Cubs

Melton's pass rush shows promise and concern

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Melton's pass rush shows promise and concern

The Bears have typically taken care of extending contracts for players deemed key in their future. Henry Melton is entering a contract year and has not gotten a new deal yet despite playing perhaps the most pivotal position in the Bears defensive scheme.

It could yet happen but Melton has an idea why it hasnt, and hes not frustrated. Yet.

No, not yet, Melton said. I still have a lot to prove for this defense, and I do want to show that I am the guy of the future for this defense.

He hasnt necessarily shown that yet. Flashes, yes. But the guy? Not yet.

The reasons why the Bears were and are so high on Melton as an impact three-technique were apparent in his seven sacks for 2011, his first year as a starter.

The reasons why coach Lovie Smith publicly called him out a bit during the season are apparent as well.

Melton fares reasonably well on ProFootballFocus.coms analysis of pass-rush performances by interior defensive tackles for the past three years. He ranks 16th in PFFs list of most productive interior rushmen, based on his sacks, hits and hurries for his 678 pass-rush snaps, most of those last year in his first as a starter.

PFF counts hits and hurries as three-quarters of a sack as a way to look at total pressure brought, not just sacks themselves. Those are eventually divided into the number of pass-rush snaps and multiplied by 100 to produce a ranking number.

What makes Meltons work interesting is that it represents promise but also a concern.

Melton moved from running back to defensive end at Texas and from end to tackle with the Bears. His play in 2011 was streaky and that is not good enough for what his position demands in the Bears scheme.

Meltons combined 56 pressures equate to one every 12.1 snaps less than one per six-play possession, for example. By comparison, San Franciscos Justin Smith registers one impact every 8.5 snaps. Geno Atkins posts one every 9.1 snaps for Cincinnati.

Not simply because of these players, obviously, but San Francisco was the No. 4 yardage defense last season. Cincinnati was No. 7. Antonio Smith was No. 3; his Houston defense was No. 2 in yardage defense. Philadelphia, where Cullen Jenkins ranked No. 4 on PFFs list, was No. 8.

The Bears were No. 17.

One curiosity: Detroits Ndamukong Suh ranked nowhere on the list.

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Even his teammates are having a hard time wrapping their minds around Javier Baez, the farmer.

Anthony Rizzo asked the flashy infielder before one of the panels this weekend at Cubs Convention, “What is it you do exactly? Feed chickens?”

The exchange garnered a good laugh from the crowd, but let’s be honest: only Baez could make feeding chickens look as cool as feeding a double play ball at Wrigley. Having asked at least 10 different Cubs players this weekend which teammate has the most swag, it was always Baez. And there was never any hesitation. 

Like the bling that hangs around his MLB logo-tatted neck, Baez dazzles on the field as well. His tags are a thing of beauty. You can just imagine young ballplayers around Chicago imitating the swipe, much like a Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. Whether manning second or short, the 25 year-old All-Star has become a must-see defensive player.

Last season Baez took over at shortstop as Addison Russell dealt with a strained right foot/plantar fasciitis problem. In 30 games Baez thrived at his natural position, so much so he left some wondering if the Cubs would consider flipping Russell back to second base.

Baez has the more traditional, powerful shortstop arm, but Theo Epstein will tell you when you look at Russell’s defensive rankings compared to other shortstops, he’s a special player in his own right as well.

One thing’s for sure: the Cubs are fortunate to have that kind of depth up the middle. Joe Maddon made it clear last September that without the play of Baez, it’s doubtful the team would have been in position to clinch the division.

“We have two legitimate shortstops," Maddon said. "It’s very unusual to have that.”

Sure, a great problem to have. But how does it play out for the Cubs when all is said and done?

Does Baez take over at short with Russell moving to second, or is it Maddon having a tough conversation with Ben Zobrist and plugging No. 9 in as his everyday second baseman? There's Ian Happ, too. Is he the Cubs' second baseman of the future with Russell/Baez being the trade chip that lands a frontline starter?

All viable options, but just for fun in the video above we put Baez on the spot at Cubs Convention and asked him: Are you a shortstop playing second, or a second baseman playing short?”

He flashed a big grin and said a second baseman playing short. In other words, he gets it.

His bling doesn’t blind him from being a team player. "El Mago," the magician, knows his time is coming. A process that will begin in a few weeks when the Cubs report to Mesa.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?