Bears

Cubs Minor League update: Rizzo still raking

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Cubs Minor League update: Rizzo still raking

AAA Iowa Cubs

Although his average may be dropping slightly, Anthony Rizzo continues to dominate the Pacific Coast League. This past week he went 9-for-28 (.321), but surprisingly this extremely respectable number lowered his batting average from .355 to .348. What is most impressive about Rizzos past week were his five round-trippers and 11 RBIs. His five bombs pushed his total to 12 home runs on the season. Rizzos hitting was in no way a concern and yet he continues to get even more comfortable at the plate. Come June or July, if Rizzo is continuing to pound the ball in this fashion Dale Sveum and the Cubs are going to need to make space in the lineup for a new first baseman.

The slumping Brett Jackson continues to make scouts scratch their heads in confusion. If people are beginning to worry about the big-bodied center fielder, this week did nothing to calm their nerves. Jackson went 2-for-19 this week (.105) with eight strikeouts. This lowered his average back down to .233. But where there is a problemthere is a solution. Jackson is hitting .375 against left-handed pitching, while he struggles to keep his head above water while facing righties at .188. Jackson simply needs to become more comfortable with facing right-handers in order to fulfill his big time potential.

Another Iowa standout this week was Chris Rusin who was named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week. In his two starts he was 2-0 in 14 innings pitched with 12 strikeouts. This included a superb eight inning shutout performance on Sunday. Rusin is the first Cub to receive this honor since May 31, 2010.

AA Tennessee Smokies

21-year-old shortstop prospect Junior Lake spent his first full week with his new club and performed pretty well. Despite only going 5-for-23 (.217), Lake drove in three runs with a home run and two extra base hits. His slugging percentage was a respectable .484, and he showed patience at the dish, walking seven times. Lake will only continue to get better as he gets more seasoning both offensively and defensively and as he defines his position either at shortstop or somewhere else on the infield.

Righty hurler Kevin Rhoderick was the stand out pitcher of the week for the Smokies. The Oregon State product allowed no hits in his two relief appearances this week. Rhoderick has been thrown into a number of difficult situations this year and has performed exceptionally well. He carries a 1.29 ERA, and has recorded 17 Ks in 14 innings pitched. He has only allowed two earned runs in his 12 appearances. Rhoderick possess the stopping power every manager desires to have in their bullpen.

Class A Daytona Cubs

Illinois native and former Northwestern Wildcat Eric Jokisch was named the Florida State League pitcher of the week for the second week of May. Jokisch had two wins in two starts in which he allowed no runs in 13 innings of work. He was dominant on the hill due to his impeccable location, giving up no walks to opposing hitters all week. He also racked up 16 strikeouts along the way. Jokisch improves to 3-3 on the season with a 2.90 ERA.

Highly touted outfield prospect Matt Szczur continues to struggle through the opening half of the season. He went 2-for-11 in his three games played this week. He had no RBIs and only one extra base hit. His average continues to dwindle at a mediocre .250. Much like Brett Jackson, Szczur has the ability to be a big contributor in the next few years, but they both must find a groove and turn around what has been an average 2012 season.

Joe Musso contributed to this article

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Preseason games are about isolated goods and bads, snapshots really, rather than sweeping overalls. All in the eye of the beholder. And for the Bears, after losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati in Matt Nagy’s first efforts as a head coach, getting out of Denver with a 24-23 win over the Broncos looked pretty good in the eyes of any Bears beholder.

Saturday’s preseason game three was a collection of snapshots for the Bears, playing their third “practice” game but the first with enough of the starters on offense and defense to matter, or at least as much as these can matter.

The Bears achieved their first win under Nagy on the right arm of No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, pressed into extra duty when Tyler Bray was hurt in the third quarter, and who completed 19 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner just inside the 2-minute warning on a 12-yard throw to tight end Ben Braunecker. The win was preserved when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc punched the ball out of the hands of Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Isaiah Irving gathered in the loose football to end a potential Denver comeback drive at the Chicago 38.

Before all of that, in his longest appearance of the presesason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky started and directed a pair of sustained drives, the first covering 51 yards to a missed field-goal attempt, and a second going 75 yards and culminating in a touchdown. Combined with the work by Daniel, the Bears put up five drives 50 yards or longer. Trubisky completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and the No. 1 offense produced 10 first downs.

Notably perhaps, the Trubisky score came in a fashion that was previewed more than a few times throughout camp, and that projects as a template for a staple in the offense under Nagy:

A high-percentage flip going to tight end Trey Burton cutting across the field and going seven yards for Trubisky’s first TD pass of the preseason. The design of the play forced the Denver secondary to drop in coverage of Bears wide receivers and left rush linebacker Von Miller needing to choose between dropping into a short zone or going after Trubisky. Miller did the latter and Burton, who caught 4 of 5 passes directed to him for 45 yards, was alone in the underneath zone.

“I’m just trying to be who I am, do what the coaches ask me to do and go wherever that leads,” Burton told the FOX 32 broadcast. “Obviously, every week and every game is different so whatever my role is, I’m down for it.”

Trubisky did suffer his first interception over the span of two preseasons and 71 pass attempts, but appeared to be victimized when running back Tarik Cohen broke off the route on a short in-cut and failed to break back toward Trubisky. The throw was to where Cohen was supposed to be but was instead an easy pick for Denver safety Justin Simmons.

“I think [Cohen] learned he can’t do that,” Nagy said.

But the passing offense overall was functional under Trubisky, not insignificant in the context of the quarterback in a new offense with a complement of receivers largely unfamiliar with him. And some who hadn’t graced stat sheets to date.

Kevin White came up with his first two catches of the preseason and followed each with some nifty running after the catches. White also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty that accounted for about half the yardage on the Trubisky touchdown drive.

Rookie Anthony Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Allen Robinson started by played sparingly in the first half in the first test of his surgically repaired left ACL and was not targeted. Taylor Gabriel, with a foot injury, did not play for the third straight game.

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

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USA TODAY

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

No Roquan Smith but Bears injury absences vs. Broncos far more troubling
 
No real surprise that coaches decided to hold linebacker Roquan Smith out, given that the rookie had exactly one practice in pad and two without pads last week after signing his contract on Monday. But it was not Smith’s absence that was concerning coming out of the Bears ____ loss to the Denver Broncos.
 
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has been hampered by injuries in each of this first two Bears seasons, went out midway through the first half with an unspecified hand injury and did not return. Tight end Adam Shaheen, starting his second straight game after three catches for 53 yards at Cincinnati, caught a first-quarter pass from Mitchell Trubisky but left the field on a cart after injuring his ankle during the ensuing tackle.
 
Along with Floyd’s absence, the pass rush was again without outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hasn’t been on the field since the first practice of training camp, that after missing play time with ankle twisted in the first April minicamp practice and with a hamstring strain in a June minicamp practice.
 
The Bears did get a sack from Roy Robertson-Harris, his third in as many games and likely establishing him as the starting defensive end opposite Akiem Hick in the Bears’ base 3-4.
 
First quarter not-so-special teams
 
Repeating a pattern from some years past, Bears kick returns did the offense no favors early, with multiple mistakes in first quarter alone:
 
Recently signed running back Knile Davis took the opening kickoff six yards deep in the end zone and got it only to the Chicago 15;
 
After the first Denver three-and-out, Cre’Von LeBlanc fair-caught a punt at the Chicago 5 instead of gambling on a touchback. Three plays later Mitch Trubisky mishandled a high snap and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
 
On the free kick, reserve tight end Ben Braunecker lost contain and contributed to a 17-yard return by Isaiah McKenzie, setting the Broncos up at their 40, from where they moved for a first-quarter field goal. After that field goal, Davis returned the Denver kickoff 43 yards but the runback was nullified by a holding penalty.
 
Throw in Cody Parkey’s missed field goal from 52 yards and Bears special teams combined for one of the poorer possible quarters short of allowing a touchdown return.
 
 
Helmet hi-jinks
 
And the league thought it had problems with the catch rule?
 
The NFL’s leading-with-the-helmet prohibition and its enforcement bordering on the bizarre reared its ugly head early  flag on Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom for his tackle of Bears tight end Adam Shaheen defies explanation. Yiadom got his head in front of Shaheen’s quads in a textbook go-low tackle with minimal risk to either player but was hit with a 15-yard penalty. Not sure what Yiadom was supposed to lead with? His feet?
 
Then Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller drew a leading-with-the-helmet when he went shoulder-first into tight end Andy Janovich, while Denver left tackle Garrett Bolles went helmet-first into a basic cut block on linebacker Leonard Floyd and drew no flag.
 
 
Duly noted
 
Quirky rules and their enforcement don’t account for a worrisome spate of penalties (eight through three quarters) that cost the Bears more than 100 yards. 
 
In the first half alone, besides the Fuller flag, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie drew holding penalties, and a holding penalty on the kickoff-return team negated a 43-yard return by Knile Davis. Tight end Ben Braunecker was tagged for pass interference.