Bears Pro Bowl choices a testament to perseverance

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Bears Pro Bowl choices a testament to perseverance

Call it a triumph for persistence, second effort or whatever. But the Bears are sending five players to the Pro Bowl, several of them overcoming doubters at more than one level of their sporting careers.
 
Four are on defense, two linemen and two cornerbacks: tackle Henry Melton, end Julius Peppers, plus the cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman.
 
Offense is represented just by Brandon Marshall, No. 2 behind only Detroits Calvin Johnson in receptions (117 to 113) and receiving yardage (1,892 to 1,466).
 
Jennings struggled to find a college scholarship because coaches thought he was too short. He lost his starting job for game 15 of the 2011 season.
RELATED: 2013 Pro Bowl snubs
 
Melton went to Texas as a running back, left as defensive end, and wasnt switched to defensive tackle until the 2011 offseason. Tillman, who has forced 10 fumbles in 2012, never went to a Pro Bowl before his ninth NFL season and now will have gone twice. He has intercepted three passes this season and returned all three for touchdowns.
 
Marshall was the 119th player taken in his draft (2006) and didnt start until his second NFL season.
 
For Peppers, whose 11.5 sacks are the most in his three Bears seasons, it is eighth time he has been chosen for the Pro Bowl, including all three of his seasons as a Bear. Marshalls selection is his fourth once as a Bear, once as a Miami Dolphin and twice as a Denver Bronco.
 
The honor is the second for Tillman and first for Jennings and Melton.
 
Dont stop believing
 
It means a lot, said Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Im just glad to be here in this moment right now and just kind of share some of the stuff Ive been going through.
 
Hopefully a lot of kids that are going through my situation can take it all in and understand it doesnt matter what people may think about you or you think youre not good enough, if you really want it and you enjoy doing it, just go out there and have fun and try to be the best that you can be. Everything will take care of itself.
 
Moving Melton to defensive tackle was the idea of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Melton had made repeated impact plays as an end flip-flopping with Peppers in different spots and Marinelli, who coached perennial Pro Bowl tackle Warren Sapp when with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saw the ideal three-technique in Melton with his pass-rush ability.
 
Melton had seven sacks last season, his first at tackle, and has six this season, tied for third among tackles.
 
When Marinelli said I had the stuff that he looks for in a defensive tackle, I listened to him and got to work, Melton said. If he said that he saw me as an elite defensive tackle, hes seen everybody -- Sapp and a lot of guys that have come before me. For him to say that, I believed in what he was saying.
 
Melton had a definite first reaction upon learning that Peppers was also selected. I said, Were going to be roommates? Melton said, then laughed. He said he didnt want to be my roommate.
 
One surprise
 
If there was one surprise it was linebacker Lance Briggs not being chosen to what would have been his eighth straight Pro Bowl. Dick Butkus and Bill George were voted to eight straight and Mike Singletary to 10.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN selected Notre Dame's road game at North Carolina State for a six-day option, meaning we won't know what time that contest will kick off until after Oct. 1's games. 

The other two ACC games selected as part of the six-day option are Virginia Tech at North Carolina and Florida State at Miami. Both FSU (No. 12) and Miami (No. 14) are ranked in the latest AP top 25, while Virginia Tech and North Carolina both received votes in the poll. Notre Dame and NC State did not receive any votes in this week's AP poll. 

Notre Dame's game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium this Saturday will be broadcast by ESPN, the ACC also announced, and will kick off at noon E.T.