Drew Brees now has 100 million reasons to smile

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Drew Brees now has 100 million reasons to smile

From Comcast SportsNet
METAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Drew Brees took some time out of his Sunday to sign autographs on items ranging from a black jersey handed to him by a fan to a 100 million contract handed to him by the New Orleans Saints. The star quarterback, who had agreed verbally to his historic deal Friday, visited team headquarters to take a physical and put pen to paper on the five-year contract that gives him the highest average annual pay (20 million) in NFL history. Brees then grabbed a sandwich to go at a Jimmy John's sandwich shop he owns, where he posed for photos, shook hands and signed autographs for star-struck fans before hopping in a white sport utility vehicle and heading for the airport. Looking satisfied and relaxed in a black T-shirt with (hash)NOLALOVE printed across the front, the clean-cut Brees said he was eager to rejoin his teammates after a protracted contract holdout that ran parallel to a bounty scandal that has swirled around the Saints since March. "It's been a little surreal just because of the process throughout the offseason, and just how challenging an offseason it's been for everyone, obviously everyone within the Saints organization, this city," Brees said. "It's just been a crazy offseason and I think we're all just ready to get back to work and excited that it's all starting here in a week. It's hard to believe." Brees, his currently pregnant wife, Brittany, and their two young boys spend parts of offseasons in southern California. Brees will be back in New Orleans again soon, though, as the Saints report for training camp July 24. A year ago, Brees was organizing and running a voluntary minicamp at Tulane during the NFL lockout. This offseason, he missed all of the voluntary practices and mandatory minicamp while his agent, Tom Condon, and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis worked on a new long-term contract that gave Brees a payday on par with his record-setting performances on the field. Brees said he had been training hard on his own in California and had maintained close contact by phone with teammates and assistant head coach Joe Vitt throughout the offseason. Vitt is handling most big-picture head coaching duties in the absence of Sean Payton, who has been suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with the bounty investigation. "I talked to coach Vitt all the time. I talked to (backup quarterback) Chase (Daniel) quite a bit," Brees said. "For me, I certainly wanted to keep up on my team and my teammates and make sure everybody was doing OK. Guys were texting me all the time, so I was in constant communication with many guys on the team." Brees also expressed confidence that, after six years in the same offensive system, he was "absolutely" ready to pick up in training camp where he left off last season, despite the offseason work he missed with the club. He added that he was eager to test his skills in camp against the scheme being installed by new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "I just look forward to getting back to work," Brees said. "It does feel like it's been a while since I've been out there with my guys and we were running our offense. "Camp, for me, especially now with Spagnuolo and a new defensive scheme, that's fun for me because just as a competitor, you go through about a four-week period where you're competing against your own defense and they're scheming you up and you're scheming them up," Brees added. "I missed the guys; I missed the competition. I'm just excited to get back to work." In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a 71.2 completion percentage. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set an NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474. Brees' yards passing record shattered a mark of 5,084 set by Dan Marino back in 1984. Brees also has been highly active in the community through his Brees Dream foundation, which has sponsored more than 8 million in projects primarily aimed at improving schools and athletic facilities for children, along with supporting the arts and cancer patients. For all of those reasons, fans like Gerald Hebert, 40, of Slidell, were delighted to share a moment with Brees in the parking lot outside his sandwich shop. "It's a big relief going into training camp," Hebert said. "It's a huge win for the city all the way around. With him being here, it's one less thing to worry about, especially with a lot of the negativity that's come up this offseason. ... It was pretty cool to actually see him and it shows how much interaction he has with the community."

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

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USA TODAY

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

Illinois State, Loyola and Northern Iowa will all be in action Saturday.

And you can catch all three games on CSN and CSN+.

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois State, 2 p.m., CSN+

The Redbirds (4-3) are coming off of a tough loss on the road at Tulsa, but they're off to a solid start early in the season. Senior point guard Paris Lee, a Proviso East product, is having a monster season for Illinois State so far, averaging 15 points, 6.4 assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee-Martin (8-2) is off to a great start with only a pair of road losses to SEC opponents Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Milwaukee at Loyola, 3 p.m., CSN

The Ramblers (8-2) have won three straight games and will try to carry that momentum into Horizon League play. Junior forward Aundre Jackson is off to a great start, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Loyola features a few former local high school stars. Senior Milton Doyle (Marshall) and junior Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well.

Milwaukee (4-5) is off to a decent start in a rebuilding year under new head coach LaVall Jordan and is coming off a road win against Montana State.

Rockford Boylan product Brock Stull is the Panthers' leading scorer and rebounder. The sophomore guard is averaging 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

North Dakota at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m., CSN

Northern Iowa (4-4) is coming off of a blowout win over South Dakota State.

Senior Jeremy Morgan has been doing it all for the Panthers. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. Morgan is putting up 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest this season.

North Dakota (5-2) has two straight wins, including a victory over in-state rival North Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks are led by Quinton Hooker, who's averaging 16.7 points per game this season.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”