Bears

Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

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Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The grind of a season can take its toll on a team as the games pile up, but now, Notre Dame has a completely different issue to deal with: a 44-day layoff between games.

An upshot of playing in the season's final game is the lengthy layoff, which for Notre Dame began when the clock hit zero on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles and won't end until the night of Jan. 7 in South Florida.

Notre Dame players filed into the Gug Sunday to watch the BCS selection show wearing shirts boasting the team's "unfinished business." Those aren't an unfortunate homage to Matt Barkley and USC's preseason motto, but instead a motivational slogan for the team's extended break.

"Were not taking this period off, were not taking a break," safety Zeke Motta said. "Were going to get after it and let our bodies heal given the proper amount of time, but were still going to be doing some stuff to make sure that were going to be on our A-game."

For last week and this week, that means conditioning and weight training, as well as letting players get caught up on classwork as finals week begins Dec. 10. The team's first bowl practice is Friday, giving them a month of preparation -- minus six days for Christmas between Dec. 21-27 -- for the BCS Championship.

These are uncharted waters for Brian Kelly, who spoke to coaches at LSU and Oregon about their preparation for the last two BCS Championships.

"We were pretty much right on with what we thought the schedule should look like leading in to the championship game," Kelly said. "Its a one-game deal. Were just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7. Our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. We dont want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a veteran at dealing with these championship breaks, and will guide the Tide through them for the third time in four years. When asked about the plan for layoffs on a conference call with both coaches Sunday, Kelly joked he wanted Saban to answer the question first to get an idea of how Alabama has succeeded in December and January preparation.

"The way we try to do it, youre so far removed from the season to the bowl game, especially when you play Jan. 7 in the National Championship game, we try to look at it like its a one-game season," Saban explained. "Let the players finish the semester, do weight training and conditioning for the next couple weeks and then we start to have some fundamental practices, camp-like -- like fall camp. Take a few days off for Christmas, come back and start getting ready for the game in terms of challenges that Notre Dame presents to our team."

That plan sounds right about in line with Kelly's. But no matter how long the break is between games, getting players motivated in practice won't be a battle Notre Dame's coaches will have to fight.

"Its the National Championship, so I dont care if we have to prepare for two months," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "Youre playing for all the marbles."

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.