McCown more than just a fill-in


McCown more than just a fill-in

Call it a telling snapshot of Josh McCown.

It was in the locker room after the final preseason game in Cleveland. McCown had just finished playing the entire game, a 28-20 Bears win in which he had completed 20 of 29 passes for 157 yards, a touchdown and 90.7 passer rating.

But he didnt want to talk about his game as much as he did the guy in the next locker stall Jason Campbell who hadnt played against the Browns but who the week before had nicked the New York Giants with 12-of-19 passing for 101 yards, a TD and a 94.4 rating.

This guy Campbell could be starting for five, six teams in this league, McCown told, naming a few.

Fast forward to this week, with McCown signing with the Bears as Campbells and Jay Cutlers backup.

One concern whenever a veteran is added to a roster can be how the fit will be, particularly with one who has started in the NFL. With McCown, though, the call was easy for the Bears.

He was a late numbers cut at the end of the offseason when the need was for an extra roster spot on the defensive line for Nate Collins and his looming one-game suspension.

Looking beyond even McCowns play, which included a 441-yard effort in a loss at Green Bay and a game-16 win at Minnesota despite enduring seven sacks The Bears have added not only a quality backup, not only one familiar with the system and its personnel, but also someone who gets the whole thing.

Jasons mindset is that he has to be ready to play, McCown told me earlier in camp. My mindset, being a little further away from playing, is, What can I do auxiliary wise that helps Jay? What tape can I look at that maybe Jays not going to get a chance to? Something I can pick up as far as what some guy is going to do in some situation?

My whole attitude with our quarterbacks room is, Grab an oar and Ill row with you.

A tiny irony is that McCown returns to the Bears and the quarterbacks room in the run-up to a game with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were the last stop for McCown last year, getting a late look in training camp and cut after the final preseason game.

Now McCown is back where he wanted to be.

Youre just better off being on a good football team and supporting whoever happens to be the guy, helping him as much as possible, McCown said.

Thats why its a special room, with no, I think you should do it this way or whatever. Its whats the best way for Jay to get it done and ultimately for any of us.

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.