Fire trigger option on Grazzini

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Fire trigger option on Grazzini

For the short term, at least, the Fire will be without Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini for Friday night's road match against Sporting Kansas City.

"He won't make the trip to this one," Fire coach Frank Klopas said after Thursday's training session in Bridgeview. "He hasn't trained. Hopefully he'll be ready for the next one."

That would be Tuesday at Houston.

Grazzini's future with the Fire has been clouded the past few weeks, but Javier Leon, managing director of Andell Sports Group, cleared up some of the mystery on Thursday. Andell Sports Group operates the club for owner Andrew Hauptman.

The Fire signed Grazzini to a one-year contract midway through last season. That contract carried with it the club's option to keep him through the end of this season. In a weird series of developments, Grazzini told reporters two weeks ago that he wanted to stay with the team after his contract expires on Sunday but that he wanted a more lucrative deal. The Major League Soccer Players Association says he is being paid 50,000 for this season, which makes him one of the lowest-paid players on the club.

A week later, after discussions with Grazzini, his representatives and Andell staffers, Grazzini admitted that he didn't understand the terms of his contract. He played well in a 59-minute stint during the club's 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday, then showed a t-shirt saying "Thanks, Chicago" as he left the field. Some took that to mean he was bidding the club a fond farewell.

That apparently wasn't the case. Grazzini practiced with the Fire on Thursday but cordially declined a media interview afterwards. Leon and Klopas did all the talking on the matter.

"The Grazzini option has been triggered," Leon said, "and we expect him to be with us at least until the end of the year - and hopefully further than that."

Leon and Klopas insisted that the Fire always planned to exercise the club's option on Grazzini's services, which was part of a contract proposed by the players' representatives.

No announcement was made until Thursday, however, and the Fire signed well-regarded Brazilian midfielder Alex a month ago - an indication that a replacement for Grazzini was in place. Alex joined the Fire for training two weeks ago and will be eligible to play for the first time at Kansas City. Klopas said Alex will make the trip and that "he's an option" to take Grazzini's role in the first XI.

Leon acknowledged that the Fire's failure to make an announcement on exercising the option on Grazzini created speculation but blamed that on Grazzini.

"A month ago he came to us and said there were family issues he wanted to address and maybe he could go back to Argentina," said Leon. "So, we have been working with him to make him understand the commitment he's made to us. In our minds (exercising the option) was a done deal, but he asked us to explore the possibilities. That's why we didn't make an announcement. It was more semantics than anything else. There never was an issue about us picking up his option."

He also admitted that there were talks about the terms of Grazzini's contract, but Leon said, "We explained that we never negotiate a contract during the season." The existing pact expires after this season.

Leon wouldn't elaborate on Grazzini's "family issues" but the player did miss two days of training this week - the reason Klopas cited for leaving him off the travel roster. Leon said the family issue is "evolving."

"When you're dealing with family situations, there's always some difficulties," Leon said. "We want a Grazzini that is 100 percent. We're hoping the issues will be resolved and he'll be a happy player. We explained to him that he has to be 100 percent in."

Meanwhile, the club trimmed its roster in anticipation of picking up a player or two now that the international transfer window has opened. Kheli Dube, a forward acquired from the New England Revolution in this year's re-entry draft, was released and defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe was traded to Real Salt Lake for a 2014 draft pick. Neither Dube nor Watson-Siriboe appeared in a first team match this season.

The new players brought in at the start of this season have been only mildly successful. There have been reports that Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo, who has also been slow in adjusting to a new team, is furthered hampered by an ankle problem now and that Rafael Robayo, a backup midfielder, wants to return to his Colombian club.

Leon disputed the latter report.

"Robayo is interesting," he said. "He had a tremendous career in Colombia and wants to play more here."

There is no indication that will happen any time soon, though Klopas has not named a replacement for Grazzini at Kansas City. Klopas is hoping another forward, or perhaps a midfielder, can be added to the roster soon. Two names that have been mentioned are Andriy Shevchenko, the 35-year old Ukrainian striker who is hoping to move to Major League Soccer, and Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald.

Leon is not expecting "major changes" and is leery about bringing in established stars after the bad experiences with Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo two seasons ago. Both were brought in as Designated Players, which allows MLS teams to sign international players that put the team over the salary cap; neither stayed with the Fire after that campaign ended.

"One of the lessons we learned from the past is that it's not about one player. It's about the team," Leon said. "But we'll evaluate everything."

"You're always hoping a guy can come in and have an immediate impact," Klopas said, "but you've got to be realistic. The history of our club shows that it takes some time. There's an adjustment period for players coming in."

In addition to Grazzini and the injured Puppo, the Fire will be without defender Gonzalo Segares on Friday. He will serve a one-game suspension for the red card he drew in the Columbus match.

Cody Whitehair Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

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Cody Whitehair Chicago Bears NFL Draft Profile

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 150 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Cody Whitehair (OL), Kansas St.

6’4” | 301 lbs.

Selection:

2nd Round, 56th overall to Chicago Bears

Scouting Report:

"Many expect Whitehair to be the next tackle to guard transition. Why can’t he succeed at guard? The answer I point to is his wide base that has been and might be an issue against edge rushers with speed. It was the same for Zack Martin. Whitehair has powerful hands and will control you in tight spaces when in proper positioning. Guards can be just as important as tackles." - Josh Norris, Rotoworld.com

Video analysis provided by NBC Sports and Rotoworld NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Robin Ventura used blowout loss to rest key White Sox

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Robin Ventura used blowout loss to rest key White Sox

BALTIMORE — One of the few positives to Thursday night’s blowout loss to the Baltimore Orioles is it offered Robin Ventura a chance to rest several players.

With the White Sox down by eight runs, Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu and Jimmy Rollins all exited a cold, windy and miserable contest two innings early. For Frazier, it was the first two innings he hasn’t played all season out of 205. Even though it’s only two innings, Ventura thinks it was a nice breather for a team in the middle of a span with 19 games in 19 days.

“The way we’re playing, you just try to get them off their feet,” Ventura said. “If I had more guys to do that with I probably would have. But you’re trying to get those guys out of there. If it would happen again, you’d get (Brett) Lawrie or someone like that out of there. You’re just hoping it helps them somewhat. It doesn’t sound like a lot, two innings. But in a game like that, it helps. It’s a little sticky out there. It’s just a way to get them out of the game and they feel like they get somewhat of a break.”

Frazier likes that the rest got some plate appearances for his teammates. Otherwise, he’d rather be out there. But Frazier gets that it’s important for Ventura to find playing time for Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino and Jerry Sands.

He also admitted he didn’t mind sitting the final six outs of a contest where the temperature at first pitch was 48 degrees.

“It's different in the American League — you might go a month without hitting it seems like,” Frazier said. “To get guys in there that need at-bats, that’s probably the best thing that comes out of it. You don’t ever want to be out of the game, but it was a cold day. Robin understands it was damp and there’s just a right time to get them in there.”

Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

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Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

The speculation about Jaylon Smith won’t end until he finally sets foot on an NFL field and proves that his knee has fully healed. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith with the 34th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday with the expectation he’ll have a lengthy, successful career in the NFL (

). 

Smith is in relatively uncharted territory when it comes to the damage to the stretched peroneal nerve in his left knee. But universally, Smith’s coaches and former teammates expressed optimism about his recovery and gushed about the elite abilities possessed by the 2015 Butkus Award winner. 

“His traits of explosion and speed and all the physical traits we talk about, they’re top-line,” Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “But the big thing with him is he’s a pro. He can walk in any pro locker room, any pro meeting room — he’s incredible in the meeting room — and he’ll talk better football than a lot of those guys that are already there. He’s very knowledgeable. Worked at it hard. Wanted to see the big picture of football. 

“So he’s NFL ready the minute he walks into a meeting room. Incredible note-taker. He’s just — if I were still in the pros and I drafted him, I can’t imagine that I’ve ever had any rookie come in that would be where he is. He’s just so far ahead. So far ahead.”

VanGorder has a keen knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a linebacker in the NFL, too, having spent four years as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator and single seasons as the linebackers’ coach for the Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. 

“He’s gonna have a hell of a career, he is one heck of a football player and it’s very, very important to him,” VanGorder said. “He’s a champion. He has a champion attitude. He’ll be good.”

While Smith’s trophy-winning junior season certainly was extraordinary, that he still totaled 114 tackles in 2014 was impressive in a different way. That year, Smith was learning a new position — Will inside linebacker in VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme — and was frequently caught out of position, especially after talismanic middle linebacker Joe Schmidt suffered a season-ending injury against Navy. 

But even though Smith struggled with the move inside, his athleticism took over to generate that triple-digit tackle total. Seeing Smith glide from the field to the boundary to make a tackle on an opposing running back was a somewhat common occurrence. 

“Jaylon was a production man,” Notre Dame linebackers coach Mike Elston said. “He made everybody else around him better because he was gonna make up for you. You got reached as a defensive tackle? He was gonna get to the ball and make the tackle. It didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what happens in front of him. Jaylon made up for a lot of things. He was productive.”

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace offered a different perspective on what made Smith such a good player. 

“If he wasn’t in class, I don’t know if he’d instantly transport and just be right here in the (Guglielmino Athletics Complex), in the film room, just wanting more and more and more,” Grace said. “Because he didn’t necessarily want to rely on his physical ability. That’s a tremendous trait, God-given and something he’s worked toward as well. 

“But what makes these guys great players is their instincts on the field and they’re able to direct that to the ball, to the play, understanding the game as well. That’s just taking it to the next level. There’s plenty of tremendous athletes out there, you’ll see guys pop up all the time with these crazy numbers, jumping like this. But Jaylon has that and the other side.”

Coach Brian Kelly found himself publicly politicking for Smith over the past few weeks, trying to convey what impressed him so much about his former linebacker to an NFL audience. All Smith needed was a chance, according to Kelly, and he’d prove to be the kind of linebacker he was at Notre Dame — and maybe a better one, too. 

The Dallas Cowboys, on Friday, gave Smith that chance. 

“He’s going to come back from this injury, and when he does, he’s going to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL,” Kelly said. “He has that kind of ability. … Jaylon is somebody that has an incredible, positive attitude. 

“Look, he’s not a gamble. He’s a smart business decision.”