LAKE FOREST — The first punter selected in the 2014 draft, Miami's Pat O'Donnell, is headed to the Bears. Phil Emery spent his second sixth-rounder, No. 191 overall, to make O'Donnell the first punter drafted by the Bears since Todd Sauerbrun was selected in the second round in 1995.
O'Donnell, a fifth-year senior, has terrific size (6-4, 200) and leg strength - he's the Hurricanes' single-season record holder for net punting average (47.1).
"What stands out about Patrick and the reason we were willing to spend a sixth-round draft pick on him is the physical upside is huge, and at two different universities he’s shown production, high-level production," said Emery on spending his first-ever draft pick on a punter.
He transferred to Miami after spending his first three seasons at Cincinnati, where he was an All Big-East selection in 2011 and fourth-best punter in Bearcats history (42.4 net average). Though he said punting at Cincinnati helped expose him to the strong wind conditions he's sure to battle at Soldier Field, the right-footed, two-step punter honed his directional punting skills once in his final season, at Miami.
O'Donnell, who grew up in Lake Worth, Florida, elected to spend his fifth year of eligibility to return home to be close to his dad, who was fighting cancer.
"It was a no-brainer for me to come down and support him as he was battling through that," O'Donnell explained about his dad, who is now in remission. "And it was a good opportunity at Miami – they had just graduated a punter – so I could come down there ... and compete for the starting job."
He'll compete for Bears punting duties with Drew Butler, the son of former Bears PK Kevin Butler, and Tress Way, neither of whom have punted in an NFL game. A former soccer player who played linebacker and tight end in college, O'Donnell hardly resembles a punter. One of just two to participate in agility tests at the Combine, he recorded a 4.64 40-second dash and 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press, more than 62 other offensive skill-position players.
"It’s exactly why I’m there – being another defensive player down the field to make a tackle – so if need be, I’ll jump in there and make a tackle," O'Donnell, who tallied three tackles and a forced fumble last season at Miami, said about continuing his aggressive temperament on punt coverage duties in the NFL.
"I don’t think being a specialist should make you any different than any other guys on the team," he continued. "It (my athleticism) helps me get some respect, be one of the guys, work out with them, just another special-teams guy."