Bulls

Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

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Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

CHAMPAIGN How do you put a calendar year without a Big Ten win out of your mind? According to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman you own the day.

At his press conference on Monday, Beckman said the emphasis for his team going forward was to play like champions each Saturday, regardless of the results from past Saturdays.

Those last games are done. We have five games in front of us, he said. Were taking it one day at a time. We talked about challenging this football team to own the day which means, basically, do everything to win that day.

Having a bye week last week, after losing 45-0 at Michigan on Oct. 13, was very beneficial to the team, Beckman said. Illinois (2-5, 0-3) got three extra practices in during their off week, giving the team extra time to work on areas where they have struggled in their last four games all losses.

The Illini did more than just run drills, however. One of the most important things the team did during its break, according to Beckman, was self-evaluate.

The bye week is not really a week off, its a chance to evaluate the things weve done, the Illinois coach said. Its an opportunity for our players to evaluate the way theyve played. Coaches to evaluate the way theyve coached.

This aspect of the bye week was very important to linebacker Jonathan Brown. He said the extra communication between the players and coaches was invaluable.

Losing at Arizona State in week two gave us a blow. I dont think we lost confidence but it was step back. Having the same problem week-in and week-out it compounded to where we finally were like, We gotta change something, Brown said. Everybody is on the same page this week. Coaches, players, training staff were moving forward. There was a lack of communication going on, but thats something we fixed and got better at.

The Illini also got better in a more literal sense during the bye week. A week with no competition gave the team the opportunity to get injured players back to full health or close to full health.

Senior defensive back Terry Hawthorne, who sat out the Michigan game, and junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was pulled from the Michigan game, are both back to full go status according to Beckman. The rest week gave the players a chance to relax, nurse their injuries and regain strength.

The bye week came at a good time to get guys healthy, Beckman said. For all these guys, including guys who havent played that much who might not have been startersits good we had the opportunity to get these guys healthy.

Some players, like Brown, have been playing through pain. Having the chance to get him closer to full health is something Beckman hopes will boost the defense when Illinois returns to the field. Brown feels certain he can give his best when Indiana comes to town on Saturday.

I was able to sit back and let my body recuperate a good week of relaxing. It was definitely a positive for us, he said.

Illinois will need a full complement of healthy players on Saturday because Indiana, despite being winless in the Big Ten, has shown the ability to battle with some of the conferences best teams. In three Big Ten games against Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Hoosiers have scored at least 27 points and lost by an average of just over seven points.

Indiana has found success with a quick offense that allows opponents little time to make adjustments between plays. The Illinois players feel ready for the speedy Hoosiers, bolstered by a week off and earlier games against other fast-paced offenses like ASU and Louisiana Tech.

Practice this week has been extremely fast. Coach doesnt move the ball from one hash to the other and he has two different groups running to the ball, back-and-forth. We have to run and call the play at the same time were trying to get into our formations as we get on the field, defensive back Ashante Williams said.

That preparation for the speed of Indiana combined with the Homecoming tradition at Illinois has the players very fired up for Saturdays game and not looking past the Hoosiers. For the Illini, all that matters is owning the day.

Kickoff for Saturdays game is scheduled for noon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

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USA TODAY

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

Here’s something you’re going to hear quite a bit this season: the Bulls are underdogs tomorrow night. The official start to the rebuild begins as the Bulls travel to Toronto to face the Raptors tomorrow night on NBC Sports Chicago. Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. with Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill.

The Raptors bring back Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and a host of other talent that helped Toronto earn the No. 3 seed in the East last year. They’ll be there this season, so the Bulls open the season with a daunting opponent. But fear not! The Bulls are underdogs, but there’s no opponent they’ve had more success against the last four seasons than the Raptors. The Bulls have won 11 of their last 12 games against Toronto, including 11 straight victories before last season’s late loss in Toronto.

Take a trip down memory lane and see how they did it, and then check back tomorrow night and see if they can get back to their winning ways against Dwane Casey’s group.

1. Feb. 19, 2014 (94-92)

The streak of 11 straight wins begins with an almost-awful collapse. The Bulls lead by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before a frantic comeback from Lowry and DeRozan, who combined for 14 points in a 4-minute span to pull within two points late. But DeRozan can’t close the deal, missing two shots in the final 3 seconds, securing a Bulls win.

2. Nov. 13, 2014 (100-93)

A back-and-forth first half includes five ties and nine lead changes. Then the Bulls decide in the third quarter they don’t care much for see-saws and take over. They close the quarter on a 17-5 run and lead by double-digits until late in the fourth quarter. The Raptors pull within five in the final minute but five Bulls free throws ice the game. Pau Gasol (27), Jimmy Butler (21) and Derrick Rose (20) combine for 68 points.

3. Dec. 22, 2014 (129-120)

Let’s just cut right to the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulls erupt for a franchise-record 49 points to take the come-from-behind win. Ironically they miss their first three shots of the period. After that? Tom Thibodeau’s group goes 14-for-17 and also makes 16 free throws. Derrick Rose goes 6-for-6 for 15 points in the stanza. Who said Thibs’ offenses don’t score?

4. Mar. 20, 2015 (108-92)

The two teams enter this late-season matchup just one-half game separating them. But the Bulls make a statement, taking the lead late in the first quarter and holding it the rest of the way. Rookie Nikola Mirotic continues to put a bow on his remarkable month of March, scoring 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. He even blocks a career-high four shots in the win.

5. Mar. 25, 2015 (116-103)

The Bulls continued pulling away in the East standings less than a week later. Mirotic is solid off the bench, scoring 15 points, but it’s reserve Tony Snell who makes the most noise. He erupts for 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 18 minutes, including nine points in a fourth quarter that sees the Bulls outscore the Raptors 39-21 to secure the win.

6. Dec. 28, 2015 (104-97)

The Bulls’ bench continues to star against the Raptors. This time Snell, Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks combine for 51 of the Bulls’ 104 points. The five starters score 53 points. The trio of Snell/Portis/Brooks shoots 20 for-37 from the field, outscoring the Raptors’ reserves, 51-27.

7. Jan. 3, 2016 (115-113)

Jimmy Butler struggles in the first half, scoring just two points. But the second half is a different story, to say the very, very, very least. Butler scores a franchise-record 40 points after halftime, leading the Bulls all the way back after they trailed by as many as 14 midway through the third quarter. When you play for the Bulls and accomplish a scoring feat that Michael Jordan never did, that’s says something.

8. Feb. 19, 2016 (116-106)

Doug McDermott can't match Butler’s heroics, but he puts together a career night nonetheless. The sharpshooter goes off for 30 points, making 13 of 17 from the field in 31 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the fourth quarter, his last coming on a 3-pointer after the Raptors had cut the deficit to just three.

9. Mar. 14, 2016 (109-107)

Dwane Casey begins having nightmares of Doug McDermott (probably). That’s because the Creighton legend goes off once again, scoring 29 points on 9-for-11 shooting and somehow getting to the free throw line eight times. The Bulls nearly collapse (just like their first win in the streak), but DeMar DeRozan is blocked by Jimmy Butler in the closing seconds (just like their first loss of the streak).

10. Jan. 7, 2017 (123-118)

Jimmy Butler lives at the free throw line in the only overtime game of the streak. The Bulls, like plenty of these games, make a wild comeback in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Ratpors 33-21 to force the extra period. Butler plays hero with seven points in overtime, and Jerian Grant ices the game with a pair of free throws.

11. Feb. 14, 2017 (104-95)

The Raptors do not ask Doug McDermott to be their valentine. That’s because he once again goes off, scoring a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Jimmy Butler adds 19 (with 15 coming on free throws) and adds 12 assists and five steals in the wire-to-wire victory.

Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

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USA TODAY

Mitch Trubisky's next developmental step is adjusting to NFL defenses

Mitch Trubisky is no longer an NFL secret (well, maybe a little one, after only two games). Now the real intrigue shifts in significant measure to what the rest of the NFL is going to do about him.

Because while the Bears have/had a plan to bring his development along at a measured pace, the rest of the league, beginning with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday, has quite a different plan in mind.

What do the Panthers (and others) have waiting for Trubisky?

The Baltimore Ravens presented a Cover-2 look on 40 or so of the Bears' 75 snaps, something “on film we really didn't see any of that at all, so it was really surprising for them to come out in that two-high shell,” Trubisky said. “Our plan was just to run them out of it.”

A simple NFL operating philosophy is to find out and understand what an opponent likes to do and does best, and then take that away from him. Trubisky is very good on the move; colleague JJ Stankevitz uncovered the fact that Trubisky against the Baltimore Ravens had the longest average time in a play of any NFL quarterback, meaning he works well out in space and extends plays.

The math from there isn’t especially complicated: A quarterback who is accurate and comfortable getting outside the pocket, extending and improvising plays, is someone to be kept inside the pocket, ideally one collapsing around him. By using a mush-rush, for instance, a controlled assault on the pocket without edge rushers selling out for max pressure and focusing on lane integrity, a defense potentially takes much of Trubisky’s mobility out of play. This is a common strategy against Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and mobile quarterback who is as or more dangerous when flushed from the pocket as he is in it.

A “Chico Plan” then?

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has done bad things to Bears quarterbacks and comes from an attack-dog mindset as a member of the 1985 Bears. He learned from then-coordinator Buddy Ryan that a prime directive of the defense is to simply get to the quarterback.

Rivera and then-coach Lovie Smith differed on the use of blitzing, with Rivera on the side of crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war. After Rivera was excused from his job as Smith’s defensive coordinator, he went to San Diego as Chargers linebackers coach and opened the 2007 season against the Bears blitzing, sacking and harassing Rex Grossman in a 14-3 San Diego win.

The next time the teams met, in the 2010 preseason opener, Rivera was by then defensive coordinator, and he had the Chargers blitzing Jay Cutler from the outset on the latter’s only series, sacking Cutler with a corner blitz on just the seventh play of the game. Not exactly gentlemanly conduct for preseason openers.

But if the past is prologue, Rivera’s past should be revealing to Trubisky.

Scouting Trubisky

But how do the NFL and the Panthers in particular scout Trubisky with a body of work consisting of just two regular-season games?

Rookies with little pro time on tape are scouted from their college play. The Bears took looks at Carson Wentz’s North Dakota State play before they faced Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles in game two last season. That was out of some necessity, since Wentz played 39 snaps in the Eagles’ first preseason game and not again until opening day after he’d been installed as the starter following Sam Bradford’s trade to Minnesota.

Predictably perhaps, Wentz powered the Eagles to a 3-1 start with 100-plus passer ratings in three of his first four games. Teams progressively adjusted and Wentz had only two games with ratings in the low 90’s the rest of the season, none better. He had seven TD passes and one interception through the first four weeks, then nine TD’s and 13 INT’s the rest of the way.

“You go back and look at his college film if you don’t have much film from the NFL,” said linebacker Sam Acho. “You may see that he moves well in the pocket or likes to move outside or whatever. But Mitch played in the preseason and now has played a couple games. It wasn’t like Wentz which was the first game or two of the season.”

Attention is indeed less likely to be paid to Trubisky’s college body of work for the simple reason that he did play extensively through the preseason, with 126 snaps and 53 pass attempts, the most of either for any of the Bears’ four quarterbacks through preseason. But Trubisky happened to play his college football at the University of North Carolina, down the road from Charlotte, so “we remember Mitch mostly because of what he did when he was here at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Rivera said. “We got to watch all 14 games and we were impressed. We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Guessing that Chico wasn’t including next Sunday.