Melton's pass rush shows promise and concern

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Melton's pass rush shows promise and concern

The Bears have typically taken care of extending contracts for players deemed key in their future. Henry Melton is entering a contract year and has not gotten a new deal yet despite playing perhaps the most pivotal position in the Bears defensive scheme.

It could yet happen but Melton has an idea why it hasnt, and hes not frustrated. Yet.

No, not yet, Melton said. I still have a lot to prove for this defense, and I do want to show that I am the guy of the future for this defense.

He hasnt necessarily shown that yet. Flashes, yes. But the guy? Not yet.

The reasons why the Bears were and are so high on Melton as an impact three-technique were apparent in his seven sacks for 2011, his first year as a starter.

The reasons why coach Lovie Smith publicly called him out a bit during the season are apparent as well.

Melton fares reasonably well on ProFootballFocus.coms analysis of pass-rush performances by interior defensive tackles for the past three years. He ranks 16th in PFFs list of most productive interior rushmen, based on his sacks, hits and hurries for his 678 pass-rush snaps, most of those last year in his first as a starter.

PFF counts hits and hurries as three-quarters of a sack as a way to look at total pressure brought, not just sacks themselves. Those are eventually divided into the number of pass-rush snaps and multiplied by 100 to produce a ranking number.

What makes Meltons work interesting is that it represents promise but also a concern.

Melton moved from running back to defensive end at Texas and from end to tackle with the Bears. His play in 2011 was streaky and that is not good enough for what his position demands in the Bears scheme.

Meltons combined 56 pressures equate to one every 12.1 snaps less than one per six-play possession, for example. By comparison, San Franciscos Justin Smith registers one impact every 8.5 snaps. Geno Atkins posts one every 9.1 snaps for Cincinnati.

Not simply because of these players, obviously, but San Francisco was the No. 4 yardage defense last season. Cincinnati was No. 7. Antonio Smith was No. 3; his Houston defense was No. 2 in yardage defense. Philadelphia, where Cullen Jenkins ranked No. 4 on PFFs list, was No. 8.

The Bears were No. 17.

One curiosity: Detroits Ndamukong Suh ranked nowhere on the list.

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 13 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

But Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night, downplaying any health concerns about their All-Star middle infielders. 

One week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Joe Maddon spent part of Sunday's media session saying how he had no concerns with his World Series MVP's stiff neck and his franchise shortstop's stiff back.

"You can tell with 'Zo,'" Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "He'll come around and let me know specifically if he feels it's going to be anything longer than that. He's talking either tomorrow night or the next day."

Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays, hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 19. Maddon also signaled Russell is close to returning to action after being a late scratch from Friday's lineup.

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Not like this, but the Cubs already planned to schedule extra rest for Zobrist, given his age (36 in May), the playoff stress on his body from back-to-back World Series titles and emerging options like Javier Baez on a mix-and-match team. 

All along, Maddon hasn't worried about finding enough at-bats for Baez, knowing that injuries are inevitable and the Cubs have insurance policies up and down the roster that should pay off across a 162-game season. But in this case, it doesn't sound like the Cubs are testing that theory with Zobrist and Russell.

"None of this stuff is really threatening," Maddon said. "The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It's almost like you'll be overly cautious right now. And that's all we're doing."