Peterson or Ponder: Which is the real threat?

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Peterson or Ponder: Which is the real threat?

The Bears defense has gone to sleep this week with visions of Adrian Peterson in its collective head. That may not be its sole cause for concern, however.

Pondering Ponder

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has been a disappointment in 2012. After a promising rookie year that effectively began with his relieving Donovan McNabb against the Bears, he has muddled along with a passer rating of 75 this season.

In his first six games he had none with a completion percentage lower than 60 and the Vikings were 4-2. In the last six he has had just one game with a completion rate above 55. The Vikings have gone 2-4.

Hes pretty much what you see, said new middle linebacker Nick Roach. Hes very athletic, he can throw the ball if he has time, and he doesnt seem to get rattled, which you would tend to maybe associate with young guys. Hes a good test.

The reason: For all of his inconsistencies, Ponder is 5-1 at home this season.

Visions of 28

But the Bears mission statement is always to make a team one-dimensional by taking away its running game. And nowhere has this appeared to prove more effective than against the Vikings.

Minnesota won four of the first five games in Adrian Petersons career against the Bears. In those, Peterson averaged 128 yards per game. The Vikings have lost the last six (two with Peterson missing due to injury) with the games best running back averaging 73 yards in the four he played, including the 108 he had in the 28-10 loss on Nov. 25.

The quirky part is that Peterson has rushed for no fewer than those 108 yards in each of the last six games and the Vikings won just two of those, against woefuls Arizona and Detroit.

He trampled the Green Bay Packers for 210 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries last Sunday. The Vikings lost 23-14.

But in the mind of the Bears there is still a clear No. 1 target and way to neutralize that.

Gang-tackling, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Its gap security and knowing exactly what were doing and playing extremely hard and fast. That game he played last week at Green Bay was special. We know what we have in store for us. Were competing for a championship and we got to get him on the ground.

Something missing

The Bears have been successful in their last six games against Minnesota. They also have had Brian Urlacher in all of those. Now they dont.

Roach has been very solid this season with an arrow pointing up at this point of the year. He had four tackles against San Francisco as well as a half-sack and quarterback pressure and pass breakup. He totaled seven stops against the Vikings and forced a fumble, and he followed that with five tackles against Seattle. Of his 16 tackles over the past three games, 11 have been solos.

But as WBBMWSCR Bears reporter Zach Zaidman noted, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has never handled a game through any other channel than Urlacher. This will be the first time he is communicating his defensive moves through someone other than Urlacher.

Sound off

Communicating is the operative word here.

One popular notion in Roachs previous time at middle linebacker (2009, three games, 1-2) was that he simply was not loud enough. Two of those three games were outdoors.

This game is inside one of the acknowledged loudest venues in sports. Teammates are satisfied that Roach can and will be heard.

His voice has developed, said linebacker Lance Briggs, smiling. I dont know the right word but its matured. He sounds louder on the field.

Communication is not going to be a problem. Even if guys dont hear, weve been in the system long enough where we understand we should all understand by recognizing.

Roach was amused: Lance is a funny guy. I try to make a conscious effort to get the communications clear so the guys can hear it.

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs knock off Giants; White Sox swept in Arizona

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USA TODAY

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs knock off Giants; White Sox swept in Arizona

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