Bears

Alviti looks ahead to 2012 season

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Alviti looks ahead to 2012 season

Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti still remembers every play of last year's heartbreaking 24-22 loss to Stevenson in the second round of the Class 8A playoff as if it happened yesterday.

"I threw one interception and fumbled once. I wasn't able to win the game. In the past, somebody always came up with a big play when we needed it, but not this time," Alviti recalled.

"We were behind 17-7 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter. We had a great third quarter and cut their lead to 24-15, then 24-22 and had the ball on our 20 with five minutes to play. But on third-and-five, we couldn't convert. We never got the ball back after that."

Alviti, who quarterbacked Maine South to the state championship as a sophomore in 2010, couldn't produce any magic against Stevenson. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown. But Stevenson quarterback Matt Micucci was 20-of-32 for 247 yards and two touchdowns and also kicked a 28-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.

It spoiled Maine South's bid for an unprecedented fourth state championship in a row and snapped the Hawks' 16-game postseason winning streak. The senior class bowed out with a four-year record of 50-3.

"It was so disappointing," Alviti said. "You don't realize you season is over and you're going home and the seniors go out like that. I don't want to experience that again. The seniors couldn't handle it. Not being able to win the state title with good friends I had played with since I was little...well, I really felt for them. I felt like I let them down."

Ironically, Alviti and Micucci will be teammates at Northwestern. Alviti recently committed to coach Pat Fitzgerald, choosing Northwestern over Michigan State. And Micucci will join the Wildcat program as a preferred walk-on, probably as a kicker and punter.

"Northwestern is a great fit for me," Alviti said. "Recruiting is all about finding the right fit for you, where you can do your best, where you can succeed and play your best. They were there before anyone else, the first school to recruit me when I was a sophomore. They made the first offer, the day after we won state as a sophomore.

"It's a dream come true for me, to play college football at a high level, to play for coach Fitzgerald, to work with offensive coordinator Mick McCall, to play close to home, to play in that offense. They run a spread that is similar to what we run at Maine South. In fact, we run some of the same variations of the same plays, all the same concepts. It will be a comfortable transition for me."

Will Alviti be another Dan Persa or Zac Kustok, surpassing the feats of two previous Northwestern quarterbacks? He is more of a thrower than a runner and doesn't like to compare himself to other quarterbacks, but he admits his favorite is Drew Brees.

"I like to watch him. His height is similar to mine," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Alviti. "He has great leadership qualities. He's a great passer. He understands the game so well. He's a great general on the field. He delivers day after day. He gets all his receivers involved. He is very impressive to watch and learn from what he does."

Alviti has been working hard to improve his skills for the 2012 season--and to make everybody forget about last year's loss in the state playoff. He is running track for the first time this spring, keeping in shape and building leg strength and endurance by competing in the 100, 200 and 400 and 800 relays.

"I want to get my 40-yard dash time down to 4.5 (from 4.6). I want to be stronger and more explosive than ever," he said.

In addition, he is lifting weights once every day and working out twice a week with his receiving corps--tight end John Solari and wide receivers Chris Buschemi, Clay Burdelik, George Sajenko, Anthony Mitchell, Zac Hinkamp and Frankie Perrone.

"I'm very confident with these guys," Alviti said. "We're getting our timing down and watching film. But we have a lot of preparation to do and a long way to go before the season begins."

Nobody knows it more than offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss, who rates Alviti as the best thrower and passer he has produced at the Park Ridge school, dating back to John Schacke, who led Maine South to its first state championship in 1995. Since then, Bliss also has developed such standouts as Shawn Kain, Sean Price, Tyler Knight, Charlie Goro and Tyler Benz.

"He is in better condition than ever," Bliss said of Alviti. "There isn't a throw he can't make. He is showing people that he is a better leader. If he is on, he will make the people around him better. He lacked it last year. We didn't have the great receivers of the past. Matt didn't make them better. He won't let it happen this year. We have better receivers this year."

Bliss and head coach David Inserra are pleased that Alviti opted to make his college decision earlier than later. There were a lot of distractions last year. For example, he played on a Friday night, then attended a WisconsinNebraska game the following day. The longer he waited, the more colleges figured to jump onto the recruiting merry-go-round.

"Now he can concentrate on his senior year," Bliss said. "He hasn't peaked yet. His game will get better and better. He can make every single throw. Sometimes he tries to be too perfect. But he makes plays. And he is fearless and never gets intimidated."

In the last two years, Alviti has passed for 5,048 yards, rushed for 1,115 and accounted for 76 touchdowns. But he is motivated by more than just winning a fourth state title in the last five years and removing the sting from last year's playoff loss to Stevenson.

He attended the recent Elite 11 regional competition in Columbus, Ohio. The event was host to some of the leading quarterbacks in the nation with the top performers earning a spot in the national finals in California in July. Michigan-bound Shane Morris of Warren, Michigan, was the MVP.

Alviti wasn't rated among the top six finalists in a field that also included Notre Dame-bound Malik Zaire, Stanford-bound Ryan Burns, Purdue-bound Danny Etling and Kansas-bound Montell Cozart.

"It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun. I met some good guys and I learned I can throw with the best of them," Alviti said. "I also learned some things to improve on. I learned how to throw better in awkward positions, like when I'm flushed out of the pocket.

"I thought I progressed as Friday went along. I would have liked to have thrown better. I went there to improve on my skill set and I think I did that. I also picked up some drills to work on. Morris was the MVP. He has a strong arm and throws a deep ball very well. But I think I'm a good quarterback as well. I don't think I have to take a backseat to anybody."

Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

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Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

QUARTERBACKS: A+

Matt Nagy called Sunday Mitch Trubisky’s best game of the year, and while he didn’t rack up six touchdowns like he did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t. Trubisky coolly went through his progressions and consistently made good decisions with the football. He was on time with his receivers, displaying good chemistry with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. And he ran a hurry-up, no huddle offense efficiently, effectively communicating the play calls and making the right checks at the line of scrimmage to keep the Detroit Lions’ defense off balance. His final line of 23 completions on 30 attempts (76.6 percent) for 355 yards (a career high) and three touchdowns, with an additional rushing touchdown, was indicative of how well he played on Sunday. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

Jordan Howard gained only 21 yards on 11 carries, good for an average of 1.9 yards per attempt. Tarik Cohen wasn’t much better, with 15 yards on seven carries (2.1 yards/carry). Add in Taquan Mizzell’s one carry for no yards, and Bears running backs combined for 36 yards on 19 rushing attempts. 

The issues aren’t solely at the feet of this unit — the offensive line didn’t create enough holes — but the Bears need smarter and tougher runs from their running backs. 

Saving this grade from an F: Cohen did have a three-year touchdown run and caught six of seven targets for 29 yards, while Howard delivered a good block to set up Trubisky’s four-yard rushing score on a quarterback draw. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A+

Robinson took advantage of Darius Slay’s absence and made DaShawn Shead’s afternoon a nightmare, consistently beating him with perfectly set up routes on his way to a six-catch, 133-yard, two-touchdown game. It was Robinson’s first 100-yard game since Week 15 of 2016, and his first multi-score game since Week 3 of that year. Miller, meanwhile, had his first 100-yard game as a pro, giving the Bears their first game with two 100-yard wide receivers since Cameron Meredith and Deonte Thompson hit that mark on Dec. 18, 2016 (Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen each had over 100 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 4). Gabriel wasn’t a factor, though it took Quandre Diggs’ break-up of a perfectly thrown Trubisky pass in the end zone for him to not get a big-play touchdown. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton made a crucial third down catch on the Bears’ opening possession to trigger a touchdown drive, and finishing with 40 yards while catching all four of his targets. Ben Braunecker, too, did well on a scramble drill to come down with a 20-yard catch. This group did miss Dion Sims’ blocking ability from the “Y” tight end position, but could get him — and, potentially, Adam Shaheen — back for Sunday night’s date with the Minnesota Vikings. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

Six of Howard’s 11 rushing attempts went for one or fewer yard, with two losing two yards, while Cohen had two runs of one or fewer yards on seven rushing attempts. The Lions’ run defense is better than its season numbers may have shown — it entered Sunday allowing an average of 132.7 rushing yards per game — after acquiring Damon “Snacks” Harrison but a fair share of the blame for the Bears’ running woes fall on the offensive line. 

That being said, this group’s protection of Trubisky was outstanding. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in particular had strong games against the Lions’ pass rush, and Trubisky was given plenty of clean pockets to work through his progressions and make good decisions. Sunday marked the first time since Week 3 that the Bears rolled with the same five offensive linemen all game — Bryan Witzmann appears to have beat out Eric Kush for the starting right guard job — and while it didn’t lead to a big game on the ground, the Bears were able to score five touchdowns in part because of this unit’s work making Trubisky comfortable. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

The push generated by Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols was key in holding Kerryon Johnson to 51 yards on 14 carries (3.6 yards), while LeGarrette Blount was only able to manage four yards on six carries. That was the starting point for the Bears’ defensive success against Detroit — the Lions won all three games in which Johnson had 10 or more carries with an average of four yards per attempt or higher. Hicks got some good pressure on Matthew Stafford on Roquan Smith’s sack, while Nichols had a sack-strip the Lions recovered and Bullard notched a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack looked 100 percent when he bowled over left tackle Taylor Decker for one of his two sacks, while Leonard Floyd notched his first sack of the year and had a productive game with three quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss. Mack, too, provided excellent help in run support with two tackles for a loss. The Bears are going to win a lot of games when Mack and Floyd combine for three sacks and three tackles for a loss. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B+

Roquan Smith followed his best game of the season last week against Buffalo with…his best game of the season on Sunday against Detroit. He led the Bears with 10 tackles and stuffed the box score with a sack (which backed the Lions up out of field goal range) a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up and was all over the field. Danny Trevathan chipped in with five tackles and played well in run support. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Bryce Callahan had another productive game, hitting home for a sack while picking off Stafford and impressively breaking up a third-and-six throw that kept the Lions to a field goal on their first drive of the second half. Prince Amukamara notched the Bears’ other interception, which came on a Stafford arm punt, and also forced a fumble recovered by Adrian Amos. Eddie Jackson had a productive game, too, with six tackles and a pass break-up. Most of Stafford’s passing success came in the second half while the game was largely out of reach, though Amos committed pass interference in the end zone on third down that helped get the Lions their first touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

We’ll start this off by praising Pat O’Donnell for a couple of good punts, one of which was downed inside the Lions’ five-yard line and another that came from the back of the end zone and didn’t get Detroit entirely optimal field position. 

The rest of this unit, though, was all bad. Cody Parkey doinked four kicks — two PATs and two field goals of 34 and 41 yards — off the uprights in a self-described “comical” game in which he “let my team down.” Parkey’s post-hitting penchant affected Nagy’s playcalling, though the Bears’ coach said his confidence in his kicker is “not shot.” Parkey isn’t going anywhere, not when he’s guaranteed $9 million in a contract he signed only eight months ago. 

Additionally, Miller was whistled for illegally batting an onside kick out of bounds — the rookie didn’t know he had to bat the ball backward for it to be legal, instead amusingly swatting the ball forward for a penalty. The Lions, given a second attempt, recovered an onside kick and turned it into a touchdown. 

Taquan Mizzell returned two kicks for a total of only 23 yards, though Cohen did manage an 18-yard punt return. 

COACHING: B

Nagy thoroughly out-coached Matt Patricia with his respective gameplan, and Vic Fangio’s defense got the better of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Nagy, though, was self-critical after the game regarding a late challenge flag he threw when Kenny Golladay fumbled and was ruled to have recovered the ball — a play that likely would’ve been overturned, with possession going to the Bears, had it gone to review. The Lions quickly got to the line of scrimmage and ran a play, though, which left Nagy frustrated with himself. 

“Detroit did a good job of going quick and I was, I was looking down,” Nagy said. “This was one of the faults of going through and calling plays is I was looking at my sheet to call the next play — or to get the next series going — and it happened so quick with the replay and then, late replay. And then getting them going quick and it just was late. So that's my fault.” 

Additionally, Nagy said he “called the three worst plays of my life” before Parkey missed his 34-yard field goal. Those three plays, which happened after the Bears took over on the Lions’ 21-yard line following Amukamara’s forced fumble: A four-yard pass to Cohen, a Mizzell run for no gain, and a one-yard pop pass to Miller. 

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

It's a pretty neat time to be a Bears fan right about now. Coming off the first NFC North win in 10 tries, Chicago's franchise QB is looking like the real deal and their defense is legitiamtely championship-caliber. 

When things are going well, The Tweets tend to be especially neat. Here's what they were saying: