Football

Welcome back to the last regular-season edition of THE VAULT, my weekly column dedicated to giving you 700 or so words about a nightmare of games past. For the 4th straight season, the Bears and Vikings will clash on the final week of the NFL’s regular season, and the words I’ve seen being used to describe this game are as follows:

“meaningless” (NBC Sports)
“disappointing” (BearsWire)
“miserable” (CBS Local)

This shit reads like a Kafka short story. So, in the interest of keeping myself interested in this bit, I’m going to go in-depth on last year’s season finale (a 24-10 Bears victory) as seen through the eyes of a fictional Bears superfan going through what could be best described as an “existential crisis”.

As Gregor Olson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into Don Wachter (AKA “The Bearman”). He lay on his bed in suburban La Grange, Illinois, and looked at the dark ceiling. His alarm was going off, it was 3am. Time to get ready. Gameday. Noon. Bears/Vikings.

“Who am I? How did I get here?” It was no dream. Gregor’s room had transformed from the modest empty desked cold space he knew into one adorned with pictures. Pictures of him.

But that wasn’t him; it was just a facimile of him, like a bad photocopied picture. Him, with so many of his heroes: Bryan Cox. Donnell Woolford. Steve Stenstrom. What he wouldn’t have given to remember times like those. Times that he could use to help explain the situation he found himself in. How long had it been since he became The Bearman?

As if one might breathe or reach a hand to rub a bruise, Gregor was instinctively already at his dresser. His makeup was already halfway applied before he realized he was doing it. “What sort of rabbit hole have I fallen into? Hello?” he yelled. Silence returned his cries, and as the echo bounced off the walls of his rented room, he looked back at the mirror to see his costume for the day already applied. Everything fit perfectly, as if he had worn them in for years, though Gregor’s eyes still saw his old body. His soft limp now gone, he began to operate the body of The Bearman as if it was his own.

In a weird stasis between disoriented and confident, he got into his 2010 Toyota Bear-olla and made his way to Soldier Field, ready to watch the 11-4 Bears face off against the 8-6-1 Minnesota Vikings. In the car, Gregor began to feel more and more uneasy, considering he wasn’t even a sports fan, let alone a football fanatic! His brain began accessing stored knowledge of the current roster, the past legends, and a bunch of useless knowledge about RPOs. Gregor decided to fight it, for if he couldn’t control the whims of the body, he could certainly call out to the world for help, to free him from this prison.

Soldier Field was empty for gameday, and the security guard welcomed him as “Don” before asking why he was there if the Bears were in Minnesota to play at 3:25, having been flexed into an afternoon slot.

“Don, are you feeling okay? You look kinda queasy.” The man said.

“Please help me!” Gregor screamed. Gregor was trying his best to get out. He needed to be free. Free of Bearman. This had to end, Gregor was not welcome in the body of the Bearman. Gregor protested from inside of the Bearman, struggling in a way that to outside observers probably looked like a mild panic attack.

“Don? Um, I’m gonna call 911. You just stay here, okay?”

“PLEASE HELP ME!” The words exploded from Don’s mouth, propelled with all the force Gregor could manage to summon. Without another word, his foot pressed down on the gas and before he could blink an eye, the Bear-olla was on Lake Shore Drive. Gregor was no longer in control, the Bearman was in the drivers seat, literally and figuratively.

Gregor found the Bearman suit appalling, and when it dragged him into the Buffalo Wild Wings, he found himself even more disgusted. A lifelong vegetarian, Gregor knew this B-Dubs was where the final confrontation between himself, the very notion of free will, and his flesh prison would take place. As the game was playing on the TV, people came up to buy free drinks and take pictures with the Bearman. Everyone loves the Bearman. Let’s buy a beer for the Bearman. Let’s buy some wings for the Bearman. Boneless. Low heat, because the Bearman has low tolerance for spicy food.

“NO” he bellowed, the fake teeth on his Bear-hat rattling with the force of his rebuke. “I AM NOT THE BEARMAN.” As the bar fell silent, Jordan Howard ran in for his second TD of the first half, putting the Bears up 13-0. Cody Parkey’s extra point was unsuccessful, and for a moment, the eyes of the bar were no longer on the Bearman, but nervously darting around the room wondering if this team would be looking for a kicker before the playoff run. 

“Bearman, what do you think? Should the Bears sign someone off the street?” A patron said, handing Gregor’s prison a steaming plate of wings. This was it, the time was now. The body of Bearman reached for a wing, and dipped it in the ranch. Gregor fought. Bearman won. The meat entered his body, and the soul of Gregor Olsen became infuriated. As if a medieval army about to unleash their final charge, he balled up all that he had and exploded.

Chunks of Bear jerseys with human remains littered the floor like so much confetti. The playoffs began next Sunday, at home. 3am. There remained a room full of fans who would not see it, nor anything ever again.

Tarik Cohen was running in for a touchdown. The Vikings season was over.

Football

And then there was one.

Eddy Piñeiro is the lone kicker remaining from the Bears extensive offseason search to replace ol’ double-doink, Cody Parkey. Steady Eddy won the right to kick sans competition about as much as the recently cut Elliot “J” Fry lost the job, so sure. Congrats.

But the recent damning article by SI’s Kalyn Kahler about the brief history of this unending quest tells us Eddy shouldn’t get too comfortable. When you have NFL folks quoted as saying that Cody Parkey is easily better than anyone they’ve brought in, Piñeiro included, you best watch your back. You can read the article for the rest of the behind the scenes of what any sane person knew was a batshit circus of a competition; it’s worth your time. You’ll also learn that most of this shit show is probably for nothing, since kicking is based solely on in game results, which no one can tell until September 5th.

But I’m not here to rehash the last few months and, assuming this is not at all over, I want to take a look at the new crop of kickers our pal Eddy is now up against: THE LEAGUE.

The Field – Joey Slye: Best of the rest, but at what cost?

True, the Bears already spent some draft capital on the kicker currently on the team, but he hasn’t made one longer than 47 in a fake games and Slye Stallone here has banged in two from 54+, one of which fans at Soldier got to see in person. He’s a perfect 5-5 on FG attempts and 2/2 on XP. Ryan Pace failed to trade for Kaare Vedvik last week, losing to the rival Vikings because they stumped up to an unconditional 5th rounder. Pace might have to go back to the draft well for Slye instead, as there at plenty others, like the Jets and Cowboys, that have far from certainty at the position.

Slye hasn’t exactly shown a proven record outside of this preseason: Slye was undrafted in 2018, then bounced around from the Bucs to the Browns to out of football to the Giants to summer vacation to the Giants again and eventually landing in Carolina, where he was signed to keep a spot warm until Graham Gano was healthy enough to reclaim his job. Slye has a pretty great backstory of battling adversity and working to achieve his NFL goals in the name of his late brother. He’d hardly be difficult to root for, lack of results be damned. And with a nickname like “Swole”, he’s already earned the hearts of meatball fans without pulling on the GHS armband.

Slye can boast that he’s Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer, though. And there are those long makes and impressive ability to simply make the kicks in games. You have to wonder how this guy wasn’t one of the billion legs brought in for a look already, but here we are. It might take a late conditional pick, but Slye passes the eye test which is about all that matters in kicking. The Bears can ill afford to wait it out and hope they can sign him at final cuts, but I also think if they were interested Pace has shown he’ll spend to go get his guy.

A few other notables to watch the next two weeks….

  • Matthew Wright is unlikely to boot incumbent Chris Boswell from his job in Pittsburgh, but the 2019 UDFA is 2/2 from over 40 with a pair of XP as well. Plus, kicking in Heinz is as a good a comparable as any outdoor stadium in the league.
  • Tristan Vizcaino is 2/3 on FGA through two games, going 1/2 from 40+ and nailing a 51 yarder. He  probably won’t win the job over Randy Bullock in Cincinnati. If Piñeiro fails to impress further he might get a call from Pace around Labor Day.
  • Veterans Matt Bryant, Mike Nugent and Kai Forbath all remain unsigned as we approach kickoff in week 1. Bryant may well be done at 41 and isn’t likely to push off retirement to kick in Chicago in December. Nugent and Forbath are probably better than the circus from mini camp, but it’d be unlikely the Bears dial any of them up over anyone already kicking the last month-plus.

NFC North Kicker Thunderdome….

  • Sam Ficken and Mason Crosby are having their own battle up in Green Bay, who were also reportedly in on Vedvik. Ficken and Crosby are both 1/1 on FGA (41/43, respectively), so not much to show yet. Both are perfect on XP as well, so the loser here might not have to wait long for new work if it’s more a coin flip situation than one kicks his was out of town.
  • Minnesota made their intentions clear when they sent a 5th round pick to Baltimore for Kaare Vedvik – he’s pretty much assured to be the guy. That leaves veteran Dan Bailey in limbo, a spot he’s familiar with after a surprise cut from his long time job in Dallas ahead of the 2018 campaign. Bailey is also struggling mightily this preseason, a year after going only 21-28 in FGA for the Vikings. Hard pass if I’m Ryan Pace, but who knows with the way this thing has gone so far.

 

 

Football

I know that football coaches are obsessives beyond the point of comprehension. I get that every minute detail of the team is pored over to a degree that a lazy-ass like myself would think comes from another dimension. “Fixation” is a word that most NFL coaches are so far beyond it’s not even worth considering. And most of it is because they just feel the other guy is doing the same, even if it has no actual benefit and it wouldn’t kill anyone if these coaches actually bothered to learn their daughters’ names.

Still, the Bears’ offseason and now training camp being primarily focused on the kicking competition has been…well, there are a few words for it. Strange, annoying, needless, and inflammatory are some that come to mind. To the point where I’m wondering what’s really going on here.

Yeah, I get it. Cody Parkey made this worse by going on whatever national morning show and removing his own rib to show how much missing THAT KICK hurt him but what a big guy he was by moving on from it. That in itself is going to create more attention on the position than normal, whether the Bears booted him into the river or not (I’ll give Parkey this, he did the whole “Point To Jesus” thing after he fucked up as well, which is more than most fuck-you-pious athletes do).

But it’s gone beyond that. We had the “Kicking Cavalcade” in mini-camps, with everyone being forced to make a 43-yarder in front of the whole team. Or Nagy mentioning it while singing the stretch at Wrigley. Or his constant reminders in interviews about how the ending of last season haunts him. Or making the two kickers in camp make 43-yarders, and how the first preseason game contained a field goal of that exact length in the first half. And how symbolic that was.

We’ve been inundated with updates from all the Bears beats every day. Our Sons Of Wilber Marshall have had to address it here. You can’t escape. It’s everywhere.

Fuck right off.

At this point, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a cover. Because somewhere deep down, Matt Nagy knows that game didn’t have to come down to a makable-but-not-chip-shot kick. Somewhere, he knows if he hadn’t spent at least the first half against the Eagles calling plays with one hand around his throat and the other with the thumb somewhere sensitive, maybe the Bears are playing from on top. Maybe he knows that at the biggest drive of the season, his defense let him down and got run over by Nick Goddamn Foles and the wounded ducks he was tossing only in a general direction. He certainly would have to be aware of the former, as it would be the second straight year he spent at least a half of a playoff game making his offense run a three-legged race. If he’s not, that’s certainly a much bigger problem for the Bears moving forward.

I doubt he’s intentionally hanging Ryan Pace out to dry, but that’s certainly a knock-on effect. And while Pace is hardly perfect, he did construct a roster ready to turn Nagy into one of the most successful first-year coaches in history. Perhaps tone it down a notch there, visor?

And this isn’t healthy. What kicker is going to live up to this? Now you’ve whipped the fans into a frenzy, the press into one, and those two just keep feeding into each other. The Bears could gut the Packers in Week 1 34-3 (which they will), but if whatever kicker is chosen misses one field goal, you know what the calls will be about Monday, right?  What at least one article in each of the Trib, Sun-Times, and Athletic will be? It’s now a constant question until the end of the season, and nothing will ever be good enough until Mystery Kicker makes a winning kick in a playoff game.

Except that might not come up. Close games are inevitable in January, but they hinge on a lot of factors. Yes, field goals are directly tied to points in the way that a more adventurous call on second or third down at the 40 is not. Or a missed tackle behind the line that results in a three-yard gain instead. But teams have won the Super Bowl without needing a buzzer-beater. I know, hard to believe, but it’s true.

But still, it’s a kicker. It’s middle relief of football. You find one somewhere, he sticks around for a few years, and then you find another one. Had you heard of Aldrick Rosas before last year? Do you even know who it is now? He’s the Giants kicker and finished second in FG% last season. Mike Badgley? You don’t have any idea, and if you do it’s only because he was on your fantasy team, and he was assuredly your last pick or waiver pick-up.

They just come from somewhere. Even if it’s your team, you don’t really know where. And yeah, it’s noticeable when you pick a bad one, as the Bears did last season. It happens sometimes, but to say that’s the reason the season was torpedoed is missing the whole picture. Me? I’m much more worried about Mitch Betta’ Have My Money’s accuracy.

I don’t want to say it’s untenable. I doubt there’s no kicker anywhere who can’t put everyone’s mind at ease within the season’s first few weeks. But it shouldn’t have to be like this. If it works as a cover for other weaknesses on the team as they get worked out…well, ok. I guess. Seems like it’s a pretty elaborate and heavy-worked smokescreen, though.

 

Football

Do you hear anything? No? Me either. No noise. No torches and pitchforks. No jobs on the line (yet). It’s pretty boring around here.

Usually in late July we’re all too eager here in Chicago to begin HOT TAKE SZN surrounding the Bears and the NFL. This July, though, feels different. Is everyone just happy to banter about the Cubs division chase and Sox future potential? No, we’ve been doing that every July since 2015. The NBA had a pretty big summer, but the Bulls largely sat that out and everyone is just content they MIGHT make a surprise run at the 8-seed in the East. Hawks prospect camp and convention?? OK, I’m done.

So with nothing new or exciting going on in major sports around the city, why is this late July so different? The Bears, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2010 and second in the last 13 years, have had the quietest offseason in about as long. No new head coach/GM/Front Office personnel. No major signings/high draft picks. Hardly any turnover on the roster/staff, and no real starting positions up for the taking. GM Ryan Pace didn’t even get to make a draft pick until the third day, and there’s been little discussion about the his team or the impending camp since.

The biggest offseason story? Kickers. Cody Parkey long fired into the sun, the talk of both mini-camp and now training camp is the kicking sideshow. Each day’s camp breakdown thus far has started with the accuracy for that day’s kicker; Elliot Fry is 17 of 20 so far! He’s hit from 60 and banged in from 48 and 51 in the driving rain! Eddie Pineiro hit from 63 after doing his best 80s macho movie hunk routine – after his coaches asked him to try from 60 he replied “nah, how ’bout 63”! Suh gnarly, broseph.

The crowds are another HOT story coming out of Bourbonnais. Attendance day one? OVER 8,000!!! Videos tweeted of fans LIGHTLY JOGGING to get front row standing room to see the Midway Monsters strap on the pads and paw at each other! Whoa, did you see that 50-yard bomb from Mitch to Gabriel?? Kahlil Mack and Eddie Jackson are sooooo goood OMFG!!!! I mean, it’s great to see the guys you want to excel succeed in practice, but that’s the bar here, no? To be as good as advertised?

This shit is BORING. But boring doesn’t really mean bad. Consider:

-There was one major coaching change in the offseason, but not the normal refrain of a deficiency in some area. Vic Fangio left to go be the head coach in Denver because his defense was so amazing (while the rest of the team was total ass for most of his tenure). The ensuing hire? Chuck Pagano, a highly regarded defensive mind in his own right that mostly just needs to keep the ship on course. There also are no ‘hot’ seats to speak of at the moment. Weird.

-The players lost to free agency were seen as priced out of their worth at Halas Hall and nary a tear was shed for Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The replacements and other new signings were mostly budget buys met with a collective “meh”.  HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skine swap in for Amos and Callahan. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are here to do something in the backfield. Great, fine. I bet you didn’t even know they signed Ted Larson, again, for O-Line depth or Marvin Hall and Peter Williams. Only one of those guys is made up, but I’m guessing you have to look it up to tell me which one.

-The draft was pretty uneventful as well, unless you count trading up 14 or so spots in the 3rd round “eventful”. Sure, they got their GUY at running back in David Montgomery, or so they’ll tell anything with ears. Even he hasn’t generated much buzz since the draft, a soft spoken type that just does his work and stays quiet off the field. Booooooring. The rest of the draft was all lottery tickets and undrafted free agents because Pace only had five picks to work with. They got a Ridley? No, not the one from Alabama.

-There aren’t any big injuries to get all worked up about, either. Adam Shaheen hasn’t practiced in two days, but that’s basically his whole bag of tricks since being wildly overdrafted three years ago. Someone named Emmanuel Hall is recovering from groin surgery. HaHa is on the PUP list, rehabbing a lower body injury but expected back before too long. Whatever.

So this late July, the start to camp is boring. Embrace the boring, it means that most of us are looking forward to September and could give a shit about what happens between now and then. We don’t even get another open practice for a few days; the team has a shorter, closed practice today and is off Wednesday. There’s a preseason game a week after that, so maybe by the weekend we’ll start to get some real battles for the edge of the roster. Those are the positions that help to define serious championship contending NFL teams from the dregs they beat up.

Boring kinda sucks, but we’ll take it after the last decade worth of summers overstuffed with tough questions. Wait and see how these jokers fighting for their NFL lives fair in game reps in a week or so. If you need your fix the rest of this first week, keep refreshing that twitter account of your favorite beat writer to see where Steady Eddie P tells coach he’s spotting his next kick. HOOOOO BABYYYYY!

@WFrenchman on Twitter