Streets gives back with Meanstreets

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Streets gives back with Meanstreets

Tai Streets arrived at a crossroads in his life in 2005. One of the most accomplished three-sport athletes in state history, perhaps the best since Centralia's legendary Dike Eddleman in the 1940s, Streets' six-year career in the NFL was over. What direction was he going to take?

Would you believe basketball? He grew up in Matteson and joined coach Ron Newquist's Wolverines, a south suburban AAU team, while he was attending Rich South in Richton Park.

"It was a totally different experience," Streets said. "It was something to do in the summer. I loved competing and I loved playing basketball. We played against the best players in the country. Our goal was to go to the state and national AAU tournaments. The nationals were in New Orleans. I liked basketball more than football at that time."

After transferring to Thornton of Harvey as a senior, he earned All-State recognition while playing on the Wildcats' 1995 team that ousted top-ranked Farragut and Kevin Garnett in the state quarterfinals but lost to Peoria Manual in the state final.

But football punched his ticket to college and the NFL. He was an All-Big Ten receiver at Michigan and caught two touchdown passes in the 1998 Rose Bowl as the Wolverines clinched a share of the national championship. As a senior, he was voted MVP on a team that was quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

Streets played for five years with the San Francisco 49ers as the fourth receiver behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes. Released after the 2003 season, he signed with the Detroit Lions. After one season, he retired.

"In 2005, my knees were banged up. I couldn't do it anymore, too much pain," Streets said.

Fortunately, he had laid a foundation for his future in 2001 when he co-founded with best friend Carlton Debose an AAU team known as the Wildcats. He had been persuaded to launch the project by Newquist, who had too many 14-and-under players and was looking for a way to give them more playing time. "Are you interested in coaching? You should pursue this," Newquist told Streets.

They started their program under the Wolverines umbrella. A year later, they decided to go on their own. They changed the name from Wildcats to Meanstreets, not wanting to think it was a Thornton team. Since then, the program, sponsored by Nike, has grown to involve over 250 boys and girls and has earned a national reputation.

"I wanted to give back," Streets said. "I want to help kids from our area become better people and get to college. It's tough for kids from Harvey to go to college. I wanted to show them that there is a way. That's the reason we did it, why we started our program. We're not trying to get anything out of it except a 'Thank you. You helped me to be a better man and to get me to college.' In our first year, 11 of 12 kids went on to get college degrees."

Streets, who also serves as an assistant on coach Troy Jackson's basketball team at Thornton, admits he is thinking about applying for a head coaching position at the high school level. But he doesn't want to give up his involvement with Meanstreets.

At first, he paid for the club's expenses out of his own pocket. Then Nike came on board in 2005. The advantages are obvious. "The Nike logo helps to get kids. They want to play for a Nike team. They pay for equipment and travel. We still have to raise funds but it helps to have Nike behind you," Streets said.

He admits, however, that the association with Nike and competition with other shoe companies "gets messy at times. Travel basketball is crazy, so many programs, so many tournaments," he said.

"People always are badmouthing AAU basketball on TV. Sure, there are slimy people out there. But don't put everyone under the same umbrella. We're not about that. We're about making kids better people. We get kids off the streets. We deal with kids from Harvey, Gary (Indiana) and Chicago who don't have the best opportunities. We help them to get out of their situation. All of us are in it to help kids."

He fights the AAU stigma all the time. A disciplinarian, he won't tolerate kids who don't do their schoolwork or have bad attitudes or lack character. He won't badmouth other programs. His approach is to talk to parents and tell them what he does and how he can improve their child's game and get him to college.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "We produce guys. Many critics say kids who participate in AAU aren't instructed in fundamentals, that coaches just toss the ball on the floor and let the kids run up and down. High school is regimented so they just want to run in the summer, right?

"Well, we try to teach them the proper way of doing things, as in college. We want to get them ready for college. They have to be accountable, be on time, abide by curfews on the road, attend meetings. On the court, we teach the mental part of the game, how to handle certain situations. Why did you do this? This is what you should have done.

"College coaches complain that high school kids aren't prepared, that they lack fundamentals. Our kids are college-ready, more than most programs. They won't be surprised at what happens in college."

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to Bears offense, but too little, too late

Bears grades: Brian Hoyer brings some life to Bears offense, but too little, too late

ARLINGTON, Tex. – Comparisons in football are rarely exact because personnel and other factors are involved. But by any measure, even with its largest yardage (390) and points (17) outputs of the year, the Bears’ offense remained a muddled phase of the game, failing until too late in a lost cause to show meaningful progress Sunday night in a 31-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The offense last year, playing against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle, averaged 294 yards over than 0-3 stretch, and that was including the 146-yard debacle against the Seahawks behind Jimmy Clauson. Through this year’s 0-3 start, the Bears have topped 300 yards just once, the 390 against the Cowboys, but with only 114 total yards in Sunday’s first half, and 188 of the total came in the fourth quarter after they were down 24-10.

Even in defeat the Bears last year averaged 30 rushing attempts behind a far poorer offensive line than the 2016 edition should be based purely on supposed talent. For Sunday’s first half, the Bears attempted six runs vs. 12 pass attempts. For the game the Bears attempted just 12 runs by backs and continue to look like anything but a competent rushing offense.

The Bears attempted to run more in the third quarter but by that time were behind by more than two touchdowns. The offense failed to convert any of its first six third downs and was unable to stay on the field and shift some pressure from the Bears defense to the Dallas defense when the game was still in question.

Quarterback: B+

Brian Hoyer’s first start as a Bear will not make anyone forget Josh McCown but it may raise some intriguing questions about the position as the year goes on. Hoyer was serviceable, completing eight of 12 passes in the first half and 30 of 49 for 317 yards for the game, fourth-highest yardage total of his career.

Hoyer injected some life into the offense, which picked up from a halftime deficit of 24-3 to threaten the Cowboys at least a little in the fourth quarter.

“I thought he was good,” said coach John Fox. “All parts [of the offense] were alive. We pass-protected better. We are still hit and miss with the run game. We’d pop a big run, then we’d lose minus-2.”

Running back: C-

The problem is still that whatever the Bears might have in the running game, it isn’t making its way into any coherent, consistent part of the offense.

Jordan Howard, who provided some flashes in last Monday’s loss to Philadelphia, got chances earlier this week and ripped off a 36-yard run in his first carry. Howard had a 14-yard carry in the third quarter and built a strong case for himself to take over the role of starter going forward.

Howard finished with nine carries for 45 yards as the Cowboys stacked to take his running lanes away as the first half played out and the Bears fell further behind.

“A young guy learning to figure out our system and play better,” said coach John Fox. “I think he’s done well with it and will continue to improve.”

Jeremy Langford continues to start but was ineffective early, with a missed handoff on the first series and a juggled pass on the second. Langford left in the third quarter with an ankle injury but not before getting loose for a 23-yard run, his longest carry of the season.

Receiver: B

Alshon Jeffery and Zach Miller provided what receiving firepower the Bears had, with Miller catching all four balls targeted for him in the first half, eight of nine for the game, including second-half touchdown catches of 2 and 6 yards. Miller finished with 78 yards, with a long-gainer of 26 yards.

Jeffery caught five passes for 70 yards but was blanketed with double coverage much of the game. Kevin White had a 32-yard reception but still is not breaking loose, targeted 14 times but only catching six, for a total of 62 yards.

Cameron Meredith fumbled away a first-down completion in the third quarter with the Bears starting to generate a little offensive momentum.

Offensive line: C

The line was difficult to assess because of curious play-calling not facilitating the offense in general establishing any rhythm. The best play of the night appeared to be Kyle Long and Bobby Massie creating a gaping seam on the right side for Jordan Howard’s first run.

But against an average defensive front, the Bears failed to gain any consistent advantage up front. What the line did do, however, is keep Brian Hoyer from being sacked on 49 dropbacks, with only one hit of Hoyer according to preliminary stats.

“I thought we protected the passer way better tonight,” said coach John Fox.

Coaching: D

That the Bears’ first play, supposed to be a simple handoff, was botched and left Brian Hoyer running with the ball points to coaching and preparation. Hoyer blamed himself for the play, a run-pass option on which he said he should’ve handed off, but the importance of a solid start in a road game cannot be overemphasized, and the Bears didn’t get that, from any possession of the first half.

The choice of a dump-off to Jeremy Langford short of the sticks on third-and-3 on the Bears’ second series was mystifying, one of the third-down plays on which receivers were put in position of needing to pick up the yardage with the football with the Dallas defense closing. With two supposed Pro Bowl guards, the Bears worked the edges of the Dallas defense early and got nothing.

The defense was hampered without its two best players (nose tackle Eddie Goldman, linebacker Danny Trevathan) but the Cowboys did generally whatever they wanted against a reeling defense that allowed 10- and 9-play drives on the first two Dallas possessions. The Cowboys were able to get ultra-quick receiver Cole Beasley in single coverage vs. linebackers (Christian Jones, Jerrell Freeman), and soft coverage allowed Dallas receivers uncontested releases with the Bears then unable to close once the ball was out.

Special teams discipline was non-existent, with a false start called on long snapper Patrick Scales prior to a field goal, then a recovered onside kick nullified by a member of the coverage team offsides.

View from the Moon: Bears take another wrong step in loss to Cowboys

View from the Moon: Bears take another wrong step in loss to Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Tex. – The stated base goal of John Fox is to improve every week, show improvement somewhere. Three games in the 2016 season, the exact opposite is transpiring, with all the ominous implications that go with that trend line for an organization trying to pull itself out of what had looked to be a generational low point. Before Sunday anyway.

The Bears’ 31-17 beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys left the Bears (0-3) with a second straight winless September. But while some positives were found among the losses to Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle last September, the only one from Sunday seemed to be that the Bears didn’t quit, something that seemed vaguely the case as the Philadelphia game wound down.

Brian Hoyer started in place of Jay Cutler, sidelined with a thumb injury, and whether he makes a case for a change at quarterback remains to be seen. What Hoyer did do, though, was bring the Bears back, at least close to respectability, in the second half in what he personally is taking away as one significant positive from a bad game.

“The one thing that I’ll say is that to see the resilience in that [locker] room, to come back out down 24-3 at halftime and keep battling, it’s good to see that,” Hoyer said. “It’s good to have that perseverance even in tough times. You’ve got to take that, build on that and figure out how to move the ball.”

But Hoyer acknowledged that there are no moral victories in the NFL, and Sunday was not one of those anyway.

The Bears led into the fourth quarter against Houston. They led until just before halftime against Philadelphia. They never were close to leading the Cowboys.

“I think we were kind of reversed this week – very poor first half and I thought we got better on both sides of the ball the second half,” Fox said. “The bad thing about the first three games is we haven’t put a complete game together.”

More concerning perhaps, the Bears have been outplayed in virtually every phase of every game, and looked sloppy and undisciplined too often in the process, hinting at breakdowns beyond just talent issues.

Each week this season has left the Bears seemingly worse than they were the week before. The second-half collapse at Houston was followed by a more woeful performance against the Philadelphia Eagles last Monday, which seemed almost encouraging compared to this Sunday, when the Cowboys ran up 274 yards and 24 points on the Bears – only six yards and five points fewer than the Eagles hammered for in their full game against the Bears.

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The last time the Bears saw the Cowboys, the defense of Mel Tucker allowed Dallas 194 rushing yards and 41 points. The Cowboys had 135 yards and 24 points in just the first half this time. Bears opponents scored 74 and 62 points on the historically bad Tucker defenses of 2013 and 2014. The Bears of Fox/Vic Fangio allowed 105 yards in the first three last year and 83 this year.

The offense under coordinator Dowell Loggains started the season badly and initially took another step backwards against the Cowboys. The Bears managed all of four first downs and barely eight minutes time of possession in the first half. The offense scored 14 the first week, seven the second (special teams returned a punt for a TD vs. Philadelphia) and three until the Cowboys had 24 this week.

Special teams committed penalties on consecutive plays of the first half, the second costing them a recovered onside kick.

The options now? “Give up, give in or give it your all,” Fox said. “We’ve got the right kinds of guys in that locker room and I think we’ll improve from it.”