Miller: Marshall is worth his weight in gold

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Miller: Marshall is worth his weight in gold

The Bears are at the halfway point of the season and prized off-season acquisition Brandon Marshall currently ranks second in the NFL in receiving. Only Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has more yardage, but Marshall leads the NFC. Here is a list of Marshalls closest challengers and their current rank:

Rk
PlayerTeam
Rec
Yds
Avg
YdsG
Lng
TD
20
40
1st
1st
FUM
1
Reggie Wayne
IND
61
835
13.7
104.430T
3
15
0
44
72.1
1
2
Brandon Marshall
CHI
59
797
13.5
99.6
39T
7
11
0
41
69.5
0
3
Calvin Johnson
DET
48
767
16.0
95.9
51
1
15
1
38
79.2
0
4
Demaryius Thomas
DEN
45
756
16.8
94.5
71T
4
17
4
28
62.2
3
5
Wes Welker
NE
60
736
12.3
92.0
59
2
7
2
35
58.3
1
6
A.J. Green
CIN
51
735
14.4
91.9
73T
8
8
3
37
72.5
1
7
Victor Cruz
NYG
57
717
12.6
79.7
80T
7
7
2
35
61.4
0
8
Vincent Jackson
TB
31
710
22.9
88.8
95
6
13
4
29
93.5
0
9
Roddy White
ATL
47
709
15.1
88.6
59
4
10
2
41
87.2
0
10
Percy Harvin
MIN
62
677
10.9
75.2
45
3
8
1
36
58.1
0
11
Brian Hartline
MIA
41
662
16.1
82.8
80T
1
8
3
27
65.9
0
12
Miles Austin
DAL
41
637
15.5
79.6
49
4
11
1
30
73.2
1
13
Steve Smith
CAR
38
630
16.6
78.8
66
1
9
2
23
60.5
0
14
Julio Jones
ATL
40
628
15.7
78.5
63T
5
11
2
28
70.0
0
15
Marques Colston
NO
44
626
14.2
78.2
40
6
8
1
35
79.5
1

Barring injury, Marshall will have his work cut out for him in terms of deciding who the best wide receiver is not only in the NFC, but also the NFL as a whole. Marshall is about to face some of the best pass defenses and secondaries in the league entering the second-half of the Bears season.

Matchups against Houston and San Francisco will be a difficult start, and facing the Seahawks and Cardinals won't make for an easy time either. But Marshall's already faced the Dallas Cowboys, whose passing defense rounds out the NFL's top five. The only top five passing defense Marshall has yet to face belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are ranked at No. 1.

As the saying goes, "In order to be the best, you've got to beat the best." Marshall will have an opportunity to erase all doubt of where he stands in the league after facing some of the stiffest competition of the 2012 season.

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Joking in presentation but serious in intent, Dwyane Wade sat patiently with Bulls GM Gar Forman, refusing to start his introductory news conference until his wife, Gabrielle Union, arrived for the proceedings.

After 13 years of waiting, and then a couple weeks after formally agreeing to join the Chicago Bulls, a few extra moments didn’t feel like an eternity.

For some, Wade was worth the wait.

“Sounds good, doesn’t it?” Forman joked to Wade about announcing him as a Chicago Bull, before going through Wade’s litany of accomplishments, all of which were done in a Miami Heat uniform.

“You make me feel good about myself,” Wade said.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade says the Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team]

With Jimmy Butler off to the side, Wade made sure to announce that despite his pedigree, his rings, his status as a Hall-of-Fame player and respected voice through the NBA that this team isn’t his; He first mentioned owner Jerry Reinsdorf, then Butler, stopping any controversy before it could develop.

“We’re not gonna go through this all year. It’s Jimmy Butler’s team,” Wade said. “He’s a young Bull who can play 40 minutes. I ain’t trying to do all that.”

It makes Forman’s opening statement about Wade that much more poignant, aside from the 20 points and on-floor savvy Wade will likely provide to a young Bulls team and inexperienced coach.

“As important and maybe more so, the presence and intangibles Dwyane will bring to this organization and this team,” Forman said. “From the locker room to the floor to how he interacts with his teammates…it’ll serve our team well.”

Wade has gone through the city in recent days after his trip from China, readjusting himself to Chicago.

“This is one of those moments for me, that is a dream come true,” Wade said. “It took a long time to get here. But I’m here. The excitement the city has shown, I can’t tell what you’ve meant to me.”

[SHOP: Get your Dwyane Wade Bulls gear]

It was a long and winding road as Wade said “let’s take a trip down memory lane”, recalling the belief he thought he would be drafted by the Bulls in 2003 when they held the seventh pick.

The Miami Heat had other plans.

Then when Wade hit unrestricted free agency in 2010, he had another two meetings with the Bulls and seriously considered them.

“Prime of my career. My first meeting was back home,” Wade said. “I met with a few teams, met with the Bulls twice.”

“It was a place I was really pulled toward. I had the opportunity to play with two good players, LeBron (James) and Chris (Bosh).”

The Bulls weren’t able to lure Bosh and James to Chicago, so the thought of being a Bull went as far as a deleted picture on his camera that showed him in a Bulls uniform—before he realized deleted pictures could be obtained through a cloud.

The third time was the charm, as the Bulls presented themselves as a reasonable option when talks broke down between Wade and the Heat early in free agency, creating arguably the biggest personnel surprise of the offseason—and a curious marriage of a player who still has enough game to be effective with a team struggling to claim a new identity on the fly as opposed to hitting the reset button.

“I still have a little bit left,” Wade said. “I wanted to come here and be a part of building this organization back up and where it should be.”

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

BOURBONNAIS — For much of this offseason’s practices, the Bears’ offense has had to put up with spirited mouthiness from a feisty Bears defense. On Friday, the day before the Bears get into full pads for the first time in nearly seven months, a touch of the smack flowed the other way, set in motion by one of the smallest players on the roster.

Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the diminutive (5-9, 185) seventh-round pick of the Bears in this year’s draft, outfought fellow rookie Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 201) for a contested ball across the middle, bounced up and let out with a yell to confirm exactly which side of the ball came away with it.

The catch was the first of many by Braverman, whose day was mirrored by starting wideout Kevin White also making repeated, sometimes acrobatic catches against what until now was a defense firmly holding the upper hand this offseason.

[MORE: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler]

“I think [Braverman] is a guy who was very productive in college, our scouting department really liked him, that's why we drafted him,” said coach John Fox. “I think you know he caught our eyes as far as putting it all together in the offseason and he's continued on that so far this camp.”

Running back Jeremy Langford added several long bursts on runs through the interior, and various receivers added to the day that belonged in large measure to the offense despite missing starting right guard Kyle Long (calf injury).

The defense did have its highlights. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks generated a pair of dominating pass rushes that produced a simulated sack of Jay Cutler and a throwaway, Willie Young blew up a pass play coming clean on a blitz, and safety Harold Jones-Quartey threw Langford to the ground on a non-tackle tackle after the latter had ripped off one of his gashes through the defense.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Braverman also has been worked on kickoff return and will have myriad chances to be a roster surprise, given the four preseason games and handful of practices in New England with the Patriots.

“These coaches preach every day how important special teams is, and that's something I have to learn to get adjusted to because I was just a returner,” Braverman said. “But now here you have to be a ‘gunner’ and and R2, L2, [position] stuff on kickoffs. It's just getting one day better in every little detail and aspect you can possible in 24 hours of a day.”

MLS could expand in the Midwest and how that affects the Fire

MLS could expand in the Midwest and how that affects the Fire

There aren’t many notable traditions in Major League Soccer yet.

So many things are frequently changing in the league, which is currently in its 20th season, that not much can be counted on year after year.

However, one of the smaller things that is newsworthy each season is commissioner Don Garber’s on-air halftime interview during the MLS All-Star Game. For hardcore fans of the league it’s must-see TV and in some years might even be more interesting than the game itself.

Expansion, one of the seemingly evergreen hot topics in the league, always seems to come up and Garber usually has some good details to offer. During halftime of yesterday’s All-Star Game in San Jose, Garber teased more than he informed when asked about expansion, but there was still some useful information.

Atlanta is all set and ready to go for 2017 and Garber said they have 31,000 season-ticket deposits. Garber said a second team, which is all but assured to be Minnesota, will also join in 2017 with a formal announcement in “a couple weeks.” Los Angeles FC and David Beckham’s Miami team, which appears to be in limbo at the moment, are next in line.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess beyond the fact that Garber has previously said the league is working to add an additional four teams to reach 28. At this point even Garber doesn’t know which cities will get those teams, but he said there’s a lot of interest.

“I can’t tell you when that’s going to be,” Garber said during the interview on ESPN. “We’re going to be careful to ensure we manage the technical aspects of expansion, but a lot of interest. Probably a dozen cities for those last four spots.”

A dozen cities seems high and perhaps Garber is posturing to increase the competition for those expansion openings, but there are plenty of cities that on the surface would appear to be good for MLS.

From a local perspective, or more appropriately, a regional perspective, it makes one wonder how many of those cities are in the Midwest and could become geographical rivals for the Chicago Fire.

The region as a whole doesn’t have many teams in MLS. Chicago is joined by Kansas City and Columbus, with Minneapolis-St. Paul soon to join. The problem is Kansas City and Minneapolis, and to some extent Columbus, are the geographical edges of the region. There are plenty of Midwestern cities that are both closer and have more ties with Chicago in other sports that don’t have MLS teams.

Looking at the candidates

St. Louis: This is an obvious pick in the rivalry category for the Fire and jumped up the MLS list once the Rams left. The city has rich soccer history, a fairly successful minor league team (the Fire's United Soccer League affiliate, Saint Louis FC, is averaging nearly 5,000 fans per game to put it towards the top of the league attendance chart) and just two other sports teams to compete for mindshare and media attention.

Detroit: There hadn’t been much talk about Detroit joining MLS until Tom Gores (Pistons owner) and Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers owner) announced they are working on getting a team into Detroit. Detroit City FC is a semi-pro that team that has built a dedicated following. There’s preexisting Chicago-Detroit rivalries in every other sport with Bulls-Pistons and Blackhawks-Red Wings the standouts.

Cincinnati: A year ago Cincinnati would have been an afterthought, but since FC Cincinnati has joined the USL things have changed. The expansion club is averaging a league-best 16,750 fans per game and recently drew just over 35,000 for a friendly against Premier League club Crystal Palace. There’s nothing minor league about those numbers.

Indianapolis: Indy Eleven, which the Fire beat in penalty kicks in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, led the North American Soccer League in attendance in 2014 and 2015 and sit only behind Minnesota this season. The fan interest and the numbers are there for a minor league team, but the question is if the investment is also there to move into MLS.

How this affects the Fire

MLS continues to market rivalries via sponsored “rivalry weeks” and the same few matchups seem to headline. Seattle-Portland, the new New York derby, LA-San Jose and to a lesser extent Dallas-Houston. The Fire don’t have anything that approaches these games.

The Columbus Crew are probably the Fire’s biggest rival and that’s not reaching the top tier of big matchups in the league. St. Louis, Detroit or Indianapolis could provide a marquee game on the schedule.

“The growth of the league is phenomenal,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said back in May when asked about Midwest expansion. “We will be excited to go into those markets because we know we’ll be met with fans who will be inclined to hate Chicago because Chicago is a great sports town. Because we carry with us the tradition of six trophies in our cabinet and we also carry with us the reputation of Chicago sports in general. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

From the players’ perspective, they won’t complain about their being more jobs in the league, but they also look forward to the bigger spectacles.

“Any rivalry game brings a lot of fan interest, a lot of high-intensity games,” said Fire midfielder Michael Stephens, who grew up in the Chicago area. “You see New York City-New York Red Bull this weekend was a good one so they’re always good.

“There’s been some talk about St. Louis as well so that could be a little rivalry. We got the Cardinals and Cubs going on already so that could be nice. Any more teams is good for the players.”

Like Stephens, Eric Gehrig is a Chicago native and a big fan of Chicago sports. Gehrig also believes it would be good for both the Fire and the league to see more teams in the region.

“You think about the markets, maybe St. Louis,” Gehrig said. “A lot of ties there with Chicago and Detroit obviously. Michigan has got a healthy crop of young talent. I think as the years pass soccer is going to keep getting bigger and bigger and any time you can add more teams and more rivalries to the Midwest it will be good.”