Humble Eifert has made huge strides

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Humble Eifert has made huge strides

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The confidence Tyler Eifert has in his biggest decision, when he bypassed the NFL draft and returned to school to improve his skillset, is evident as he discusses his all-around game.
A lot of time, sweat and study have been poured into developing the Notre Dame tight ends blocking and route running this season.
Already an elite pass catcher before 2012, the humble senior wont try and quantify just how much his entire game has improved.
But he doesnt need to, as his coaches and teammates are more than willing to douse you with a long list of superlatives about Eiferts play. And then of course theres Eiferts 2012 Mackey Award trophy, awarded annually to the nations top tight end.
While Eifert wont say how much he has improved, he does admit he sees the difference whenever coaches pop in game film from previous seasons.
When I go back and watch (2011 tape) its just like, Yeah, what are you doing out there right now? Eifert said earlier this week as Notre Dame ramped up its preparation for its Jan. 7 meeting with Alabama in the BCS Championship Game in Miami. When we watch film on other teams, we see ourselves with teams weve already played, like Boston College, and you see yourself out there. Ive definitely gotten better every year.
Eiferts play in 2011, when he set a school record for tight ends with 63 catches and 803 receiving yards, made him aware success in the NFL isnt a far-fetched dream.
He already has been evaluated as a potential third-round draft pick in last Aprils draft. But with two years of eligibility left, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-product returned to campus in hopes of refining his game.
Tight end coach Scott Booker has no doubt Eifert made the right choice. Booker said Eifert has been determined since then to better understand his role as a blocker, to improve his blocking technique and how to improve his receiving routes.
Right off the get-go he did a great job of understanding where he wanted to improve, Booker said. Hes able to stay in there and block anybody in the country now and (you see) his ability to be able to separate from cornerbacks when hes out there one-on-one or inside getting separation from second-level defenders.
Said Eifert: I try to get better every week, try to watch the film and see what I did wrong and try to fix that stuff.
While Eiferts overall repertoire has clearly improved, it appeared earlier this season to come at the cost of his own offensive production. With the team in the middle of a quarterback transition from junior Tommy Rees to freshman Everett Golson, the opportunity for Eifert to make plays hasnt been as plentiful.
Eiferts production has picked up of late, but through the teams first five games he had only 11 catches and also saw his 22-game catch streak -- the longest among FBS tight ends -- snapped on Sept. 15 against Michigan State.
But through it all, if ever there was frustration on Eiferts end, wide receiver Robby Toma admits hes impressed because he has never heard a peep from the tight end.
'Eif' is one of the great examples of being selfless, Toma said. The first couple games I had more catches than 'Eif,' and he had a chance to go to the NFL. For him to come back and not complain about not catching enough balls, not getting enough touchdowns just spoke volumes to Eifs character.
Eifert has had little to complain about down the stretch. Twenty-two of his 44 grabs this season have come over Notre Dames last four games. Eifert also has the comfort knowing that 32 of his 44 grabs have resulted in either a touchdown or a first down.
Everett has done a great job of finding him and putting the ball where it needs to be placed and Tyler has done a good job of getting into position to make the plays, Booker said.
Despite it all, the gains he has made on the field and in the locker room, where Toma identified him as a leader because of his character, Eifert wont budge on just how much he has developed.
I dont know how much better Ive gotten, Eifert said.
Booker isnt as humble. He believes Eifert has a successful road ahead of him.
The sky is the limit for him, Booker said. You see a lot of guys in the NFL with the same skillset being very productive for a lot of different teams and a lot of different type of offenses.

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

 

During the Chicago Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days, FC Dallas had the best record out of the four opponents by a wide margin.

However, when Dallas came to Toyota Park on Thursday, the lineup that took the field was not the typical FCD squad. Dallas rotated many starters in advance of Sunday’s game against Houston (which ended a 0-0 draw).

Still, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty thought Dallas still provided tough opposition.

“This was the hardest game we played in this four-game stretch by far,” McCarty said after the game. “They’re a really well-coached team, they’re organized, they’re tough to break down, they have the best defensive record in the league for a reason. I don’t care if they rotated players, that was a really good team.”

Dallas proved to be a tough defensive team after a wild first 10 minutes that featured three goals. The game slowed and the Fire limited Dallas’ attack the rest of the way with McCarty and his central midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, keying the 2-1 win.

McCarty, Schweinsteiger key Fire midfield

The headline for this section is obvious and probably something that can be said every match, but both McCarty and Schweinsteiger had good showings on Thursday.

The duo had the most touches in the match (Schweinsteiger with 105, McCarty with 93) and both completed passes at a high rate (Schweinsteiger 87 percent, McCarty 86 percent). Dallas isn’t a team built around keeping possession (FCD is actually towards the bottom of the league in possession), but the Fire held the edge even with Dallas chasing the Fire’s lead for more than 80 minutes.

Schweinsteiger had a game-high 12 ball recoveries, including two past midfield, won four tackles and had two interceptions, both in the attacking half. McCarty had five ball recoveries, but more impressively won three tackles past midfield. The Fire's ability to press and win the ball higher up the field was on display in this match and these two were at the heart of that.

McCarty's highlight came on a play when both centerbacks made mistakes that took them out of the play. A few minutes before halftime Johan Kappelhof dribbled forward, but lost control and turned it over. Joao Meira wildly slid to stop the ball, but missed badly. That left the Fire scrambling, but McCarty saw it the whole way and was able to recover to block a cross and only concede a corner kick.

The clip below starts just after Kappelhof's turnover:


Matt Hedges was very good

The Fire scored two early goals, but didn’t generate much in the way of chances after that. A big reason why was Dallas centerback Matt Hedges.

Hedges won plenty of aerial duels and also had the speed to keep up with David Accam in 1v1 spots on a few occasions.

The Fire had just three shots on target, not counting Nemanja Nikolic’s saved penalty in added time, the entire match. That’s not a good output, especially when considering two of those came in the first 10 minutes.

Hedges was credited with eight ball recoveries (the most on Dallas and second only to Schweinsteiger’s 12 for the match), four interceptions, four clearances and a pair of tackles won.

The 6-foot-5 centerback was just called in to the latest national team roster and this performance was a good example of why.

Fire hold on for close win

The Fire led this game for the final 81 minutes and did so without Dallas getting a shot on target after Roland Lamah’s early goal.

Previous Fire teams developed a reputation for blowing these kinds of games. This year’s team held on without much drama.

Even if Dallas was without much of its best attacking talent, the Fire limited Dallas to just the one shot on target (Lamah’s goal in the sixth minute). Dallas was chasing the game for 80 minutes and couldn’t even test Matt Lampson.

In the final 20 minutes Dallas had three free kicks that went into the box and a corner kick. Nothing came from those and there wasn’t anything from the run of play other than three crosses into the box that were cleared without drama.

The insurance goal never came, but the Fire did have the best chances in the final minutes. Juninho had a hard shot on target in the 89th minute and Nikolic had a penalty kick in added time. The Fire also had a majority of the possession in the final 10 minutes.

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera is the latest hitter to aid a surprising White Sox offense.

The veteran outfielder had two go-ahead hits on Monday afternoon, including an RBI single in the seventh inning of a 5-4 White Sox victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 27,148 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cabrera also blasted a three-run homer for the White Sox, who won for the fourth time in five games on the homestand.

Only three weeks ago, Cabrera boasted a .595 OPS and had one home run to his credit. But Cabrera has followed the leads of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu and heated up over the last week.

He continued his torment of opposing pitchers in the third inning when he ripped the first pitch he saw from David Price for a three-run homer to put the White Sox ahead 3-1. Cabrera nearly broke a 3-all tie in the fifth inning with runners on the corners. But Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts made a diving stop and flipped the ball to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.

He wouldn’t be denied in the seventh.

With the White Sox down 4-3, Yolmer Sanchez led off the seventh with a triple to right. Kevan Smith tied it with an RBI double. Two outs later, Cabrera looped a Matt Barnes pitch up the middle and Smith charged home even though Red Sox second baseman Josh Rutledge tracked the ball down in shallow center. Rutledge fired home but catcher Christian Vazquez couldn’t handle the hop and Smith slid in with the go-ahead run.

Cabrera is hitting .407/.467/.852 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last 30 plate appearances.

Adam Engel and Tim Anderson both walked ahead of Cabrera’s homer off Price, who allowed two hits and three earned runs in five innings in his first start of the season.

Buoyed by the performances of Garcia, Abreu — whose 10-game hit streak ended Monday — and Cabrera, the White Sox offense has performed better than expected this season. Monday’s effort was the 23rd time in 50 games in which the offense has scored five or more runs. The team entered Monday seventh in the American League with 225 runs scored, an average of 4.59 per contest.

The White Sox bullpen made the lead hold up. Juan Minaya struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning for the victory. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson each added scoreless frames to preserve the win.

David Holmberg made a spot start and allowed two hits and three earned runs in four innings.