Preps Talk

Brodeur remains calm and confident going into Game 5

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Brodeur remains calm and confident going into Game 5

NEWARK, N.J. Martin Brodeur stood atop a podium in the Devils locker room, surrounded, of course, by a media throng. Hes been here, done this so many times, and yet his attitude always remains unflappable.

Im enjoying this ride, said Brodeur on Friday, which was also his sons birthday. Defintely, Id like to have a little more success in the finals here. Were still alive, still looking to create that success and win again.

Part of the Devils Game 4 success came because of their work at the other end, as they finally got to Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick. But it also had to do with the calm presence of the Devils own netminder.

Whether facing the media or facing an elimination game, Brodeurs demeanor seems to remain the same: stoic, steady, serene. Its a calm that resonates through the Devils locker room; and its one that his teammates feed off, especially facing a 3-1 deficit and elimination when they host the Los Angeles Kings here in Game 5 tomorrow night.

We feed off his composure, Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. He handles the puck so much, he has so many touches. He does it so effortlessly and without any panic in his game. And that has a real calming influence on our entire team. Theres very few moments when the pucks in your own end or around your net because of his composure.

No, theres no doubt that Brodeur is the master puck-handling goaltender. Veteran defenseman Bryce Salvador joked that when Brodeur does finally retire, my jobs going to be that much harder. But Brodeurs influence goes well beyond his job as the Devils third defenseman.

Everyone talks about the great games and that part of his character. But what I always see in him is the games hes not good and how he responds the next game, Salvador said. If he has a game where he shouldve had one or saved this one, the next game hes the best player. It shows how resolved his mind is; he doesnt worry about those mistakes. I think thats what defines a true winner and leader is his ability to overcome adversity and hes a guy who pulls everyone else out of it.

Yes, itll take more than Brodeur for the Devils to overcome this 3-1 deficit. And theyve got more confidence heading into Game 5, thanks to getting the bounces and that victory in Los Angeles. But having a presence like Brodeur is always a bonus, and a good presence to look to when things get tough.

Hes been there before and knows what it takes. We feel pretty comfortable with him in the net, the way he handles pucks and makes timely saves. Hes a competitor; he wants to win, said Travis Zajac, who added Brodeur will talk to teammates during intermissions, if need be. Its not often but when he does, you listen.

Brodeur has never wavered in his career. All that hes won, be it individual or team, has not quelled the competitive fire. If anything else its bolstered it. But he remains calm on the surface, in and out of the game. In both areas, its helped the Devils tremendously.

You have a guy who holds every record and has won everything and still has the passion to win at this point in his career, and if you ask him he still feels he can play next year and the year after and the year after, Salvador said. That alone is uplifting.

Recruiting news and notes: Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning piling up major offers

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Recruiting news and notes: Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning piling up major offers

Lincoln-Way East sophomore athlete recruit AJ Henning (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) continues to pile up the major Power 5 scholarship offers this winter including his latest from Stanford on Wednesday.

"Stanford offered me a scholarship today (Wednesday)," Henning said. "I have thirteen scholarship offers so far and it's pretty amazing to have opportunities from such great schools and football programs."

Henning, who was a key performer in leading the Griffins to the 2017 Class 8A state championship run has been taking all of the recruiting attention and offers in stride.

"My family and I talk about recruiting a little bit but it's not really that pressing for me," he said. "I still have two years left of high school so I'm really not in any rush."

Henning, who plans to visit Notre Dame on March 3 is now holding early scholarship offers from Central Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Miami of Ohio, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, Syracuse and Western Michigan.

Oswego East junior defensive back recruit Justin Clark (6-foot, 180 pounds) has also seen a nice spike in his overall recruiting stock this winter. Clark has been able to add six scholarship offers along with recruiting attention from several Big Ten programs.

"I have offers now from NIU, Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, Iowa State, Toledo and Ohio University," according to Clark. "I've also been staying in touch with Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue. Northwestern is waiting on my test score and they seem pretty interested. Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota all want me to come out and visit them on campus and the same goes for all the schools who have offered me."

Clark, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, cornerback as well as return kicks and punts and also punted for Oswego East being recruiting to play at what position in college so far?

"So far the majority of schools are recruiting me to play safety," Clark said. "I'm very open when it comes to position and I also love to return kicks and punts. I just like to be as versatile of a player as I can for my team."

Batavia junior linebacker Michael Jansey Jr. (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) has continued to remain on several college recruiting radar screens this winter and Jansey Jr. has also seen his offers list grow.

"It seems like my recruiting is all starting to come together really well," Jansey Jr. said. "My latest offers from from Miami of Ohio, Kent State, Eastern Kentucky, Cornell and Wyoming."

Jansey Jr, has also remained in steady contact with several Big Ten schools this winter.

"I'm also in touch with Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska," he said. "Also some of the SEC schools are starting to follow me on Twitter. It's just pretty exciting and my recruiting is really starting to all coming together."

Jansey Jr. has early scholarship offers now from Central Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Illinois State, Iowa State, Western Michigan, Princeton, Cornell, Kent State, Miami of Ohio, Wyoming, Illinois State and Eastern Kentucky.

One of the better stories in the Class of 2019 in Chicagoland has to be Jacobs junior offensive tackle Joacheim Price (6-foot-8, 310 pounds). Price, who has been a mainstay on the Golden Eagles basketball team since his freshman year had never played football until last June. Price is now holding early offers from the likes of Illinois, West Virginia, Iowa State and Northern Illinois this winter. 

"The first time in summer football workouts I didn't know how to get into a stance," Price said. "I had to stay over after every practice that summer just to work on getting into a stance. I also had to learn all of the plays and also learn technique. I just hung in there and kept working and started to gain more and more confidence."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.