Cubs

Bears working out the kinks as camp opens

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Bears working out the kinks as camp opens

Overall, the Bears first training camp practice was a typical first day: sloppy! Its unacceptable for coaches and players, and frustrating for fans, but its to be expected. The players havent practiced together for over six weeks. Give it a few days and some initial sloppy play will start to clean up.

Simple things like quarterback-center exchange, offsides and dropped passes were the culprit Thursday. These letdowns typically result from players who are more focused on beating their assigned defender rather than accomplishing the totality of their assignment.

For example, yesterday there were three or four fumbled snaps. The center had a reach block, where he had to snap the ball and then wall off the defensive tackle who already out leveraged the center by defensive alignment in the A-gap (gap between center and guard). It is a very difficult block where most right-handed snappers tend to leave the snap short because they have to snap the ball then bust tail to get hand position with their right hand to the outside armpit of the defensive tackle. It is even harder if the defense tackle is slanting away at the snap of the ball.

Dropped passes normally are a lack of concentration, but yesterday you could physically see the receivers focusing on their route stems to set up the cornerbacks and safeties. Precision route-running is fundamental technique, but they have to finish their assignment by catching the ball coming out of their breaks. When the stem isnt correct, it throws off the timing of the route when the receiver expects the ball. Both Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell were communicating constantly with the wide receivers after every play in one-on-ones versus defensive backs and also during team period. It wasnt entirely the fault of the receivers; the quarterbacks were to blame also. Timing routes will take time to perfect.

Everyone knows the left tackle position is going to be a battle. JMarcus Webb quickly found that out when he jumped offside during practice that Chris Williams will be coming in the very next play. A little pressure never hurt anyone. If Webb cant handle competing for the job with no pads, then how is he going to handle the pressure of a meaningful game when its all on the line for the Bears? Every training camp snap matters for each of these two players and why the smallest mistake will get you replaced the very next play. The Bears coaches want perfection. Whichever player grades out higher will be the starting left tackle out of camp. In Webbs defense, he was flying off the ball to kick out block Julius Peppers, who had better position than Webb on the play called. Webbs eagerness is commended, but the penalty is not. The coaches will ride both Webb and Williams to get it right.

Saturdays practice will be the first practice in pads. Fans will enjoy the hitting, but the sloppiness will continue as the players adjust and settle back into what will be their normal working environment. The Bears must clean up this routine if they have hopes of playing in February.

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

Smiling came easy for Anthony Rizzo as stood at his locker and fielded questions in a robin-egg blue T-shirt that read: "positive vibes."

This was roughly a half-hour after he went through the high-five line telling all his teammates the 12-11 victory was a "season-defining win" for the Cubs.

Who knows if it will really be that big of a "W" for this ballclub in the midst of what has been an up-and-down season to this point, but there has certainly been no shortage of positive vibes around the clubhouse lately.

One thing's for certain: The Cubs will wake up Thursday morning in sole possession of first place again as the Cardinals lost to the Brewers in a rain-shortened game in St. Louis.

Yu Darvish and the Cubs bullpen squandered a 6-2 lead and then a 10-9 lead. Yet the offense picked up the slack, smacking 14 hits, including Kris Bryant's game-winning two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"We haven't won a game like that really all year, I don't think," Rizzo said. "They scored 9 runs in the fifth to seventh innings. Teams don't really win when that happens. Just a good, hard-fought, never-quit win."

Rizzo is right: The Cubs haven't won a game in which they allowed at least 11 runs since Sept. 2, 2017 when they beat the Braves 14-12.

The Cubs have claimed 14 of 17 games at home since the All-Star Break and are now 43-19 at Wrigley Field this season - a winning percentage approaching .700 to combat the .390 winning percentage on the road.

So is it a season-defining victory?

"That's what Rizz told me," Bryant said. "We were high-fiving there and Rizz told me this is a season-defining win. I mean, I can't disagree with him. It's one of those games where you don't feel like you're gonna win just because you take a lead and then you're giving it back, but we came out on top. 

"Definitely some good momentum. We're playing good at home here, obviously and just gotta roll with the records at home and on the road."

Early on, it looked to be a night where the Cubs would cruise to victory behind Darvish, who came into the game red-hot and had settled into a rhythm after serving up a two-run shot to the third hitter of the game.

But that wasn't the case, as Darvish served up four homers overall and Derek Holland and Tyler Chatwood combined to allow 4 runs while notching just two outs as the first arms out of the bullpen.

Before the game, Joe Maddon talked again about how he felt like the only way the Cubs would be able to pull away in a tight NL Central race would be if the offense got into a groove and for one day at least, they were certainly firing on all cylinders.

The only starter who didn't reach base safely at least twice was Kyle Schwarber, and he drove in 3 runs on a homer and a groundout in which he hustled down the line to avoid a double play. Darvish even chipped in with an RBI single in the second inning.

Yes, it was a good win. Yes, the Cubs can go to sleep feeling content and wake up feeling hopeful.

But the only way this becomes a "season-defining win" is if the next five weeks play out like they hope. There have been several wins before Wednesday that seemed like they could propel the Cubs - including the finale in Cincinnati on the last road trip where Bryant once again came through with a clutch late homer. And every time, the team failed to keep the good times rolling for an extended period.

This is all a moot point if the Cubs come out and look flat this weekend or fail to carry any momentum onto the road.

"We'll find out," said Maddon, who has been in this game for nearly four decades. "I mean, I've been involved in those seminal moments and all of a sudden, things switch. 

"I'll tell you one thing though - I liked the method at the plate. Nobody was grinding sawdust; everybody was up there nice and chill and were getting good hacks on good pitches. ... I liked that. That's what we need to get to that point."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Sean Highkin and Michael Walton join Kevin Anderson.

1:00 The great Chicken Sandwich Wars- believe the hype

5:15 Judging the Bulls missed free throw promotion with Chick-fil-A

9:25 The story of Michael Jordan betting with teammates on the Dunkin Donuts race

11:45 The myth of the special NBA Jams version with Michael Jordan

17:00 How Jordan would have used twitter in the 90’s

18:00 Which player in NBA history would have had the best twitter account

22:20 Are you with Devin Booker or Joakim Noah in the double-team debate?

25:37 On the NBA rookie survey and Cam Reddish winning ‘best career’ vote

Listen to the full podcast here

Bulls Talk Podcast

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