Brien Spices Up Kicking Competition

Finding someone to push Paul Edinger has been an off-season focus for the Bears and now the team has added a veteran to the mix. Doug Brien inked a one-year deal with the Bears on Thursday.

Brien is best known for missing two fourth quarter kicks that would have put the Jets into the AFC Championship game, a week after hitting an overtime kick to beat the San Diego Chargers 20-17.

Still, in two seasons with New York Brien became franchise leader in field goal accuracy at 83.6 percent while recording 105 points in each campaign.

The 34-year-old became expendable after the Jets took Mike Nugent in the second round of last month's draft. Brien was released within days of the selection.

Brien currently ranked as the 10th-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history (81.1%) among those with a minimum of 100 attempts. He originally came into the league as a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers and has played for six different teams over the course of 11 NFL seasons.

At the Bears' recent rookie mini-camp, head coach Lovie Smith hinted that another kicker could be added to the mix.

"In the off-season we're just trying to get the best group and let them compete," Smith said. "We're not going to limit really if there's another guy that we think is worthy of competing in that group we'll bring him in too."

The Bears now have five kickers on their roster, which is a clear sign incumbent Paul Edinger will have to win his job to stay in Chicago.

"Veteran? First year guy? Best guy period," Smith said.

Edinger entered last season as the franchise's all-time leader in field goal accuracy, but converted only 15-of-24 field goals. Coupled with a second half slump during the '03 campaign, he has hit on just 24 of his last 43 attempts.

Things have gotten so desperate for Edinger that he's tweaked his distinct corkscrew delivery. Instead of stepping away from the ball and then turning his back to the target, Edinger is going with a diagonal approach.

The Bears would also prefer a kicker that has more depth and greater hangtime on kickoffs, but are willing to sacrifice field position for someone that can be counted on to punch the ball through the uprights in crunch time.

"We would rather have the accurate field goal kicker really more so than the guy that's going to boom it down," Smith said. "It's like having a great running back that can carry the football and also catch it out of the backfield. We would rather for the running back first be able to run the football. We would rather for the field goal kicker to first be able to kick field goals accurately and then go from there."

Another factor against Edinger is his $1.1 million base salary for 2005. The total is high for any kicker, let alone one fighting for a roster spot. He's entering the third year of a five-year $7 million deal and there have been rumors that he's on the trading block.

Edinger and Brien will be joined by Tyler Jones and Nick Novak, who were both signed as undrafted free agents out of Boise State and Maryland respectively. Nicholas Setta is currently playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe and is 7-of-11 through six games.

Things should only get more interesting next week as Edinger and three of his competitors report for the team's first mini-camp of the year.

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