Tuitt's breakout vs. Navy fueled by will to dominate

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Tuitt's breakout vs. Navy fueled by will to dominate

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Stephon Tuitt scooped up a loose ball, took off for the end zone and and didn't look back, running 77 yards into the end zone and to the forefront of minds thousands of miles across the ocean.

"That was the longest run I'll probably ever have in my life," Tuitt said Wednesday.

The sophomore defensive end's breakout game has been in the works since he signed with Notre Dame nearly two years ago. A five-star recruit -- with only superhuman South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ranking ahead of him at his position -- Tuitt and Aaron Lynch were supposed to be the star defensive ends of the future from the minute each stepped on campus in South Bend.

That's the way things looked in Notre Dame's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State last December. Tuitt and Lynch were perhaps the two biggest standouts in the game. And Tuitt's emergence wasn't a coincidence, as he said the month of practices leading up to the bowl game helped him immensely.

"From that point to the bowl game, it hit me to know about the defense," Tuitt said. "It was all better, (I) was all comfortable then."

Lynch has since transferred to USF, desiring being back in his native state of Florida. But Tuitt's still in northern Indiana, and his offseason mantra is beginning to pay dividends not only on the field, but off it too.

"The only word I remember him using was dominate; dominate in the classroom, which he did in the summer, over 3.5 (GPA)," coach Brian Kelly said. "He's been on this mission of, whatever it is, and it's not just football, it's everything in his life, it's film study -- last night, he's in there film studying, taking notes, and I think he's just a very, very driven young man right now."

Kelly added that, during running drills in fall camp, Tuitt ran not with his fellow defensive ends, but with the team's cornerbacks. He showed off that speed on Saturday in taking his fumble recovery 77 yards into the end zone, sprinting his way toward six points with the kind of speed rarely seen in a 300-pound lineman.

But that athleticism fits with a sight offensive lineman Chris Watt relayed from earlier in the summer.

"In practice one time, Tuitt dropped back in pass coverage and was covering a wide receiver man-to-man and doing it pretty well," Watt said. "We were watching it on film during camp and it was pretty ridiculous."

Notre Dame will face plenty of challenging offenses this season, from Michigan State and Stanford's powerful rushing attacks to USC and Oklahoma's outstanding passing abilities. While Tuitt is only one of 11, he's someone who could be key in Notre Dame's ability to stop those opponents from finding the end zone.

"The fire is lit with him to dominate and be the best at everything he does," Kelly said.

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Lauri Markkanenn will be a Chicago Bull once the trade between the Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves is finalized sometime Friday when the trade call is sent to the NBA, as he’s the first domino to fall in what could be an interesting offseason to come.

A stretch-shooting big man from Arizona who shot 42 percent from 3 last season, Markkanenn is a native of Finland who’s more of an offensive threat rather than a defender and rebounder at seven-feet tall. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for Arizona and has been regarded by many scouts as the best shooter in the draft.

With the Bulls bringing up the rear in that category, one assumes he’ll add a level of versatility if he can see the floor—which brings the Bulls to some offseason decisions they’ll have to make once free agency begins and even before. Markkanenn conceivably brings Nikola Mirotic’s future into question, as Mirotic is a restricted free agent this summer and Mirotic was on the trade block by the Bulls for the better part of last season as he had an underwhelming year trying to fill the role of a stretch-shooting big man.

But officials with the Bulls say Mirotic is still a priority for the Bulls and because he’s restricted, they control the process of his free agency. Mirotic shot 41.3 percent and averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, as the Bulls still consider him an asset for the present and future as they’ll play a new style of basketball next season.

One would think Mirotic will command a salary at least around $10 million as the NBA’s salary cap will balloon to $99 million with a luxury tax line of around $119 million.

Rajon Rondo’s future has yet to be decided, as the Bulls acquired a point guard in Kris Dunn they’ve long eyed and presumably one they feel will be their future at the position.

Bulls officials stated they’ll wait until next week before making a decision on Rondo, but one wonders if they’ll go full youth movement, especially with wanting Dunn to succeed after a rocky rookie year in Minnesota and already having Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract for next season.

Rondo has a $3 million buyout the Bulls can exercise that will make Rondo a free agent or they’ll pay Rondo $13.3 million next season.

[MORE: After trading Jimmy Butler, Bulls select Lauri Markkanen] 

And then there’s Dwyane Wade, who opted in to his deal of $23.8 million for next season. Wade came to Chicago for a number of reasons, notably the salary and chance to play with Butler. With Butler gone and the Bulls changing their direction of the franchise, one wonders how Wade sees himself next season and how the Bulls see Wade with their young players.

Unless Wade wants out, the Bulls are headed into the free agency period thinking he’ll be back next season, and considering the Bulls have to spend up to 90 percent of their salary cap, his money helps them keep their books afloat, even as Butler’s affordable max salary exits and the controlled rookie-scale salaries of LaVine, Dunn and Merkkanenn enter Chicago for a future unknown

Jose Quintana turns in stellar outing as White Sox crush Twins in series finale

Jose Quintana turns in stellar outing as White Sox crush Twins in series finale

MINNEAPOLIS -- Guess who’s back?

Jose Quintana turned in the kind of game on Thursday afternoon that reminds you why he has been one of baseball’s top pitchers the past few seasons. Working with a swing-and-miss curveball and another shocking barrel of run support, Quintana waited out a near five-hour delay to produce a stellar outing. Quintana struck out nine batters in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the White Sox avoided a sweep with a 9-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 27,684 at Target Field. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Matt Davidson all homered for the White Sox, who finished with 18 hits and a 3-3 mark on their road trip.

After making several baby steps in his past few starts, Quintana ran wild in the series finale against a Twins team that he has always struggled against. While he worked deliberately, Quintana never got into trouble facing a team against whom he was 6-8 with a 4.28 ERA in his career.

The left-hander used a nasty, biting curveball along with sharp fastball command to keep Minnesota hitters off balance. Quintana struck one batter in each of the first five innings before he picked up steam. He struck out two batters each in the sixth and seventh innings and is averaging a career best 8.97 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

He struck out Miguel Sano three times in three trips and never allowed a man past second base in a 113-pitch effort. Quintana allowed five hits and walked none.

Quintana has a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts as he’s allowed 19 hits and six earned runs in 24 innings. He has walked eight and struck out 24.

[MORE: White Sox will give Tim Anderson freedom to make mistakes

The White Sox offense made it all much easier for Quintana for a second straight start. Six days after they produced an early four-spot for Quintana against Toronto, the White Sox scored five times and knocked Minnesota starter Nik Turley out in the first inning.

Showing no signs of malaise after a 290-minute rain delay, Abreu and Frazier each blasted two-run homers off Turley to put the White Sox up 4-0. With two outs and Turley gone, Adam Engel singled off reliever Buddy Boshers to make it 5-0 in the first.

The White Sox continued to add on for Quintana as Kevan Smith and Engel each singled in runs in the third to give the 2016 All-Star pitcher a seven-run cushion. Engel finished with four hits and Smith tied a career high with three.

Davidson increased the lead to 8-0 in the fifth inning with a 427-foot blast off Craig Breslow, his 17th homer. Davidson also singled, doubled and walked. The White Sox scored once more in the seventh when Tim Anderson (two hits) doubled in a run off Breslow.

After they produced 22 runs of support for Quintana in his first 13 starts this season, the White Sox have scored 20 in his last two.