Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Time to go around the horn on the Chicago sporting scene while I await the second round of the NHL Playoffs and listen to Jon Gruden wax poetic about every player drafted.

Plenty of Hawk talk at the bar, pondering another early demise. When Im asked what I think, I summon my inner Dennis Green (Watch it!): The Hawks are we thought they were! Any honest appraisal of this team pointed to the many gaping holes in their game. Actually, I go back to their construction. In a league built for speed, this team has regressed in that area for the last two years. (Think Andrew Brunnette.)

In the Detroit Model in which a Bowman (You choose which one.) team is constructed, the last line of defense is usually the last piece considered. That would be fine if the players in front of the masked man kept the puck out and tilted the ice in the other direction, but this years team was not consistently up to the task. Their most consistent trait was their inconsistency. You would like to think of it as an aberration, but I remember the Captains repeated frustration with last years team also. A team with this core should still be playing, if they were surrounded by the right pieces.

I think Eddie O and Pat Foley were right on in their instant analysis as time was running out on the season: The Hawks have four top-six forwards and need a second-line center. That would help in their puck-possession game, and enable the team to match-up against the teams they would be meeting in the playoffs. Simple enough. And as I wrote here when the season started, the loss of Brian Campbell would be huge and it was. The inability of the defense to move the play in the other direction led to numerous preventable goals. Then there was the biggest problem: special teams.

This drum was beat all season, but no one was listening. The 26th ranked power-play during the regular season was even worse during the playoffs. Honestly! 5.3 is not going to help you in a series in which there is no room to breathe. Of course when you dont score, there is always the goalie situation. At this time of year they can steal a game, or as we just watched, a series. For no matter how inept you may be, if the puck doesnt end up in the back of the net, it doesnt matter. Ive spent the better part of my life watching my Flyers team double the shot output of their opponents only to lose because they allowed soft goals while having to do the work of three men to score theirs. The goals that Crawford allowed to lose Games 3 and 4 are ones he would admit he has to stop, but maybe if there were a couple of power-play goals the games dont get to that point. Crawford is going to take a lot of heat for this loss and thats part of his job, but when the real analysis is done, I think that there should be as much scrutiny on the rest of the roster. Its a team game and this team got as far as it should have.

A happier ending hopefully awaits the other tenant of the United Center, but Im not so sure. For some reason, well one reason actually: injuries, this team has been swimming upstream the whole season, albeit to the best record in the league. For most of us, that is a reflection of coach Tom Thibodeau. He is passionate and relentless in his pursuit of getting the most from his players, every night. No matter the opponent, or who was available to play, his team showed up. Most notably, that team did not include reigning MVP Derrick Rose for 27 out of 66 games. I know this is a nice team, but no Rose for that much and still the best record? That is ridiculous. In a weird way it might benefit them now that he missed so much time. They had to find other ways to win, and guys up-and-down the roster stepped up in big ways, special mentions for C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer. (I know, I cant believe I typed that last name either!)

As the playoffs and my hometown Sixers loom, we all want to see which D-Rose shows up. I still dont believe that he is fully healed, but he has time to get better. I think that this team can dispatch of the Sixers and Celtics on the way to the expected matchup with the hated Heat, even without big minutes from their leader. But wins 9 thru 16 are going to require this team to be hitting on all cylinders, and when you add to Roses injury woes, Lu Deng playing with one hand and the populace waiting to see that Rip Hamilton, you have to wonder if this team will have enough to take on the Heat, even at a time that most feel the Heat are very beatable. (Ill believe that when I see it, Im still scarred from the last 4 games of last years series.) Not to mention what happens after that series, but first things first. This is a good team that should make its mark, but to get to where we all want them to go, it rests in the hands, and ankle of one player, lets hope he is who we know he is.

Did the baseball season start? Just kidding, of course it did, on the Southside! I tease! Well, sort of. The season will start for the Cubs once Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson come up from the minors. The way I look at this season is: Who is going to be here next year, or the year after? That is what this is all about, right? When you build from the ground up, it takes time, and a lot of losses! Even though a lot of folks arent being very forthright about this, thats the case. Personally, I dont have a problem with this, but then again Im not a season ticket holder. My curiosity is about how forgiving the ticket-buying public will be and for how long. There still has to be something compelling to make the folks come out or watch at a bar! What will be compelling is watching young stars on the way up. No doubt, Starlin Castro is that, but he needs help. Hopefully that will continue to come from Bryan LaHair, who is the best story on the team. We all love the guy who finally gets his shot and takes advantage of it. At least we wont be watching the Rodrigo Lopez re-run again this summer. Hes a known quantity, and we know we dont need more. This is all about kids on the rise and trade-bait. On this team youre either one or the other.

Im still not sure what to make of the Sox. Nice road-trip, but against two of the worst hitting teams in the majors. Oakland has a team batting average of .205 and despite what my baseball sensei says about Seattle, any team that has 5 of its regulars batting under .236 is not a juggernaut, but I digress. The Sox keep giving me mixed signals. Johnny Danks has a 5.11 ERA, while Jake Peavy is 3-0 with a 1.88. Philip Humber throws a perfect game,(very cool to watch by the way) in his next start Phillip Humber gets lit up like a Christmas tree by Boston. Addison Reed hasnt given up a run in 9 appearances, while Hector Santiago has given up 4 homeruns in 7. Alex Rios(!) is hitting .362, while Dayan Viciedo is batting .173. Adam Dunn has 30 strikeouts in 19 games! But Brent Morel is only 5 behind with one less game played! See what I mean? Give some, get some is what happens when youre a game above .500 19 games into the season. There are a lot of story lines that need time to be played out here, but this team will go as far as its pitching, which so far hasnt been half bad. But unlike that offensive powerhouse that plays in the emerald city, I would feel much better if the bottom four regulars on this team could hit over the.214 that they currently reside under.

And last but not least are the Bears. The big news of course is the draft. Again, I do not for the life of me understand anyone who can sit and watch this whole thing, but then again I dont understand most of the top watched weekly shows on cable either. Have you seen that list? Its worth a look even if you dont understand, although in some ways it makes perfect sense. Dont get me wrong, I like some of the intrigue of the draft, I mean, how could you not want to watch guys who are very used to getting their way have to wait their turn?

But even the guys who have to pick dont know how half of these will work out. If you dont believe me, google the Bears last ten drafts. How do you like that list? Its almost as scary as the cable show list. Not only that, you can do this with any team in the NFL. You think the Bears are the only team with the tortured draft past? Try again! Which brings us to the 1st pick of the Phil Emery era, Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin. Im not even going to try and tell you that I know anything about this kid, because I dont, just like most of the people who will give you their opinions about the pick today.

What I find interesting is that no one that I read had him rated this high. Everyone here thought that they would take Illini end Whitney Mercilus (headline writers dream) or Syracuses Chandler Jones. Both were left on the board by Emery. Also left was Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff. I might be mistaken, but I think there have been some rumblings about the play of the incumbent left tackle. LOL!! Only time will tell how this will play out but it looks like Emery stuck to his guns. We all hope that pays off. Besides, like any draft, this one should be rated in its entirety and with hindsight. For now its pretty much darts at a board, but by most accounts, the first one is a good, safe shot.

Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

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Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

We heard Will Likely would be utilized on the offensive side of the ball this season, but we weren't sure in what fashion.

Well, first-year head coach DJ Durkin apparently has big plans for the All-Big Ten defensive back, who was listed as a starter on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball when the Terps put out their Week 1 depth chart Monday.

In addition to being the No. 1 starter at nickel back, Likely is also listed as a co-starter at one of the wide receiver positions.

And while Maryland's depth chart didn't list starting return men, you'd have to figure Likely will be the featured player there, as well.

That's quite the workload for the guy who returned to College Park for his senior season.

Of course, there's little doubt that Likely is Maryland's best player. Durkin is going to make sure he gets the most out of Likely this season.

The Terps open their season Saturday against Howard.

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

DETROIT -- He’d already made out the lineup card for Monday, but Robin Ventura wanted to check in on Adam Eaton.

It’s not often Eaton voluntarily leaves a game as he did Sunday.

So even though the preliminary report was that Eaton was cleared, the White Sox manager held a 60-second conversation with his outfielder before the opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. As he suspected, Eaton, who left in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win with a bruised right forearm, reported he felt fine.

“I was waiting around to see what he felt like, but yesterday he couldn’t grip anything,” Ventura said. “Today it’s good enough for him to play. He’s been able to battle through some stuff, and he can play with pain, so I’m going to let him do it.

“You know it takes a lot for him to come out of a game, and it takes a lot for him to show up the next day and not be in it. There’s very few times he has come in and said he couldn’t go. It would have to be pretty bad for him to not be in there.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Eaton -- who is hitting .276/.359/.412 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs -- joked he normally plays at about 75 percent for most games. He suggested that number dropped by one percent after Taijuan Walker hit him with a pitch and caused swelling in the fourth inning. Eaton stayed in the game until the bottom of the fifth and later had X-rays of his forearm taken, which proved negative. He said he didn’t have much strength in the area on Sunday, but it wasn’t an issue on Monday.

“Nothing broke, nothing major just a lot of swelling,” Eaton said. “I don’t like to leave games at all. It’s no offense to anybody else. But if I’m in the game I want to stay in the game. I don’t want to be Wally Pipp’d. It has always been my mindset and still is. I couldn’t really raise the bat up all that efficiently and we had a healthy Shuck. Let him go up there and compete. I hate coming out of the game, but sometimes you have to. I respect (Ventura) for getting me back in there right away and I guess, trusting in me that I’m all right and good enough to play.”

One reason Eaton pressed to play -- he’s not ready to give in. The leadoff man knows the odds are heavily against the possibility of a White Sox postseason berth. But isn’t ready to concede just yet.

“We’re not out of it until they say we’re out of it,” Eaton said. “There’s been teams down seven or 10 games and the last month of September have won 20 something games and forced a one-game playoff and gotten to the playoffs and been hot at the right time and made a good push. We’re not counting ourselves out and we want to continue to play good baseball.”

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame faced a similar question in 2014 it faces now: Who’s going to catch the ball?

Two years ago, Notre Dame entered the season having lost 70 percent of its receptions, 74 percent of its receiving yards and 78 percent of its receiving touchdowns from the 2013 season. The answer to the question turned out to be a guy who only had six catches as a freshman the previous year — Will Fuller.

Notre Dame might or might not have another breakout candidate like Fuller on its roster this year. But there’s a constant between 2014 and 2016: wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock.

The Irish are without Fuller (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 touchdowns), who became a first-round pick of the Houston Texans after turning pro earlier this year, along with Chris Brown (48 catches, 597 yards, four touchdowns), Amir Carlisle (32 catches, 355 yards, one touchdown) and Corey Robinson (16 catches, 200 yards, one touchdown) at the receiver position.

Add in the losses of running back C.J. Prosise (26 catches, 308 yards, one touchdown) and tight ends Alize Jones (13 catches, 190 yards) and Chase Hounshell (one catch, six yards), and Notre Dame has to replace 82 percent of its 2015 receptions, 87 percent of its receiving yards and 84 percent of its receiving touchdowns this fall.

“It’s like starting over,” Denbrock said. “Last year was kind of a little bit of a year off for me, quite frankly. I mean, I had guys that had heard me say the same things for three years and had kind of got used to being out there in the fray and doing it. Now it kind of regenerates itself and we start all over again, which for me is kind of exciting.

“I love the challenge, I love the dynamic of the group. I love their attention to trying to do things the right way, we’re just a little bit inexperienced and we’re learning how to do things the right way.”

Denbrock is in his fifth year coaching Notre Dame’s wide receivers (he spent 2010 and 2011 as the Irish tight ends coach and helped develop Tyler Eifert there, too) and has overseen that regeneration of a receiving corps after the losses of three go-to options in Michael Floyd, T.J. Jones and Fuller. And while an offense requires all its units — quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen — working together to succeed, it’s worth noting Notre Dame’s passing S&P+ rankings since Denbrock took over the Irish receivers:

2012: fifth

2013: 15th

2014: 13th

2015: eighth

Even if you might view some of those rankings as a bit bullish — like 2012’s, which seems high for a year in which Notre Dame deployed a conservative run-first offense — they’re solid evidence of Denbrock’s success in developing reliable pass-catchers.

“He's someone that doesn’t take anything less than what you can give,” redshirt junior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said. “He expects you to give 100 percent all the time. He just wants you to max out your potential, whatever it may be. And I’m grateful for the type of coach that he is because he never lets us get away with half-done.”

Of course, it helps that Notre Dame has recruited exceedingly well at the receiver position over the last few years. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Corey Robinson, Fuller, Hunter, Corey Holmes, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley were all Rivals four-star recruits, while three-star recruit Chris Brown developed into a rock-solid player and fellow three-star prospect Kevin Stepherson impressed during spring and preseason camp (he's expected to play against Texas despite his arrest earlier this month).

While coach Brian Kelly said he’s “concerned” and that all those inexperienced receivers — St. Brown, Sanders, Boykin, Holmes, Claypool, McKinley, Stepherson and ex-walk-on Chris Finke — are “suspects,” he has an immense amount of trust in Denbrock. The two have coached together for 16 non-consecutive seasons, with Denbrock serving as both an offensive and defensive coordinator, a tight ends coach, a wide receivers coach and an associate head coach. Denbrock, too, has coached offensive line and linebackers at various stops in his 30-year coaching career.

“He knows the offense and the system and he knows what I look for and what I'm trying to do, and so it's a great relationship because I don't have to micromanage him,” Kelly said. “All I have to do is kind of say, this is the direction I would like to go, and he's off and running.

“So any time you have that, and a longstanding relationship with somebody that knows exactly where you want to go, it allows to you do so many other things and it allows me to help coach some of the players at a level, a grass roots level that sometimes the head coach doesn't get a chance to do.”

There’s been some inconsistency with players during practice in August, but that’s to be expected with such a green group.

“He’s on us hard,” St. Brown said. “He knows he has to be harder than ever because we have a young group of receivers.”

But why should 2016, even with all the uncertainty surrounding that position, be any different? There’s that saying that you should never bet against a streak. And Denbrock is on a pretty good streak.

“I just think you gotta be very consistent and very demanding with what you ask them to do and not let their youthfulness be an excuse for not playing at the level they should play at,” Denbrock said. “They get it, they understand it, and they’re growing.”