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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.

Under Center Podcast: Playing 'Trubisky Detective' after rough loss to Rams

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Playing 'Trubisky Detective' after rough loss to Rams

Laurence Holmes, Matt Forte, Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, and Olin Kreutz dissect all the major storylines following the Bears’ 17-7 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. The guys try to figure out whether QB Mitch Trubisky actually injured his hip or if it was a stealth benching (1:30) before getting into Eddy Pineiro’s tough day (13:00) and whether the team’s culture has taken a hit this season (17:00).

Listen to the entire episode in the embedded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

LOS ANGELES — Wearing a gray t-shirt, athletic shorts and a camo-green hat pulled down over his eyes, Mitch Trubisky left his most dour press conference as a member of the Chicago Bears and somewhat gingerly ambled up the tunnel connecting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the outside world. 

The Bears’ quarterback was greeted with a hug from his mother at the top of the long incline, and spent the next 15 or so minutes chatting with his family. At one point, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff popped over to say hi and give Trubisky a high five and a hug. Eventually, Trubisky departed for the team bus and a redeye flight back to Chicago, where a debate had already been raging for hours: 

Is his hip injury legit?

That was the reason the Bears gave for Trubisky’s removal from Sunday’s game three minutes after Chase Daniel entered their 17-7 loss to the Rams. For a few minutes, it looked as if Matt Nagy pulled the ripcord on the Bears’ season about 100 feet from smashing into the ground, replacing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with a journeyman career backup in a last-ditch effort to save his plummeting team. 

Unless you were on Twitter during the game, though, you wouldn’t have seen the Bears’ explanation for taking Trubisky out of the game, which came three minutes after Daniel took his first snap in the fourth quarter. Neither Al Michaels nor Cris Collinsworth mentioned the hip injury explanation on NBC’s television broadcast of “Sunday Night Football,” saying they had received “no word” from Bears PR of the reason for Trubisky's benching a few plays after Daniel entered the game. 

That environment led to plenty of skepticism and speculation from those who either didn’t see the Bears’ tweet, or from those who thought the Bears were using the injury as a cover for benching Trubisky due to performance reasons. The Bears gained just 30 yards on 14 plays on the four drives preceding Trubisky's benching. 

Here’s what the Bears said about the timeline of Trubisky’s injury:

— Trubisky initially injured his right hip on the last drive of the second quarter, though he misspoke multiple times in saying it happened at the end of the second half (he was not flip-flopping or changing his story, it did appear to be a genuine instance of misspeaking). Trubisky said he was evaluated at halftime, but kept quiet about how he felt and tried to fight through the growing discomfort. 

— Nagy said Trubisky hurt his hip when he landed on it. With 30 seconds left in the second quarter, Trubisky scrambled outside the pocket on third and eight and was sacked, though he landed on his left hip, not his right hip. 

— Nagy, though, admitted he was short on specific information regarding the injury: “I gotta find out more because I didn’t find out the details yet from him, the play that it happened,” Nagy said, adding he hadn't yet talked to Trubisky after the game. 

— Trubisky said he “really wasn’t telling anyone,” about his injury, given he hoped he could fight through it. 

— Nagy said quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone mentioned to him that “we gotta keep an eye on him” one or two series before Trubisky was pulled from the game. 

— Nagy noticed Trubisky was having some issues getting torque on his throws, and that he was throwing with mostly his arm and not his lower body. He said those were especially noticeable when he was throwing to his left and trying to open up his hip. 

— At no point did the Bears take Trubisky into the blue medical tent on their sideline to evaluate him. 

— Nagy talked with Trubisky during a TV timeout after the Rams took a 17-7 lead, and said he told Trubisky he needed to be honest with him about his hip. Nagy said Trubisky told him how he was feeling, and then Nagy made the decision to remove him from the game. 

“I’m not doing the team any favors if I’m not able to run around or throw the ball with accuracy because I’m throwing with all arm,” Trubisky said. “You just gotta be smart with that factor but I’m going to fight as long as I can and try to be out there with my guys.”

Still, because Trubisky didn’t go into the medical tent, there was no reason for anyone to believe he was injured until the Bears dropped that explanation on social media. And that he was standing on the sideline in a baseball cap, not being tended to by trainers, only fueled speculation that the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was not actually injured. 

That Nagy called for Trubisky to run an option on third and one in the third quarter — on which Trubisky pitched the ball too quickly — looked similarly head-scratching. If Trubisky had been evaluated at halftime and Nagy knew about it, why would he call that play? Or, if Nagy didn’t know about it — why didn’t he know about it?

Nagy, though, said he didn’t believe Trubisky’s injury impacted him on that play. 

But accusing a team or player of faking an injury is a heavy accusation. It also doesn’t make much sense in this instance — if the Bears were trying to protect Trubisky’s already-low confidence, why would publicly saying he was benched due to an injury matter? He’d know why he was benched, and it’s not like there hasn’t been an onslaught of outside criticism of him recently anyway. Would the public reasoning for benching him really matter if internally Nagy, Trubisky and the team knew why?

Digesting this whole situation, it feels like the most likely scenario is that Trubisky tried to fight through the injury and didn’t want his coaches finding out about it until it became obvious to Ragone and Nagy that it was affecting his play. That fits with his competitive nature and would explain some of the discrepancies in the timelines provided by Nagy and Trubisky. 

It also fits with Daniel not looking like someone who knew he was coming into the game while Nagy and Trubisky were talking on the sideline. 

The long-term effects of Trubisky’s benching, though, are yet known. 

And unless this is an injury that will require a lengthy absence, the Trubisky era is not yet over in Chicago. 

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