Bears

Trades highlight wild first round of NFL draft

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Trades highlight wild first round of NFL draft

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Once the NFL draft got past quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it was like a day on Wall Street -- everybody wanted to make a trade. The wheeling and dealing started even before the Indianapolis Colts opened the proceedings as expected Thursday by taking Luck with the first pick and the Washington Redskins followed by selecting the young man known as RG3. Behind closed doors, general managers around the league were jockeying to position their teams to land the most coveted player on their draft board. When it was over, there were eight trades involving 12 of the league's 32 teams. It all started when Minnesota swapped its No. 3 choice for Cleveland's No. 4 pick. The Browns, who also gave up a fourth, fifth and seventh-rounder, desperately wanted Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The Vikings still got the guy they sought in Southern California tackle Matt Kalil. "Unfortunately, we had to make a little trade to secure the pick," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who later added quarterback Brandon Weeden with the No. 22 selection. "We knew as we went through the process that he was our guy and so we did what we had to do to secure it. "We had pretty good knowledge that there were teams behind that wanted him as well, so we gave up a couple of picks to make sure we got him. We're thrilled a bunch about Trent." The move allowed the Vikings to deal for another first-round pick, gaining the No. 29 spot in a trade with Baltimore and choosing Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. "That trade with Cleveland kind of set the tone for this draft, and us being able to do some things," Vikings GM Rick Spielman said. "That was a huge, huge thing to get done right before the draft started. The Jaguars, Cowboys and Eagles also traded up, and the Patriots did it twice to select players they wanted. Credit the rookie wage scale for so much buying and selling, with GMs making last-minute moves knowing that extravagant salaries for top picks have been replaced by a compensation plan. There were no such concerns for Indianapolis and Washington. Stanford's Luck heads for Indianapolis and the burden of replacing Peyton Manning, who won four MVP awards and a Super Bowl. Baylor's RGIII answers the call in Washington, where he will try to soothe a devout but highly critical fan base. "You don't really replace a guy like that," Luck said. "You can't. You just try to do the best you can. He was my hero growing up." His selection as the top pick was hardly a stunner. The Colts informed Luck last week that Commissioner Roger Goodell would announce his name first. "I realize you could go crazy trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day. That would be an insane way to live," Luck said. "I know his legendary status, really. Huge shoes to try and fill if you're trying to do that. ... If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the football greats, that would be a football dream come true." To get Griffin, Washington had dealt a second-round pick this year and its first-rounders in 2013 and 14 to St. Louis to move up four spots. They wound up with the QB that beat Luck for the Heisman Trophy for college football's best player. RG3 sang the team's fight song during a conference call: "Hail to the Redskins! Hail vic-tor-y!" Griffin said. "That's how I felt. It felt that good." After Minnesota took Kalil, Jacksonville jumped up two spots to No. 5, trading with Florida neighbor Tampa Bay to get Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the top receiver in this crop.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

Rotoworld and NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris joins the Fantasy Football Fix Podcast to discuss if Derrick Henry's time in Tennessee has finally arrived. Plus, the CSN Fantasy crew analyzes which players you should sell high on and who you should target in midseason trades.