Grades: 4 TDs propel a near-perfect afternoon

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Grades: 4 TDs propel a near-perfect afternoon

The offense scored four touchdowns and amassed 358 total yards, a workmanlike effort punctuated by three scoring throws to Brandon Marshall. The Bears did have three possessions stall inside the Tennessee 25 for Robbie Gould field goals.

With an average starting position of their own 47 because of the turnovers, the offense might have scored more. But the key to success is not turning the ball over and the Bears did that just once on a lost fumble.

QUARTERBACK A

Jay Cutler overcame some early inconsistencies and inaccuracy to settle in for a game with 19-of-26 passing through his three-plus quarters for 229 yards and three touchdowns, all to Brandon Marshall, and a passer rating of 138.1. He had three incompletions in the first quarter, two in the second and one in the third a fourth as the defense loosened in apparent expectation that the Bears would run with their huge lead.

The biggest key was no interceptions, although the Titans missed a couple of excellent pick opportunities. Cutler also managed to maintain calm under surprising pressure from a Tennessee front that clearly did not quit despite the huge deficit.

RUNNING BACK A

Backs accounted for 32 rushes, three caught passes and 213 total yards from scrimmage. Matt Forte was utilized in both run and pass games, finishing with 103 rushing yards and 45 net yards on two pass receptions. He turned a screen pass into a 47-yard gain in addition to 48 yards on seven carries in the first half, and his eight-yard TD run for a first-quarter TD with his offensive line push.

Michael Bush was stymied on 10 carries for 16 yards but added 17 yards on his one catch. Armando Allen got some work in the fourth quarter and managed to break a 10-yard run among his 10 carries for 32 yards.

RECEIVERS A-

Brandon Marshall continues to raise his bar, with nine catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns. It was his fourth 100-yard game of the year and fourth with at least nine receptions and, more important, he has scored in five of the Bears eight games. Marshall helped seal the Titans fate in the first half with four catches, one for 13 yards and a TD.

Other receivers played only minor roles. Earl Bennett caught four passes but for just 22 total yards and Devin Hester had 19 for his two. No tight end caught a pass.

OFFENSIVE LINE A-

The overall was very solid with 160 rushing yards and 4.9 per carries other than Jason Campbells three kneel-downs at the end. Blockers repeatedly sealed off and created seams on the edges, with guards Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal effective pulling to clean up plays for Forte in particular.

JMarcus Webb caused a safety with hand-to-the-face in the end zone and added a holding penalty in the first half. But Webb and Gabe Carimi recovered after bad plays to deal with good edge rushers in Derek Morgan (zero sacks, two QB hits) and Kamerion Wimbley (one sack, one QB hit).

COACHING B

Play calling that had empty backfields and Cutler getting sacked late in a first half with Bears leading 31-2 was befuddling. The Bears led by 22 with 22 minutes to play and Cutler was still dropping and getting pressure. The balance of run-pass was present in the first half with 12 called runs and 16 pass plays against a defense that clearly was stacking to deal with a Bears game plan to run.

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

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33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Westmont

Head coach: Dan Woulfe

Assistant Coaches:  Dan McCulloch, Mitch Balek, Joe Helton, Scott Helton, Ryan Cahill

How they fared in 2016: 1-8 (0-5 Interstate 8 Small Conference), missed the 2016 IHSA state playoff field

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

August 25th @ Lake View

September 1st vs Chicago Tech Academy Charter

September 8th @ Wilmington

September 15th vs Seneca

September 22nd @ Reed-Custer

September 29th vs Peotone

October 6th @ Lisle

October 13th @ Streator

October 20th vs Plano

Biggest storyline: Can the Sentinels improve upon it's 1-8 season a year ago?

Names to watch this season:  Senior OL/DL Dustin Samoulis Senior QB Brenton Baldwin

Biggest holes to fill: The Sentinels will look to reload upfront on both the offensive and defensive lines this summer. 

EDGY's Early Take: Westmont first year head coach Dan Woulfe, who takes over for Hall of Fame head coach Otto Zeman this fall will look to get the Sentinels back on the winning track. Westmont welcomes back 9 starters (4 offense 5 defense) and the biggest key will be finding new linemen to step up this fall.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.