Bulls Draft: Center breakdown

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Bulls Draft: Center breakdown

Joakim Noah was arguably Chicagos best performer in 2011-12, averaging 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 30.4 minutes. He played in 64 games, and while his numbers were slightly down from last year, it was more a product of Omer Asiks improvement than anything Noah didnt do. A sprained ankle cut his 2012 playoff run short, but Noah will need to shoulder quite the scoring load with Derrick Rose and Luol Deng out to start next season.

Asiks numbers were up from last year, averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in 14 minutes per game. The 25-year-old Asik has shown enough to apparently make him priority No. 1 this off-season for upper management, and he looks to be a significant part of the Bulls long-term future.

Bulls history: Since 2000, the Bulls have made 29 draft selections. They have spent six of those selections on centers: 2000: Chris Mihm (Texas), Dalibor Bagaric (Croatia), Jake Voskuhl (Connecticut); 2001: Eddy Curry (Thornwood H.S.); 2007: Joakim Noah (Florida), Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh)

What the Bulls need in a center

The Bulls have ranked first, second and first in rebounding the last three seasons, respectively, in large part due to progression of Noah. Asik averaged 5.3 rebounds in 14 minutes per game, so its no secret the Bulls love their rebounding bigs. Any rebounder in Chicago will need to get after it on the glass, and with Gibson, Boozer and Noah handling the scoring load in the paint, any points from another center would be an added bonus.

Top 11 2012 Draft prospects
1. Andre Drummond, Connecticut Work ethic is a real question with the 6-foot-11 freshman, but he has plenty of upside at just 19 years old that should keep him in the lottery.
2. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina The most NBA-ready center has solid range and is an above average defender that could hear his name called in the top-10, potentially paired up with Anthony Davis in New Orleans.
3. Meyers Leonard, Illinois Leonard will need a few years to get ready at the next level, but when hes ready he has the skills to become a very solid pro.
4. Fab Melo, Syracuse Melo did not start playing basketball until the ninth grade so hes raw, but he was an elite shot blocker in his two years at Syracuse and could be a valuable project with a solid long-term future in the NBA.
5. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt The 7-foot senior is a tough, back-to-the-basket defender who needs work on his offensive game, but could serve well as a back-up in the NBA.
6. Kyle OQuinn, Norfolk State Last Marchs NCAA Tournament hero in a win over then-No. 3 Missouri, OQuinn is strong inside and an impressive rebounder.
7. Henry Sims, Georgetown Sims was a classic Georgetown center: range to 18 feet, an excellent passer and a below-average rebounder. He could stick as a second rounder.
8. Garrett Stutz, Wichita State Stutz made significant improvement his senior season, but he doesnt have great athleticism and struggles inside at times.
9. Robert Sacre, Gonzaga The Bulldogs senior leader was a superb defender and shot blocker, but he needs work on his offensive game to make it at the next level.
10. Bernard James, Florida State At 27 years old, James would be ready to play right away but lacks upside that rightfully causes his draft stock to take a tumble.
11. Justin Hamilton, LSU Hamilton is not an elite athlete, but he is well-seasoned around the basket and could be a nice second unit scorer in the right system.

Analysis

Much of what the Bulls do or not do at the center position on Thursday will stem on how they believe Omer Asiks contract situation will play out. Management does not have the luxury of knowing what interest Asik will garner in free agency, but Gar Forman insists the team will match it.

If thats the case, center is the least of the Bulls worries on Thursday. But, again, if Forman is also insistent on taking the best player available, Melo or Ezeli could be options, depending on where the Bulls have each on their draft board. Still, it would be surprising to see the Bulls go center with the needs of an outside shooter so prevalent.

If the Bulls do trade into the lottery via a trade of Joakim Noah -- a rumor that has been floated around -- Asik would almost certainly be back. The Bulls would then have to address a back-up center position, potentially in the lottery they trade up to but more likely in free agency.

Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games

Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games

If there are solutions lurking in the rubble that has been the Chicago Bears 2016 offense, they are staying hidden. And the problems have to be more than just the loss of coordinator Adam Gase and stalwarts Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and Matt Slauson.

But in the longest stretch of playing time yet this preseason, a 23-7 loss Saturday to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears repeatedly dropped passes, ran wrong routes, failed to execute blocks and generally looked like an offense that has taken significant steps backward since last season.

“We’ve still got some time,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We’ve still got some time to get better. We’re still missing some guys and we’re going to have an influx of guys coming into the lineup that’ve been missing the past couple of weeks, which is going to help us, make us a little more dynamic out there.

“We’ve just got to keep working.”

The No. 1 offense ran 18 first-half plays and netted 20 yards – five fewer than the team gave the Chiefs in penalties. And matters got worse. The Bears ran 11 plays in the second quarter for a net minus-11 yards.

The Bears went to the line of scrimmage three times in the final 6 seconds of the first half. Those trips produced a false start by Alshon Jeffery (which pushed the Bears back across midfield and out of what would have been their only play in the Kansas City end of the field through 30 minutes); a bounced pass from Cutler in the direction of Marc Mariani when no Chief was within 20 yards of the Bears wide receiver; and a sack by 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe, who had one sack in 15 games last season.

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The Bears had practiced those situations as recently as this week, though “we need to prepare more, obviously,” Cutler said, smiling.

Franchise-tagged Jeffery did not limit his issues to the pre-snap penalty. He caught none of the three passes targeted for him in the first half and let one go off his hands with Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters on the ground, a victim of the loose Soldier Field sod.

“I was just trying to catch it and take off,” Jeffery said. “But you still got to catch it.”

When the offense finally managed to cross midfield, on its first possession of the third quarter, the drive included a bad drop of a bubble screen to wide receiver Kevin White, a badly run route by White near the end zone, and finally a missed field goal by Robbie Gould from 48 yards.

“It’s just growing pains,” Cutler said. “It’s just kind of how it is, his ‘rookie’ year, not really playing a lot of college football… . We’re working with him and he’s doing everything he possibly can to work through it and be where it’s supposed to be.

“And he understood it. I talked to him on the sideline and just told him this is going to happen. And now he knows and it just can’t happen again. We just can’t have repeat mistakes. He’s a good kid and he’s going to do well.”

The rest of the offense? Since most of the starters will play little if at all next Thursday at Cleveland, the improvement is going to have to come from within, from practice. It didn’t happen in games, where it is generally supposed to.

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

A little over a year ago Connor Shaw suffered a season-ending injury during a preseason game with the Cleveland Browns.

Unfortunately, history has likely repeated itself.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Shaw endured a broken leg right above his left ankle in the Bears' 23-7 preseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday afternoon. After connecting with wide receiver Josh Bellamy for an 18-yard completion in the fourth quarter, the Bears quarterback had his left leg folded by Chiefs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Shaw stayed on the grass for a few minutes, writhing in pain, before having his left leg put in an air cast and leaving Soldier Field on a cart. 

Following the game, Bears head coach John Fox said that Shaw's injury is "very serious" and that he was on his way to the hospital for further examination.

[MORE BEARS: Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game]

The devastating injury comes at inopportune time for Shaw who has arguably been the best player in a Bears uniform this preseason.

Before leaving Saturday's game, Shaw was 5/6 for 68 yards with a QB rating of 153.5 including a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cameron Meredith. Shaw also showed an ability to make things happen with his legs as he had two carries for 15 yards. It was the second consecutive eye-opening performance for Shaw. In last week's preseason loss to the New England Patriots, Shaw was for 4/6 with 42 yards and a touchdown pass.

Shaw had already surpassed David Fales as the Bears' third-string quarterback, and was starting to push Brian Hoyer — who coincidentally suffered an injury to his ribs against the Chiefs — for the backup job behind Jay Cutler. At worst, Shaw would have been a practice squad candidate.

"I've known him since his rookie year in Cleveland and he's really worked hard," Hoyer said. "He's done a good job and to see that, it's really heartbreaking obviously for him, and for a guy that's watched him develop and grow you just really feel for him.

"He's a tough and resilient kid. He's going to be back, but now it's going to be a dark time. That's just the way it is. That's part of football and unfortunately happened to a great kid."

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Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who played with Shaw at South Carolina, has no doubt Shaw's will bounce back from the injury.

“It’s a tough break,” Jeffery said. "He was having a hell of a camp. He was doing a hell of a job out there. You hate to see any teammate go down, but I know him personally being with him in college. He’s a fighter. He’s going to come back.”

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

It's easy to dismiss preseason games, but they can't be ignored when a team is severely outplayed in every sense of the word.

That was the case for the Bears on Saturday afternoon as they were dismantled by the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7, in front of a crowd of 48, 377 at Soldier Field to remain winless on the preseason.

The Bears starting offense compiled a net of 65 yards as they couldn't find a rhythm against a Chiefs defense playing without Pro Bowlers' Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was able to stay upright for most of the game as the starting offensive line allowed just two sacks, but Cutler was plagued by a few drops from his receivers and was off target for most of the afternoon, finishing 6/15 with 45 yards and a passer rating of 47.9. The Bears starting wide receiving tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White registered the same amount of drops (three) as they did receptions. The lone highlight from the starting offensive unit came from second-year running Jeremy Langford who twice turned broken plays into positive gains, showing a remarkable improvement in that facet from his rookie season.

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While the starting offensive unit will draw much-deserved criticism for their performance against the Chiefs, the defense didn't fare that much better.

The starting 11, playing without Pernell McPhee and Kyle Fuller, allowed 239 total yards in the first half. The starting unit also lost their only proven cornerback when eight-year veteran Tracy Porter entered the NFL's concussion protocol after taking a knee to the head by teammate Harold Jones-Quartey in the second quarter. 

Despite Saturday's mediocre play by the defense, there were some positives including the first NFL interception by Bears rookie cornerback Deiondre' Hall who looks to be squarely in the mix for a starting cornerback job with the abundance of injuries at the position. Rookie defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard also continued his strong preseason play with another sack. First-rounder Leonard Floyd suited up but didn't play due to a hamstring injury.

The Bears finally broke a near 55-minute scoring drought when third-string quarterback Connor Shaw connected with wide receiver Cameron Meredith for a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Shaw suffered a left ankle injury on the next series and had to leave on a cart. He finished the game 5/6 for 65 yards and a touchdown, also adding 15 rushing yards on two carries.

In two preseason home games the Bears have been outscored 45-7. They were blanked by the Denver Broncos back in Week 1 on Aug. 15.

The Bears will look to avoid going winless for the first time in franchise history in preseason when they close out their exhibition slate against the Browns in Cleveland next Thursday.