Incumbents will see Competition

The draft proved the Bears were about creating competition on defense. That model also carried over into the kicking game, as undrafted free agents Josh Huston and Joel Stelly will push for roster spots in training camp.

Huston sought out the Bears after the draft in hopes of beating out Robbie Gould. Neither has been accurate from beyond 40 yards, which is an area the Bears want to see improvement.

Gould made 21 of 27 attempts as a rookie, but went 3-of-8 from 40 yards or longer. Huston connected on 22-of-28 field goals, but was only 5-of-10 from beyond the mark.

One area Huston could have an edge on Gould is kickoffs. Huston had 49 touchbacks to lead the nation. In his career, 54 of his 77 kickoffs went for touchbacks, and he had one stretch of 18 straight touchbacks in 2005.

"He stepped in for a guy (Mike Nugent) that was a second round pick a year ago and played good this year," director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said of Huston. "He did a real good job. We had him as one of the best placekickers in the country this year. He'll have a chance, he'll be able to compete."

Gabriel called placekicker "one of the hardest positions to evaluate" because the intangibles and mental part of the game make it difficult to scout.

"I can watch a guy on tape and see how he can play," Gabriel said. "I can't evaluate a kicker on tape. I don't know what the weather is. Is the wind blowing? You've got two linemen gong against each other that's easy to evaluate. With kickers there are a lot of other things that come into play."

The Bears have wanted to challenge Brad Maynard since he struggled down the stretch last season, including two punts of less than 20 yards in the playoff loss to Carolina. He will have to fight to stay on the roster because of age and salary cap considerations.

If the rookie mini-camp is any indication of what Stelly can do it will be boom or bust. He has a strong leg, but for every ball he sent over 50 yards it seemed another would be a wounded duck. He averaged 44.6 yards per punt at Louisiana-Monroe and has the added benefit of being able to kickoff. He had 23-of-44 attempts go for touchbacks last year.

"Both guys have a strong leg," Coach Lovie Smith said of Huston and Stelly. "Brad and Robbie both are excellent kickers and we like them. But at every position we would like to have competition and we definitely have that with both of them now."

The chances of the Bears using a roster spot on a kickoff specialist are slim.

"We will keep all our options open, but ideally one kicker and one punter would be the ideal situation for us," Smith said.


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