Bears

Top Gun Combine benefits local prospects

911311.png

Top Gun Combine benefits local prospects

High school football players who aspire to compete at the next level attend combines to get exposure to college recruiters. But there is a risk. For example, if an athlete is timed in 4.8 seconds for 40 yards instead of 4.4 or 4.5, his chances of landing a scholarship offer are slim to none.

Scott Hoffman claims his Top Gun Combine is different. He admits some combines are in business for the sole purpose of making money but he insists his one-day event, which will be conducted on Sunday, Dec. 16, at Players U, 412 Business Center Drive, in Mount Prospect, is designed "to train athletes to better themselves to get an opportunity to play in college."

"I wouldn't disagree with the idea that some combines can create negative exposure for someone who has positive exposure," Hoffman said. "But a kid who has had no exposure has a chance to get on the radar of colleges, if he has had limited or no contact with college recruiters.

"But Top Gun is 100 percent different. It isn't a traditional combine. Our combine is designed for specific position training, not just to run the 40-yard dash or participate in 5-10-5 drills or the long jump, which are typical combine tests. More importantly, we will put kids through football drills...defending receivers, running routes, 1-on-1 drills. We see playing ability on the field. We are evaluating football talent, not just track talent."

Hoffman knows the pluses and minuses of combines. A former All-State quarterback at Elgin, he was recruited by Florida, played at Purdue and played professionally in Germany for a year. His father was an All-State running back at Weber, played at Illinois and coached at St. Rita, Weber and Elgin.

After he blew out his knee and retired from football, he founded his own financial services company. He expanded his company to the United Kingdom and reconnected with American football as a volunteer coach and offensive coordinator. When he returned to the United States in 2005, he got the bug to return to coaching football.

He coached at St. Edward in Elgin and at Harper College in Palatine and privately tutored quarterbacks. In January, 2010, he purchased Top Gun. At the time, it was a quarterback competition company. But Hoffman expanded to a full-time, year-round football position training company with a staff of seven coaches to train all positions.

"We want to increase the ability of players in Illinois to compete with athletes in the elite conferences, like the SEC," Hoffman said. "They have to do more than their high schools ask of them if they want to play at the next level. If you don't, you fall behind when you are compared with elite conferences that workout year-round."

In case you haven't noticed, the nation's elite programs -- from USC to Oklahoma to Texas to LSU to Alabama to Florida to Georgia -- are recruiting in the Chicago area. Some didn't recruit locally until a few years ago. Some are scouring the city and suburbs for the first time.

"The world has gotten smaller through technology," Hoffman said. "Recruiters are able to sit in their office and see highlight tape on kids from Illinois. If they see something they like, they come into the state to meet him face-to-face."

Hoffman's camp on Dec. 16 has attracted 94 players from 48 high schools. One of the top-rated prospects is junior quarterback Bret Mooney of Jacobs, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder whom Hoffman said is "as good as I have seen as a 16-year-old." Veteran coach Bill Mitz of Jacobs, who formerly coached at Stevenson, predicts Mooney is a future star.

How can Hoffman's staff improve Mooney's skills in one day?

"Most importantly, at the end of the day, is a quarterback's accuracy in the pocket and on the move," he said. "What can we do to help them in a short time? We help them review fundamentals and get their eyes to the target area as quickly as possible. We can't increase their arm strength in one day but we can improve their accuracy and quickness."

At the end of the day, Hoffman's staff selects the best players to compete on an elite 7-on-7 team that participates in regional and national tournaments in the spring and summer. It gives the youngsters an opportunity to gain a lot of exposure and a chance to compete and train with other elite athletes.

A year ago, Waubonsie Valley running back Austin Guido and Grayslake North quarterback A.J. Fish were the headliners on Top Gun's elite 7-on-7 squad.

Hoffman insists Fish had the ability to play football in the Big Ten but he opted to sign with Virginia to play lacrosse. Fish is one of the leading lacrosse players in the nation and Virginia is the top-ranked college program. So it was a good fit, what Fish wanted.

"But he could have played in the Big Ten. He was that good. He was cat-quick laterally, as good as I have ever seen. I don't know if he had a Top 25 arm but he could have played in the Big Ten because of his vision and lateral movement. Colleges made a mistake by not offering him," Hoffman said.

The Top Gun event is open to all skill-position players in the classes of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 -- quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back -- who want to prepare for the 2013 season and have aspirations to play in college.

For information, call Hoffman at (847) 346-5635 or email Scott@TopGunQB.com.

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

0720_aaron_rodgers.jpg
USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

0720_leonard_floyd.jpg
USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.