Bears

Football recruiting never ends

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Football recruiting never ends

Football recruiting never ends. Neither does the process of evaluating prospects, determining the four-star players from the three-star players, the Big 10 players from the MAC players, separating the difference-makers from everyone else.

Tom Lemming has been doing it for 32 years, before the Internet and texting and emailing and cell phones and national signing day and recruiting services and junior days and summer camps and ESPNU and EdgyTim and Rivals and Scout and message boards.

"What has changed is Internet and cell phones. I still do what I did 32 years ago. I go to schools and meet with the kids, the same thing that NFL scouts do," said Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "I pattern myself after NFL scouts. How can you evaluate a kid by talking to him on the phone? All major sports evaluate in person.

Lemming's game plan is like no other. He evaluates players the same way today as he did in 1978. Through a series of coast-to-coast trips covering four months and 49 states, including Hawaii, he personally meets with 2,000 players and their coaches. He watches them play and work out. He looks at their game film. And he talks to them eye-to-eye, man-to-man.

"I travel, see everybody in person, watch them on film and make a decision based on what I see in person and on film," Lemming said. "Today, I just have to get my information out quicker. It is more competitive. When I started, Joe Terranova in Detroit was the only other person in the country who evaluated football talent. We started something and people picked up on it. Now hundreds and hundreds of people are involved. It has become a big business."

It isn't a science. He makes mistakes. He overlooked Barry Sanders, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. But he was the first to give national exposure to John Elway, Randy Moss and Michael Vick.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Lemming said. "It all comes down to evaluating players in person and on film. Today, there are so many combines and they mainly are out to make money. Kids get very little benefit from most of them. But combines have become a big business."

Lemming already has made seven trips to evaluate members of the class of 2013. In January, he went to Nashville, Tennessee and Alabama, then to Arkansas, Texas and Arizona, where he spent three weeks at the Semper Fidelis All-America Game and combine in Phoenix.

Afterward, he made three-day trips to North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida.

In February, he spent two days in Iowa, then three weeks touring Kentucky, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Future trips are scheduled for St. Louis, Memphis, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in March, the Midwest and East Coast in early April, then the West Coast and Hawaii. He will cover 49 states by May 5.

"It will be the earliest ever that I have covered the entire country," Lemming said. "I'm trying to get everything done earlier and publish my (300-page) magazine. I used to finish everything at the end of July. But now the deadline is mid-May. Everything has moved up."

Here are Lemming's up-to-date observations:

The class of 2013 nationally is outstanding at every position, better than 2012. Overall, it projects as a great year athletically, particularly in Chicago.

The class of 2013 in Illinois could be the best since 1986. There are outstanding prospects all over the state. Peoria has three big-time players. Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac if the No. 1 player. There are several others -- Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell, Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey, St. Francis' Kyle Bosch, Lemont's Ethan Pocic, Peoria Manual's Logan Tuley-Tillman and Maine South's Matt Alviti -- could be No. 2.

Isaac is the No. 1 player in Illinois, the No. 1 player in the Midwest and maybe the No. 1 running back in the country. He has great size, speed and vision. He also demonstrated great production against outstanding competition in 2011. As long as he stays healthy, he likely will be ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

Tuley-Tillman is as good as Bosch, Pocic and Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West among the state's leading offensive linemen. If he was in Chicago, he might be the No. 1 offensive lineman of all. Athletically, he could be the most gifted of all. He is raw but his ceiling is higher than everyone else. He and Bosch are committed to Michigan.

Can you remember the last time Peoria had three big-time football prospects in the same season? Tuley-Tillman, running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods and 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central are top 100 candidates.

Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia, is the No. 1 player in the country. Lemming describes him as "the next Reggie White." He rates Nkemdiche as good or better than last year's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who went to South Carolina.

"Only time will tell if he can match Reggie White's intensity," Lemming said. "Talent-wise, he has exceptional feet and explosiveness. He may be leaning to Alabama because his high school coach played at Alabama." Nkemdiche also is considering USC, LSU, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee and Auburn.

Derrick Henry of Yulee, Florida, is a 6-foot-3, 241-pound running back who looks like a defensive end. He is committed to Georgia. He is one of the top three or four running backs in the nation, in a class with Ty Isaac.

The top five players Lemming has observed so far are Nkemdiche, 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker Ruben Foster of La Grange, Georgia, 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Florida, 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback Tyrone Swoopes of Whitewright, Texas, and running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Virginia.

Foster is committed to Alabama and Swoopes is committed to Texas.
Fulwood has offers from Alabama and Ohio State. Green has more than 22 offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Wisconsin.

Tuley-Tillman, Bosch and Pocic aside, the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation is 6-foot-6, 280-pound Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Florida. He has several offers, including Alabama, USC, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Texas and Tennessee.

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

Bears notes: Was Trey Burton’s penalty justified?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a game full of pivotal moments, one seemed to irk the Bears in particular following Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Driving on the Dolphins three-yard line, the Bears lined up in a T formation with Jordan Howard, Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen lined up left to right in the backfield behind Mitch Trubisky, who was under center. Burton motioned out of the backfield and to the right, and ran his route into linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Trubisky threw a short pass to a wide open Cohen for a touchdown, with Alonso late getting to the running back after being hit by Burton. But that score was taken off the board for offensive pass interference, with officials ruling what Burton did amounted to an illegal pick play.

“Trey did everything I asked him to do,” Matt Nagy said, sharply.

On the next play, Trubisky forced a pass into double coverage in the end zone, which was easily picked off by Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald. Miami turned that interception into eight points on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown and an ensuing two-point conversion.

The way Burton understood the rule was that offensive pass interference was only assessed on a pick play if he intentionally ran into a defender without running a true route. That’s what Burton felt he did; the officiating crew disagreed.

“I thought I ran a route and the guy ran into me,” Burton said. “I thought they changed the rule this year or last year — if you run the route, it doesn’t matter if you pick the guy or not, you’re good. Obviously they called it.”

A Rough Return

The conversations surrounding the Bears Sunday into Monday would be awfully different had a number of things happened — Trubisky doesn’t throw that interception, the Bears’ defense gets a stop, Tarik Cohen doesn’t fumble near midfield, etc. In that same group: If Cody Parkey hits what would’ve been a game-winning 53-yard field goal in overtime.

Parkey, instead, missed that kick wide right. His career long is 54 yards, which he hit last year while with the Miami Dolphins (and that was a game-winner with about a minute left against the Los Angeles Chargers).

“I had the distance, I just didn’t kick it straight enough, bottom line,” Parkey said. “But you’ve got to move on. I’ve made game winners, I’ve missed game winners. As long as I keep playing, I’m just going to keep trying to kick my best.

“… I control what I can control, and unfortunately I missed a field goal. I’d like to have that one back, but it is what it is and I’m just going to focus on the next game. That’s all I can do.”

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

For an improving Bears offense vs. Dolphins, a day of maddening extremes

Their points production in the 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday marked the fourth time in five games under coach Matt Nagy that the Bears have scored 23 or more points. All of the 28 were heaped on the Dolphins by the offense, which churned for 467 yards one game after amassing 483 and 48 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the Bears did in fact lose, and not all of the reasons can be laid at the feet of the defense. Not nearly all of them.

In great position to put the game virtually out of reach for the struggling Dolphins, the Bears offense failed. The yardage total gave the Bears consecutive 400-yard games for the first time since games 14-15 in 2016, and well could have represented a statement that the offense of Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich was indeed hitting a potent stride.

It may be. But a combination of troubling factors gave Sunday’s output a hollow ring.

Against the Dolphins, 149 of the yards came on possessions ending in turnovers, including an interception thrown by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and fumble by running back Jordan Howard both occurring in the red zone with points well within reach.

The offense hurt itself with a handful of pre-snap penalties, and the overarching sense is that the belief in Nagy and the overall offense is growing amid mistakes that clearly rest with players themselves.

“For sure, 100 percent trust in Coach Nagy and what he believes is best for this team,” Trubisky said. “What he believes is what I believe is best for this team. Whatever he calls, we're going to run it to the best of our ability. We put ourselves in a great chance, and I have faith in our guys that next time we get the opportunity we make it.”

Opportunities taken and opportunities missed

For Trubisky, the linchpin of the evolving offense, it was a day of extremes.

His production (316 yards) gave him consecutive 300-yard games for the first time in his 17-game career. His passer rating (122.5) was the seond-highest of his career, behind only the stratospheric 154.6 of the Tampa Bay game. His three TD passes are second only to his six against the Buccaneers. Trubisky’s yardage outputs this season are pointing in a decidedly upward arc: 171 at Green Bay, followed by 200-220-354-316.

But decision-making proved costly at tipping points against the Dolphins. From the Miami 13 with a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, and holding a chance to create potentially decisive breathing room on the scoreboard, Trubisky forced a throw toward tight end Ben Braunecker, who was double-covered in the Miami end zone. The ball was intercepted by safety T.J. McDonald, and the Dolphins went from the touchback to a touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.

“I just thought the safety went with the ‘over’ route,” Trubisky said. “He made a good play. I lost him when I was stepping up [in the pocket], and I forced one in the red zone when I shouldn't have… . I forced it and I put my team in a bad position, and I shouldn't have thrown that pass.”

The second-year quarterback started poorly, with an overthrow of a wide-open Anthony Miller on the third play from scrimmage, resulting in a three-and-out and a concerning start for what would be only scoreless Bears first half this season. A failed fourth-and-2 conversion gave Miami the football at its 41 later in the quarter.

Trubisky badly overthrew an open Miller in the second quarter, creating a third-and-long on which the Dolphins broke down his protection for a second sack in the span of just 11 plays. After a 47-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, Trubisky threw an checkdown pass nowhere near running back Jordan Howard.

Fatigue factor overlooked?

Running back Tarik Cohen totaled 121 yards for the second straight game and the second time in his career. For the second straight week Cohen led or co-led the Bears with seven pass receptions.

But the last of the seven came with a disastrous finish. Cohen was hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso after taking a swing pass and picking up 11 yards, fumbled and had the ball recovered by cornerback Xavien Howard at the Chicago 45. The defense did manage a stop, leading to the overtime, but the result was devastating.

“Personally for me, it’s [frustrating] because I know I took my team out of position to win the game late in the ball game,’ Cohen said. “So personally, that’s frustrating for me… . I feel like I had an opportunity to get ourselves down in scoring position. I let fatigue get the best of me, and I forgot about the fundamentals.”

That Cohen mentioned “fatigue” is perhaps noteworthy. A question was raised to Helfrich last week as to whether there was an optimal or max number of snaps for the diminutive Cohen, who had five carries and was targeted nine times – not including one punt return and plays on which he ran pass routes but was not thrown to in the south Florida heat.

“It was hot,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “It was hot out there.”

Weapons rising

Last offseason and millions in contracts were spent upgrading offensive weaponry. The investments produced in Miami.

Touchdown passes were caught by wide receivers Anthony Miller (drafted) and Allen Robinson (free agent) plus tight end Trey Burton (free agent). Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (free agent) caught the five passes thrown to him for a team-high 110 yards, his second straight 100-yard game after none in his previous four NFL seasons.

Five different players posted plays of 20 yards or longer, including pass plays of 54 and 47 yards by Gabriel and a run of 21 yards and reception of 59 yards by Cohen.

Uncharacteristically for the normally fast-starting Bears offense, the group followed the scoreless first half with 21 points in the third quarter and 343 yards of combined offense in the second half and overtime.

“We came out with more energy and had the attitude that we were going to go down and score the ball,” Trubisky said, “and we played a lot better the second half.”