Chicago Cubs

Bailey will throw more in 2012

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Bailey will throw more in 2012

The sight of Aaron Bailey running out of the pocket with the football cradled in his right hand, looking downfield for an open receiver, never has been more terrifying to defensive backs than it will be in the upcoming season. You can take Aaron Baileys word for that.

We have put in a lot more passing plays this summer, a lot of misdirection, the Bolingbrook quarterback said. We assume that people will stack the box this year. What was the reaction when the coach said he was going to expand our passing game? My eyes lit up. And so did my receivers.

Last year, as Bailey led Bolingbrook to a 13-1 record and the Class 8A championship, the 6foot-2, 225-pounder with 4.51 speed rushed for 1.983 yards and 30 touchdowns while passing for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged fewer than 10 passes per game. This year, he will average 15 to 20.

Thats a scary proposition for defensive coordinators, cornerbacks and safeties to contemplate. It is difficult enough to contend with Bailey taking each and every snap out of a shotgun offense. But throwing the ball almost as much as he runs with it?

The rap on Bailey last year was he wasnt a very accurate passer. Defenders wished he would opt to throw the ball rather than run. But Bailey has worked very hard this summer to improve his passing technique. Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who recruited Bailey for his spread offense, is assured that he will like what he sees.

With the exception of a Fourth of July vacation to Wisconsin Dells, some family barbecues at his grandmothers house in Bolingbrook and a trip to a Red SoxCubs game with his father, Bailey has worked out three times a week with his teammates.

I needed time to recharge my batteries. Im having fun, he said. Im working with my receivers, making better reads, having a better pocket presence. Im just working on playing my game.

I dont worry about what people say, that Im not a great passer. Im doing what I know how to do, fire up my team, doing what it takes to win. The ball is in my hands all the time. I like to throw on the run most of all. When Im doing that, I get to see the whole field. I like to scramble. If a play breaks down, I look one way or the other. Im more effective in that situation. I really enjoy throwing on the run, he said.

Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow cant wait to unleash the new version of Bailey against 2012 opponents. He believes Baileys decision to commit to Illinois as soon as he did is a big factor in helping him to ease his mind and concentrate on what he needs to do to succeed in his senior year.

He can be a lot better than last year. We want to showcase his arm more, Ivlow said. We wont go into the year thinking we have to pad his statistics, that he has to surpass last years statistics. We live on big plays and he has the ability to break big plays. He is the best player in the state.

Bailey committed to Illinois in April. Deeply religious, he said he prayed about his decision with his family. He listed the pros and cons of each college. Illinois had the most pros. In the end, he chose Illinois over Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Illinois was most confident of me as a quarterback, Bailey said, fearing that some schools were recruiting him as an athlete and likely would convert him to wide receiver or running back. I felt comfortable, close to home. I read between the lines on other schools. I sensed that some schools were thinking of moving me to another position. Illinois runs what I am running at Bolingbrook, a spread offense. It is a great fit for me.

He said his primary goal for 2012 is to win another state title. I dont feel I have to prove anything. Im not looking to be Player of the Year. I just want to do what it takes to win. I dont have an ego. The only number Im interested in is the final score, he said.

Bailey and his senior teammates cant wait for the Aug. 24 opener against Plainfield South. He said he is more confident and more relaxed than ever before. He understands there will be more pressure on him, that the Raiders wont be able to sneak up on opponents as they did a year ago.

Two state titles in a row would be cool for us, he said. There are times I dont want to leave the field because Im having more fun. (Running back) Omar Stover and I talked and we realize this is our senior year. Im bigger, stronger and faster. Im confident when things arent looking good now that they will be good later. I dont get down on myself. I realize everything will be all right.

Bailey has a habit of not reading game stories in newspapers or the Internet. He figures if his team is playing on Thanksgiving weekend, they must be doing something right.

Sure, there will be more pressure on us this year. But we dont have to play like it, he summed up. I worry about winning now, then the next team, then the next team. You cant worry about the state playoff right now or the No. 1 ranking in the preseason. You cant let a number get to you. You must stay focused. The best thing is not to look at that stuff until the season is over.

If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

Kyle Schwarber’s proper introduction to the Cubs-Sox rivalry came in the summer of 2015 when a fan on the South Side threw a half-empty “tall boy” at him in left field. A little more than a year removed from college, Schwarber didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t finish all the beer first.  

David Ross chimed in, raising his voice loud enough so Schwarber and a group of reporters could hear him inside the visiting clubhouse: “You should have shotgunned it and then went over there and found him.

“I tell you what: I’d hate to try to wrap up Kyle Schwarber. I guarantee you that whoever threw that beer doesn’t want (any) part of Kyle Schwarber. I promise you that one.”

That was the rookie orientation before Schwarber: blasted five playoff home runs that October; suffered a devastating knee injury that almost wiped out his entire 2016 season; made a dramatic return to the World Series; and experienced newfound fame and fortune that would change his life forever.

Mess with Schwarber? That aura of invincibility is gone after his detour to Triple-A Iowa before the All-Star break. But the first-place Cubs will take Thursday night’s 6-3 win over the White Sox as another sign that he is almost back, yet another reason why the defending champs look ready to continue this second-half surge. 

“I told him that if he had a couple more push-ups in there, he would have had three homers tonight, but we’ll take a triple,” winning pitcher Jon Lester said afterward. “Schwarber’s been swinging the bat great since he’s been back.”

No doubt, the Cubs caught the sell-mode White Sox at the right time during the final days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Even in going 3-for-4 and blasting his 16th and 17th home runs – which traveled 814 feet combined at Guaranteed Rate Field – Schwarber is still only hitting .191 with 90 strikeouts in 79 games this season.     

But the Cubs have always given Schwarber the benefit of the doubt and will point to his big personality and encouraging numbers since his Triple-A reset ended on July 6, getting on base almost 37 percent of the time and hitting safely in 10 of 13 games with five homers, three doubles and that triple.

“Retrospectively, we should not have expected that much,” manager Joe Maddon admitted. “I’m guilty of that kind of a narrative or a dialogue also, because I was really eager to watch him play a full season of Major League Baseball.

“But the guy missed the whole season and did really well in a small window of time at the end of the year. So maybe my expectations exceeded what they should have been.

“I do believe he is that good. I do believe you’re going to come back and see him play at the level we anticipated. But he might have just needed more time. And we just didn’t recognize that.

“I might have been as guilty as anybody regarding the promotion of that. But I believe in him fully. I know it’s going to happen. There’s been some really good major-league hitters that have gone through the same thing.” 

At this point, the Cubs (54-47) would love to see what kind of wrecking ball Schwarber could be for a half-season. To his credit, Schwarber has been the same throughout all the ups and downs, someone who looks and sounds like a guy you would drink tall boys with.

“I just want to worry about putting the barrel on the ball,” Schwarber said. “I’m just trying to stay within myself, be short (with my swing) and it’s paying off.”

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USA TODAY

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