Bears

Samardzija getting rave reviews from Cubs

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Samardzija getting rave reviews from Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum had two words for all the skeptics who still think of Jeff Samardzija as the former Notre Dame football player, and remember his struggles at the big-league level.

Told ya, Sveum said, opening his Thursday morning media session.

The day before, Samardzija sliced through the Kansas City Royals lineup for three scoreless innings. The Cubs manager was raving about Samardzijas control and 91 mph cutters at Surprise Stadium.

I cant remember the last time Ive seen a power arm like that come into spring training and everythings been that crisp, Sveum said. He doesnt throw any scuds. Everythings at least somewhat where he wants it to be.

Its almost a waste of his time to go drive an hour. Its like he didnt even break a sweat. He was that good. Its an interesting dilemma were gonna (face) here in a few weeks.

Samardzija headlines a group Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood and Rodrigo Lopez among them competing for two open spots in the rotation.

Volstad went out and matched Samardzija by throwing three scoreless innings with one hit and three strikeouts in Thursdays 10-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners at HoHoKam Stadium.

More than 2,000 miles away, Carlos Zambrano was making his debut with the Miami Marlins (four outs, three runs, three walks, four strikeouts). The Cubs see Volstad and think he can be much more than the guy traded for Zambrano (or a guy with career 32-39 record and 4.59 ERA).

Volstad is 6-foot-8, 25 years old and a former first-round pick. He has been listening to pitching coach Chris Bosio, who thinks the Cubs can tap into that potential.

Its not really individual pitches or working on anything new, Volstad said. Its just how to use the stuff that I already have, (finding) a mental approach. (Its) getting inside their heads and thinking about hitters mindset and tendencies.

Mentally, Samardzija is in a different place. This offseason, while Chicago was caught up in the Theo Epstein hype, he lived in Arizona and quietly trained at the Cubs complex. A new front office would like to see him build off his breakout year as a reliever (8-4, 2.97 ERA) and develop into a frontline starter.

Theres room to grow. Sveum has indicated that its not necessarily a lock that Paul Maholm will be the No. 3 starter. (Maholm was sick early in camp and hasnt made a Cactus League appearance yet, but the left-hander has been on a regular throwing program and should pitch in a game within the next five days.)

Sveum wouldnt go so far as to say a starting job is Samardzijas to lose, but its hard to ignore the momentum.

He works out like a madman, Sveum said. Hes built to go 220, 230 innings, the whole package. Its a managers dream to have somebody like that.

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.

How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

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How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which among other things, means the IHSA football state finals are taking place.

NBC Sports Chicago has live coverage of the finals of all eight classes and is streaming every telecast, including surrounding pre/postgame coverage, to be made available to authenticated subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and via the NBC Sports app.

Check out the action taking place in Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday with the Class 1A final and concluding Saturday night with the Class 8A final and a special recap edition of High School Lites following the final game. Highlights from each of the games will be available on our website throughout the weekend.

The live streaming service is currently available to customers of Comcast/Xfinity, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse, Mediacom, RCN, WOW!, Time Warner Cable and Charter among numerous other carriers.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago is also available on numerous digital streaming services including DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, fuboTV, Sling TV, CenturyLink Stream, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV.  For a full list of carriers and more information about NBC Sports Chicago’s live streaming service, viewers are urged to visit nbcsportschicago.com/live-faq.

Here is the full schedule for the weekend's games and broadcast coverage:

Friday, November 24

LIVE NOW: Class 1A: LENA-WINSLOW (Lena) [13-0] vs. TUSCOLA [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 2A: GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY (Gibson City) [13-0] vs. MAROA-FORSYTH (Maroa) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 3A: IC CATHOLIC (Elmhurst) [12-1] vs. PLEASANT PLAINS [10-3]

7:00 PM – Class 4A: MORRIS [11-2] vs. ROCHESTER [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Saturday, November 25

10:00 AM – Class 5A: PHILLIPS (Chicago) [13-0] vs. DUNLAP [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 6A: PRAIRIE RIDGE (Crystal Lake) [13-0] vs. NAZARETH ACADEMY (LaGrange Park) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 7A: BATAVIA [12-1] vs. LAKE ZURICH [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

7:00 PM – Class 8A: LINCOLN-WAY East (Frankfort) [13-0] vs. LOYOLA ACADEMY (Wilmette) [12-1] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Further information is available at this link. Edgy Tim previewed each of the eight games here and has players to watch for the weekend.