BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — At some point Friday night, it’s likely to feel a little awkward at Soldier Field. If and when the Bears score a touchdown against the Eagles, kicker Robbie Gould will trot out for the extra point attempt — just as he has for the last nine seasons. But Gould will face a new and odd challenge. On Friday, as part of a league-wide preseason experiment, he will line up for his PAT kicks 13 yards deeper than normal.
As part of an NFL trial to enliven the extra point, the first two weeks of exhibition games will feature PAT snaps from the 15, making the kicks the equivalent of 33-yard field goals. (Two-point conversion attempts still will begin at the 2.)
It’s not a rules change and won’t be in play whatsoever during the regular season. But it’s an experiment to elevate the degree of difficulty for kickers, even if it’s an alteration one of the league’s best isn’t doesn’t like.
“I don’t think it needs to be changed,” Gould said. “We see quarterbacks throwing for the most yards ever. So are we going to say now you can’t try a play-action pass? No. We applaud players for throwing for more than 5,000 yards.”
At the owner’s meetings in March, the Patriots proposed a rules change to move extra-point snaps back to the 25 though it never made it to a vote. But with debate heightening on how to add meaning to a play that currently has so little suspense, the NFL is opting to conduct some preseason research on how one potential change might work.
During Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Giants and Bills, kickers Josh Brown and Dan Carpenter combined to convert all three of their attempts lengthened attempts. As the game went on, with chatter escalating on social media about the change, NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy issued a Twitter reminder that only 18 of 3,709 extra-point kicks have failed over the last three seasons.
The league isn’t sure that such a high-percentage formality is adding enough to the game.
Gould? He has missed only 0.6 percent of his career attempts (323-for-325) and went 114 games and 275 kicks between misses. Still, he’s somewhat fearful a lengthened PAT would create safety issues on the edges. With little threat of a fake, Gould believes defenses will be on the attack to go after blocked kicks.
“Instead of the A-gap rushes that we usually have, you’re now getting the rush out on the tight end and the tight end has to block one guy with an arm, one guy with a body, another guy with an arm,” Gould said. “So now he’s sitting with his feet in the ground, trying to collect three people.”
Tight end Dante Rosario, who plays on the left edge of the Bears’ field goal unit, acknowledges the differences in protections. But Rosario downplays Gould’s assertion that he’s more at risk.
“It’s odd,” Rosario said. “But when you’re in the NFL, you condition yourself never too get too static or settled. You always know something’s going to change. This is just the latest thing.”
Rosario also thinks Gould might come around on his disdain for the experiment given his status as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. After all, only one of Gould’s 38 career missed field goals came from 33 yards or shorter. (That was a 33-yarder in 2012 against the Panthers that sailed wide right on a gusty day at Soldier Field.)
“I’d think Robbie would ultimately benefit from a move like this,” Rosario said. “From that perspective, I think he’ll get used to it.”
For two August weeks anyway, kickers will have no other choice.