Miller: Bears hold edge at QB in 'Battle of the Backups'

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Miller: Bears hold edge at QB in 'Battle of the Backups'

With the report that San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith has been ruled out of tonights Monday night tilt against the Chicago Bears, this could be the break the Bears needed to even up this contest.

I wrote a column last week explaining how repetitions are distributed between starting quarterbacks and their backups. The key emphasized in the article was the experience of quality backup quarterbacks like Jason Campbell and Byron Leftwich of the Steelers.

If you did not see last nights SteelersRavens game, Byron Leftwich played very well. There are vast differences between Jason Campbell and second-year backup Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, who now will receive the start tonight. This game just tilted in the Bears' favor.

Kaepernick ran a Pistol Offense at the lower division Nevada-Reno in college. He is very athletic, but is still very young in the process of progression reading systems in NFL offenses. It is not only the complicated system giving Kaepernick problems, but also the understanding of intricate defenses and how to attack them. He is a raw talent who will fall back on his own athleticism to get himself out of trouble.

Kaepernicks issue tonight is the Bears speed on defense. The Bears will neutralize Kaepernicks ability to run, forcing him to make decisions from the pocket. Bears fans have witnessed veteran quarterbacks this season who have struggled against the Bears from this aspect alone. The prime example would be watching Texans quarterback Matt Schaub throw two interceptions against this group last week.

Kaepernick also did not get the benefit of working with the starting unit all week. This is a big miscalculation by 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh if this is true. Harbaugh must have been putting all his eggs in one basket Alex Smith would be cleared. It has been reported that Smith and Kaepernick have been sharing repetitions with the first group all week.

This is a big difference between Kaepernick and Campbell before this game. Campbell has been there and done that, where Kaepernick will make his first NFL start with limited knowledge, repetitions and most likely a more limited gameplan adjusted to fit Kaepernick's inexperience against one of the best defenses in the league.

It would help the Bears if defensive end Shea McClellins athleticism was on the field to spy Kaepernick if he decides to run like they did against Cam Newton of the Panthers, but McClellin has been ruled out.

McClellins absence is not the difference because the Bears two challenges are to stop Frank gore on the ground and to now force Kaepernick to make decisions from the pocket. If the Bears accomplish these two keys, they return home victors from a west coast jaunt.

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.

With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.

The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.

Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.

It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.

And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.

The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night

He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Jerian Grant off the dribble.

The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.

Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.

The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.

So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.

He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.

By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.