Carroll sings praises of Bears' running game

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Carroll sings praises of Bears' running game

Every Bears fan has heard head coach Lovie Smiths calling card statement, "We want to get off the bus running." Former offensive coordinator Mike Martz was criticized for not running the ball enough -- if he even shared his bosses desire to run the ball at all.

This article will continue an interview with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on SiriusXM NFL Radio with my co-host Pat Kirwin, focusing on how the Bears are different in 2012 under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Previous articles were written from Bears opposing head coaches such as Jim Schwartz, Mike Mularkey, Ron Rivera -- and now Carroll -- to gain perspective.

Kirwin started the interview by asking Carroll his overall thoughts on the Bears' running game. Carroll responded saying, "This is a team committed to running the football. Theyve pounded it."

Carroll did not want to speculate on Matt Fortes ankle injury but felt Seattle has intimate knowledge of Michael Bush from former Raiders head coach Tom Cable, who is currently the offensive line coach in Seattle.

"I dont know if Fortes out. We are expecting one or both of those guys," Carroll said. "Bush is a hammer! He is a big dude and we know him real well. Tom Cable informed us all about his way and he's such a good football player."

Much like the previous head coaches interviewed, Carroll emphasized the Bears' commitment to sticking with the run.

"Because they are so committed to it, it is just something you have to deal with -- otherwise, they are just going to keep pounding away," he said.

Carroll also discussed how running the football enables the Bears' second deadly combination of Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall when he said, "You know you have Marshall and Cutler out there firing away. It's an amazing stat to see how many targets they have together. I think its 124 targets at Marshall and the next guy, Earl Bennett, has got like 40."

But Carroll immediately brought the conversation back to the Bears running game saying, "It's a tremendous commitment they have to the run game, then its that combination Cutler-Marshall. That is what we are going to have to deal with to have a chance. If they have them both Forte ankle, it's going to be twice as hard."

NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

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NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

You can bet Brian Kelly is going to hammer home the number 51,251,888 in the coming weeks and months. 

That’s the estimated total contract dollar value Notre Dame’s seven draftees will earn, second among college football programs only to Ohio State (which, according to Spotrac.com, is a gargantuan $117,499,008). It’s a sexy number that’ll be used to entice recruits across the nation, as well as players within the program who face the decision to stay at Notre Dame or turn pro after a junior season. 

Notre Dame’s draft-week success is a strong indicator that the program’s player development — especially on the offensive side of the ball — is in a good place. 

Ronnie Stanley was Notre Dame’s first top-10 pick in 22 years, and Will Fuller’s decision to leave South Bend after three seasons paid off when the Houston Texans selected him 21st overall. Nick Martin was a second-round pick, while C.J. Prosise went in the third round. While it was a minor surprise to see Chris Brown go undrafted, those four players represent major player development successes. 

Kelly and a cavalcade of Irish personnel successfully pitched Stanley on returning to Notre Dame for his senior season, and he improved his stock from mid-first-round status to being the first offensive lineman taken off the board (Laremy Tunsil’s bizarre Thursday certainly helped push Stanley up, too). Like Stanley, Martin was a Harry Hiestand success story, having steadily developed his game to the point where the Texans traded up two picks to nab him with the 50th selection. 

Hiestand is one of Notre Dame’s more respected position coaches in recent memory. It’s not just from within the program, too — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave a shout-out to Hiestand, who coached the Chicago Bears offensive line from 2005-2009, in introducing Stanley last week. Having an NFL coach praise a college position coach is an awfully strong endorsement to pitch to recruits. 

But the emergences of Fuller and Prosise as Day 1 and Day 2 picks were almost more impressive. 

Fuller was overlooked coming out of high school in Philadelphia, and even after a breakout 2014 season, one early NFL mock draft had Corey Robinson, not Fuller, projected as a first-round pick. But under Mike Denbrock’s watch, Fuller developed from a raw speed burner into a refined, NFL-ready receiver. 

A year ago, it would’ve been difficult to see Prosise as a third-round pick only a few months into his move to running back. Prosise himself admitted it in December that the idea of passing on a fifth year to enter the draft hadn’t really entered his mind until after last season — he figured he’d play a graduate year at Notre Dame and then see where his career would take him.

Instead, Prosise was an immediate success from Autry Denson’s position group, becoming Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. His explosive playmaking ability and versatility from the two years he spent at wide receiver made him an intriguing pick for the Seattle Seahawks. 

Notre Dame also had three defensive players drafted, one from each unit. Jaylon Smith would’ve joined Stanley and Fuller as first-round picks had it not been for the concerns over nerve damage in his surgically-repaired knee; even despite those, though, the Dallas Cowboys used an early second-round pick on him. 

Sheldon Day (Jacksonville Jaguars) and KeiVarae Russell (Kansas City Chiefs) were fourth-round picks, both landing in spots where they’ll have good opportunities to succeed right away. 

It’s true that Notre Dame only had one player drafted in 2015 (tight end Ben Koyack, who went in the seventh round to Jacksonville). But had Stanley and Day declared, it would’ve been more, and both those guys are success stories in the sense of getting a degree from the prestigious Mendoza College of Business (and, in Stanley’s case, improving his draft stock). 

Plenty of college football’s elite programs can trot out gaudy signing bonus numbers and Pro Bowl appearances for former players, though. Those are a good hook for plenty of blue-chip recruits. 

But for some recruits — and plenty of parents — Notre Dame has another pitch to offer. Robinson and Steve Elmer are excellent examples of what can be done outside of football at Notre Dame, be it being elected student body president and starting a charity or leaving football to take a job in Washington D.C. after graduating in three and a half years. 

And whatever the message may be, it’s working. Notre Dame ranks fourth in Rivals.com’s team recruiting rankings for the class of 2017. 

Road Ahead: White Sox return home after seven-game road trip

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Road Ahead: White Sox return home after seven-game road trip

CSN's Chuck Garfien and Bill Melton talk about what's next for the White Sox, which host the Red Sox and Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

After playing 19 games in 19 days the White Sox finally had an off day on Monday. The busy stretch ended in a seven-game road trip, which the Sox went 5-2 in.

Garfien and Melton talked about the success the White Sox have had on the road as the team returns home to face the Red Sox and Twins in a pair of three-game series this week. The Red Sox lead the AL East with a 15-10 record while the Twins have the worst record in the American League.

The White Sox entered Monday with more wins than any other team in the majors.

Releasing Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson 'improves” Bears' 2016 draft

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Releasing Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson 'improves” Bears' 2016 draft

No one involved with the Chicago Bears – no one, not players, coaches, media members, front office – had a good feeling on Sunday when the Bears followed through on a couple of anticipated roster moves with the releases of Antrel Rolle and Matt Slauson.

In a quarter-century around this team, both men are on a list of the classiest and most likeable individuals I have had the pleasure to meet and cover, along with Jermon Bushrod, Philip Daniels, Dick Jauron, Jim Miller, Lovie Smith, Chris Villarrial, Big Cat Williams and many, many others too numerous to chronicle here.

But the NFL is about nothing if not what-have-you-done-for-me-lately (which is why signing bonuses and guaranteed money are EVERYTHING in player contracts). So it was apparent as 2015 wound down that seeing Rolle and Slauson in Bears uniforms for 2016 was an extreme longshot.

Ironically, what the releases do, however, is put a brighter shine on the Bears’ 2016 draft. Because GM Ryan Pace now appears to have done a remarkably deft job of drafting simultaneously for both “best-available” and “need.” And that ain’t easy.

(This is not to be confused with a draft “grade” – players who’ve never played an NFL down even in a rookie minicamp do not deserve early “grades” on an NFL scale yet. Check back after weeks 1-3 of training camp.)

What Pace, John Fox and their staffs did in general was draft their preferred “best player available” – to a point. What Pace really did was slide the fluid definitions of “best” and “available” both up (from No. 11 to No. 9 for Leonard Floyd) and back (trading back twice from No. 41 to take Cody Whitehair).

The Bears did not just take the best player available when their turn came; they also moved to a spot where that player made draft-slot sense as well. Was Whitehair the best-available at No. 41? Maybe. Maybe not. But at No. 56, definitely.

Why that matters is because the Bears knew well in advance of this draft that they wanted upgrades at both guard and safety. So at guard, Pace got the best available one (the 49ers already had traded up into the late first round to grab Stanford’s Joshua Garnett at No. 28). And he filled a franchise need for the present and the future, even with Ted Larsen, Kyle Long, Manny Ramirez and Slauson in place. Guard is suddenly a strength on the roster, with upside in Whitehair.

Back in round four, after addressing pass-rush power with D-end Jonathan Bullard in round three, Pace did the same thing – the enviable combo of best-available and need-fill.

A number of safeties had gone already, and the Bears wanted West Virginia inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski with their first fourth-round pick (No. 113). Pace stayed with his board and still addressed the safety need, with Miami’s Deon Bush, using a pick acquired from Seattle with one of those round-two trades, and also with Deiondre’ Hall, who projects as a challenger at cornerback but who split time in the Northern Iowa defense at safety and even played linebacker at one point. Again, best-available at a need position.

Net result: The ultimate “grade” of a draft is how good the drafted players turn out to be. But a preliminary grade lies in whether or not a team was able to fill needs that hadn’t been addressed in free agency, which was very much the case at safety before this weekend.

One question that can be asked is whether Slauson at 30, proven at two positions, and knowing the Bears’ system, wasn’t in fact a better interior player than Ramirez, who is three years older and was benched last season by a less-than-distinguished Detroit Lions offense.

And being released May 1 isn’t as advantageous for a player as going on the open market at the outset of free agency, or sooner as in the Matt Forte case. The bigger the window of opportunity for catching on elsewhere, the better.

But both Rolle and Slauson are 30-plus, with some injury history within the last two years. And the reality is that both players would very possibly still be on the market leading into the draft timeframe. Teams look first to see what they can do in the draft before signing aged veterans, which would’ve involved guaranteeing some money. The Bears had both under contract and paid, so they weren’t in the same situation as other teams.

The play of Bush and Whitehair will ultimately vindicate the unpleasant roster moves Pace and the Bears made. But in terms of filling perceived needs and doing it in synch with best-available evaluations, the Bears’ 2016 draft just improved its preliminary “grade.”