Urlacher: Bears already better now than 2011

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Urlacher: Bears already better now than 2011

The overriding goal behind the hiring of Phil Emery to replace Jerry Angelo as general manager was to close any gap between the Bears and NFC North rivals Detroit and Green Bay.

To that end, Emerys first offseason has been a qualified success in the assessment of one player who has been both ahead of and behind the Lions and Packers during his Chicago career.

On paper were a better football team than we were last year at the end of the season, linebacker Brian Urlacher said Tuesday before he received his teams 2011 Ed Block Courage Award. We needed a receiver, we got a receiver.

And we still have the draft. All the pressure was taken off our draft with what hes done so far. So thats exciting that we might get the best player available.

Of course, 54 couldnt pass on the chance for a little dig at the doomsayers over the age of the defense in particular:

Maybe well get younger in the draft, he deadpanned.

Urlacher suggested that the offseason moves of adding wideouts Brandon Marshall, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems in addition to running back Michael Bush were the kinds of moves the team hadnt made in the past a little odd, given that the two best players on the team, Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers, were brought in with offseason moves, but a happy franchise player is always a good thing as a rule.

The 2011 season ended with Urlacher suffering a knee injury that would have finished him had the season gone on for the Bears. Urlacher is expected to do limited work in the early stages of the offseason program but was clear that all would be in order when it mattered.

Ive had so much time in the offseason to get it right and Ive got three, four months before the season, Urlacher said. When the time is right, Ill be ready to play. Im not worried about it. Its not an issue.

Cubs slug their way to impressive homestand

Cubs slug their way to impressive homestand

For the third straight year, the Cubs' season could hinge on an important series with the San Francisco Giants.

In August of 2015, the Cubs swept the Giants in a four-game set at Wrigley Field and they built off that momentum to win 97 games and make it all the way to the National League Championship Series.

Last fall, the Cubs rallied to beat the Giants in an epic comeback in Game 4 of the NLDS, essentially winning the World Series in that game, by Joe Maddon's opinion.

The 2017 Cubs have spent all year hovering around .500 before winning three of four against the Giants this week at Wrigley, looking more and more like the defending champs.

Thursday's 5-1 win over the Giants was the icing on top of an impressive 7-2 homestand that also featured a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds and a split in a rain-shortened series with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs are now 14-11 at home and 25-21 overall, having caught up to the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. 

They also flashed plenty of defense throughout the homestand, including Javy Baez's ridiculous play in the eighth inning of the series finale against the Giants:

Eddie Butler turned in another solid start, allowing just a run in five innings. Mike Montgomery faced one above the minimum in four innings of relief, inducing six outs on ground balls.

Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist delivered the offense with a solo homer each off former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Bryant and Anthony Rizzo added insurance by both scoring on a wild pitch (and subsequent error) in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Heyward's blast was his fifth of the season. He didn't earn his fifth homer of 2016 until July 29.

On the nine-game homestand, the Cubs found their offense, scoring 59 runs — good for 6.56 runs per game.

They also smashed 20 home runs, which is nearly a third of their season total (62). On the homestand, 45.7 percent of the Cubs' runs came via the longball.

Cubs enjoy 'Anchorman' road trip after big home stand: '60 percent of the time, it works every time'

Cubs enjoy 'Anchorman' road trip after big home stand: '60 percent of the time, it works every time'

Win or lose, the Cubs were always going to leave Wrigley Field on a good note Thursday evening.

Joe Maddon made sure of that.

The Cubs are set to leave "The Friendly Confines" dressed in "Anchorman" attire for Maddon's themed road trip that will include Kyle Schwarber dressed as fictional sportscaster Champ Kind, right down to the gallon-size hat.

"Champ's my guy," Schwarber said.

Maddon thought Schwarber was the perfect fit for Champ Kind.

"Of course he should be," Maddon said. "Isn't that a [John] Lackey kinda look, also?

"I just love that they're into it. It would've been perfect going to San Diego first, but I'll take it."

The Cubs are shipping out to Los Angeles for a weekend series beginning Friday before heading to San Diego - the site of Ron Burgandy's affection - from there.

The Cubs apparently even have some "Sex Panther" on board, the cologne that Paul Rudd's character used that smelled...shall we say...awful.

"Sex Panther's on board," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "I'm hearing a lot of good things about Sex Panther. 'Sixty percent of the time, [it works every time].' I wanna know who wrote that. That's brilliant.

"Of course, a win always makes it better, but even after a loss, it's a good way to just let 'er go. But I think everybody's embraced the 'Anchorman' very well."

Of course, the Cubs did win, beating the San Francisco Giants 5-1 to close out a 7-2 home stand.