Bulls

Bears training camp capsules: Wide receivers

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Bears training camp capsules: Wide receivers

Bears receivers have rare high expectations to meet
The realistic expectations outside of their meeting rooms have been generally pedestrian for much of the past decade. The hope was that this receiver or that would emerge and become a top-tier pass catcher.
It never happened.
But the annual dance of mediocrity is expected to end in 2012, beginning in training camp.
The Bears finished 26th in passing yards per game, not entirely surprising given that they were without their starting quarterback after game No. 10. They had no wide receiver with more than 37 catches (Johnny Knox, Roy Williams) and only those two with more than 30 catches.
Also not surprisingly, GM Phil Emery made wide receiver the No. 1 off-season priority, with his bold trade of two third-round draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for Brandon Marshall. That was followed by the Bears investing their second-round draft choice on a receiver, Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina.
The Bears best season since Marty Bookers 100 catches in 2001 and 92 in 2002 was Bernard Berrians 71 receptions in 2007.
Marshalls worst season in the five since his rookie year was last year: 81. He has netted 1,000 receiving yards in five straight seasons; the Bears have never had more than two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and only once by the same player (Booker).
Simply put, training camp 2012 will be an advance look at a passing game expected to be like nothing the Bears have ever had.
2011 in review
The Bears went through two wideout years. They were averaging a pedestrian 216 passing yards per game with Jay Cutler but had three games of sub-90 yards in the six he missed.
Significant problems began in training camp when Mike Martz effectively handed Johnny Knoxs starting job to Roy Williams. Martz saw the Williams that caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards in 2006 for Martz in Detroit, and was not a fan of Knox.
Williams, however, did not report even in training-camp shape, a further irritant within the receiver group, and did not establish a comfort level with Jay Cutler. Williams went on to commit too many drops during the season and Knox had regained a starting job before his season-ending back injury against Seattle.
A chest injury to Earl Bennett at New Orleans in game two was a major blow to a passing offense that could not afford one. Devin Hester was bothered by nagging injuries as the season went on. He finished with 26 receptions but caught passes in just two of the final eight games.
Dane Sanzenbacher proved to be a positive surprise, making the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State and finishing with 27 catches and three TDs, tops among wide receivers.
2012 Training Camp What to Watch
Depth chart
1. Brandon Marshall2 .Earl Bennett3. Devin Hester4. Alshon Jeffery5. Eric Weems6. Devin Thomas7. Dane Sanzenbacher
Notable free agents: Joseph Anderson, Brittan Golden
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the state of the Bears wide-receiver group is that Sanzenbacher goes from third in receptions to roster long shot.
The Marshall addition followed by the Jeffery draft selection vaulted the Bears into factor status among NFC North passing offenses. Both top 6-3 and are rated as having top-tier hands.
Mike Martz talked about getting Hester more involved in the offense, once declaring, Devin Hester could be just stupid-good. What we could do with him inside, the match-ups we could get with him on third corners or safeties and linebackers would be absolutely remarkable."
That never came to pass. So it was reasonable to be skeptical when Mike Tice began talking about a Hester package, until Hester himself and others began talking privately about what was being put together already. Camp will be the chance to see where Hester is positioned and aimed.
Weems was arguably the surprise during minicamps and OTAs, a returner who repeatedly flashed as a receiver, something he has rarely done through his career (24 catches through five NFL seasons, all with Atlanta).

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.