Cubs

Have the Bears built up back end of the roster?

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Have the Bears built up back end of the roster?

I had the great opportunity this past week to host a few shows with former NFL scout, coach, and executive Pat Kirwin on SiriusXM NFL Radio. It was a fact finding mission identifying which NFL teams have done the best job building up their roster to survive injury during the season. The Bears made our list with criteria diagnosed with Pats years of experience and a template most NFL General Managers follow for success.

Keep in mind the 2011 Bears season spiraled out of control due to quarterback Jay Cutlers injury at the most critical position on the field. I encourage CSNChicago.com readers to check out Pat Kirwins article at CBSSports.com. Pat breaks down his favorite roster builders this season. I briefly summarized the criteria below with comments how the Bears have addressed each:

1. Have backup quarterback who can go 2-2 if they had to play a month of the season.

The Bears have done just that with the signing of Jason Campbell who comes with wins and quality starting experience.

2. Have a second running back who can be a 1,000 yard back or at minimum generate 75 yards a week as runner or receiver.

The signing of talented runner Michael Bush will pay huge dividends for the Bears in 2012. Phil Emerys work may not be done if Matt Forte elects not to report for training camp. If Bush or Khalil Bell were to go down in pre-season with an injury, it could have disastrous consequences. Emery, most likely, has done his homework on experienced free agent RBs if one needs to be signed before camp. It will be done quickly, only if Forte withholds his services.

3. Have third wide receiver who can play if a starter goes down, who must average 4-6 receptions a week as an X (weak side receiver) or Z (strong side receiver).

The Bears may be featuring their most talented group of receivers in quite some time. Brandon Marshall can play X or Z and so can Earl Bennett. If either goes down to injury, rookie Alshon Jeffery would become the X and either of the aforementioned, moves to Z. Devin Hester becomes the slot in this scenario, plus the Bears also signed Devin Thomas who is a Z if they elect to keep Bennett in the slot where he has thrived in three WR sets. Chicago now has incredible depth at wideout.

4. Have second TE whos a legitimate threat as a blocker and receiver.

Finally, the Bears will be utilizing the talent at this position. Kellen Davis is very athletic at 67, 267 lbs. Second year tight end Kyle Adams looks the part, but inexperienced. Rookie draft pick Evan Rodriguez is more of a FBH-back type of player, not a true tight end, but is definitely a threat to catch the football.

5. Have two experienced backup offensive linemen. A swing-tackle for either side or an experienced inside player for guard or center positions.

The Bears have it all on the offensive line. Chicago is very versatile up front. Just think of Chris Williams, if right tackle Gabe Carimi or left tackle J'Marcus Webb were to go down, Williams has started at both positions, along with experience playing at left guard. Chris Spencer can play guard or center along with Roberto Garza. The offseason signing of Chilo Richal brings even more playing experience on the offensive line to go with snaps logged last year at guard and tackle by Lance Louis. Chicago has tremendous flexibility up front.

6. Have third defensive tackle that could play a whole game if a starter went down.

Between Stephen Paea, Matt Toeaina, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, and recently signed veterans like Chauncey Davis, and DeMario Pressley, there will be nice competition during camp. The depth is there.

7. Have a pass-rush specialist.

Julius Peppers is the guy, but a pass rusher opposite could reap the rewards of a ton of slide protection to Peppers side. The Bears believe first-round draft pick Shea McClellin is the guy. Also, Corey Wooten needs to come on strong because if both fail, Izzy will be kicking back up to defensive end.

8. Have a fourth cornerback if either starter at right, left, or nickel corner were to go down with an injury.

Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and DJ Moore have all been solid. Free agent Kelvin Hayden comes with a ton of experience during his days as a Colt in the exact same defense as the Bears. If Hayden performs even remotely as good as Jennings has, the Bears hit pay dirt again.

9. Have a third safety.

This position has been the Achilles' heel for the Bears for quite some time. Next on stage is rookie Brandin Hardin if Major Wright or Chris Conte get injured or falter. Love Craig Steltzs heart, but he is limited. This group has to grow up quick.

10. Have four core special teams players be able to fill in if starter goes down on offense or defense during a game.

Thomas, Hayden, linebacker Geno Hayes and Rachal all fit the bill as does Davis.

The Bears have met all criteria, but need No. 4 and No. 9 to come around and finally develop. The defense just needs to be the typical Bears defense. The special teams need to be who they always have been. The offensive accountability Mike Tice is shaping needs to take hold during the end of training camp and the first three weeks of the season. If this happens, the Bears can sustain and remain consistent through injury.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: