How was the grass at Soldier Field this week? 'I've seen better,' Santos says
Even from high above Soldier Field -- in the comfort of the press box -- it was abundantly clear Tuesday that the field conditions for the Bears' Family Fest practice were less than ideal.
And that's putting it nicely.
"Especially (for) Week 1 -- our first game," said place-kicker Cairo Santos. "I've seen better."
Indeed, the Bears will play their first preseason contest on a poorly sodded field against Kansas City at noon Saturday. Head coach Matt Eberflus said starters on both sides of the ball will play.
You'd hope the grass would be in decent shape, but that's been the exception rather than the rule at Soldier Field over the years.
It was interesting to hear Santos on Wednesday talk about how it affects field-goal attempts and how he must prepare a bit differently than most NFL kickers.
Asked if he needs to find chewed-up yards or a parking lot full of potholes on which to practice, Santos smiled and said: "It's funny because I was training in Florida ... and was going to a turf field at a high school, which was perfect. It was almost like, 'OK. I'm getting too comfortable.'"
So he left.
And found a dumpy soccer field in his neighborhood.
"It has Bermuda grass. It's real long," Santos said. "I was like, 'OK. This is more like it.'"
Santos has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league the last two seasons, connecting on 56 of 62 field goals (90.3%). He broke into the league with the Chiefs in 2014 then bounced around for three seasons before becoming the Bears' full-timer kicker in 2020.
Santos' range is a bit limited -- he's 10-for-22 on attempts of 50 yards or longer with a long of 55 -- but some of that may have to do with kicking at Soldier Field. Santos said there can be "a little bit of hesitation" as you approach the ball.
"I'm trusting it more and not making a problem every kick or every game," Santos said. "But it's still a bad situation, a bad surface to kick on compared to other places."
Unlike some NFL teams, the Bears don't have any competition for Santos or punter Trenton Gill, who was selected in the seventh round of this year's draft. What this means is that Santos, Gill (who holds for field goals) and long-snapper Patrick Scales have been able to work exclusively together.
Building chemistry in a field-goal unit is trickier than one would think, for a few reasons:
• First and foremost, the laces always have to face away from the kicker.
• Good long-snappers get the ball to arrive to the holder with the laces pointing between 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. "You would be surprised: If those laces aren't correct or if the ball's tilted the wrong way, it's got no chance to go through the goal posts," said special teams coach Richard Hightower. "And we're talking about minute inches off."
• The holder needs to be adjusting the ball from the moment he catches it. Santos has been impressed with how quickly Gill has learned the intricacies of the position.
"There's all kinds of ways that I like the ball to be pointed and held," Santos said. "It was a little next level (where) we taught him that it's not just about catching an putting it down."
• Finally, Santos and Gill must make sure to pick a spot at Soldier Field where the ball isn't placed into a hole. Otherwise, it's akin to hitting a golf shot out of a divot.
"You're not super happy and thrilled to kick there every time," Santos said. "But you just overcome and deal with it."