Football recruiting never ends

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Football recruiting never ends

Football recruiting never ends. Neither does the process of evaluating prospects, determining the four-star players from the three-star players, the Big 10 players from the MAC players, separating the difference-makers from everyone else.

Tom Lemming has been doing it for 32 years, before the Internet and texting and emailing and cell phones and national signing day and recruiting services and junior days and summer camps and ESPNU and EdgyTim and Rivals and Scout and message boards.

"What has changed is Internet and cell phones. I still do what I did 32 years ago. I go to schools and meet with the kids, the same thing that NFL scouts do," said Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "I pattern myself after NFL scouts. How can you evaluate a kid by talking to him on the phone? All major sports evaluate in person.

Lemming's game plan is like no other. He evaluates players the same way today as he did in 1978. Through a series of coast-to-coast trips covering four months and 49 states, including Hawaii, he personally meets with 2,000 players and their coaches. He watches them play and work out. He looks at their game film. And he talks to them eye-to-eye, man-to-man.

"I travel, see everybody in person, watch them on film and make a decision based on what I see in person and on film," Lemming said. "Today, I just have to get my information out quicker. It is more competitive. When I started, Joe Terranova in Detroit was the only other person in the country who evaluated football talent. We started something and people picked up on it. Now hundreds and hundreds of people are involved. It has become a big business."

It isn't a science. He makes mistakes. He overlooked Barry Sanders, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. But he was the first to give national exposure to John Elway, Randy Moss and Michael Vick.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Lemming said. "It all comes down to evaluating players in person and on film. Today, there are so many combines and they mainly are out to make money. Kids get very little benefit from most of them. But combines have become a big business."

Lemming already has made seven trips to evaluate members of the class of 2013. In January, he went to Nashville, Tennessee and Alabama, then to Arkansas, Texas and Arizona, where he spent three weeks at the Semper Fidelis All-America Game and combine in Phoenix.

Afterward, he made three-day trips to North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida.

In February, he spent two days in Iowa, then three weeks touring Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Future trips are scheduled for St. Louis, Memphis, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in March, the Midwest and East Coast in early April, then the West Coast and Hawaii. He will cover 49 states by May 5.

"It will be the earliest ever that I have covered the entire country," Lemming said. "I'm trying to get everything done earlier and publish my (300-page) magazine. I used to finish everything at the end of July. But now the deadline is mid-May. Everything has moved up."

Here are Lemming's up-to-date observations:

The class of 2013 nationally is outstanding at every position, better than 2012. Overall, it projects as a great year athletically, particularly in Chicago.

The class of 2013 in Illinois could be the best since 1986. There are outstanding prospects all over the state. Peoria has three big-time players. Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac if the No. 1 player. There are several others -- Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, St. Francis' Kyle Bosch, Lemont's Ethan Pocic, Peoria Manual's Logan Tuley-Tillman and Maine South's Matt Alviti -- could be No. 2.

Isaac is the No. 1 player in Illinois, the No. 1 player in the Midwest and maybe the No. 1 running back in the country. He has great size, speed and vision. He also demonstrated great production against outstanding competition in 2011. As long as he stays healthy, he likely will be ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

Tuley-Tillman is as good as Bosch, Pocic and Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West among the state's leading offensive linemen. If he was in Chicago, he might be the No. 1 offensive lineman of all. Athletically, he could be the most gifted of all. He is raw but his ceiling is higher than everyone else. He and Bosch are committed to Michigan.

Can you remember the last time Peoria had three big-time football prospects in the same season? Tuley-Tillman, running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods and 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central are top 100 candidates.

Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia, is the No. 1 player in the country. Lemming describes him as "the next Reggie White." He rates Nkemdiche as good or better than last year's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who went to South Carolina.

"Only time will tell if he can match Reggie White's intensity," Lemming said. "Talent-wise, he has exceptional feet and explosiveness. He may be leaning to Alabama because his high school coach played at Alabama." Nkemdiche also is considering USC, LSU, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee and Auburn.

Derrick Henry of Yulee, Florida, is a 6-foot-3, 241-pound running back who looks like a defensive end. He is committed to Georgia. He is one of the top three or four running backs in the nation, in a class with Ty Isaac.

The top five players Lemming has observed so far are Nkemdiche, 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker Ruben Foster of La Grange, Georgia, 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Florida, 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright, Texas, and running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Virginia.

Foster is committed to Alabama and Swoopes is committed to Texas.
Fulwood has offers from Alabama and Ohio State. Green has more than 22 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin.

Tuley-Tillman, Bosch and Pocic aside, the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is 6-foot-6, 280-pound Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Florida. He has several offers, including Alabama, USC, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas and Tennessee.

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer took the pregame spin, part of the Blackhawks’ “One More Shift” series on Friday night. High above him at the United Center hang several retired Blackhawks numbers.

As of now, Larmer’s No. 28 isn’t among them, but he’s OK with that.

“I think that really is reserved for very special people,” Larmer said.

OK, but isn’t he one of those in the Blackhawks’ history?

“Thank you, but I think that Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito and Denis Savard and Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote are kind of in a league of their own,” he said.

Many would say the same about Larmer, who ranks fourth in Blackhawks history with 923 points, third in goals (406) and fifth in assists (517). Over his entire NHL career Larmer played in 1,006 regular-season games, recording 1,012 points. But whether or not his number is retired by the Blackhawks, coming back for events, including Friday’s, is a treat.

“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s going to be fun,” Larmer said prior to his spin on the ice. “It’s really quite an honor and a surprise to me to be able to do this and I just, it’s a great organization and they’ve always been great to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Larmer put together a stellar career. Many believe it deserves a retired number here – and maybe more. Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley, when accepting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in November of 2014, spoke immediately on how Larmer should be in the hall, too.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I’ve been fortunate enough to call Blackhawks hockey for over a third of the games they’ve ever played and I’ve never seen a better two-way player come through here,” Foley said that day about Larmer. “When Steve Larmer left Chicago and went to New York, it’s no coincidence that shortly thereafter, they won the Stanley Cup.”

Larmer laughed when reminded of Foley’s speech.

“Well, Pat’s a good friend,” Larmer said with a smile. “He’s always been a good friend. For the last 35 years, since the early 1980s when he was doing radio and TV back then and we all traveled together and hung out together and it was one good group. It’s fun. I mean, Pat’s always been a big supporter and a really good friend.”

Larmer would’ve loved to have hoisted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Blackhawks. Coming as close as they did in 1992 stayed with him for a bit – and it hurt.

“That stung deeply. Because you’re starting to get older and you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, that was it, that was the chance and it’s freaking gone,’ right? It’s never going to happen again,” Larmer recalled. “I’m not one of those guys who happened along and all of a sudden you’re on a team and you win like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. We lost out to the team that always won, right? It was disappointing that way. But when you get to that point and you have that run, then we lost to Pittsburgh, that stuck with me for a year in a half. I couldn’t let it go. It was always in the back of my mind. You’re out there playing and you’re sitting on the bench and still thinking about that.”

So when Larmer got another chance with the New York Rangers – he was dealt there in a three-way deal involving the Rangers, Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers – it meant everything.

“The neat thing about going to New York is it gave me another chance to play with some great players and have that opportunity to win and finally get over that hump,” he said. “It was a neat city to win in and to be able to play with guys like Mark Messier and Leach and all those players was a lot of fun.”

Larmer put up fantastic numbers in his career. He got to hoist a Cup near the end of his career. His number should be in the rafters to commemorate that great career.

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the NHL's salary cap could stay flat next year, reports ESPN's Craig Custance.

Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed at the latest NHL's Board of Governors meeting that the projected ceiling for the 2017-18 campaign could be an increase between zero and $2 million, which isn't exactly encouraging considering the projection at this time of year is normally an optimistic one.

That means the salary cap may be closer to — or at — the $73 million it's at right now.

In the last four years, the cap has increased by $4.3 million in 2013-14, $4.7 million in 2014-15, $2.4 million in 2015-16 and $1.6 million in 2016-17. The number continues to descend, and it affects big-budget teams like the Blackhawks the most.

It makes it especially difficult for the Blackhawks to navigate because they own two of the highest paid players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom carry a $10.5 million cap hit through 2022-23. It's a great problem to have, though.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

According to capfriendly.com, Chicago currently has $60.6 million tied up to 14 players — eight forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender — next season. If the cap stays the same, that means the Blackhawks must fill out the rest of their roster with fewer than $13 million to work with and still have to sign Artemi Panarin to a long-term extension.

And they may need to move salary to do it, with the potential cap overages crunching things even more.

On the open market, Panarin would probably be able to earn Vladimir Tarasenko money — a seven-year deal that carries a $7.5 million cap hit — but if he prefers to remain in Chicago, the contract would likely be in the range of Johnny Gaudreau's six-year deal with an annual average value of $6.75 million.

With the expansion draft looming, the Blackhawks know they're going to lose a player to Las Vegas in the offseason. The two likely candidates, as it stands, are Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, and the former would free up $3 million in cap space while the latter $825,000.

If that won't get the job done, the Blackhawks may be forced to part ways with a core player such as Brent Seabrook and his eight-year, $55 million contract, although he has a full no-movement clause until 2021-22 and it would be very hard to imagine since you're trying to maximize your current championship window.

Anything is possible, however, after seeing promising young guys like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw shipped out of Chicago due to a tight budget.

It's a challenge general manager Stan Bowman has certainly already been thinking about, and a stagnant salary cap doesn't make things any easier.