Bears top rookies make early strong impression

841007.png

Bears top rookies make early strong impression

Nothing will be official until the film is reviewed but the Bears got the kind of collective performance from some of their rookies that they have craved from the top end of their draft classes.

Defensive end Shea McClellin displayed the speed hed demonstrated through training camp but supplemented it with moves and ball awareness that a number of NFL experts had expected once the rookie pass rusher was in game situations.

McClellin collected a pursuit sack of backup quarterback Caleb Hanie and delivered two other quarterback hits with spin and reaction moves against a good Denver offensive line. He also was credited with a tackle for loss among his three tackles.

I thought Shea McClellin did some good things, said coach Lovie Smith. Anytime its your first time playing and you get a sack as a defensive lineman, youll remember that.

Not all of the evening will be remembered fondly.

McClellin was buried on the Broncos short TD run in the second quarter and needs to be stronger at the point of attack. But he was a factor and pursued one third-quarter running play the entire width of the field to make the tackle.

I wanted to showcase what kind of skills I really do have, McClellin said. But overall I have a lot to learn.

Alshon Jeffery may have vaulted himself into the discussion for a starting job at wide receiver, or certainly more playing time at the very least. Jeffery caught both passes thrown to him in the first half with the excellent hands that led the Bears to make him their No. 2 draft choice.

Jeffery continued to produce as quarterback Josh McCown went to him for two more completions in the third quarter. Jeffery had 35 yards on his four catches (out of five balls thrown to him) and worked different areas of the field well, winning matchups against defensive backs with strength and body positioning.

It felt good, Jeffery said. Just the speed of the game and adjusting to it, and getting to know and understand it. Everybodys got a little pre-game jitters so it was a matter of really getting a real feel for the game.

When Major Wright went down with a hamstring injury, Brandon Hardin was pressed into service early and performed generally well, moving to free safety in a pairing with Craig Steltz.

I would say I played like a rookie, said Hardin, who was credited with one tackle and a pass defense. Getting that first game under my belt was definitely good. From now on hopefully Ill calm down more when Im out there.

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

The IHSA Class 3A and Class 4A boys basketball state playoffs begin this week. While this Class 3A group of teams doesn't have nearly as much talent as Class 4A with regards to the Chicagoland area, there are still a few ranked teams like Morgan Park, Fenwick and North Lawndale who are all hoping to make a run down to Peoria. 

We'll have plenty of Class 3A playoff updates throughout the state playoffs on High School Lites and CSNChicago.com. Also be sure to follow our Twitter page @CSNPreps for the latest scores and highlights.

Here's a preview of the Chicago-area teams to track in the Class 3A playoffs over the next few weeks.

Antioch Sectional

Favorite: North Chicago (17-8, 13-1) is the No. 1 seed here as they've won 13 of their last 15 games. With a home draw in regional play and a difficult, pressing style to prepare for in a tournament setting, North Chicago is hoping to win a sectional for the first time since winning four straight from 2011 through 2014. 

Other Contenders: Ridgewood (16-10, 7-5) finished third in the Metro Suburban Red as they come in as the No. 2 seed. Senior Zach Rzewnicki is perhaps the best player in the sectional and is a player to watch here. 

Darkhorse: St. Viator (11-16, 6-3) had an underwhelming regular season but they managed to go 6-3 in the loaded East Suburban Catholic Conference -- including wins over Marian Catholic, Benet and St. Patrick. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If No. 2 seed Ridgewood has to face No. 7 Elmwood Park then it could get interesting because these two teams had a six-point game less than a week ago. Ridgewood won the season series 2-0 over Elmwood Park but it is always difficult to beat any team for the third time.

Fenwick Sectional

Favorite: Catholic League champion Fenwick (24-4, 9-0) is hungry after falling short of Peoria last season as they're playing good ball down the stretch. After winning the Catholic League Tournament, the Friars have many options, including seniors Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon and emerging freshman D.J. Steward. 

Other Contenders: North Lawndale (20-7, 7-3) and Farragut (12-9, 4-6) both went through the very tough Public League Red-West and should be prepared to face against a team as talented Fenwick. The Phoenix have been in the CSN Preps Power Rankings all season while Farragut pulled off a huge road upset at Uplift in the second round of the Public League Playoffs.  

Darkhorse: Westinghouse (10-14, 1-9) has a very talented senior in Coreyoun Rushin and they also played a lot of close games in the Red-West despite that bad conference record. After a solid Public League Playoff win over Hyde Park, Westinghouse could be dangerous.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: We could see a Red-West clash at Nazareth Academy as No. 4 seed Westinghouse and No. 5 seed Marshall could meet. The only Red-West win for Westinghouse this season came against the Commandos as these two teams split the season series. 

St. Rita Sectional

Favorite: Morgan Park (19-6, 9-1) just missed on winning the Public League Playoffs as the Mustangs could be the favorite to win the whole thing in Class 3A. The Mustangs don't have nearly as tough of competition in the class this season and they also have strong interior play with seniors Melo Burrell and Lenell Henry. Junior Ayo Dosunmu and senior Cam Irvin make for a talented perimeter and Morgan Park has a lot of talent to make a state title run.

Other Contenders: Bogan (17-7, 7-3) has been the toughest competitor for Morgan Park in this sectional the last few years but the Bengals aren't quite the top-25 mainstay like we've come to expect. Still talented, Bogan lost to Morgan Park twice during the season but beat Simeon.  

Darkhorse: St. Rita (16-10, 4-3) is a bit young, and they rely a lot on three-pointers, but the Mustangs are also talented enough to surprise some people and make it to sectional play if the deep ball is working.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If the Mustangs play No. 3 seed Hyde Park (14-9, 6-4) then it could get really interesting. St. Rita has won four consecutive games and beaten teams like Marist and Loyola this season while Hyde Park is the home team in this one. The Thunderbirds also own some quality wins, including one over Bloom, but they've been a bit sluggish late in the season. 

Plano Sectional

Favorite: Hillcrest saw its 28-year conference title streak get snapped but the Hawks are still a talented team that was in the preseason CSN Preps Power Rankings. As the No. 1 seed in a weaker sectional. the Hawks have a chance to make a run here. Senior Marcus Garrett is one of the best guards in the Class 3A field. 

Other Contenders: Plano (21-6, 10-1) is the Interstate Eight champion but they piled up a lot of wins against smaller schools during the year and it'll be interesting to see if they can hang with the schools from higher-profile conference. The Reapers did beat No. 2 seed Sandwich last Friday for a solid road win so they are coming in with confidence.

Darkhorse: Streator (16-11, 9-2) came in second place in the Interstate Eight as they've been playing better ball lately than some other higher seeds in this sectional. Winners of four of their last five, Streator is the No. 3 seed in their subregional. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If Sandwich and Streator matchup in Coal City it will be a rematch of when they met on Feb. 17. Streator took that matchup with a 54-43 win. 

Draft pick at No. 3 demands guiding 'concept' of what Bears ultimately want to be

Draft pick at No. 3 demands guiding 'concept' of what Bears ultimately want to be

With the Bears holding the No. 3 pick of the upcoming draft, the obvious and automatic focus settles on Player A, B, D etc. "Best available" is an operating philosophy that routinely rules the moment.
 
But for the Bears and the 2017 draft, another overarching philosophical principle is in play. Specifically, what is the concept (for want of a better word) guiding what GM Ryan Pace is attempting to do?
 
Coach John Fox, as well as Pace, want a team founded on defense, running the football and ball security. They know the franchise need for a quarterback, but a team building on defense could reasonably be expected to weight their draft decisions toward that side of the football.
 
Meaning: A quarterback like Clemson's Deshaun Watson could alter the entire persona of the Bears and the Halas Hall building, but if the far-and-away best option at No. 3 is defense…?
 
What makes this draft and the Bears' operating concept intriguing is that the chances will be there potentially to build a true elite defense. Beginning at No. 3:
 
"I think [Alabama defensive lineman] Jonathan Allen is one of the two or three best players in this draft," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock via conference call on Monday. "What I like about him is he dominates outside…but I think he's going to make his money on an inside pass rusher. Inside or outside, I think he's a special player."
 
Behind that – and last year's No. 1, Leonard Floyd, addressed the rush-linebacker spot – is the secondary, with both cornerback and safety among the strongest positions in the draft.
 
"This is a great corner class," Mayock said. "If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third rounds and really help yourself."
 
The safety group is such that Mayock posited the prospect of two going in the Top 10, maybe Top 5. 
 
Deciding on a "concept"
 
One former NFL personnel executive maintained that the salary cap all but precluded building offense and defense equally, so the need was to define an identity and build to that, within reason. Former Bears GM Jerry Angelo opted a concept that built both offense and defense equally, but with designated positions ticketed for more cap resources: quarterback, running back, one wideout, two O-linemen, one franchise pass rusher, etc. Not all 22 positions are created equal but creating offense and defense simultaneously was doable.
 
"It's really what a team is looking for," said Mayock, speaking both of player preferences but in a way that extended to picking players for a scheme. Or philosophy.
 
Different concepts, like diets, work if you execute them well.

The Bears reached Super Bowl XLI with a Top 5 defense and a mid-teen's offense. The Indianapolis Colts prevailed in that game with a No. 3 offense and a defense ranked in the low 20's in both yardage and points allowed.