Bears

How do you evaluate players?

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How do you evaluate players?

Evaluating high school football players isn't an exact science. Nobody has a patent on the recruiting process. There are dozens of evaluating services and all of them agree to disagree on every prospect. One analyst's four-star athlete is another analyst's three-star athlete.

One thing that most critics agree on, however, is that there are four services to rely on -- longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, Rivals, Scout and ESPN. Lemming has been in the business for 32 years, far longer than anyone else.

But that doesn't mean he is right and everybody else is wrong. Examine the top 100 lists of every analyst or their lists of the top 10 recruiting classes each year and you'll see some major differences. One player's talent level is determined by one observer at a particular time, on film or in person, and each evaluator sees something different.

How do you explain, for example, that Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who is committed to Nebraska and was recruited heavily by Notre Dame, was ranked as the No. 55 player in the nation by Lemming but wasn't ranked in the top 100 by Scout, the top 150 by ESPN or even the top 250 by Rivals?

The truth is Westerkamp wasn't rated more highly because, as he admitted to one and all during the recruiting process, he is a white kid playing a position that traditionally is the property of black athletes. In Lemming's view, however, Westerkamp proved himself as a consummate wide receiver.

"In three years, who will be right?" Lemming said. "He always catches everything within his frame. He has big-time speed and strength and couldn't be stopped during his high school career.

"I had the advantage of watching him play for the last two years while other services didn't. He has an uncanny knack for catching everything within his reach. He has super strong hands and concentration. He will be an impact player as a freshman at Nebraska, a go-to guy."

Lemming thinks Westerkamp made the right decision to honor his early commitment to Nebraska rather than consent to Notre Dame's late pitch.

"He made the right choice," Lemming said. "Notre Dame couldn't pass him up. But Nebraska wanted him more. They recruited him all year. He was an afterthought for Notre Dame. You should always go to the school that wants you the most, especially if they work around your talents. Let him be Jordan Westerkamp, the kid at Montini, rather than plug him into a system that he doesn't fit into."

Glenbard West defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, who is committed to Ohio State after originally being pledged to Notre Dame and Penn State, was rated No. 47 by Lemming and No. 48 by Scout and No. 64 by Rivals but No. 130 by ESPN. Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison was rated No. 69 by Lemming but No. 204 by Rivals?

Lemming said his method of evaluating players is based on his years of experience. "I have no set way. A prospect has to have size and speed for his position. He also must have the ability to be an impact player at the high school level. Production is important, too," he said.

"But I don't rate kids according to the number of scholarship offers they have. I don't elevate a kid because he signs with a big-time program. I won't be right on everybody but I have to be right on a majority.

"Remember, we are dealing with 18-year-olds. That's why some evaluations by recruiting services are so different. It is an inexact science. Everybody has different opinions. There is no set way to rank players. But it is a mistake to rank them according to offers. Production should be No. 1 over projections."

For some unexplained reasons, Lemming believes Illinois products are traditionally underrated by most national recruiting services that don't seem to spend much time in the state and don't respect its brand of football, despite the fact that Illinois is one of the leading producers of talent to the NFL.

There are two ways to evaluate an athlete, of course, by observing him in person and on film. That's why Lemming annually travels from coast to coast (and Hawaii) to personally meet with more than 1,000 prospects to evaluate their skill set, talent level, maturity, mentality and attitude.

"I like to sit down with a player, watch around 15 minutes of game film and get a reaction from him," Lemming said in his 2007 autobiography, "Football's Second Season: Scouting High School Game-Breakers."

"It helps me to understand what the player is feeling as he is making a run or a tackle. A player's true emotions come out when he watches himself on film. You can't get that feeling over a phone call and it really is the basis for a sound judgment on the kid's personality.

"It is also invaluable to have the coach in the room. He lends his expertise about the player and the coach will usually provide me with an honest appraisal. From the coach, I can find out about the player's leadership skills, his drive both on and off the field and some background on the kid's family."

What does it take to be a 5-star athlete? According to ESPN, to be designated as one of the most elite players in the class, he must "demonstrate rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game.

"They have all the skills to take over a game and could make a possible impact as a true freshman. They should also push for All-America honors with the potential to have a three-and-out college career with early entry into the NFL draft."

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.