Chicago Colleges: Jeff Dickerson

Irish's Eifert could fit Bears needs at TE

February, 22, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert is exactly the type of player the Chicago Bears are missing on offense.

Checking in at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Eifert’s greatest strength is his ability to use his size and speed from the tight end position to create mismatches downfield in the passing game. With 140 catches for 1,840 yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons for the Fighting Irish, Eifert might be the closest thing to Jimmy Graham or Aaron Hernandez in the 2013 NFL draft.

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It was impossible for quarterback Chandler Harnish to keep a low profile the past four years at Northern Illinois. The 2011 MAC Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Harnish amassed 11,927 yards of total offense -- the third-highest total in conference history behind Byron Leftwich and former Bears draft choice Dan LeFevour -- and 92 touchdowns (68 passing, 24 rushing) during his career with the Huskies. In 2011, the quarterback threw for 3,216 yards, 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while also rushing for 1,379 yards and 11 scores.

[+] EnlargeNorthern Illinois' Chandler Harnish
Andrew Weber/US PresswireNorthern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011.
But Harnish sounds content to stay out of the spotlight on draft weekend.

"My agent [Cliff Brady] gave me some real sound advice," Harnish said. "He told me not to have a big draft party. Being that I'm a guy projected to be a late-round pick, it's just not a good idea. He's seen it before where guys have these big parties at their house, and then they don't even get drafted. I'm going to be very low key."

Harnish began the draft process by playing in the East-West Shrine game in January before traveling to Indianapolis for the NFL combine the following month. He has been working out at NIU throwing to receivers since the Huskies held their pro day on campus in early March.

Harnish recently made an official visit to the Seattle Seahawks.

"It's kind of been a hectic process, but it's been a great experience," Harnish said. "Nobody really knows exactly where they are going to end up, so it's a kind of an inexact science. I don't get too caught up in the number of visits because sometimes that doesn't matter. I just tried to put my best foot forward whenever I met with all the teams at the combine and pro days. At the end of the day, I 'm proud of myself and feel good about my performance on the field and in the interview rooms."

Whenever a quarterback enjoys great success at the collegiate level in a spread offense, there will usually be questions about his ability to transition to a more traditional NFL offense. For Harnish, the trick will be finding the right system to fit his style of play.

"I think being an athletic quarterback coming out of college is something I could definitely use to my advantage because the NFL’s changing, and quarterbacks are being able to move out of the pocket more and more and that’s a good trend for me," Harnish said. "But again, I still need to show that I can make the throws and do the things from under center and the different dropbacks to prove that I can play in this league."

Illini WR Jenkins' draft stock rising

April, 18, 2012
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A.J. JenkinsAP Photo/Tom OlmscheidMel Kiper Jr. has Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins going to Jacksonville in the second round of his mock draft.
Wide receivers Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright stole the headlines at the NFL combine two months ago, but Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins has seen his draft rise in recent weeks, to the point where ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Jenkins will be an early second-round pick.

Kiper has Jenkins going to Jacksonville at No. 38 in his latest mock draft.

"I've been on a world tour, man," Jenkins said in a phone interview with ESPNChicago.com. "I traveled to Baltimore, Jacksonville, Kansas City and San Francisco all in the span of a week, and I've got future visits coming up with the Titans, Panthers and Rams."

When he hasn't been on the road, Jenkins can be found training in Champaign where he continues to work toward his degree. A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Jenkins led the Illini with 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns, including a monster performance versus Northwestern when he hauled in 12 passes for 228 yards and three scores.

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Bears show special interest in Mercilus

April, 13, 2012
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Whitney MercilusTony Medina/Icon SMILovie Smith and Rod Marinelli were in attendance to watch Whitney Mercilus.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli were in attendance when the club traveled to the University of Illinois campus to work out former Fighting Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus on March 12, six days after the school held its official pro day for NFL scouts.

ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft has the Bears selecting Mercilus in the first round at No. 19.

"The persona I got from Lovie was a guy who was all about business, but he's really chilled and laid back," Mercilus told ESPNChicago.com on Friday. "He seems to be a players' coach, really cool and easy to talk to. But I also get the persona that he's a guy who is passionate about this game. He definitely has kept a close eye on everything that has happened in the draft and is (focused) on who to draft and who fits in their system. A guy who loves to handle business also, and wants to win.

"Working with (Marinelli), he's definitely everything that I expected out of a defensive line coach, to push me hard. He's easy to talk to and is somebody who is going to help you improve in this game."

After two relatively quiet years for the Illini, Mercilus exploded last season when he led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9). The 6-4, 261-pound pass rusher also registered 22.5 tackles for a loss in his third and final season at Illinois. A consensus All-American selection, Mercilus was the recipient of the 2011 Ted Hendricks Award, handed out annually to the best defensive end in the country.

Smith made no secret of his desire to upgrade the Bears' pass rush in the offseason. Perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers led the team with 11 sacks in 2011, but was the only member of the unit to reach double-figures in the category. Fellow starting defensive end Israel Idonije, who the team recently re-signed to a one-year contract, tallied five sacks. The other defensive ends currently on the roster are 2010 fourth-round draft choice Corey Wootton, veteran Chauncey Davis and Thaddeus Gibson.

"That would be awesome (to play on the Bears veteran defense)," Mercilus said. "That's a seasoned defense with elite guys, veterans. Definitely there would be high expectations for me to come into that program. I would love to try and live up to those expectations and prove myself to them."

Mercilus has made official visits to several teams, including the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

Illini well represented in early rounds

February, 26, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- For a program short on consistency, the University of Illinois has churned out an impressive amount of NFL talent the past couple of seasons.

[+] EnlargeCorey Liuget
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireCorey Liuget was one of the Big Ten's top defensive players in 2010.
Three Illini products have been selected in the top two rounds in the last three years: RB Rashard Mendenhall (No. 23) to the Steelers in 2008, CB Vontae Davis (No. 25) to the Miami Dolphins in 2009 and WR Arrelious Benn (No. 39) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010.

This year, even though Illinois finished 7-6, three members of the team could come off the board in the first round alone.

That list includes: defensive tackle Corey Liuget, running back Mikel Leshoure and linebacker Martez Wilson.

All three are underclassmen.

Liuget displayed excellent productivity from his interior line position, and recorded 12.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks his final year in Champaign. The defensive tackle had a banner performance in Illinois' 38-14 win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl, registering 5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.

Leshoure was a second team All-American selection who broke the Illinois single-season record with 1,697 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the Texas Bowl and was named the games MVP.

Wilson, an athletic inside linebacker, may have the lowest draft stock of the three, but he was selected first team All-Big Ten in 2010 and led the Illini defense with 112 tackles.


Rashard Mendenhall tells dream NFC foe

February, 1, 2011
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ARLINGTON, Texas. -- It's fair to say Chicago's strongest individual link to Super Bowl XLV is the Pittsburgh SteelersRashard Mendenhall.

Read the entire story.

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