Salata, Libertyville make late-season run

920515.png

Salata, Libertyville make late-season run

The definition of a team player is someone who rushes 24 times for 135 yards and one touchdown in one game, then doesn't complain when he is told he is being replaced by another running back for the next game.

Meet Libertyville's Joey Salata.

"I really have no problem with it," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior who also starts at free safety. "I like to fill in when I can on offense. I like to make an impact. But my first priority is to lead the defense, to make sure everybody lines up correctly and is in the right spot.

"Sure, it is exciting to run for 135 yards. I always take snaps in practice. Brian Swift is our leading rusher (77 carries, 535 yards) and he has been out with a hip injury for three weeks. So week to week, I was ready to play. But he's supposed to be back this week. That's a big plus for us.

"I grew up on offense. Guys who score touchdowns get all the publicity. But as a sophomore I played linebacker and grew to love playing defense. You don't get as much attention but I prefer hitting to carrying the ball. And I love the challenge of playing together as a unit, all 11 guys."

Libertyville's defense has recorded two shutouts in a row. The Wildcats completed a 7-2 regular season with a 40-20 victory at Wauconda last Friday. It is their first winning season since 2006. The Wildcats will play at Machesney Park Harlem in the first round of the Class 7A playoff.

It has been a time of transition for the program. Last year's team was 5-5. It was the last season for coach Randy Kuceyeski, who retired after posting a 133-58 record in 18 years. His 2003 team finished second in the state playoff and his 2004 team won the state championship.

Last year's team had to overcome a lot of adversity. The overriding factor was Kuceyeski's well documented battle with cancer. The Wildcats were 4-3 and shut out Warren to qualify for the state playoff. They lost to unbeaten state champion Rockford Boylan in the first round.

"We realized when we play as a unit and play consistent and everybody does their job, offense and defense, we can compete with anybody. We shows the kind of potential we have," Salata said. "Losing to Boylan gave us a taste of what playoff football is like, so much more speed. So I'm not surprised at what we have done this year.

"This is a core unit, the seniors. We've played together since middle school. We played on the Libertyville Boys Club traveling team in eighth grade. This is what we dreamed about, being seniors and leaders of the team, to have a great senior year and make a run in the playoff.

"Last year, we got experience. This year, we come back every week with a business-like approach. We love having fun. We enjoy being with each other. What is our edge? Our mental preparation. The coaches do a great job of preparing us each week."

In Libertyvlle's 17-0 victory over Zion-Benton two weeks ago, Salata rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown and intercepted a pass for the second game in a row. The swarming defense allowed only three first downs an 55 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers.

In last Friday's 40-20 rout of Wauconda, quarterback Jack Deichl completed 16 of 23 passes for 231 yards. Austin Williams caught seven for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Bryan Scanlan caught four for 52 yards. Conor Simpson rushed for 127 yards.

But while the offense averaged 30 points per game in the first five weeks, the defense has stepped up in recent games. "Our defense has done a great job lately. They've just played very sound football. They haven't given up the big play. They've been physical and smart and that's what we expect of them," first-year coach Mike Jones said.

Jones is no stranger to the Libertyville program. He coached at Grayslake Central for 13 years before moving to Libertyville. He was Kuceyeski's defensive coordinator for eight years so it isn't surprising that the Wildcats' 4-2-5 alignment has been effective.

"With 16 starters returning, I was optimistic," Jones said. "We kept the same defense. Offensively, we've gone more to a wing T from a zone pistol. Why? I wasn't thrilled with the running back eight yards deep in the pistol.

"We're trying to build some consistency. When we do consistently what we are coached to do, we are good. But we have been inconsistent this year, our blocking and tackling and execution."

Libertyville has fallen behind in several games but rarely failed to come back. The Wildcats trailed Barrington by 17 and rallied to win. They lost to Stevenson 14-9 after falling behind 14-0. They trailed Warren by 14 and came back to win.

"There is a lot of fight and determination in them," Jones said. "We could be better. I would like to revisit some games we lost. We laid an egg against Lake Forest (they lost 33-13). But we have come back and our defense is playing well. Going forward, we must be consistent in the playoff."

The key could be 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior quarterback Jack Deichl, who has completed 136 of 211 passes for 1,667 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was 18 of 21 for 235 yards vs. Barrington, 13 of 26 for 201 yards vs. Stevenson and 22 of 33 for 310 yards vs. Warren.

He struggled in recent weeks, according to Jones, until last Friday's game at Wauconda. He was 16 of 28 for 159 yards vs. Lake Forest. If he continues to regain his early-season touch and Swift returns to form and three injured offensive linemen return to the lineup, Jones is optimistic that his team will make a good account of itself in the playoff.

Other players he is counting on are 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior wide receiver Austin Williams, a big-play threat who has caught 42 passes for 575 yards and eight touchdowns, 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior running backreceiver Conor Simpson, who has rushed for more than 500 yards and caught 40 passes for 421 yards, 6-foot, 195-pound senior linebacker Drew Krinitsy, 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior linebacker Kevin Verkler, 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior offensive tackle Brandon Stanfel and 6-foot, 210-pound senior defensive tackle Logan Klepac.

"We have been in a lot of tough battles this year," said Salata, who didn't carry the ball at all until three weeks ago, when Libertyville defeated Lake Zurich 3-0. "We have been through pressure situations. We have been down against good teams. When we are down, it doesn't bother us. We have been in that situation and found a way to win."

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

Tomas Jurco's reaction to his first goal on Monday night was as much celebration as a little bit of relief. The forward, acquired by the Blackhawks about a month ago, had had a few great scoring chances in recent games but just couldn't capitalize.

Finally, he got that first of the season against Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of a release, you know?" Jurco said on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of good chances and it would just never go in for some reason. Obviously I'm very happy that it went in and hopefully this is the start of, I would say, more luck for me."

Looking for consistency in his own game as well as a consistent spot in the lineup, Jurco was looking for a boost of confidence. Getting that first goal could be part of it, as a bit of a weight disappears with that zero in the goal column. 

"That's a hurdle that can be in the back of your mind a lot and all of a sudden it could be a nice release," coach Joel Quenneville said of that first goal. "He's progressing in our team game, technically. Whether it's his pace of play or going to the right areas quickly, we're looking for progression. We saw it [Monday] night and I think he'll continue to get better off that. But certainly that should help him get confidence as we go along here."

[Buy Blackhawks tickets right here]

Jurco's been around the net, something the Blackhawks always encourage, for most of those scoring opportunities. Perhaps some of that puck luck wasn't quite there. But Jurco is gaining confidence in recent games, and getting that goal could boost it that much more.

"I've always said, especially in my case, scoring helps that confidence come easier. It brings that fun to the game," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe if you're not feeling it or not playing with high energy, at a certain point in a game when you score, for some reason you get that jolt, you get that jump. For [Jurco], he's been playing well when he's been in, and no doubt that scoring a goal like that can help boost confidence and help him find his game, which we know he has and will continue to show."

The scoring hurdle has been cleared and Jurco is gaining confidence. Will he carve out a consistent spot in the lineup? Quenneville has some options through the bottom six. That, coupled with the Blackhawks playing inconsistent hockey lately and missing that four-line rotation, Jurco's been one of several who have been in and out of the lineup. But Quenneville said on Wednesday, "I don't see making constant changes once the [playoffs] begin." If Jurco keeps getting chances and capitalizing on a few, and if he ends up as part of a rotation that's successful again, he could stick.

Jurco waited a little bit for that first goal. He hopes it's just the start.

"You know eventually it's going to go in but it was just frustrating. Another game and another and another with good chances and it just wouldn't go in. So it's a big release," Jurco said. "Hopefully I'll keep going, keep producing."

CSN Chicago's 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Version 2.0

CSN Chicago's 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Version 2.0

With most of the heavy lifting already done in free agency, we look ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft as 31 teams try to build a roster that will compete with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

It's early in the process with the draft still a month away, so expect some change in each mock draft we unveil.

So without further adieu, check out CSN's 2017 NFL Mock Draft version 2.0:

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett (EDGE), Texas A&M

The Browns don't need to make this rocket science. Garrett is arguably the best defensive lineman to come out of college since Julius Peppers. There shouldn't be any drama at No. 1 this year.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas (DL), Stanford

Thomas' stock has risen more than any other prospect since the NFL Combine and it appears to be a real possibility he will hear his name called at No. 2. Thomas fulfills a major need on the edge for the 49ers and would become a foundation piece on their front-seven alongside last year's first-rounder DeForest Buckner.

3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams (S), LSU

Bears GM Ryan Pace has put the team in a position to draft the best available player at No. 3. While quarterback could still be in play here, I expect the Bears to look on the defensive side of the ball after giving Mike Glennon $18.5 million in guaranteed money. If it weren't for Jonathan Allen's shoulder issues — I can't see Pace taking a flyer on another player with medical red flags after seeing what's happened with former first-rounder Kevin White — he would probably be the pick here. Adams can play either strong or free safety, and would provide immediate stability by becoming the field general the Bears have been lacking in the secondary since the days of Mike Brown. 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette (RB), LSU

After handing out blank checks to defensive studs Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye this offseason, it's time for the Jaguars to add some talent to their backfield. Fournette's unparalleled size/speed combo make him a once-in-a-generation talent at the running back position. 

5. Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore (CB), Ohio State

I was tempted to give Marcus Mariota another weapon in the passing game, but pairing Lattimore with free-agent addition Logan Ryan would give the Titans one of the best cornerback duos in the AFC. 

6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard (TE), Alabama

Outside of defensive line, the Jets have needs pretty much everywhere on the field. Howard is a Top 5 talent and would be a nice security blanket for whoever plays quarterback for the Jets in 2017.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker (S), Ohio State

Last year's first-round Buckeye (Joey Bosa) worked out quite well for the Chargers so why not go that same route? Hooker would join Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward in an already-dangerous Los Angeles secondary.

[RELATED: Complete 2017 NFL Draft coverage]

8. Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Allen (DL), Alabama

The Panthers don't have a glaring need on the defensive line, but if a talent like Allen is still on the board at the bottom of the Top 10, the Panthers would rush to the podium to call his name.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster (LB), Alabama

The Bengals could use a replacement for recently-released inside linebacker Rey Maualuga and Foster has the chops to step in and start Week 1.

10. Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams (WR), Clemson

With Tyrod Taylor back in the fold, the Bills need to find playmakers to put around him. Pairing Williams with Sammy Watkins would give Buffalo a formidable pair if both players could put their injury history behind them.

11. New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett (EDGE), Tennessee

Barnett has been one of college football's premier edge rushers over the years with 33 sacks during his time at Tennessee. A tandem of Cam Jordan and Barnett would be troublesome for opposing offensive lineman.

12. Cleveland Browns: Mitchell Trubisky (QB), North Carolina

After securing Garrett, the Browns are in an excellent position to find their long-term answer at quarterback with their second first-round selection. Trubsiky only started one year at North Carolina, but he has the skillset that NFL GMs salivate over. 

13. Arizona Cardinals: Deshaun Watson (QB), Clemson

At some point the Cardinals need to find a successor to Carson Palmer who appears close to the end of his NFL career. Watson's leadership skills would mesh well with a head coach like Bruce Arians and a veteran-laden locker room in Arizona. 

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Gareon Conley (CB), Ohio State

The Eagles have a pressing need at cornerback and in a division with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant, the birds need to find a corner who could slow down opposing No. 1 wideouts.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Taco Charlton (EDGE), Michigan

The Colts added John Simon and Jabaal Sheard this offseason, but neither player is going to put much of a scare into opposing offensive coordinators. Charlton's pass-rushing skills and athleticism would provide a major boost to the Colts' front seven.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis (WR), Western Michigan

The Ravens have talent at the wide receiver position, but they're lacking a true top-flight No. 1 wideout. Davis' physical style of play has drawn comparisons to Brandon Marshall, and he should be able to contribute right away after starting all four years at Western Michigan.

17. Washington Redskins: Haason Reddick (LB), Temple

On the surface, Reddick looks like an inside linebacker at just 6-foot-1, but the former Temple star created havoc in the backfield with 17.5 sacks and 47 tackles for a loss during his college career. The Redskins defense could use a linebacker such as Reddick's who could play all over the field.

18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross (WR) Washington

The Titans have failed at bringing in a No. 1 wide receiver thus far in the offseason, and while Ross isn't your prototypical No. 1, he's a big-play talent who is capable of scoring anytime he touches the ball. Ross would thrive in the Titans offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota slinging the rock.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook (RB), Florida State

The Buccaneers have a pressing need at running back and Cook's explosiveness and familiarity with quarterback Jameis Winston (the duo played together at Florida State in 2014), make this a made made in heaven.

20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles (OT), Utah

It's no secret the Broncos need help at offensive tackle, and Bolles is arguably the most talented lineman in the 2017 NFL Draft.

21. Detroit Lions: Takkarist McKinley (EDGE) UCLA

After an injury-plagued season season from Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions are seeking help on the edge. If not for a shoulder surgery following the Combine, McKinley would likely be a Top 15 selection.

22. Miami Dolphins: David Njoku (TE), Miami

The Dolphins traded for Julius Thomas earlier this offseason, but no team should count on a player who hasn't played more than 12 games in a season since 2014. Njoku has the talent to become one of the league's top tight ends very early in his career.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

23. New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk (OL), Wisconsin

It would be a shock to see the Giants go any route other than offensive line when their first pick rolls around in late April. Ramczyk could play on either the right or left side, and would provide stability in front of quarterback Eli Manning.

24. Oakland Raiders: Malik McDowell (DL), Michigan State

The Raiders need to address their defensive line with either a Day 1 or 2 pick and McDowell, when motivated, has the talent to dominate for 60 minutes. 

25. Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes (QB), Texas Tech

I'll be shocked if the Texans go into the season with just Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden in their quarterback cupboard. After whiffing on Brock Osweiler last offseason, Houston needs to find an answer at the position. While he's raw, Mahomes possesses the strongest arm in the current draft class. If head coach Bill O'Brien can get back to his quarterback whispering ways, Mahomes would be an ideal fit for the Texans.

26. Seattle Seahawks: Quincy Wilson (CB), Florida

The Legion of Boom has turned into more like the Legion of Swoon as of late. The Seahawks need to find another shutdown corner, and Wilson's length and physicality fit the mold of the type of corner Pete Carroll likes in his secondary. 

27. Kansas City Chiefs: DeShone Kizer (QB), Notre Dame

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid needs to look to the future with starting quarterback Alex Smith turning 33 later this spring. Kizer has the look of a prototypical quarterback and possesses the physical tools to succeed at the next level. The Chiefs would be a perfect landing spot for Kizer who would be best suited to sit for a year behind Smith.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Tre'davious White (CB), LSU

It would behoove the Cowboys to address their leaky secondary with an early pick in this year's draft. White has the athleticism and instincts to turn into a No. 1 corner over time, and should be able to contribute in the slot during his rookie season.

29. Green Bay Packers: Christian McCaffrey (RB), Stanford

Just what Aaron Rodgers needs: another dangerous weapon who can line up in the backfield or in the slot and become a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. McCaffery is dynamite in the open field and brings the type of versatility that Packers GM Ted Thompson craves.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Charles Harris (EDGE), Missouri

The Steelers had the second-lowest sack total (21) in the NFL last season and their best pass rusher will be turning 39 in May. Harris could contribute early in his career as a situational pass rush specialist and would be a nice addition to 2015 first-round pick Bud Dupree.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Forrest Lamp (OG), Western Kentucky

Lamp, a four-year starter at left tackle, is projected as a guard at the next level. Lamp could start in place of Chris Chester, giving the Falcons a lethal offensive line for their already-dangerous ground attack.

32. New Orleans Saints: Marlon Humphrey (CB), Alabama

The Saints have been trying to land restricted free agent corner Malcolm Butler from the Patriots and if they're unable to do so, expect them to target a corner with one of their first round selections. Humphrey was inconsistent at Alabama, but has all the physical tools coaches look for at the cornerback position.