Chicago Fire

Bears Pro Bowl choices a testament to perseverance

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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.

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.