Bears

Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

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Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

CHAMPAIGN How do you put a calendar year without a Big Ten win out of your mind? According to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman you own the day.

At his press conference on Monday, Beckman said the emphasis for his team going forward was to play like champions each Saturday, regardless of the results from past Saturdays.

Those last games are done. We have five games in front of us, he said. Were taking it one day at a time. We talked about challenging this football team to own the day which means, basically, do everything to win that day.

Having a bye week last week, after losing 45-0 at Michigan on Oct. 13, was very beneficial to the team, Beckman said. Illinois (2-5, 0-3) got three extra practices in during their off week, giving the team extra time to work on areas where they have struggled in their last four games all losses.

The Illini did more than just run drills, however. One of the most important things the team did during its break, according to Beckman, was self-evaluate.

The bye week is not really a week off, its a chance to evaluate the things weve done, the Illinois coach said. Its an opportunity for our players to evaluate the way theyve played. Coaches to evaluate the way theyve coached.

This aspect of the bye week was very important to linebacker Jonathan Brown. He said the extra communication between the players and coaches was invaluable.

Losing at Arizona State in week two gave us a blow. I dont think we lost confidence but it was step back. Having the same problem week-in and week-out it compounded to where we finally were like, We gotta change something, Brown said. Everybody is on the same page this week. Coaches, players, training staff were moving forward. There was a lack of communication going on, but thats something we fixed and got better at.

The Illini also got better in a more literal sense during the bye week. A week with no competition gave the team the opportunity to get injured players back to full health or close to full health.

Senior defensive back Terry Hawthorne, who sat out the Michigan game, and junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was pulled from the Michigan game, are both back to full go status according to Beckman. The rest week gave the players a chance to relax, nurse their injuries and regain strength.

The bye week came at a good time to get guys healthy, Beckman said. For all these guys, including guys who havent played that much who might not have been startersits good we had the opportunity to get these guys healthy.

Some players, like Brown, have been playing through pain. Having the chance to get him closer to full health is something Beckman hopes will boost the defense when Illinois returns to the field. Brown feels certain he can give his best when Indiana comes to town on Saturday.

I was able to sit back and let my body recuperate a good week of relaxing. It was definitely a positive for us, he said.

Illinois will need a full complement of healthy players on Saturday because Indiana, despite being winless in the Big Ten, has shown the ability to battle with some of the conferences best teams. In three Big Ten games against Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Hoosiers have scored at least 27 points and lost by an average of just over seven points.

Indiana has found success with a quick offense that allows opponents little time to make adjustments between plays. The Illinois players feel ready for the speedy Hoosiers, bolstered by a week off and earlier games against other fast-paced offenses like ASU and Louisiana Tech.

Practice this week has been extremely fast. Coach doesnt move the ball from one hash to the other and he has two different groups running to the ball, back-and-forth. We have to run and call the play at the same time were trying to get into our formations as we get on the field, defensive back Ashante Williams said.

That preparation for the speed of Indiana combined with the Homecoming tradition at Illinois has the players very fired up for Saturdays game and not looking past the Hoosiers. For the Illini, all that matters is owning the day.

Kickoff for Saturdays game is scheduled for noon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

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USA TODAY

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

The Bears putdown of the Detroit Lions provided a critically important statement start to the second half of a season that now would stand as a disappointment if the Bears fail to reach the playoffs. Not so much because of the missed-playoffs themselves, but because to misfire now after a pair of three-game win streaks will mean a couple of bad losses.

Or so-called “bad” because of expectations being raised above ground-level. But the Bears face a remaining schedule with some dark corners.

The Bears haven’t beaten a team currently with even a .500 record. No reflection on the Bears; they can only play whoever shows up. But it puts the remaining seven-game race to the postseason under a cloud of justifiable doubt, leaving it to the Bears to prove they belong in the tournament that starts in January.

The schedule has three A-list games: two against Minnesota, which has won four of its last five and comes to Soldier Field on Sunday following an off-week; and one against the Rams, the highest-scoring team in the NFC.

Three games are against bottom-feeders – the Lions again, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. The problems here are: 1) all three games are on the road and 2) those teams will beat someone over the final the final seven weeks.

And the seventh of the remaining games is against the Green Bay Packers, who’ve lost all four of their 2018 road games but have a quarterback who hasn’t lost to the Bears in Chicago since 2010.

Tiebreakers are likely out of play for the division, with Green Bay and Minnesota having a shared tie. But winning the division outright seemed a given, as it does now, in 2012 when the Lovie Smith Bears had an elite defense and stood 8-3.

Run game redux

Concern over the Bears inability to run the football may come off as nitpicking or saying nay about an offense leading a team that is on pace to set a franchise scoring record.

But it does matter that of the 10 teams with six or more victories this season, the Bears, Patriots, Saints and Texans are the only ones not in the top 15 in rushing average. Houston and New Orleans, however, rank in the top 11 for rushing yardage, and New England does have Tom Brady in addition to being tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns.

The overarching point here is if the Bears hope to challenge for a spot among the NFL’s elite, it behooves them to fix this weakness in an offense without many.

The bigger point is whether the Bears can fix it. Put another way, they may not be able to within the parameters of the offense as being designed and operated by Matt Nagy. He has a No. 1 back who needs carries to build a game, yet he is a coach who does not run his offense through a featured back.

Nagy didn’t isolate blame for his team’s running woes on Jordan Howard, the offensive line, coaches or anyone else. Nor should he, because the problem indeed lies with none of them and all of them.

With a Detroit gameday roster with five backs and three tight ends, the result was the lowest rushing total (54 yards) and average (2.5 yards per carry) of this season and came a week after the previous lows (64 yards, 2.6 yards per carry).

But the issue is more than one back (Howard). It’s the group of running backs (leaving the offensive line out of this point purposely), none of which are likely ever going to give Nagy the identity or consistent production that he wants for this element of his offense.

For one thing, no back is likely to see anywhere near the workload that ostensibly is needed to get Howard “lathered up.” Nagy doesn’t lather anybody up, and until a back emerges who can do a microwave impersonation and heat up in a huge hurry, the Bears rushing upside is hazy.

Using the template Nagy most relates to, Kareem Hunt has gotten 20 carries in just seven of 26 career games as a Kansas City Chief, only once in a 2018 season that has the Chiefs at 9-1.

Run-run-run is simply not in the Nagy offensive DNA, nor is it anything close to a dominant philosophy, even among teams who have been its leading practitioners. Nor is there a consistent formula for winning with an integrated run-pass offense.

The NFL’s three top rushers – Todd Gurley, Rams, 9-1; James Conner, Steelers, 6-2-1; Hunt, Chiefs, 9-1 – come from teams that went into this weekend running the football 46.6 percent of their snaps (Rams), 36.3 percent (Steelers) and 40.5 percent (Chiefs).

The Nagy Bears have in fact been at the high-run end at 45.1 percent, while the coach and staff have struggled for a run-game identity. But that includes nearly 30 percent of the rushing yardage coming from Mitchell Trubisky – not exactly the preferred run-game identity.

Preseason Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 10 Bloom

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NBC Sports Chicago

Preseason Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 10 Bloom

Bloom

2017-18 record:
16-11, 6-4 Southland

Postseason results: Lost to Marist in Class 4A regional finals.

Players to watch: The perimeter trio of juniors Donovan Newby, Keshawn Williams and Dante Maddox Jr. are all worth watching as they form one of the best backcourts in the state. Junior big man Martice Mitchell provides size inside at 6-foot-9 while Kevin Vance was an intriguing forward this summer. 

Why they're in the power rankings: A year ago, Bloom had the talent to compete with anyone in the area. But with four sophomores and one junior in the starting lineup, the Blazing Trojans were too young. Now, a year later, Bloom looks like a very dangerous team after a strong summer. The Blazing Trojans have multiple Division I prospects on a team with huge aspirations. 

Did you know? Bloom will play one of the elite schedules in the area this season. The Blazing Trojans are scheduled to take part in the Chicago Heights Classic, Chicago Elite Classic, Pontiac Holiday Tournament and When Sides Collide Shootout -- to name a few marquee events.