staged 43-yard kick in a rookie minicamp tryout and three rostered players missed field-goal attempts in front of team alumni. One kick bounced off the left upright, reminding of Parkey once more.
Now here the Bears are working away in training camp, with Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro both offering hope in this ongoing competition. Kicking in a structured arrangement with each alternating practices, Fry and Pineiro have shined after a week at Olivet Nazarene.
"I did expect them to do well," Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said of the kickers. "I know that when you go through this process, there are growing pains. And we’ve experienced that, and we’re still experiencing it. But they’re stepping up to it. It’s for real now."
The Bears set out on this exhaustive process with the hopes of finding a kicker for 2019 and beyond. They have trusted the veteran coordinator Tabor and even hired private kicking coach Jamie Kohl as a consultant. There were several tryouts at Halas Hall, including the competition at rookie minicamp that required extra holders and long snappers to be brought in.
The Bears knew it would all be different in Bourbonnais. This setting marked the first time the competition has been open to the public. Fans who watched Parkey's wayward kick hit off the left upright and bottom crossbar -- the culmination of three seasons of frustration since the Bears released Robbie Gould in 2016 -- were invited to watch this all unfold at camp.
The fans have embraced the competition, and their hopes are being rewarded in practice. Fry is 17-of-20 in team field-goal drills during practice, including what the team has called a "dealer's choice" make from 60 yards out. Pineiro is 20-of-24, with his dealer's choice good from 63 yards out.
"Chicago is not going to go wrong with either me or Elliott," Pineiro said last week. "We're both going to play in the NFL for a long time. We're both good kickers."
Added Fry: "We know what we're trying to do. We're adults about it. We want to win."
Where the competition goes from here is something the Bears are keeping private. Both Fry and Pineiro will kick during the team's Family Fest practice at Soldier Field on Saturday night. Tabor declined to discuss how preseason games will work.
Every day adds to the sample size for the Bears to evaluate. By having Fry and Pineiro alternate days, the Bears are allowing them to use each practice like it's game day.
"They have all night to think about it and get prepared," Tabor said. "They don’t know exactly what the scenarios are going to be when they come out here. But it’s make-or-miss, do-or-die, and it’s been real positive because on our side you never know how a guy’s going to react when he becomes the guy."
The Bears are constantly monitoring kickers around the league, general manager Ryan Pace said on 670 The Score earlier this week. Come time for roster cuts on Aug. 31, there will be many other kicking options available to the Bears. There are also competitions in Cleveland and Baltimore, among other cities.
But after coming this far with their kicking competition, the Bears also hold out hope for either Fry or Pineiro to be their answer. It will take until kickoff to the 2019 season to mark the finish line for this journey on which the Bears have embarked.
"Days are limited, games are limited," Tabor said. "And we’re going to still play on Thursday night against Green Bay (on Sept. 5), and we’re going to need a kicker."