'Balance' formula working for Bears' O

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'Balance' formula working for Bears' O

That offense is taking the shape it did the last two years when it made its biggest strides. The Bears are 4-0 in games when they put up at least 25 runs, losing only at Green Bay when some mysterious interloper started calling plays.

I think there was a guy that was calling plays in Green Bay that didnt call the run enough, offensive coordinator Mike Tice deadpanned. I think that was a part of the problem. Hopefully hes not showing up this week.

Best guess: not.

But while the Bears want to run the ball for better than the 4.1 yards per carry they are averaging only at Green Bay and Jacksonville have they averaged more than 4 yards per rush the formula for success has proved to be balance, Brandon Marshall notwithstanding.

The Bears have run 321 plays. Of those, 151 (47 percent) have been runs.

I think its imperative to get the run going each week because you have to have balance, Tice said. Playactions dont work when you cant run the ball. And typically throughout the league, if you look at it, the big shots come off of play action, because youre not getting that really quick pass rush.

When you go play action, you have to make them stop and re-start and when you do that, then can get some shots down the field.

Not coincidentally, the Bears worst passing game this year also was in Green Bay: seven sacks, 74 total air yards.

Cutlers longest completion was 22 yards, the only game in which he has not had a completion of at least 34 yards.

Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

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Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

The speculation about Jaylon Smith won’t end until he finally sets foot on an NFL field and proves that his knee has fully healed. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith with the 34th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday with the expectation he’ll have a lengthy, successful career in the NFL (

). 

Smith is in relatively uncharted territory when it comes to the damage to the stretched peroneal nerve in his left knee. But universally, Smith’s coaches and former teammates expressed optimism about his recovery and gushed about the elite abilities possessed by the 2015 Butkus Award winner. 

“His traits of explosion and speed and all the physical traits we talk about, they’re top-line,” Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “But the big thing with him is he’s a pro. He can walk in any pro locker room, any pro meeting room — he’s incredible in the meeting room — and he’ll talk better football than a lot of those guys that are already there. He’s very knowledgeable. Worked at it hard. Wanted to see the big picture of football. 

“So he’s NFL ready the minute he walks into a meeting room. Incredible note-taker. He’s just — if I were still in the pros and I drafted him, I can’t imagine that I’ve ever had any rookie come in that would be where he is. He’s just so far ahead. So far ahead.”

VanGorder has a keen knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a linebacker in the NFL, too, having spent four years as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator and single seasons as the linebackers’ coach for the Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. 

“He’s gonna have a hell of a career, he is one heck of a football player and it’s very, very important to him,” VanGorder said. “He’s a champion. He has a champion attitude. He’ll be good.”

While Smith’s trophy-winning junior season certainly was extraordinary, that he still totaled 114 tackles in 2014 was impressive in a different way. That year, Smith was learning a new position — Will inside linebacker in VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme — and was frequently caught out of position, especially after talismanic middle linebacker Joe Schmidt suffered a season-ending injury against Navy. 

But even though Smith struggled with the move inside, his athleticism took over to generate that triple-digit tackle total. Seeing Smith glide from the field to the boundary to make a tackle on an opposing running back was a somewhat common occurrence. 

“Jaylon was a production man,” Notre Dame linebackers coach Mike Elston said. “He made everybody else around him better because he was gonna make up for you. You got reached as a defensive tackle? He was gonna get to the ball and make the tackle. It didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what happens in front of him. Jaylon made up for a lot of things. He was productive.”

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace offered a different perspective on what made Smith such a good player. 

“If he wasn’t in class, I don’t know if he’d instantly transport and just be right here in the (Guglielmino Athletics Complex), in the film room, just wanting more and more and more,” Grace said. “Because he didn’t necessarily want to rely on his physical ability. That’s a tremendous trait, God-given and something he’s worked toward as well. 

“But what makes these guys great players is their instincts on the field and they’re able to direct that to the ball, to the play, understanding the game as well. That’s just taking it to the next level. There’s plenty of tremendous athletes out there, you’ll see guys pop up all the time with these crazy numbers, jumping like this. But Jaylon has that and the other side.”

Coach Brian Kelly found himself publicly politicking for Smith over the past few weeks, trying to convey what impressed him so much about his former linebacker to an NFL audience. All Smith needed was a chance, according to Kelly, and he’d prove to be the kind of linebacker he was at Notre Dame — and maybe a better one, too. 

The Dallas Cowboys, on Friday, gave Smith that chance. 

“He’s going to come back from this injury, and when he does, he’s going to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL,” Kelly said. “He has that kind of ability. … Jaylon is somebody that has an incredible, positive attitude. 

“Look, he’s not a gamble. He’s a smart business decision.”

Jihad Ward drafted in second round, first Illini picked since 2013

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Jihad Ward drafted in second round, first Illini picked since 2013

After two years without an NFL Draft pick, Illinois’ draft drought is over.

Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illini selected in the draft since 2013 when the Oakland Raiders picked him with the No. 44 pick Friday.

Since 1971, only four drafts have not featured an Illinois product, with two coming in succession in each of the past two years (1972, 2006, 2014, 2015). This recent drought snapped a string of successful drafts for the Illini, which featured a first-round pick in four of five drafts from 2008 to 2012.

The 2013 draft featured four Illinois players selected: Hugh Thornton (third round), Akeem Spence (fourth round), Terry Hawthorne (fifth round) and Michael Buchanan (seventh round).

Ward is the highest Illini picked since the 2012 draft, when Illinois saw four players taken in the first two rounds: Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins in the first, Jeff Allen and Tavon Wilson in the second.

Ward spent the past two seasons at Illinois after transferring in from junior college. In 25 games, he recorded 104 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

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Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

Where Jaylon Smith would land was one of the biggest questions heading into the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, which began Friday night in Chicago. 

We didn't have to wait long for an answer.

The Dallas Cowboys took Smith with the 34th overall pick, just three selections into the second round. Smith, who won the Butkus Award in 2015, isn't likely to play in 2016 after suffering a torn ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl that also contained damage to the nerve in his knee. 

Prior to his injury, and the revelations of nerve damage, Smith was widely projected to be a top-10 pick. A former five-star recruit (and winner of the high school Butkus Award, too), Smith asserted himself as one of the most talented players to ever come through Notre Dame during his three seasons in South Bend. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native totaled 292 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss in his college career, in which he was moved from outside linebacker in Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme to "Will" inside linebacker in Brian VanGorder's 4-3 defense. 

Smith took out an insurance policy last year, which reportedly paid him $700,000 for not being a first-round pick $100,000 for each pick after the end of the first round he wasn't selected, so he'll received $900,000 from it. 

With Dallas, Smith will be re-united with his brother, Rod, who's a running back for the Cowboys. 

Smith's former teammates and coaches rushed to Twitter to celebrate. There wasn't a consensus on when Smith would be drafted, with projections ranging between the second and fourth founds.