Bears

Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

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Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

Ty Isaac's statistics for 2011 were mind-boggling: 2,114 yards rushing, 11.9 yards per carry, 45 touchdowns, 515 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries in the Class 5A championship game, Player of the Year.

What can the Joliet Catholic senior do for an encore?

"He is the best I've seen," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who ranks Isaac as the best running back and the No. 8 player in the class of 2013.

"He looks like Eric Dickerson. He is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Rashard Mendenhall."

"He is the best player I have coached, one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp.

"He has size, speed, tremendous footwork and the ability to break sharply, like Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson. He has an extra gear that you don't expect with someone his size. He was made to be a running back, like Secretariat was made to be a thoroughbred."

After playing second fiddle to Josh Ferguson as a freshman and running in the same backfield with Malin Jones as a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder is prepared to carry on a tradition of great running backs at Joliet Catholic and eager to accept the challenge.

"Finally, this is my team," Isaac said. "I feel I have been around here forever. It is the last opportunity we have to win a state championship. I have put in a lot of work for four years. I am stronger and faster (4.5) than last year at the same time. Now I will find out if it pays off.

"I'm just as versatile but I'm more equipped to carry the load. Mentally and physically, I'm ready to go. I was a glide-type of runner last year. But I was never set up to run in any way. How do I run? I never categorized my style, smooth or glide, as long as it is effective. It doesn't matter what they call it. I'm more confident going into this year. I have never been this excited about a season before."

Isaac insists he isn't concerned about repeating as Player of Year. "It isn't necessarily my goal. If you want to be Player of the Year, you don't have to think about it. My goal is to do what I can to help my team win. As far as Player of the Year, it comes down to who thinks is the best," he said.

This year, the leading candidates almost certainly are Isaac, Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Crete-Monee wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell and Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti.

Joliet Catholic, which will open against Providence in a nationally televised game on ESPNU on Aug. 24 in New Lenox, returns plenty of offensive punch with Isaac, quarterback Craig Slowik and wingback Tyler Reitz, who has been moved from fullback to Jones' spot. Tackle J.B. Butler will anchor the line.

Isaac has worked tirelessly during the spring and summer to prepare for his final season...one to two-hour workouts six days a week, no vacation, lifting weights three or four days a week, running, cardio-vascular work, footwork drills, body control, balance.

He didn't dwell too long on last year's 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A championship game. Oh, he admits it took a month to get it out of his mind completely. But he had other things on his mind, like recruiting and making sure the Montini experience doesn't happen again.

"There is nothing I can do about it so I was determined to get ready for next season so it doesn't happen again," he said. "My goal is to do better than last year. I had pretty big numbers last year but I can look at games where I left some things on the table. I can go get them this year. For example, in a few games, I can go back and say I missed out on 50 to 60 more yards or I didn't make a cut or I wasn't focused enough. It will be great to
have better numbers as long as we're winning."

His trip down the recruiting trail ended on May 15 when he chose Southern California over Michigan following his second visit to the Los Angeles campus. He was impressed by USC's history of great running backs and Heisman Trophy winners. But it wasn't the only reason for his decision.

"At spring practice, I saw the way they played with each other, how loose they were. It reminded me of myself. I wanted to play with guys like that," Isaac said. "I got a whole vibe of how they do things.

"Before I went there, I thought it was a flashy place and I wasn't sure how I'd like it. But I felt at home right away, the way they had everything set up, the tradition, how they want to carry it on. It reminded me of Joliet Catholic.

"Sure, the Heisman Trophies are the biggest thing behind the national championships. That is impressive but it isn't necessarily what you are looking for in a college program. I respect what they did. It was awesome that they were the best players at that time. But I couldn't relate to them. I want to put my own trophy there. As long as we win games, personal accolades will take care of themselves."

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?