Time for Beckman, Illinois to dig deep


Time for Beckman, Illinois to dig deep

CHAMPAIGN With big losses to Louisiana Tech and Penn State coming in back-to-back weeks, Illinois football fans, players and coaches are certainly feeling an unwelcome feeling of dj vu. Coach Tim Beckman addressed the losses at his weekly press conference on Monday, expressing his concern for the team and Illini Nation as a whole.

These last two weeks have been real, real tough. No question about it, he said. Our intentions are to continue to get better.

To get better, Beckman and the Illini will draw upon their personal experience. For the coach, that means remembering the lessons he learned in his first year at Toledo, when the Rockets went through a three-game skid and had to regroup.

We made it through doing the same thing were doing now: communicate with the football players, talk about it, and find the reasons why were losing, Beckman said. We have great kids and they understand. They want to win as bad as anybody.

The players are going to have to draw upon what they learned during their six-game losing streak during the final half of the 2011 season. The Illini are going to have to use that negative experience in a positive way to avoid a similar situation in the 2012 season.

Safety Supo Sanni, who played last week for the first time since Illinois loss to Arizona State, said the team would learn from last season but not let the memory of the 2011 campaign get them down.

Last year is in the past, this is a totally different year. We have new players, a totally different scheme, new coaches so last year is not in my thought process, Sanni said. The thing to do is just go out every weekend to the best of our ability.

As a senior leader, Sanni said it was tough for him to sit out, but he used the time to help younger players like Earnest Thomas grow as a player. He said the two watched film together and spoke in practice to help Thomas improve as a player and to help both of them improve as a secondary unit.

The practice time combined with Sannis familiarity with Wisconsin allowed the senior safety to feel comfortable about his assignment for the upcoming weekend.

Weve been going through every day, attacking practice with game day mentality. That will help tremendously, Sanni said. We know what Wisconsin is going to do theyre going to line up and try to run the ball.

This isnt anything new to us, this week we just have to play physical, get healthy and do the things we need to do to get a win at Wisconsin.

Having quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fully healthy will help the Illinois offense make the plays they need to in order to get a win.

One of the keys to the game, according to Beckman, will be the running game. With his ankle back at full strength, Scheelhaase expects to be a major factor in the Illini ground attack. He also expects his added contribution to open up other areas for success.

I felt good about running when I did a couple days ago and I really felt like I was starting to get my legs back underneath me, Scheelhaase said. This will benefit the team in a great way, not just on designed quarterback run, but when things start to break down being able to get loose and get out of the pocket. Those are some things I was able to on Saturday, and when I can do that it puts more pressure on the defense and when you can put more pressure on the defense from the quarterback position that helps the offense in the best way.

Before the Penn State game the talk around the Illinois locker room was about 12-1-12, the date of the Big Ten Championship game. After the loss, players and coaches altered their talking points, insisting their focus is solely on the game in front of them at this point and improving for that game.

Were not thinking about any tough stretches in the season, or really anything down the road. All were thinking about is going to Madison and doing what we need to do during the week to prepared and get a win, Scheelhaase said.

The preparation of the Illini comes down to Beckman, however, and hes not taking the responsibility lightly. Especially after his teams disappointing Big Ten opener last Saturday.

This has to be a process, we have to continue to push ourselves, Beckman said. No one likes to lose; theres not a young man in the locker room a player, or trainer, or manager, or coach that likes to lose. Weve got to continue to strive to get ourselves better, to find what the problems are and fix them.

Illinois Notebook

-- Linebacker Mason Monheim earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his performance against Penn State in which he came up with a career-high 11 tackles and forcing a fumble. So far this season he has 28 tackles, which ranks third on the team, and two forced fumbles, which has him tied for best in the conference.
Im sure Mason would say hed rather get the honor with a W, Beckman said. I was proud of Monheim and freshman Mike Svetina, they played hard. And I was proud of the way they took the challenge of coming in and playing as true freshmen.

-- Sannis return last week was a boost to an ailing Illinois secondary and Beckman was very happy to announce that the senior would be able to start at Wisconsin this Saturday. Sanni was pleased as well, and said he felt great.
Im healthy, 100 percent. Ready to lead our secondary and be a vocal leader on the team so we can get back to where we need to be, he said. It felt great being back on the field, it felt normal. But the best part was being out there with my brothers, my family.

-- The Illinois secondary got another boost when Thomas was not dealt a suspension after being ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the endzone on Penn State tight end Matt Lehman.
Beckman confirmed that he spoke with the Big Ten office and Thomass hit was judged to be unintentional, meaning he will not face further punishment for the hit.

-- Beckman did deliver bad news for the defense on Monday, however. The coach confirmed that sophomore defensive lineman Jake Howe will miss the rest of the season with a broken arm. He did not specify whether the McHenry product would seek a medical redshirt or not.

Its been a snowball effect thats happened to us in these last two games. I think weve competed, the kids have fought, but weve got to not be giving up big plays and we have to be successful on offense.

The mental aspect is the hardest part to correct, theres no question.

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Call it variations on a theme. The Bears on Monday night will face not only the Minnesota Vikings, but also Sam Bradford, the latest quarterback opponent that hints at possibilities in the Bears’ own future far beyond what was once the norm.

That norm is what can reasonably be expected from a new quarterback, one coming into a new system, new environment, even a new league, and having near-immediate success. Quarterback changes can involve upheaval of staff, personnel and even franchise identity, as the Bears can confirm based on their last eight years with Jay Cutler.

The experiences in Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia point to the kinds of quarterback transitions the Bears may be in search of after the 2016 season.

Bradford arrived in Minnesota via trade just eight days before the season opener, yet has proceeded to post the best results of his career: for completion percentage (67.5), interception percentage (0.6 percent; 7 TD’s vs. 1 INT), yards per attempt (7.4) and rating (100.3, vs. a previous best of 90.9).

More important, without the Vikings’ starting left tackle (Matt Kalil) and running back (Adrian Peterson), Bradford has the Vikings leading the NFC North and tied for the NFC lead at 5-1.

“[The Vikings] had the misfortune of losing their quarterback, they go out and make a bold move to get him and they haven’t missed a beat offensively,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s been getting better and better.”

This all holds particular relevance for the Bears, who saw Brian Hoyer step in and deliver four straight 300-yard passing games, something he’d never done in his career and no quarterback in Bears franchise history had done. Cutler’s personal best was two straight, for purposes of comparison.

The Bears are expected to have a new quarterback in some form or other next year. In the meantime they have been victimized by two rookie quarterbacks already this season (Carson Wentz, Philadelphia, and Dak Prescott, Dallas). The experience of Bradford, Prescott and Wentz, all new in 2017 to their situations, suggests chances of dramatic improvement over the Bears’ recent history with Cutler, for example.

“A good quarterback can influence the guys and make guys around him better,” Wentz said. “So it’s one of those things where the quarterback usually gets too much credit and too much of the blame as well. It’s just kind of the nature of the position.”

Prescott and Wentz were 2016 draft choices and had offseasons and training camps with their respective teams. Bradford had none of that, yet began his year throwing 130 passes without an interception.

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How that happens may be illustrative for the 2017 Bears. The Vikings traded for Bradford, a one-time starter for the Rams and Eagles. But because of the late-offseason timing of the deal, necessitated by the season-ending leg injury for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Bradford had to be eased into the new offense.

“I think that’s honestly one of the bonuses of coming during the regular season,” Bradford said on Thursday. “Obviously it would’ve been nice to have some practices in training camp. But once you get into the regular season, it’s not like you have the whole playbook in each game plan. Each game plan is very specific for that week’s opponent, so it’s considerably less than would be in your training-camp installs.

“So I think that helped a little bit. But as far as it being cut down, the volume wasn’t so much cut down as how the plays were called, naming some concepts with some things I was familiar with. That really helped me.”

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Four Cubs have been recognized for their defense in 2016 on Thursday.

Jake Arrieta, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell were all named finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their respective positions. Winners will be announced Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Arrieta was tied for second among National League pitchers with five Defensive Runs Saved. Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon led with eight.

Heyward, who's a three-time NL Gold Glove Award winner, had the most DRS for right fielders with 14 and also led Defensive Wins Above Replacement with 1.3. 

Rizzo's .996 field percentage ranked fifth among first basemen in the NL.

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Russell was tied for most DRS among NL shortstops with 19 (the second-best had nine).

The two most notable Cubs left off the list were Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist due to their versatility throughout the regular season.