Bears

Check out the 2012 All-American team

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Check out the 2012 All-American team

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Alabama is No. 1 when it comes to All-Americans.The second-ranked Crimson Tide placed four players on The Associated Press All-America team released Tuesday. Among them was center Barrett Jones, who became a two-time first-team selection.No other team had more than two players selected to the first team. The Tide also led with six players chosen to all three teams.Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Stanford and Florida were second with four players on the three teams, though linebacker Manti Te'o was the only Fighting Irish player to make the first team.Alabama faces top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS championship game Jan. 7.Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was the first-team quarterback.Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones also became two-time All-Americans.Nine Southeastern Conference players made the first team, more than any other conference. The Pac-12 was second with six players on the first team. No other conference had more than two.The team was voted on by a panel of 16 AP college football poll voters.Barrett Jones, a senior who made the All-America team as a tackle last season, was joined on the first team by Alabama teammates guard Chance Warmack, linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Dee Milliner. Offensive tackle D.J. Fluker was picked to the second team and quarterback AJ McCarron was selected to the third team.Te'o, the Heisman finalists and winner of seven other awards -- including the Maxwell, Nagurski and Butkus -- is the first Notre Dame defensive player to be an AP All-American since defensive back Shane Walton in 2002.Manziel is the first freshman to make the first team at quarterback. On Saturday, the redshirt freshman know as Johnny Football became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.Manziel set an SEC record with 4,600 total yards to rank second in the nation.Heisman finalist Collin Klein of Kansas State was the second-team quarterback.Ball repeated as an All-American, despite a slow start to the season and some early injuries. The senior is seventh in the nation in rushing at 133 yards per game, scored 21 touchdowns, and set the major college football record for career touchdowns. He has 82 going into the Rose Bowl.Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher at 146 yards per game, was the other first-team running back.The receivers were Southern California's Marqise Lee, who leads the nation in catches (112) and was second in yards receiving (1,680), and Baylor's Terrance Williams, who leads in yards with 1,764.Stanford's Zach Ertz was the tight end.Joining Jones and Warmack on the offensive line were two junior tackles projected to be high first-round NFL draft picks: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Michigan's Taylor Lewan."Team goals are bigger than individual goals, but one of my personal goals was to be an All-American and it's an unbelievable feeling to reach that goal," Lewan said Tuesday.North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper was the other first-team guard.West Virginia's Tavon Austin was selected as the all-purpose player, a perfect description of the do-it-all speedster.Austin was primarily a receiver and racked up 1,259 yards through the air. Late in the season, coach Dana Holgorsen used Austin as a running back and against Oklahoma he the senior set a school-record with 344 yards rushing. He finished second in the nation in all-purpose yards with 230 per game, and returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.Tulane's Cairo Santos was the All-American kicker after making all 21 of his field goal attempts.On the defensive side, Te'o and Mosley were joined at linebacker by the other two-time All-American. Jones followed-up his sensational sophomore season with 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.Another SEC pass rusher highlighted the defensive line.South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had 13.5 sacks, tied for the most in the nation, playing in only 11 games. He'll matchup against Lewan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1."He's very explosive player who plays every play to the whistle and never takes a snap off," Lewan said. "It's a great opportunity to see where I'm at and where he's at and I'm excited about it. But it's not about me or him, it's about the University of Michigan playing South Carolina at the Outback Bowl."Florida State Bjoern Werner was the other end. He also had 13 sacks.At defensive tackle was a pair of Pac-12 players: Utah's Star Lotulelei and Arizona State's Will Sutton, who was the conference defensive player of the year.In the secondary, Jordan Poyer of Oregon State, who had seven interceptions, was the cornerback opposite Milliner.Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas was voted to the first team after leading the nation with eight interceptions, including three returned for touchdown. Florida's Matt Elam was the other safety.The punter was Ryan Allen, who won his second straight Ray Guy Award last week.

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?