Competition vs. friendship on the O-line: Bears aim to stay close

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Competition vs. friendship on the O-line: Bears aim to stay close

Because it pushes already competitive individuals sometimes even more, competition for positions is a good thing.

Dont necessarily tell that to the players with jobs at risk, particularly along the offensive line, traditionally the closest-knit group on any football team.

Long-time Bears center Olin Kreutz always maintained that the most unpleasant time in his distinguished career was the 1999 training camp and preseason competition he went through vs. Casey Wiegmann.

The reason had nothing to do with acrimony or bad feelings between the two. It was that each knew that the loser was someone who deserved to be an NFL starter.

Kreutz went on to become a six-time Pro Bowl center and started 183 games for the Bears. Wiegmann was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl as a member of the Denver Broncos and at one point had a 127-game streak of consecutive starts.

Then 2012 training camp has been the proving ground for JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams at left tackle. Both have started at the position; both have started at right tackle as well.

Unless a calamity befalls Gabe Carimi at right tackle, either Webb or Williams will no longer be a starter.

In a meeting room and position group built on closeness, a measure of strain among friends would be understandable.

Not at all, insisted center and Bears co-captain Roberto Garza. Both guys are true professionals and weve spent a lot of time together, but this obviously has nothing to do with the friendships.

Its got everything to do with them just showing the coaches that they deserve to be the starting left tackle. Nothing gets in between us.

Competitions are going on elsewhere. Chilo Rachal and Ricky Henry are challenging guards Chris Spencer and Lance Louis. But the starters in each case are established rather than in the kind of competition involving Webb and Williams.

And much of the upheaval along the offensive line over the past couple of seasons has been the result of injury rather than straightforward Player A beating out Player B.

The one with arguably the most to lose right now is Williams, who becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. But Webb is desperately in quest of establishing that he was not the pass-protection disaster that he became in 2011.

Its a big position to be in for both guys, Garza said. Its Chris contract year and JMarcus is trying to establish himself as well. So its going to be very competitive and important for our team.

Both know the stakes and the terms of the competition.

It doesnt affect me too much, Webb said. You just got to come out here and do your job, get better every day and help your team out.

For Williams, who has lost tackle jobs before, theres always pressure, he said. Everyone has a job to do the whole team and we just got to come out and do our best to be explosive and take care of our part of the bargain.

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”