Johnson returns to Fire, but won't play Sunday

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Johnson returns to Fire, but won't play Sunday

The Fires 1-0-1 record after two games is the same as last years at the same point in the season, but one thing is certainly different: the Fire has much more depth in Frank Klopas first full season as head coach than it did when Carlos de los Cobos was in charge for the dismal start to the 2011 campaign.

Why else would Klopas hold out his top goalkeeper and most experienced defender for the third league match of the season?

Sean Johnson, who finished up a tour of duty with the U.S. under-23 team in the Olympic qualifying tournament on Monday in Nashville, has rejoined his club team and Arne Friedrich, a veteran of Germanys World Cup squads, went through Thursdays training session as well.

Neither, though, are expected to play in Sundays Major League Soccer road match against the Colorado Rapids. Klopas doesnt feel either are ready, though he didnt flat rule out Johnson.

While Johnson is widely recognized as one of the best young goalkeepers in the U.S. and spent a fruitful offseason experience-wise, he hasnt had much match time lately. That can be corrected in the next two weeks.

Johnson, 22, had seven shutouts in 28 matches last season. His play on a teams that struggled for 44 games over two seasons under de los Cobos but finished 2011 strong under Klopas, earned him some extra opportunities. Johnson earned his first cap with the U.S. national team, playing the second half of a 1-1 draw against Chile in January, 2011.

After the '11 MLS season he was invited to 12 days of training with Everton of the English Premier League, where he worked with U.S. national team mainstay Tim Howard. Johnson then joined the U.S. under-23s for their failed bid to qualify for the Olympics. Those opportunities caused Johnson to miss much of preseason training and the Fires first two MLS matches.

The Olympic experience was all good.

Bill Hamid, the D.C. United goalkeeper, earned the nod over Johnson when U.S. under-23 coach Caleb Porter lined up his squad for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Hamid was in goal for a 6-0 win over Cuba and a 2-0 loss to Canada, the U.S. teams first loss to the neighbors to the north in 20 years. He also allowed two goals before leaving the third match of group play against El Salvador on Monday.

The U.S. needed to protect a 3-2 lead, and Johnson came in and made some saves after entering the match in the 39th minute. A win would send the U.S. into the semifinals, while El Salvador needed only a draw to advance. The Salvadorans got it when Johnson got his hand on a bouncing shot in the final seconds of stoppage time but couldnt keep the ball from trickling into the net.

"Obviously it was a disappointing result but, results aside, training with those guys -- the best of the best -- was great," said Johnson. "With Everton, it was different. Theyre in the top league in the world, and their practice facilities in Liverpool are massive. Everything was first class, and it was a valuable experience seeing how they operate over there."

Playing in Europe as well as performing in an Olympic atmosphere delayed, but didnt spoil, Johnson for the start of his third season with the Fire.

"It was a busy offseason, and now its time to take that into whats going on now," he said. "Chicagos my home, and all that (offseason stuff) was great, but now its time to look forward and get on with the season."

Because of his lack of match time Klopas is expected to delay Johnsons return to the Fire lineup until April 15, when the Houston Dynamo come to Toyota Park. Thats when Friedrich will likely make his Fire debut as well.

"This is a team, and weve got to manage all these difference personalities," said Klopas. "Its a tough decision, managing whos on the field, but weve got to deal with those situations."

Johnson wants to play right away.

"Im ready to go. Its just a matter of the coachs decision, whether its this game or later on," said Johnson.

Klopas is also influenced by what went on while Johnson was away. Paolo Tornaghi, a 23-year old Italian, played well in the first two games and apparently will get a third straight start. Plus, the more experienced Jay Nolly, earned a shutout in the first reserve team match of the season and hes available, too. The three keepers provide the Fire with the most solid netminding in the franchises 15-year history.

"Seans No. 1, but we brought in Jay because hes a veteran, experienced guy and we knew there was a possibility of Sean being away with Olympic qualifying," said Klopas. "Its been a healthy competition, and thats one thing we wanted to create -- depth at every position."

Therell be some reserve team matches, plus a friendly with a minor league club from Louisville, before Houston becomes the fourth MLS opponent, so Johnson can get some live matches under his belt before returning to the MLS wars.

Thats the thinking with defender Friedrich, too, though an injury to right back Dan Gargan could impact on Fredreichs immediate impact on the Fire. Gargan jogged during Thursdays training session and his availability might be a game-time decision at Colorado. At any rate, Klopas prefers to wait on Friedrich until his fitness has improved. He doesnt want any injuries that might be avoided through cautious coaching.

"With him its just fitness, and hes getting better with that each day," said Klopas. "After (Sundays game) weve got a break, and weve got to be smart and careful. Its a long season."

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic Monday on CSN

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic Monday on CSN

The White Sox take on the Cubs in the Crosstown Classic tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with an hour-long White Sox Pregame Live at 6:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (2-5, 4.41 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.60 ERA)

White Sox HR leaders Cubs HR leaders
Todd Frazier (28) Kris Bryant (25)
Brett Lawrie (12) Anthony Rizzo (24)
Jose Abreu (11) Ben Zobrist (13)

Looking Ahead:

Date White Sox Cubs
Tuesday James Shields (4-12, 4.99 ERA) Kyle Hendricks (9-6, 2.27 ERA)
Wednesday Jacob Turner (0-1, 14.73 ER Jason Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA)
Thursday TBD TBD

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

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Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Back in January, before the Bears promoted Dowell Loggains from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, CSNChicago.com took an advance look at Loggains and how he might fit with Jay Cutler were the Bears to make Loggains yet another in the long list of coordinators for Cutler. With the start of training camp at hand, a longer look at this pivotal coach-player situation comes into focus.

No change made by the Bears this offseason carries the weight of the one moving Dowell Loggains to offensive coordinator to replaced departed Adam Gase. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off the best statistical season of his career, founded on the ball-security foundation instilled by Gase and Loggains. The Gase-to-Loggains succession plan projects to catapult Cutler, and with him the offense, to a next level.

Not necessarily.

For now, as they were when Mike Martz, Aaron Kromer and others took the Chicago O.C. job, all the right things are being said:

From Loggains on Cutler’s improvement under Gase and himself: “I don’t think Adam or I should take the credit,” Loggains said. “I think Jay made the choice to improve and work on the things that we asked him to work on. And I hope that process continues.”

From Cutler: “I’ve known Dowell like I’ve known Adam, for a long time… . The backbone of this offense is still the same. Even if Adam was here I think we still would have changed some stuff and got better in certain areas. So we’re just kind of continuing down that road.”

But Cutler having a positive relationship with an incoming coach means…nothing.

Indeed, his history is not encouraging, even with coaches he ostensibly thought highly of coming in, even ones already on staff or had worked with him previously.

Mike Tice was promoted from offensive line coach to coordinator when Mike Martz was fired after the 2011 season, Cutler’s previous best for avoiding interceptions. Tice had been instrumental in balancing the offense in 2010 when Martz’s schemes and protections were getting Cutler annihilated.

But by mid-2012, Cutler’s relationship and communications with Tice had deteriorated to the point of backup Josh McCown needing to serve as go-between.

Notably, the 2012 friction was developing even as the Bears were on their way to a 10-6 season, and with Jeremy Bates having been hired as quarterbacks coach. That was based in part on Bates’ relationships with Cutler from a 2006-08 overlapping stint with the Denver Broncos. Cutler’s relationship with Tice was toxic, and Bates went down along with Tice and the rest of Lovie Smith’s staff after that season.

The Bears have added Dave Ragone, a member of the Tennessee Titans staff with Loggains and having played two NFL games in 2003. But the Bears’ offense will turn on the Cutler-Loggains axis and it relationship elements, both football and inter-personal.

“There’s definitely some honesty there,” Cutler said, smiling. “He’s not afraid to tell me when I’m completely wrong and rightfully so. I like to tell him whenever I think we’re not doing things right or we need to change things.

“I think at the core of that we kind of cut through some stuff and we get things done a little bit quicker… .No one’s really sensitive. We just try to get it done.”

When Gase talked, Cutler listened. Will Cutler’s receptors stay open when something goes wrong, as something invariably will sometime in an NFL season? That is on Cutler, and his openness to yet another coordinator was at the root of his improvement to a career-best passer rating of 92.3.

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Loggains has been notably vocal during open practices, with more than Cutler alone. That is a departure from Gase’s demeanor, although Gase was more than capable of tough love when anyone on his side of the football needed it.

“I think it’s a mutual respect,” Loggains said of his Cutler relationship. “I think I respect him and he respects me. I think that when you have that mutual respect then all dialogue is legal. So whatever I say to him, he knows where it’s coming from and vice versa.”

Cred issues?

Some questions hanging over Loggains have less to do with Loggains himself, but rather his background.

Gase came to the Bears from two years as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos under John Fox. Gase, quarterbacks coach for the preceding two seasons, moved into that job when Mike McCoy was hired to coach the San Diego Chargers.

The Denver gig included three seasons working with Peyton Manning. While Manning needed scant coaching at that point in his career, the point was less how much Gase coached Manning as much as what Gase brought with him from his time with Manning. Gase knew from up close what a Hall of Fame quarterback looked like.

Loggains’ NFL career stops have accorded him time with no one approaching Manning’s stature. Not surprisingly, in time with three different teams, Loggains has not been involved with an offense that ranked in the top half of the league:

Year Team Job Offense results
2015 Bears QB 21st ydg, 21st pass, 23rd pts.
2014 Browns QB 27th pass, 27th pts.
2013 Titans O.C. 21st ydg, 21st pass, 19th pts.
2012 Titans QB/O.C. 26th ydg, 22nd pass, 23rd pts.
2011 Titans QB 17th ydg, 15th pass, 21st pts.

The Tennessee Titans’ quarterbacks during Loggains’ years there were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. The 2014 Browns put up the seventh-highest passing yardage in franchise history, with Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw and Johnny Manziel as their quarterbacks.

No slight of any of the quarterbacks, but a point around Loggains might be not how little the offenses achieved in his time with them, but rather, how much.

“I think that I’ve had an opportunity working with Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland and Adam Gase this last year, obviously there’s stuff I’ve taken from both of them,” Loggains said. “Going back in the quarterback room, I think it was good for me. It was a good experience. Things you obviously change are, ‘hey, in Tennessee I like the way we did this and we’ll bring that here. In Cleveland, I like the way we did whatever.’. So it’s gaining knowledge from being around other people and being in different situations.”

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp fast approaching, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

1A. DeShone Kizer (Redshirt sophomore)
1B. Malik Zaire (Redshirt junior)
2. Brandon Wimbush (Sophomore)
3. Ian Book (Freshman)

All eyes will be on Notre Dame’s quarterback competition in August, with coach Brian Kelly saying after spring practice Kizer and Zaire were entering the summer on an even playing field. Zaire needed the spring to catch up to Kizer in terms of some of the offensive wrinkles installed after his season-ending ankle injury in the second week of the season. 

Both quarterbacks will get an opportunity to win the starting job during preseason camp, though the slight edge has to go to Kizer given his experience (11 starts) against that of Zaire (three starts). While Zaire’s potential remains high (he did, after all, quarterback Notre Dame’s best win of the season last year, that 38-3 shellacking of Texas), Kizer showed last fall plenty of the traits Kelly has wanted out of a quarterback since arriving in South Bend in December of 2009. Kizer takes coaching well and rarely made the same mistakes on a week-to-week basis, and he accounted for 31 touchdowns with some solid other numbers, too. 

That’s not to say Zaire can’t win the job next month, but he probably has more of an uphill climb to earn it than Kizer does. 

Biggest question: When will a starting QB be announced?

Kelly said during spring practice he wants his offense to form an identity around a starting quarterback, so don’t expect this decision to drag on until right before kickoff of the Texas game (Ohio State’s handling of the Cardale Jones-J.T. Barrett competition last year stands as a lesson in how to not make a quarterback and an offense comfortable). The preseason camp portion of Notre Dame’s August practices usually runs for about two weeks, so with a start date of Aug. 6, expect Kelly to announce a starter sometime after Aug. 20. 

Whether that announcement becomes public is another question, but Kizer, Zaire and Notre Dame’s offense likely will have have about two weeks of practice/meetings before the Texas game knowing who their starting quarterback is. 

Youthful impact

Wimbush appeared in two games last year, with Kelly, Mike Sanford & Co. seeing the necessity to burn his redshirt to get him in-game reps in case he needed to take meaningful snaps in a College Football Playoff race. Kelly in the spring walked back a comment he made in February about planning to redshirt Wimbush this fall, but if Kizer and Zaire both stay healthy, Notre Dame would probably prefer to keep the talented sophomore on the sidelines in 2016. 

Book enrolled in Notre Dame this summer with far less hype than his predecessors (he was only a three-star recruit), but Sanford raved about his skillset and fit in the Irish offense on signing day in February. He’ll likely take a redshirt year and begin his quest to move up the rungs of the depth chart in 2017. 

They said it

“They are both that good. I already know that. But there will be a day, and we're going to have to say: It's time to go, he's our quarterback, everybody's behind him and we need to go, and that's who the quarterback is.” — Brian Kelly