Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler


Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler

Screams to fire Lovie Smith have been bouncing off downtown Chicago buildings for the last couple weeks, and as the rest of the regular season winds down, that decision will work itself out based on the team's final number of wins and losses.

But a much more difficult decision the Bears brass will face is what to do with Jay Cutler. The Bears quarterback, like his head coach, has one more year left on his contract.

Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst Jim Miller recently said he thought the team should not extend Cutler based on his injuries alone, and while I agree with that, I would take it one step further and question whether Cutler has earned a new contract and even bigger money based on his play.

Quarterbacks are defined by the numbers they post and the amount of wins they bring to their team. It's an evaluation that can be much more difficult than judging a head coach.

Here's a look at Cutler's four season with the Bears:

In his first season, he threw for 3,666 yards with 27 touchdowns. The negative was the 26 interceptions, a whopping number that killed many drives. The Bears finished 7-9 that year.

In 2010, Cutler threw for 3,274 yards with 23 touchdowns and another 16 picks. The big difference from the season prior was the fact the Bears reached the NFC title game, which was lost to Green Bay.

The 2011 season was cut short due to Cutler's thumb injury, but he did have the team on pace for a playoff run.

But there are a couple of factors that have to be considered as well:

Cutler has played with three different offensive coordinators since arriving in Chicago, which is typically a disaster for any quarterback in the league. He's played with an offensive line that most people would agree has been sub-par. On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers has played behind an equally poor front but has continued to produce and win games, including a Super Bowl.

Has Cutler made the team better? Bears general manager Phil Emery will have to decide if Cutler is truly a franchise quarterback. This season, he's near the bottom in completion percentage at 59.7 percent and has throw 14 more interceptions and only 17 touchdowns.

Young QBs providing a threat

Something that may hurt Cutler is the number of young quarterbacks that are thriving in the league, including rookies Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. All three of their teams are in the playoff mix.

Seeing Kirk Cousins' production on the field has been an eye-opener too -- another rookie who fills in for the Redskins and in one game pulls out a victory, followed up by throwing for over 300 yards and leading Washington to another win. You see a player like Colin Kaepernick, a second-year quarterback who has started a handful of games, but has led San Francisco to a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Emery may decide there is a better direction to go rather that re-signing Cutler. It's been proven by teams like the Colts that blowing things up and starting over isn't always a bad decision.

Remember the Broncos let Cutler go in the prime of his career. NFL teams don't do that if they feel they have a franchise quarterback.

Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning (injury factored in) were all let go by the teams they led to Super Bowls. Cutler is not in the same league, so it shouldn't be an open-and-shut case that he remains the Bears' signal caller into the future.

He has to prove he deserves it.

93 Days to Kickoff: Glenbrook North


93 Days to Kickoff: Glenbrook North preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: Glenbrook North Spartans

Head coach: Bob Pieper

Assistant coaches: Matt Purdy, Dom Savino, Justin Georgacakis, Mike Standerski, Justin Weiner

How they fared in 2015: 8-2 (5-0) Central Suburban North. The Spartans made the Class 7A state playoff field. Glenbrook North lost to Bradley in the opening round.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the experienced defense hold on, while an inexperienced offense gets up to speed?

Names to watch this season: QB Kevin Burnside, DE Matt Pawlowski, WR Tommy Gertner

Biggest holes to fill: The Glenbrook North offense brings back Burnside and a few other experienced names, but the Spartans will need to find answers on the line, as well in the backfield.

EDGY's early take: Year in and year out Glenbrook North is one of the top teams to watch in the Central Suburban North and that shouldn't change in 2016. If the Spartans defense can allow the offense to gain some early experience this will be a nice team to watch for in 7A.

Cubs: Can Jason Hammel sustain All-Star-level performance this time?


Cubs: Can Jason Hammel sustain All-Star-level performance this time?

ST. LOUIS — Jason Hammel is pitching like an All-Star again — the way he did as a sign-and-flip guy in 2014 and a rotation anchor for last year’s playoff team — so the question for the Cubs now becomes: Is this sustainable?

Hammel doesn’t look at it that way, not after clearing his head during the offseason, altering his training program and refocusing for a World Series contender. He wants more.

Hammel 2.0 handled the St. Louis Cardinals during Tuesday night’s 12-3 victory at Busch Stadium, working into the eighth inning for the first time this year, allowing only one run and tying his season-high pitch count (103).

“I do feel different,” said Hammel (6-1, 2.17 ERA). “I’m definitely not happy with the walks. I know I can do better, as long as I clean that up. I still think the timing’s off with the delivery that I’ve adapted to now.

“But I’m not thinking that far down the road right now. I’m just going game by game, pitch by pitch. I think that’s going to be the right mentality for me. Instead of: ‘Don’t falter.’

“I’m not a negative thinker anymore. I’m just going to stay positive. We’re going to stay here and now and be present.”

Hammel described his outing as “effectively wild” and joked about his second three-game hitting streak: “Who’s counting?” It also helped that the Cubs built a six-run lead before he threw his first pitch, so manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t be so quick to turn the game over to the bullpen.

Hammel excelled for the Cubs in 2014, going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in his first 17 starts before getting packaged with Jeff Samardzija in the Addison Russell blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s. But Hammel found it difficult to uproot his family midseason and struggled to make a quick adjustment to Oakland, finishing at 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA in the American League.

Hammel got off to another hot start last season (2.86 ERA in 103-plus innings) before a leg injury messed with his mechanics and led to a breakdown after the All-Star break (5.10 ERA in 67 innings).

“I believe it’s sustainable, absolutely,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing, again, is if he knows where his fastball is going, he will pitch deeply into a lot of games, because his ball’s got great movement on it. So there’s a lot of mishits, and also his breaking ball is really good.”

Hammel understands his importance to this team, how carrying this momentum all the way through to the finish line would be huge for the 2016 Cubs.

“I don’t see why not,” catcher David Ross said. “He was our best starter last year in the first half. That says a lot with the group that’s in this room.

“He does a good job of keeping those guys off-balance and making the pitches when he needs to. He just looks a lot more sound mechanically. Even when he gets out of whack, he finds his way back into the count.”

Sky drop third straight game with loss to Sparks


Sky drop third straight game with loss to Sparks

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) - Candace Parker scored 17 of her 26 points in the first half and the Los Angeles Sparks used a decisive second quarter to cruise to a 93-80 win over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday night.

Chicago was within two with 3:55 left before halftime, but Los Angeles closed the opening 20 minutes with an 18-2 run for a 53-35 lead. Kristi Toliver started the spurt with a 3-pointer and Parker scored the final six points.

Parker scored the first five Los Angeles points of the third quarter, including a coast-to-coast layup and a 3-pointer, and the Sparks led by double figures for the entire second half.

Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Jantel Lavender scored 16 on 7-of-9 shooting for Los Angeles (4-0), which was ranked No. 2 in the AP WNBA power poll. Kristi Toliver had 11 points and 10 assists and the Sparks finished with 27 assists on 30 field goals. Parker was just 6 of 15 from the field but hit 12 of 14 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds.

Jamierra Faulkner scored 17 points with a career-high 10 assists for No. 7 Chicago (1-3), which was without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for a second straight game. The Sky turned it over 15 times and Elena Delle Donne was held to eight points.