Bears

5 Questions with...WBBM 780's Jeff Joniak

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5 Questions with...WBBM 780's Jeff Joniak

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the top NFL radio play-by-play announcers in the nation whos REALLY enjoying his job this yearhes the voice of the red-hot Chicago Bears heard locally on WBBM Newsradio 780 and throughout the Midwest on the Chicago Bears Radio Networksimply put, hes a broadcast veteran who just keeps getting better and better each yearhere are 5 Questions withJEFF JONIAK!

BIO: One of the energetic and exciting voices of the National Football League, Jeff Joniak is enjoying his 10th season behind the microphone as the play-by-play announcer of the Chicago Bears in 2010.

Joniak is passionate about the NFL and the Bears, and is linked to a 25-year association with Chicago sports fans.Joniak has hosted the Chicago Bears game day broadcasts since 1997, serves as WBBM Newsradio 780's Director of Sports Operations while maintaining his afternoon drive-time sports anchor shifts. Additionally, Joniak hosts The Bears Insider radio show on WBBM with Bears head coach Lovie Smith each Monday night during the season. On game days, Joniak and Bears analyst Tom Thayer co-host Bears produced television shows, Bears Game Day Live and Bears Game Night Live. The shows won a 2009 local Emmy Award.

Joniak and the Bears Radio staff earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award and the Associated Press Award for Best Sports Reporting for their coverage of Super Bowl XLI, the Silver Dome Award for Best Play-by-Play in 2007 and 2008, and a 2007 regional RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for the Bears Radio pre-game feature Joniaks Journal which focused on the difficulties experienced by Bears receiver Rashied Davis growing up in California during the L.A. riots.

Throughout the year, Joniak is asked to emcee many different events related to his work with the Bears including the National Football Foundation Scholarship Awards ceremony, the Ed Block Courage Award ceremony, the annual Bears Care Gala supporting breast and ovarian cancer research and treatment programs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, and John H. Stroger,Jr Hospital of Cook County, the JP MorganChase Corporate Challenge, and the Vision in Education Award Dinner funding scholarships for The Willows Academy and Northridge Preparatory School.

Joniak is also a local spokesman for companies like AT&T, Jewel, Lowes, Walgreens, NorthShore University Health System, and the Resnick Automotive Group.

Before tackling Halas Hall, Joniak co-hosted the game day broadcasts for the Chicago Bulls during their championship years from 1991 to 1996. For the gripping coverage of the death of Walter Payton, Joniak and his staff won a prestigious Peter Lisagor Award. He also won two Lisagor awards for his coverage of the NFL Draft, AP awards for his sportscasts and Bears pre-game features.

Jeffs first broadcasting job was at SportsPhone in Chicago, followed by stops at the Tribune Radio Network, Illinois News Network, CLTV, and Metro Networks where he started the sports department. It was at the old WMAQ Radio that Jeff became Sports Director, worked on the Bulls broadcasts, anchored morning drive, and started with the Bears in 1997, as co-host of the pre and post game shows.

Jeff is a 1980 graduate of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, and a 1984 Broadcast Journalism graduate of Iowa State University.

1) CSNChicago.com: Jeff, hopefully Sunday nights game against the Giants was a just bump in the road and that Jay Cutlers injury is not a serious one. That aside, the Bears are still 3-1 and have some favorable games in the next few weeks. Does this team still have the tools (O-Line included) to make some serious noise around the league this year and head back to the playoffs?

Joniak: One month of football does not a season make. No division titles or conference championships are won in September or October. It certainly reduces the margin of error on the back end of the season if you win early and often, but every team in the league is a work in progress. The Bears are no different.

I still believe the Bears have the potential to be a playoff team. What happened at the Meadowlands was unfortunate. The Giants took advantage of an offensive line trying to develop young players and cohesion on the fly, while still learning how to execute the new system. No one said it was going to be easy. The process is not simple, and if all goes well, the unit will be stronger later in the season. We saw growing pains in Jersey. It went bad for several reasons and every player on offense bears some of the burden for the breakdowns that led to the anemic production. I am a big proponent of trying to run the ball early to set a tone on the road, and remain patient with it throughout the game. Once the Giants smelled blood in the water, they were ferocious, really just out of their base defense. The corner blitzes they unleashed were damaging. A 3-1 record still looks good, and the resiliency the team showed in the first three games needs to take root for the rest of the season. I believe the veteran coordinators and offensive line coach will be able to smooth out the rough spots.

2) CSNChicago.com: It will be tough for Bears fans to forget about the team-record nine sacks that New Yorks defense leveled on Cutler. In your opinion, what would you say is the number one adjustment the Bears offensive line needs to make going forward in order this type of punishment to never occur again this year?

Joniak: Simply put it is about execution. They need to find the best five blockers, and get them as many reps together as possible to build that trust and chemistry essential to winning football. While its true what happens up front is critical to offensive success, the entire unit must understand the protections. Today with zone blitzing, every player is part of the protection puzzle. Every player must be fundamentally sound and have the knowledge necessary to make the proper adjustments snap-to-snap. As for running the ball, remaining committed to the point of attack is the key. Be happy with three or four yards, stay on schedule and be disciplined to avoid costly false starts so that the third downs are short conversions, not impossible long conversions that put the defense in a position of strength.

3) CSNChicago.com: Youve been involved in the radio biz for over 25 years already and have excelled in both on-air and management roles. Who would you say has had the biggest influence in your broadcasting career on both of those ends of your industry?
Joniak: I have been fortunate over the years to work for some impressive, successful leaders in the broadcasting industry. Here in Chicago, we are blessed with a great history of talent at all levels of the business. It is a vibrant, creative, and challenging market that allows each broadcaster the opportunity to carve out their own niche in this unique market. I believe it is a market that rewards hard work, a blue collar ethic that speaks to the people of this fabulous city. Respect is earned, not given in Chicago. Once you rise to a certain level or have earned the opportunity to make a bigger splash in the market, you have to work extremely hard to keep that position with no guarantee you will profoundly impact the audience.

The biggest professional joy I have experienced is through play-by-play. I have long admired the passion, intensity, and excitement that Pat Foley brings every night to a hockey game. I worked on the Bulls radio broadcasts during the championship years and learned a great deal from Neil Funk and Jim Durham.

When I started with the Bears broadcasts in 1997, I had such a great opportunity to work with Wayne Larrivee and Hub Arkush. It was an established, successful booth with a lot of moving parts and not just on game day. Being a team announcer comes with wide-ranging responsibilities, particularly with the Bears. It was like going to grad school during those yearssuch a valuable education on so many levels.

In terms of managementI have been a Sports Director for the bulk of my 25-years, but always managing a small department. Whenever I have been in a position to hire, I have always leaned towards bringing in younger talent with a great work ethic and potential. Many have gone on to bigger and better jobs nationally and locally. It is something I am proud of.

Lastly, the managers I have worked for all put me in a position to succeed. It was up to me to do the work, but I am grateful for their trust and opportunity. The late Jim Frank, Lorna Gladstone, Weezie Kramer, Georgeann Herbert, Drew Hayes and currently Rod Zimmerman and Ron Gleason just to name a few.

Zimmerman and Hayes looked beyond my inexperience as a play-by-play announcer and gave me a chance in 2001 to call the Bears. It was not an easy choice for them to make, but ten years later, I am so grateful they went with the underdog.

4) CSNChicago.com: You and your Bears broadcast partner Tom Thayer have developed a rock-solid on-air rapport over the past several years. Why do you think the camaraderie works so well and what are some of the challenges you face in terms of preparing for each game?

Joniak: I am truly blessed to have a broadcast partner like Tom. He has an unmatched enthusiasm for football. He is a lifelong fan of the Bears and loves the franchise. Hes taught me how to watch the game like a coach, while understanding the unique circumstances of being a player. I am always learning something new from watching tape or discussing the game with him. And we discuss it every day during the season, and often every day of the year. He works at it so hard. I am not certain many play-by-play guys are fortunate to have an ex-player dedicate so much of his life to getting better in the booth.

We both are honored and humbled by the opportunity to bring the games to the fans that cant make it to the stadiums. It is something we take seriously and we both work extremely hard to put on the best broadcast possible. Our responsibilities are very different over the course of the week, but it does involve every aspect of the business from internet to television to radio to sales and marketing. We absolutely love it. For me the most challenging aspect of the job is time. There is never enough time to get everything done the way I like to get it done. Once the season starts, it never slows down.

We are surrounded by great people, not only on our radio crew, but throughout the Bears organization that help us prepare and ultimately provide a product everyone can be proud of.

5) CSNChicago.com: Who would you say are your favorite NFL & non-football sports announcers of all-time?

Joniak: Its a very tough question. There are so many great announcers past and present. I obviously think the world of Wayne Larrivee. His versatility is unmatched. He is superb at everything he does. I have always respected the work of Brent Musburger. Every event sounds bigger with Brent. I like the work of Dallas Cowboys announcer Brad Sham, Kansas City Chiefs announcer Mitch Holthus, Tennessee Titans announcer Mike Keith, and Raiders announcer Greg Papa are among the very best in the NFL. Kevin Harlan is outstanding.

Non-football: Vin Scully. Jack Buck. Ernie Harwell. Jim Durham. Pat Foley. Each one is a legend. Cubs television announcer Len Kasper is one of my favorites. Smooth as silk.

Back in the day Durham called the Bulls games on radio by himselfthe descriptions and the excitement in his calls were amazing. It was a treat. He was so good.

Joniak LINKS

WBBM AM 780Jeff Joniaks Bears Blog

Chicago Bears official web siteJeff Joniaks Keys to the Game"

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing. 

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

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USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”