Moon: Seven keys to the Bears' schedule

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Moon: Seven keys to the Bears' schedule

The Bears 2012 schedule is laid out, but how will a player be looking at it?

The standard bromide is of course we look at them all the same, one game at a time." Thats not exactly true. Take it from one former player.

Matt Bowen had a solid NFL career thats now moving into a solid media phase, with work for a number of outlets including CSNChicago and also the National Football Post. He listed for NFP some of the filters through which he viewed schedules so lets apply those to the new Bears schedule and evaluate:

Opening day opponent

Thats where the offseason focus will be, right on through training camp and preseason. Its Indianapolis, same as in 2008, the last time through the AFC South for the Bears, but this time, no Peyton. Somebody at Halas Hall is probably already working on cut-ups of Stanford game film.

No NFL game can ever be considered truly easy. But a home game against a team coming off a 2-14 season presumably with a rookie starting his first NFL game is one you dont lose if you want to be taken seriously for the rest of the year.

The first quarter

Coaches including Lovie Smith talk of the season in terms of four-game units. All 16 do count the same in the final total, but getting off to a bad start puts added pressure to recover on the rest of the season.

But a good start also insures absolutely nothing. The Lovie Smith Bears have opened 2-2 or better in five of his eight years. In 2005 they recovered from a 1-3 start to earn a playoff bye. Their 3-1 start in 09 made the slide to 7-9 the more painful.

The Bears open with Indianapolis at home. The Packers draw San Francisco at home in week one and the Bears four days later. The Bears will have prime-time games at Green Bay and Dallas in the first quarter, plus St. Louis. This is a winnable first quarter.
Monday Night games

Most players love the solo time on center stage, but Matt points out that the catch becomes the following week, particularly if you have a road game. And if the MNF contest was away, youre not getting off a plane until very early Tuesday a.m.

Throw in a Thursday game which the Bears have in Week 2, at Green Bay and you have a squirrely start. At least the trips is a short one.

The NFL thought the Bears were worth five prime time games three on Mondays, one Sunday and one Thursday. This means a lot of choppy practice weeks.

Warm and cold conditions

Lets cut to the chase: When do you play at Green Bay? And for the Bears, when do they go to the Valley of the Sun?

This breaks well for the Bears. They play at Green Bay in September, at night. They play at Arizona in December. Theyre at Jacksonville in October. Those are good weather venues.

No at Buffalo or at New England to worry about for cold. You can bet that the Texans and anybody else with an indoor home has already IDd exactly when they have to come to Soldier Field.

Travel

The Bears have the geographic good fortune of being centrally located. But they do have road games in Arizona and San Francisco, the latter involving leaving on Friday for some teams.

Among the five prime-time games are ones at Green Bay, Dallas and San Francisco. Decent frequent-flyer miles but.

Off week

When the break falls is important in terms of rest. Its ideally near mid-season. If its early, the year is long after it, with more games and no off week for recovery (and its an off week, not a bye).

The Bears are off in week six after playing at Dallas and at Jacksonville. They come out of the off week hosting Detroit. Youd like the rest a couple weeks later perhaps but this is pretty good placement for a recovery week.

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

W (Boundary)

1. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2A. Miles Boykin (Redshirt freshman)
2B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
3. Chase Claypool (Freshman)

Z (Slot)

1A. C.J. Sanders (Sophomore)
1B. Corey Holmes (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)

X (Field)

1. Equanimeous St. Brown (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2B. Kevin Stepherson (Freshman)
3. Javon McKinley (Freshman)

Hunter has the ability to play all three receiver positions, which is why he’s listed as the “backup” at the Z and X. He’ll probably take most of his reps, though, at the W, where Corey Robinson was in line to play before he retired due to suffering multiple concussions. 

Despite only catching 28 passes for 363 yards last year, Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, which is more a nod to the production lost from Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. But Hunter took command of Notre Dame’s wide receivers during spring practice — despite barely getting any sleep due to his football, baseball and academic workload — and emerged as an offensive leader in March and April. 

Outside of Hunter, there’s plenty of young, untapped potential in this group. Coach Brian Kelly has raved about St. Brown from the day he set foot on campus, and Notre Dame believes his combination of blazing speed and good size (6-foot-4, 205) will make his a dynamic receiving threat as soon as this fall. Sanders flashed his playmaking ability by returning a kick and a punt for a touchdown last year, though surgery on his hip flexor knocked him out of spring practice and could slow him during preseason camp. 

Holmes and Stepherson both impressed at times during spring practice, too, and are set up to carve out roles in the Irish offense. And Jones is the wild card here — he worked a bit at the W during spring practice and his athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame could create some matchup nightmares if he slides over from tight end. 

Biggest question: Who becomes DeShone Kizer/Malik Zaire’s go-to target?

Fuller became a get-out-of-jail free card almost immediately for Kizer last year, with that 39-yard game-winning heave at Virginia sparking a rock-solid season for the new Irish quarterback. Brown, too, used his savvy skills to make some big catches, like his touchdown at Fenway Park against Boston College. 

But with both of those guys gone, Kizer or Zaire will need to figure out who that reliable pass-catcher is. The good news is Notre Dame has had one every year of the Kelly era, from Michael Floyd to Tyler Eifert to T.J. Jones to Fuller. 

Hunter is the most experienced one of the bunch, though St. Brown or Jones could very well emerge as that guy, too. But given Notre Dame’s track record, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock deserves the benefit of the doubt here. 

Youthful impact

McKinley and Claypool both were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. There are some questions about whether or not Claypool, who was listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds on signing day, could someday move to tight end, but for now, he’ll get a shot as a receiver, probably on the boundary. 

Stepherson, a three-star recruit, was roundly praised by coaches and teammates for how quickly he picked up the Irish route concepts and offense during spring practice, and his ability to catch the ball at a full sprint over the middle makes him a candidate to contribute as a freshman. 

Notre Dame hasn’t shied away form playing freshmen receivers in the past, and without much experience in this group, there could be opportunities for all three first-year players to get on the field this fall. 

They said it

“There’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.” — Brian Kelly on Torii Hunter Jr., who was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Angels this summer

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast is rolling out new technology that will give Olympics fans a unique viewing experience. 

The X1 platform will give users access to more than 6,000 hours of live, on demand and streaming Rio Olympics events. Fans can follow athletes, nations and teams with ease throughout the Rio Games, and also record or view on demand. 

The ability to customize the Olympics experience will give audiences an unlimited scope and make it easy to watch what they want, when they want. 

Report: White Sox make James Shields available for trade

Report: White Sox make James Shields available for trade

With the Aug. 1 trade deadline right around the corner, a new name has been added to the mix.

James Shields, who was acquired by the White Sox in early June, is reportedly available for trade, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, after the 34-year-old right-hander has pitched his way into the trade market with his latest hot streak.

The White Sox traded for Shields in an effort to strengthen their rotation and alleviate some pressure off a taxed bullpen, but with the team six games back for the division lead and the final wild card spot, it would be wise of the White Sox to take advantage of this pitcher's market and flip Shields for assets that can help them in the future.

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After a rough start in Chicago, Shields has turned in five quality starts in his last five outings, which included a stellar performance in Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Cubs. He also owns a 1.71 ERA across his last six starts.

The biggest question will be, which team wants to take on Shields' contract?

He still has two years remaining on a four-year, $75 million deal he inked with the San Diego Padres in 2014. It's worth noting Shields has an opt-out clause after this season, and a club option to return in 2019.