Behind the new looks in Bears D

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Behind the new looks in Bears D

Major Wright smiled thinking about what a difference a year makes.
 
The strong safety and deep-coverage partner Chris Conte both were sent on blitzes during last Mondays win over the Detroit Lions. Each was credited with a quarterback hurry by Pro Football Focus for their efforts.
 
This time a year ago he and Conte were starting their first game together, mostly because Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather had effectively played their ways out of the lineup, not particularly because of how well Conte and Wright were doing.
 
The blitz calls, along with new rotations along the defense line, serve as hood ornaments for a key element growing inside the dominating Bears defense this season.
 
Trust.
 
Coaches know that both of us know what were doing, and theres no doubt in our minds that our coaches trust in us, Wright said. For them to call a blitz for me or Chris, they know well both be there, right time, right place.
 
He paused, then laughed. Last year, they probably werent always sure.
 
Earning trust
 
They werent, and not necessarily of every other member of the defense the way they are in 2012. But this is not the 2011 defense.
 
The more you put a player in positions and you see him making plays, said coach Lovie Smith, youll continue to add more things for them.
 
Against the Lions, the Bears were using a dizzying blizzard of rotations on the front four. Despite a game in which the Bears were never able to shake comfortably free of their division rivals, front-four packages that only occasionally was limited of the starting four of Israel Idonije-Henry Melton-Stephen Paea-Julius Peppers.
 
It was not the first time. Against the Dallas Cowboys, no lineman played more than 43 snaps (Melton, Paea) or fewer than 36 (Corey Wootton).
 
Peppers, the Bears best defensive lineman, played 87.6 percent of opponents snaps last season. This year he has been on the field for just 73.6 percent, according to Pro Football Focus.
 
Coach really, really trusts the guys, Wootton said. In the past I dont know that theyve felt they could trust us as much but weve earned their trust. So now we can give them different looks.
 
The McClellin Model
 
Different, indeed. Rookie Shea McClellin was used in some pass coverages as well as at his usual end spot and occasionally dropping in at defensive tackle. He has earned coaches respect and, as important, that of the on-field coach of the defense.
 
He doesnt screw up, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. As a rookie you dont want guys screwing up and he hasnt done that. I think hes very versatile.
 
We have different packages with him in there than weve had in the past. We do some third-down blitzes, some other stuff that we havent done in the past.

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

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It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it. 

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Everyone who took part in the recently-held fifth annual Franklin Middle School Dodgeball Madness charity tournament played for various charitable reasons. The Lake Park Lancers football team chose to honor a person who embodied the true meaning of service and sacrifice.

Lake Park junior linebacker Gino Romano took a few minutes to explain why they decided to play in honor of fallen Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrel, the first ever officer who died in the line of duty for the village.

Romano also discussed the Lancers’ offseason and the team’s overall preparation for the upcoming 2017 football slate.

I caught up with Romano at the tournament in Wheaton. Proceeds benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the following video above.