With Theo Epstein running Cubs, no one is untouchable

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With Theo Epstein running Cubs, no one is untouchable

Theo Epstein and Ryan Dempster talked by the batting cage before Mondays game at Wrigley Field.

The team president has a rebuilding plan that looks ahead to the next 10 years. The Opening Day starter just turned 35, will be a free agent at seasons end and has no-trade rights.

That creative tension is the story for this Cubs season.

It was 90 degrees at first pitch, with winds gusting 24 mph. The offense finally came alive in an 11-7 victory over the Padres that snapped a 12-game losing streak.

But any one game or even a bad 12-game sample size doesnt really matter in the big picture.

Dempster loves Chicago and has become an authority figure in the clubhouse and a part of the community. But the Cubs are 16-32 and contenders know all about his numbers (2.14 ERA) and makeup.

I have a pretty good feel for where hes coming from, Epstein said. We have an open dialogue. We just chatted about chatting at some point. Theres nothing to talk about right now. I think I know him pretty well.

Long-term, sure, I think the organizations better for having him. Well have to take a realistic look of where we are. And if there are ways to get better, every option has to be on the table.

At the moment, that doesnt mean calling up top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Ex-closer Carlos Marmol, who came off the disabled list, will have to earn his job back but could be showcased.

Catcher Geovany Soto, who recently underwent a minor knee procedure, said hes close to returning, that its not a two-month injury, more like two or three weeks.

This front office isnt sentimental, and prides itself on removing emotion from the equation. No one is untouchable.

Ive always operated under that philosophy, Epstein said. I never understood why there would ever be an untouchable. All youre doing is limiting your opportunity.

That said, there are core pieces that its almost impossible to foresee movement. You have to be completely blown away to even contemplate it. I think everyone knows what were trying to do. Were trying to build a nucleus of talented young players who can form a core of an annual contender.

So if you have a piece like that, the only way youd contemplate ever moving him would be if youd get multiples back of that same caliber, and those deals are hard to make.

From here, you could see a rotation fronted by Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, and a lineup built around Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Win or lose, the next 114 games will be about identifying more core players.

Were also very open to making moves, general manager Jed Hoyer said. A lot of our conversations are about what we can do to shake things up, what we can do to change the roster a little bit. Well keep looking at those things.

(But) we dont want to get in a situation where were sort of dumping guys off just to make a point or just to change things up.

Epstein and Hoyer have been on the road evaluating players for the draft, and getting to know their scouts better. They have to get the sixth overall pick right on June 4, and then begin restocking the system.

From there, the focus will shift and the Cubs will assess the landscape. Maybe an extra wild card, some injuries or a desperate executive will move the market.

This time of year is not a big trading time, Hoyer said. People are still filling their team out and deciding where they are. Thats why the solutions have to come from within. This isnt an external time of year (and) we need to fight through this.

The Cubs overcame a poor start from Travis Wood and got home runs from Castro, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewart and Alfonso Soriano to beat a bad Padres team (17-33).

Theyre telling themselves that this will all pay off in the end. Its just a question of wholl be around to enjoy it.

Its torture for all of us, Hoyer said. (But) I dont think any of us would ever hesitate for a second knowing better times are ahead. Theres no question in my mind that were going to build a consistent winner here.

This is a really painful bump that were going through right now on the way to get there. My hope (in the) future (is that) were looking back at this as a character-building thing.

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Jay Cutler spent his first seven seasons in Chicago with Matt Forte lined up behind him, but his eighth one will be a little bit different.

The 33-year-old quarterback reported to training camp in Bourbonnais on Wednesday knowing Forte isn't on his side anymore and knows it will take a collective effort to help ease the loss of a two-time Pro Bowler.

"You can't," Cutler responded when asked how you replace Forte. "Just his knowledge and him being here for so long and experience on the field, experience playing with me. Most times I didn't have to tell him something, I just look at him and he knew exactly what I was thinking, so you can't replace him.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!]

"We've got a good group of young backs that we're going to develop and we're going to put as much time as we can into those guys, and they'll get there. It's a good group, it's a talented group, so we're still excited about what we have."

With the departure of Forte, Cutler knows he's become one of the most experienced players on the team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

"I was looking at the roster weeks ago and I feel like there's been a major shift in experience, especially on the offensive side," Cutler said. "I'm at 11 (seasons in the NFL) and then you look down, there's a couple 9s, a couple 8s and then mostly it's five and under, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

"I think a new town, new guys in the building is new energy, new attitude, so I've embraced it, I've enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It's a good group right now."

Check out the video of Cutler's interview from training camp above.

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

Notre Dame unit preview: Searching for the next go-to WR

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

W (Boundary)

1. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2A. Miles Boykin (Redshirt freshman)
2B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
3. Chase Claypool (Freshman)

Z (Slot)

1A. C.J. Sanders (Sophomore)
1B. Corey Holmes (Redshirt sophomore)
2. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)

X (Field)

1. Equanimeous St. Brown (Sophomore)
2A. Torii Hunter Jr. (Redshirt junior)
2B. Kevin Stepherson (Freshman)
3. Javon McKinley (Freshman)

Hunter has the ability to play all three receiver positions, which is why he’s listed as the “backup” at the Z and X. He’ll probably take most of his reps, though, at the W, where Corey Robinson was in line to play before he retired due to suffering multiple concussions. 

Despite only catching 28 passes for 363 yards last year, Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, which is more a nod to the production lost from Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. But Hunter took command of Notre Dame’s wide receivers during spring practice — despite barely getting any sleep due to his football, baseball and academic workload — and emerged as an offensive leader in March and April. 

Outside of Hunter, there’s plenty of young, untapped potential in this group. Coach Brian Kelly has raved about St. Brown from the day he set foot on campus, and Notre Dame believes his combination of blazing speed and good size (6-foot-4, 205) will make his a dynamic receiving threat as soon as this fall. Sanders flashed his playmaking ability by returning a kick and a punt for a touchdown last year, though surgery on his hip flexor knocked him out of spring practice and could slow him during preseason camp. 

Holmes and Stepherson both impressed at times during spring practice, too, and are set up to carve out roles in the Irish offense. And Jones is the wild card here — he worked a bit at the W during spring practice and his athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame could create some matchup nightmares if he slides over from tight end. 

Biggest question: Who becomes DeShone Kizer/Malik Zaire’s go-to target?

Fuller became a get-out-of-jail free card almost immediately for Kizer last year, with that 39-yard game-winning heave at Virginia sparking a rock-solid season for the new Irish quarterback. Brown, too, used his savvy skills to make some big catches, like his touchdown at Fenway Park against Boston College. 

But with both of those guys gone, Kizer or Zaire will need to figure out who that reliable pass-catcher is. The good news is Notre Dame has had one every year of the Kelly era, from Michael Floyd to Tyler Eifert to T.J. Jones to Fuller. 

Hunter is the most experienced one of the bunch, though St. Brown or Jones could very well emerge as that guy, too. But given Notre Dame’s track record, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock deserves the benefit of the doubt here. 

Youthful impact

McKinley and Claypool both were four-star members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. There are some questions about whether or not Claypool, who was listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds on signing day, could someday move to tight end, but for now, he’ll get a shot as a receiver, probably on the boundary. 

Stepherson, a three-star recruit, was roundly praised by coaches and teammates for how quickly he picked up the Irish route concepts and offense during spring practice, and his ability to catch the ball at a full sprint over the middle makes him a candidate to contribute as a freshman. 

Notre Dame hasn’t shied away form playing freshmen receivers in the past, and without much experience in this group, there could be opportunities for all three first-year players to get on the field this fall. 

They said it

“There’s a lot to be gained from playing baseball, but you have to be a special individual, especially at this level. I think the gains are competitiveness, discipline and the maturity that he shows and his ability to handle it.” — Brian Kelly on Torii Hunter Jr., who was drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Angels this summer

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast unveils new technology for Rio Olympics

Comcast is rolling out new technology that will give Olympics fans a unique viewing experience. 

The X1 platform will give users access to more than 6,000 hours of live, on demand and streaming Rio Olympics events. Fans can follow athletes, nations and teams with ease throughout the Rio Games, and also record or view on demand. 

The ability to customize the Olympics experience will give audiences an unlimited scope and make it easy to watch what they want, when they want.