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).

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, and tonight helped further confirm this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob", Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what Boylen is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished the Bulls win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

After getting a look at each point guard in the starting lineup this preseason, Jim Boylen finally got a look at what appears to be his starting lineup for Opening Night. 

Tomas Satoransky started as the point next to Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That group was down 10-7 when Carter subbed out at the 8:36 mark but looked better in later stints in the game. 

Carter was noticeably slow on his first step on his defense, specifically on plays where Raptors center Chris Boucher was able to use his speed and length advantage to finish at the rim. But he was solid on the glass, even chipping in on the offensive rebounding side of things, grabbing 3 offensive boards in the first half alone. 

Carter was clearly re-adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball and as play-by-play broadcaster Stacey King noted during the game, he "just doesn't have his legs underneath him." He was 1-6 from the floor, struggling to get lift as he went up for putback layups around the basket. 

That being said, he was decent, more so on the defensive side of the floor where he became more active as the game wore on.

In his 16-minutes stint, Carter posted 10 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and a block, while picking up 3 personal fouls. 

Outside of Carter's return stint, the Bulls new-look starting group looked solid and offers hope as we approach the start of the NBA regular season.