Talking Turkey

Talking Turkey

Wednesday, November 25th

Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the year. No pressure, no stress, just family, food and football. Two things are constant in my house: The smell of turkey, putting me in a constant state of hunger and the sounds of the football games on the television, making everything right with the world. Well, almost everything.

For as long as I can remember, there were two NFL games on Thanksgiving. The games were aired by the networks that had the rights to each conference. Because of the size of the audience the networks would put their number one announcing team on the broadcast. The two lead analysts for the two big networks for the last five years are Troy Aikman for FOX and Phil Simms at CBS. While I didnt like either of them as players, (they both played in the NFL East. You do the math!) I had immense respect for them. They both are Super Bowl champions and deservedly so. They were successful at the ultimate level because of their physical and mental abilities. The understanding of the game they needed to play the game at its highest level is the reason they are on TV. What makes them great announcers is that they are able to convey what they see to us fans in a way that is detailed, accurate and entertaining. The combination of having great football knowledge and having used it to win gives them credibility. For most of us fans this credibility is very important. I mean, do you want a bartender describing the action? (I know, I do too, but the networks wont return my calls!) While I know a certain bartender would be very entertaining, these two have me beat. They both have established themselves as being among the best at what they do. When their network has a big game, they are going to be the ones analyzing it.

Then in 2006 the dessert of a 3rd game was added. But this game was put on the NFL Network and their broadcast has, to say the least, not quite had the big network feel to it. (Consider them the WB of NFL broadcast networks.) Now this is kind of odd considering their analyst for the first 3 years, Chris Collinsworth, is someone whom I enjoy listening to. But for two long years, he was paired with Bryant Gumbel and their partnership was not very compelling. Not quite fingernails on the chalkboard, but not quite Summerall and Madden either. Then, thankfully, Gumbel was let go and Bob Papa took his place. The pairing seemed to work well together, even though I didnt still feel that they were near the elite.

What happened next is something I still cant fathom. When John Madden, my favorite analyst in any sport all-time, decided to retire from NBC, Collinsworth was hired to take his place on the most watched NFL game of the week. Good for him, bad for us. Because in its lack of infinite wisdom the NFL Network decided to hire Matt Millen to be their new lead analyst. Now if this was 2000, I would applaud the move, since back then Millen was considered to be Madden Lite. He was a rising star at FOX and was very entertaining to listen to. As a player he had made the Pro Bowl and had FOUR Super Bowl rings. His rep was that of a working class, gutty linebacker and he brought that mentality into the booth. In fact he was so knowledgeable and entertaining that the Detroit Lions hired him as their G.M. Oops!! What followed is probably the worst tenure of any NFL executive EVER! Now you could argue about some others being in his league, but just about all of them OWNED the team, they werent about to fire themselves! The Lions during his stewardship were 31-97! Think about that. 66 games under five hundred. People here are calling for Lovie and Angelos heads and theyre 2 games under this year, 2 games under for the last 2 12 years. What do you think the people of Detroit think of his ability to analyze football? (I read something that I didnt know while I was reading up on Mr. Millen. Last year when he was on air as part of NBCs Super Bowl pregame show, Channel 4 in Detroit ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen every time his face appeared on camera: Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? Ouch! That is funny. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the anger that this guy has generated?) I wont even get in to the fact that someone let him have that job for EIGHT years, I mean it wasnt that bad for us in Chicago, two easy games a year for the Bears are good for everyone!

It seems though, that TV execs still love this guy like nothing ever happened. Because, since he was fired 3 games into the first 0-16 season ever last year, one that had his hand and footprints all over it, hes worked for NBC, ESPN and now the NFL Network. Does he have pictures? How does this guy keep getting hired? Now dont get me wrong, this is not personal, since when he was a player, I was a huge fan, especially since hes a Nittany Lion. Hes one of my boys. And I was one of those who thought he was great as an analyst before his misadventures as a G.M. But isnt TV about what have you done for me lately? I dont understand how anyone can take anything he has to say about football seriously, considering the fact of how close we still are to the wreckage.

For us hard-core fans, credibility matters. TV usually understands this, since in every sport, they repeatedly hire winning coaches and players as analysts. These people have names that are easily recognizable and bodies of work that can be admired. I cant think of any other guy, other than maybe Dick Vitale, (Detroit! Coincidence?) that had such a bad experience, then had the privilege of explaining the actions of others to us afterwards. And thats the point. He has to explain the actions of others to us. What? Not only that, he has to stand in judgment of these actions. Can you imagine the reactions of those around the league? Forget us fans, is there any peer who thinks he just had a run of bad luck, for 8 years? What a joke.

I think that if you are the NFL Network, you should act like it. Your broadcasts should be beyond reproach, you should set the standards. The league takes hard-line stances with everything else, why would they open themselves up for this issue of credibility? Wouldnt fans rather listen to someone like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Theyve had success. They know what it takes to win, during a game and over the long haul. Oh well, Ill be in a tryptophan stupor by the time the game is on anyway. Maybe in that state, what he has to offer will make sense and when I roll my eyes, it will be because Im falling asleep, not because of the keen insight of Mr. 31-97. Gobble, Gobble!!

White Sox Top Prospects: Jameson Fisher faring well with transition to outfield

White Sox Top Prospects: Jameson Fisher faring well with transition to outfield

Jameson Fisher entered the 2016 MLB Draft with experience at only catcher and first base.

When the White Sox drafted him in the fourth round (116th overall), little did he know he wasn’t going to start off his professional career at either of those positions.

The White Sox transitioned the Southeastern Louisiana product to outfielder. Fisher has a .953 field percentage in 35 games played at left field in the Advanced Rookie Class.

The 22-year-old credits outfield instructor Aaron Rowand and Great Falls hitting coach Willie Harris for helping him with the switch.

Fisher is batting .335/.425/.466 with three homers and 21 RBI this season with the Great Falls Voyagers. His .335 average ranks second on the team and his 12 stolen bases ranks third.

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This season at Southeastern Louisiana, Fisher had the best batting average (.449) and on-base percentage (.577) in college baseball.

Fisher played catcher in 2014 but transitioned to first base following a shoulder injury, which cause him to miss the entire 2015 season.

The White Sox signed Fisher for $485,000 on June 16.

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

White Sox: Miguel Gonzalez will head out for rehab assignment

Miguel Gonzalez will head on a rehab assignment.

The White Sox pitcher has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 12 with a right groin strain.

Manager Robin Ventura said Gonzalez pitched in a simulated game on Saturday and it “went well.”

“Everything’s good,” Ventura said. “Next step is he’s going to go out and see how that goes.”

After a bullpen session on Wednesday, Gonzalez said he felt “a lot better” and “didn’t feel anything” while throwing in the bullpen.

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If all goes according to plan, Gonzalez would be one of a few roster moves after Sept. 1.

How the White Sox will balance the rotation in his return is uncertain.

“We talk about that all the time,” Ventura said, “just being able to find the right spot to put a guy in, if a guy’s gonna come out of it, if we’re just gonna leave everybody in there and do it.”

Gonzalez is 2-6 this season with a 4.05 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 19 games (18 starts).

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

How walk-on Rob Regan became a secret weapon for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How does a walk-on safety have a Notre Dame game ball despite never actually appearing in a game?

On the surface, that sophomore Rob Regan received that family heirloom last October after Notre Dame’s win over Navy may seem weird given he didn’t play a snap that day. But to everybody who sees the work Regan puts in at the LaBar Practice Complex, especially during weeks in which Notre Dame prepares to face an opponent that runs the triple option, it’s anything but strange. 

“There’s no question about it,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “He deserved it.”

“I personally don’t know who we would’ve given it to besides him,” cornerback Cole Luke added. “If we didn’t have Robby, we definitely wouldn’t have been as prepared as we were.”

For Rochell, Luke and the rest of the Irish defense, Regan’s work as Notre Dame’s scout team — er, “Swag Team” — quarterback during triple option preparation was an important key to solving the antiquated-yet-confounding offense. It’s an attack Notre Dame faces more than most other Power Five schools with Navy on the schedule every year, but heading into last season, coach Brian Kelly & Co. had to double down on their efforts to stop it.

Notre Dame’s defense didn’t put up much resistance against Navy in 2013 (34 points, 5.3 yards per play) and 2014 (39 points, 5.9 yards per play), and with Georgia Tech joining the Mids on the schedule last year, fixing those triple option defensive issues was a paramount concern. Army is on the schedule in 2016, too, so for the second consecutive year Notre Dame will face two triple option offenses.

Former defensive coach Bob Elliott moved off the field into a special assistant role, with one of his chief tasks being to figure out a way to better defend the triple option. But the decision of Regan, who successfully ran a triple option offense at Hinsdale South High School in the Chicago area, to walk on to the team turned out to be a huge boost to those efforts.

In the past, Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback for triple option weeks wasn’t a natural at running it and had to read each play off a card. That lack of fluidity not only meant fewer reps for the Irish defense, but the quality of them was way off what they’d face from Keenan Reynolds or whoever the opposing quarterback on Saturday would be.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said those sub-optimal triple option looks in practice are relatively common across college football, which makes sense — it’s not an offense used much at the college level. So having someone on your roster who ran in in high school can be a boon to preparing to face it.

Regan doesn’t have to read off a card because he knows the offense so well. And that means more plays and a look closer to what Notre Dame sees in games.

“It changes everything,” Kelly said.

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Of course, the scout team work can’t completely replicate game action — Notre Dame doesn’t do nearly as much cut blocking in practice as it’ll see in games from option offenses, given the injury risk involved. And guys like Navy’s Reynolds and Tago Smith, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw run the option faster than Regan can in practice, too.

But Regan still gives Notre Dame as good an option look as it could ask for on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You can sit and practice against Navy out here and your scout team can do a good job, but it can’t touch what that look like at game time,” defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “They’re exceptional at it, it’s happening so fast. But the faster we can get it, the closer we can move it to it, the better.”

Regan doesn’t shy away from absorbing hard hits too, which helps Notre Dame’s defense play faster in practice. Former Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace marveled at how Regan was able to take so much physical punishment during practice — “I don’t know if it’s extra ice, if it’s shaking up the Space Jam water to get jacked up out there,” he said — while junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said earlier this month Regan’s role is “one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen."

“I like giving hits and taking hits,” Regan said. “I’m a physical guy — when I’m running the ball, I’d rather run him over than juking him out.

“I enjoyed it. It definitely took a toll on my body, but I was glad to be able to contribute to those wins.”

Regan initially played wide receiver for Hinsdale South, but was moved to quarterback two games into his junior year. Hinsdale South went 5-4 his junior year, then went 9-3 and reached IHSA 6A quarterfinals in Regan’s senior year. Regan rushed for 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2014.

“He’s a football kid,” Hinsdale South coach Mike Barry said. “(He) grew up playing football, has football smarts. We refer to guys as instinctual at times — he’s one of those type of players where he just has a feel for the game."

Regan was thinking about attending high-caliber academic institutions like Penn, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago before Notre Dame came along. Kelly was in the Chicago suburbs to scout four-star Hinsdale South defensive end Joshua King — who went on to commit to Michigan State — and was pitched on Regan by Barry.

Once Notre Dame came into the picture (Regan, as you’d guess from that above list of colleges he was considering, had the grades to get in) it was an easy choice for him to head to South Bend. The combination of academics, football, location and faith made Notre Dame “the best fit for me,” Regan, who’s studying chemical engineering, said.

“(He’s) somebody that recognizes that, first of all, what a degree from Notre Dame is going to do for him, and somebody that’s got a lot of pride in playing team sports,” Kelly said. “He loves to play team sports. He knows that he’s got value.”

Regan’s ultimate goal is to get into a game before his time at Notre Dame is up — he’s hoping to get on a special teams unit, make a difference there and hope to get in a game at safety.

But he’s already been recognized by coaches with an honor only a handful of others received in 2015. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to 22 points — 15 of which came in garbage time — and Navy to 24 points, totals that represent the kind of improvements made by the Irish in defending the option.

And Regan, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound walk-on, played a major part in those improvements. Even if he didn’t play.

“It was awesome,” Regan said of receiving the Navy game ball. “I never expected that I would be recognized like that. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Swag Team, but I guess I was kind of the leader of that team. It meant a lot that coach Kelly took the time to recognize our hard work.”

And as for the game ball, which is in a case back home in Darien, Ill.?

“It might be a hand-me down for a couple generations,” Regan said with a smile.