Homecoming Kicking into High Gear

As the Bears continue to try to find a replacement for Paul Edinger, he's off to a great start with the Vikings. He will get his first chance to face his old teammates Sunday, but more important for him is the fact that he's kicking better, with more confidence and more focus. The kicker reflects on the reasons why and looks ahead to Sunday's game.

Edinger, who was released by the Bears after establishing himself as the franchise's most accurate kicker, was supposed to return to Soldier Field this Sunday against his old team and former Vikings kicker Doug Brien.

How quickly things change in the fickle world of NFL kickers.

After four solid seasons of kicking field goals for Chicago, Edinger's accuracy plummeted to 62.5 percent last year, bringing on his release from the team, at which point the Vikings were pleased to have a second shot at him after signing him to an offer sheet following the 2002 season, an offer the Bears matched.

In his first year as a Viking, Edinger is 7-for-8, so why the improved accuracy over last year?

"Just better concentration," he said. "I moved to a new team and I guess you could say it was maybe a little bit of a wakeup call for me — you can't have another bad year, as bad as I did last year. It was horrible," he said.

The Bears haven't found his replacement yet, releasing Brien Wednesday after he connected on only 1 of 4 attempts so far this year. But Edinger isn't worrying about the what-ifs of the kicking underworld.

"I'm not worried about what's going on down there," he said. "I know what's going on because I talk to guys and it's all over the news, but I'm not worried about it. I'm here now and I'm happy."

Edinger's one miss this season – or at least his reaction to it – is something that actually inspired confidence in him from Tice's perspective.

"I think Paul is very confident," Tice said. "I'll tell you a Paul Edinger story when I really fell in love with him. He clanked, against New Orleans, the goal post, proceeded to walk off the field and winked. I was like, I guess that means everything's OK. And I'll tell you, as a coach, when your kicker clanks the field goal, walks up and winks at you, you feel pretty good about it. I really like Paul; I think he is doing a great job. His kickoffs are getting better and obviously getting more confidence and he has a big, strong leg."

So far, both Edinger and the Vikings are satisfied with the way things are working out, and Edinger isn't longingly looking back to his days with Chicago.

"Who knows what I'd be doing there? I know I'm kicking better now – I got that bug out of me, whatever it was, with the bad kicks there," he said. "I'm kicking the ball better now than I was with the bad kicks there. I'm kicking the ball better now than I was the last year and a half. My leg has definitely gotten stronger … I don't think it would have gotten stronger if I had stayed there because of the competition we had. Kicking a lot of balls every day and pushing myself hard, my leg got stronger, my kickoffs are better."

He's not sure what type of reception he'll get from Bears fans, especially after witnessing former Vikings punter Mitch Berger get booed at the Metrodome on Sept. 25 as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Whatever kind of reception Edinger gets from Bears fans, he said "I probably won't even hear it; I'll be so focused on what I have to do. I guess I'll find out afterwards how it went. Normally in the past, when the Vikings came to Chicago, it's almost been 50-50 (allegiance) in the crowd."

Kicking indoors has been a boost to Edinger's career as well. Chicago's Soldier Field is known for it's tricky winds.

The renovation of Soldier Field may help the franchise's cash flow, but it didn't help with the wind flow, Edinger said. "It got way worse than the old Soldier Field, but it's predictable. I think after the first year, we figured out what it was doing and we got it down pretty well.

"It will just depend on how the weather is that day. If it is like it is now, there won't be much difference in what the weather is here, or the wind. Going to play at any outdoor stadium, it's a day-to-day thing. As soon as we drive up, I'll figure out what that is," Edinger said of his approach to Sunday's game."

He said the colder-than-Metrodome conditions would limit his range by a couple yards and would cause the trajectory of the ball to come out lower.

He also said the grass at Soldier Field has never been the best and was redone again before the first game this season. But so far for Edinger, the grass and FieldTurf have been greener in Minnesota.

As for Bears head coach Lovie Smith, he has no regrets on releasing Edinger in favor of Brien.

"You make a decision based on what is in front of you at the time," Smith said. "You can't look back. I'm excited for Paul that he is kicking the ball well on a personal note. We're comfortable with our kicking situation that we have right now. It's getting better. We of course last week made a move, and Paul is kicking well, so that's all I can really say about it."


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