Bears

Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

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Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

The learning curves were conquered quickly by Northwestern freshmen Dan Vitale and Dean Lowry.
Just six months after their respective high school graduations, the first-year players already have made increasingly impressive marks with the Gator Bowl-bound Wildcats.
Some major college programs make freshman wait their turn to work their way up a depth chart. Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald said he has no problem calling on first-year players, especially if they are ready and able.
Danny is very gifted athletically, a very bright young man who I thought made a lot of big plays as the season went along. Fitzgerald said. Dean is physically very gifted, hes got great size and had a great quarter academically. As the year went along he was more comfortable in his role and really started to play well.
Vitale and Lowry are among four freshman to crack the lineup and both are expected to play when Northwestern (9-3) meets Mississippi State (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Wildcats are scheduled to leave Evanston for Jacksonville early Wednesday and open several days of training Thursday at Jacksonville University.
A 6-foot-2 tight end from Wheaton, Vitale topped the depth chart at "super back" -- a combination tight end and fullback -- coming out of training camp.
Through 12 games -- including 10 starts -- he was fifth among Northwestern receivers with 21 catches for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Vitale broke out against Michigan State with nine receptions for 110 yards and earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
But in August, he had no great expectations entering preseason Camp Kenosha.
I just went into camp thinking I was going to do everything I could just to get on the field, said Vitale, who won a 2010 state championship as a Tiger running backwide receiver. Its been a very good growing experience, especially starting off with little reps and progressively getting more time and getting the ball thrown to me, and Ive learned a lot.
The intense preseason training helped Vitale prepare, although he admitted there were some major adjustments to make.
The speed of the game (is different), he said. And I never had to block as much. Thats been one of the key aspects of the game this year.
Lowry, a 6-foot-6 reserve defensive lineman from Rockford, appeared in all 12 games. Hes had eight solo tackles and five assists plus a fumble recovery against Vanderbilt and a quarterback sack at Michigan State.
Its been crazy -- a lot of good times but a lot of stressful times trying to balance school and football, Lowry, an all-stater who played on back-to-back unbeaten Rockford Boylan championship teams, said. But now Im feeling real confident going to a bowl game. I have the technique and the coaching has definitely helped me get there. I feel really good.
Last summer, Lowry also didnt figure hed be in line for the role he eventually earned.
Probably not, he said. I took one day at a time as the coaches told me. But I really didnt think Id be at this point yet.
And Lowry said he continues to learn.
Everyones bigger, stronger and faster, he said. A lot of physical teams we played against they kind of pushed me around a little bit, but I learned from that.
A year ago Vitale was on a holiday break from Wheaton Warrenville South and wrapping up Christmas shopping. He already knew he was bound for Northwestern after committing the previous June.
There was nothing to worry about, nothing to focus on except getting ready to come here, Vitale said. Actually I think I was little worried about finals. I think I had them after break.
Lowry, meanwhile, was preparing for a holiday basketball tournament with his Boylan Catholic team.
We had just finished winning a state football championship, Lowry said. It was basketball season and I was sweating a lot, losing a lot of weight.
Fast forward 12 months and both were among three Northwestern players named to the all-Big Ten freshman team. Redshirt freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose also landed on the squad.
Some of his teammates have experienced as many as four bowl games.
Lowry cant wait for his first.
Im just going to embrace it and see how it goes, he said.

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”