Bears

McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

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McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

Lane Tech's Jack McLaughlin is a mix of contradictions. He is a North Sider who is a White Sox fan. He wears No. 24 because of Joe Crede, not Willie Mays. He is a pitcher with pinpoint control, not an overpowering fastball. And though he understands that baseball is his future, he won't disavow a commitment to his friends and teammates to play football."I always loved playing football and I made a commitment to both sports," he said. "I started at quarterback last year and the team looks to me to lead them. I plan on sticking with my commitment. It's a matter of honor. But I know my future is baseball."Lane Tech coach Dean Stavrakas appreciates McLaughlin's loyalty."He is one of the finest young men I've had the privilege of coaching. But if he really works hard this winter, he will be the best known name in Chicago as a senior," he said.Stavrakas wants him to beef up and skip football this fall. The thought of one of the best baseball players in the state running with a football against 300-pound linemen and 225-pound linebackers is a scary proposition."He wants to do it," the coach said. "I've been talking to him about not doing it. He should spend the off-season conditioning and trying to get a shot at a Division I college and the major leagues. Colleges are looking at him. If he threw 90 miles per hour, that would open eyes, too."McLaughlin doesn't register 90 mph on a radar gun yet. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander averages 82-84 mph. He plans to pitch every weekend this summer for Academy Elite. His goals are to add 6 to 7 mph to his fastball and add another pitch, maybe a slider or sinker, to his fastball, curveball and changeup."I want to add something that goes down and in to a right-handed hitter but looks like a fastball," he said. "I love the feeling of just making kids look terrible while I'm pitching. I like to dominate. I love when the ball is in my hand and everyone is looking at me to make a pitch. I like being the center of attention."McLaughlin can't wait for the 2013 season. Lane Tech closed its 2012 campaign with a 21-14 record, losing to Simeon 2-1 in for the Public League championship, and to Maine West 7-1 in the regional opener. Considering the Indians got off to a 3-9 start, they finished in a blaze of glory.Next year? McLaughlin returns with 20 other underclassmen, including designated hitter Mike Henry, center fielder Matt Delaney and first baseman Walter Nolan-Cohn.But 2012 could have been better. McLaughlin said the 2-1 loss to Simeon "summed up the whole year. There are no words to explain it. We worked hard all season for that game. But we just didn't pull it off," he said."I was happy with my performance. I gave my team a chance to win. But I tip my hat to (Simeon pitcher) Shane Brown, who pitched a great game, too. I have one regret, a 3-ball, 2-strike changeup in the first inning against Blake Hickman. I left it high and in and he hit it to left for a run-scoring double. It turned out to be the difference in the game."Next year's goal is to qualify for the state finals for the first time since 2001. With a new 4 million baseball stadium scheduled to be opened for the 2013 season, there is renewed excitement at Lane Tech. As a senior, McLaughlin hopes to re-establish the winning tradition and regain the respect that the program once commanded."I hope to attract interest (from college and major league scouts) over the summer," McLaughlin said. "I began to realize what my potential was last year, when I lost 2-1 to New Trier in the sectional semifinal. They were seeded No. 4 and we were seeded No. 14. They had Charlie Tillson, who was a major league draft choice. He was my only strikeout of the game."McLaughlin made an error on Tillson's bunt in the first inning. Tillson stole second and third and scored on a fly ball."They had no respect for us at all," McLaughlin said. "We stuck with them the whole game. Their pitcher is at Illinois. I was a sophomore and held my own. It said to me that I can do this at a high level. With our great tradition, teams should have more respect for us."McLaughlin finished with a 7-6 record and a 1.78 earned run average with
69 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 66 23 innings."He doesn't throw hard. The key is his control, down and in and down and away on everything, rarely high," Stavrakas said. "He has command of his fast ball, curveball and changeup. He can throw any of them at any time for a strike. If only he'd stop playing football and concentrate on baseball..."McLaughlin is listening.

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.”