Baez earns weekly honor


Baez earns weekly honor

Javier Baez is beginning to make a name for himself.

The Cubs' 2011 first-round draft pick is in the midst of his first full season of professional baseball and is off to a hot start with Low-A Peoria.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound shortstop was named the Midwest League Player of the Week from the July 9-15 period, becoming the first Chiefs position player to earn the accolade since late 2009.

Over the course of the week, Baez collected 11 hits in 23 at-bats (.478 average) to go with seven extra-base hits (three homers, two doubles, two triples), six RBI, five runs and two stolen bases.

On the season, the 19-year-old has put up a slash line of .331.394.581 (.975 OPS) with eight homers, 21 RBI, 27 runs and 16 steals in 19 tries. His walk:strikeout ratio of 7:33 leaves a little bit to be desired, however.

The Bears have issues moving the ball downfield. But what – or who – is the key to fixing that?

The Bears have issues moving the ball downfield. But what – or who – is the key to fixing that?

The Bears have a big play issue. 

They had a big play issue last year, when they finished 29th in the league in plays of 20+ yards (39). It wasn’t a lack of trying, either – per NFL’s Next Gen stats, in 2018, Mitch Trubisky ranked 10th in the NFL in Intended Air Yards (IAY), with an average of 8.8 per attempt. However, when it came to Completed Air Yards (CAY), Trubisky came in 15th (6.0). 

It doesn’t tell the whole story – and there’s probably a decent case to be made that some of Trubisky’s deep ball troubles are overstated – but what the stats don’t cover, the eye test does: through the first two games of Nagy 202, the offense isn’t any more explosive than it was last year. In fact, it's probably even less so. 

“We need to make more plays period,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “And that's on all of us…” 

It may be on everyone, but it starts with Trubisky. Through two games, the third-year QB is averaging roughly the same IAY (7.9). The problem, though, is that he’s averaging almost two yards less per completion (4.0) this year. His Average Air Yards Differential (AYD) is -3.7, which is the third-worst in football. The only ones higher are Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

All in all, it’s just a fancy way of saying that Trubisky’s struggling to make big plays happen with his arm. But if teams are going to see how Green Bay and Denver sat their safeties back and dared him to throw the ball downfield, how do you adjust to that?

“There’s plays in your playbook to go after the Cover 2 safeties,” Matt Nagy said. “You gotta be able to run the ball. When they have less guys in the box, they have seven guys in the box, you gotta be able to run the ball. So, that’s answer number one, and any coach will tell you that.

“Then the second part is being able to protect -- they’re in Cover 2 for a reason, they’re protecting the shots down field. There’s ways to scheme it and if they take away the deep balls, you go ahead and you hit the intermediate throws.” 

Those intermediate throws are where receivers not named Allen Robinson come into play. As of Friday afternoon, Taylor Gabriel has three receptions on the season. Anthony Miller has one. Getting those guys involved – and not having to count on Robinson’s 13 yards per reception to get you down field – will be how the offense unlocks some more of the potential those around Halas Hall have been talking up all offseason. 

“It's kind of always an early season deal where hey, these two guys are doing something, what about these guys, what about that guy,” Helfrich added. “I think that'll all come. I think [Miller] from a mental standpoint in this last game did a great job. He ended up playing a lot of reps and played well.” 

Bears' Nick Williams goes from out of NFL to critical next man up with Bilal Nichols out

USA Today

Bears' Nick Williams goes from out of NFL to critical next man up with Bilal Nichols out

Nick Williams was drafted six years ago, made his NFL debut a season later and found himself out of football in 2017. Needless to say, the 29-year-old defensive lineman’s path to his first career sack — which came in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos last week — wasn’t exactly easy or straightforward. 

The Bears needed Williams as a next man up when defensive lineman Bilal Nichols broke his hand in the first half of Sunday’s game in Denver. The 30 defensive snaps he played tied a career high, set last year while playing for the Bears against the Buffalo Bills (it was one of only two games for which Williams was active in 2018). 

While Williams may not have been known to Bears fans outside of the die-hardiest of the die-hards before Sunday, he’s established himself as a popular figure inside the locker room at Halas Hall since being signed off the street prior to the 2018 season. 

“That’s my boy,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “You have teammates and friends and then you have lifelong friends, and I feel like Nick is one of those guys just because he has this positive energy that never stops. He’s a hard worker, so if I ever want to get an extra workout in I know who to look at. 

"… He’s a great football player and a great teammate. I think that adding him to this room, this defensive line room, two years ago was a big step in how well we’ve developed.” 

“He’s worked his butt off,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “He’s in amazing shape. The guy doesn’t stop working. He’s a beast. His work ethic is second to none.”

“He’s a guy who lives in the weight room, who studies Akiem and is definitely a student of the game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. 

Players have come to notice just how hard Williams works even when opportunities may not be coming his way. This is a guy who, again, was only active for two games in 2018, yet earned his way on to the Bears’ roster in 2019. He’s the ultimate representation of the next man up mantra that every football team uses, as someone who continually puts in the work necessary to be ready if called upon. 

And that work paid off when the Bears needed Williams to take on a larger role in their defensive line rotation on Sunday. 

“Nick’s the type of guy that you want on your team,” Daniel, who counts Williams as one of his closest friends, said. “He just works so hard, so guys see that and can emulate it, especially young guys know that, hey, listen, I don’t care what round I’m drafted, I don’t care if I’m a free agent, whatever — as long as I work hard, put my head down, the chips will fall as they may. All I can do is put my best foot forward and take advantage of opportunities as they’re given, and he’s done all of that.”

The Kansas City Chiefs released Williams in October of 2016, and he caught on with the Miami Dolphins in 2017 only to be cut before the start of the season. No team came calling for him after he was released that year, and he didn’t sign with the Bears until mid-April — over a month after the league’s free agency window opened. 

Williams said he never lost hope that he’d get another opportunity, even if he knew a time would come where he’d have to make a decision on if he’d ever play football again. 

“You start sensing it,” Williams said. “You start sensing it from your friends and family, they’re kind of like ‘okay, Nick, you need to keep — you need to move on, you know what I’m saying?’ Nah, I always knew there was another opportunity out there for me and I just believed it.”

The Bears will need Williams to keep taking advantage of his opportunity in at least the immediate future. Nichols isn’t expected to be placed on injured reserve, but the Bears haven’t determined if he’ll be able to play with a club on his broken hand (as outside linebacker Leonard Floyd did in 2018). 

Williams said he feels like an ideal fit for what the Bears want out of their defensive linemen — he’s an adept run stuffer who feels he can get after the quarterback, especially after finally notching his first career sack. And there isn’t doubt inside the Bears’ locker room that Williams will be up to the task. 

“His mental fortitude is just out of this world,” Daniel said. “He never, ever for a second as long as I’ve known him doubted that he’d be back in the league — not only be back in the league but playing well. And last year he made the squad but he was inactive a lot, didn’t really get to show what he had and sort of knew. He balled out in preseason. He’s playing really well right now.” 

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