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."

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on the Bye Week 

J.J. Stankevitz: The Bears had a lot of soul-searching to do in their off week, specifically among offensive players and coaches not named Allen Robinson. But more important than anything else will be improvements on the offensive line — better protection and run blocking will go a long way toward helping this offense operate more effectively in the Bears’ final 11 games. That means better play from left tackle Charles Leno and center James Daniels, as well as counting on Rashaad Coward/Ted Larsen/Alex Bars to be better at right guard than a less-than-100-percent Kyle Long was. 

Fix the O-line and a lot of problems will be solved. Don’t and it could diminish how much better Mitch Trubisky is — if he is at all — upon  coming back. 

Cam Ellis: I'll be curious to see where the Bears' bye week preparation show up first. Between the offensive line, an uninspiring run scheme, absent tight end production and no real answers at quarterback (but otherwise it's fine!), they've got to start somewhere.  Is it fixing the run game in hopes that it takes the burden off Trubisky's return? Or is it getting Trey Burton: The Adjuster involved earlier? Speaking of getting the ball earlier, Anthony Miller lightly lobbied for a higher workload, which may not be a bad idea either. This is why they pay Nagy the big bucks, but man, coaching in the NFL seems kind of hard. 

First Thoughts on Week 7 

Stankevitz: I’m going to expand on this more later in the week, but New Orleans’ defense looks like a tough challenge for Trubisky to face in his expected return Sunday. 2018 first-round edge rusher Marcus Davenport is third in the NFL in pass rushing efficiency, generating a pressure once every 13.7 snaps (behind only Nick Bosa and Khalil Mack). Cam Jordan is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL and doesn’t always get his due for how good he is. 

So New Orleans has an excellent defensive front, one that will take sound technique and strong communication for the Bears’ O-line to block. And then there’s cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s shut down the likes of Amari Cooper, Mike Evans and DJ Chark over the last three weeks. His lock-down presence — he travels in zone coverage to take out a team’s best receiver — allows the Saints to not need to always play a safety over the top, leading to extra men in the box to stop the run. 

So Trubisky will have his hands full on Sunday. It’s not like the Saints have an elite defense, but it’s good, and looks like a bad matchup for the Bears’ offense. 

Ellis: To almost directly contradict J.J., I actually think there are yards to be had against a Saints defense that ranks 13th in pass defense DVOA, ninth in yards per play and has allowed five plays of 40+ yards (T6). Marshon Lattimore's had a great month, but his season-long coverage numbers are more good than great. An average pass defense will be more than enough if the Bears' offensive line plays as poorly as it did in London, but if for some reason the combination of Rashaad Coward, a bye week breakthrough, and Taylor Gabriel makes everything snap into place, I think the Bears could move the ball better than people expect.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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