Sveum focused on Cubs, not White Sox

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Sveum focused on Cubs, not White Sox

MESA, Ariz. On some level, Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen were entertainers. They made great copy and played to the cameras.

Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura wont be looking for the red light. These managers seem to be far more reserved, not nearly as explosive. But that doesnt mean they wont be compared to each other for as long as they keep their jobs.

The Cubs will bus to Camelback Ranch on Friday to play the White Sox, and two former teammates will be at the center of the rivalry, even if it doesnt count yet.

I dont even think about it, to tell you the truth. It hasnt really crossed my mind, Sveum said Thursday. Obviously, it will be a heck of a lot different when the season starts. But spring training is kind of another game right now. I know its not another game to people back in Chicago. (But) our schedule is based more on: Golly, lineup? Oh yeah, were playing the Mariners today or the White Sox.

Were not like caught up in who were playing right now. Its just more getting people at-bats and that kind of thing.

The 44-year-old Ventura essentially had no coaching experience when White Sox general manager Kenny Williams made him the surprise pick to replace Guillen last October. No one saw that coming.

No one can dispute Venturas playing credentials two All-Star selections, six Gold Gloves or dismiss the fact that he lasted 16 years in the games three biggest markets (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles).

Sveum emerged as an obvious candidate from the moment new president Theo Epstein flew down to Florida and fired Mike Quade. Sveum had ties to the Boston Red Sox as the third-base coach on that 2004 championship team, a deep understanding of video and statistical analysis and a no-nonsense approach.

Combined, Ventura and Sveum have managed 12 games in the majors (plus Sveums playoff series loss as the Milwaukee Brewers interim manager in 2008). But together they have played in almost 3,000 games in the big leagues, and that brings instant credibility.

Sveum played briefly with Ventura after being traded to the White Sox from the Philadelphia Phillies late in the 1992 season. They spoke at the winter meetings in Dallas, and are scheduled to do a promotional shoot before Fridays game.

Hopefully, (Ill) get over there early enough to be able to talk to him and see how things have been going, Sveum said. Im sure hell have the same questions for me.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”