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Bears could target linebackers in draft

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Bears could target linebackers in draft

Bears draft trail of breadcrumbs leads to

General manager Phil Emery has been firm and consistent about maintaining a cloak of secrecy and cone of silence over Bears draft intentions. But in theater, action is character and in the NFL, action is revealing.

The signing of former San Francisco 49ers guard Chilo Rachal, the latest in an offseason replete with additions on offense (Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Devin Thomas, Eric Weems), is a small trail of breadcrumbs leading in the general direction of a first draft strike on the other side of the ball.

But not just anywhere on defense.

Cornerback was addressed with the signings of Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite. Safety was attended to with third-rounders in the last two drafts (Chris Conte, Major Wright) and that too is not a first-round need.

Emery is looking hard at veteran additions at linebacker in the days remaining before next Thursdays draft opening. ESPNChicago.com chronicled a Halas Hall visit by Washington Redskins veteran Rocky McIntosh, a player on the Bears radar for the past couple of years.

Also getting looks have been Zac Diles from the Houston Texans and Bryan Kehl from the St. Louis Rams, according to various reports.

The implication: Emery and the Bears see value in free agency and potential depth behind Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher. Sports Illustrateds Peter King also reported that the Bears brought in Alabama linebacker Donta Hightower

D-end games

But where the guest list for linebacker has been heavier with veterans, an equally strong parallel effort has been happening at defensive end with an eye toward the draft.

The Bears have done extensive checking out of Illinois Whitney Mercilus, whom more than one mock draft projects to be falling to the Bears at No. 19. South Carolinas Melvin Ingram was a visitor at Halas Hall this week, according to sources. And Syracuse edge rusher Chandler Jones was a previous interviewee for the Bears.

Ingram is not expected to last until the Bears turn comes, with a resume including 19 sacks over the past two years. Jones, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper rates behind only North Carolinas Quinton Coples and Ingram among ends, and Mercilus are juniors.

That makes for some difficulties in evaluations. Jones had 4.5 sacks in 2011 but missed five games with a knee injury. Mercilus had 16 sacks last season but only one in each of the previous two and if you go back to August, Mercilus wasnt even one of Illinois top five defensive linemen, Kiper said.

The juniors come out with a limited body of work, but sometimes that helps them because you cant shoot as many holes in them or find red flags. The guys that stay a long time, you find something that bothers you and youre picking them apart.

Fault-finding is traditionally the sport of choice in draft rooms over the last week before the draft. The Bears will be doing that with an eye toward having their preferences decided as their turn approaches next Thursday evening.

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

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USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.