White Sox

Bears training camp capsules: Running back

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Bears training camp capsules: Running back

Seventh in a series

Forte-Bush blend gives Bears NFC Norths best run game

The last time the Bears had two running backs of the Matt Forte-Michael Bush caliber, they went to the 2005 playoffs and the 2006 Super Bowl with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. They didnt like each other but the Bears were a combined 24-8, getting 1,607 rushing yards and nine TDs in 2005 and 1,857 and 12 TDs plus some pass-receiving contributions.

Forte and Bush both have career averages of 4.2 yards per carry. Bush at 243 pounds has 15 rushing TDs the past two seasons, the same number as Forte for his career, and Forte caught 52 passes last season despite missing nearly five games with a knee injury. Forte also stands No. 2 in the NFL among running backs for sure-handedness, second-best in drop percentage behind on New Orleans Pierre Thomas among running backs, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

The Minnesota Vikings still have Adrian Peterson, pending his return from a season-ending torn ACL. But Petersons carries and yardage have declined each of the past three seasons and he is not the AP of three years ago. Peterson also ranks second-worst among running backs for dropped passes at 11.9 percent, per PFF.

It may indeed be a passing league but the Bears have positioned themselves to win with more than Jay Cutlers right arm.

I think you need to have two good backs, and we have two good backs, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Of course, we love Matt, and were excited about having Mike, and we like 25 Armando Allen, too. Were excited about our blend back there. We think that they all complement each other, and I think theyre all going to be able to find their niche and make big plays for us.

2011 in review

Forte was a disproportionate part of the offense before his injury early in the Kansas City game, earning his first selection to the NFC Pro Bowl squad and playing in the game (in case there were questions about the recovery status of his knee).

Forte finished with 997 yards and the best per-carry average (4.9 yards) of his career.

As they did with Kevin Jones and Chester Taylor in previous seasons, the Bears added what they thought was dependable depth in Marion Barber behind Forte. Barber did finish with six rushing TDs and 108 yards in the Denver game but his mental errors against the loss to the Broncos were so egregious that he played sparingly against Seattle and was inactive the final two games.

The wild card became Kalil Bell, himself a 100-yard rusher at Green Bay. But his fumbling remained a concern and Armando Allen was given a look in the Green Bay game when he average 3.6 yards per carry.

2012 training camp What to Watch

Depth charts
Running back: Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kahlil Bell, Armando Allen, Harvey Unga, Lorenzo Booker
Fullback: Tyler Clutts

Fortes appearance in training camp will be a daily story but ultimately the franchise back will report and play. His franchise tag guarantees him 7.74 million, or about 484,000 per game. And the calendar is not the friend of 26-year-old running backs.

Coaches are not expected to use Forte heavily through camp regardless of when he appears. Bush has used the minicamp time in Fortes absence to gain experience in the revised offense, a net gain for the Bears overall.

I do feel like I still have to earn the respect of the guys yet, though, Bush said. I haven't done anything yet, and won't until we really start playing football when we get to camp. Which is expected. You know what I'm saying: it's expected. And I'll do it. I'll do just that.

The No. 3 spot is a question. Bell is vulnerable because of fumbling. Allen showed some promise, is undersized at 190 pounds, but is a different type of back from Forte (218 pounds) or Bush (243). Unga missed all of last year with personal issues and was a supplemental draft choice at 237 pounds.

The second question is whether the Bears will carry a fullback. Clutts was a factor as a lead blocker and will play special teams as a blocker and part of coverage units.

Next: Quarterbacks

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.