Superb Sale, red-hot Pierzynski get White Sox a split in LA

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Superb Sale, red-hot Pierzynski get White Sox a split in LA

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Chris Sale pitched effectively into the sixth inning, giving Chicago's rotation a much-needed solid outing, and the White Sox capitalized on some shoddy defense by the Los Angeles Angels for a 6-1 victory Thursday.After a three-game stretch in which starters John Danks, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd gave up a combined 18 earned runs over 14 1-3 innings, Sale (4-2) restored order in his sixth major league start. The 23-year-old left-hander struck out seven and was working on a three-hit shutout in the sixth when he gave up a one-out homer to Albert Pujols and a double to Mark Trumbo and was replaced by Nate Jones. Trumbo had a career-high four hits.Sale joined fellow left-hander Steve Rosenberg (1989) as the only White Sox pitchers to give up three runs or less in each of their first six big league starts since divisional play began in 1969. A first-round draft pick in 2010, Sale was used exclusively in relief by the White Sox during his two previous seasons in the big leagues.C.J. Wilson (4-4) threw 88 pitches in 3 2-3 innings and tied a career high with six walks. He was charged with four runs - one earned - and four hits.A.J. Pierzynski delivered a two-out RBI single in the third to open the scoring, after flying out with the bases loaded to end the White Sox first. He was 3 for 5 with two RBI singles, and is 29 for 70 in his last 19 games at Angel Stadium.Chicago tacked on three more in the fourth with the help of two balls that should have been caught and weren't. Angels center fielder Mike Trout started in right for the first time this season due to the absence of nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter because of his son's arrest in Texas, and dropped a routine flyball by Dyan Viciedo with one out in the first.Viciedo ended up at second base on the error, and Wilson walked the next two batters before Adam Dunn chased the left-hander with a two-run single. David Carpenter came in Paul Konerko hit a popup to short right field, but the ball fell in front of second baseman Howie Kendrick after he called off Trout. It was scored as an RBI single.

In the fifth, Alexei Ramirez' chopper fell between Trout and Kendrick for a hit after a leadoff single by Pierzynski. Viciedo followed with a flyball to short center, where Peter Bourjos converged with Trout and Kendrick before making the catch - resulting in a derisive cheer from the crowd of 30,786. Carpenter then fielded Brent Morel's comebacker and started a double play.Viciedo led off the eighth with his sixth homer and third in a four-game span. Three batters later, three-time Gold Glove winner Vernon Wells scaled the fence in front of the left field bullpen and pulled back Gordon Beckham's bid for a two-run homer.NOTES: Dunn struck out his first two times up, increasing his major league-worst total to 59, and has at least one in 38 of his first 39 games. He led the majors in strikeouts three consecutive seasons while with Cincinnati (2004-06). ... Both teams begin their respective interleague schedules on Friday. The Angels are at San Diego, and the White Sox have a day game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Dunn's 41 career home runs against the Cubs are the second-highest total among active players behind Albert Pujols' 63.
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Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

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Jaylon Smith’s ex-Notre Dame teammates, coaches confident he’ll succeed in NFL

The speculation about Jaylon Smith won’t end until he finally sets foot on an NFL field and proves that his knee has fully healed. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith with the 34th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday with the expectation he’ll have a lengthy, successful career in the NFL (

). 

Smith is in relatively uncharted territory when it comes to the damage to the stretched peroneal nerve in his left knee. But universally, Smith’s coaches and former teammates expressed optimism about his recovery and gushed about the elite abilities possessed by the 2015 Butkus Award winner. 

“His traits of explosion and speed and all the physical traits we talk about, they’re top-line,” Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “But the big thing with him is he’s a pro. He can walk in any pro locker room, any pro meeting room — he’s incredible in the meeting room — and he’ll talk better football than a lot of those guys that are already there. He’s very knowledgeable. Worked at it hard. Wanted to see the big picture of football. 

“So he’s NFL ready the minute he walks into a meeting room. Incredible note-taker. He’s just — if I were still in the pros and I drafted him, I can’t imagine that I’ve ever had any rookie come in that would be where he is. He’s just so far ahead. So far ahead.”

VanGorder has a keen knowledge of what it takes to succeed as a linebacker in the NFL, too, having spent four years as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator and single seasons as the linebackers’ coach for the Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. 

“He’s gonna have a hell of a career, he is one heck of a football player and it’s very, very important to him,” VanGorder said. “He’s a champion. He has a champion attitude. He’ll be good.”

While Smith’s trophy-winning junior season certainly was extraordinary, that he still totaled 114 tackles in 2014 was impressive in a different way. That year, Smith was learning a new position — Will inside linebacker in VanGorder’s 4-3 scheme — and was frequently caught out of position, especially after talismanic middle linebacker Joe Schmidt suffered a season-ending injury against Navy. 

But even though Smith struggled with the move inside, his athleticism took over to generate that triple-digit tackle total. Seeing Smith glide from the field to the boundary to make a tackle on an opposing running back was a somewhat common occurrence. 

“Jaylon was a production man,” Notre Dame linebackers coach Mike Elston said. “He made everybody else around him better because he was gonna make up for you. You got reached as a defensive tackle? He was gonna get to the ball and make the tackle. It didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what happens in front of him. Jaylon made up for a lot of things. He was productive.”

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace offered a different perspective on what made Smith such a good player. 

“If he wasn’t in class, I don’t know if he’d instantly transport and just be right here in the (Guglielmino Athletics Complex), in the film room, just wanting more and more and more,” Grace said. “Because he didn’t necessarily want to rely on his physical ability. That’s a tremendous trait, God-given and something he’s worked toward as well. 

“But what makes these guys great players is their instincts on the field and they’re able to direct that to the ball, to the play, understanding the game as well. That’s just taking it to the next level. There’s plenty of tremendous athletes out there, you’ll see guys pop up all the time with these crazy numbers, jumping like this. But Jaylon has that and the other side.”

Coach Brian Kelly found himself publicly politicking for Smith over the past few weeks, trying to convey what impressed him so much about his former linebacker to an NFL audience. All Smith needed was a chance, according to Kelly, and he’d prove to be the kind of linebacker he was at Notre Dame — and maybe a better one, too. 

The Dallas Cowboys, on Friday, gave Smith that chance. 

“He’s going to come back from this injury, and when he does, he’s going to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL,” Kelly said. “He has that kind of ability. … Jaylon is somebody that has an incredible, positive attitude. 

“Look, he’s not a gamble. He’s a smart business decision.”

Jihad Ward drafted in second round, first Illini picked since 2013

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Jihad Ward drafted in second round, first Illini picked since 2013

After two years without an NFL Draft pick, Illinois’ draft drought is over.

Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illini selected in the draft since 2013 when the Oakland Raiders picked him with the No. 44 pick Friday.

Since 1971, only four drafts have not featured an Illinois product, with two coming in succession in each of the past two years (1972, 2006, 2014, 2015). This recent drought snapped a string of successful drafts for the Illini, which featured a first-round pick in four of five drafts from 2008 to 2012.

The 2013 draft featured four Illinois players selected: Hugh Thornton (third round), Akeem Spence (fourth round), Terry Hawthorne (fifth round) and Michael Buchanan (seventh round).

Ward is the highest Illini picked since the 2012 draft, when Illinois saw four players taken in the first two rounds: Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins in the first, Jeff Allen and Tavon Wilson in the second.

Ward spent the past two seasons at Illinois after transferring in from junior college. In 25 games, he recorded 104 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

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Jaylon Smith taken No. 34 in NFL Draft by Dallas Cowboys

Where Jaylon Smith would land was one of the biggest questions heading into the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, which began Friday night in Chicago. 

We didn't have to wait long for an answer.

The Dallas Cowboys took Smith with the 34th overall pick, just three selections into the second round. Smith, who won the Butkus Award in 2015, isn't likely to play in 2016 after suffering a torn ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl that also contained damage to the nerve in his knee. 

Prior to his injury, and the revelations of nerve damage, Smith was widely projected to be a top-10 pick. A former five-star recruit (and winner of the high school Butkus Award, too), Smith asserted himself as one of the most talented players to ever come through Notre Dame during his three seasons in South Bend. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native totaled 292 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss in his college career, in which he was moved from outside linebacker in Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme to "Will" inside linebacker in Brian VanGorder's 4-3 defense. 

Smith took out an insurance policy last year, which reportedly paid him $700,000 for not being a first-round pick $100,000 for each pick after the end of the first round he wasn't selected, so he'll received $900,000 from it. 

With Dallas, Smith will be re-united with his brother, Rod, who's a running back for the Cowboys. 

Smith's former teammates and coaches rushed to Twitter to celebrate. There wasn't a consensus on when Smith would be drafted, with projections ranging between the second and fourth founds.