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Illini focused on closing out games

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Illini focused on closing out games

CHAMPAIGN "Finishing" was the word on everyones tongue on Monday. After allowing Wisconsin a big fourth quarter during the 31-14 loss on Saturday, the only thing Illinois coaches and players could think of was finishing.

It was a four-quarter football game and I think we played three, Illinois coach Tim Beckman said at his Monday press conference. I was proud of the way we played those three quarters, but in the game of football, you have to finish.

You have to be able to respondin a positive manner, rather than letting them knock us down.

Before their game at Wisconsin, the Illini players took it upon themselves to address issues from past weeks. The players met for an extended period of time without the coaches after their regular team meeting at their hotel in Madison. The meeting was led mostly by the seniors, and allowed everyone to voice their issues and regain some of the fire the team felt before losing big to Louisiana Tech and Penn State.

Defensive end Michael Buchanan said the meeting was beneficial for everyone and it showed in the first three quarters against Wisconsin.

We made some big strides last week, playing with intensity and coming out fired up. "We just have to do a better job finishing, he said. Definitely were more confident, we have a lot of things to build on from that game. We played a great three quarters of football.

Hanging with the Badgers on the road for three quarters was encouraging, but the team realizes it must continue to improve in order to still be a factor in the Big Ten this season.

Safety Steve Hull, who had an interception against Wisconsin, described the Illini as a hungry team. He said the meeting helped the team become more player-driven which is a trait he believes championship teams possess.

We talked on Friday about where we are this year and how weve fallen from last year, Hull said. Defensively, for three quarters, we were very sound. We did everything correctly. We just have to build on those three quarters.

Offensively, Beckman said he wants to see his quarterback have more time with the ball. Against Wisconsin, Nathan Scheelhaase had one of his best games of the season, but had to scramble to buy time and create plays, both through the air and on the ground.

Getting Scheelhaase more time comes down to the Illinois offensive line. Beckman specifically addressed blocking as something his team can do better in order to control the outcome of the game. Offensive lineman Graham Pocic said consistency with blocking was his units goal.

Sometimes theres one guy who breaks down and it just happens that guy has a single blockyou have to be able to handle the one-on-one blocks. We have the talent to do it, he said. Michigan will have strong inside guys, strong outside guys, speed on the edge. They move their D-line a lot and use a bunch of different fronts.

The biggest challenge when Illinois travels to the Big House this Saturday, however, will be slowing down Michigan's Denard Robinson. The Wolverines quarterback has already set a Big Ten record for career rushing yards by a quarterback and is fourth in the NCAA in the same category, but running is only one aspect of Robinsons game that worries Illinois.

Robinson is averaging 188.4 yards passing so far this year, helping Michigan to a 3-2 record and a spot at No. 25 in the latest Associated Press poll.

To stop the Wolverines from racking up 44 points, as they did against Purdue last week, the Illini must watch Robinson like a hawk.

We better know where he is at all times, Beckman said with a laugh.

You have to contain him. Its going to be really big to keep our eyes in the right place, Buchanan added. From a pass rushing standpoint, we cant give up the field. We have to close our rushing lanes and keep our eye on him. This is a big challenge but were up for it.

There is no simulating the talent of a player like Robinson, but Beckman mentioned the team could throw freshman wide receiver Justin Hardee or another young player behind center to give the defense a taste of what its like to go against a multi-faceted player like Robinson.

Of course, just practicing against Scheelhaase, who possesses above average speed and throwing ability, is always a benefit during the week. On top of that, Beckman will continue to run NFL-style drills at his team to get them ready for their game in Ann Arbor.

Kick-off for Illinois and Michigan is scheduled for 2:35 on Saturday, October 13. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.

Illinois Notebook

-- Terry Hawthorne was able to fly home with the team after being taken from the field by ambulance in Madison. The initial results of scans were negative, but Beckman says the senior will undergo further tests in Champaign to determine whether or not he sustained a concussion in Saturdays game. His status for the Michigan game is uncertain, but Beckman said that if Illinois had practiced on Monday, Hawthorne would not have been a participant.

-- Despite Illinois 2-4 record, Beckman is certain Michigan will not overlook this weeks game. When asked if Brady Hoke might be looking ahead on the schedule, Beckman said, I know him, and I know he wont look past us.

-- After the loss at Wisconsin, running back Donovonn Young complained about the lack of touches for him and fellow running back Josh Ferguson. Beckman played down any notion of discontent, citing passion for the game leading to rash statements from the sophomore. Donovonn knows he can make playsthe ultimate thing is how do we make the Illini better, Beckman said.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Call it a small Bears reality check, if not a full wake-up call, then at least a nudge in the night. And this sort of thing should be expected, not just in OTAs, not just in training camp or preseason, but when it all counts.

And it should serve as a lesson of sorts. Because some of the underlying reasons are worth a little highlighting and patient understanding around a team that has spent its offseason and millions of dollars refashioning an offense, beginning with coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that offense wasn’t particularly good on Wednesday.

In a sport where the operative cliché is “just get better each and every day,” the Bears didn’t, but as far as their coach is concerned, “there’s two ways to look at it,” Nagy said. “Whether you say on our side, on offense, trying to see a bunch of different looks a defense can give you, is it too much or not? It’s good for us. It’ll help us out in the long run. It’s good for our players and they’ve handled it well. There’s going to be mistakes but they have it on tape to be able to look at. “

This is about more than just a few bad reps or missed assignments. It’s part of the good-news-bad-news reality that a sea change brings to a team.

The good news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The bad news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The Bears defense is predictably ahead of the offense, hardly a surprise, given that most of the core of the top-10 unit has remained in place. That said, you do have to like the attitude of the barely-above-rookie No. 1 quarterback challenging that assessment Wednesday, with a “Who says that?”

This while the offense has myriad moving and new parts, and interceptions, blown plays and such were occurring for an offense that, like Halas Hall, is a massive building work in progress.

“Well, today was a bad ‘build,’ but that’s to be expected,” Helfrich acknowledged. “We’re adding a chunk each day, I thought today was the first day where we had somebody do something that just like, ‘wait, OK’ – a few positions here and there, a few new guys, obviously a few veterans here and there that it’s all new to, hit the wall.”

It’s a “wall” that arguably is inevitable with a coaching change.

Not to make excuses, but….

For a sense of perspective, scroll back to Jay Cutler, who went through offensive coordinators perhaps faster than he went through socks: a year with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz, one with Mike Tice, two with Aaron Kromer, one with Adam Gase, one with Dowell Loggains, who at least was a holdover from the Gase year. (Whether Cutler’s failure to match potential with production was the cause of or because of that turnover, this humble and faithful narrator leaves to you, the reader).

More than a few current Bears can only dream of that kind of “stability.” And because of that, the 2018 pre- and regular seasons may be bumpier than the optimism surrounding the Nagy hire was anticipating.

Guard Kyle Long, still not practicing full-go while he rehabs from surgeries, is on his fifth offensive-line coach in six NFL seasons. Center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game since the Bears drafted him in the 2016 second round, has had three different line coaches in as many seasons: Dave Magazu for 2016, Jeremiah Washburn for 2017 and now Harry Hiestand. Left tackle Charles Leno was drafted in 2014, making Hiestand Leno’s fourth O-line coach.

And this is the offensive line, the unit that most engenders use of the term “continuity.”

“Each coach brings in a little bit, different techniques,” Whitehair said. “There’s a lot of time for us to hone in and get to know what he’s trying to teach us. But in the end it’s still football.”

Kevin White is entering his fourth NFL season. He is on his fourth receivers coach (Mike Groh, Curtis Johnson, Zach Azzanni, Mike Furrey) and third different season-starting quarterback (Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky), not including offseason battery mates ranging from Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Connor Shaw, depending on how much rep time he spent with which unit at various times during his training camps.

“It doesn’t matter,” White said. “Roll with the punches, come here and do my job every day.”

Regardless of how many bosses you’ve reported to.