Bulls

Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

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Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The single biggest position battle in Bears training camp the competition between JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams for the starting left tackle job may already have a leader. Its just not evident, given that Webb and Williams have alternated and will continue to split time with the No. 1 offense.

It may not be appreciably more apparent when the pads come on for the first time at Saturday nights practice. The reason: The reps and drills are quizzes. They all count in the grade.

But the first real test comes Aug. 9 in a Thursday preseason game against the Denver Broncos in Soldier Field.

Games will be the biggest determinant of whether Webb or Williams open against Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts.

Once we get to the practice field, we take everything into consideration, coach Lovie Smith said. We videotape everything they do. Im talking about one-on-ones, all of that.

But yes, it comes down to how they perform in the game also.

The standard for determining the starter is simple:

Between those two we're looking for somebody that's consistent, said GM Phil Emery. That looks like a consistent starter, someone who can contribute to winning football.

In Webbs favor is that he has the traits that fit the job. He is 6-7, 333 pounds, an inch and 13 pounds bigger than Williams. The Bears view him as having the quick feet, range and temperament for a left tackle, where he started all 16 games last season.

He was the hood ornament for Bears offensive-line problems last season with his sacks allowed and penalties. But it was his first stint at the position at the NFL level, after starting at right tackle as a rookie, and the lockout meant that his first time at left tackle was the first day of training camp 2011.

I think he made progress, Emery said. Does he need to make more progress to be that guy that I said, that consistent starter so that when we lineup on Sundays we know that our left tackle is a consistent starting left tackle? Yes, he needs to make more progress.

Where Webb has started 16 games at left tackle and 12 at right, Williams has 11 games at right tackle and seven at left, the position he was drafted in 2008 to play.

Williams has managed to play all 16 games in just one of his four NFL seasons, vs. Webb, who was inactive the first two games of his rookie year and a starter in every one since then.

One undesired prospect is them both starting, but that is likely only if Gabe Carimi does not return adequately from his knee injury.

In the meantime, it is Webb vs. Williams on the field, beginning with Wednesdays team conditioning drills, and on film.

Every time we get an opportunity to evaluate the guys, were doing it, Smith said. It first starts with the conditioning test and from there, the type of shape they come in, meeting rooms, all of that. But then we take everything into consideration. I think in the end, we talk about competition and cant wait to get the roster set.

Normally players tell you exactly who should start and where you stack them on the depth chart. And thatll be the case this year.

NBA Draft Tracker: Arizona C DeAndre Ayton

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Arizona C DeAndre Ayton

With college teams heading into conference play, momentum is starting to build for Arizona center Deandre Ayton as a potential No. 1 pick in next June's draft.

Ayton already has an NBA body at 7-foot-1, 250 pounds and he's a lot more agile than most young big men. Watching his recent game against Texas A&M, Ayton showed the kind of footwork and explosiveness that will impress scouts and general managers. He doesn't have the Hakeem Olajuwon-like moves of a Joel Embiid, but he's already got the basic NBA post move skill set, including a jump hook and up-and-under package. Ayton exploded for 29 points and 18 rebounds in a win over Alabama on December 9, making 12 of 18 shots.

Ayton is already a force on the defensive end with his quick leaping ability allowing him to alter shots in the paint, and he has a nice touch from the outside, hitting just under 70 percent of his free throws while also venturing out to the 3-point line to attempt a couple shots.

Where does he fit for the Bulls? Robin Lopez is under contract for another season and the Bulls also have three more guaranteed years of seldom-used Cristiano Felicio. Still, all that could change by season's end, with Lopez a potential trade candidate for a contending team looking to add another quality big man. Ayton's size and athleticism could be attractive to a Bulls’ team that's already identified three young starters going forward in Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, especially since the power forward position is overloaded right now with Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic. 

At this point early in the college season, Marvin Bagley and Ayton probably rank first and second on most teams’ draft boards, followed by Slovenian guard Luka Doncic and Missouri forward Michael Porter, who's out for the season because of a back injury. 

Bagley is the hot name among NBA scouts, but don't be surprised if Ayton gets consideration for the No. 1 overall pick next June. The NBA might be a point guard league right now, but the influx of quality young centers like Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic suggests the big man is still a valuable commodity.

For Mitch Trubisky, key ball security extends well beyond just third downs

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USA TODAY

For Mitch Trubisky, key ball security extends well beyond just third downs

John Fox has mentioned Mitch Trubisky’s third-down passing on more than one occasion, and not simply as a stroke of what his staff has done in the way of player development as a coaching decision of tectonic-plate degree looms. The fact is that third-down passing is a defining measure of an NFL quarterback; as Loggains stated, it’s where quarterbacks earn their money, and by extension, make it possible for a lot of other folks to earn theirs.

But it’s far bigger than only third downs. Case in point: Trubisky completed 25 of his 32 passes at Cincinnati. All of those passes came during the Bears’ first nine (of 11) possessions. Significantly, the Bears had at least one first down on every one of those possessions, and more than one on seven of the nine.

Meaning: The offense sustained drives and the defense was able to recover on the sideline. That would comprise two-thirds of “complimentary football” the way it’s designed.

(It also did not hurt that every drive on which the Bears didn’t draw a penalty, with the exception of the one ended by halftime, the Bears scored a touchdown. Probably just coincidence…but…maybe not…)

Putting all of this in the broader context of Trubisky’s development, the self-professed gunslinger has thrown zero interceptions in six of his nine games, none in four of the last five. That points to the rookie being schooled hard in ball security, something that has been a hallmark of quarterbacks under coordinator Dowell Loggains’ auspices. Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler in 2015 played with a level of ball security at or among the best of their careers.

Trubisky’s 1.8 percent interception rate overall is the larger point. As mentioned in this space and elsewhere previously, coaches aren’t going to “breed” Trubisky’s core aggressiveness out of him by drilling “ball security” into his head.

And while the concept is simple enough, implementing it isn’t. For all of his meteoric success before his season-ending knee injury, Deshaun Watson was being picked on 3.9 percent of his throws. Cutler has reverted to his career base course (3.2 percent) while Trubisky keeping his throws out of harm’s way percentage-wise better than all of Matthew Stafford (1.9), Russell Wilson (2.3), Matt Ryan (2.6) or Ben Roethlisberger (2.6).

Maybe it’s “generational:” Jared Goff (1.4) and Carson Wentz (1.6) seem to have been schooled the same direction. And how’s that working for them?

Marcus Mariota is having his worst (by his reckoning) NFL season, with 14 interceptions making him so testy that his Mom yelled at him for being grumpy to reporters while discussing his play.

Key to Bears defeating Detroit

The obvious is how well the offense and Trubisky control the football without turning the football over and without self-destructing with penalties that put them behind the sticks. It’s not a sure-fire formula; the Bears didn’t turn the ball over vs. San Francisco and had half the number of penalties assessed as the 49ers and still took incompetence to epic levels. But it is a foundation starting point.

Actually, it’s more than that where the Detroit Lions are concerned.

Detroit has lost three of the four games in which its opponents didn’t give them at least one turnover.    

Stopping the run is a standard “key,” but in the Lions case, they don’t run the ball much anyway. They are last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (76.3) and yards per attempt (3.3). Nine different individuals, including Jordan Howard, average more per game than the Lions. They did win the only two games in which they rushed for more than 100 yards (but those were against the Giants and Browns, so those don’t count).

But Detroit is 7-6 overall without any appreciable rushing offense. So stopping the run, while always a factor, isn’t necessarily a game-changer vs. the Lions.

Ball security is. Keeping Matthew Stafford off the field, as it is with most elite quarterbacks, is everything. Stafford is tied for second for taking sacks (39) and is even taking them at a concerning rate of one every 13 pass plays – statistically significantly higher than nearly every other top passer – and he is still passing to a rating of 97.9, good enough for No. 8 in the NFL.

So getting after Stafford helps. Stopping the run helps. Forcing takeaways helps. But the only element that directly correlates to upending the Lions is not so much creating turnovers as avoiding ones of your own.