AL HAMNIK: Bears won't be kicking themselves over this draft pick

2014-05-19T18:45:00Z 2014-05-24T22:15:23Z AL HAMNIK: Bears won't be kicking themselves over this draft pickAl Hamnik Times Columnist
May 19, 2014 6:45 pm  • 

There is an Ed Farmer line about towering home runs that could apply to new Bears' punter Pat O'Donnell.

"Last time I saw anything go that high, it had flight attendants," Farmer would say.

Meet 6-foot-4, 220-pound Florida native O'Donnell, whom the Bears drafted in the sixth round as the 191st player taken overall and the first kicker.

Adam Podlesh already is long forgotten.

A fifth-year senior, O'Donnell began his college career at Cincinnati, then finished at Miami last season as the nation's No. 3 punter with a 47.1 average.

He averaged 63.1 yards on 79 kickoff attempts.

Punters are like spare tires. You don't talk about them until you need one. The Bears have a good one now.

O'Donnell will help save Robbie Gould's leg by handling kickoffs as well. General manager Phil Emery found that quite appealing, judging by his post-draft smiles.

"(O'Donnell) can make the adjustment from college to the NFL if he can handle it mentally," Emery said. "It's all about performance.

"What stands out about Patrick and the reason we were willing to spend a sixth-round pick on him is the physical upside is huge and at two different universities he has shown production — high-level production."

Ever know a punter to be fearless? Podlesh wasn't and being mentally shaken when his kicks resembled wounded ducks in flight cost him his job.

At the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, O'Donnell was one of two punters to volunteer to perform in the agility tests. That's fearless.

His numbers were impressive: He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, opened eyes in the 225-pound bench press with 23 repetitions, then added a 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump.

O'Donnell also is a solid tackler, as his college game film indicated. That quickness downfield enabled him to support his coverage unit on punts.

He does not stick out an arm hoping to slow down the return man as he flies by. Nope. O'Donnell will put a helmet in your midsection, then drive you into the ground like a tent post.

"I definitely think it helps being the strongest you can be at your position. It helps you excel on the football field, so that's exactly why I do it," he said.

Not to gang up on the departed Mr. Podlesh, but directional punting was not among his strengths. Nor distance. Nor hang time, actually.

"Directionally, I think this last season helped prepare me for the next level," O'Donnell said. "I know the NFL is mostly a directional scheme and I've been working on that part of my game this past year."

Soldier Field is a kicker's nightmare with its crazy, unpredictable wind conditions. The north end zone can be calm as a sleeping infant, while the south goal post is shaking like a mini-quake.

"I went to Cincinnati for the first four years so I was exposed to different environments," O'Donnell said. "It wasn't always sunny and 70 degrees, so I definitely got a variation of weather whether we played in Connecticut or Cincinnati."

When it was learned his father had cancer, O'Donnell transferred to Miami to help lend his support. On draft day, there wasn't a dry eye in the family home.

"When they called my name on TV, Dad started crying and gave me a hug," O'Donnell said. "It was a memorable moment to share that with him."

The first of many good memories to come, we hope.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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