Blackhawks

Bailey will throw more in 2012

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Bailey will throw more in 2012

The sight of Aaron Bailey running out of the pocket with the football cradled in his right hand, looking downfield for an open receiver, never has been more terrifying to defensive backs than it will be in the upcoming season. You can take Aaron Baileys word for that.

We have put in a lot more passing plays this summer, a lot of misdirection, the Bolingbrook quarterback said. We assume that people will stack the box this year. What was the reaction when the coach said he was going to expand our passing game? My eyes lit up. And so did my receivers.

Last year, as Bailey led Bolingbrook to a 13-1 record and the Class 8A championship, the 6foot-2, 225-pounder with 4.51 speed rushed for 1.983 yards and 30 touchdowns while passing for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged fewer than 10 passes per game. This year, he will average 15 to 20.

Thats a scary proposition for defensive coordinators, cornerbacks and safeties to contemplate. It is difficult enough to contend with Bailey taking each and every snap out of a shotgun offense. But throwing the ball almost as much as he runs with it?

The rap on Bailey last year was he wasnt a very accurate passer. Defenders wished he would opt to throw the ball rather than run. But Bailey has worked very hard this summer to improve his passing technique. Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who recruited Bailey for his spread offense, is assured that he will like what he sees.

With the exception of a Fourth of July vacation to Wisconsin Dells, some family barbecues at his grandmothers house in Bolingbrook and a trip to a Red SoxCubs game with his father, Bailey has worked out three times a week with his teammates.

I needed time to recharge my batteries. Im having fun, he said. Im working with my receivers, making better reads, having a better pocket presence. Im just working on playing my game.

I dont worry about what people say, that Im not a great passer. Im doing what I know how to do, fire up my team, doing what it takes to win. The ball is in my hands all the time. I like to throw on the run most of all. When Im doing that, I get to see the whole field. I like to scramble. If a play breaks down, I look one way or the other. Im more effective in that situation. I really enjoy throwing on the run, he said.

Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow cant wait to unleash the new version of Bailey against 2012 opponents. He believes Baileys decision to commit to Illinois as soon as he did is a big factor in helping him to ease his mind and concentrate on what he needs to do to succeed in his senior year.

He can be a lot better than last year. We want to showcase his arm more, Ivlow said. We wont go into the year thinking we have to pad his statistics, that he has to surpass last years statistics. We live on big plays and he has the ability to break big plays. He is the best player in the state.

Bailey committed to Illinois in April. Deeply religious, he said he prayed about his decision with his family. He listed the pros and cons of each college. Illinois had the most pros. In the end, he chose Illinois over Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Illinois was most confident of me as a quarterback, Bailey said, fearing that some schools were recruiting him as an athlete and likely would convert him to wide receiver or running back. I felt comfortable, close to home. I read between the lines on other schools. I sensed that some schools were thinking of moving me to another position. Illinois runs what I am running at Bolingbrook, a spread offense. It is a great fit for me.

He said his primary goal for 2012 is to win another state title. I dont feel I have to prove anything. Im not looking to be Player of the Year. I just want to do what it takes to win. I dont have an ego. The only number Im interested in is the final score, he said.

Bailey and his senior teammates cant wait for the Aug. 24 opener against Plainfield South. He said he is more confident and more relaxed than ever before. He understands there will be more pressure on him, that the Raiders wont be able to sneak up on opponents as they did a year ago.

Two state titles in a row would be cool for us, he said. There are times I dont want to leave the field because Im having more fun. (Running back) Omar Stover and I talked and we realize this is our senior year. Im bigger, stronger and faster. Im confident when things arent looking good now that they will be good later. I dont get down on myself. I realize everything will be all right.

Bailey has a habit of not reading game stories in newspapers or the Internet. He figures if his team is playing on Thanksgiving weekend, they must be doing something right.

Sure, there will be more pressure on us this year. But we dont have to play like it, he summed up. I worry about winning now, then the next team, then the next team. You cant worry about the state playoff right now or the No. 1 ranking in the preseason. You cant let a number get to you. You must stay focused. The best thing is not to look at that stuff until the season is over.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”