Bears Pro Bowl choices a testament to perseverance

949695.png

Bears Pro Bowl choices a testament to perseverance

Call it a triumph for persistence, second effort or whatever. But the Bears are sending five players to the Pro Bowl, several of them overcoming doubters at more than one level of their sporting careers.
 
Four are on defense, two linemen and two cornerbacks: tackle Henry Melton, end Julius Peppers, plus the cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman.
 
Offense is represented just by Brandon Marshall, No. 2 behind only Detroits Calvin Johnson in receptions (117 to 113) and receiving yardage (1,892 to 1,466).
 
Jennings struggled to find a college scholarship because coaches thought he was too short. He lost his starting job for game 15 of the 2011 season.
RELATED: 2013 Pro Bowl snubs
 
Melton went to Texas as a running back, left as defensive end, and wasnt switched to defensive tackle until the 2011 offseason. Tillman, who has forced 10 fumbles in 2012, never went to a Pro Bowl before his ninth NFL season and now will have gone twice. He has intercepted three passes this season and returned all three for touchdowns.
 
Marshall was the 119th player taken in his draft (2006) and didnt start until his second NFL season.
 
For Peppers, whose 11.5 sacks are the most in his three Bears seasons, it is eighth time he has been chosen for the Pro Bowl, including all three of his seasons as a Bear. Marshalls selection is his fourth once as a Bear, once as a Miami Dolphin and twice as a Denver Bronco.
 
The honor is the second for Tillman and first for Jennings and Melton.
 
Dont stop believing
 
It means a lot, said Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Im just glad to be here in this moment right now and just kind of share some of the stuff Ive been going through.
 
Hopefully a lot of kids that are going through my situation can take it all in and understand it doesnt matter what people may think about you or you think youre not good enough, if you really want it and you enjoy doing it, just go out there and have fun and try to be the best that you can be. Everything will take care of itself.
 
Moving Melton to defensive tackle was the idea of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Melton had made repeated impact plays as an end flip-flopping with Peppers in different spots and Marinelli, who coached perennial Pro Bowl tackle Warren Sapp when with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saw the ideal three-technique in Melton with his pass-rush ability.
 
Melton had seven sacks last season, his first at tackle, and has six this season, tied for third among tackles.
 
When Marinelli said I had the stuff that he looks for in a defensive tackle, I listened to him and got to work, Melton said. If he said that he saw me as an elite defensive tackle, hes seen everybody -- Sapp and a lot of guys that have come before me. For him to say that, I believed in what he was saying.
 
Melton had a definite first reaction upon learning that Peppers was also selected. I said, Were going to be roommates? Melton said, then laughed. He said he didnt want to be my roommate.
 
One surprise
 
If there was one surprise it was linebacker Lance Briggs not being chosen to what would have been his eighth straight Pro Bowl. Dick Butkus and Bill George were voted to eight straight and Mike Singletary to 10.

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis may not light up the radar gun like Aroldis Chapman, but the veteran closer has still had a similar impact shortening games for the Cubs.

Davis is 10-for-10 in save opportunities in his first year in Chicago, providing Joe Maddon and the Cubs with peace of mind as an anchor in a bullpen that has thrown the eighth-most innings in baseball (and ranks No. 8 in ERA with a 3.45 mark).

Davis just surrendered his first runs of the season Wednesday night on a Mac Williamson homer that snuck into the right-field basket.

Yet Davis still wound up preserving the victory by buckling down and turning away the Giants in the ninth. It was the first homer he's allowed since Sept. 24, 2015 and only the fourth longball he's given up since the start of the 2014 campaign, a span of 201 innings.

Even with Wednesday's outing, Davis boasts a microscopic 0.98 ERA and has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings.

With 24 whiffs on the season, Davis is striking out 34.8 percent of the batters he's faced in a Cubs uniform, which would be the second-highest mark of his career (he struck out 39.1 percent of batters in 2014 as the Kansas City Royals setup man).

The 31-year-old nine-year MLB veteran is showing no ill effects from the forearm issue that limited him to only 43.1 innings last season.

[RELATED: How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring]

But his impact isn't restricted to just on-the-field dominance. In spring training, Justin Grimm said he spent as much time as he could around Davis in an attempt to soak up all the knowledge he could.

"It's the stuff that you see — obviously he's really good," Maddon said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a very good closer, he's very successful. But he's a really good mentor to the other guys.

"Oftentimes, I'll walk through the video room and he'll be sitting there with a young relief pitcher or a catcher. There's a lot of respect. A lot of guys come to me and say, 'Listen, Wade's really great to be around.'"

Maddon was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays when Davis first made his big-league debut in 2009 and the now-Cubs skipper credits the Rays organization with teaching Davis the right habits.

Davis also began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and reinventing himself as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

"He's grown into this," Maddon said. "He was raised properly. He comes from the organization with the Rays — really good pitching, really good pitching health regarding coaching. And then some of the veteran players that were around him to begin with.

"He's passing it along. The obvious is that he's got a great cutter, slider, fastball, curveball, whatever. He's very good with everybody else around him."

Davis needed 34 pitches to work around a couple jams and get the save Wednesday night. That's his highest pitch count in an outing since June 2, 2015.

Wednesday was also Davis' first time working in a week as the Cubs have not had a save situation in that span.

Maddon said he sees no link between the week off and Davis' struggles in Wednesday's outing and the Cubs manager also has no hesitance going to his closer for more than three outs.

However, Maddon doesn't see a need to extend Davis at this point in the season and would prefer to keep the Cubs' best reliever fresh for the stretch run and what the organization hopes is another shot at a World Series title.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.