Bears

10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players

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10 days, 6,000 miles, 200 players

Try it sometime when you have nothing better to do. Drive 6,000 miles in 10 days and interview and evaluate 200 of the best high school football players in the country. Even a side trip to Hawaii is all work, no vacation, no time for surfing or sightseeing, even a luau.

"I lost my voice over the last three days," reported recruiting analyst Tom Lemming after his most recent travel odyssey. "In all honesty, at this point, I'm sick of football. After I got back, I slept for an entire day."

Lemming has been making trips like this for 33 years. But this one was a little over the top. On three days alone, he drove over 1,000 miles. He flew to Hawaii, then drove through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. He met 40 players in Hawaii and 100 in Los Angeles.

It completed his four-month tour of the nation, which covered every state except Alaska and North and South Dakota. If there are any college prospects in those states, Lemming hasn't heard of them. Now, after making a few short hops to New York and Ohio, he'll settle in to write his annual 300-page magazine that reveals the nation's top players.

"Hawaii is loaded with talent. It is the last frontier of college recruiting," Lemming said. "It is too far for most colleges to travel, 10 hours by flight from Chicago."

In Honolulu, Lemming met the University of Hawaii's new coach, Norm Chow, who told him: "I wish you weren't here because it brings too much attention to the state."

Lemming predicts that 20 to 30 Hawaiian products will commit to Division I schools. And he believes that Hawaii produces five or six players with All-America potential every year that most people don't know about except for a few schools on the West Coast.

The best player in Hawaii is 6-foot-3, 238-pound linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea of Punahou, the same school that produced Notre Dame star Mantei Teo and President Barack Obama. He is committed to Stanford.

Other standouts are 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker Kama Correa and 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive guard Reeve Koehler of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, 6-foot-1, 300-pound nose tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii of Waiahae and 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive tackle Scott Pagano of Moanalna.

Pagano, who benches 405 pounds, has been offered by Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State. Correa and Koehler are uncommitted but Correa's dream is to play for Notre Dame, which hasn't offered yet. All are being pursued by Pac-12 schools.

"If Pagano lived in Chicago, he'd be an All-American," Lemming said.

Another player who figures to attract more attention as the summer goes along is 6-foot-5, 2225-pound linebackertight end Danny Mattingly of Spokane, Wash. He is a second cousin of former baseball great and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. He has been offered by Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and Nebraska.

For you travel buffs, Lemming recommends "the most beautiful drive I've ever had in the United States," a 400-mile trip from Pullman, Wash., to Boise, Idaho, along routes 95 and 55.

"It started in a snowstorm and 30 degrees and ended up in 80-degree weather," he said. "It was the prettiest drive I've ever been on, including Hawaii. I kept pulling over to look at the scenery along the way...mountains, lakes, streams, canyons, wildlife. It's amazing that it is never talked about."

Meanwhile, Lemming clarified his up-to-date evaluations of the leading prospects in what he has described as the best class of talent in the Chicago area since 1986. The headliners include running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, tackles Ethan Pocic of Lemont and Jack Keeler of Barrington, quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South and defensive tackle Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West.

Regarding Isaac, whom Lemming rates as the No. 1 running back in the nation: "He has everything. What sets him apart from the others is he had great production as a junior. He has ideal size, speed and athletic ability. It looks like everything clicked for hi last year. No one is more all-around than him...run, block and catch."

Lemming said Bailey's commitment to Illinois "gives new coach Tim Beckman and his staff instant credibility in recruiting. He is one of the elite athletes in the country, the best all-around athlete in Illinois. When you see him on film in last year's state championship game, he looked like a precision passer in bad weather. There are a lot of question marks about his passing but he answered them in the state final. He has the ability to play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and tight end. But he is a quarterback. Illinois can't go back on its word to let him play quarterback."

Lemming said Alviti's decision to commit to Northwestern "was a great choice. He looks like their quarterback of the future. He is a great precision passer. He only lacks height. If he was 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, he would be a top 100 player. He has foot speed, smarts and arm strength to be the best quarterback ever to come out of Maine South. Northwestern told him that he would be their quarterback of the future, that they would build their offense around him."

Keller was the best offensive lineman that Lemming saw last year in the Chicago area, better than his more heralded teammate Dan Voltz, who committed to Wisconsin. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7. He'll be a top 125 player, maybe higher," Lemming said, ranking him in the same class with Pocic and tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual.

Lemming said he has watched Pocic for three years and, while he rates him as perhaps the No. 2 prospect in the Chicago area behind Isaac, he admits that he isn't the dominating player he should be or will become. "He has athletic ability and can run and block downfield. But he isn't dominating yet. He is a four-plus guy right now, like Bosch, McGovern, Keeler and Tuley-Tillman. But to become a five-star player, they need to dominate on almost every play. They are much bigger and more athletic than the guys they are going against," Lemming said.

According to Lemming, Dunbar is very athletic and has great growth potential and has the highest ceiling of any defensive player in the state. "But he hasn't realized his potential yet. He has yet to play like the impact player that he should be. For 33 years, I've talked about players taking plays off, like (former Simeon and Illinois star) Martez Wilson, kids who don't play hard all the time. Simeon Rice was the same way," Lemming concluded.

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

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USA Today

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

The Bears will try to address one of their more glaring weaknesses — tight end depth — by giving longtime offensive tackle Bradley Sowell some work at tight end in the coming weeks of practice at Halas Hall. 

Sowell, a reliable backup swing tackle the last two seasons with the Bears, was targeted twice as a receiver in 2018 — first, on a nearly-intercepted Mitch Trubisky pass against the New England Patriots, and second on the famous “Santa’s Sleigh” touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. He also got some work as a fullback in the Bears’ Week 17 thumping of the Minnesota Vikings. 

“We felt like at the ‘Y’ position we could use some more depth,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s something we talked about at the end of the season. We discussed it and now we’re giving him a chance.”

Nagy’s assessment of the Bears’ “Y” (in-line) depth is accurate, if not even undersold. The athletic 6-foot-7, 312 pound Sowell will have a chance to be a backup to Adam Shaheen, who has missed 13 games in his first two years due to a string of injuries. Reserve tight end Ben Braunecker can play both the “Y” and “U” positions, and the Bears have a handful of undrafted free agents (led by Utah State's Dax Raymond) competing to catch the eye of the coaching staff in the coming weeks. 

The Bears’ offense struggled with two tight ends on the field last year, especially in Shaheen’s absence as Dion Sims played himself out of the league. It’s far too early to tell if adding Sowell to the tight end mix will help, but at this point, the Bears think it’s worth a shot. 

“He’s shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he’s very smart, he knows how to block and all that stuff,” Nagy said. “So let’s test it out and see. When I tell you he’s all-in, he’s all-in.”

Center of Attention

As expected, the Bears indeed will flip James Daniels and Cody Whitehair on the offensive line, with Daniels sliding to center and Whitehair to left guard. 

“We feel comfortable with it, so again, this is the time to test it out and see,” Nagy said. “It’s hard right now because we don’t have pads. So, we’ll get into training camp and see how that goes. But I feel pretty good about it.”

Daniels exclusively played left guard during last year’s regular season, with the Bears opting to hold steady with Whitehair at center for the third consecutive season. Whitehair, though, was drafted as a guard back in 2016 and only moved to center after the last-minute signing of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Daniels, too, starred as a center at Iowa and did get a smattering of preseason snaps there before fully committing to playing guard his rookie year. 

The change is the only planned one on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line, which returns every primary starter from 2018 (Daniels, Whitehair, Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Kyle Long). Perhaps the most significant change for this group, then, will be losing Sowell as its backup tackle. 

Windy City: Smoke Out?

Taquan Mizzell will work as a wide receiver during OTAs, with the now-former running back trading in No. 33 for No. 11 but facing an uphill battle to make the Bears’ roster. 

Mizzell does have a decent track record as a pass-catcher dating back to his college days at Virginia, but it’ll take a massive effort for the third-year player to crack into a crowded receiver room that already has a competitive battle brewing between Javon Wims, Marvin Hall and a group of undrafted free agents. 

While it’s too early to grant rookie running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. a roster spot, shifting Mizzell out of the picture does appear to create a clearer path for the seventh-round pick to stick with the Bears this fall. 

Countdown to the NBA Draft: The best all-time selection at picks 1-30

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USA TODAY

Countdown to the NBA Draft: The best all-time selection at picks 1-30

We're counting down the days until the NBA Draft by looking at the best players selected at No. 30, 29, 28 all the way down to No. 1. Check back every day leading up to June 20th for a new player and a new all-time best pick.

No. 30: Jimmy Butler

No. 29: 5/23
No. 28: 5/24
No. 27: 5/25
No. 26: 5/26
No. 25: 5/27
No. 24: 5/28
No. 23: 5/29
No. 22: 5/30
No. 21: 5/31
No. 20: 6/1
No. 19: 6/2
No. 18: 6/3
No. 17: 6/4
No. 16: 6/5
No. 15: 6/6
No. 14: 6/7
No. 13: 6/8
No. 12: 6/9
No. 11: 6/10
No. 10: 6/11
No. 9: 6/12
No. 8: 6/13
No. 7: 6/14
No. 6: 6/15
No. 5: 6/16
No. 4: 6/17
No. 3: 6/18
No. 2: 6/19
No. 1: 6/20