Bears

Sheer Madness

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Sheer Madness

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Its that time again when something takes over your brain and you start obsessing and doing crazy things. Spring is definitely in the air. Um, I mean summer. Im not one to complain, (I heard that!) but I guess a winter without winter should only mean that were going to be en fuego (Bi-lingual in the fourth sentence. Boo-ya! Tri-lingual?) this summer, so why not just get on with it? Ah, the mysteries of Mother Nature.

The early heat wave is definitely having an effect. I mean that would explain Blago on his doorstep wouldnt it? I could go on for days on that one, but the word I would keep getting back to would be sadness. A Blago line is always good for a laugh at the bar, but right now its an awkward one. Blagos on his way to a new residence, but hell always live on a river in Egypt.

And speaking of denial, theres the Bears signing of Brandon Marshall. What a tangled mess that is, and is going to be. For some reason, in the NFL, if you line up outside the numbers, on either side of the ball, you just seem to be more prone to issues, or at least thats the perception. Especially on the offensive side -- thats where most of the NFL divas reside. It has come to light that in Marshalls case, at least partially, this is due to his having Borderline Personality Disorder. I would never make light of a psychiatric disorder, but I would also argue that he has been coddled and enabled. That happens when you can generate millions of dollars in your profession and become a cash cow for all those around you and your performance on the field is so beneficial, that a blind eye will be cast off it.

According to news reports, while he lived in the Denver area, police were called to his residence 11 times in 2 years. As I glanced at some of the TV sets while I was working on Tuesday evening, SportsNet Central had a list of his transgressions with the law that covered the full screen, to go along with his football highlights. The coverage in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday put them in a nice, neat timeline for us. Some would call these big red flags! But the rest of the coverage is devoted on the gamble that the Bears are taking by acquiring, and thus taking responsibility for, their long needed downfield playmaker.

Is this a case of selling your soul for something you covet? On my own personal rooting level, I watched my Eagles forget about everything they believed in to take their shot with Terrell Owens. You might have heard how that turned out.

Im among those who marvel at Marshalls athletic ability. I just wonder what it says about all of us that we want to see him perform no matter what the cost. For the Bears, lets hope this is not another opportunity to master the art of spin or damage control. While I believe everyone deserves the right to seek proper treatment and lead a productive life, why do I feel like this is not the priority here?

And in another dont believe everything you see case, there is the Bulls win against the Heat on Wednesday night at the United Center. The story of beating the Heat without Derrick Rose is irresistible. Once again, lowered expectations turned into something wonderful -- do you hear me Cubs and White Sox fans? When it was announced that Rose would not play, all of us at the bar were bummed out. The later than usual start had added to our anticipation and enabled some of those in attendance to fully enjoy their pregame activities.

Once the game began, and the short-handed team showed their unyielding will, the enjoyment level was as high as it could be until the taught, frantic end as the indomita-Bulls held on to win. John Lucas III had the game of his life. My comment was, Well I guess we can forget about any additions at the trade deadline," -- and everyone was in agreement. They beat them without Rose, (and Rip Hamilton, but does anyone really believe that he can stay healthy enough to be a factor this year? I dont.)

Why do they need anything else? Weve seen this before -- last year as a matter of fact. The Bulls have had a problem staying healthy all year and with Hamilton and Luol Deng nowhere near 100 percent, do you really believe they have a chance in a seven-game series vs. Miami? My heart wants to tell me yes, but when the Heat are on their game, I dont think there is a team in the NBA this year that can stay with them. I hope we get a chance to find out and for once, Im wrong. (Sorry. Sometimes, it is necessary to make myself laugh while I write these. Sarcasm my friends, gotta love it!) Either way, how can you not love watching what this team brings to the gym every night?

And I would be remiss if I didnt talk about whats going to drive me crazy all weekend. No, not people acting Irish. Thats actually become a little entertaining for me, although Saturday is going to be a looooooong night. The real fun is looking around on Sunday to see who had the most damage inflicted. Oh, to be young again. Of course, what Im really talking about is the fate of my bracket as we head to the Sweet Sixteen. Those of you who know me, or have read here before, know what a tortured process this has become for me. Back in the day, I actually believed that the more I knew, the better off I would be. I actually remember winning some cash. But eventually that process just twisted me into a pretzel as I tried to make a case for each entry. That was a lot of work for not a lot of results.

You have to love when a game is much closer than anyone would imagine, an upset in the making, then the lower seed runs out of steam, loses a close one and those who blindly picked the favorite won, getting no demerits for style points. Deciding to join them, I became Chalk Boy for a while, but whats the fun in that? I love upsets. Besides, theres always that one guy who will out-chalk you and win, or, inexplicably decide to pick all chalk and one surprise that hits, and they win. What the?

So this year, I tried another new tact. Admittedly, due to the lack of college basketball interest around Chicago, I didnt really go overboard with the college hoops. Wasnt all of the buzz about conference realignments? This year was enough to make Newt yawn. He did? Why didnt someone wake him up? (Again with the humor!) So this year I decided to soak in what I could, wait until the last minute, and let er rip. Honestly, how bad could it be? If it doesnt work, next year Ill let my soon-to-be teenage daughter pick them. Yup, Im that close to rock bottom.

Anyway, I ended up with a Final Four of Kentucky, Kansas, Vandy and Mizzou, with the Jayhawks beating the Wildcats for the title. Thats a 1, two 2s and a 5-seed. A mans bracket! A man whos about to lose his entrance fee! Oh well, as long as Kentucky loses. I had them lose at the end because it hurts more. Like they say, its a time for madness. Its out of our hands, right coach Cal?

Remember to designate a driver on St. Pats. Arrive alive!

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.”