Blackhawks

Football recruiting never ends

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Football recruiting never ends

Football recruiting never ends. Neither does the process of evaluating prospects, determining the four-star players from the three-star players, the Big 10 players from the MAC players, separating the difference-makers from everyone else.

Tom Lemming has been doing it for 32 years, before the Internet and texting and emailing and cell phones and national signing day and recruiting services and junior days and summer camps and ESPNU and EdgyTim and Rivals and Scout and message boards.

"What has changed is Internet and cell phones. I still do what I did 32 years ago. I go to schools and meet with the kids, the same thing that NFL scouts do," said Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "I pattern myself after NFL scouts. How can you evaluate a kid by talking to him on the phone? All major sports evaluate in person.

Lemming's game plan is like no other. He evaluates players the same way today as he did in 1978. Through a series of coast-to-coast trips covering four months and 49 states, including Hawaii, he personally meets with 2,000 players and their coaches. He watches them play and work out. He looks at their game film. And he talks to them eye-to-eye, man-to-man.

"I travel, see everybody in person, watch them on film and make a decision based on what I see in person and on film," Lemming said. "Today, I just have to get my information out quicker. It is more competitive. When I started, Joe Terranova in Detroit was the only other person in the country who evaluated football talent. We started something and people picked up on it. Now hundreds and hundreds of people are involved. It has become a big business."

It isn't a science. He makes mistakes. He overlooked Barry Sanders, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. But he was the first to give national exposure to John Elway, Randy Moss and Michael Vick.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Lemming said. "It all comes down to evaluating players in person and on film. Today, there are so many combines and they mainly are out to make money. Kids get very little benefit from most of them. But combines have become a big business."

Lemming already has made seven trips to evaluate members of the class of 2013. In January, he went to Nashville, Tennessee and Alabama, then to Arkansas, Texas and Arizona, where he spent three weeks at the Semper Fidelis All-America Game and combine in Phoenix.

Afterward, he made three-day trips to North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida.

In February, he spent two days in Iowa, then three weeks touring Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Future trips are scheduled for St. Louis, Memphis, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in March, the Midwest and East Coast in early April, then the West Coast and Hawaii. He will cover 49 states by May 5.

"It will be the earliest ever that I have covered the entire country," Lemming said. "I'm trying to get everything done earlier and publish my (300-page) magazine. I used to finish everything at the end of July. But now the deadline is mid-May. Everything has moved up."

Here are Lemming's up-to-date observations:

The class of 2013 nationally is outstanding at every position, better than 2012. Overall, it projects as a great year athletically, particularly in Chicago.

The class of 2013 in Illinois could be the best since 1986. There are outstanding prospects all over the state. Peoria has three big-time players. Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac if the No. 1 player. There are several others -- Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, St. Francis' Kyle Bosch, Lemont's Ethan Pocic, Peoria Manual's Logan Tuley-Tillman and Maine South's Matt Alviti -- could be No. 2.

Isaac is the No. 1 player in Illinois, the No. 1 player in the Midwest and maybe the No. 1 running back in the country. He has great size, speed and vision. He also demonstrated great production against outstanding competition in 2011. As long as he stays healthy, he likely will be ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

Tuley-Tillman is as good as Bosch, Pocic and Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West among the state's leading offensive linemen. If he was in Chicago, he might be the No. 1 offensive lineman of all. Athletically, he could be the most gifted of all. He is raw but his ceiling is higher than everyone else. He and Bosch are committed to Michigan.

Can you remember the last time Peoria had three big-time football prospects in the same season? Tuley-Tillman, running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods and 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central are top 100 candidates.

Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia, is the No. 1 player in the country. Lemming describes him as "the next Reggie White." He rates Nkemdiche as good or better than last year's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who went to South Carolina.

"Only time will tell if he can match Reggie White's intensity," Lemming said. "Talent-wise, he has exceptional feet and explosiveness. He may be leaning to Alabama because his high school coach played at Alabama." Nkemdiche also is considering USC, LSU, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee and Auburn.

Derrick Henry of Yulee, Florida, is a 6-foot-3, 241-pound running back who looks like a defensive end. He is committed to Georgia. He is one of the top three or four running backs in the nation, in a class with Ty Isaac.

The top five players Lemming has observed so far are Nkemdiche, 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker Ruben Foster of La Grange, Georgia, 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Florida, 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright, Texas, and running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Virginia.

Foster is committed to Alabama and Swoopes is committed to Texas.
Fulwood has offers from Alabama and Ohio State. Green has more than 22 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin.

Tuley-Tillman, Bosch and Pocic aside, the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is 6-foot-6, 280-pound Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Florida. He has several offers, including Alabama, USC, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas and Tennessee.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."