NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

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NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

Coach Lovie Smith has long been adroit at finding motivation in disrespect -- media, public, whoever -- for his teams. He may have been handed something to get Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall fuming and its being provided by none other than NFL players themselves.

Neither Cutler nor Marshall are among the Top 100 players compiled by NFL Network and being revealed in blocks of 10, now down to its final 10.

The motivational fuel here is that its drawn exclusively from voting by current NFL players, so media and fan popularity are factored out.

That should make it arguably the most credible of all the Top-Whatever rankings (one recently listed the top 10 NFL Jerks according to one media member; Im not sure Id like to see the players rating of Top 10 media jerks but thats for another story).

So Cutler, who endured a tsunami of doubt and criticism after his knee injury in the 2010 NFC Championship game, has been dissed again by his peers.

Tim Tebow is on the list (No. 95); Joe Flacco is on the list (74); Cutler is not. Not among the 10 quarterbacks already revealed and not including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, presumably in the Top 10.

Cutler may not be a Top-10 quarterback yet. But Tim Tebow?

And Marshall, who ranked No. 61 last year, caught 81 passes for 1,274 yards and 6 TDs last year, is off the list entirely.

Hakeem Nicks is on the list (No. 90). Marshall has never caught fewer than those 81 passes in any of his last five seasons; Nicks has never caught more than 79 in any of his three seasons.

Jordy Nelson is on the list (80). Nelson never caught more than his 68 of last season. He scored 15 TDs in 2011 after three straight years with 2.

But Marshall is not.

Could be that player voting is every bit as a popularity contest as fan voting is, something that Steve McMichael and others have espoused.

So the players conclusion is that there are at least 13 quarterbacks better than Cutler (Tebow, Romo, Flacco, Vick, Rivers, P. Manning, Stafford, Newton, E. Manning, Roethlisberger, plus presumably the Big Three).

Vick is on the list but told a Philadelphia sports station that he considered his No. 70 spot a joke.

Eli Manning hasnt scoffed at his No. 31 ranking but teammate Justin Tuck has, and used the same four-letter word to describe Mannings spot.

Manning was left off the 2011 Top 100 list altogether, so maybe peer disrespect is a mighty motivator.

Best guess is that Lovie Smith will find out with Cutler and Marshall.

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.”