Fire

Notre Dame will go with Golson at QB

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Notre Dame will go with Golson at QB

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was little hiding it, from the first day of fall camp onward: Everett Golson was the favorite in Notre Dame's quarterback competition. On Thursday, Golson officially came out on top, as coach Brian Kelly announced the sophomore as the starter for Notre Dame's season opener against Navy Sept.1  in Dublin, Irleand.
"It was a tough decision, but Everett clearly won the starting job," Kelly said Thursday.
Golson beat out junior Andrew Hendrix, who saw game action in a limited role last season. That's more than Golson can say, as he has yet to play a down at the collegiate level. But Kelly isn't concerned about his quarterback being an NCAA greenhorn.
"Some of the things I really like from Everett -- his poise was really outstanding, great vision down the field," Kelly said. "Those things are really positive, even if you don't have a lot of experience."
Golson admitted he'll have some butterflies, but doesn't expect them to hinder Notre Dame's chances of winning on Sept. 1.
"There's always going to be anxiety there, being that it's my first college game," Golson said. "I'm always going to be anxious. But my teammates and coaches are going to stay level headed and focused on Navy, and get this victory."
Four months ago, Golson impressed in Notre Dame's Blue & Gold game, throwing two touchdowns while, more importantly, not throwing an interception. After the spring game, Kelly said Golson had the art of quarterbacking down, but not the science, and pointed to his displeasure with Golson's playcalling and ball-handling.
"Everett's mechanics of ball-handling were atrocious in the spring," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said earlier in fall camp. "Anyone who was at the spring game -- if he could just get the play off, usually he could make something pretty good happen. Unfortunately, too many plays didn't get off.
"The ball-handling aspect is a vast improvement, but where we were starting, we still have a lot more improvement to go to. It'd be hard not to improve what you saw in the spring."
But Golson has improved in those areas enough to earn the starting gig. Golson said Thursday, though, that it hasn't necessarily been practice reps that have helped him get better.
"In the film room," Golson said of where he made his greatest improvement over the last few months. "Like coach Kelly said in the spring game, I have the art of it, but I really didn't have the science. I keep going back to that. That's really what I devoted most of my time to, getting in the film room and getting comfortable reading defenses. I still got a long way to go, but I can see my progression." 
While Golson and Hendrix were competing for the same position, it never was really a battle in the sense of two guys fighting over one spot. Instead, Notre Dame's quarterbacks were competing with a singular goal in mind.
"If all four are better, then the one's going to be better at the end of the day as well," Hendrix said on the outset of camp. "So that's how we view it and that's how we're going to get better."
And on Thursday, Golson said he couldn't have secured the starting job without the help of Notre Dame's other quarterbacks -- including Hendrix.
"Obviously, I'm happy about it, but I just want to thank my teammates, and also the other quarterbacks for us being there and pushing each other," Golson said. "I felt that I wouldn't have reached that potential or reached where I've come if it wasn't for Andrew, Gunner Kiel and Tommy Rees helping me out."
While Kiel probably won't see the field in his freshman year, there certainly exists the possibility that Hendrix or Rees could take over for Golson at some point. Both Kelly and Martin have hardly ruled out considering Rees after his Week 1 suspension is up, noting that the more experienced quarterback on the roster could find his way back into the discussion if their starter against Navy struggles. 
"They made the announcement that i'm the starter for Navy, that doesn't solidify that I'm the starter for the whole season," Golson said. "I'm going to keep my foot on the gas."
Last year, Kelly named Dayne Christ as the team's starter leading up to their season opener against South Florida. Christ only lasted two quarters in that role before he was pulled in favor of Rees, who he had beat out in fall camp. Naturally, Kelly is hoping that same scenario won't play out again in 2012. 
"I don't think you go in any year and think boy, I want to make a change at halftime," Kelly said. "You want to be able to stick with a guy and build continuity. Especially with a guy that's got four seasons of competition remaining. You want to build on that."
Notre Dame will take the field in just over a week at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, home of Ireland's national soccer and rugby teams. It'll be Golson leading the charge, and while the significance of his accomplishment isn't lost on him, he isn't exactly putting much thought into it.
"It definitely means a lot, but I know with this comes a lot of responsibility," Golson said. "So I'm not going to rejoice in it. Like I said, I'm happy about it, but I also understand that it's time to go to work now. So my main focus is on Navy."

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16