Chicago Bears

Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

948871.png

Defense stuffs offense in state football finals

I used to enjoy covering the state high school football championships at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal and at Illinois' Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Walking the sideline in cold weather and sometimes rain was part of the atmosphere. Sitting in the press box just wasn't the same.
But I've discovered that watching the state finals on television, eating hot turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie, from the comfort of my den is even more enjoyable for someone who covered the most memorable state final of all, the first one, Glenbrook North's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory over East St. Louis in 1974.
Ever notice how many schools have been there before, how established and tradition-rich programs make frequent appearances in the state finals, how rare it is for a first-time qualifier to make the trip to Champaign?
My expectations for the 2012 finals? I couldn't wait to see how Mount Carmel's defense would attempt to contain Glenbard North's Justin Jackson. I was eager to see the duel of unbeatens in Class 7A, Glenbard West vs. Lincoln-Way East. How good is Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell? Could Montini win four in a row?
I couldn't imagine that 2012 could generate as much excitement as 2011. Who could surpass the spectacular offensive performances of Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and John Rhode, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, Rochester's Wes Lunt and Zack Grant, Aurora Christian's Anthony Maddie and Dakota's Jake Apple?
There were more turnovers and penalties than highlight clips last weekend. But there were plenty of heroes. Every championship team needs at least one difference-maker and the winners on Friday and Saturday had them, especially on defense.
Simeon's Jabaree Winston, Maroa-Forsyth's Jack Hockaday, Mercer County's Zach Nelson and Devin Morford, Aurora Christian's Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouagnon and Rochester's Austin Green and Garrett Dooley.
Montini's Dimitri Taylor and Fred Beaugard, Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell, Marcus Terrell and Nyles Morgan, Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson, Ruben Dunbar and Henry Haeffner and Mount Carmel's Don Butkus, Draco Smith and Justin Sanchez.
It was punishing and unrelenting defense, not high scoring offense, that proved to be the difference-maker for Montini, Crete-Monee, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel. Montini, Glenbard West and Mount Carmel each allowed only one offensive touchdown.
Have you ever seen a more physical game than Glenbard WestLincoln-Way East? Have you ever seen a more devastating tackle than Hayden Carlson's crushing stop of Tom Fuessel that preserved Glenbard West's victory in the closing seconds? How many times do you think that tape will be replayed?
What drama! Fourth-and-10 at Glenbard West's 13 with two minutes to play. Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit and the Chicago Sun-Times' choice as the best quarterback in the Chicago area, appears headed for a game-winning touchdown until he is flipped helmet over shoulder pads and out-of-bounds by the 6-foot, 180-pound Carlson at the 6. It was the last of Carlson's 14 tackles for the game.
A few days ago, while offering a scouting report on Glenbard West and praising the Hilltopper defense as "the best I've seen," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said junior safety Hayden Carlson was the best defensive back he had seen all year. And he offered proof, a prelude to the Fuessel hit.
"He knocked (Northwestern-bound) Matthew Harris out for three weeks on a clean hit," Weinberg said. "He is a great football player. He covers a lot of ground."
The state finals offer an interesting contrast, from small schools to large schools, from schools with enrollments of only 300 students to schools of more than 2,000. Small schools emphasize fundamentals. Large schools take advantage of athleticism.
Glenbard West, which emerged as the No. 1 team in the state in the wake of its 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East, rode its "Hitters" mentality to a 14-0 season and its first state championship since 1983.
It wasn't unexpected. In his preseason evaluation, coach Chad Hetlet said the 2012 squad "should be one of the faster teams we have had, a skilled team with a lot of speed, good size up front on both sides of the ball and not a lot of highlight players but good players at all positions, no below average players at any position."
"Potentially," he said, "it could be the best team we have had."
At Glenbard West, it is all about being physical. Bill Duchon started the "Hitters" tradition in the 1960s and Jim Covert, his handpicked successor, maintained the same philosophy. When Hetlet arrived in 2007, inheriting a program that was 1-8 the year before, he picked up the torch that Duchon and Covert had left behind.
Hetlet, 40, learned under Bob Bradshaw, who coached for 25 years at Woodstock and eight at Johnsburg. "I learned the old-school method of football. I listened to coaches talk and kept my mouth shut," he said.
"I learned running the ball with a physical presence up front and stopping the run on defense. You might have less talent but if your kids are more physical and play harder, you have a chance to win. When kids buy into being physical, they are tough to stop."
Hetlet spent one year as defensive coordinator at Hinsdale Central, where he got a good look at Glenbard West. When the head coaching position opened up, he researched the history of the program. When he was hired, he knew exactly what his game plan was going to be.
"The selling point for me was they always were a smash-mouth style of football team," he said. "You want to go into a program that is familiar to what you know. It was a perfect marriage for me."
He retained the Hitters program that Duchon had established. He got instant approval from former Glenbard West players who still lived in Glen Ellyn. Duchon and Covert were very supportive. The school administration and the community, too. Everybody wanted to see the program return to the way it was.
After a 6-5 start in 2007, Glenbard West has taken off. In the last five years. Hetlet's teams have posted a 59-5 record with one state championship and one second-place finish.
"What we talk about all the time and remind the kids is they come from a long line of great physical football players," Hetlet said. "It started with them making a name for themselves. Duchon had gold helmets. Covert had 100-percent helmets. They had their own thing. They were hitters, all of them, a bunch of tough kids.
"I believe in that. That's what we have to do to be successful. It isn't the only way but it's the only way I know. We won't finesse people. We will be successful as long as we are physical and stop the run."
Hetlet's thing is a green G on the side of the helmet. The players don't earn it until they go through the off-season workouts. Parents are invited to the ceremony.
"It goes with the tradition, who we are," Hetlet said. "We don't want to pretend that we are the Duchon or Covert era. We want people to think we want to replicate what they did. We don't want to steal what they did. We want people to talk about us."
After Saturday, everybody is talking.

History shows Week 5 or Week 6 could be when Mitchell Trubisky makes his first start

History shows Week 5 or Week 6 could be when Mitchell Trubisky makes his first start

The question of when Mitchell Trubisky would make his first career start was always going to be a storyline this year, but Mike Glennon’s rough showing in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought it to the forefront of Bears-centric debate this week. 

Coach John Fox doesn’t want to deal in hypotheticals, and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains shot down a question Wednesday about if Trubisky was taking snaps with the first-team offense in practice: “Mike Glennon is the starter.”

But when will Glennon not be the starter and give way to Trubisky? History shows you might want to circle Week 5 or Week 6 for Trubisky’s debut. 

Since 1997, there have been 33 quarterbacks taken in the first 10 picks of that year’s NFL Draft (we’re using top 10 here as a rough cutoff point for drafting a guy expected to be the future of the franchise). Trubisky and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes haven’t played yet. Among the 31 quarterbacks who have played, three waited at least one year to make their first start (Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Jake Locker). Of the 28 remaining quarterbacks, there’s an even split: 14 started from Game 1 of their rookie year and 14 made their first starts sometime between Games 2 and 17. 

Of those 14 quarterbacks who didn’t start immediately, they on average made their first start in their team’s sixth game of the season, which for the Bears would be Oct. 15's trip to face the Baltimore Ravens. The median of that group is Week 5, which is the Bears' home Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Interestingly enough, none of them started their first game immediately after a bye week or even with an extra day of rest (i.e. the week of a Monday Night Football game). The Bears have 11 days off between facing Green Bay on Thursday, Sept. 28 and Minnesota on Monday, Oct. 9. 

Quarterback Draft year (pick) First start game # QB rating
Tim Couch 1999 (1) 2 73.2
Donovan McNabb 1999 (2) 7 60.1
Akili Smith 1999 (3) 5 55.6
Michael Vick 2001 (1) 8 62.7
Joey Harrington 2002 (3) 3 59.9
Byron Leftwich 2003 (7) 3 73.0
Eli Manning 2004 (1) 10 55.4
Alex Smith 2005 (1) 5 40.8
Vince Young 2006 (3) 4 66.7
Matt Leinart 2006 (10) 5 74.0
JaMarcus Russell 2007 (1) 16 55.9
Blaine Gabbert 2011 (10) 3 65.4
Blake Bortles  2014 (3) 4 69.5
Jared Goff 2016 (1) 10 63.6

Most of these quarterbacks didn’t have success parachuting in during the middle of a season — the highest quarterback rating among the group (Matt Leinart’s 74.0) is lower than the average quarterback rating for the 14 players who were starters from Week 1 (75.4). The three quarterbacks who waited at least a year to start had an average quarterback rating of 81.1, though that’s a small sample size. 

Among the last 10 top-10-picked quarterbacks, only two made their starting debuts in the middle of a season — Blake Bortles in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fourth game and Jared Goff in the Los Angeles’ Rams 10th game — while Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz started from Week 1 (Locker is the 10th guy here and started his first game a year after being drafted). So Trubisky, in not starting immediately for the Bears, would be somewhat of an outlier in recent history.

The Bears will have to hope that Trubisky is an outlier, too, in terms of initial success among quarterbacks who make their debuts mid-season, too. 

Why Yoan Moncada's hot streak is important for the White Sox confidence and his

moncada.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Yoan Moncada's hot streak is important for the White Sox confidence and his

HOUSTON -- Don’t think the White Sox front office isn’t enjoying every second of Yoan Moncada’s tear.

Everyone can breathe a little easier knowing there are fewer questions for baseball’s top prospect to answer headed into 2018. Pleased as they’d been with Moncada’s patient plate approach, the club desired a breakthrough before Oct. 2 for the confidence boost it would provide him alone. Moncada continued a torrid run on Wednesday night that should have him bristling with poise when he arrives in Glendale, Ariz. next February. He homered as the White Sox fell 4-3 to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

“We’ve been looking for him to continue to try and make adjustments,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There was probably a point there where people were a little concerned. Truthfully, when you see some of the talent these kids have, you recognize that their skillset is going to play up, it’s just a matter of getting the repetition.”

The White Sox have been impressed with Moncada’s improved awareness as he gains more experience.

One area in which Moncada has made the most gains is pitch recognition. The book has been that second baseman has had trouble with offspeed since he arrived in 2016, hitting .154 against sliders and .238 against curveballs entering Wednesday, according to Brooksbaseball.net.

But Moncada is trending upward. The first-pitch slider from Astros starter Brad Peacock that Moncada ripped for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the fourth inning was his fifth hit of the trip on a slider or curveball in 11 at-bats. On the trip, Moncada -- who has 209 plate appearances this season -- is hitting .415/.477/.683 with three homers, eight RBIs and 12 runs in 41 plate appearances.

[MORE: Jose Abreu's gift to Yoan Moncada just keeps on giving

Given Moncada’s struggles in a brief 2016 tryout with the Boston Red Sox, having success is certainly helpful as he won’t head into another offseason wondering when it might happen for him. Moncada doesn’t compare the two situations because of playing time -- he was limited to 20 plate appearances over a month in 2016. But he agrees his recent play is good for the psyche.

“It’s important for my confidence, especially thinking about next year,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “With this run, I have been able to have more confidence and believe in myself and my talent, and I think that’s something I can carry into next season.”

“This offseason is going to be different because I’ve been able to play almost every day. I have more confidence in myself. I know the game better. Last season I had an opportunity to be at this level a little bit, but it wasn’t the same. This year is the opposite because I’ve been playing a lot and have been able to handle good and bad stretches at this level.”

While a reduction in strikeout-rate is still needed to be more effective, Moncada has begun to establish himself as a major league hitter. It’s exactly how teammate and mentor Jose Abreu hoped Moncada would spend his time this season.

“He has to get to know a lot of things at this level,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “The game, the pitchers, the culture here -- there’s a lot of little things he has to get to know here. The way you can work through it is give your best every day and try to learn as much as you can and try to use all your knowledge and to pool your knowledge on each play in the game. That’s the only way you can get results and you can build on those results and this experience for the future. I think he’s finally doing it and that’s important for him and for us thinking of the next season and beyond.”

Renteria not only likes the pitch recognition but the way that Moncada has tried to hit through the shift several times against Houston. Though the White Sox never wavered, they’re certainly happy to see Moncada produce the way they thought he eventually would.

“He’s starting to slow it down a little more,” Renteria said. “He’s starting to see more of the landscape and making adjustments in general. It’s been a good run for him. We thought he would show signs of growth at the end of the season and he’s doing that.”