Bears

Mark Sanchez can co-exist with Tim Tebow, right?

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Mark Sanchez can co-exist with Tim Tebow, right?

From Comcast SportsNet
FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey (AP) -- The message was the same from the New York Jets' two quarterbacks: We can do this. And, not only that, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow think they're going to have lots of fun along the way. A brewing quarterback controversy? Not if you ask them. "I think we'll have a great working relationship," Tebow told the sea of reporters at his introductory news conference on Monday. "We talked about that, just supporting one another in our roles. I'm excited about that opportunity. I think we'll have a great relationship and hopefully we'll be able to thrive together." Sanchez, meanwhile, was nowhere near the Jets' packed practice facility. He was home in California -- and didn't even watch Tebow smile his way through his first New York close-up. "I heard he did a pretty good job," Sanchez said on a conference call five hours later. "How did he do?" Well, Tebow handled himself just fine in the spotlight, a situation Sanchez has been accustomed to during his first three NFL seasons. "As the quarterback of the Jets, I'm getting wins for this team," Sanchez said. "That's my primary focus. If Tim is going to help us win, I'm excited about that." They've known each other for a few years, and Sanchez even hosted Tebow at the University of Southern California on a recruiting trip. "He's a very classy person with a lot of integrity," Tebow said. "He's also fun to hang around. I think our quarterback room will be a lot of fun." Sanchez was equally as complimentary, dishing out the praise for his celebrity backup. "He's such a good guy, people don't want to believe it," Sanchez said. "There's no such thing as that good of a guy, but he is. He's a great guy, a great competitor, and he's going to make a great teammate." Both quarterbacks said all the right things about themselves, each other and the goal they share. "I would give my whole heart to be the best Jet I possibly can be," Tebow said, "and help this team win football games." Added Sanchez: "Our team goal is what's most important, and that's winning." Sure, it all sounds good, but is it realistic? Consider that Tebow is a confident and polished rock star who has been a winner on the field. Oh, and he walks in as the Jets' most popular player, thanks to a huge contingent of fans who have followed him from the University of Florida to the Denver Broncos and now to New York. "I really don't feel like it will be too much of a distraction because I honestly will try not to pay too much attention to it," Tebow said. "The reason we're doing this today is because I have bosses, too, and they wanted me to stand up and talk to all of you. I can blame it on them because they made me do it." He laughed a few times, grinned throughout and went out of his way to dismiss any speculation that this could be one potential sticky situation. But make no mistake: Tebow is a competitor whose desire is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. His shortcomings are well-documented with his flawed mechanics, questionable decision-making and 46.5 percent completion rate last season. Tebow also has a resume filled with stirring comeback victories and a playoff win -- all last season with the Broncos. The game plan -- at least for now -- is to have Tebow serve as the backup to Sanchez, who coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum insist is the unquestioned starter. If Sanchez slips up or struggles, that's when the real test will be. After all, the Jets committed to Sanchez when they signed him to a three-year extension a little more than two weeks ago. Tebow is also going to have plenty of playing time, in all kinds of roles. And, if that comes from under center, that sounds good to him. "I think, first and foremost, I'm a football player first and then a quarterback, although that is my dream, that's what I want to be," he said. "But however I can help the team, however I can make a difference, however they can use me, I'll be open to it and work as hard as I can." Ryan has suggested that Tebow could see as many as 20 plays a game, a massive amount for a backup quarterback. That means Sanchez will have to head to the sideline for a good handful of those, and that's something that doesn't exactly excite him. But, also not looking to stir any controversy, Sanchez chose his words carefully. "It's well-documented that I'm not thrilled about playing wide receiver or coming off the field," he said. "But that's just how I'm programmed, and any quarterback is programmed like that. The way I feel about the wildcat really is secondary. I'm a team guy and I'll do whatever it takes to win. If changing a few things up a couple times a game is what we need to do, I'm totally on board."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”