Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time

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Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time

PITTSBURGH James Russell was born with the DNA to close, and he already has the look down, with long hair flowing out of his hat and a dark beard covering his face.

The Cubs are running out of options for the ninth inning. Dale Sveum sort of chuckled on Sunday when he wondered what those might be. By process of elimination, the manager is down to Russell and Shawn Camp.

The night before, Rafael Dolis had walked two Pittsburgh Pirates and hit another, forcing in the game-winning run. So the 24-year-old rookie is out as closer, though its not like the Cubs are generating many save opportunities these days.

Its a confidence-booster, for sure, Russell said. Those are the big spots. You have a lot of accountability there. Im dont mind being that guy. Im happy to be that guy.

Carlos Marmol, whos recovering from a hamstring strain, was scheduled to pitch at Triple-A Iowa on Sunday and could be activated from the disabled list by Monday or Tuesday.

Sveum has said that the ex-closer with the 20 million contract and a 6.35 ERA will have to show that he can throw strikes and wont be handed the job back automatically.

Dolis who had pitched in one game above the Double-A level until this season picked up four saves but woke up Sunday having given up six runs in his last four appearances. Sveum admitted that Dolis was being put in a situation he probably shouldnt have been in.

Russell (1-0, 1.74 ERA) may not be the ideal answer. Sveum still thinks of him more as a matchups guy, though one who can still get right-handers out.

The 26-year-old left-hander has the bloodlines. His father Jeff saved 186 games in a 14-year big-league career. They talk after almost every outing.

I havent really asked him about just straight-up closing before, said Russell, who made 40 starts in the minors. Ive never really thought about myself being put in the position of closer.

Its kind of funny that now Im being thrown around in there, because thats always been the last thing on my mind as a baseball player. But its kind of cool. I have to get some pointers from him.

As Sveum said: Those genes usually work out.

But at this point, the manager will just settle for someone who can throw strikes. On some nights, it could be Camp (2-2, 2.84), who spent years battling those brutal lineups in the American League East.

The two guys who have constantly done it are Camp and Russell, Sveum said. If something happens, its going to be because (the other team) hit the ball. Were imploding by walking guys and hitting guys.

That might not be the strongest vote of confidence, but it will be interesting to see what Russell does with this opportunity, in a year the Cubs are trying to identify core players for the future.

Im ready for a phone call no matter what, Russell said. You got to look at it as three outs, whether its in the first inning or the ninth inning. Its three outs and you got to go out there and make your pitches.

A 14th-round pick in the 2007 draft, Russell broke into the big leagues in 2010 pitching for Lou Piniella, a manager not known for his patience with relievers.

Russell has been the same easy-going guy ever since, and would like to be a major part of Theo Epsteins rebuilding project.

You cant worry about the stuff you cant control, Russell said, whether its offensive woes or manager changes, front office changes. Its just something so far out of my control. You just dont even really worry about it. You just kind of go about your business and make sure youre ready every day.

Russell, who attended the University of Texas, is a bit of a free spirit, regularly wearing the Ditka and Dont Toews Me, Bro T-shirts you can buy on Clark Street.

Russell was asked if hes crazy enough to handle the ninth inning.

Yeah, absolutely, he said, crazy, stupid, whatever.

92 Days to Kickoff: Sandburg

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92 Days to Kickoff: Sandburg

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: Sandburg Eagles

Head coach: Scott Peters

Assistant coaches: Marty Balle (LB), Kevin Clark (DL), Larry Sheppard (DB/Co-defensive coordinator), Matt Barrett (assistant DL), Bill Mulchrone (assistant LB), Kevin Fahey (OC), Jim Zimmer (OL), Tom Lally (QB), Shane Meyer (WR), Jon Bergin (RB), Mark Lenkiewicz (assistant OL), Darren Monnet (K)

How they fared in 2015: 6-4 (5-2) Southwest Suburban Blue. The Eagles made the Class 8A playoff field, but lost to Palatine in the opening round.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Eagles reload with a new head coach?

Names to watch this season: LB Pat Brucki, DE Mike Murphy, DT Malik Skates

Biggest holes to fill: The Eagles need to replace 11 graduated starters on offense this season. 

EDGY's early take: Peters takes over a Sandburg program that has been winning games but hasn't made a deep state playoff run since the early 2000s. The Eagles bring back just three starters and will need to get up to speed in a hurry this fall, but this school always has talent in the building.

Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

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Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

Check out the second episode of the second season of Chicago Fire All Access.

In this episode, the team helps out in the Chicagoland community, talks about finding comfort foods in Chicago and life on the road in the MLS. 

Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

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Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

Sometimes you really do have to just appreciate the attitude. Because Bears coaches do, in ways of significance in what kind of team the 2016 Bears will become.

Ka’Deem Carey has been a backup his first two Bears seasons, yet now finds himself with more games played in a Bears uniform than any other Chicago running back. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick accordingly has set one very lofty 2016 objective for himself:

“Just being a leader, really trying to focus on that,” Carey said during the team’s OTA this week. “We’ve still got a young team, I’m vocal, coaches like the way I run the ball, and sometimes the way I play out there, the coaches like that and want to pass that on to teammates.

“So I’m just trying to be a leader to these young guys.”

Somehow the notion of a 23-year-old talking about setting an example for “these” young guys shouldn’t be dismissed. At all. Because Carey is representative of something developing within the current team.

Leadership is a popular, near-annual topic for Bears teams, no less so early this offseason as the 2016 team takes shape without 40 percent of its elected – and veteran – captains from the 2015 season.

Players elect five captains: two for offense, two defense and one special teams. Coach John Fox names a sixth captain each based on merit from the previous week.

The problem for the Bears is that two of the 2015 five elected captains – running back Matt Forte, safety Antrel Rolle – were not brought back by the organization this offseason. Veterans were added in free agency, but headcount does not translate into instant chemistry, cohesion or leadership.

That falls to a Carey to infuse. Elsewhere, guard Matt Slauson, a popular leader in the offensive-line room and huddle, was released, as was left tackle Jermon Bushrod. After just three NFL seasons, Kyle Long abruptly becomes the offensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than anyone else in the O-line room.

Indeed, longevity is no criterion whatsoever for a Bears “leadership” role. Teammates elected Pernell McPhee one of the defensive co-captains last year, his first as a Bear. And linebacker Danny Trevathan, brought in from Super Bowl champion Denver, could emerge as one in his first, using precisely the same calling card that McPhee did.

“I'm just going out there and being an example,” Trevathan said. “It's not hard, you know, I've just got to go out and play the game that I know how to play but also get guys to come along and speak and communicate and be on one page with these guys.”

The key is the “horizontal” leadership concept – leading not from a few at the top, but from multiple strong individuals in a leadership layer.

“Obviously missing Matt Slauson, missing guys like Slauson and Forte, there are large voids to be filled,” Long said. “But this team has been built on horizontal leadership and we’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit.

“I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”