Bears

Check out the complete All-Star rosters

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Check out the complete All-Star rosters

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Josh Hamilton is set to lead a Texas parade to the All-Star game. Now, fans will decide if Chipper Jones gets one final appearance or whether it's time for teen sensation Bryce Harper. Hamilton drew a record total of more than 11 million votes, and the slugger was among seven Rangers chosen Sunday as All-Stars. A trio of San Francisco Giants rallied in the last week to claim spots, while three Yankees also made the starting lineup. "I don't think the Texas Rangers have to apologize because we've got good players," AL manager Ron Washington of Texas said. "I certainly didn't pick my guys being selfish, I picked them very deserving of being All-Stars, bottom line." Washington fastballer Stephen Strasburg and Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey were two of the 66 players chosen by fans, managers and big leaguers for the showcase July 10 in Kansas City. So was 20-year-old Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout, who leads the AL in hitting at .339 and drew more than 800,000 write-in votes. Few of the races for starting spots were close and there seemed to be little complaining about the fans' choices. OK, sure, David Wright could've gotten the nod over Pablo Sandoval. But there certainly will be campaigning this week when it comes to Jones and Harper after they were left off -- for now, anyway. The NL and AL each have one spot left, with fans voting online through Thursday to select one of five candidates in both leagues. Jones and Harper are two of the NL possibilities. At 40, Jones is a seven-time All-Star and plans to retire after this season. Banged up, the Atlanta third baseman has managed to hit near .300. "This being my last year, it would be fun to go. I'd love to take my kids," Jones said. At 19, Harper started the season in Triple-A. The Washington outfielder has dazzled since his promotion with his bat, arm and flat-out hustle. "I'm an old-timer, so I'd probably lean toward Chipper," NL manager Tony La Russa said on the TBS selection show. The league that wins the All-Star game gains home-field advantage in the World Series. The NL won last year, then St. Louis became the ninth straight home team to win Game 7 in the Series. Sandoval was picked for the NL at third base despite missing a month with a broken hand and not matching the stats of Wright. "I'm surprised I made it," said Sandoval, popular for his "Kung Fu Panda" persona. "He's been having a great year but the fans gave me the votes. I can't thank them enough." Wright was diplomatic about the result. "That's the way the system is. I understand how the system works and I respect that system. Pablo's having a very good year. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that I don't get a chance to start, but I'm going to do everything I can to help win that game," he said. Giants catcher Buster Posey, back from a devastating injury last season, was the NL's top vote-getter and beat out Philadelphia's Carlos Ruiz, the league's leading hitter. Wright and Ruiz made the NL team as reserves. "This is hard to wrap my head around," Posey said. "I watched all the All-Star games and home run derbies when I was a kid. It's surreal I get to play in one and get to watch the home run derby." Posey, Sandoval and San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera overcame late deficits to win starting spots. Giants ace Matt Cain, who pitched a perfect game in June, made the NL pitching staff. Texas will have a team-record three starters. Hamilton, who hit four homers in a game earlier this season and leads the majors in RBIs, will be in the outfield with Adrian Beltre at third base and Mike Napoli at catcher. A postseason star last year, Napoli has started only about half the time at that spot this year, but still easily outdistanced Minnesota's Joe Mauer. "No, it's not awkward, the fans voted for him," Washington said. "He's an All-Star, he's going to go to the All-Star game. Who's to say that Napoli may not be the MVP?" Second baseman Ian Kinsler, shortstop Elvis Andrus, starter Matt Harrison and reliever Joe Nathan also made the AL roster from Texas. The two-time AL champions began the day with a major league-best 50 wins. "You look up and down our lineup and we've been in the World Series the last two years in a row, and there's a reason," Hamilton said. "It's not just one player, but multiple players that have got us there." Derek Jeter became a 13-time All-Star shortstop and will start for the AL with Yankees teammates Robinson Cano at second base and Curtis Granderson in the outfield. Injured New York pitcher CC Sabathia was picked, too, and will attend the festivities but not play. "It's an honor, especially throughout the years the position I played and all the great shortstops that have been out there," Jeter said. Prince Fielder of Detroit will start at first base. He was the MVP of last year's All-Star game while playing in the NL for Milwaukee. "Thrilling, every time," Fielder said. Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp edged Milwaukee's Ryan Braun by 100,000 votes for the third spot in the NL outfield -- Kemp, beaten out by Braun for the NL MVP award last year, is on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring and looks doubtful to play. Braun leads the NL in home runs. He was the league's top vote-getter last year, but may have been hurt by drug allegations. Braun or perhaps Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen could wind up starting in Kemp's place. "I've always been a person that wanted something because I earned it and that's what people wanted," McCutchen said. "It would be awesome to get that, but for me I'd still be feeling like I took someone else's place because someone got hurt." Dickey, at 37, made his first All-Star team. He leads the majors with 12 wins and could become just the second knuckleballer to start an All-Star game. Dutch Leonard did it in 1943, STATS LLC said. "It's an honor for every person who's ever helped me along the way and every fan that believed that special things could happen if you apply yourself," Dickey said. "So it's a need to be able to celebrate that with a network of people. Strasburg is 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA and tops the majors in strikeouts for the NL East-leading Nationals. Last season at this time, he was working his way back to the big leagues while recovering from Tommy John surgery. "It's going to be a tremendous experience, and it's a huge honor for me. It's amazing to think where I was a year ago, so it's great to see all the hard work has paid off, but it's not done," he said in Atlanta. "It's only the halfway point of the year. We've still got a long ways to go." The fans, players and managers combined to pick 14 first-time All-Stars in the NL, including somersaulting Cincinnati reliever Aroldis Chapman and San Diego closer Huston Street. "No way. Really?" Street said. There were nine first-timers in the AL, including designated hitter Billy Butler from the host Royals. Every team gets at least one All-Star. The AL starters: Fielder, Cano, Jeter, Beltre, Hamilton, Granderson, Napoli, Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista and Boston DH David Ortiz. The NL starters: Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla, shortstop Rafael Furcal and outfielder Carlos Beltran of St. Louis, Kemp, Sandoval, Posey and Cabrera. The five candidates for the final AL roster spot are all right-handed pitchers: Texas rookie Yu Darvish and fellow starters Jake Peavy of the White Sox and Jason Hammel of Baltimore and relievers Jonathan Broxton of the Royals and Ernesto Frieri of the Angels. The NL candidates: Jones, Harper, Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill, Atlanta outfielder Michael Bourn and St. Louis third baseman David Freese, MVP of last year's World Series. Washington said he felt White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski deserved to be on the roster. "I consider him a winning player," Washington said. "He beats you mentally, he beats you physically, so I feel really bad for Pierzynski." Said Pierzynski: "If he felt that bad, he would have put me on the team." "He had an opportunity to do it. He didn't do it," he said.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.