Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR

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Notre Dame may count on freshmen to shoulder load at WR

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Michael Floyd caught 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, his senior year at Notre Dame. While the Irish return a some experienced receivers, the team may wind up needing a few true freshmen to help make up for Floyd's departure to the NFL.
"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production," admitted first-year receiver Chris Brown. "But as a unit, we just gotta come together and just fill that role."
T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and John Goodman return to the Irish offense with a few years of experience under their collective belts, while DaVaris Daniels will get a shot after not seeing the playing field his freshman year.
And Notre Dame is deep at tight end, with All-American Tyler Eifert headlining a group that also includes Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. But Brown, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson could see some playing time, if the first few days of practice are any indication.
Brown and Neal saw plenty of work with the first and second-team offense in last week's open practice, with Brown gouging out large chunks of yardage after making a few catches on short passes. And Neal's blue-chip talent was on display as he worked with quarterback Everett Golson, who many believe will be the starter on Sept. 1 when Notre Dame opens their season against Navy in Dublin.
"Everybody wants to get on the field, but I'm just looking to do my part as of right now," Neal said. "Coach Brian Kelly will put in that situation when it comes down to it. But right now, we're just working getting set with the plays."
The trio of freshman wide receivers all room with upperclassmen, as Brown lives with Goodman, Ferguson with Jones and Neal with Toma. That veteran presence has helped each rookie adjust to life at the college level.
"I'm feeling very comfortable," Brown said. "The older guys have made it a lot easier for me -- John Goodman, Daniel Smith, T.J. Jones, all of them just making it more comfortable for me, and I feel like I'm actually getting in it."
"I'm starting to get real comfortable with the playbook," added Neal. "Robby Toma's helping me out, learning the plays, learning the scheme, and Theo Riddick also back there coaching me up. And slot receivers coach Tony Alford is a great coach, he's done a great job putting the plays in a way that I can understand them."
Neal came to Notre Dame after a lengthy recruiting saga that extended a few weeks past signing day. He was one of the most coveted skill players in the country, with the kind of playmaking ability that had coaches from LSU to Oklahoma to USC salivating. While there were rumors about discord within Neal's family about his school choice, he repeated over and over on Monday "I love it" and emphasized how happy he is at Notre Dame.
"There's a lot of great players here, so I'm not stacking myself up with anybody," Neal said. "We're all looking out there to compete. That's what everybody's doing. You can't ask for a better to compete with than at Notre Dame."
Both Brown and Neal say they aren't aiming to be the next Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija, Tim Brown or Rocket Ismail, at least in their freshmen year. They're aware of Notre Dame's history, but are aiming to stay focused on the immediate task ahead.
"Those are all great receivers," Neal said. "I just came in looking at trying to play my part as a freshman right now. I'm coming in as freshman, looking to do what I can to be a good receiver for right now."

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

The McDonald's All-American Games return to the United Center for the seventh consecutive year on Wednesday night as the nation's elite boys and girls high school basketball players take the floor.

The 40th annual games begin with the girls game at 4 p.m. while the boys game will follow at 6 p.m.

The 2017 McDonald's game won't have a lot of local talent to keep an eye on, besides Chicago native and center Brandon McCoy, but the national Class of 2017 is still a fun group to check out for local basketball fans.

Headlined by top prospects like small forward Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), center DeAndre Ayton (Arizona),  center Wendell Carter (Duke) and point guard Trevon Duval (uncommitted), this year's McDonald's game features a lot of flashy guards, high-flying wings and talented big men.

Over the years, fans at the United Center have been able to see some of the NBA's best young players before they went to college as alums of recent McDonald's games include Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Karl-Anthony Towns.

You can view the full rosters for the 2017 McDonald's All-American Games here

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

PHOENIX – Where the relationship between Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox goes beyond 2017 remains to play out with their third season together. At this point, however, despite a combined total of nine wins over their first two, the critical bond between coach and general manager appears both clear and solid.
 
Which is no small state of affairs with the growing pressure on both and the organization, pressure that will only intensify if the on-field fortunes of their team does not begin to dramatically reverse. And both know it. Losing doesn't build character, it reveals it, and the same applies to a relationship; if there are cracks, adversity of the kind the Bears have endured the past 32 games will widen and expose them.
 
That relationship has been the subject of speculation virtually since its inception, when Pace hired Fox following the end of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. Much of it centered around who was in fact making the final decisions on personnel and who was the advisor, with some positing that Fox was in fact the final authority if only because age, seniority and experience. The primacy of Pace, however, has become clearer with each decision and traces or shadings of any fractiousness are conspicuously absent.
 
"His people skills are tremendous," Fox said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. "His evaluation skills are very good. I think humility is always a great quality in this business. And I've seen that. He's the same guy. He hasn't changed. Sometimes people get [elevated] positions, whatever position that may be and they change. It's just how some people react. And I haven't seen that."
 
Pace, who recently turned 40, is by his own description wanting buy-in on decisions. In the cases of free agency, which have involved the high-dollar commitments designed to have immediate payoff, he has identified pro targets and involved Fox in the decisions.
 
Looking for an immediate hit at linebacker to upgrade the entire defense about this time last year, Pace targeted Denver leading-tackler Danny Trevathan. Fox was his first consult.
 
"Just having drafted [Trevathan] and seeing him develop and get better and his work ethic and his preparation and study habits and how he is as a teammate in the locker room," Pace said of what insight Fox provided. "Those were all things that were taken into consideration."
 
This year, with the max need of improvement, the franchise-grade decision was to make a change at quarterback. Jay Cutler effectively made the decision on himself and he was out. Whether Mike Glennon is or is not an upgrade will play out this year, but Fox was involved in and endorsed the decision to go in a decidedly less-experienced direction.

[RELATED - No signs Bears are locked into drafting a QB in 2017]
 
Pace had attempted in the past to trade for Glennon, which Fox agreed with. Fox had familiarity with Glennon from his time coaching in Carolina.
 
"I was in North Carolina when [Glennon] was playing [at N.C. State], actually," Fox recalled. "I was exposed to two guys there. A good friend of mine was the head coach at NC State. Both Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon were coming through at that period in time, so I got exposed to them, watching games and kinda following them.
 
"And obviously evaluating both of them coming out, they were in different schools then. So I had a high opinion of them then. And then really [Glennon] was talked about a little bit before this year as a potential guy to get, and then this year, being free and without any kind of compensation, we dove in pretty good and feel good about it."
 
Most expectations are that the Bears will not repeat a three-win season, and that an improvement from the first two years keeps both Pace and Fox in their jobs. Key players (Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Kevin White) returning from injuries, free-agency upgrades on both sides of the ball and a draft class currently with two picks in the first 36 point to perhaps the kind of turnaround Fox has produced (in years two) at Carolina and Denver.
 
Fox did not dwell on what the roster was or wasn't when he arrived, or on how much of an overhaul Pace needed to do when he took over from Phil Emery and brought in Fox to replace Marc Trestman. But the reality was there.
 
"Going back to a lot of the changes, we've had a lot of change," Fox said. "I think we're better for it. Unfortunately, you can't walk around with your chest out about that because of our record the last two years. But I have total confidence and [Pace] has done an outstanding job and will continue to.
 
"I understand you have to win. And I finally feel like we're in striking distance."