Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden


Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden

When you've visited a half-dozen college campuses, weighed all of your options and finally decided to make a commitment, effectively putting an end to the grueling recruiting process, you can afford to relax, take a weekend off and go fishing.

Which is exactly what Barrington's Jack Keeler did. There he was, catching a Northern pike on a lake in Barrington Hills. "Fishing is like a hobby. I go three times a week...bass, pike, bluegill," he said.

After all, he didn't much care for the recruiting process. "I didn't want to wait to make my decision. I wanted to get done with recruiting. What didn't I like about it? All the worrying over what will happen next," he said.

So the 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle was elated and relieved when, after visiting six other schools, he made a trip to Wisconsin and came home a Badger.

"My family went to Wisconsin. The academics are fantastic. I like the guys on the team and the coaches. They offered me while I was visiting. The whole deal was fantastic. I had visited six other schools and nothing else measured up. I could see me at Nebraska but Wisconsin was my favorite."

Keeler was influenced by Barrington teammate Dan Voltz, a senior offensive tackle who also is committed to Wisconsin. "I talked to him before I committed. He helped me out and reassured me that I was making the right decision," he said.

When it came down to it, he chose Wisconsin over Nebraska. When it comes down to it, Keeler and Voltz might be battling for a starting job on Wisconsin's offensive line. Curiously, Voltz was well known after his junior season. Keeler was not. But he has made the most of what exposure he has been able to get, landing 19 offers.

"I went to a Barrington game last year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "I went to see Dan Voltz, who I had rated as one of the top 100 players in the nation. But the kid who was most impressive was Keeler."

"He has blown up all of a sudden," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7, 290-pound tackle with great athleticism and flexibility. He has room to mature and develop. College coaches see that he has a great upside."

Sanchez didn't know much about Keeler when he transferred from Cary-Grove to Barrington after his freshman year. Sure, with his frame and size, he had potential. But he needed to get acclimated to his new environment. It took some time. He wasn't promoted to the varsity as a sophomore and didn't start right away as a junior.

"Then the light bulb went on," Sanchez said. "All of a sudden, everything came together for him. He displayed his potential to play at a high level. You never know when the light bulb will go on for a kid. But he had success and got confidence."

Keeler said he finally figured it out. "I just figured out I was the biggest guy on the field and that I can take down anyone. It kind of clicked. I'm a big guy who can stay low and finish well. I have good hands and a good attitude," he said.

It took time for college coaches to assess Keeler's talent and come to the conclusion that he is a major Division I prospect. But offers from Illinois, Miami, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and others proved he was a keeper. He wasn't the most highly rated or the most publicized player in what has been characterized as one of the richest crops of offensive linemen ever produced in Illinois. But he could be the best.

"It was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be that big," said Keeler, referring to all the recruiting hoopla. "Nebraska was the first Big Ten school to offer, at the end of February. From then on, it started to snowball. I knew I was the real deal."

But he thinks he can be even better. He didn't make all-conference last year. So he is highly motivated to earn all-conference, all-area and all-state recognition in 2012. With that in mind, he has begun five-times-a-week workouts at a new strength and conditioning facility in Barrington, Crossfit.

"I'm upgrading all of my skills, trying to be a better football player," he said. "I say to myself: 'You are a great football player but you have room to get better.' My goal for next season is to have the best season of all."

Which means he might have less time to go fishing.

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

It's bad enough that Jay Cutler will be rusty and he may not have Kyle Long and Josh Sitton protecting him. But even if all the Bears' offensive hands were on deck, Monday night's challenge would've been formidable anyway.

The Vikings' defense leads the league in fewest yards allowed (279.5 per game), is tied for the league-lead in allowing fewest points (14.0), third in rushing defense (81.7), fourth in pass defense (197.8), and sixth in third-down defense (34.2 percent). And oh yeah, they lead the league in turnover ratio (plus-11), courtesy of their nine interceptions (tied for second), seven fumble recoveries and 19 sacks (seventh-most in the NFL).

It's nice to have quality and depth up front. That's where that push comes from, especially off the edges, with ends Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and sophomore Danielle Hunter supplying four sacks apiece. That trio combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago (when the Bears totaled 35 as a team). And while injury-prone Sharrif Floyd finds himself sidelined again since the opener, tackle Linval Joseph (three sacks) is back playing at the All-Pro level he was at a year ago before an ankle injury slowed him. And Tom Johnson contributed 6.5 sacks a year ago rotating in with Floyd at three-technique.

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Reunited UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are in their second year together in a run the Bears will likely have to deal with for another decade. This is the 11th and final year they'll see Chad Greenway, who's more leader than playmaker now in the middle of that defense.

Ryan Pace, Vic Fangio and position coach Ed Donatell must also be jealous of the Vikings' deep defensive backfield. Top cover man Xavier Rhodes, last year's top pick Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo have two picks each. Waynes still hasn't taken a job away from ageless 37-year-old Terence Newman. The Vikes were trying to upgrade on Sendejo, who answered the challenge and should be able to play Monday after departing the Eagles game with an ankle injury he suffered almost taking an interception to the house. It's almost unfair that second-round rookie Mackensie Alexander can't even surpass fourth cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for playing time.

But we must not forget Harrison Smith. The humble Golden Domer, humorously nicknamed "Gangsta White Boy" by Adrian Peterson, became the NFL's richest safety by inking a five-year, $51 million deal this summer, is coming off a first Pro Bowl that probably would've come sooner if not for a couple injuries. Two of his four career pick-sixes have come against the Bears, and Pro Football Focus has him as the only safety to grade positively in coverage, run support, and pass rush over each of the last two seasons.

Special teams

Just as Robbie Gould fell under the microscope of the current Bears brass with last season's rough finish, the strong-legged Blair Walsh probably feels a few more eyes on him after missing the 27-yard game-winning attempt in the frigid playoff loss to Seattle. He's 10-of-13 on field goals this season, 11-of-13 on extra points.

But while the Vikings' kickoff coverage was burned by Josh Huff's return Sunday in Philadelphia, the Bears coverage units have to be disciplined and smart against Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels. Both have burned the Bears more than once before. With more than his seven kick returns, Patterson's 29.9 average would lead the league. Sherels' 14.6-yard return average on punts ranks third in the NFL. He's already returned two for touchdowns this season after burning the Bears at Soldier Field a year to the day short of Monday's contest.

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the season, but the Calgary Flames were the latest team to punish the Blackhawks’ penalty kill in their 3-2 shootout victory on Monday night.

Kris Versteeg won it in the seventh round of the shootout, waiting long enough for Corey Crawford to be out of position, then slipping the puck past him.

Gustav Forsling was hit along the glass by Lance Bouma in the second period and did not return. An update on his status was not immediately known.

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Brian Campbell scored his first of the season early in the third period, tying the game at 2. Richard Panik looked to have the game winner in the waning seconds, but Brian Elliott stopped the puck with his right skate.

Crawford stopped 29 of 31 in the loss. Elliott stopped 31 of 33 in the victory.

The Blackhawks looked sluggish for a good part of this one, and then their penalty kill once again let them down. Sam Bennett scored the Flames’ first power-play goal just 39 seconds into the advantage. In the second period Sean Monahan buried a rebound for another power-play goal, this one also 39 seconds into the opportunity.