Chicago Bears

Back home, Leddy never wonders what could have been

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Back home, Leddy never wonders what could have been

For Nick Leddy, theres always going to be something special about stepping onto the Xcel Energy Center ice. Its where he played when he was with Eden Prairie High School during their 2009 state title run, and the memories are always there.

Those memories will probably be there again when Leddy and the Chicago Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild there on Thursday night. But as far as seeing Xcel in the what-might-have-been sense; to wonder if the Wild, who drafted him, hadnt traded him? Well, thats kind of an afterthought.

The Blackhawks are the only pro group Leddy has ever known, and hes just fine with that. And in two seasons, the young defenseman is finding his niche with the team.

Leddy has just about completed his sophomore season with the Blackhawks, one that has certainly had its ups and downs. Yes, hes a minus-15, a number hed love to get closer to a positive. But hes also posted a career-high 34 assists, the second most among Blackhawks defensemen this season. In the absence of Duncan Keith, Leddy was there with the helpers, tallying five in four games.

Nicks had some real good stretches in the season, coach Joel Quenneville said recently. Its a long year, and there are some learning curves as far as positioning, consistency; its something young defenseman can be exposed to at times and grown into it nicely. His movement with the puck and coming up with speed, thats noticeable.

Also noticeable is the success Leddy and partner Johnny Oduya have had together. Paired about a period into Oduyas stint with the Blackhawks, the two have formed a solid and reliable duo on the ice. Leddy said hes learned a lot from the veteran Oduya.

Its been great. I think weve talked almost after every play, every time were out there. Or if he sees something I can do better or can help him out in any way, we talk about it on the bench, said Leddy, who added the two did build chemistry pretty quick.

We were talking the other day and (Oduya) said he played with a guy from the (University of Minnesota), too, Paul Martin, said Leddy of Martin, who played with Oduya in New Jersey. We play alike and I think maybe our play fits each other.

Leddys plus-minus, however, has been rough this season. But Keith said Leddy shouldnt take all the blame for it.

Every defenseman has tough stretches, Keith said. Weve had some times where weve allowed a lot of goals. He plays a lot and youre going to be on for goals but sometimes its not always your fault. Sometimes he took some heat but it wasnt all to do with him. Its a collective group out there. Hes been great all year.

Leddy will always go home, always get back to Xcel and its memories, twice a season. But there are no such visions about what couldve been with Minnesota. Its only about what is with the Blackhawks.

Ive been here long enough where I like it here, Leddy said. And I couldnt see myself anywhere else.

Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

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Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

Prince Amukamara (ankle) is expected to make his 2017 regular season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday (he wasn't listed on Friday's injury report). But that leads to the question: What does defensive coordinator Vic Fangio do with Kyle Fuller?

Fuller acquitted himself well in starts against the Atlanta Falcons — in which he helped limit Julio Jones to four catches on five targets — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears signed Amukamara to start opposite Marcus Cooper, but Fuller has at least earned the opportunity to keep his job — or a job — on Sunday. 

And it's worth noting that both Fuller and Amukamara are in contract years, so both should be motivated to not lose playing time going forward. 

“I was pleased with the waay Kyle played overall,” Fangio said. “There's obviously some plays he'd like to do over and play them a little better, but overall I thought he did a good job. I like where he's at right now.”

Fangio didn’t play Fuller as a nickel corner in 2015. But if the Bears want to get their best defensive players on the field could Fuller force his way into a nickel role with Amukamara and Cooper as the outside guys? 

That’s an especially pertinent question given Pittsburgh’s explosive trio of receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

“No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off,” Amukamara said. “We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

Avisail Garcia's "big head" almost cost the White Sox on Friday night. At least, that's Reynaldo Lopez's humorous theory. 

With the game on the line and the Royals' tying run dashing for the plate, Garcia slipped a bit before making a clutch recovery to nail Whit Merrifield. The craziness continued after the tag as Narvaez caught Lorenzo Cain drifting off first base to seal a win. 

"I was watching the game on the TV here," Lopez said, "and then when I saw the hit from Cain, and I saw that Avi fell down because he has a big head, I was concerned but at the same time I saw that his throw, he has a good arm and he made a very good throw." 

Just your average 9-2-4-6 double play to end a game on the South Side, right? 

"Obviously, when he slipped we took a little gasp," Renteria said. "But we were talking about his body control to be able to maintain himself enough to get up and make the throw that he did. Unbelievable. It's pretty exciting finish to a ballgame that kind of got a little ugly early on."

Ugly is an apt way to describe the first few innings. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada both made errors in the Royals' six-run third inning, and Lopez capped it off with a wild pitch that allowed Eric Hosmer to score. But it went from an eyesore loss to an overzealous "we could make noise in 2019" rebuild win from there, and Garcia's defense -- of all things -- played a significant role. 

Garcia's outfield assist in the ninth was his second of the game. The first, an absolute strike to cut down Alex Gordon in the sixth, didn't involve a slip, though. 

And while much has been made of Garcia's breakout year with the bat, he believes his defense is hugely improved, too. 

"I think 100 percent," he said. "I just try to get better every day with hitting and defense. That’s baseball so get better in everything."

He has 12 outfield assists on the season, up from five a year ago. And despite his overall fielding percentage being down, his strong arm may give him a stronger defensive reputation. 

"Since last year, he's always had an excellent arm," Renteria said. "I think his accuracy is something to be pointed out too because as off balance as he was, he's made some throws to the plate that have been really spot on."

Renteria attributes Garcia's accuracy to the outfielder putting in extra time with Daryl Boston. 

"(Boston) has those guys throwing, and none of you guys are out there watching them work, but they'll throw quite a bit to the bases, especially second base," Renteria said. "They'll get deep and they'll work on doing that, so that's just a part of their routine."

The evolution of Avi carries on.