Chicago Fire

Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

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Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The single biggest position battle in Bears training camp the competition between JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams for the starting left tackle job may already have a leader. Its just not evident, given that Webb and Williams have alternated and will continue to split time with the No. 1 offense.

It may not be appreciably more apparent when the pads come on for the first time at Saturday nights practice. The reason: The reps and drills are quizzes. They all count in the grade.

But the first real test comes Aug. 9 in a Thursday preseason game against the Denver Broncos in Soldier Field.

Games will be the biggest determinant of whether Webb or Williams open against Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts.

Once we get to the practice field, we take everything into consideration, coach Lovie Smith said. We videotape everything they do. Im talking about one-on-ones, all of that.

But yes, it comes down to how they perform in the game also.

The standard for determining the starter is simple:

Between those two we're looking for somebody that's consistent, said GM Phil Emery. That looks like a consistent starter, someone who can contribute to winning football.

In Webbs favor is that he has the traits that fit the job. He is 6-7, 333 pounds, an inch and 13 pounds bigger than Williams. The Bears view him as having the quick feet, range and temperament for a left tackle, where he started all 16 games last season.

He was the hood ornament for Bears offensive-line problems last season with his sacks allowed and penalties. But it was his first stint at the position at the NFL level, after starting at right tackle as a rookie, and the lockout meant that his first time at left tackle was the first day of training camp 2011.

I think he made progress, Emery said. Does he need to make more progress to be that guy that I said, that consistent starter so that when we lineup on Sundays we know that our left tackle is a consistent starting left tackle? Yes, he needs to make more progress.

Where Webb has started 16 games at left tackle and 12 at right, Williams has 11 games at right tackle and seven at left, the position he was drafted in 2008 to play.

Williams has managed to play all 16 games in just one of his four NFL seasons, vs. Webb, who was inactive the first two games of his rookie year and a starter in every one since then.

One undesired prospect is them both starting, but that is likely only if Gabe Carimi does not return adequately from his knee injury.

In the meantime, it is Webb vs. Williams on the field, beginning with Wednesdays team conditioning drills, and on film.

Every time we get an opportunity to evaluate the guys, were doing it, Smith said. It first starts with the conditioning test and from there, the type of shape they come in, meeting rooms, all of that. But then we take everything into consideration. I think in the end, we talk about competition and cant wait to get the roster set.

Normally players tell you exactly who should start and where you stack them on the depth chart. And thatll be the case this year.

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Injuries racking up and causing chaos for the Fire

It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed everything was breaking the Chicago Fire’s way.

The Fire’s 11-match unbeaten run from April into early July featured of plenty of impressive performances from the Fire, but also a few lucky breaks. Dallas rested most of its starting lineup when it came to Toyota Park, Atlanta brought its two best players off the bench when it played in Bridgeview, New England couldn’t get a result against the Fire despite pouring on 24 shots.

It seems that luck is evening out a bit. The Fire dropped a fourth straight game on the road on Wednesday in Montreal and, while sloppy play was evident for the second game in a row, a rash of injuries to the back line played a role in the loss.

Left back Brandon Vincent has been out since picking up a quad injury in the warmups before a July 5 game in Portland. Right back Matt Polster suffered a left knee injury this week in training and did not travel to Montreal. On top of that, Joao Meira, who was listed as questionable for the game with a calf injury, left five minutes in with an injury. That’s not a recipe for success.

Christian Dean, acquired by the Fire seven days ago, had to make his debut as an injury replacement five minutes into a game. His center back partner, Jonathan Campbell, was making his first start since April 8. Johan Kappelhof had slid over to right back to fill in for Polster.

The resulting chaos shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dean’s first touch as a Fire player was a clearance that he didn’t cleanly hit. Ignacio Piatti blocked it with his chest and was suddenly open in the box for an early goal.

A Matteo Mancosu penalty and an incredible curling shot from outside the box by Piatti within a minute of each other put the game away before the first half was over. It finished 3-0.

Injuries aren’t things that have good timing, but this definitely qualifies as poor timing as far as the Fire are concerned. Being shorthanded against a Montreal team that may be playing as well as it has all season wasn’t good. On top of that, the Fire host league-leading Toronto.

That game against Toronto had been circled by MLS fans as a meeting of two of the top teams in the league, but the Fire’s recent slide (four losses in the last five matches) has taken some of the luster off it. Toronto is six points ahead of the third-place Fire.

In one final note, Wednesday’s game was the first MLS start for 18-year-old Djordje Mihailovic. He played 82 minutes before being subbed out.

The last time the Cubs faced Homer Bailey, Anthony Rizzo became the face of the franchise

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AP

The last time the Cubs faced Homer Bailey, Anthony Rizzo became the face of the franchise

How's this for a #WayBackWednesday?

Homer Bailey — the Cincinnati Reds' starting pitcher Wednesday night — has dealt with arm injuries the last few years, meaning the last time he faced the Cubs was July 10, 2014.

The only holdover from that lineup three years ago is Anthony Rizzo:

The full lineup:

1. Chris Coghlan - LF
2. Arismendy Alcantara - 2B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Starlin Castro - SS
5. Luis Valbuena - 3B
6. Ryan Sweeney - CF
7. Nate Schierholtz - RF
8. John Baker - C
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Yep, that was Mr. Hendricks' MLB debut. He gave up four runs in six innings before a bullpen combination of James Russell, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Blake Parker shut down the Reds to give the Cubs a 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

But that's not all. 

That was the same day Anthony Rizzo tried to take on the entire Reds roster after Aroldis Chapman struck out Schierholtz with a 103 mph pitch close to his head:

Rizzo emerged as a leader that day, willing to take on an entire team to back his own roster and stick up for his guys. That was the year before the Cubs made the playoffs and to that point, Rizzo had only been a part of losing teams. But he put the Cubs on his back starting that fateful day in Cincinnati, the last time Bailey faced the Cubs.

Alcantara — who is now in the Reds system and was just outrighted to Double-A this week — had four hits and drove in three runs in that game while Valbuena drove in the winning runs with a two-out triple in the top of the 12th. The Cubs finished 73-89 in 2014 under Ricky Renteria, who got a World Series ring from the Cubs last month for all the work he did in 2014.

Since that day, the Cubs have ended their championship drought (obviously) thanks in part to Chapman and Rizzo has become the unquestioned face of the franchise and one of the top players in baseball.