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Beyond Tillman: Anatomy of a 'swarm'

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Beyond Tillman: Anatomy of a 'swarm'

NASHVILLE Members of the Bears defense are approaching a rarified place. Beyond planning for takeaways. Beyond even expecting them.

The Bears are no longer surprised when a football comes loose. Particularly when Charles Tillman is nearby, players admitted they are becoming surprised when the football does not come free.

We do, we do expect it to come out, said defensive end Julius Peppers.

Safety Chris Conte has seen enough to know: You expect it every time and then youre surprised when it doesnt come out, because most of the time, it is.

What has crept into the Bears thinking is a swarm mentality that goes beyond even coaches preaching of running to the ball.

Along with the expectation that the football will be available has come a supercharged effort to get there, to not be the one not around when the turnover is forced.

Call it a constructive fear of being left out.

Youd better run to the ball because 33 is going to get it out, Peppers said. Youre going to get a chance for a tip or interception so you better get there.

For Conte and safety mate Major Wright, Thats how we have to think, Conte said. You dont want to not be there when the ball comes out.

Tillman legend growing

Tillman took another giant step four of them, actually toward being named NFL defensive player of the year for 2012. His four forced fumbles in the 51-20 crushing of the Tennessee Titans had even teammates whove seen him do this for year shaking their heads.

I think we are all seeing history being made, said linebacker Lance Briggs. Ive never seen anybody whos been able to do the things hes able to do, and do it consistently.

Tillmans four forced fumbles, part of a total of six footballs knocked loose from Titans, along with an interception return for a touchdown by Brian Urlacher, gave Tillman seven through eight games.

It is a must. A mindset. A mantra.

I dont think it is difficult, Tillman said. It is always on my mind. I am very conscious of it. I speak it. I believe it. It happens.

What made Tillmans and the Bears performance even more jaw-dropping was that the Titans spent all week with their coaches drilling into their heads that the Bears would be coming after the ball. Perhaps that spooked the Titans. Perhaps not.

The coaches tipped us good on how well they force turnovers, said running back Chris Johnson, who lost two himself.

Whether the Titans took the tips seriously enough is for them to sort out. And they may simply have been the wrong team in the wrong place when the takeaway tsunami was coming in.

Ive never seen anything like it, Urlacher said. Every week it seems like we are talking about one of those two corners Tillman, Tim Jennings doing something like that. Its unbelievable.

Nerds in Sports Podcast: San Diego Comic-Con RECAP Edition

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: San Diego Comic-Con RECAP Edition

ESPN 1000’s Ben Finfer joins Michael Piff and Kevin Anderson for a San Diego Comic-Con RECAP Edition of the Nerds in Sports Podcast.

We name a few of our favorite movies and shows from the year so far, and then dive deep into trailers released at SDCC over the weekend. What are you looking forward to from ‘The Gifted’ (X-Men/FOX), ‘Inhumans’ (Marvel/ABC) and ‘The Defenders’(Marvel/Netflix)? Plus, a breakdown of listener poll favorite…‘Stranger Things’ 

Then Mike, Kevin and Ben get into the new ‘Justice League’ trailer, what’s going on with the reshoots and how much Wonder Woman may have played into it. How good will ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ be? Did the ‘Ready Player One’ trailer make you start reading (or re-reading) the book?

All that and MORE on the latest Nerds in Sports Podcast:

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Another trade candidate in the bullpen? Dan Jennings is next man up for White Sox in more ways than one

Another trade candidate in the bullpen? Dan Jennings is next man up for White Sox in more ways than one

Dan Jennings is the next man up for the White Sox.

On a couple different fronts.

Most logically, Jennings is the next person — along with the recently returned Jake Petricka — to slide into a late-inning role for a team that’s traded away three late-inning relievers in eight days. The White Sox trades of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees and Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers has cleared the way for Jennings and Petricka to be the new late-game arms for the South Siders.

But that’s not all, as Jennings could also soon find his name on the transactions page, another piece of what was a pretty stellar relief corps that could entice contenders. If the White Sox make yet another move before Monday’s trade deadline, it’s possible it could include Jennings.

“You really try to push that out of your head,” Jennings said of trade buzz. “I mean, I’ve been traded once before, totally unexpected. You really try to push that to the side. Even if you get traded or you’re here, it’s still the same game. It’s still pitching, and I’ve always taken pride in taking the ball whenever, in any situation. I just hope to continue to do that.”

Jennings’ season ERA of 3.45 might not have impressed the same way those of Robertson, Swarzak and Kahnle did before they left town. But Jennings has been just as impressive of late, posting a 2.25 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 24 innings of work since June 6. That’s just six earned runs in his last 23 appearances, with opposing batters turning in just a .491 OPS against him during that stretch.

“I don’t think they tell the whole picture,” Jennings said of those season-long numbers. “I had a few outings where I felt like I threw the ball really well and the result didn’t dictate that. It’s all about how you feel throwing the ball, if you’re keeping the ball down, if you’re throwing strikes. Sometimes in this game it’s funny where it doesn’t necessarily work out in your favor despite how you throw the ball. I do feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well for a while now. You hope the results match that, but sometimes they don’t and you’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

With plenty of contending teams looking for bullpen help, perhaps Rick Hahn can squeeze one more rebuild-centered acquisition out of a buyer in exchange for another bullpen arm.

Jennings, though, could also stay on the South Side and be a featured player in what is now a mighty different-looking bullpen. Petricka, just off the DL, as well as Tyler Clippard, acquired in that trade with the Yankees, figure to make up the new White Sox late-inning unit.

Jennings has a pretty good track record including a 2.08 ERA in 64 games last season with the White Sox and a 1.34 ERA in 47 games with the Miami Marlins in 2014. Petricka, meanwhile, converted 14 saves in 18 opportunities doing time as the White Sox closer in 2014.

“Everyone wants to pitch in that eighth, ninth inning,” Petricka said. “No matter how it comes about, you’re excited for it. So if my name’s called, I’ll be ready.”

The reason for those opportunities, the moves that have already been made and the continued trade rumors is that the White Sox bullpen has been very strong this season. Four guys turning in good performances has meant the White Sox have been able to strengthen their rebuilding effort. It could happen one more time, too.

“I think everybody knew we had the pieces,” Jennings said. “We’ve always had the guys. Since I’ve been here, since Day 1, we’ve had the guys. We knew we had a lot of talent in this room, and that is a good thing. Obviously, other teams want that talent and it’s unfortunate again to see friends and teammates go, but that’s the nature of this game.”