ND notes: Daniels improving, Diaco rumors not a surprise

954797.png

ND notes: Daniels improving, Diaco rumors not a surprise

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Now that Notre Dame's opponent in the BCS Championship is set, the Irish have exactly a month to prepare for Alabama, with the team's first bowl practice scheduled for Dec. 7. And they'll begin that preparation with a fairly clean bill of health.

Zack Martin, who was injured late in Notre Dame's Nov. 24 win over USC, spent five days in a walking boot and looks ready to go for Friday, according to coach Brian Kelly.

"If we were playing Saturday we would've had probably even Zack for the game," Kelly said Sunday evening.

Louis Nix is dealing with a wrist issue, although Kelly gave no reason to believe the jocular defensive tackle won't be ready for practice on Friday.

Notre Dame's wide receiving corps are on track to receive a boost, too, with the return of DaVaris Daniels expected to happen in time for the BCS Championship. Daniels, who broke his collarbone Nov. 10 at Boston College, has caught 25 passes for 375 yards in 10 games this year.

"He's doing really well," Kelly said. "He started moving his shoulder the first week after Chris Brown caught a couple of passes out there, and was really quick medicine for him and he's been on the fast track ever since."

Daniels will begin running non-contact drills this week, getting a few routes down as he progresses to full contact later in the month. That leaves only one key player missing from Friday's opening practice -- Manti Te'o.

The linebacker will be trekking across the country from awards banquets to ceremonies, and won't be able to be with his teammates Friday. Kelly said Te'o is "burnt out" by the slew of honors he's up for, but then again, it comes with the territory of a star player on a No. 1 team.

"I said listen, this week you gotta write it off. It's not going to be a football week for you." Kelly said. "When you have an undefeated football team and a great player, awards generally follow you and this week he's going to do the best he can to work out in the hotels and focus on these postseason awards."

Diaco and BC a match?

As the catalyst for Notre Dame's 12-0 season, Notre Dame's defense has put Bob Diaco squarely in the crosshairs of a few coaching searches around the nation. The most prominent rumor has Diaco linked to Boston College, which makes sense for plenty of reasons explained by Inside the Irish's Keith Arnold.

The prospect of losing the mastermind behind one of the nation's best defenses is certainly a concerning one for Notre Dame fans, but Kelly brushed it off as a product success.

"That means good things are happening in your program," Kelly said, also referencing players potentially passing on a final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. "Those are the kind of problems that I want to be able to deal with on a day-to-day basis, because that means that you're developing your program in a manner that is putting you in a position to compete for championships. Those are all things real good programs have to deal with, and we'll deal with them appropriately in the same manner."

Kelly has spoken to Diaco, who's coached under Kelly for six seasons between Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame, about becoming a head coach but declined to reveal the details of those talks. If Diaco does depart South Bend for Chestnut Hill, it doesn't necessarily mean the distractions that come with the move will be enough to derail Notre Dame's championship chances, though -- USC fared well enough in 2004 when defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron left for Ole Miss, after all.

As Notre Dame's defense grew its national profile, the chances Diaco would be wooed by a power-conference program only grew. So the latest rumor didn't come as a shock to Kelly.

"I think he's the finest defensive coordinator in the country," Kelly said. "Bob is a bright football coach. We have conversations about it. All I could tell you is that it doesn't surprise me that he's a part of it."

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

dec-5-update-image.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up