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Can the combination of Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne extend the season for the Chicago Sky?


“We want to be physical in all aspects of the game, but being strong mentally would help us out a lot more.”

Pokey Chatman, Chicago Sky head coach and general manager, on managing in the WNBA Finals

The ‘School of Hard Knocks’ opened at the WNBA Finals between first-time contenders Chicago Sky and 2007 and 2009 WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury.

In a bruising game Game 2 in Phoenix Tuesday night,  6’6 Sky center Sylvia Fowles cut (accidentally or no?) 6’8 center’ Brittney Griner’s eye, for which Griner sat out four minutes. Reportedly, Phoenix point guard Diana Taurasi asked her…”Don’t you have TWO eyes?” And she was back in the game. Later,  the Sky’s Sasha Goodlett caused further damage when she elbowed Griner hard in the mouth, knocking out a tooth.  Griner spit the tooth onto the US Airways Center court and kept playing.

But damage was done. On Thursday, Griner underwent a procedure for a ‘retinal issue’ in Phoenix and is listed as a game-time decision if she will play Friday night in Game 3 at the UIC Pavilion.  If ophthalmologist Dr. Jay Schwartz clears Griner to play, she’ll hop a plane from Phoenix and join the team in Chicago.

Griner’s possible absence gives some hope to the Sky, who are first-time contenders for the WNBA crown. Down 0-2 after two humiliating games in Phoenix, the Sky could force a Game 4 on Sunday.

But it’s going to be tough, Griner or not. All five Mercury starters, including Griner, scored in double-digits in a 97-68 slaughter, a Finals record. Diana Taurasi, with 18 points, moved into second place on the Finals all-time scoring list, passing Katie Smith.  She trails only Deanna Nolan, who has 256 career points in the Finals.Despite what had to be excruciating pain, Griner finished the game with 19 points and four blocks.

But the scrappy Sky, who’ve endured lengthy absences this season from superstar Elena Delle Donne, All-Star Sylvia Fowles, Ephiphanny Prince, and Courtney Vandersloot, and came together relatively healthy in the postseason, have surpassed all expectations. Vandersloot explained:

“We’ve faced elimination in Round 1 and Round 2, and somehow we find a way to win it.  We’ve been through a lot this season.  We fight, we’ve got fighters on this team, we’re not happy with just being in the Finals, and I think if anything these first two games have been a huge wake up call for us.  Obviously, we need to be better and we’re going to find a way to be better.”

Other encouraging signs from Tuesday night included Delle Donne, clearly suffering from a back strain, bouncing back from a dismal, painful Game 1 by delivering a game-high 22 points in 28 minutes. How about Epiphanny Prince turning in her best performance of the playoffs, scoring 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting? She also had 3 steals.

An extra day of rest also benefits the hurting Sky. Delle Donne said her back felt better. Sylvia Fowles is eager to get back home and onto the court that launched her career at the UIC Pavilion. And they know their competition pretty well. Delle Donne analyzed the keys to the Mercury’s success after Tuesday night’s loss:

“They have several superstars on their team and they’re all very unselfish as well.  You know if you pay extra attention to D [Diana Taurasi], she will have 11 assists.  So they really know how to spread the floor, read the floor and get each other open.”

The key to extending the season will be Delle Donne’s health and her ability to play.

Other keys include:

  • Limiting turnovers
  • Scoring points in the paint
  • Outside shooting
  • Avoiding blocks from Griner
  • Successfully guarding Dupree and Taurasi

And for those who think ‘no one’s watching…the WNBA reports the Finals are averaging 688,000 viewers per game across all networks, up +92% versus last season’s Finals (between the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream) to-date (358,000 viewers) through two games.

Game 1, where the Mercury beat the Sky 83-62, was the most viewed WNBA Finals Game 1 since 2000.

 

 

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The Northwestern Wildcats may have the title of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”, however, it is the Northern Illinois Huskies who are the -winningest- team in the state, as well as the Mid American Conference over the last decade.

On Saturday, the two schools located roughly 70 miles from one another, met for the first time since the 2005 season. The Wildcats entered Saturday’s matchup unbeaten against the Huskies with six victories and one tie in 1987. Northwestern was also carrying a 10-game win streak against MAC opponents, however some things change.

Drew Hare threw two touchdowns and ran another to lead NIU past the Wildcats 23-15 at Ryan Field on Saturday, much to the delight of the in state fans who made the trip to cheer on the 2013 MAC champions.

The Huskies (2-0) used all three of their quarterbacks Saturday, but managed to save the best for last. Hare entered the game in the second half and immediately made an impact. He would connect on six of 10 passes for 109 yards, including two touchdown passes to wide reciever Da’Ron Brown, ( six receptions for 128 yards). Hare would also rush for 31 yards and a touchdown.

NU (0-2) struggled offensively throughout the game. Trevor Siemian finished 27 of 41 for 268 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, despite having little pass protection all day. Siemian would leave with an injury late in the fourth quarter.

One bright spot for NU was Kyle Prater who caught his first collegiate touchdown. Prater spoke after the game about what this football team means to him.

“We overcame a lot in the offseason,” Prater said. “We are a family and we still feel that way. We still have that bond, and were just going to keep moving on. We are just getting hit with some adversity right now, and its nothing we can’t overcome”

Whether the Wildcats will be able to overcome this awful start is yet to be seen, one thing is we know for sure is that the Northern Illinois Huskies are “Illinois’ football team”.

Click Below for head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s post game audio

Two weeks away from the regular season kickoff, the Chicago Bears still have a lot of preparation to do before they’re ready for a playoff run. And while it’s still only preseason, a lot can happen that will determine the outcome of the year. This Friday, the Bears are set to go up against the defending super bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle. Chicago will look to go 3-0 after coming off two straight victories against the Eagles and Jaguars.

Jay Cutler addresses the media.

Jay Cutler addresses the media.

The biggest headline surrounding the Bears this week has been the signing of ninth year veteran wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Holmes spent four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers; catching the game winning pass and earning MVP honors in Super Bowl XLIII. Holmes was later traded to the Jets in 2010 and spent four somewhat less exciting seasons in New York. He has caught only two touchdown passes in 15 starts the previous two seasons. After suffering a lisfranc injury in 2012, Holmes has struggled to return to form.

Quarterback Jay Cutler has already expressed some optimism about Holmes. “It’s just a matter of getting him caught up with our verbiage, and just getting a rapport. It takes time though.” He commented. “He looks really good, he’s explosive. To be honest, he looks a little bit rusty, he’s been out of football, but he’s getting in and out of cuts, he catches the ball well, extremely explosive, fast, he’s exciting, we just gotta get him caught up with everything right now. We might have to help him along in the huddle and just make sure he knows what he’s doing, but we got enough veteran guys so we can get him where he needs to be.” Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said that almost an hour after he signed his contract, Holmes was voluntarily out on the field running routes for Cutler.

Jay Cutler talks about Seahawks challenges, wide receivers, upcoming week

 

Although Holmes did practice, no decision has been made as to whether he will play Friday in Seattle. “I can’t say that right now.” Trestman responded as to whether Santonio would play. “I think we’re trying to get him to that place. I think I’ll know a little bit more after practice tomorrow. We’ll see where he’s at, we’ll talk to him, and we’ll see whether or not he’s ready to go and get some playing time.” Trestman went on to add, “He did good work today. And he worked with different groups, so he got some reps, and I thought he worked positively today. I thought there were some good things out there.”

Head Coach Marc Trestman discusses the upcoming week

Head Coach Marc Trestman discusses the upcoming week

Although mostly backups will play midway through the game against Seattle, it provides a good learning experience for playing against the reigning world champions. “They’re the defending champs.” Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod commented. “It’s gonna be a test for our offense, it’s gonna be a test for each one of us individually up front, and we’ll just have to make sure that we’re ready to go.”

Running back Matt Forte as evidently gone through a few struggles this preseason. In two games, he’s rushed a total of seven times for minus seven yards. Yes, as in 7 carries for -7 yards. Despite this, Forte had expressed optimism on the future. “I’m not worried about the previous games like everybody is. I’ve had seven carries for negative seven yards and all this crap. It’s preseason, so I’m ready for the regular season. If you get four carries in a game, you’re not gonna do much so it’s hard to do a lot. The running game will come along. We’ve been working on it in practice so we’ll be good.”

Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod discusses Seahawks, Bears offense

CenturyLink Field has always provided the Seahawks with a particular edge; disrupting the visiting team’s play calls with arguably the loudest fans in the NFL. It’s no secret that Seattle has used this technique for years, often causing confusion and miscommunication between players. “It’s probably the loudest stadium or at least one of them.” Matt Forte admitted. “I’ve played there twice I believe, and I can’t hear Jay. So we’ve been practicing in the noise with the crowd machine, so that’s what we’ve been practicing for.” During training camp last week, the Bears could be seen and heard practicing with a noise machine that emitted the sound of a large, packed stadium in preparation for the game in Seattle.

Some good news for the Bears defense, Lance Briggs returned to practice on Tuesday after missing Monday’s practice with a knee bruise. However, Jared Allen sat out of practice after suffering a shoulder contusion. Trestman commented, “It’s just a bruise.” He went on the add that Allen sitting out was “Just a precaution.”

 

Marc Trestman discusses Santonio Holmes, upcoming Bears vs Seahawks game

 

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QB Jay Cutler answers questions from the media after the game. Photo by Ryan Horvat.

Two down, two to go.

That’s what the Chicago Bears have to be telling themselves after Thursday night’s 20-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team looked flat and (excluding the rookies and guys trying to earn a place on the roster) at times, disinterested.

For the second straight week the Bears (2-0), could not establish the run early in the game. Matt Forte carried the ball four times, but once again could not find any daylight. He has now carried seven times for negative 7 yards total this preseason, Head coach Marc Trestman acknowledged the early struggles.

“We have not been productive running the ball,” Trestman admitted “We have had more productive runs with the second teamer’s and thirds than we did with the first. We are working hard on it everyday.”

One reason Forte may be struggling to find holes, could be because the offensive line has not been intact since training camp began. Kyle Long battled a viral infection, Martellus Bennet made his return this past week after a short suspension, and Jordan Mills sat out for the second straight game with a foot injury. Mills had surgery on the metatarsal in his left foot in January.

Jay Cutler got things going after a shaky start for the offense, completing 7-9 passes for 75 yards including a four yard touchdown strike to Brandon Marshall in the second quarter before exiting the game in the second quarter.

“It was different, we had a three-and-out and then got back on the field with only thirty seconds,” Cutler said (when asked about only running five total offensive plays in the first quarter.) “We overcame a couple third downs there in the second quarter and got a little bit of a rhythm going so that was good.”

Defensively, the Bears looked sluggish at times, allowing Chad Henne and (No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft) Blake Bortles to pick apart their zone defense. Second year linebacker Jon Bostic was one bright spot, he rocked Jacksonville running back Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 play in the first quarter. Cornerback Sherrick McManis also continued to be around the ball, and make plays again, after his strong showing week 1 of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Preseason Game Two notes

– Every team’s main goal in the preseason is usually to begin week one of the regular season healthy. The Bears are hoping that will be the case for them this season. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller left the game in the first quarter with a ankle injury, while last weeks star, tight end Zach Miller also left the game early with a foot injury. Head coach Marc Trestman told the media after the game that ” both guys were being evaluated tonight, and he will know more tomorrow”

– Devin Hester will be like an old girlfriend who you didn’t appreciate, until she was gone for the Bears this season. Hester may not have been the explosive player he was in his first few seasons in Chicago, and he sure struggled to learn a playbook, but at least he would give you decent field position and scare teams to kick away from him. The Bears struggled to establish who will be returning kicks/punts for them this season again against Jacksonville. Eric Weems fumbled on a kickoff return, while Chris Williams continues to miss time with a hamstring injury. the Bears better find someone quick, as good as they are, and as many weapons as they have on offense its hard to put points on the board when you are starting on your own 18 yard line every possession.

– Jimmy Clausen looks like the clear-cut favorite to win the backup job. Jimmy wasn’t nearly as impressive as he was last week, completing 11-15 passes for 94 yards and an interception, but bad communication could have been reasoning behind the mistakes.

“We had miscommunication with the headsets” Clausen admitted.” They were cutting in and out. We got that fixed”

Don’t count Jordan Palmer out of the race yet however. Palmer completed 6-9 attempts for 73 yards and more importantly led the game winning drive in the fourth quarter. With the third preseason game usually serving as a dress rehearsal for week 1, expect Jay Cutler to play the whole first half in Seattle next Friday, therefore no decision will most likely be made until after the final preseason game when Palmer and Clausen will play the majority of the game.

Click below to hear comments from Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman after Thursdays game.

Northwestern Training Camp

Northwestern senior Venric Mark

Northwestern senior Venric Mark

Two of the worst possible nightmares to occur for the Northwestern offense happened on the same day. A week after announcing he was going to be suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season, Northwestern running back Venric Mark announced he intends to transfer schools. And wide receiver Christian Jones is lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in practice.

Shocking to say the least. Mark’s decision came the day after saying in an interview, “I’m going to embrace this. My teammates have given me great support. I’m just doing what I can to make sure the other guys are ready.” He also commented on the upcoming season, “I fully expect us to be 2-0 before I get back.” Unfortunately for his teammates, he’s not coming back.

Venric Mark discusses suspension, role in upcoming season.

Christian Jones suffered a knee injury during practice

Christian Jones suffered a knee injury during practice

Mark was granted a fifth year of football eligibility by the NCAA after missing most of the 2013 season with an ankle injury. Although no definite decision has been made, Mark has stated that he intends to transfer to a school closer to his hometown of Houston.

Northwestern’s running corps has not been a major concern. Freshmen Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault have impressed during training camp and captured the attention of their coaches. “I’ve been extremely pleased with the way they’ve picked up this offense.” Said running back coach Matt MacPherson. “I like them. I like them a lot.” added Pat Fitzgerald. Last year, Treyvon Green led the team with 736 rushing yards, and was expected to be the starter during Mark’s absence. It’s possible he’ll remain the starter for the whole year.

No specific details were given on the exact condition of Christian Jones, all that is known is that he suffered a knee injury during practice. The bright side is that as a senior, he is eligible to redshirt and play for the Wildcats in 2015. Last year, Jones led Northwestern with 668 yards receiving.

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The Wildcats take the field for practice reps

The Wildcats take the field for practice reps

A lot of questions are surrounding the Northwestern Wildcats this season. Will they rebound from a 5-7 record? How will their running game do without Venric Mark the first two games? Will that suspension affect the rest of his season? How will they adjust from a two quarterback system to just one leader? During Northwestern training camp on Tuesday, it was 58 degrees, it was windy, and it was raining. But that didn’t stop the Wildcats from putting on a show.

 

Venric Mark’s Suspension

Northwestern’s running game took a big hit when starter Venric Mark was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season for violation of team policy.

“It’s shocking, but I just wanna say that I’m really disappointed.” Mark said. I was sitting out for a year and I was looking forward to coming back, but I’m gonna embrace this. My teammates have given me great support. I’m just doing what I can to make sure the other guys are ready.” Mark was granted a fifth year of eligibility playing football at Northwestern after a leg injury cut his season short last year. “We’re gonna take a hit in September, but I fully expect us to be 2-0 before I get back.” He added.

Mark is still allowed to attend training camp and practice with his teammates. He didn’t miss a step as he continued to impress during reps.

Every college player has to face the music eventually then they do something wrong. When asked if the suspension was something he could’ve avoided, Mark responded, “All mistakes can be avoided if you look at them. But right now, it wasn’t avoided. So like I said, I’m going to embrace it. Right now, there’s no point in me pouting. Does it hurt? Yeah it hurts really bad. But at the end of the day it is what it is.”

“Actions have consequences.” Said running backs coach Matt MacPherson. “No matter whether you’re the first player on the roster or the third, or fiftieth, or hundredth, actions have consequences.”

 

Venric Mark discusses suspension, running back corps, and role as a mentor

 

Stephen Buckley’s Road to Recovery

Sophomore running back Stephen Buckley

Sophomore running back Stephen Buckley

It’s never easy to see a player’s career threatened because of injury, especially when he’s only a redshirt freshman. For Running back Stephen Buckley, who injured his knee last year against Nebraska, it’s just a matter of taking it one day at a time. He did not practice again today, and when he returns is still questionable. He has not seen the field since his injury. “Initially when I got hit, I thought this could be the end.” Buckley recalled. “As soon as I got hit, my body went into shock. I reacted very frantically. I was on the field crying like a baby. Immediately after that, I knew it was something seriously wrong. But by the grace of god, he’s given me another chance to play the game again.”

Buckley was the second Northwestern running back to be taken out because of injury last year; The other being starting running back Venric Mark. With Mark suspended the first two games of the 2014 season, Buckley could see extended playing time should his knee heal up by opening day on August 30th.

“Right now I’m just rehabbing it. I’m just taking it day by day getting ready for the season.” He added. When asked if he would be ready for the opener against California, Buckley responded, “Like I said, I’m just taking it day by day. Right now, I’m just trying to take these things as they come. I’m just working on strengthening my knee right now, so I can be ready come the time I take a big hit like in Nebraska.”

“He’s had a great attitude.” Said running backs coach Matt MacPherson. “He’s been in it mentally, and he’s done a great job there.”

Stephen Buckley discusses injury, talks healing process

 

Pat Fitzgerald discusses position battles, expectations

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald discusses upcoming challenges, position battles, and expectations

 

The Running Corps

National signing day always puts a lot of attention and pressure on high school athletes. This year, the Wildcats have two freshmen with a lot of hype surrounding them; running backs Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault. Both of them have received praise from their coaches and teammates. During camp, Jackson put on a nice performance with nice speed and quick footwork.

Venric Mark explained his role as a teacher during his suspension. “Right now Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault are actually having a really great camp. I’ve just been trying to be their mentor, talking to them, making sure they’re in the film room, making sure they’re soaking up everything from coaching, basically just telling them to play their game, and they’ve embraced that.”

Matt MacPherson had his own take on Jackson and Vault. “I’ve been extremely pleased with the way they’ve picked up this offense. We’ve asked them to do a lot of stuff in the run game, the pass game, and protection. It hasn’t always been perfect, but they have a pretty good command of what we’re trying to do.”

Pat Fitzgerald had his own short, simple view of the rookies. “I like them. I like them a lot.”

However, a majority of the carries during Venric Mark’s suspension are expected to be made by returning senior Treyvon Green. After Mark was absent most of last season, Green stepped in and lead the team with 736 rushing yards. “He’s been steady. Steady as she goes.” Matt MacPherson said. “He played some of his best football early last year when he was healthy. He had maybe the best season in Spring that he’s had since he’s been here.”

During his interview, Pat Fitzgerald said, “I don’t know if we’ll split carries, I think it’ll be more situational. But like I said, I like their depth and where they’re at so far.”

The Bears take the field during training camp.

In 2013, the Bears were within one 4th down stop of reaching the playoffs. Instead, they finished a disappointing 8-8, and missed the playoffs for the third straight year. However, an already dangerous offense combined with a couple of solid defensive free agent signings, makes for one potential threat to take home the NFC North title. As training camp comes to a close this Wednesday, here’s a look back at a few notable details that took place on Monday.

 

Martellus Bennett and Kyle Fuller

Rookie Kyle Fuller (Kneeling, center) did not see much action and remained on the sidelines most of the time.

Rookie Kyle Fuller (Kneeling, center) did not see much action and remained on the sidelines a majority of the time.

The headline for the Chicago Bears this past week was the conflict between tight end Martellus Bennett and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. Recently, a scuffle between the two during a routine practice resulted in Bennett slamming Fuller into the turf. Fights between teammates are usually common in almost every team’s training camp. But this time, Bennett was fined and suspended by the Bears as a result. He was reinstated this week, although one interesting thing did occur; Bennett and Fuller rarely appeared on the field and the same time. Normally, this would make sense, seeing as Bennett is the starting tight end, and Fuller is the second string cornerback. But throughout the entire practice, Bennett did not make contact with or near Fuller. While it can’t be certain whether this was part of the game plan or just a precaution in case of another incident, it does raise a few eyebrows as to what goes on with the chemistry between the two.

 

The Other Tight End

One Bears tight end that has gotten the public eye, other than Martellus Bennett, has been the backup veteran Zach Miller. (No, not the former Raider and Current Seahawk.) Miller was signed near the end of last season to a reserve/future contract, and he’s gained attention from Bears fans after scoring two touchdowns in the preseason opener against the Eagles. Miller spent three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars before injuries finally caught up with him, and didn’t make the Buccaneers final roster the following year. After finally getting picked up by the Bears, Miller has shown promise on the field, and continues to impress during training camp. He caught almost everything in sight before going off to the races.

Martellus Bennett also put on a show; catching his share of the passes and making plays of his own. Both continued to impress and receive applause from the stands. While it’s unclear as to if Miller will see an expanded role this season, Chicago is safe at the tight end position.

 

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Wide receiver Brandon Marshall talks with a trainer

What can we expect from this offense?

Imagine if you’re Jay Cutler. You have Bennett and Miller as your tight ends, and they’re safe, reliable targets for short passes. Then you have Brandon Marshall, an experienced and dangerous receiver teamed up with Alshon Jeffery who had a breakout season last year. Then you have the league’s second leading rusher in the backfield. That is a scary amount of talent around you, and it showed during camp. Marshall and Jeffery were everywhere and caught almost everything in their area. While Cutler did make a few mental mistakes at times, the offensive passing game was explosive and exciting to watch.

One major need that the Bears have wanted for a long time has been a stronger offensive line. While there is still room for improvement, they are still much better off than they were in previous years. They did allow pressure on the quarterback a few times, but always made the right holes for the running game to get through. Matt Forte appeared as though he was already in mid season form, and rookie Ka’Deem Carey already seems like a reliable backup.

The backup quarterback battle has been pretty one-sided. Jordan Palmer threw an interception right into defensive end Willie Young’s arms, who returned it for a touchdown. Veteran Jimmy Clausen has continued to outperform him, and will likely be named the second string quarterback.

 

Defensive adjustments

Last March, the Bears made two huge upgrades in free agency. After losing Julius Peppers to the Packers, Chicago agreed they needed to revamp their defensive line; and signed defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen. Allen was particularly important.  A defensive star on the Vikings, he had terrorized the Bears twice a year since 2008. Now, he’s on their side.

“I’m not a big believer in self imposed limitations.” Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We don’t know what these guys can become, or how good we can be. The main thing is to reach our full potential, as individual players and as a whole. We’ll see where it goes and we’ll continue to work with these guys at every position.”

Tucker has also commented on the pairing of safeties between Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray. “What we’ve done with the safeties is we worked up combinations, we moved guys around, we’ll continue to do that and at the end of the day we’ll have a starting group.”

Chris Conte has had seven months to get over the embarrassing mistake he made last year when he gave up the touchdown against the Packers. “He’s been eager to get back out there and we’re gonna get him back out there.” Tucker said. “Right now it’s a matter of day to day work with what he puts on the field and in the classroom. And he’s already done that in the classroom. And now’s he’s stepped on the field. We’re gonna take it one rep at a time, I think that’s the best approach.”

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker comments on Kyle Fuller, Chris Conte, Jeremiah Ratliff, and Mundy-McCray

veneric-markOne day after talking about his rebound season at a Northwestern press conference, Wildcats running back and kick/punt returner Venric Mark was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season for violation of team policy. Details of the actual incident are undisclosed. Mark will miss the season opener against California and the following week against Northern Illinois.

Mark is known for being one of Northwestern’s most versatile players. As a junior in 2012, he had 2,166 all-purpose yards, including 1,366 rushing yards. He was granted a fifth year of eligibility in 2014 after sitting out most of the 2013 season with an ankle injury.

Northwestern released a statement from Mark regarding his suspension:
“I made a mistake and am prepared to deal with the consequences of that. There is no one that holds me to a higher standard than the one I hold myself to, so nobody is more disappointed than I am. First and foremost, I feel like I let my teammates down, and that feels the worst.”

The Wildcats primary running back in 2013 was Treyvon Green, who will most likely be the starter during Mark’s absence. Although not a returner, Green rushed for 736 yards on the ground with a 5.4 yards per carry average, as well as scoring eight touchdowns.

Bears Training Camp

Martellus who? That is what fans were asking on Friday night when the Bears kicked off their 2014 preseason schedule at Soldier Field against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tight End Zach Miller made his debut in a Chicago Bears jersey in spectacular fashion, catching a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler with 3:18 to play in the first quarter. Miller, who was filling in for the suspended Bennet, would make the most of his opportunity as he split time at the tight end position with Dante Rosario throughout the first half. The five year pro wasnt finished after his first touchdown grab either. Miller would also catch a 12-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jordan Palmer in the second quarter before finishing his night with six grabs for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

“It felt good to go out there and make some plays,” Miller said after the game. “I am just trying to take it one play at a time and improve.”

After sitting out the last two seasons, Miller looked hungry for a chance to be back in the league. He signed with the Bears this offseason, after spending all of 2012 on the injured reserve, and sitting out the 2013 season after being waived by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has 45 career receptions and four touchdowns all while playing in Jacksonville from 2009-2012. He also knows it was only one preseason game and he will have to improve his blocking to make the team.

“That is something I have to improve on,” Miller added. “We will cut up the tape and see what I can do to improve.”

It was not only Miller who impressed the home crowd Friday night, Jay Cutler looked solid as well, completing 9 of 13 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Marshall had five receptions on six targets for 31 yards, and Alshon Jeffery made a tough catch for 16 yards that received an ovation from the crowd before the starters would exit for the remainder of the game. Cutler spoke after the game about the Bears’ performance in the first audition before the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

“There were some mistakes out there,” Cutler said, “some things to clean up, but the guys were really efficent getting in and out of the huddle, getting to our checks. The guys did well.”

While the passing game was on point for the Bears, the rushing attack struggled to get anything going against the Eagles. Matt Forte would carry the ball three times for negative five yards. Rookie KaDeem Carey finally got a chance to show what he could do after spending most of training camp on the sideline or the ground. He would carry the ball 10 times for only 23 yards, in a disappointing debut for the former Arizona Wildcat. Carey will have to improve as he is currently No.3 on the depth chart behind Forte and Shaun Draughn.

In the battle to backup Jay Cutler, quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen played the 2nd and 3rd quarters respectively, with Clausen displaying the early advantage once again much like in training camp. Palmer would connect with Miller on a 12-yard touchdown, but he also threw a ugly interception to Eagles safety Nate Allen, and was nearly picked on another attempt. Clausen on the other hand dazzled in his chance at redemption. After the disaster that was his stay in Carolina, the Bears gave Clausen a chance to win the backup job this summer with Palmer being unproven. Clausen completed 7-13 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, one on a 73-yard toss to speedy-wide-receiver Chris Williams.

“I just tried to look the safety off and give him a chance to score on that,” Clausen said. “He ran underneath it and made a great play.”

Receiver, Michael Spurlock, would catch the other touchdown from Clausen on a 22-yard touchdown before giving up the offense to rookie David Fales. Head coach Marc Trestman had nothing but encouraging words for all of his quarterbacks after the game.

“I thought all the quarterbacks at some point had some adversity along the way,” Trestman said. “They were all able to come back and make it a positive note in some fashion.”

The Bears will return to training camp in Bourbonnais with practice on Sunday at 3:00 pm. No word yet if Martellus Bennet will be back with the team by then. If not, at least they have “Miller Time”, (joking of course, or am I?).

While Jordan Palmer may have seen second team reps on Friday night, and KaDeem Carey saw most of the carries. Expect everyone to get chances to impress in the preseason. Click below to hear offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer explain how the preseason depth chart can change.

2014Fitz

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald addresses the media.

The Northwestern Wildcats football team addressed members of the media on Thursday to discuss the upcoming 2014 season. The main topic of discussion was concerning the potential obstacles up ahead and overcoming a forgettable 2013 season. After starting last year with a 4-0 record and securing the 16th rank in the nation, the Wildcats lost seven of their last eight games and failed to secure a spot in a bowl game.

The Running Back battle

One of the biggest questions facing the Wildcats’ offense this year is the running back position. Last year, starting running back Venric Mark was sidelined due to a number of nagging leg and ankle injuries. He was held to just 31 carries in three games. Mark made a statement about the healing process in the off-season

“It was tough, but I have a good support system here at Northwestern to get through it.” He added,  “I’ve never been hurt like that. It sidelined me for a whole season. In high school I managed to stay healthy all four years. It took a toll on me, both mentally as well as physically, but with the help of everyone around me, I felt like I had a good support system, I was able to come back in  a good fashion, I feel healthy right now and I think I’m ready to go.”

In Mark’s absence, the Wildcats running game turned to Treyvon Green, a studious running back returning for his senior year in 2014. Mark and Green are also joined by a number newly recruited Freshmen. When asked how he felt about the running back core as a whole, Mark responded, “We’ll have to piggy back off of each other this year.”

The Quarterback situation

While it’s not uncommon to use two running backs depending on the scenario, a rare instance took place in 2013 in which the Wildcats used a two quarterback system. Northwestern rotated passers with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, which they didn’t seem to mind. But now that Colter was signed by the Minnesota Vikings, Siemian has inherited the full time job.

“I got snaps my redshirt freshman year when Dan (Persa) was banged up a little bit.” Siemian said. “So you know my role has sort of transformed over the years. And right now I’m at kind of being the guy and embracing the role, and taking it and running with it, do the best that I can, and I’m excited. Like I said, we got too much talent around me, so I’m excited to get the ball to these guys and get out of the way.”

When asked when he would make an immediate impact, Siemian said, “Hopefully right away. I’ve been around a lot, I feel like the old guy. I’ve been doing it four and a half years. Hopefully, right away I feel comfortable, hopefully, we get it done this year, we’ve got a lot of talent, probably the most talented team I’ve been around.”

Maintaining the Lead

A major problem surrounding the Wildcats during the 2013 season was keeping a lead through the whole game. The Wildcats held a 4th quarter lead or tie in four of their seven losses. Their worst loss probably came on November 2nd. Holding a three-point lead with 1:20 to go, the Nebraska Cornhuskers started on their own 17 yard line. As time expired, Nebraska completed a 49 yard Hail Mary pass in the end zone for the game winning score. That loss extended the Wildcats losing streak to five, and left a bitter memory the players won’t forget.

“There were some close losses and a lot of people wanted to point towards the end of the game.” Trevor Siemian said. “But in the span of those games, there were a handful of critical plays, and two years ago we made those plays. Last year we didn’t. We’re really working hard to focus on that and win those critical plays that determine the outcome of the game.”

When asked how good they thought they were, Siemian responded, “I think one thing that we’ve been good at over the years is controlling the line of scrimmage and being physical in the trenches running the ball, and making it tough for defenses. That’s what we’re trying to do, and we’re trying to get back to being able to finish.”

“Like Trevor said, it’s about getting back to what we do,” co-captain and offensive lineman Brandon Vitabile said. “We gotta do a good job at the point of attack getting vertical push, controlling the line of scrimmage, and just being dominant. Some of that we’ve worked on, coach Fitz always talks about the fundamentals.”

Listen to Press conference audio from QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venrick Mark,  Offensive Coordinator Mick McCall, and Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald

bennet

The Bears opened up practice on Tuesday with tight end Martellus Bennet nowhere to be found. Bennet had been involved in a fight with rookie defensive-back Kyle Fuller on Monday, after Fuller attempted to strip the ball from Bennet on what seemed like a harmless play. while fans and reporters wondered where the veteran was, Phil Emery called a press conference a few yards away from the practice field to announce that Bennet had been fined and suspended.

“He was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team,” Emery said during practice. “That’s where we’re at with that. And there won’t be any further information on that. Everything else will be kept within the team.”

You have to wonder why a body slam at practice would receive such a harsh punishment? this was not a typical 2-3 day cool off suspension, Bennet was suspended INDEFINITELY!!! Could his issues with Brandon Marshall be a factor? Have some of the veteran players grown tired of his act? Emery did not answer much.

“This is a process that we’re working with Martelllus on,” Emery said. “We are in contact with him. Our goal is to have Martellus back as soon as possible. He’s a loved and respected teammate and we want him back. But it’s a process that we’ll have to work with.”

The timing could not have been worse for the Bears, who open their preseason schedule on Friday at Soldier Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. The team also lost No.3 receiver Marquess Wilson to a fractured clavicle on monday, his return date is unknown after he underwent surgery early Tuesday morning.

Bennet, who is coming off his best season with 65 catches, 759 yards and five touchdowns, spoke to the media on Monday after practice.

“Everybody talks about friendships, but really we are all preparing to win a championship,” Bennett said. “If we make friends along the way, cool. But I’m just trying to help the Bears win a championship and do the job to the best of my ability.”

Head coach Marc Trestman also spoke to the media about Bennet’s situation.

“We’ve got a plan and a process in place, and as I told the team today, we love him. He works hard. He loves football. He’s a good father, and we want to get him back as soon as we can and we’ll go through this process and when the time is right he’ll be back,” Trestman said Tuesday.

While the amount of the fine and the length of the suspension are unknown at this time, the Bears DO know they will need Bennet back soon.

bears

Usually, losing a guy who caught two passes for 13 yards the previous season would not seem like a huge blow to a team who already features two of the top receivers in the league. However, you could see the disappointment and regret from the Chicago Bears coaching staff and players when second year wide receiver Marquess Wilson was carted off the field at practice on Monday after suffering a fractured clavicle while diving to make a catch.

Wilson said he ” couldn’t breathe when he hit the ground” on the play, but was also not ready to give up hopes of playing this season. stating that, ” he did not know if the injury would require surgery.”

Wilson was expected to become the Bears No.3 receiver this season after the team released Earl Bennet in March. Listed at 6-foot-4, 184 pounds, Wilson had some ups and downs the first two weeks of training camp but was expected to make a huge contribution to a team with championship aspirations.

” I am extremely disappointed” head coach Marc Trestman said after practice Monday. ” He was continuing to ascend, It’s football unfortunately”

Wilson was a seventh round draft pick in 2013, and had spent the offseason training with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in Florida while hoping to make a impact this season as the slot receiver. Wilson went down while trying to make a play between defensive back Charles Tillman and safety Danny McCray. At first it looked like Wilson just had the wind knocked out of him as he fell on the ball and drove his left shoulder in the ground, yet, when he didn’t jump up, the worries began to set in.

” You hear us say it all the time in practice, stay off the ground, Trestman added after practice. ” Diving for balls is one of the most difficult things not to do when you are a competitive player”

It is unclear how much time Wilson is expected to miss. Team officials were unsure if the injury would require surgery, if not, the recovery time is much shorter. Even without surgery required, Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo missed the final 10 games of the 2010 season with the same type of injury. A more hopeful example would be San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Matthews, who suffered the same injury in the first preseason game of 2012 and would return week three of the regular season.

With the freak injury to Wilson on Monday, the Bears will now look to Chris Williams, Eric Weems, Josh Morgan and Armanti Edwards to compete for time as the No. 3 receiver with the teams first preseason game scheduled for Friday at Soldier Field against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wilson was not the only player to start and not finish practice due to injury. Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, who had a terrific week of practice last week, also left with a knee bruise. Briggs will be reevaluated before practice tomorrow.

Practice Notes for Monday

– The Bears were scheduled for the teams first afternoon practice of training camp ( 3 pm) however, due to potential storms later in the afternoon, the team decided to practice at 11 am.

– Practice was cut short due to a on field incident during 11 on 11. Tight end Martellus Bennet slammed rookie defensive back Kyle Fuller to the ground after Fuller tried to strip the ball from Bennet. “I come to training camp for one reason and that’s to prepare to win a championship,” Bennett said after practice. “I play hard and go hard every single day. I’m probably one of the most violent people on the field. That’s just my style of play.
Fuller also spoke about the incident saying “You get into fights and things like that. At the end of the day, you’re all good.”

– Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson saw action as the first team safeties on Monday. Danny McCray was moved to the second team for practice.

– The Bears will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before an off day on Thursday.

Beard d

The Chicago Bears are coming into the 2014 season with huge expectations in the NFC, mainly because they have a healthy Jay Cutler and an impressive set of weapons that can get it done through the air and on the ground. However once again on Friday the defense stole the show and made the offense look sluggish at times.

Because of possible storms in the area, practice was cut a half hour short on Friday, yet that did not stop the Bears D from going full speed and once again making some big plays. Free Safety Danny McCray, (who has been taking first team reps this week) intercepted a Lance Briggs tipped ball, and undrafted rookie linebacker Christian Jones looked impressive again at Fridays practice as he attempts to make the teams final roster.

Obviously training camp is when the Bears will get the best look at who will be playing where,on the defensive side of the ball. Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, if healthy should both start at linebacker. Shea McClellin has shown flashes of being a solid strong side backer, however he is still learning the position and will most likely be used in pass rushing situations after struggling against the run as a defensive end his first few seasons. Second year Linebacker Jon Bostic was thrown into the mix last season due to injuries and struggled at times, however you can see the talent is there and he is a freak athlete. Bostic is currently behind Williams on the depth chart, but says last years experience has helped him learn all of the LB positions.

” At any given time anybody can go down” Bostic said friday. ” The next best combination maybe me at another position.”

The Bears have rested both starting cornerbacks, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, throughout camp, and free agent addition DE-Jared Allen has received some veteran rest as he prepares to make his debut in a Bears uniform at Soldier Field- when the Bears host their “Meijer Family Fest” on Saturday night ( 6:30 p.m.)

Jon Bostic on where he fits in on defense

Bears practice notes from Friday

– Jordan Palmer continued to struggle, while Jimmy Clausen has looked very comfortable in the position battle to become Cutlers backup

– Charles Tillman was held out of practice ( coaches decision) Starting Center Roberto Garza was excused from practice ( personal reasons) Alshon Jeffery was also excused.

– Chris Conte ( shouler) Craig Steltz ( groin) and Kyle long all remained out on Friday

– Lance Briggs broke up two Jay Cutler passes during 11-on 11, one resulted in a McCray INT.

– Adrian Wilson took over first team safety duties from Ryan Mundy. Looks like the Bears want to see diffrent looks and combinations at safety. Rookie-Brock Vereen is also fighting for the strong safety spot.

– Shaun Draughn continues to see reps as the second team running back.


briggs peice

Lance Briggs would obviously like to win a Super Bowl, who wouldn’t? He would also like to play in another Pro Bowl this season as well.

“Everybody wants to play in a Super Bowl, its been awhile since I have played in a Pro Bowl,” Briggs said after practice on Thursday when asked about this seasons expectations. He was then asked if he thought the Pro Bowl was a realistic goal.

“I don’t know. I’ve lost a couple of steps,” Briggs said, “Now sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I’m lucky, a tackle will fall, and I’ll put my hand on him and get credit for it. That’s where I’m at in [this] stage of my career.”

All joking aside, Briggs has been one of the franchises all-time great linebackers and all around football players. He made seven straight pro bowls between the 2005-2011 season and has become a fan favorite in Chicago, a city in which he has made home.

“I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to the city and playing for this team,” Briggs said. “When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”

After playing along-side Brian Urlacher for ten seasons, Briggs took over the play calling duties for the first time last season. Briggs had a tremendous start to the year, recording 75 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in the first seven games of the season. However, he suffered an injury October 20th against Washington and would miss eight weeks with a shoulder fracture.

Head coach Marc Trestman knows that if the Bears hope to improve defensively, they will need Briggs at full speed. “If Lance is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we’re going to be a much better football team all around,” Trestman told the media Friday.

With a healthy Briggs, the Bears will have one less position battle to worry about this training camp, now if they could just figure out who will be playing next to him.

July 24 saw the start of the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup, a soccer tournament played in Canada and the United States between eight top class European club teams. The eight teams are divided into two groups of four teams, with the teams playing a round robin within their groups and the two group winners playing off in a championship game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on August 4. The “A” group comprises Manchester United, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Roma, while the B group comprises Olympicos, AC Milan, Manchester City and Liverpool.  Thirteen North American cities will host a game in the tournament. The first game of the tournament, the only one to be played in Canada was played at Toronto BMO Field on July 24. Italian team AC Milan met Olympiacos (based in Athens, Greece).

The setting was impressive (even though the announced crowd of 10,603 wasn’t) on a beautiful summer evening on the shores of Lake Ontario. The view of the city skyline provided a great background for the game, which followed the usual script of touring teams during their off-season as they prepared for their upcoming league seasons. Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city, with large Italian and Greek communities. The two cultures were very evident as the respective fans came out to support their teams and their respective nations, with pride.

Both teams sat some of their stars (most noticeably AC Milan sat their star striker and World Cup participant Mario Bolatelli and both teams substituted freely (both used 20 players) and while the game had its moments of excitement, for the most part it was played at a slower pace than one would expect from world class teams. Although both teams had their chances, only Olympiakos took advantage of their chances, resulting in goals from Alexandro Chori Dominguez, Dimitris Diamantakos and the best goal of the night from Andreas Bouchalakis which sealed the game in the 78th minute with a 20 yard strike that would have beaten almost all world class goalkeepers.

Summer tours never result in the top class soccer we would like to expect and there are many reasons. Some of the stars don’t play, some only play a small portion of the game and some players don’t take the tours as seriously as they should. At the press conference after the game, both managers spoke with the assistance of translators. AC Milan Manager Filippo Inzaghi mentioned that while Olympiacos was definitely the better team and deserved the win, he felt that the fact that his team had only arrived in Canada on Monday and had had little opportunity to train before the game was a major factor in the below par performance. His counterpart, Michel was very gracious in victory, indicating that while he was pleased with his team’s effort and the result, he didn’t think that the difference between the two teams was not as wide as the final score indicated.

The first game of any off-season tournament is hardly ever a good barometer for what is to come. Let’s look forward to an exciting final in Miami next month.