PFF: Young, Smith, Cook join Jennings as NFC North 'secret superstars'

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PFF: Young, Smith, Cook join Jennings as NFC North 'secret superstars'

Pro Football Focus is currently running a series on the "Secret Superstars" of the NFL. Players who performed better than the media or even the numbers said were dubbed as the secret stars of their respective teams. Last week the NFC North was broken down, and Bears Insider John Mullin wrote his story on cornerback Tim Jennings being named the Bears unknown star.

Here is a look at the rest of the division, and who Pro Football Focus named as each team's behind-the-scenes superstar.

Detroit Lions: Willie Young, DE

With all the star power on the Lions' defensive line, Willie Young had to fight to even make a roster spot in 2010. The sixth round draft pick was inactive for all but two games his rookie season, but Turk McBride's off-season departure bumped Young up to the No. 4 defensive end in 2011, behind Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson.

And Young made the most of his time on the field, as PFF notes "of all 4-3 defensive ends with at least 100 pass rushes, Young had the fourth highest Pass Rushing Productivity Rating (13.4)." In other words, Young knows how to get to the quarterback. He recorded 3.0 sacks in 2011, and could be in line for an even bigger role in 2012 alongside defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Green Bay Packers: D.J. Smith, ILB

Packers' inside linebacker A.J. Hawk has been one of the few draft busts under Ted Thompson, but the general manager, like the Lions,also may have struck gold in the sixth round.

The 5-foot-11 linebacker was considered undersized coming out of Appalachian State last year, and was assumed to play a role on special teams more than anything defensively for the Packers. With starters Desmond Bishop and Hawk manning the 3-4 defense, the rookie Smith played zero defensive snaps until Week 12 against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Including that Week 12 game, Smith recorded 33 tackles and an interception in four consecutive starts.

Thompson and the Packers have been reluctant to part ways with Hawk, but Smith's impressive showing last year could force Green Bay's hand to insert him in the starting lineup.

Minnesota Vikings: Chris Cook, CB

Knee injuries cost the 2010 second round draft pick a decent amount of his rookie season, but Cook came back strong in 2011. PFF noted one play in particular, when Cook broke up a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Calvin Johnson late in the fourth quarter. That contest, which PFF called Cook's "coming out party," saw the second year cornerback allow just three catches on six targets, and two passes defended.

Cook was arrested for domestic assault during the year and was dismissed by the team, but he seems to have his legal troubles behind him. He is expected to enter the season as one of two Vikings' starting cornerbacks, and at 6-foot-2 will be valuable in defending the likes of Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall.

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Edwardsville (8) 25-1 97 2
2 Bolingbrook (1) 23-1 75 1
3 Simeon 24-3 71 4
4 Evanston Township 23-3 66 T8
5 Fremd (1) 25-0 65 5
6 Curie 23-3 50 3
7 Wheaton Warrenville South 26-1 39 7
8 Whitney Young 20-7 27 6
9 Joliet West 22-3 21 10
10 East Moline United 22-6 9 NR

Others receiving votes: Rockford Boylan 7, East St. Louis 7, Geneva 6, Willowbrook 4, Algonquin (Jacobs) 2, Lincoln Way East 2, Lisle (Benet Academy) 1, Danville 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Morgan Park (6) 19-6 94 1
2 Fenwick (2) 23-4 90 2
3 Springfield Lanphier (2) 21-3 84 3
4 Bloomington 20-4 67 4
5 North Lawndale 20-6 58 5
6 Benton 27-2 43 6
7 Effingham 23-3 35 8
8 Washington 21-5 30 9
9 Breese Central 23-4 14 7
10 Bogan 16-7 12 10

Others receiving votes: Springfield Southeast 11, Cahokia 6, Farragut 3, Burlington Central 2, Aurora Central Catholic 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Quincy Notre Dame (7) 24-2 104 1
2 Chicago Uplift (2) 21-5 96 2
3 Orr (2) 16-5 93 3
4 Teutopolis 25-3 78 4
5 Alton Marquette 26-3 59 5
6 Pinckneyville 26-2 38 8
7 Tremont 23-3 34 6
8 Rockridge 19-5 31 10
9 Mt. Carmel 22-4 18 7
10 Pittsfield 24-2 14 NR

Other receiving votes: DePaul College Prep 9, Illini Bluffs 6, Pleasant Plains 5, Eldorado 5, Waterloo Gibault 3, Hoopeston 3, Sterling Newman 3, Petersburg PORTA 3, Williamsville 2, Chicago-University 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Colfax Ridgeview (7) 26-1 96 1
2 Okawville (2) 26-3 91 2
3 Chicago Hope Academy 23-4 71 4
4 Quest Academy (1) 25-4 67 3
5 Newark 23-3 57 5
6 Annawan 27-3 50 7
7 East Dubuque 27-2 45 6
8 DePue 24-3 27 9
9 Harvest Christian Academy 23-4 20 10
10 Effingham St. Anthony 23-5 9 8

Others receiving votes: Patoka 5, Nokomis 4, Freeport (Aquin) 3, Crab Orchard 2, Mendon Unity 2, Elverado 1.

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

MESA, Ariz. – Over red wine, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon ended their cold war on Monday night, dining at Andreoli Italian Grocer and vowing to work together as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title.  
 
The Montero-Maddon dynamic had been one of the awkward, lingering storylines in a feel-good camp after the veteran catcher questioned the star manager's communication skills and in-game decisions during a WMVP-AM 1000 interview – on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.

"I got a lot off my chest," Montero said Tuesday. "I care so much for the game. I care so much for the team. I'm here to win. And it's hard when you have that (weight) on your shoulders.
 
"I've never been a cancer (anywhere) that I played for all these years. And I'm not planning to be one of those guys."
 
Maddon requested the dinner meeting – quality assurance coach/ex-player Henry Blanco joined the peace summit as a neutral third party – while Montero picked the Scottsdale restaurant and suggested posting a photo of them toasting drinks on his Twitter account.  
 
"I want to let the people know that it's going to be a great year," Montero said.  

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Montero said he slept so much better that night and showed up for work at the Sloan Park complex the next morning with a new energy level. Montero, a two-time All-Star, stressed that he understands his role as a $14 million backup and a mentor to young catcher Willson Contreras. Montero offered to continue helping police the clubhouse – in exchange for Maddon keeping him more in the loop.   
 
"Whatever it takes me to help him," Montero said. "I was true with him when I said: ‘If you feel Willson needs a break and it's (Clayton) Kershaw pitching for the other team, put me in, I'm fine.'
 
"That's my job and I accept it. Just count on me for whatever. If we need to send a message out there to the players, I'm here for you, too. I can help you on that.
 
"If I do something that you don't like, just let me know. Just chew me out, whatever, I don't care. I'll take it like a man. It was a great time."
 
Montero had already told reporters that his comments on the radio weren't simply complaining about his own individual situation. Montero also spoke up for teammates frustrated by a perceived lack of communication and uncertainty over roles, though those behind-the-scenes issues appear to be cooling for now.
 
"We have a special team," Montero said. "We have a legitimate chance to win another championship. So in order to do that, we need to be together here. And I think we are now – and we're going to stay that way."