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."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”