Bear-ly Possible? Maybe Not…
As the Bears prepare to take the field for the first time in Training Camp-apalooza 2016, we present a little food for thought here that Leonard Floyd was too full to finish. As Ryan Pace continues to build this roster, this team’s injury margin for error remains smaller than the Minnesotas, Green Bays, Carolinas, Seattles and Arizonas of the NFC. Idle football off-season minds can start working with actual news and reality as teams charge toward the first full week of September. But here are a few thoughts about this team that’ve passed between my ears over the past week or so, and you can decide whether I should’ve slathered the top of my head with sunscreen, too.
2nd and 3rd before 1st
As we anxiously await Saturday’s first contact practice at camp to see how Leonard Floyd stands up to attacking NFL linemen, the thinking here is guard Cody Whitehair and defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard will play a greater role for the Bears this season than their top draft pick. Even with his role simplified compared to what it was at Georgia, there’s still a physical and mental learning curve that might not be as steep for the two guys in the trenches. Whitehair started for four years at Kansas State, Bullard the equivalent of three at Florida, and many scouts believed both could’ve been drafted even higher than where they landed with the Bears. I’m still confident Vic Fangio can turn Floyd into the player the team projects, and will make some impact plays in 2016. I just think the steadier contributions will come from the other two.
White will be a Beast
….eventually. Call him an “advanced” rookie because he had to settle for just being around the team, getting a knack for NFL life, as well as mental playbook reps and a month of actual on-field practice. And that will help him now. He had an big-target NFL body before his injury a year ago and that size and speed figures to win a lot of battles down the road, along with his share this season. But his limited route tree he had at West Virginia has to grow, and how quickly that happens immediately affects the level of his impact this fall. Is 65 to 70 catches (4-plus per game) too much to ask? If….if…he, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller don’t miss significant time and those weapons are available options all season, White’s numbers could exceed that.
Top 10 “D”
Consider Coordinator Vic Fangio taking over a unit that had its two worst seasons in franchise history, and taking it from 30th overall in 2013 and 2014, to 14th in 2015. And he didn’t have close to the pieces he needed. So many square pegs for round holes. Now, add Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as an inside linebacker tandem that can’t be surpassed elsewhere around the league. Throw in an end who can anchor one side of the line in Akiem Hicks to pair with an ascending young nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. Pernell McPhee’s knee needs to be ready, with Willie Young and Lamarr Houston rotating in. With health, that’s a front seven to be excited about for the first time, post-Lovie. Now, the secondary is another issue, needing Tracy Porter to stay healthy, Kyle Fuller to put it all together and Adrian Amos and a safety-to-be-determined required to make more plays on the ball. Between the improved first two lines of defense and Year Two of defensive back tutorship under Ed Donatell, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.
The Houston Texans are a better team than the Bears right now, and should be a better team this season. But if they open the season without J.J. Watt (back surgery), Brock Osweiler feels the weight of $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) with a green receiving corps outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and the new-look Bears defense can create some chaos and uncertainty for the hosts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could steal that opener, depending on their health going in. So after that? It’s Philadelphia at home, what should be a dreadful Cowboys defense in Dallas, then Detroit at Soldier Field. Of course, this franchise has to figure out a way to beat the Lions, which they haven’t done since 2012. The biggest test to a four-win first month would seem to be the first one. They pull that off, maybe that baby bear baseball team won’t steal all the attention come October. If they get there.
In closing, I have not been sipping the Bears Kool-Aid that on-air partner Dan Jiggetts loves to swig. But who knows? Maybe I needed to shampoo with some of that sunscreen, after all.
It doesn’t sound as if there’s much ambivalence among the White Sox about Chris Sale’s expected return on Thursday.
Manager Robin Ventura said Wednesday he expects things to be “fairly normal” as Sale is scheduled to pitch the finale of the Crosstown series after serving a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property. Adam Eaton said teammates should have no reservations about Sale’s coming back after his actions Saturday left them in a bit of a bind. And pitching coach Don Cooper said he’s the first to forgive and that everyone has situations they might later wish they’d handled differently.
“Open arms,” Eaton said. “He’s our teammate. He’s our guy. All of the things that are swelling around about his character, who he is as a player … he’s my brother and I enjoy every second with him on and off the field. Can’t be a better person. I’ll be excited to see him and I’m sure he’ll be in the same form he’s been the entire year — go out and perform and be Chris Sale.
“I’m sure he’ll be well-rested and a clear mind for him I’m sure is going to be a good thing. We’ll welcome him back.”
The pitching staff could use some innings from Sale without question. When he didn’t pitch Saturday, the White Sox filled those innings with a committee of relief pitchers. Prior to Tuesday’s win, the bullpen had pitched 19 1/3 innings the previous four games.
But the White Sox have handled the drama extremely well. They’re 4-0 with one game left in Sale’s suspension and they look forward to having their ace back. Cooper said he hopes to move on, sentiments that were previously echoed by Ventura and executive vice president Kenny Williams.
“Welcome back, let’s go,” Cooper said. “Let’s go to work. Let’s move on. Listen man, who would want to be held responsible for the (stuff) they did at 22, 24, 26, 27, you know what I mean? He’s way too good of a kid. I don’t think anybody would. Everybody screws up from time to time or has some missteps.”
One of the actions that has caught Sale flack is his criticism of Ventura’s handling of the situation. Neither Ventura or Williams responded to Sale’s comment on Tuesday that “Robin is the one who has to fight for us.” Ventura said he wouldn’t have done things any differently and Williams applauded how Hahn and Ventura handled a difficult, “unique” situation.
Ventura said he doesn’t expect much out of the ordinary.
“I think it’s going to be fine,” Ventura said. “Players always have their teammates’ backs, and that’s no different with our clubhouse, and it’s going to be fairly normal, as far as he’s going to be prepared to pitch and our guys are going to prepare to play and it’s going to go from there.”
There’s a good story behind the best game of Dioner Navarro’s 13-year career.
On May 29, 2013, Navarro — then playing for the Cubs — hit three home runs and drive in six in a 9-3 Crosstown victory at Wrigley Field. Both were career highs.
And Navarro did it without a whole lot of preparation.
“I got to the ballpark and I didn’t see the lineup, I thought I wasn’t playing,” Navarro recalled. “So we go out for stretch and the first group is hitting and they called my name and I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And they said ‘You’re playing.’ It was already too late to get into the group so I went inside.”
Navarro only took two rounds of batting practice in his haste to get ready. But he also took those swings thinking right-hander Jake Peavy was going to start for the White Sox, so he hit left-handed during batting practice.
The White Sox, though, were starting left-hander John Danks, so the switch-hitting Navarro wound up batting right-handed when the game started.
The pregame mixup hardly hurt Navarro, as it turned out. He homered off Danks in his first and second at-bats, and then launched a three-run homer in the seventh off White Sox right-hander Brian Omogrosso.
“It was one of the best experiences of my career,” Navarro said.
Navarro is one of a handful of people to play for both the Cubs and White Sox since the two teams began their annual interleague series in 1997 (others include pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Bob Howry, Edwin Jackson and Neal Cotts, among others). His perspective from playing off the Addison and Sox/35th Red Line stops is one he said he’ll cherish after his career is over.
“I’m really fortunate to be part of it from both sides,” Navarro said. “A little bit bittersweet because the Cubbies had lost 100 games the year before and we were onto our way to lose 100 more games that year (2013). But still the rivalry against this team was something that people always talked about. Being part of it with the Cubs and now being part with the White Sox is a tremendous experience, something I look forward to share with my kids when I get older.”