Johnson absent for Fire opener

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Johnson absent for Fire opener

The Montreal Impact suffered a disappointing result in their MLSdebut, but they hope to take advantage of what's expected to be afull house in their home opener.The Impact go for their first win Saturday when they take on theChicago Fire, who will be without starting goaltender Sean Johnsonin their season opener.After playing in various other leagues for nearly two decades,Montreal joined the MLS, becoming the league's 19th team. TheImpact weren't able to pick up a win in their debut, losing 2-0 toVancouver last Saturday."The disappointing part is that it happened so quickly into thegame,'' said coach Jesse Marsch, whose team gave up the first goalin the fourth minute. "We don't even give ourselves a chance forthe game to settle in, and we're already down 1-0."While nerves could be blamed for the poor start, Montreal didhave its chances, putting seven shots on goal.The Impact will try for better results in their home opener atOlympic Stadium. Montreal announced that more than 50,000 ticketshave been sold."Now that we have a game under our belt, we'll be more focusedon exactly what the game is going to require," Marsch, a member ofthe Fire from 1998-2005, told the league's official website. "Wehave enough guys who have played in front of big crowds and in biggames. It's going to be a good opportunity to show the city who weare."Chicago will be looking to quiet that full stadium in itsopener."They'll be trying as much as possible to play the crowd and tointimidate us and the officials," said forward Dominic Oduro, wholed the Fire with 12 goals last season. "I believe we have a goodteam in terms of experience in chemistry to go in and get pointsout of it."The Fire missed the playoffs for a second straight year in 2011despite finishing strong after a poor start, going 7-1-2 in theirfinal 10 games.A big reason for that success was the play of Johnson. He gaveup 12 goals during that 10-game stretch, though he'll miss thefirst three contests this season while playing for the UnitedStates in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying action.Chicago has not said whether it will start veteran Jay Nolly or23-year-old Paolo Tornaghi in his place."Jay is an experienced guy, and Paolo, his experience isdifferent," coach Frank Klopas told the Fire's official website."He's not the kid out of the draft or college, he's been in a goodenvironment. We're comfortable with either choice."Chicago returns most of last season's roster, including Oduroand Patrick Nyarko, who had a team-best nine assists.The Fire added some depth behind them in Colombian midfielderRafael Robayo and German defender Arne Friedrich, who appeared in82 games for his national team.With Montreal playing in front of what should be an emotionalcrowd, Chicago's goal is to get off to a quick start."It would be huge to go in and get an early goal to take themout of it and calm us down," Oduro said.Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

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Rob Manfred looks at the positives of MLB's second base sliding rule

A few hundred feet away from a White Sox clubhouse in which players are somewhat confused by baseball’s new second base sliding rule, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to focus on the positives of the edict put in place prior to the 2016 season. 

After Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada both suffered serious injuries on takeout slides last year, MLB added a rule that stipulates players must make a “bona fide” effort to slide into, not around or past, second base. Intentionally grabbing a player’s leg to disrupt a throw is now illegal, as are late slides that take a player out of the baseline or past second base. 

The rule, in effect, is clear: “Just slide into the bag,” White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. 

But the implementation of it hasn’t been consistent. Last weekend in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox thought they had a triple play turned when Manny Machado reached out and grabbed second baseman Brett Lawrie until it was a ruled clean slide. 

“I don’t feel like anybody has a feel on it, to be honest with you,” Lawrie said, explaining what happened to him at Camden Yards. “… Unfortunately, that goes against one of the points in the rule and when you don’t follow through with that, you tell everybody that, well, nobody really knows and you guys just don’t really get it yet.”

Lawrie’s gripe is that different umpires and review crews will have different gray areas for what’s acceptable at second base and what’s not. When the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista grabbed Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe’s leg on a ninth-inning double play attempt, a review determined Bautista’s actions violated the rule, and he was ruled out to end an early April game. That was the first high-profile instance of the new rule being enforced, and was one that resonated across major league clubhouses. It’s what Lawrie pointed to when discussing the non-call in Baltimore. 

Manfred understands the adjustment period for players and umpires regarding the rule. As was the case when MLB implemented its rule to cut down on collisions at home plate, there was bound to be some confusion for everyone in getting used to playing the game a different way. 

But Manfred doesn’t expect whatever problems do exist to last for long. 

“Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Manfred said. “There has certainly been one in respect to the slide rule, but I focus on the positive. Number one, I do think the rule serves a really important purpose and that is protecting players and I think even in the last couple of weeks, you see us getting more to the kind of equilibrium that we reached with respect to the home plate rule and quite frankly, we got there a little faster at second base than we did at home plate.”

Rollins, a 17-year major league veteran, similarly compared the second base rule to the home plate one and expressed optimism that the wrinkles of it will be ironed out in the future.

“We see a guy get called out for reaching across and grabbing a player and then it happens to us trying to turn a triple play and they interpret it as a clean slide when clearly (Machado) reached out and grabbed Brett,” Rollins said. “It’s like the home plate rule, there’s still a lot of things to work out. But the home plate rule, they said slide in and we’ll go look at it and hopefully get it right, and they eventually got that right. It’ll be the same thing at second.” 

Alize Jones could be X (or W) factor in Notre Dame's offense

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Alize Jones could be X (or W) factor in Notre Dame's offense

It’s an awfully lofty compliment when Notre Dame fans compare you favorably to a Michigan player, someone who has to be reflexively hated for the "M" on his maize and blue jersey. 

But that’s what Alize Jones saw come across his Twitter feed when he committed to Notre Dame in January 2015. The athletic 6-foof-4, 240 pound Las Vegas native immediately drew comparisons to Devin Funchess, the former Michigan tight-end-turned-wide-receiver who starred for the Wolverines from 2012-2014. 

“They were all like, guarantee he’s going to be a Devin Funchess,” Jones smiled. 

Jones’ size and athletic ability — as well as a thinned tight end depth chart — opened the door for him to play as a true freshman last fall. That’s a rarity, too: The last Irish tight end to record a reception in his first year on campus was Ben Koyack, who had one catch in 2011. Jones caught 13 passes for 190 yards, highlighted by a 45-yard fourth quarter reception against Temple that set up DeShone Kizer’s game-winning toss to Will Fuller. 

While those numbers represent a solid season for a freshman receiver or tight end — even Fuller only had seven catches his first year — Jones wasn’t close to satisfied with it. 

“Just watching film after practices and games, just seeing all the mistakes that I made, it’s like, man, I didn’t take enough time and I don’t think I took it serious last year,” Jones said during spring practice. “I think that my head was just — personally, I don’t think I was ready for it.”

For Jones, playing as a freshman was an eye-opening experience as he learned what it takes to succeed at the college level. Talent and recruiting hype don’t guarantee a player can arrive on a college campus and play well right away. Jones came to understand the necessity of knowing the entire offense, not just his position, and spent spring practice watching film and meeting with teammates and coaches to improve in that area. 

“His confidence is growing,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said, “but it’s real confidence in his knowledge of what we’re doing.”

Armed with that offensive knowledge, and with the freshman jitters gone, Jones seems to be in line for an expanded role, gauging from what we saw during spring practice and comments from his head coach.

“He’s got multi-dimensional opportunities,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a big-time athlete that can do some things for us.”

Some of those things Kelly alluded to include playing receiver on the boundary, which is Notre Dame’s “W” position. With Corey Robinson’s football future still undecided — and even if he does return to play in 2016 — there’s an opening for Jones to be that Funchess-type tight end who makes an impact at receiver. 

Jones said he’s spent plenty of time watching how bigger NFL receivers use their size and athleticism to beat opposing cornerbacks. 

“God’s blessed them with size, blessed me with size. You just gotta use it.,” Jones said. “And it’s tough when a defender has a 6-foot-5 guy, 230 pounds, and you have to defend. What are you gonna do? The ball’s up in the air, you gotta go get it. It’s tough to defend that.”

But Jones doesn’t just watch bigger, Calvin Johnson-esque receivers. He’s studied guys like Fuller — the smaller, quicker variety of receivers. 

“I want to be able to play like a smaller guy but in a big man’s body,” Jones said. “Even though the tight end position has been predicated on bigger guys, I want to still be fast. I want to be that fast guy, that athletic guy where I can play receiver if need be. So I really have been harping on that this offseason.”

Part of the learning curve for Jones, too, was going from playing in front of a few thousand fans at Bishop Gorman High School — Ronnie Stanley’s alma mater, too — to the sold-out crowds at Notre Dame Stadium and hostile road environments like Clemson’s Death Valley. But he’s been there, done that now, and wants games to feel more like practice this fall. 

It’s all adding up to Jones aligning himself to being a key part of Notre Dame’s offensive equation the fall — no matter what position he’s playing. 

“I know what it’s like to play Clemson and Ohio State and teams like that, playing against elite guys,” Jones said. “Now going into my sophomore year, I’ve already done it. It’s just getting comfortable with everything, which I am. So I really feel like all the pieces are coming together.” 

Early 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Who would Bears take?

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Early 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Who would Bears take?

It may be too early for projecting the 2017 NFL Draft, but it can't hurt to look ahead.

Rotoworld's Josh Norris released his mock draft on Thursday for next year's draft.

According to Norris, if the Bears finished in the order of their Super Bowl LI odds, Ryan Pace & Co. would hold the No. 12 pick.

Their selection? Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Norris gives his explanation of the pick:

"My personal favorite running back in the class. Cook’s market share of FSU’s rushing yards and percentage of 20-plus yard runs last year was ridiculous."

Also in the first round, Norris has five Big Ten players projected to land in the first 32 picks.

Click here to check out Josh Norris' full 2017 mock draft.