Bears

Did Te'o open the door for Clowney in 2013?

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Did Te'o open the door for Clowney in 2013?

Manti Teo didnt win the Heisman Trophy this year, but he may have cracked the door open for a purely-defensive player to win college footballs most prestigious honor down the road.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has already received some way-too-early Heisman chatter for 2013 after finishing sixth in 2012. Clowney received four first-place votes and garnered 61 points, more than NIUs Jordan Lynch and Oregons Kenjon Barner.

The sophomores 13 sacks were tied for the most in the nation, and hell return to a strong South Carolina squad next year as hes ineligible for the NFL Draft until after his junior season. Hes regarded as the most dominant force on a defensive line in college football, and has already garnered significant national attention.

Perhaps Teos finish showed some unconvinced voters that its not a sin to vote for a defensive player.

MORE: Dr. Saturday: Will a defensive player ever win the Heisman? Well, what about next year?

Teo garnered more second-place votes than all but one Heisman runner-up, and only finished about 300 points behind a guy who set the SEC record for all-purpose yards in 2012. That seems like good news for Clowney, given the willingness to vote for Teo, who didnt play a lick of offense or special teams.

But Notre Dame went undefeated with a top-ranked defense. That had just as much to do with his Heisman Trophy candidacy than his on-field play -- which, interceptions aside, wasnt as statistically eye-popping as youd expect from a middle linebacker in the running for a Heisman.

Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate, Teo said earlier. If we weren't 12 and 0, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. So without my team and their help, I wouldn't be going to New York.

Offensive players can put up monster numbers on teams with multiple losses (like Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III) and win the award. Defensive players, however dominant, dont have that luxury -- Hugh Greens Pittsburgh team went 11-1 in 1980 while Alex Karras Iowa squad went 7-1-1 in 1957, and theyre the only two other purely-defensive players to finish second -- so Clowneys chances hinge just as much on his on-field performance as South Carolinas record.

South Carolina avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in 2013 and draws Florida and Clemson at home. A road date against Georgia and a potential SEC title game look like the Gamecocks two biggest tests away from Columbia, but obviously plenty can change between now and next fall.

After Manziel was announced as the Heisman winner, plenty Teo supporters took to Twitter to argue that if Teo cant win the honor, no defensive player could. Teo built the strongest case a defensive player had for the Heisman in over three decades, maybe ever.

Itll be tough for Clowney to equal that. If he can, though, perhaps Teos 2012 finish will help Clowney in 2013.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

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.