Despite lower numbers, Eifert wins Mackey Award

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Despite lower numbers, Eifert wins Mackey Award

Tyler Eifert led all FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards in 2011, his junior season. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, but didn't win it.

It turns out the second time was the charm for Eifert, despite 19 fewer receptions and 179 fewer yards heading into his final collegiate game. The Notre Dame captain won the 2012 Mackey Award, adding to the laundry list of honors Irish players and coaches have garnered following their 12-0 season and bid to the BCS Championship.

Most coaches and scouts have seen Eifert develop into a complete tight end this season, improving his draft stock while his quantifiable production dipped. Coach Brian Kelly threw the phrase "complete tight end" around a lot this year, and as the season progressed it became clear Eifert's coach wasn't just pumping his own player.

"This isn't about numbers this year," Kelly said in November. "This is about a guy that's developing himself as a complete tight end."

Eifert and Tommy Rees developed an outstanding connection in 2011, one which often carried over to Rees' spurts in relief of Everett Golson in 2012. But it took Eifert and Golson about two months to develop a chemistry, which finally showed in November. Of Eifert's 43 catches, 22 came in November.

"We're growing, he's a young quarterback, and he's getting better every day along with the rest of the guys," Eifert said earlier. "More time together has definitely helped."

Eifert technically has one year of eligibility left, but would be a longshot to return for a fifth year given his first-round draft stock.

"If you asked the guys at the next level about Tyler Eifert, they really don't care about how many balls he caught because they know he can catch the football," Kelly explained. "They're looking at other things that he's developed. He's going to find himself in a pretty good position in April."

Kelly nets coaching honor

Brian Kelly was named the 2012 Home Depot Coach of the Year, as selected by ESPN and ABC analysts. He's the first two-time winner of the award -- Kelly won it in 2009, his final season with Cincinnati -- and is the second Notre Dame coach to win the honor, joining Ty Willingham in 2002.

Kelly is also up for the Eddie Robinson Award, another top coaching honor voted on by the Football Writers Association of America. That honor will be announced Dec. 13.

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

There’s been plenty of smoke and trade rumors this week, but Robin Ventura doesn’t get the sense a deal is forthcoming.

The White Sox manager acknowledged on Thursday afternoon his role in trade dealings is minimal as general manager Rick Hahn and his staff have fielded all the phone calls, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana believed to have drawn the most interest. Jon Heyman reported Thursday the New York Yankees are the latest team to have inquired about Sale’s availability.

As busy as Hahn has been this week, his phone apparently ringing off the hook, Ventura isn’t convinced the White Sox will be sellers come Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

While it could simply be another round of posturing as teams angle to best position themselves, the White Sox headed into Thursday’s finale against the Cubs 50-51 with at least a pulse when it comes to the postseason.

“This week probably led to some more phone calls, of people calling just to see what's going on with us,” Ventura said. “I think our guys should look at it as a nice thing that people are calling and asking about you because that means people want you. But I don't want to see anybody go out of here. I don't think that's going to happen.”

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The White Sox managed to stay afloat even though Sale was gone for five games with a 4-1 mark in his absence. That included two walkoff victories over the Detroit Tigers and a pair of wins against the Cubs on Monday and Tuesday. Ventura acknowledged a win behind Sale on Thursday would be a big boost as the club heads into a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

The run comes almost a year after the White Sox rolled off seven straight victories to inch their way back into the wild-card race in 2015. That week of victories convinced the White Sox to hold off from trading free-agent-to-be Jeff Samardzija. The next four games could very well decide the fate of several players as Hahn said last Thursday the club is open-minded in trade talks and sick of being “mired in mediocrity.”

“I hope we do it again,” Ventura said. “That decision isn’t mine and I’m not taking or making any phone calls. For me I hope we do it again.”

Last year the White Sox collapsed after they didn’t trade Samardzija, who fell apart and went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA in his first eight starts after the deadline. The White Sox rotation is in much better shape than last season’s with the recent success of James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez. The team also is hopeful Carlos Rodon could return on Sunday to accompany Sale and Quintana.

Though the offense has been inconsistent, the group has improved and finally has another much-needed left-handed hitter for the middle of the order in Justin Morneau. So while the White Sox bullpen is beat up pretty good, Ventura thinks his club is better prepared for the stretch run.

“We’re probably better situated of sustaining that than last year,” Ventura said.

Back at Wrigley Field, Rick Renteria not concerned about managing again

Back at Wrigley Field, Rick Renteria not concerned about managing again

Rick Renteria returned to Wrigley Field this week, but instead of greeting the media in a large, well-lit room outside the palatial new home clubhouse, the former Cubs manager sat in a folding chair in the squeezed confines of the visitor’s clubhouse. The cramped setup even made the old Wrigley Field interview room/dungeon, where Renteria held press conferences as the Cubs’ manager in 2014, look spacious. 

But with Al Green and some other soul hits of the 1970s blaring from a speaker in his locker, Renteria — who’s in his first year as the White Sox bench coach — said he’s not concerned with when he’ll get another opportunity to manage after being pushed out for Joe Maddon as the Cubs accelerated their rebuilding process following the 2014 season. 

“I came out here to do the job I’m doing right now,” Renteria said. “I’ve always believed that whatever goes on after that kind of takes care of itself. You can’t really control those things and that’s how I’m viewing it. 

“I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing right now and whatever comes in the future comes in the future. And right now I can’t control that.”

The 54-year-old Renteria, who spent six seasons as a coach for the San Diego Padres before managing the Cubs to a 73-89 record two years ago, took a down-the-middle approach to that question about if his return to Wrigley Field brought back thoughts of managing again. He said he’s shook hands and received well-wishes from a few of his former players, and didn’t mention any animosity to how his exit from Clark and Addison went down.

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Whether or not Renteria gets another managerial gig remains to be seen. But his brief stint as skipper on the north side of Chicago is one he said he looks back upon fondly.

“I thought it was a good time,” Renteria said. “It was a lot of positive energy, a lot of possibilities and it was a great experience. Can’t deny it, it was a great experience.”

Notre Dame unit preview: Re-loading on the offensive line

Notre Dame unit preview: Re-loading on the offensive line

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. Today, we wrap up the offense with Harry Hiestand's offensive line. 

Depth Chart

Left tackle

1. Mike McGlinchey (Redshirt junior)
2. Jimmy Byrne (Redshirt sophomore)
3A. Liam Eichenberg (Freshman)
3B. Parker Boudreaux (Freshman)
3C. Tommy Kraemer (Freshman)

Left guard

1. Quenton Nelson (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Trevor Ruhland (Redshirt freshman)

Center

1. Sam Mustipher (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Tristen Hoge (Redshirt freshman)

Right guard

1A. Colin McGovern (Redshirt junior)
1B. Hunter Bivin (Redshirt junior)
2. Tristen Hoge (Redshirt freshman)

Right tackle

1. Alex Bars (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Mark Harrell (Graduate student)
3A. Liam Eichenberg (Freshman)
3B. Parker Boudreaux (Freshman)
3C. Tommy Kraemer (Freshman)

Four of Notre Dame’s five offensive line spots were solidified coming out of spring practice: Left tackle (McGlinchey), left guard (Nelson), center (Mustipher) and right tackle (Bars). 

That leaves the McGovern-Bivin battle as the only remaining question on the Irish offensive line heading into preseason practice. Both are entering their fourth years in the program, but neither have started a game at the college level. 

McGovern was slowed by a concussion during spring practice but is finally strong enough to compete for a starting position, Kelly said back in March. Bivin is a natural tackle who offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said during spring practice operates well in close quarters, though, making him a decent candidate to slide inside at guard. Both players are probably on relatively even footing heading into August. 

There’s a decent amount of flexibility behind the five starters Notre Dame runs with against Texas. Harrell can play center, guard or tackle, while Hoge could either back up Mustipher at center or McGovern/Bivin/Nelson at guard, too. 

Biggest question: How good can the left side be?

With Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin off to the NFL, and Steve Elmer taking a job in Washington D.C., Notre Dame’s most experienced offensive linemen are McGlinchey (14 starts) and Nelson (11 starts). But this doesn’t feel like a complete rebuild of the Irish offensive line, partly because Hiestand has consistently developed strong groups up front. 

The other part of that feeling is that the 6-foot-7, 310 pound McGlinchey and 6-foot-5, 325 pound Nelson showed last year plenty of reasons to believe they’ll lead the next wave of strong Irish offensive linemen. Both have garnered some future first-round draft pick chatter and will be given every opportunity to prove themselves. Expect Notre Dame’s offensive gameplan to frequently focus running plays to the left side of the O-line this fall. 

Youthful impact

Notre Dame has only played one true freshman offensive lineman in the Hiestand era, and that was Elmer, who enrolled early nine months before he filled in for an injured Watt in 2013. So it’s unlikely that Eichenberg, Kraemer or Boudreaux — all of whom were four-star recruits — will see the field this fall. 

Boudreaux, who had a health scare this summer when he came down with viral meningitis, is probably the most likely one of the three freshmen to move inside to guard down the road. If McGlinchey turns pro after this season — a few observers have tagged him as a potential 2017 first-round draft pick — there will be an opening at tackle that Eichenberg/Kraemer/Boudreaux could battle for next year, with the rest of 2016’s starting offensive line on track to return. 

They said it
 
“I’m depressed.” — Harry Hiestand, joking about not having a Martin (Nick or Zack) on his offensive line for the first time since coming to Notre Dame before the 2012 season.