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Dan Weiderer: Bears’ unorthodox kicker competition begins Friday with an emphasis on pressure

Forgive me for a second. I’m trying to get the list together of all the kickers the Bears have invited to the next phase of Kicker Search 2019.

There’s Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt. Check.

Plus Elliott Fry and John Baron II. OK.

Those four are under contract.

Casey Bendarski from Minnesota State has an invitation to rookie camp this week as a tryout player. Same apparently goes for Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter, Purdue’s Spencer Evans and McNeese State’s Alex Kjellsten.

Are we missing anyone?

The lost Gramatica brother?

Karl-Heinz Granitza?

Charlie Brown?

Come one, come all.

“Maybe it’s a little unorthodox to have four kickers out there,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said after last weekend’s draft. “We don’t care. Let’s increase the competition and let the whole thing battle out.

“We’re unbiased on it. Our eyes are wide open.”

Coach Matt Nagy’s eyes were not only wide open but had an energized glint Saturday night, accompanied by an almost diabolical smirk. Nagy’s creative mind and competitive juices seemed to be tangoing as he thought of the kicking competition.

The good people of Chicago are entitled to know how this is going to unfold in the immediate future. So what will the kicker battle look like in May and June?

“Don’t worry,” Nagy said. “I already have a plan and I’ll let you know when it comes out. These guys have to compete. Get them out there and let them compete.”

What in the world is next?

The NFL Coach of the Year has his imaginative ideas no doubt. And as Nagy continues to talk about enlivening the competition, he hints that he will come up with a variety of ways to test these kickers under pressure – no matter how he has to manufacture it.

At some point, Nagy said, reporters could become part of the equation. “You can think about that for a little,” he threatened.

The message, though, was clear. Every kicker who walks onto the practice field at Halas Hall in the coming months is going to be tested. Just about every kick they try will have stakes.

“It’s not going to be an easy competition,” Nagy reiterated. “It’s about making your kicks under pressure. And it’s as simple as that. Either you make it or you don’t. We’re going to test them out.”

Again, there was that look in his eye. You couldn’t help but think he might be considering some sort of “Ellen’s Game of Games” dynamic.

Push a field goal wide right? Get swung around in a roller-coaster chair and blasted in the face with tomato sauce.

Miss an extra point? Right through a trapdoor on the field grass.

Hit the goalpost with that metal vibration sound creating a new wave of PTSD at Halas Hall? Get strapped to a catapult and immediately launched to Waukesha, Wis.

It’s crazy to think about how the Bears got here. Thirty-two months ago, Pace made the surprising decision to cut Robbie Gould, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. There were performance factors and financial ramifications and egos involved.

It has been a mess ever since.

Four kickers have suited up for the Bears on game day. That doesn’t include Roberto Aguayo, who was claimed off waivers in August 2017 and cut 19 days later.

In the post-Gould era, Bears kickers have missed 19 field goals and six extra points.

Cody Parkey was the worst of the bunch, collecting $9 million of guaranteed money in free agency and then missing 11 kicks in 17 games. A half-dozen of Parkey’s misses hit an upright. His final kick as a Bear double-doinked Nagy’s upstart team out of the playoffs.

And then Parkey got invited to appear on the “Today” show for being a chin-up good sport about his incompetence. As if the headache for Pace and Nagy needed to get any more intense.

Now here we are four months later, with an unorthodox kicking competition about to ramp up and – oh, yeah – Gould openly pining to return to the Bears.

His initial hints about wanting to continue his career in Chicago, where he and his wife are raising three boys, weren’t strong enough. So last week, he publicly demanded a trade.

This soap opera just got a little juicier. Of course.

The 49ers placed the franchise tag on Gould for 2019, which, for now, gives them control of the situation. GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have dug in their heels, shooing away Gould’s high-maintenance demands with a fly swatter.

Lynch was adamant last week that he has no plans to trade Gould. Added Shanahan: “We love having Robbie here. We understand that he doesn’t want to live here long term. He’s made that clear to us. … No hard feelings about that. I understand his reasons. But I’m pretty excited to have a good kicker this year.”

Still, those words alone aren’t strong enough to kill the possibility of a Gould exit from San Francisco and a reunion with the Bears. And while league tampering rules prohibit Pace from offering a recruiting pitch, he did entertain a well-constructed hypothetical Saturday night.

Since you haven’t ruled out signing a veteran kicker, would you reconsider somebody who is demanding a trade, whose family lives nearby and who has made it very clear he would like to come to Chicago?

“We wouldn’t rule it out, as far as bringing in a veteran kicker,” Pace said. “We just want to create the best competition. So however that unfolds, it unfolds.”

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, the Bears are searching everywhere else to find a reliable kicker and not restricting the guest list.

” ‘Thorough’ is the word I want to use,” Pace emphasized. “Looking under every stone and being thorough with this whole evaluation.”

Pace also has to make sure he can keep his grip on the leash, knowing when to keep an open mind and when to say “no thanks” to every candidate who comes through. That’s not easy when the assessments are being made through nervous eyes, the anxiety inevitable after so many failed attempts to solve the problem.

“We’ve just got to let it play out,” Pace said. “Every one of these guys, we’ll be locked into. And you’ll be trying to feel not just their physical skill set but the mental fortitude they have. You’re analyzing these guys every single day. So it’s going to be a process.”

Rookie camp begins Friday. Organized team activities and full-team minicamp will follow in the subsequent six weeks. Who knows how wacky things might get?

Still, as much as the Bears try to add a level of fun and competition and thoroughness to this kicker search, they’ll have to make sure it doesn’t become a circus.

More than anything, with this “American Idol”-like quest to turn a nobody into a star, the Bears must remember the most important goal. By Labor Day weekend, Pace and Nagy must identify someone they can trust to make kicks in January.

For now, let the competition begin.

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San Francisco 49ers' Robbie Gould (9) is congratulated by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal to win their game 25-23 against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

San Francisco 49ers’ Robbie Gould (9) is congratulated by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal to win their game 25-23 against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

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