BOURBONNAIS — Everyone loves a punting competition. It's pretty easy to measure, even for the average fan — and many of the estimated 9,500 that came out to Sunday’s Bears practice had a lot of fun with punters Pat O’Donnell and Tress Way.
O’Donnell, the sixth-round draft pick out of Miami, boomed his first punt, sending the returner back 10-15 yards to field it. The fans started chanting “Megapunt” and would have their cheers crescendo in the approach to his kicks, like the rattling of keys at a college football game.
He was the star of the day.
“Usually they’re jeered, not cheered,” said special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who said he has never seen that kind of fan reaction to punting.
“That’s obviously a first. I was thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me over there. It was ridiculous. Let’s keep the kid’s feet on the ground so far.”
Trestman joked about the Miami alums (O'Donnell's alma mater) — "an enthusiastic bunch" — and described what coaches can learn about how the punters handle the pressure at a position battle that is so visible.
"We want to put pressure on guys every day, that's one thing we want to do. We want to put pressure on our players to be accountable to do their jobs on a daily by day play-by-play basis so that just adds to the mix," Trestman said. "It's right out there for everyone to see you don't have to go to the tape to make those decisions. After practice you can pretty much see it right there in front of you and that's part of the job, that's part of the job description."
To the naked eye, Way was in second place on the day, but he had a couple strong punts as well. Considered the underdog in the competition, Way was all smiles about the fans on a unique day.
“It was really cool, it was almost game-like,” he said. “You throw one up there and you get that spiral going, you hang it and you send it out, it’s so crazy how cool it is, the fans screaming and yelling.
“Especially if you get one that kind of hangs up a little higher, it’s the 'Ooooh!' I love it. … I love the bigger crowd, I love the noise, I love the audience. It’s so fun to have that atmosphere. Gosh, that was a blast today.”
Last preseason, Way was briefly in a competition with Adam Podlesh, but he was cut in camp. His six punts in the preseason had a net average of 32.5 yards. He won the chance to come back to Bourbonnais this summer, beating out Drew Butler in minicamp, and now has to try to upset the draft pick.
DeCamillis said that Way had upped his game after O’Donnell was drafted, and Way credited some of that to kicker Robbie Gould.
“[Gould] doesn’t have to do what he does, he’s a veteran guy, one of the best to ever play the game. He takes the time with us and he just kind of pushed me. He said ‘you’re a next level guy, I see this, here’s a couple things,’” Way said. “The other thing is I love competing. Whether Pat is here or it was Drew, I just love competing. That’s what it’s all about.”
O’Donnell also enjoyed the fan atmosphere and has been appreciative of working and competing with Way.
“I think regardless of your position, it’s great to have a person push you,” O'Donnell said. “Competition makes you better, so I’m really grateful for that.”
The first day in pads for the Bears also meant the first live punts we’ve seen in Bourbonnais, and the fans enjoyed the show. O’Donnell received more of the love, but Way is confident and even has those fans in mind about the eventual naming of the Bears’ punter.
“We both can go at it a little bit, so we’re just going to have fun,” he said. “So hopefully we make the fans feel good either way about wherever coach goes with it, hopefully they’re happy with the decision.”