Bears

Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

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Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The grind of a season can take its toll on a team as the games pile up, but now, Notre Dame has a completely different issue to deal with: a 44-day layoff between games.

An upshot of playing in the season's final game is the lengthy layoff, which for Notre Dame began when the clock hit zero on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles and won't end until the night of Jan. 7 in South Florida.

Notre Dame players filed into the Gug Sunday to watch the BCS selection show wearing shirts boasting the team's "unfinished business." Those aren't an unfortunate homage to Matt Barkley and USC's preseason motto, but instead a motivational slogan for the team's extended break.

"Were not taking this period off, were not taking a break," safety Zeke Motta said. "Were going to get after it and let our bodies heal given the proper amount of time, but were still going to be doing some stuff to make sure that were going to be on our A-game."

For last week and this week, that means conditioning and weight training, as well as letting players get caught up on classwork as finals week begins Dec. 10. The team's first bowl practice is Friday, giving them a month of preparation -- minus six days for Christmas between Dec. 21-27 -- for the BCS Championship.

These are uncharted waters for Brian Kelly, who spoke to coaches at LSU and Oregon about their preparation for the last two BCS Championships.

"We were pretty much right on with what we thought the schedule should look like leading in to the championship game," Kelly said. "Its a one-game deal. Were just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7. Our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. We dont want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a veteran at dealing with these championship breaks, and will guide the Tide through them for the third time in four years. When asked about the plan for layoffs on a conference call with both coaches Sunday, Kelly joked he wanted Saban to answer the question first to get an idea of how Alabama has succeeded in December and January preparation.

"The way we try to do it, youre so far removed from the season to the bowl game, especially when you play Jan. 7 in the National Championship game, we try to look at it like its a one-game season," Saban explained. "Let the players finish the semester, do weight training and conditioning for the next couple weeks and then we start to have some fundamental practices, camp-like -- like fall camp. Take a few days off for Christmas, come back and start getting ready for the game in terms of challenges that Notre Dame presents to our team."

That plan sounds right about in line with Kelly's. But no matter how long the break is between games, getting players motivated in practice won't be a battle Notre Dame's coaches will have to fight.

"Its the National Championship, so I dont care if we have to prepare for two months," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "Youre playing for all the marbles."

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: