Bears

Lemming taps nation's No. 1 player for 2014

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Lemming taps nation's No. 1 player for 2014

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network has just begun his annual coast-to-coast safaris to evaluate the top 2,000 high school players in the class of 2014. He recently returned from a trip to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee and believes he already has identified the No. 1 prospect in the nation.

He is 6-foot-1, 225-pound running back Leonard Fournette of St. Augustin in New Orleans, Louisiana. He likely will choose Alabama, LSU or USC but has offers from Florida to Notre Dame to Texas to Michigan. He has 21.9 speed for 200 meters.

"He is one of the best running backs I have seen in the last few years. He reminds me of Adrian Peterson but he isn't quite as fast," Lemming said. "I sat with him and his coach and watched six game films. He is averaging 11.5 yards per carry and 25 yards per reception. He has great power and speed. It will be tough for anyone to surpass Fournette as No. 1."

From North Carolina across the deep South to Louisiana, Lemming said there is no better talent in the country. He hasn't been to Georgia and Florida yet. But this is SEC and ACC country and Lemming already has identified the leading prospects in the nation at running back, offensive tackle and cornerback.

Lemming, who also has evaluated talent in Illinois and Missouri, said at least two Chicago area products are in the mix--Marist tight end Nic Weishar and Plainfield South linebacker Clifton Garrett.

His next trip is to Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He will cover fourfifths of the nation by February. He will evaluate the top 2,000 juniors, most of them in person. He will personally interview nearly all of the top 300 players.

"I see all of them on film. That's the best way to scout," Lemming said. "I go to combines but they are vastly overrated in ranking players because the kids aren't playing football. It is like ranking baseball players by seeing them run sprints. You have to see them play football in order to accurately and objectively rank them as players."

The best player in Missouri is 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive tackle Roderick Johnson of Hazelwood, a St. Louis suburb. Ohio State and Iowa have offered.

Alabama has two players who could rank in the top 10 nationally--6-foot-175-pound Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, arguably the best cornerback in the nation, and 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Bo Scarbrough of Tuscalossa. Humprhey, son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey, likely will commit to Alabama. Scarbrough is committed to Alabama but has offers from Notre Dame and Michigan.

Another Alabama product who impressed was 6-foot-2 220-pound linebacker Tre Williams of Mobile.

The best offensive tackle in the nation could be 6-foot-6, 330-pound Cam Robinson of West Monroe, Louisiana. "I saw him play last week and he has great feet," Lemming said.

In the same game, Lemming observed two other players from Monroe, Louisiana--6-foot-4, 195-pound wide receiver Cameron Sims, who caught eight passes for 180 yards in the game, and 6-foot-2, 215-pound Laurence Jones, probably the best safety in Louisiana.

"All three should be playing in the NFL someday," Lemming said.

Mississippi's top prospects are 5-foot-11, 195-pound running back D.K. Buford of Oxford, 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back Aeris Williams of West Point and 5-foot-11, 175-pound running backdefensive back Jamoral Graham of Decatur.

In Tennessee, Lemming was impressed by 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive tackle Alex Bars of Nashville and 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin.

Bars, who has offers from Michigan and Ohio State, is the son of Joe Bars, who played at Notre Dame. His brother Blake is a freshman at Michigan and his brother Brad is at Penn State. Malone also has offers from Michigan and Ohio State.

According to Lemming, a sleeper in the class of 2013 is 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end Chris Jones of Houston, Mississippi. He is committed to Mississippi State and has been invited to the U.S. Marines' Semper Fidelis All-American football game.

"He will be a top 100 player before his senior year is over. He is a potential first-round draft choice in the NFL," Lemming said.

Lemming also predicts that Crete-Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, perhaps the best uncommitted player in the class of 2013, could follow former teammate and best friend Anthony Standifer to Ole Miss. Oklahoma, Michigan and Oklahoma State also are in the mix.

After visiting with coach Nick Saban and his staff at Alabama, Lemming said it is easy to understand why the Crimson Tide are at the top of the mountain in college football.

"Without a doubt, Alabama has the best organized and prolific scouting organization in the country," he said. "They are so efficient, they even know about freshmen who are starting. They know everybody. If you want to learn about Recruiting 101, spend a day at Alabama. I picked up things in one day that I didn't know in my 34 years.

"Saban doesn't golf for a hobby, he is recruiting underclassmen. The top kids call them because he can't call them according to NCAA rules. They have everything going for them--smarts, precision, organization and non-stop aggressiveness."

But Lemming described Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen as "the up-and-coming school in the SEC." Mullen just added former Illinois player and Minnesota coach Tim Brewster to his staff. Brewster, according to Lemming, is one of the nation's top 10 recruiters over the last 30 years. Remember, Brewster lured Julius Peppers to North Carolina and Vince Young to Texas.

And what about Vanderbilt, which has emerged as one of the most visible and successful recruiters in the Chicago area?

Lemming credits coach James Franklin, whom he describes as "one of the super up-and-coming head coach recruiters in the country along with Lane Kiffin of USC and Al Golden of Miami."

"Franklin is one of the best young recruiters in the country," Lemming said. "Vanderbilt is the only academic school in the SEC. But they are recruiting nationally and they are competing with all of the top programs with their aggressive approach. They will just keep getting better."

And why are more of the nation's top seniors choosing to participate in the Under Armour all-star football game rather than the more established U.S. Army game and the newer Semper Fidelis game?

"Kids are making their decisions on the basis of who gives the most equipment and Under Armour is giving hundreds and thousands of dollars-worth of equipment to influence kids. Now it is a bidding war," Lemming said.

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.