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Keeping Robbie Gould golden becomes a competition

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Updated: August 3, 2014 11:16PM



BOURBONNAIS — Robbie Gould’s post-practice work lasted nearly 30 ­minutes during one of the hottest days of training camp. The Bears kicker ­tirelessly went over footwork, leverage and stance.

But not one ball was kicked.

The extra practice wasn’t for him. It was for long snapper Brandon Hartson. Gould guided Hartson step-by-step, going over blocking techniques and how teams will attack him differently.

“Robbie took me in like a little brother,” Hartson said. “He’s amazing.”

Gould truly is the proverbial “Big Brother” of the Bears’ special teams. Long snapper Patrick Mannelly is gone, enjoying retirement and working in radio. Punter Adam Podlesh is gone too, meaning Gould is looking at a new holder for the first time since 2011.

Keeping Gould golden has turned into a competition: Tress Way and Pat O’Donnell at punter and holder and Hartson and Chad Rempel at long snapper. And there, helping with every punt, hold and snap since April, has been Gould.

None has NFL regular-season experience, and the difference between winning and losing can be Gould’s right foot.

“He spends more time with us, the punters and the snappers, than he does even working on his game,” Way said. “Granted, he’s comfortable because he’s had a lot of success … but his work ethic towards us is unbelievable.”

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With Mannelly injured, Hartson spent time with the Bears last preseason. He got to know Gould and the special-teams staff and was advised by Mannelly.

This year is completely different.

“There is a lot more pressure, a bit more stress,” Hartson said. “Pat is gone.”

Mannelly retired after 16 seasons of unbelievable consistency. Long snappers don’t often become popular players, but Mannelly did.

“[Gould] played with one of the greatest snappers to ever play, if not the greatest, for a long time,” Rempel said. “I know he and Pat used to talk a lot about different looks. So he’s very educated on all the positions. I’ve never met a guy that knows as much as Robbie when it comes to the kicking game.”

Mannelly’s legacy casts a shadow over Hartson, a four-year long snapper at Houston, and Rempel, a 10-year Canadian Football League veteran. Early in camp, their performances were marred by botched snaps.

“Both guys have to understand that’s it not about being Pat Mannelly,” Gould said. “It’s about being who they are and what they are and working on their weaknesses and making them strengths and learning the little things in protection or the little things on balance.”

Gould helped calm their nerves. A few days after their struggles made headlines, Hartson and Rempel said they feel more confident.

“He keeps us straight on the right path and just keeps us going,” Hartson said. “He doesn’t take it easy on us, that’s for sure. He knows what’s right for us.”

Being on hold

Way was Oklahoma’s holder for one season, and O’Donnell held for three seasons at Miami and Cincinnati. But both are learning that much more goes into Gould being the third-most accurate kicker in league history (234-for-272, 86.6 percent).

“Any possible detail you could ever come up with, it all factors in some way, which is a testament to how great he really is,” Way said. “The way we hold, the different hashes, the distance, the wind, the laces. Every little thing goes into play, and we’re starting to grasp that.”

Like his work with the long snappers, Gould has a hands-on approach with the holders, demonstrating holds for varying situations.

“The field goals are different than college,” said O’Donnell, a sixth-round pick. “Especially here in Chicago, if the wind is blowing left-to-right or right-to-left, the hold changes quite a bit.

“He’s showing me how to adjust to that. He’s been a great mentor for it. He demonstrates it. He works with it every single day. He ­critiques it on film.”

Having kicked field goals in college, Way figured he had a good foundation when he first joined the Bears last year. Then he worked with Gould.

“Robbie showed me how much goes into every single ball,” Way said, “even to the point where we have to beat the grass down because the grass is so thick.”

Helping his own cause

Having signed a four-year contract extension, finding long-term teammates at punter and long snapper would be ideal for Gould, but he said that’s out of his control.

All he can do is help, and he’s happy with their progress. He said being the lone veteran is “different for sure,” but he’s assisting Way, O’Donnell, Hartson and Rempel just as punter Brad Maynard and Mannelly helped him years ago.

“I still have to do a job,” he said.

And he needs a reliable holder and snapper to do that.

So the extra work will continue. Way, O’Donnell, Hartson and Rempel appreciate every extra second of it.

“Robbie knows everything,” Hartson said. “He listens to everyone’s job. He can tell a job that the gunner does. He can tell what the punter does. He can tell what the left tackle does on punt [team]. It’s pretty amazing that he knows all that stuff.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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