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It Is Hazardous To Be A Bears Kicker Under Matt Nagy

Photo: Sarah Stier (AP)

If you want the simplest, hardest piece of news from Kalyn Kahler’s fantastic writeup for Sports Illustrated of the Chicago Bears’ offseason kicking saga, it’s that the decision to cut Cody Parkey was made immediately upon the second doink. If you want the most important and still-relevant piece of news, which emerges gradually but clearly from the story as a whole, it’s that Bears coach Matt Nagy is a madman, an Ahab figure, from whom something fundamental was taken by that missed field goal and who can never rest until he gets his revenge on the goalpost.

You knew the bare outline of Nagy’s obsession. The multi-part kicking competition in minicamp and preseason. Showing video of Parkey’s miss to the entire team in meetings. Stopping practice to force would-be kickers to kick from “the Parkey spot”—43 yards out, right hash—in front of god and a Bears alumni group and everyone. Gollum was less obsessed with his Precious. But the SI story does a masterful job of showing the toll Nagy’s mania has taken on everyone, especially the nine (nine!) kickers brought in for the competition.

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“It’s not efficient for the team to continuously beat that one dead horse the whole time,” said Justin Yoon, formerly of Notre Dame and one of the nine kickers, all without NFL experience, brought in for the reality show–like competition. “You have to build a system of confidence for your kicker. I don’t think that’s how the Bears are running it.”

Yoon is one of a number of participants quoted here, some anonymously. If Nagy wanted to dismiss the story—and he said Wednesday he hadn’t read it—he would probably say the kickers are merely disgruntled at not getting jobs. And, sure, maybe. But also, who exactly is this chart below supposed to help, and what’s it meant to convey?

And if you’re wondering how those scores were calculated, so were the kickers.

They did some mental math to decode the scoring system. The prevailing hypothesis: One point was awarded for a made field goal, with those from long distances worth more. Some kickers thought another point was added for good ball rotation, but they weren’t entirely sure. Still confused, they pulled out their phones and snapped pictures of the results, hoping to figure it out later from the privacy of their hotel rooms.

“Some of us were getting together like, Hmmm, I thought you made three more kicks than that...” Evans says. “We are all paying attention like hawks to each other. We know who missed, we know how many. Were they taking off points if they thought it was going to get blocked? Did they do that for all of them? It was a very weird deal.”

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The kickers were also being judged on metrics they’d never see, and that no other front office considers useful in evaluating kickers. The Bears became the first NFL team to bring in TrackMan, a ball-tracking radar system used in golf and baseball, to monitor ball speed, rotation speed, kick apex, distance traveled, and launch angle. “Why does [mph] even matter?” asks one kicker in the story. “If it’s going in, it’s going in.”

There are ironies in play here. One is that, of the nine kickers in the competition, none were ultimately deemed good enough to satisfy Nagy. Two of them were invited to training camp and both have since been cut. Eddy Pineiro, not one of the original nine, was announced this weekend as the starter. And he knows he’s still on “thin ice”—Matt Nagy’s kicking competition never ends.

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Another is that, per Kahler, “several sources active in the kicking community say [Cody] Parkey is clearly better than anyone the Bears brought in this offseason.”

The largest irony of all is that Parkey wasn’t at fault. All of this fuss, all of this madness, is based on Nagy blaming the Bears’ playoff loss on the wrong guy. The double-doink was tipped. And the offense in that game sputtered; it shouldn’t’ve come down to a field goal anyway. The Bears have real, glaring weaknesses. I suppose one way to address them is to lay it all on the kicker and pretend that fixes all the problems.

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On Wednesday, Nagy responded to criticisms of the kicking search by admitting that the process was ungainly, and that he doesn’t have all the answers.

“I understand — we brought in a lot of kickers that came in here,” Nagy said Wednesday. “To me, I look at it as a positive, in the fact that we said we’re going to turn over every stone to find whoever’s out there. We felt like we, at that point in time, when we brought in a bunch of kickers, we’re going to test them all out and see what they can do.

“And then, within that time frame, we also put in some situations with the Augusta silence early on to see how they could handle it. Is it exactly the perfect science? I don’t know that, maybe not ... I just really like how we’re going through this thing. [Bears GM] Ryan [Pace] and I talk about no regrets, right?”

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“No regrets?” Hell of a motto for a guy who can’t let a kick go.

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