Bears

Montini aims for fourth in a row

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Montini aims for fourth in a row

As he packed his bags for his annual fishing excursion to his favorite hideaway in Canada, Montini football coach Chris Andriano was reminded about the past, the present and the future. Even the thought of a Walleye tugging on the end of a lure couldn't change that.

"Retirement? I'm getting close. I retired from teaching this year. I've got a plan for three more years," said the 60-year-old Andriano. "If my health is good and they want me to stick around...we'll see. I'll re-evaluate after three years. But my grandchildren are getting to the point of being more active. I want to watch them do things."

Andriano insists he has no goals left to achieve, no more worlds to conquer. "I've accomplished everything I could possibly think of," he said.

Or has he?

In his 33-year career, Andriano has posted a 244-117 record, a winning percentage of .676. He has produced four state championship teams--2004, 2009, 2010, 2011.

If he wins another title in 2012, he would equal the achievements of three legendary coaches who won four state titles in a row--Joliet Catholic's Gordie Gillespie in 1975-78, Mount Carmel's Frank Lenti in 1988-91 and Providence's Matt Senffner in 1994-97.

Andriano is cautiously optimistic about his 2012 squad. How do you replace Jordan Westerkamp, the sensational wide receiver who has taken his record-breaking act to Nebraska? How do you improve on last year's 70-45 victory over Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A final?

And how about this? Despite all of his success--he is 45-9 in the last four years--he never has coached an unbeaten team.

"Will this be my best team ever?" Andriano said. "It is to be determined. It will be pretty hard to top the last few years in certain ways. This is a very good team overall. We're planning on a deep playoff run. We have good leadership, overall athleticism, very good athletes at all positions and a very good group of linemen.

"But I don't think of winning four in a row. We just want to prepare these kids for what they will see, a target on everybody's schedule. We try to look at things in the short term. You can't be looking too far ahead. Four in a row would be awesome. But it would be about a lot of people."

It will start out with a bang on Aug. 24. Montini will open at Palatine, Andriano's alma mater. On that night, Palatine will induct Andriano into its Hall of Fame.

So how did he approach his players on Wednesday, the first day of practice?

"The first thing we talk about is being in shape and mentally ready and prepared to play 14 games," Andriano said. "We want to practice on Thanksgiving Day and play on the final weekend.

"It is a process. It is a lot of hard work. A lot has already gone into this. We have the right ingredients to make it happen. Our philosophy always is the same--do your best."

Andriano credits offensive coordinator Lewis Borsellino for much of the success. A graduate of Montini and a former assistant at Maine South, Borsellino joined Andriano's staff five years ago and brought Maine South's high-powered offense with him. "Look at the results. We put points on the board," Andriano said.

Football has become a monster at the Lombard school...new uniforms for this season, a 3,000-seat playing facility with artificial turf for the second year, lights for the third year. "There is an air of excitement for the football program," Andriano said.

In Westerkamp's absence, the leader of the 2012 squad will be Joey Borsellino, Lewis' son and the eighth Borsellino to play for Andriano. The senior wide receiver brings an intensity and love for the game that Andriano had as a high school star. Last year, he caught 70 passes for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"He is Montini. He lives and eats and breathes Montini, like Westerkamp," Andriano said about the youngster. "He is demanding. He understands what it takes to win."

The line features 6-foot-4, 290-pound guard Tate Briggs, 6-foot-3, 255-pound end Fred Beaugard and 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior end Dylan Thompson, whom Andriano describes as one of the leading underclass linemen in the Chicago area.

Tailback Dimitri Taylor, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. He is being recruited by Eastern Illinois and Illinois State. With Taylor's experience and athleticism, the running game can be expected to be a bigger part of Montini's offense in 2012.

Others to watch are senior wide receiver Mark Gorogianis and kickerpunter Andrew Harte, described as "the best kicker I have had" by Andriano.

Andriano has produced a string of gifted quarterbacks in recent years, all of whom scared the daylights out of opposing secondaries. But this is a rare occasion when he goes into preseason practice without knowing who his starting quarterback is. He insists that will change very quickly.

The job will be given to junior Jimmy Barron, a transfer from Wheaton Warrenville South who was the starter on the sophomore squad last year, or junior Alex Wills, who was the backup on the sophomore squad last year.

"It is pretty even. They battled all summer. But I'm looking to make a decision in the first week of practice," Andriano said. "We don't have a Division I quarterback. We won't throw as much this year, especially early. But I am confident one of them will take charge. We must do a good job of teaching the quarterback to handle the ball and not turn it over."

The names may be different. But the game is the same. So is the philosophy.

"We've been through this. We know what we are doing," Andriano said. "When you are in it long enough, you learn what you have to do to get ready and what to prepare for. We have learned a process or system of preparing for games. Our kids are very well prepared."

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.