Bears

Stone leads Crystal Lake Central's comeback

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Stone leads Crystal Lake Central's comeback

Talk about coming back from adversity. Crystal Lake Central has come from behind in four games this season, scoring on the last drive to win.

"It's been a crazy year," coach Mike Fralick said.

The Tigers edged Huntley 27-26 by driving 91 yards in the last two minutes to score with four seconds left. They marched 70 yards to beat Woodstock 21-14. They drove 78 yards in 16 plays in eight minutes and scored with a minute left to beat Woodstock North 21-14. And they nudged Prairie Ridge 7-3, driving 90 yards to score with 22 seconds to play.

Last Saturday, they didn't need to resort to any last-minute theatrics as they trounced Hyde Park 49-7 in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.

Jordan Wallace set the tone by returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Matt MacAlpine, in his first full game back after fracturing the fibula in his left leg, scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Lavand ran for one TD and threw for another as the Tigers built a 42-0 halftime lead.

Crystal Lake Central, which finished behind only Grayslake North in the Fox Valley's Fox Division, will carry an 8-2 record into their second-round game against Grant (8-2) in the second round.

The Tigers have made positive strides since last year's 6-4 finish. "We pulled a tough draw. We lost to Cary-Grove on the road in the first round. But it was a successful season. We did some good things. Our goal always is to qualify for the playoff. And we shared the conference title," Fralick said.

This year's goal is to go beyond the second round, something the school has never done before. In his third year as head coach, with eight starters returning, with depth on both sides of the ball, Fralick felt his team was equipped to meet higher expectations. Especially on defense.

Then the Tigers learned how to spell A-D-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y. Leading rusher MacAlpine, who gained 1,000 yards last year, broke a leg in the season opener. He returned to the lineup for the first time last week but carried only four times for seven yards. He still is rounding into shape. He carried only five times against Hyde Park on Friday.

Without MacAlpine, Fralick implemented a more balanced offense. "We used to be run happy. But I've always believed in balance, pass and run. More than anything else, we have to be more balanced on offense and throw the ball a bit. When we can throw the ball, we are tough to defend," he said.

"I know our defense will be tough. It will come down to executing and being more diverse on offense. I don't know how long it as been since we've had a 1,000-yard passer. But our offense is starting to hit our stride."

The Tigers have a 1,000-yard passer now. He is 6-foot, 175-pound junior Lavand. He transferred from Marian Central in Woodstock after his sophomore year. "I like his poise. He doesn't get rattled. He has an accurate arm and does a nice job of running the offense," Fralick said.

Connor Hines, a 5-foot-8, 205-pound junior fullback, has taken over for MacAlpine. He has rushed for 600 yards in the Tigers' double wing offense. Lavand's chief target is 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior wide receiver Isaiah Mosher.

The 4-4 defense features 6-foot, 195-pound senior linebacker Darwin Stone, Hines at defensive end, 6-foot, 230-pound senior end Kyle Logan and 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior middle linebacker Nathan Talbot.

Fralick, a Woodstock graduate of 1988, played under Bob Bradshaw and Ed Brucker. He was hired as a teacher at Crystal Lake Central and worked his way up the ladder, finally succeeding coach Jon McLaughlin in 2009.

"Coach Brucker was a great influence," he said. "I learned about demeanor. I liked what he did on offense. And I run his 4-4 defense."

Fralick saw the importance of what a well-stocked weight room can do for a team. Until he arrived, weights hadn't been emphasized very much. And the weight room was small and adequate equipment. He renovated the room, moved obsolete equipment out and moved in new sets of dumbbells, power racks and new equipment for dead lifting and squats.

"Now we have one of the top weight rooms in the conference. When I was a freshman, we were at the bottom," Stone said. "I think I'm three times better than I was if the room hadn't been improved. I've put on 60 pounds since my freshman year. I benched 135 pounds; now I bench 275. I squatted 315; now I squat 500. It has made me faster and quicker, from 5.0 seconds for 40 yards to 4.5."

Stone is the leader of Crystal Lake Central's defense, one of five team captains. He hopes to play football in college, maybe at Eastern Illinois, Beloit or Southeast Missouri State. For the time being, however, he is focused on the state playoff and helping his team achieve something historic.

"As a team, we have worked so hard. We really believe we can go far in the playoff. If we stick together, we can make things happen," Stone said. "I feel when we are put in a situation where we have to make things happen and if we don't we lose, that's when we are at our best."

Stone also has rushed for 400 yards as the I-back behind Hines. "When it comes down to it, I'm in for short yardage situations," he said.

But he admits the Tigers are more effective when they are throwing the ball. "We used to be only a running team in the wing T, three yards and a cloud of dust. In the past, we'd pass only 12 to 15 teams in an entire season," he said.

"As freshmen, we were taught to work hard. Not much was expected of the team, we were told, we have to earn it. It was tough to lose MacAlpine. But the team isn't built around one person. It would have been great to have him back. But we'd be in the same spot with him playing all the time."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

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

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Anthony Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.