Explaining Eifert's absence from Notre Dame's passing game

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Explaining Eifert's absence from Notre Dame's passing game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Notre Dame rolled past Michigan State and Michigan en route to a top-10 ranking, tight end Tyler Eifert's role within the Irish offense was been noticeably small.

Eifert led FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards last year, topping Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen and second-round draft pick Coby Fleener. But the senior and Irish captain has just one catch in Notre Dame's last two games, which coach Brian Kelly brushed off as the result of using Eifert more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.

"You guys seem to think he's going to get 90 balls," Kelly chided after Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Michigan."He's a blocking tight end who has the unique ability at the end of the game to spread out as a wide receiver and catch a pass. The game was such that he was required to be inside blocking and he did a heck of a job.He just continues to open everybody's eyes about his ability to be a wide receiver and a blocking tight end."

Maybe that's just Kelly trying to help Eifert's draft stock, as most questions about his game translating to the NFL regarded his blocking skills. And there is something to Eifert blocking more as Notre Dame's offense has mainly relied on the run in the last few weeks.

Regardless, one catch in two games means something's out of whack. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin shed some light on what's behind Eifert's drop off in box-score production.

"I don't think it's as much right now a product of Tyler not being involved in the passing game, per se, as much as how efficiently we can throw the ball in certain situations and make good decisions and make good reads and get the ball where it needs to get to," Martin explained. "Trust me, Tyler's been doing awesome and he's been an unbelievable teammate and competitor, but not just for him, for us, we're a better team if the ball gets in 80's direction more. It's certainly not by design that the ball's not going there."

Last year, defenses weren't able to key on Eifert, as they also had Michael Floyd to worry about. This year, though, a developing group of wide receivers haven't posed the same matchup challenges Floyd did, so defenses often are sliding coverages to keep the ball away from Eifert.

At the same time, though, Martin said there have been some missed reads where Eifert could've got the ball, an issue that certainly could speak to Everett Golson's inexperience at quarterback. Eiftert's only reception against Michigan State and Michigan was thrown by Tommy Rees, for what it's worth.

"I think it's a product of both of them trying to maybe spend more attention to him and us maybe not always reading it as clean as we'd like to read it," Martin said, "but we're working on it."

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

Anthony Ranaudo hadn’t reached base in eight major league plate appearances and hadn’t got a hit since his high school days in New Jersey. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, and wasn't given an opportunity to hit while playing for college baseball powerhouse LSU. 

But in his second trip to the plate in the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ranaudo lifted a solo home run into the right field bleachers off right-hander Jason Hammel. It was a bizarre (in a good way) moment for a guy who also took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against one of baseball’s best offenses. 

“I figured it was going over Heyward’s head,” Ranaudo said. “I thought it was a double at first. I thought it got stuck in the ivy and I kind of pulled up at second base. I looked back at (the White Sox dugout) and realized it was a home run, from the way everybody was reacting and stuff, and I had to finish out the jog. I think it took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was a good experience. It was fun.”

Ranaudo last homered nine years ago as a senior at St. Rose High School (Belmar, N.J.), where he actually once faced White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) during a state tournament as a freshman. He also blasted a home run in the New Jersey state championship game as a sophomore in 2005. 

With his fifth-inning solo home run, Ranaudo became the first White Sox pitcher to homer since Mark Buehrle blasted a dinger against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 14, 2009. He joined Buehrle and right-hander Jon Garland as the only White Sox pitchers to hit a home run in the designated hitter era (1973-present). 

Ranaudo also became the first pitcher to homer in his White Sox debut since Jack Salveson went deep in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Senators on June 14, 1935. He’s also only the second American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley Field, joining Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, who took one out on Aug. 19, 2015. 

Ranaudo, who entered Wednesday with a 17.18 ERA in 2016, had his one-man show spoiled by home runs he allowed to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But the former first-round pick out of LSU still won’t forget his White Sox debut thanks to his no-hit bid and mighty wallop. 

“Yeah, that was definitely cool,” Ranaudo said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

When Jay Cutler came to the Bears in that 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, he was “the new guy.” The locker room belonged to Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher on their respective sides of the football, and while the quarterback position by definition places its occupant in a necessarily leadership position, that wasn’t the Bears. They weren’t going to be “Cutler’s team,” not for a while.

But Matt Forte exited this past offseason and with him went the last position player – on either side of the ball – who had been here longer than Cutler now has. The reality wasn’t lost on Cutler.

“I was looking at the roster a couple of weeks ago and I feel like there’s been a major shift in experience — especially on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m at 11 [years] and then you look down, there’s a couple of nines, a couple of eights and mostly five and under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a new talent and new guys in the building, there’s new energy and new attitude. I’ve embraced it. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff’s done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It’s a good group right now.”

It is also a group that looks to Cutler perhaps in ways teammates haven’t. Where Forte was at least the template for an NFL professional for his position group, Cutler now becomes the go-to veteran for everything ranging from details on a play-call to how to behave as a rookie.

It is a role that at times Cutler did not always appear to fit into comfortably, particularly with established veterans and personas that were the Bears’ identity for, in cases like Kreutz and Urlacher, a decade or more. Now, a player once sometimes perceived by outsiders as poutish or petulant has become something of a standard-setter for teammates.

“Obviously Jay does a great job with the younger guys,” said guard Kyle Long. “He brought me along, and continues to bring me along. He can be a little honest and blunt with me from time to time, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s the right thing to do in his position, as the leader and vested player.

“The quarterback is the leader of our team. I think he’s done a great job. I see him with the defense a lot, which is something I didn’t see a lot the first few years. I don’t necessarily know if that’s on Jay, or if it’s a perception-of-Jay basis. He’s a great guy. People in that locker room love him. He’s tough as hell. He’s got a cannon. He can run. And he’s a competitor. We love him. He’s been great this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll be this season with this new O-line and with the defense getting us the ball back a lot.”

Tough love approach

Cutler has earned the respect of his teammates. But gaining the confidence of his head coach and general manager through last year were possibly career turning points.

Cutler had been given a contract extension six games into his first (2009) year with the Bears. He responded by leading the NFL in interceptions.

When Phil Emery arrived as general manager, he spoke from the outset of Cutler as a “franchise quarterback” and “elite.” Emery gave Cutler a seven-year contract after the 2013 season, whereupon Cutler again led the league in interceptions in a 5-11 season marked by friction with coordinator Aaron Kromer and coach Marc Trestman, whose staff was fired after that year.

Instead of fawning treatment, Fox, coordinator Adam Gase and GM Ryan Pace were decidedly noncommittal on Cutler through last offseason and into the year. Cutler produced the best statistical year of his career, still not as good as Aaron Rodgers’ poorest single season, but with an overall performance that settled the Bears’ quarterback situation for the foreseeable future.

"I had questions on everybody," Fox said. "You come in, you take a job, you evaluate and you have to make decisions oftentimes before you even meet somebody in Year 1 as a head coach or general manager. They could be robots for all you know. But the game is still about people and relationships.

“I will say this: At the conclusion of the whole season working with Jay, I was very impressed. So I feel way more confident about him."

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Charles Tillman must be the Cubs' good luck charm.

Just a few minutes after the Bears legend sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field, Javy Baez sent one almost out onto Waveland Ave.

That two-run shot put a charge into a Cubs offense that had been scuffling as Baez and Co. wound up beating the White Sox 8-1 in front of 41,166 fans at Wrigley Field.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo was tossing a no-hitter against the team with the best record in baseball before Kris Bryant parked one into the left-field bleachers with one out in the sixth inning.

Baez's blast in the seventh inning turned out to be the game-winner and helped lift this offense out of its funk by tacking on five eighth-inning runs.

Ben Zobrist had an RBI double in that eighth inning and then Addison Russell delivered the big blow with a grand slam off former Cub Jacob Turner.

That late rally ensured Aroldis Chapman did not get his first save in a Cubs uniform, but manager Joe Maddon still employed his shiny new bullpen anyway.

Hector Rondon worked a perfect eighth inning and then Chapman came on to toss the ninth with a seven-run lead.

The new Cubs closer wowed the Wrigley crowd with fastballs clocked at 102 and 103 mph as he struck out Jose Abreu, got Todd Frazier to ground out and then struck out Avisail Garcia.

Ranaudo was the story for the first two-thirds of the game, driving in the only run with an opposite-field homer off Jason Hammel and then keeping the Cubs offense at bay. 

Ranaudo's first career MLB hit was the only blemish on Hammel's line, as the Cubs veteran right-hander struck out seven in seven innings.