As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that time has flown by faster and faster. It doesn’t seem long ago that we were ringing in a New Year and, yet, we’ll be in August at this time next week.
But there’s one good thing about August — football — my favorite sport to cover and watch, which is upon us. So, during these dog days of summer, I thought I’d offer my take on the local football scene: high school, college and the Chicago Bears.
Let’s start with the team that opened training camp on July 27, the Bears. I honestly don’t know what to make of this team. Head coach Matt Nagy has led the Bears into the playoffs in two of his three seasons and has a solid record of 28-20.
But since his debut season of 2018 when the Bears won the NFC North with a 12-4 mark, the team has followed up by going 8-8 during each of the next two years, and got a gift playoff berth when the National Football League added an extra team from each conference last year.
Moreover, the Bears are 0-2 in the playoffs under Nagy. Who can forget Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” that led to a home playoff loss to Philadelphia in 2018? And the Bears were clearly outclassed by New Orleans in last year’s postseason.
Nagy came in from the Kansas City Chiefs, who are coached by one of the top offensive minds in the game, Andy Reid. Nagy had a reputation as an offensive genius, but that’s taken a severe beating since he arrived. He couldn’t develop Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, and the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL draft was released this off-season.
Now, Andy Dalton is going to be the starting quarterback Week 1 this season. But, I would rather Nagy give the Bears’ top pick this year, Justin Fields of Ohio State University, a chance. I’ve seen Fields play numerous times, and he’s the most NFL-ready of all the quarterbacks drafted this year in my opinion.
This franchise needs a huge jolt of positive energy, and I think Fields would provide it. You’re only going to learn by playing, not by sitting on the bench. If the offense continues to struggle with Dalton, not only do I feel the calls for Fields will grow stronger, Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace could very well lose their jobs.
With a 17-game season this year, my early take on the Bears is a record of 8-9 or 9-8 unless the offense takes a large step forward.
In college football, the Big Ten Conference had its Media Days last week. I think both Northwestern and Illinois have a chance for good seasons.
Under Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has become a very respectable program, making it to the Big Ten title game twice in the last three seasons. With a hard-hitting defense and a solid and balanced offense, I expect the Wildcats to be in the thick of things again in the league race.
As for my dear alma mater the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, unfortunately things didn’t work out the last five years with former Bears coach Lovie Smith at the helm. However, he left an experienced base of talent for new head man Bret Bielema, who has had success in the Big Ten when he was coaching Wisconsin.
I think the Illini will do better than what experts are predicting. I’ve looked at the roster, and it’s not bad. If Bielema can develop a system that fits the players better than the previous one, Illinois could surprise a lot of folks.
Finally, before you know it, high school football will be here. Practice begins Aug. 9, and I’m interested to see how both Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick high schools look on the gridiron under more normal circumstances.
I admit the past season — moved to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic — lacked the usual pizazz and excitement with no state postseason to play for and teams limited to conference-only opponents. But now that there should be a normal season (fingers crossed), I want to see if Matt Battaglia’s “Fenwick Fast” offense can fully develop. And I also want to find out if John Hoerster can get OPRF back into the state playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Huskies host Wheaton-Warrenville South and the Friars face Morgan Park on Aug. 27. Get ready for the return of Friday Night Lights — Oak Park and River Forest style.