Bears

Notre Dame's James runs '42 follow' to success

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Notre Dame's James runs '42 follow' to success

A running back without five dependable offensive linemen blocking in front of him is like a target in a shooting gallery.

Ask Chris James.

Without his offensive line--"the bulldozers," he calls them--Notre Dame's 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior bulldozer wouldn't be what he is, one of the most prolific and explosive and durable ball-carriers in the state.

"Once I knew I would have to rely on them, we built a bond," James said. "They were more excited to block for me this season. We talk to each other in the hallways and on Facebook. We have a tight relationship."

The "bulldozers" 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior left tackle Sean Nicholson, 5-foot-10, 240-pound senior left guard Mike Maligranda, 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior center Bob DeLeonardis, 6-foot-4, 260-pound right guard Nick Bargione and 6-foot-1, 250-pound junior right tackle Mike Mulcrone.

His favorite play is "42 follow," in which he lines up seven yards deep in an I formation and follows 5-11, 215-pound junior fullback Tom Sora between Bargione and Mulcrone on the right side of the line. "It's always open," James said.

With them paving the way, James has rushed 277 times for 1,910 yards and 27 touchdowns for the 7-4 Dons. He has fumbled only twice. In the opening game of the Class 7A playoff, he set a school record by carrying 47 times for 327 yards and seven touchdowns in a 46-27 victory over Grayslake North.

Last Friday, James powered for 164 yards on nine carries and scored two touchdowns, including a 61-yarder, as Notre Dame trounced Steinmetz 35-8. After building a 35-0 halftime lead, James rushed only three times in the third quarter before taking the rest of the night off.

The Dons, who have qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time since 1997, will host Lake Forest (8-3) on Friday in Niles.

College recruiters are taking notice. James has no offers but he has attracted considerable interest from Arkansas, Oregon, Wisconsin, Duke, Ohio State and Purdue.

"Arkansas is my dream school," he said. "I visited there in the off-season. They've been my top school since then. I liked the atmosphere, how they take football so seriously."

Michael Hennessey said what separates James from other running backs is "he has explosiveness and a twitch to his step that he can ignite a long run at any point in time," coach Mike Hennessey said. "He has great 50-60 yard runs straight up and down. Once he gets by a linebacker, the defensive backs are lost trying to catch him."

Hennessey, in his 26th year as head coach at the Niles school, said he could recall only two other running backs who reminded him of James--St. Rita's Billy Marek and Gordon Tech's Leroy Foster. And that covers more than
30 years.

"He is head and shoulders above any running back we have had," Hennessey said. "He is bigger and just as explosive as Foster. Marek was a slasher, not a bulldozer like James. I wouldn't trade Chris for any running back in our league (including Joliet Catholic's more celebrated Ty Isaac)."

James has his own comparisons. Originally, he wanted to wear jersey number 25 because he is a big Reggie Bush fan coming into high school. But friends and teammates compare his style to former Alabama star Trent Richardson, now with the Cleveland Browns, so he opted for number 3.

"My style is comparable to Richardson," James said. "I'm smart, explosive, elusive, strong and durable. And I have size. I still make something happen even if nothing is there."

He stumbled only once, in a 21-6 loss to Nazareth in Week 6. He was limited to only 33 yards in 16 carries. "He got bottled up. The defense took away a lot of things. They blitzed their linebackers a lot and took away our emphasis on the line of scrimmage," Hennessey said.

But the Dons have bounced back. "We've worked our butts off for so long. We're determined to be the best team that coach Hennessey has seen in a long time. We're really motivated," James said.

A year ago, James split carries with senior Connor Garvin, now at Northern Illinois. To prepare for the 2012 season, he added 15 pounds, reduced his speed from 4.5 to 4.43 seconds for 40 yards, engaged in speed training and weight training.

"I knew I had to be durable. I knew the team would need me," he said. "I wasn't patient last year. Now I see how the blocks are set up and I see the hole and explode through it."

After starting 4-1, Notre Dame lost to Nazareth and Marist to fall to 4-3. But the Dons defeated Joliet Catholic 42-33, marking their first victory over the perennial state power in 23 years.

"That was a turning point. It was a very lifting thing to beat Joliet Catholic," Hennessey said. "They are the mark of excellence in our conference. It wasn't just another game. It was a big game in the season, a steppingstone. Our kids have been resilient and able to fight back."

Bears are only slight favorites over Lions on Thanksgiving

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USA TODAY

Bears are only slight favorites over Lions on Thanksgiving

The short week has Las Vegas oddsmakers less optimistic about the Bears as they head to Detroit to take on the Lions.

Even after an impressive win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, Chicago still opened as only three-point favorites for their Thanksgiving matchup, according to Vegas Insider.

This comes only two weeks after the Bears were favored by nearly a touchdown over the Lions back on Nov. 11.

Playing on the road instead of at Soldier Field may be a factor in the betting line, but the tighter spread is still surprising considering Chicago’s last few results.

Perhaps even more surprising is that the number hasn’t moved even with the unknowns surrounding Mitchell Trubisky’s shoulder injury.

Either Las Vegas doesn’t think he’s going to miss the game, or they don’t think there will be much of a dropoff with backup Chase Daniel in his place.

The over/under of 44 points is also a little bit on the low side compared to other lines in Week 12, especially since these two teams combined for 56 points just two weeks ago.

The short week of preparation will have both teams scrambling, likely with neither at their best, so maybe the matchup does have potential to be a little more close with a little less scoring.

 

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Donovan McNabb’s advice for Mitch Trubisky: ‘You have to slide feet first’

Donovan McNabb’s advice for Mitch Trubisky: ‘You have to slide feet first’

Donovan McNabb spent a dozen years as one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, finishing his standout career with 3,459 yards on the ground with 29 touchdowns. 

So when he saw how Mitch Trubisky went down to the ground on the play on which he injured his throwing shoulder Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, McNabb had some advice for the Bears’ quarterback. 

“You have to slide feet first,” McNabb said in an appearance on SportsTalk Live Tuesday. “Like, you’re nowhere near getting the first down. Just slide feet first. And when you do that, now that takes everything out of the question. No one’s coming down to spear you, no one’s coming down to make the tackle. But if you go face first, then they’re going to go after you. So I think for him, either utilize the out of bounds or get down.”

McNabb’s right about the down and distance — the Bears had a first and 10 on their own 44-yard line when Trubisky took a zone read handoff moving to his left. It was sort of an awkward run — as Trubisky crossed the line of scrimmage he was already falling forward. Committing to a slide, as McNabb said, would’ve lessened the risk of being awkwardly (and illegally) hit by Smith. 

Bears coach Matt Nagy, though, didn’t criticize Trubisky’s sliding ability or feel for when to do it. 

“I think you see it in every game with quarterbacks that can run, that’s a part of the risk-reward,” Nagy said. “You’ve got to make sure they understand how to not put their body in harm. To me, what happened the other night when he got hit, there’s nothing he could’ve done different. He’s playing the game of football and got a late hit.”

One thing both McNabb and Nagy mentioned is teaching quarterbacks how to slide by using a summer backyard favorite.

“What (coaches) used to do is bring you the slip-n-slide,” McNabb said. “They teach you how to slide because most of these guys, they’ve never played baseball, these guys they were always the biggest guy on the football field so they would try to run everybody over.”

Only four quarterbacks — Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, DeShaun Watson and Dad Prescott — have totaled more rushing attempts in 2018 than Trubisky (51), who enters Week 12 as the NFL’s leading rushing quarterback (363 yards, nine more than Newton — on 26 fewer attempts). But as we saw Sunday night, those attempts can be dangerous if a quarterback exposes himself to hits, even if they’re deemed illegal. 

“He's good at (sliding),” Nagy said. “Because he's running more often than others, there's different times that he slides and different ways that he slides. I've been around some bad sliders, including Michael Vick, and he'd laugh at it. He couldn't slide to save his life. We used to go out and put the slip n' slide out after practice and try to teach him and he couldn't do it. 

“Then you've got these baseball players that have played baseball in high school that know how to do it. Mitch knows how to do it. He knows how to slide. Sometimes you'll see him slide certain ways because of angles of where you're at on the field and when you're trying to get down or not get down. Again, it comes with territory.

“… He is good at it. I don't think it, I know he's good at it.”

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