It’s déjà vu all over again for Chicago Bears kicker Connor Barth.
At this time last year, Barth was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming off a season in which he connected on 82.1 percent of his field goal tries and coming off a four-year stretch in which he made 87.6 percent of his attempts and missed just one extra-point attempt.
Despite that success, Barth entered a training camp competition with rookie second-round draft pick Roberto Aguayo. While Aguayo had the prospect pedigree and was taken with a high-round selection, Barth was a respectable (and somewhat reliable) place kicker. And yet, Aguayo managed to win – though, his run in Tampa Bay was short-lived.
Which brings us to the present day, where Barth is in a kicking competition … with Aguayo … again.
To his credit, Barth is embracing the challenge of a second straight preseason kicking competition.
“There’s two ways you can take it. You can either have a mental breakdown and go into a hole and it’s over, or you can step up,” Barth told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. “My parents always said, ‘Bring on the competition.’ And that’s what I’ve always done.”
Barth will need to bring it again in 2017 after struggling in his first season with the Bears. The 31-year-old kicker’s accuracy dipped to 78.3 percent in 2016, which is the first time it had fallen below 82 percent since 2009 when he made just 73.7 percent of his kicks during his first season with the Buccaneers.
It’s that kind of inaccuracy that has Barth in a camp battle in the first place. Barth went 17-for-20 (85 percent) on all attempts inside 49 yards last season, but that still represents a drop off from the 88.3 percent success rate on those kicks before signing on with the Bears. And it’s not as if he’s been elite from beyond 50, where he has made just 17 of 28 (60.7 percent) of his tries.
Armed with a clean slate in 2017, Barth impressed on the first day of open competition as he made all 12 of his attempts on Monday.
Unlike the Buccaneers last year, the Bears don’t have much incentive to keep Aguayo if he struggles. They aren’t tied to him as a draft pick, and the financial commitments ($428,000) are minimal. Barth will get a more fair crack at the starting gig this time around, so let’s see if he can make the most of it.