Beware the 'game manager' and Gore

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Beware the 'game manager' and Gore

While the Bears were going through their Jason Campbell-or-Jay Cutler drama, the San Francisco 49ers were going through one of their own.

Starting quarterback Alex Smiths recovery from a concussion last Sunday had him still going through the evaluation process as late as Friday. If not Smith, then Colin Kaepernick, one of the 2011 quarterback draft class that included Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert.

The real problem, however

The 49ers offense runs, literally, through Frank Gore. The weekly goal of the Bears defense is to render the opposing offense one-dimensional by shutting down the run first.

Not always a simple task. The Bears went 18 straight games without allowing a back to rush for 100 yards; there have been two in the past two weeks, Chris Johnson (141) in Tennessee and Arian Foster (102).

The Bears will including Foster, Gore and Johnson, the Bears will face top-eight rushers in six straight games beginning with the Titans.

But Gore is their immediate problem.

The 49ers are the NFLs No. 1 rushing offense with 170 yards per game. Over the last 25 games Gore has rushed for 1,964 yards and 13 touchdowns on 422 carries, seventh in the NFL over that span.

Hes one of the better running backs in the NFL, if you ask me, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Very underrated, doesnt get a lot of pub but he does a lot of the dirty work for them. Just get a bunch of guys to the football. Theres going to be some missed tackles. Thats just the way the game goes.

But if we get 11 guys to the football, wrap him up, we should be OK. Hes going to make some plays, though. Hes a good running back.

Very, very good in fact. San Francisco is 18-1-1 when gore and running back Kendall Hunter combine for 20 or more carries. It is a formula favored by the Bears but San Francisco just does it better.

They run the ball, Urlacher said. Theyre big up front, big, athletic offensive linemen, great skill players. They dont make a lot of mistakes with the football. Theyve allowed some sacks but they run the ball so well, they dont get behind the sticks so much. They just keep trying to pound it.

Kaepernick vs. Smith

While the Bears will never say it, they would much prefer to face an San Francisco offense directed by Kaepernick.

The reason: The Bears defensive scheme likes impatience in a quarterback. Smith does not have nearly enough of that at this point of his career. The Bears do sound more afraid of what he wont do turn the ball over than what he will.

I just think hes a great quarterback, said defensive tackle Henry Melton. But I think they really love that running game, and hes just kind of there to just dont mess up the game, kind of.

Kind of.

He doesnt want to get that turnover just like every quarterback shouldnt if youve got a great defense, Melton said. You should try to not have any turnovers. Thats what I see him back there doing.

Hes actually doing a good bit more. Smith ranks No. 1 in the NFL in completion percentage (70.0) and is third in the league in passer rating (104.1). The 49ers are getting the Bears backup; the Bears hope they are getting San Franciscos.

Theyre both extremely mobile. No. 7 Kaepernik has got some juice but Alex has some mobility, too, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Nice job in the pocket, a little bit of option football in there, and they stretch you with personnel packages.

Theyve got a great formula going for them.

Pedigree O

The attention of the week has focused on Jason Campbell dealing with a San Francisco defense that allows a league-low 14.1 points per game. But the firepower coming to bear on the Chicago defense is cause for concern.

The 49ers start seven No. 1s on offense Smith, Gore, three offensive linemen and two wide receivers. They have three No. 1s, two 2s and a 3 on the bench.

They know how to run the ball, they have a plan and they stick to it, Marinelli said.

Only five teams have given the ball away fewer times than San Franciscos nine.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.