Cubs

Deng continues to show off versatility

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Deng continues to show off versatility

CLEVELAND Bulls All-Star Luol Deng, the longest-tenured player on the team, is used to being utilized as a jack of all trades. Thats why on nights like Wednesday, when he struggled with his shot in the squads season-opening win over the Kings at the United Center, he doesnt panic.

Instead, he simply focuses on another weapon in his vast repertoire. In the victory over Sacramento, it was rebounding he snagged a dozen boards something he hopes to continue throughout the campaign.

I think I could help a lot in rebounding. I really want to focus on that. Last year, there were days that, with the schedule and everything, it was really tough, especially energy-wise, Deng told CSNChicago.com after the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. So, this year hopefully Ill have the energy and try to really focus on my rebounding.

Scoring will come. Its still early in the season. Im not worried about that at all. I will shoot the ball better, he continued. The first game is always the toughest, but its finding a way.

Deng could also be featured as a post-up scorer more, something displayed in the teams preseason finale, a win over Central Division rival Indiana. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has used the tactic sparingly in the past, but with Derrick Rose currently sidelined, showcasing Dengs versatility and using his 6-foot-9 frame against smaller defenders could work to the Bulls favor.

We did it some at the end of last year and I thought it was very good for us, so I want to try to take advantage of that more, Thibodeau explained. I want us to play inside-out. I think the more that weve done that, the more effective weve been.

Added Deng: I think it will definitely help me get to the line more also.

Being aggressive, getting easy baskets, but also getting to the free-throw line, especially when a team is in the bonus.

Deng isnt an isolation-based scorer, so even with the increased attention that will potentially be paid to him in Roses absence, he should still remain productive on offense. In addition to posting up, Deng has greatly improved his long-range shooting over the years, he has a potent pull-up game, crashes the offensive glass and scores in transition, but cutting off the ball has also developed into a real strong point for him.

When you cut the way he does, you can draw fouls and I think your team can take advantage of that because it gets you into the bonus earlier, so Ive been pleased with our ability to get to the free-throw line thus far and I want to continue to do that, Thibodeau said. Hes been around a long time and hes shown that each year, hes gotten better and better, and I think he and Rip have great chemistry together. Then, I think theyre understanding now, too, the more we play through the post and going to Carlos and Joakim, it sets up your cutting game even more effectively.

Luols added a lot to his game. Hes added the three-point shot, which makes people come up to him more and so, then he can put it down on the floor and now hes using his cutting to get into the post more, and hes a very good random cutter from the weak side, so he can score a number of different ways and thats sort of what his strength is, his ability to read how the game is going, what the defense is doing and to play off those things.

Eddie Olczyk delivers motivational message to Cubs fans

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Eddie Olczyk delivers motivational message to Cubs fans

Eddie Olczyk had a special message for the Cubbie faithful ahead of Game 5 of the NLCS.  

The Blackhawks’ color commentator passed along an inspiring message that was played on the Wrigley Field jumbotron right before first pitch:

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get up,” Olczyk said as North Siders cheered.

Olczyk’s motivational pep talk had extra meaning given that he’s in the midst of his own fight. The Chicago legend was diagnosed with colon cancer in August and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment ever since. His resilience is unmistakable, though. Olczyk returned to the broadcast booth this week and will continue announcing as his health allows.

Even with all that’s happening in his own life, Olczyk is still putting on for his hometown teams.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”