WSCR visit: Urlacher future not dependent on Roach

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WSCR visit: Urlacher future not dependent on Roach

The state of Brian Urlacher now, a month from now, a year from now is the dominant story line through the Bears right now. It shouldnt be.

If it is inside the locker room, the Bears can probably forget the playoffs. Talking with Danny Mac and Ben Finfer (filling in for Matt Spiegel on Thursday) on The McNeil and Spiegel Show on WSCR-AM 670 at our weekly 10 a.m. slot, that conclusion suggested itself.

At some point, whether now or sometime over the offseason, its very possible that Urlacher will be done as a Bear. But that will be more a matter of economics what 54 thinks his value is vs. what the Bears believe it is than ability shortfall. And obviously whether or not Lovie Smith is back or a new coach is insistent on keeping that part of the defensive core.

As I said to the guys, its a mistake to measure Urlacher on a curve, what he was in times when he was an annual part of the debate over defensive player of the year vs. what he is now.

Right now he is just a very good linebacker. He leads the Bears in tackles. Teams that let leading tacklers (or for that matter, players at any position) walk either have a clear succession plan they want to implement (e.g., Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre in Green Bay) or making a money decision.

Nick Roach is part of the future and Lovie Smith told me on more than one occasion that Roach fits the template for middle linebackers in his defensive scheme. But are the Bears better with Roach at strong side and Urlacher in the middle, or Roach in the middle and Geno Hayes at strong side? Easy call.

At the right price.

All of this presupposes Urlacher healthy enough after his various physical issues (back, knee, hamstring) over the recent past. But a casual thought here is that if Urlacher plays at 10-15 pounds lighter, he gets back some mobility and lightens the load on his legs.

Folks within Halas Hall have told me that the Bears under Lovie Smith will not draft a middle linebacker. Theyll definitely draft speed linebackers, but Smith is of a mind that the scheme that he and Rod Marinelli have run since days with Derrick Brooks in Tampa fares better with runners vs. pluggers. Urlacher was simply a freak who can do both.

If Nick Roach proves what Smith has believed all along that he is a workable middle linebacker the Bears will have a Plan B at the ready, something every team craves. But if Plan A is still at the NFL level, it wont be idly cast aside.

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Yanni Gourde had a breakaway goal 4:25 into overtime and the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 on Monday night.

Victor Hedman set up the winner with his third assist of the game.

Tampa Bay, which trails Boston by a point for the second Eastern Conference wild card, also got two goals from Jonathan Drouin. Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman also scored, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who got pulled 14 minutes into the first after allowing three goals on eight shots, returned to the start the second and finished with 25 saves.

Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Tomas Jurco and Richard Panik scored for the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks, who were coming off a 7-0 loss Saturday night at Florida. Scott Darling stopped 25 shots.

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

MESA, Ariz. – After an impressive camp where he looked like the next homegrown Cubs hitter to roll off the assembly line, Ian Happ will go to Triple-A Iowa and get ready to make his big-league debut, or perhaps build his value for a trade-deadline deal.

Along with Happ, the Cubs assigned outfielder John Andreoli and catcher Taylor Davis to minor-league camp on Monday while optioning pitchers Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny to Iowa, cutting their roster to 31 as the Opening Night picture comes into focus.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – batted .417 with five homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 24 Cactus League games.

"Offensively, what was there not to like?" general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It's always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes."

Happ, 22, is a switch-hitter who can play second base and the outfield, skills that could help him escape from Des Moines once the need arises on the major-league level.

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs came to fully believe in the legend of Kyle Schwarber]

Though there are questions about Happ's defense, Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff clearly value versatility and trust young talent, moving Addison Russell to shortstop in 2015 and elevating rookie catcher Willson Contreras last season.

Stay tuned to see when/if the Cubs will have a spot at Wrigley Field, but Happ looks like he will be on a fast track.

"Whenever you're in Triple-A, you're always a call away," Hoyer said. "Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addie would be up in April of that year, and he was. I feel like with Willson last year, if you had asked me in spring training – would he be up in June? – I probably would have thought it would be more like a September call-up or something like that.

"You never know. Things happen. When you have good players in the minor leagues, sometimes it speeds up on you a little bit."