Bears

Lenti, Mount Carmel bring home another title

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Lenti, Mount Carmel bring home another title

By Mike Clark
Season Pass

CHAMPAIGN The question all week long was, would Don Butkus play quarterback for Mount Carmel in the Class 8A state championship game?

The answer: Yes, and very effectively.

Butkus ran 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and later threw a seven-yard touchdown pass as the Caravan beat Glenbard North 28-14 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Justin Sanchez had three interceptions to lead a Mount Carmel defense that did not allow a score until there were under four minutes left.

Mount Carmel (13-1) won its 11th title overall and its first since 2002. Coach Frank Lenti has led the Caravan to its last 10 championships, tying now-retired Matt Senffner of Providence for the

state record.

Ive never felt this happy in my entire life, Butkus said. Its an insane feeling.

I dreamed about this ever since I came to Carmel as a freshman. I always wanted to be a state champion.

Butkus had left Mount Carmels semifinal win over Neuqua Valley after suffering a left ankle injury on an unsuccessful two-point conversion try in the closing minutes. The senior, a two-year starter and three-year varsity player, was held out of practice early last week. He only practiced one day in pads all week.

Our trainers did a great job, Butkus said.

Lenti gave some of the credit to his quarterback, with a nod to his famous great-uncle, Bears great Dick Butkus: I think he is fitting of the name Butkus.

Any doubt about his status was erased when Butkus led the Caravan onto the field for pregame warmups, running without seeming to favor the ankle.

He ran 12 times for 50 yards as the Caravan rushed for 256 yards. Draco Smith ran seven times for 129 yards, while Matt Domer added 79 on 13 carries. Butkus completed 2-of-5 passes for 34 yards with one interception.

Butkus night got off to a rough start when two-way star Justin Jackson of Glenbard North (12-2) stepped in front of one of his passes and ran it back 76 yards for a touchdown with 9:53 left in the second quarter.

After that, it was all Mount Carmel.

On the Caravans first offensive play after the kickoff, Smith raced 78 yards down the right sideline for the tying score.

A 34-yard burst by Domer set up Butkus touchdown run a simple quarterback sneak that he turned into a long gainer with 1:20 left in the first half.

Butkus scoring pass to an open Jason Gasser in the middle of the end zone made it 21-7.

Smith added his second score on a 25-yard run with 10:31 left in the game.

Mount Carmels defense didnt allow a score until Brian Murphy hit Ryan Storto with a six-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 remaining.

The Caravan limited Jackson to 63 yards on 28 carries. Murphy ran 16 times for 46 yards and was 9-of-25 passing for 168 yards with four interceptions.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.