Punter O'Donnell emerges as fan favorite

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
4:07
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- NFL punters are hardly ever the center of attention; except when things go horribly wrong in a game, like a bad kick or botched snap.

But Bears' rookie punter Pat O'Donnell proved to be the exception to that rule on Sunday.

A large part of the estimated 9,500 fans in attendance on Sunday spent the entire portion of the special teams drills loudly cheering for O'Donnell and chanting "Mega-Punt” every time he punted the ball.

O'Donnell's highly-touted right leg did not disappoint. Aside from one or two mishits, the majority of the rookie's punts were high and deep. One kick registered an unofficial hang time of 5.1 seconds and appeared to travel well over 50 yards.

"I didn't know what the crowd was saying,” O'Donnell said after practice. "I was just trying to keep focused. It's definitely a good feeling because the punter usually doesn't get a lot of attention. But it's the nature of the business. I just need to do my thing and hopefully flip the field when I can.”

Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis added: "That's a first for me [hearing fans chant for a punter]. I was thinking you have to be kidding me over there. It was ridiculous. Let's keep the kid's feet on the ground.”

However, expectations are high for O'Donnell, after the Bears spent a sixth-round pick on the 6-foot-4, 220 pound punter from Miami following a record-setting year when he averaged a school single-season best 47.1 yards per punt and had 23 kicks sail 50-plus yards.

Generally speaking, when a team drafts a punter, it becomes his job to lose. But former undrafted free agent Tress Way stepped up his performance following the Bears selection of O'Donnell, and actually outkicked the rookie in the offseason program, paving the way for a genuine camp competition.

But Sunday clearly belonged to O'Donnell.

"I thought [O'Donnell] did some good things today,” DeCamillis said. "But we need to just keep working and hopefully he continues stacking good days on top of good days.”

Punter is not the only specialist position up for grabs. The retirement of decorated veteran Patrick Mannelly left a serious void at long snapper, one the Bears are currently trying to fill with either Chad Rempel or Brandon Hartson.

In the Mannelly era, the Bears experienced a bad snap maybe once every five or six years. This summer, there have been multiple long snapping miscues over the span of just three days since camp opened on Friday.

"I wouldn't say we are concerned," DeCamillis said. "We need to work through the process and find out who our guy is going to be. Hopefully he's on this team right now. He may not be. We'll have to see. But I wouldn't say we're concerned. I've been in this position before with young guys. You just need to work through the process."

Jeff Dickerson | email

Chicago Bears beat reporter
Dickerson has been the Bears beat reporter for ESPN Chicago since 2004. He also hosts weeknight radio shows on ESPN 1000.

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