Bears

McQuade follows Aurora Christian's QB legacy

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McQuade follows Aurora Christian's QB legacy

For two years, coach Don Beebe has been touting who he perceives as the next great quarterback at Aurora Christian, the multi-talented youngster who will follow in the footsteps of Jordan Roberts, Nate Peterson and Anthony Maddie, who rank 1-2-5 in state history for touchdown passes in a career.

Beebe, who once caught passes from Hall of Famer Jim Kelly for the Buffalo Bills, knows a quarterback when he sees one. And before the 2012 season began, he felt 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore Austin Bray would be his starting quarterback.

But he forgot to tell Ryan McQuade.

"Going into the summer, I was going to start Bray. He will be a good one," Beebe said. "He was the starter. Then we competed in a 7-on-7 tournament with Kaneland, Batavia and Neuqua Valley and Ryan lit it up from a leadership standpoint. Then we went to a national 7-on-7 tournament in Arkansas and finished third out of 32 teams and Ryan lit it up again. We knew he would be our quarterback this year. As he progressed, I knew he would have a big year."

Truth be told, Beebe had to be nudged a little. McQuade is Beebe's nephew. No, he didnt ask his mother (Beebe's sister) to intercede in his behalf. Instead, he walked into the coach's office and boldly announced that he wanted a shot at the starting quarterback position.

"I started at outside linebacker on last year's state championship team but my heart is at quarterback," McQuade said. "I knew I was slated to be the backup as a senior when the summer began. I told him I wanted a shot at quarterback. He said Austin has been there and is slated to be the starter.
I said: 'I'll put a lot of time and effort into it and we'll see at the end of the summer.' It worked out good."

"Ryan is an intriguing story. He sat behind (All-Stater) Anthony Maddie for the last two years. It is neat to see him have such a great season because he wanted to play quarterback so much last year but couldn't because of Maddie. But this year we never missed a beat at the quarterback position."

McQuade, a 6-foot-4, 206-pound senior, has completed 192 of 331 passes for 2,973 yards and 42 touchdowns for a 12-1 team that will meet Tolono Unity in the Class 3A championship on Friday in Champaign. He was 12-of-21 for 167 yards and four touchdowns in last Saturday's 41-7 semifinal rout of Sterling Newman.

"This team is better than last year. We're playing well, firing on all cylinders," Beebe said. "This is the best defense I've coached in nine years, 11 players who can all play, no weaknesses. In some ways, this also is our best offense. Never before have we had great passing and running games together. Our kicking game is great. And this is the best coaching staff I've had."

One of Beebe's assistants is Bryan Wells, a former dean of students at Neuqua Valley who was fired as head football coach after last season. Wells left the Naperville school to become principal at Aurora Christian. He also is Beebe's special teams coach.

McQuade has found his niche, throwing to wide receivers Chad Beebe and Cory Windle and handing off to Brandon Mayes and Joel Bouganon, who have combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

"Honestly, I'm a team guy," McQuade said. "As long as we're winning, that's all I care about. It's a blast playing for my uncle. We have a great mixture. Opponents can't key on one thing. My goals were to pass for 2,500 yards and 30-35 touchdowns. I surpassed all that. But I care about winning and the team the most."

He felt confident in his ability to be the starting quarterback because he knew Beebe was looking for a vocal leader. "That's what he looks for in a quarterback--a true leader. I've worked hard for this. I know the history of the quarterbacks at this school. All I wanted to do is make a name for myself, be confident in my abilities and perform well. I believe I have done that," McQuade said.

What is the scouting report on Tolono Unity? Last year, Aurora Christian crushed Tolono Unity 50-26 in the semifinals. Unity returns quarterback Justin Deters and two Division I recruits, wide receiver Micah Johnson and linebacker Mitch Negangard.

"They know us and we know them from last year's film," Beebe said. "They are the best team we have faced in the playoff. Whoever turns the ball over the least will win the game."

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears desperately need more from Jordan Howard, which may sound greedy given that he has been one of the only offensive sparks of the last two seasons. And they may be getting it.

Through the early practices in Bears Camp ’18, the nascent offense of coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich has been ... interesting. The intensity and conditions can be posited as factors, but the fact remains that the defense has intercepted a half-dozen passes and the pass rush has had Mitch Trubisky and the other quarterbacks frequently scrambling after coverage locked down their intended receivers.

Amid all that, something decidedly positive and mildly surprising was unfolding.

Rush-and-cover combos force check-downs to shorter routes, in particular running backs. If this were the Kansas City Chiefs offense under Nagy last year, that would have been Kareem Hunt, who caught 84 percent of the 63 passes on which he was targeted. If this were the Bears from 2008 through 2015, that would have been Matt Forte, who never caught fewer than 44 passes in any of his eight Chicago seasons.

But those were thens, this is now, and the featured back in the Chicago offense is Howard. That qualifies as a question for the developing Bears offense, an iteration of the West Coast system that is predicated on positive plays and ball control using the pass.

The reason is that Howard has developed two competing personas through his first two NFL seasons. One was that of a workhorse running back, the first in Bears franchise history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. A model of consistency at 4.6 yards per carry.

The “other” Jordan Howard was the model of inconsistency — a running back among the worst pass-catchers at his position, low-lighted by the drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Atlanta Falcons last opening day. Howard dropped six of his 29 targets last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The year before he was determined to have dropped seven of his 50 targets.

An emerging 'new' Howard

But maybe that latter was then and this training camp is now.

The defensive pressure has, by chance or by choice, sent Trubisky passes toward Howard. The third-year tailback has responded with both efficient pass-catching and occasionally light acrobatic work, turning off-target throws into positive plays.

The results qualify as a significant positive from early camp. Howard is getting a clean-slate start from Nagy and running backs coach Charles London, and the hope is for a three-down back in the Hunt/Forte mold, which Howard can only be if he is an effective third-down option. His head coach thinks he is.

“Obviously, there’s this façade out there, there’s this notion that (Howard) is just a first- and second-down back, and I don’t believe that,” Nagy said. “Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that. We’re going to use him. And we’re going to use other guys on first and second down when we need to.

“For us, it’s important for Jordan to know and for everybody on our offense to know that he’s a big part of this. This kid’s had a very successful career so far. We’re crazy as coaches and as offensive coaches if we don’t understand it and if we don’t use that to our advantage.”

Wanting Howard to be a three-down force and achieving that are two different things. For his part, Howard has worked to effect what can become a tidal shift for the offense.

“Definitely it’s important to me, just building my confidence more and more with catching the ball and working my body,” Howard said. “It’s definitely important to me. ... I definitely have improved my hand placement. I used to have my hands all over the place, but now coach London is working with me on my hand placement and looking the ball in.”

Possible impact on Howard

The impact of a multi-dimensional Howard cannot be overstated, and it could be overlooked in the buzz of all the other “weapons” the Bears brought in this offseason. It shouldn’t be.

Neither should the effect his enhanced skillset can have for Howard himself.

When the Bears’ offense broke out under Marc Trestman in 2013, finishing second in scoring, Forte caught 74 passes while posting his career-high 1,335 rushing yards on an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Hunt as a rookie last season led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while being the Chiefs’ third-leading receiver in both catches and targets. Howard was the only of the top eight leading rushers in 2017 with fewer than Leonard Fournette’s 36.

Tarik Cohen delivered 53 receptions. But Cohen is not a three-down back with the capability of the 200-plus carries that 17 of the top 19 running backs logged last year.

A critical element projects to be Howard’s conditioning and ability to take on a larger and more diverse workload. That limited him in his rookie season, when his usage in fourth quarters dropped at times because he simply wasn’t in requisite shape. The Bears hope that issue and the drops are behind Howard.

“He’s a patient running back,” Nagy said. “I think he as good vision so he’s patient, has good vision, and when you combine that with the power that he has, he finds ways to get yards. The nice thing for us is that we can move him around and do different things.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here: