Olympic Glory

Olympic Glory

Friday, Feb. 12, 2010
9:19 AM

Its that time once again when the world, or at least a part of it, comes together to celebrate sport. Sorry if youve (not) heard this before, but is anyone paying attention? Besides the NHL involvement, I cant say that Ive heard anyone talking about it. Wheres Gillooly when you need him? Wheres the hype machine? Well as were about to find out, sometimes you dont need one. I know theyve been X-gamed out a little bit, but the Winter Olympics always seemed to be a little more fun to me, a little more about the athletic endeavor. I mean, you ski how far, then shoot things? Now that takes dedication! Not to mention, what a great idea. There should be more tings that combine a sport with shooting things. Oh, right, we already have the NBA!

Obviously the best thing about these games will be the individual and collective inspirational stories of the athletes involved. (Im not always old and bitter, well almost!) For the most part I like everyone else, dont know about many of the athletes (or sports) that Im about to be compelled by, but I will. Well not all of the sports. I swear they explain the rules of curling at every Olympics (even the summer ones!) and I can never remember what the heck theyre trying to do. And another thing, what is the difference between the skeleton and luge? Any other sports that can be reversed? (Easy!)

Anyway, what I always take from any Olympics, after I get through all of the baggage, is the thrill of competition and what it means to these athletes. For some of us, as you get older, the competitions get further and further apart, so most of my thrill of competition is to watch those waging it. For the vast majority of these competitors, this is it. No big endorsements or pro careers. They get one or two shots at achieving greatness and thats it. Thats a lot of pressure. When someone is able to achieve success, or near, you cant help but not feel for them. Or better yet, feel a connection with them. As we all go through our lives, we all face many battles and hurdles along the way. But we persevere because thats what we have to do, usually anonymously and without a lot of fanfare, same as many of the winter athletes. There arent as many sports, nor as many viewers. But the humanness of competition, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat will be felt by all of us who do watch.

So sit back, or come into your favorite establishment (33 W. Kinzie) and enjoy the Games as they unfold with the understanding that, almost without fail, something cool is about to happen that you never thought you would appreciate or understand. Take it for what it is, someone giving there all and being rewarded for it.

Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

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Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

And the grade for the Bears’ 2016 draft is… let’s wait at least until, as coach John Fox consistently says, the players get “on the grass.”

Collective bargaining rules prohibit real competition between offense, defense and special teams units. Five of the Bears’ top six picks were on defense, which aren’t allowed to hit the offensive guys until camp (and vice versa), and the sixth – second-rounder Cody Whitehair – is a guard, and linemen evaluations are really only worthwhile when pads come on.

But poor drafts undid two Bears general managers in the span of four years (Jerry Angelo after 2011, Phil Emery after 2014) and the evaluation process now moves from college campuses, bowl games and scouting events to NFL venues.

The Bears are in major need of GM Ryan Pace equalling or exceeding his first (2015) draft. His head coach thinks that’s happened.

“Obviously experience helps,” Fox said. “The more you do it, the better you get. Ryan’s got a great skill set and we’ve got a great relationship between the coaches and personnel. I think he does a tremendous job. I thought we had a tremendous draft a year ago and I anticipate this year being even better.”

Pace came to the Bears from a New Orleans Saints background heavy on the pro-personnel side. But one school of NFL thinking is that personnel evaluators with roots on the pro side are better suited to oversee drafts simply because their expertise is in seeing what NFL players look like.

Pace’s first draft netted starters at nose tackle (Eddie Goldman), center (Hroniss Grasu), running back (Jeremy Langford) and safety (Adrian Amos), plus theoretically wide receiver (Kevin White) but for a season-ending stress fracture to his left leg. Not all of those are guaranteed starting jobs this season because of the organization’s commitment to competition, but it was a better start than most recent Bears drafts.

Several key directions were evident within the nine picks made by Pace, coach John Fox and their staffs this extended weekend.

Defense, teams priorities

While the prime draft directive was best player available, the Bears moved around in the various rounds to suggest that they were targeting players, and most of them were on defense.

Of the Bears’ eventual nine picks, six were on defense. Of those, four were defensive backs. Among those are expected to be impact players on special teams, and if one wins a starting job the way Adrian Amos (fifth rounder) did last year, the 2016 draft stands to be special.

“You saw us struggle [on special teams] early in the season a year ago,” Fox said. “Getting to know your team, understanding how they react, the speed – trying to increase our team speed even to the deadline to start the season. We got better as the year went on and I think we’ll get better this year.”

QB-lite

Despite indications that the Bears liked some of the quarterbacks down in the mid-round range, they did not select a quarterback for the third time in the last four years. One scenario is that they would add a veteran backup, which they did with the signing of Brian Hoyer, who worked with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains as a Cleveland Brown, to a one-year deal.

“I like the idea of having an experienced backup there,” Pace said. “It’s important for that position and it just gives us security going forward. I think it’s key, like we’ve talked about in free agency, I love it when we have familiarity with these guys from coaches. I feel like it reduces some of the risk and some of the questions we may have. Dowell was passionate about this player and then watching the tape, I was to. I’m glad we got him in the mix.”

The Bears did trade two first-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler in 2009. But they have actually not drafted a quarterback higher than the fourth round (Kyle Orton, 2005) since 2003 when they took Rex Grossman in the first round.

With all of the draft choices (9) at their disposal going into this draft, the Bears made trades to move up or back for targeted players. None of them were quarterbacks.

Old guys

Not every pick will work out, but the Bears minimized risk in one area, taking college players with extensive resumes on tape, Pace’s stated standard of evaluation. Of Pace’s first eight picks, six of them were four-year college players, with only first rounder Leonard Floyd and fifth rounder Jordan Howard passing up their senior seasons for the NFL. Seventh-rounder Daniel Braverman missed his sophomore season due to injury but played the following two years and will turn 23 in September.

“Some of these guys are three or four year starters,” Pace said. “I think it talks about the caliber of players they are. A lot of these guys are team captains. We talk about that. But really it’s just individual tape and who are the best guys when looking at the talent. But the fact these guys are multi-year starters, and team captains, that is significant.”

Competition stoked

Pace and the entire coaching staff has wanted intense competition, not simply for starting jobs, but also for roster spots. And that was created with more than just numbers of picks, but the quality.

No. 1 pick Floyd projects to take a job from season-end regulars and sack leaders Lamarr Houston or Willie Young, both of whom reportedly were shopped during the early rounds of the draft.

Despite signing interior linemen Ted Lawson and Manny Ramirez this offseason, and drafting center Hroniss Grasu in the 2015 third round, the Bears used a second-round pick on Whitehair. It will be an impossibility for Grasu, Lawson, Ramirez and Whitehair to all start. And that does not factor in Matt Slauson, one of the Bears’ best linemen as recently as 2014 but now clearly on the outside looking in.

“I’m not getting into that,” Fox said. “It’s a fluid process. But right now we’ve helped build competition on our football team.”

The use of a third-round pick on defensive end Jonathan Bullard improves the pass rush of the down-linemen portion of the 3-4. But that likely comes at the expense of Ego Ferguson, returning from knee surgery, and Will Sutton, a seven-game starter and all-purpose defensive lineman but who had zero sacks for his two Bears seasons.

Just as with the interior offensive line, linebacker signings (Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan) did no signal any end to serious competition. The Bears used the first of their three fourth-round selections on West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, whose abilities in coverage make him a threat to starters.

Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford impressed coaches enough that Matt Forte was not brought back. But the fifth-round pick spent on power running back Jordan Howard was not done for special teams.

‘Teams competition was addressed in part with the picks of two safeties and a cornerback in rounds 4-6. How much those additions challenge for starter jobs is one thing, but they were not picked up just to fill out a training-camp roster.

“The common trait with all these guys,” said Pace, “I would say is toughness and instincts, something we've emphasized and something we've drafted today for sure.”

Promotion affords White Sox Tommy Kahnle refresher course

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Promotion affords White Sox Tommy Kahnle refresher course

BALTIMORE -- It may only be a brief stopover, but Tommy Kahnle hopes to get the most out of his current tour with the White Sox.

Called up Thursday, the White Sox reliever could be sent back to Triple-A Charlotte as early as Sunday morning as closer David Robertson is expected to come off the bereavement list.

But Kahnle -- acquired from the Colorado Rockies in November -- not only has had a chance to show the White Sox what he has, he also is getting a quick refresher course from pitching coach Don Cooper. Cooper has worked with Kahnle to stand more upright in his delivery in hopes it will help him throw more strikes.

“It’s just stay tall on my backside because I tend to collapse a little bit and get a little erratic,” Kahnle said. “But overall, make a few adjustments and should be back on track.

“I had a few hiccups in spring and early in the season down in Triple-A. But overall I’ve been throwing well and just got to work on a few things and get better.

“Just get better and try to throw strikes. That’s always been my downfall.”

Kahnle made his 91st career appearance on Friday night. He walked two in a scoreless inning in a 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Kahnle has always had a big arm, striking out 102 in 103 innings. But he also has walked 61 batters.

Cooper likes the chance to get some in-season maintenance with any of his pitchers.

“Sure it is because you get a look at what’s going on up here,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to get him to stay tall … that’s a work in progress. It looks like he’s a little better with the slide step.”

Kahnle would like to help out a deep bullpen again before the season is out.

Robertson left the team after he pitched a scoreless inning to close out Wednesday’s victory in Toronto to attend his father-in-law’s funeral. Daniel Webb joined the team on Wednesday and struck out three in a scoreless inning on Thursday. But Webb went on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow flexor inflammation and Kahnle got the call.

“Even if it’s just a few days, it’s good to be back up here and show them what I’ve got and if they need me again I’ll be ready,” Kahnle said.

After another draw, Fire head into difficult road trip

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After another draw, Fire head into difficult road trip

Saturday's 1-1 draw against D.C. United marked the end of the first part of the Chicago Fire's schedule.

The Fire had five of the first seven matches of the season at home. They went 1-2-2 in those matches. Throw in two draws in two road matches and the Fire have seven points through seven matches.

That start for a new coach and a rebuilding team isn't damning without full context. The Fire are only two points behind the playoff line in the Eastern Conference and entered the weekend having played fewer matches than every other team in the league. However, failing to win matches at home is a concern for the team's prospects ahead.

"We’ll take the point, but at the same time we’re at home," midfielder Arturo Alvarez said after the match. "We want to start winning games at home. We need to.”

Things will get much more difficult ahead. The next match at home will be on May 21 and the number of road games will soon even out.

After yet another off weekend upcoming, the Fire will play at Vancouver (May 11), at New England (May 14) and at the New York Red Bulls (May 18). Three straight road games in eight days and including cross country travel will be a stiff test for the team.

“Now that we’re going on the road and we haven’t gotten points at home, we have to win on the road or else we’re going to be (in trouble) here so we need to get the wins and we need to win a game on the road now,” midfielder Michael Stephens said.

Coach Veljko Paunovic called the draw a fair result. Campbell's goal was the only shot on target for the Fire. D.C. had only three shots on goal.

Paunovic preached patience while still wanting more from the team's results.

“No doubt that we wanted to win this game more than anything," Paunovic said. "We had the opportunity. It was there, but still we have to understand that we are a young team, a team in the process, which requires a lot of effort to win games. I’m happy with one point. Of course they also had good opportunities to win the game and I think that’s where we are at this point."

There's nothing wrong with a team with so many new parts taking time to develop and MLS playoff spots are not lost in May. However, the upcoming road trip could put the Fire in an early hole unless things get better quickly.