Bears

Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

DeShone Kizer has plenty of the traits desired by NFL scouts, like a strong arm and a 6-foot-4, 230 pound frame. What he doesn't have, though, is the label of being a "winner." It's the opposite for Kizer, who quarterbacked Notre Dame to a 4-8 record in 2016, the program's worst since that embarrassing 3-9 year under Charlie Weis a decade ago. 

Both Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have touted a quarterback's ability to elevate everyone around him, with Pace at the Combine specifically pointing to Drew Brees' success at Purdue. Kizer, then, doesn't check off that box.

But it's worth noting Kizer was a "winner" two years ago, when he was thrown into action seven quarters into the 2015 season and led Notre Dame within six points of a berth in the College Football Playoff. Kizer threw a last-second game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller at Virginia, led a furious comeback (that fell short on a failed two-point conversion) on the road in a rainstorm against national runner-up Clemson and scored what should've been a game-winning touchdown late against Stanford (only to have Brian VanGorder's defense blow it with under 40 seconds left). 

So how did Kizer go from being a "winner" one year to losing that label the next?

A point to note here is that 2015 Irish team had a bunch of players drafted in the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft: Fuller and left tackle Ronnie Stanley were first-round picks, while center Nick Martin was a second-rounder and running back C.J. Prosise went in the third round. Kizer not only had less talent surrounding him in 2016, but most of those players he had to rely on were now inexperienced underclassmen. 

Notre Dame's offensive line and running game both regressed without the likes of Stanley, Martin and Prosise. That put more offensive responsibility on the passing game and Kizer, who was without six of his top seven targets from a year ago (the only returning one, Torii Hunter Jr., was sidelined for four games with various injuries). 

But Notre Dame's plummet wasn't just due to that talent drain on offense. Fired were VanGorder (four games into the season) and special teams coordinator Scott Booker (after the season) as both those units struggled do much of anything well. Two games in September were particularly egregious, with Kizer playing well in both but the Irish still conspiring to lose. 

In Week 1, Kizer threw for five touchdowns, ran for another and didn't turn the ball over in Notre Dame's 50-47 double-overtime loss at Texas. Kizer had a few chances to do more later in the game, but it's worth noting he was without Hunter, who left the game in the third quarter due to a concussion. Is it fair to assign "fault" to the guy who had to sub in and out with Malik Zaire in the first half and still had six total touchdowns and no turnovers? 

Twenty days later, Kizer threw for 381 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and one rushing score in Notre Dame's 38-35 home loss to Duke. After earning a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Notre Dame allowed Duke's backup returner to run a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Duke ripped off touchdown plays of 25, 32 and 64 yards against a feeble Irish defense, with that 64-yarder coming less than a minute after Kizer pulled Notre Dame ahead midway through the fourth quarter. 

In those two games, though, had Notre Dame's defense and special teams merely been below average instead of a complete disaster, Kizer would've done more than enough to earn his team the two wins it needed to reach a bowl game. A 6-6 record hardly is good -- or acceptable in South Bend -- but it probably would've been more forgivable than the ugly stain of 4-8. 

Consider the records of the other four top quarterbacks' teams:

Clemson (DeShaun Watson): 13-1, national champs
North Carolina (Mitchell Trubisky): 8-5, lost Sun Bowl
Texas Tech (Patrick Mahomes): 5-7
Cal (Davis Webb): 5-7

The other side to this, though, is that Kizer and Notre Dame had a chance to win or tie late in the fourth quarter in seven games, with six losses (Texas, Michigan State, Duke, N.C. State, Stanford, Virginia Tech) and one win (Miami). No matter how little help Kizer had, he still had a chance to convert those opportunities and for the most part did not. 

Kizer never wavered in accepting responsibility for those losses during the season, and that message didn't change at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. And it's one that should play well in draft rooms as teams decide whether or not Kizer, after a 4-8 season, is worth the investment of a first-round pick. 

"I just didn't make enough plays," Kizer said. "The ball's in my hand every play. It's my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me."

George Halas, Mike Ditka among three Bears named to NFL 100 All-Time Team

George Halas, Mike Ditka among three Bears named to NFL 100 All-Time Team

The Chicago Bears continue to be well-represented on the NFL 100 All-Time Team with three more additions to the roster Friday night: George Halas (coach), Dan Fortmann (offensive line) and Mike Ditka (tight end).

Halas' Bears coaching career spanned four decades and 324 wins. As the founder of the Bears and one of the NFL's original owners, his name is synonymous with the history of the league.

Halas is one of 10 coaches who will be selected to the All-Time Team. The coaches revealed so far include Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Joe Gibbs and Paul Brown.

Ditka was one of five tight ends chosen for the historic roster after a career that included five pro bowls in six years with the Bears. He last played for Chicago in 1966 but still holds the team records for career receptions, yards and touchdowns for a Bears tight end. He's also one of the franchise's all-time greatest personalities after leading the Bears to their only Super Bowl win as head coach in 1985.

Forttman, a seven-time Pro Bowler in the late-30s and early-40s, played guard for the Bears and was named to the 1940s All-Decade Team.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Will Mitch Trubisky continue his hot run?

trubisky_pic.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Will Mitch Trubisky continue his hot run?

Ben Finfer, Ricky O'Donnell and Cam Ellis join Laurence Holmes on the panel.

0:00 - It's Bears vs Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field. Will Mitch Trubisky continue his hot run? And could the key to a Bears victory actually be making Aaron Rodgers throw the ball?

10:00 - Jason Goff joins Laurence from the United Center to preview the Bulls and Hornets. They discuss the reasons for Lauri Markkanen's success in December and Jason shares his love for all things Star Wars.

18:30 - Rick Hahn says the White Sox are better at the end of the Winter Meetings than they were at the beginning of it. So what's the next move that will make them even better?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

Subscribe: