New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

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New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

Every minicamp presents excitement for players, coaches and organizations as a whole. Its the first opportunity to see how new puzzle pieces fit to build your football team. Coaches have ideas through pre-draft film study and internal scouting reports as to how players will be utilized, but first impressions when unwrapping your draft day gifts always are important.

Coaches setting the tempo
Lovie Smith and his coaching staff want to introduce newly acquired players to their mission statement -- everything from explaining what it means to be a Chicago Bear to how new players need to practice properly. Everything introduced is going to be the Chicago Bear way. The reprogramming of free agent signings started April 16 in the classroom, but the brainwashing of fresh meat out of college starts this weekend.

Everything from the introduction of daily itineraries, workout schedules, playbook material, new surroundings, new co-workers and expectation from employees are covered thoroughly. Ive stated before in previous blogs that nothing can be assumed from organizations or coaches. Thus, from a coaching perspective, every nuance the coaches deem necessary for both long-term and a weekend rookie minicamp will be introduced. Learning doesnt happen through osmosis, it must be taught. How everyone learns is a different question, but that will be discerned this weekend by coaches in practice evaluations.
Wide-eyed newbies

I remember my first rookie minicamp for the Steelers back in 1994. I was just anxious to get started by showing up a day early because a college buddy lived in Pittsburgh. I crashed at his house then walked in the Steelers office at Three Rivers Stadium the very next day. Who just happened to be strolling through the lobby when I walked through the Steelers' front door like I was the next Joe Montana? None other than my new head coach Bill Cowher. Bill basically freaked out telling me it was against the rules, but admired my eagerness. A good first impression was made, but there was much I didnt know with plenty more to learn.

Its funny when I think about it. I was crushed, but getting started on your dream is really what all rookies are thinking about. They want to impress on the practice field, in the weight room, impress everyone organizationally but most importantly new teammates. Rookies fight the overall anxious nervousness just to fit in and be accepted. The constant learning is important if you want to be the difference-making player the organization thinks you can be.

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

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USA TODAY

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

Illinois State, Loyola and Northern Iowa will all be in action Saturday.

And you can catch all three games on CSN and CSN+.

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois State, 2 p.m., CSN+

The Redbirds (4-3) are coming off of a tough loss on the road at Tulsa, but they're off to a solid start early in the season. Senior point guard Paris Lee, a Proviso East product, is having a monster season for Illinois State so far, averaging 15 points, 6.4 assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee-Martin (8-2) is off to a great start with only a pair of road losses to SEC opponents Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Milwaukee at Loyola, 3 p.m., CSN

The Ramblers (8-2) have won three straight games and will try to carry that momentum into Horizon League play. Junior forward Aundre Jackson is off to a great start, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Loyola features a few former local high school stars. Senior Milton Doyle (Marshall) and junior Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well.

Milwaukee (4-5) is off to a decent start in a rebuilding year under new head coach LaVall Jordan and is coming off a road win against Montana State.

Rockford Boylan product Brock Stull is the Panthers' leading scorer and rebounder. The sophomore guard is averaging 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

North Dakota at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m., CSN

Northern Iowa (4-4) is coming off of a blowout win over South Dakota State.

Senior Jeremy Morgan has been doing it all for the Panthers. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. Morgan is putting up 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest this season.

North Dakota (5-2) has two straight wins, including a victory over in-state rival North Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks are led by Quinton Hooker, who's averaging 16.7 points per game this season.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”