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Bears could target linebackers in draft

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Bears could target linebackers in draft

Bears draft trail of breadcrumbs leads to

General manager Phil Emery has been firm and consistent about maintaining a cloak of secrecy and cone of silence over Bears draft intentions. But in theater, action is character and in the NFL, action is revealing.

The signing of former San Francisco 49ers guard Chilo Rachal, the latest in an offseason replete with additions on offense (Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Devin Thomas, Eric Weems), is a small trail of breadcrumbs leading in the general direction of a first draft strike on the other side of the ball.

But not just anywhere on defense.

Cornerback was addressed with the signings of Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite. Safety was attended to with third-rounders in the last two drafts (Chris Conte, Major Wright) and that too is not a first-round need.

Emery is looking hard at veteran additions at linebacker in the days remaining before next Thursdays draft opening. ESPNChicago.com chronicled a Halas Hall visit by Washington Redskins veteran Rocky McIntosh, a player on the Bears radar for the past couple of years.

Also getting looks have been Zac Diles from the Houston Texans and Bryan Kehl from the St. Louis Rams, according to various reports.

The implication: Emery and the Bears see value in free agency and potential depth behind Lance Briggs, Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher. Sports Illustrateds Peter King also reported that the Bears brought in Alabama linebacker Donta Hightower

D-end games

But where the guest list for linebacker has been heavier with veterans, an equally strong parallel effort has been happening at defensive end with an eye toward the draft.

The Bears have done extensive checking out of Illinois Whitney Mercilus, whom more than one mock draft projects to be falling to the Bears at No. 19. South Carolinas Melvin Ingram was a visitor at Halas Hall this week, according to sources. And Syracuse edge rusher Chandler Jones was a previous interviewee for the Bears.

Ingram is not expected to last until the Bears turn comes, with a resume including 19 sacks over the past two years. Jones, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper rates behind only North Carolinas Quinton Coples and Ingram among ends, and Mercilus are juniors.

That makes for some difficulties in evaluations. Jones had 4.5 sacks in 2011 but missed five games with a knee injury. Mercilus had 16 sacks last season but only one in each of the previous two and if you go back to August, Mercilus wasnt even one of Illinois top five defensive linemen, Kiper said.

The juniors come out with a limited body of work, but sometimes that helps them because you cant shoot as many holes in them or find red flags. The guys that stay a long time, you find something that bothers you and youre picking them apart.

Fault-finding is traditionally the sport of choice in draft rooms over the last week before the draft. The Bears will be doing that with an eye toward having their preferences decided as their turn approaches next Thursday evening.

Are the Blackhawks preparing to keep Kirby Dach on NHL roster?

Are the Blackhawks preparing to keep Kirby Dach on NHL roster?

The Blackhawks will eventually have a decision to make on No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach, whose clock is officially ticking after he made his NHL debut over the weekend and scored his first goal in his second game two nights later.

The Blackhawks, as we know, can give Dach up to nine NHL games before having to decide whether they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract. Whether he makes it past nine games or not, if the Blackhawks don't feel like he's pro ready for the full season, the only other option for the team is to send Dach back to the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to CHL rules.

That being said, it appears the Blackhawks are at least preparing for the possibility that Dach could be kept on the NHL roster beyond the nine-game tryout this season.

TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Wednesday on NBCSN that: "You don't have to make a decision on this right now, so Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks won't, but if you twisted their arm and said you do have to make a decision, I think they're definitely leaning towards this guy being an NHL player this season."

The roster move the Blackhawks made earlier in the day indicates the organization is making sure it can afford Dach's services in case he does stay the whole season.

Connor Murphy was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) Wednesday with a groin injury, which means he'll be sidelined for a minimum of 10 games and 24 days. By putting him on LTIR instead of regular injured reserve, the Blackhawks get some cap relief and that’s noteworthy when you factor in Dach's potential performance bonuses that could reach up to $2.5 million.

When Dach was activated and recalled, the Blackhawks exceeded the 7.5 percent cushion in total amount of potential performance bonuses by $595,000, according to Cap Friendly. That number was then applied to the cap, which put the Blackhawks near the upper limit. So every dollar counts, considering the bonus money rolls over to next season's salary cap if there isn’t enough financial space at the end of the season to absorb the hits.

The other noteworthy item from McKenzie's report: The Blackhawks aren't too worried about burning the first year of Dach's entry-level contract. They're more-so looking ahead to the 40-game mark, which would put him one year closer to becoming an unrestricted free agent — a player must be 27 or older as of June 30 or accrue seven seasons to become a UFA, and hitting 40 games counts as a full season if they're on the NHL roster, injured or not.

The Blackhawks have said all along that there's no set plan on Dach's future and his performance will dictate what's going to happen. But the team is prepared for every scenario, and that includes keeping him past the nine-game tryout and 40-game benchmark.

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Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

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USA Today

Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Zach LaVine finally knocked down a 3-pointer, his only one of Wednesday night, pushing the Bulls ahead by 10 points with  6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the season opener.

The Bulls had rallied from a sluggish start, particularly at the defensive end, to take their second 10-point lead of the final quarter. Then, the wheels fell off.

The Hornets stormed back with a 15-1 run that featured all the elements that had defined the sluggish start---poor transition defense, lack of rotations to cover open 3-point shooters, more dribbling than passing offensively.

"We need to do a better job of executing down the stretch," coach Jim Boylen said. "When the ball sticks, we’re not as good a team. I thought the ball stuck a little bit at the end there. We gotta get good shots."

Consider this: The Bulls followed LaVine's 3-pointer with turnovers by LaVine and Coby White, who otherwise played well in his NBA debut with 17 points and seven asssists. Devonte Graham sank back-to-back 3-pointers around three point-blank misses by the Bulls, including Wendell Carter Jr.'s tip attempt of a missed driving layup by White. LaVine clanked two more 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. missed a 3-pointer. The Bulls inexplicably committed a shot-clock violation.

"We have to put the ball in our playmakers' hands," LaVine said. "I have to do a better job of commanding the ball, getting in pick-and-roll. Lauri had it going, put Lauri in the pick-and-roll. Spread them out. We’re playing up and down. I think we got a little bit too happy because that was our first time really getting into the game and playing like that. That’s how we want to play. At that time of the game, we can’t do that. We have to settle down. It really hurt us. We let them back into the game."

The Bulls slowed the bleeding by getting Markkanen to the line. He attempted six of his 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes, making five. But Dwayne Bacon sank the Hornets' franchise-record 23rd 3-pointer with 71 seconds remaining, which pushed their lead to four.

And then came the most curious decision of all. After Graham sank two free throws with 11.3 seconds left for a three-point lead, LaVine, with the Bulls out of timeouts, drove for a layup with 4.5 seconds left.

"I knew we were down by three. I was looking for the 3-pointer. That’s what I always look for," LaVine said. "Marvin Williams stepped out and they switched, so I knew there wasn’t that much time left so I had to get something. I knew they weren’t going to foul me at the rim, and if they did it could have been an 'and-1' opportunity. Just trying to get something and then play the foul game."

Instead, the Hornets inbounded the ball to the backcourt and killed the clock. Ballgame.

Boylen confirmed he had called two plays during the previous timeout, giving LaVine the freedom to make the decision on whether to shoot a 3-pointer or attack the rim.

"I mean we had something called, but at that time you’ve got to create," LaVine said. "I tried to go out there and make a play, got what I could. Give us a chance at the end, like I said, to play the foul game, get a steal, something like that. Just something where we’ll give ourselves a chance.’’

 Instead, the Bulls came up short.