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Culture changed: Fire name Klopas manager

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Culture changed: Fire name Klopas manager

On Aug. 16, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw with D.C. United, setting an MLS record for most ties in a season with 15. The Men in Red were spinning their wheels in last place.

And yet, the attitude of the team remained positive. Despite the frustrating draws, despite the rough losses, the Fire never quit on the season -- and two months later, they nearly snuck into the playoffs.

That positive attitude started with Frank Klopas, who was officially named manager of the Chicago Fire Thursday afternoon at Toyota Park.

"When Frank took over, there was an immediate culture shift in so many ways," said team owner Andrew Hauptman. "The biggest way had to do with the fact that his belief in the players was real and authentic. He genuinely looked at the team that we had and believed that the results should be better."

But the results weren't better, at least in the first two months. So maybe defender Dan Gargan was a little surprised to see such an upbeat bunch of players when he was dealt from Toronto to Chicago in late July.

Like the Fire, Toronto had a roster that saw quite a bit of turnover and was near the bottom of the MLS table. But whereas Gargan described the culture in Toronto as a "cesspool," in Chicago it was completely different.

"Really, happiness," said Gargan of his first impressions of the squad. "Guys were excited to train and to be around one another.

"It was a breath of fresh air. Guys genuinely enjoyed being here."

How could players genuinely enjoy playing on a last-place team? Trust from the coaching staff is a good start, Gargan added.

"I always believed in the players," said Klopas. "I think the one thing that I did when I came in was to make sure they understood that. Having defined roles right from the beginning, then you can hold guys more accountable to do certain things -- I think it's very important that they totally understand, 100 percent when they step on the field, what their roles and responsibilities are."

Those defined roles were something the team didn't have under de los Cobos. On a team full of newcomers, that was a significant issue, one that wasn't a quick fix. It took a few months for roles to be defined and a new culture to be in place, but once those wrinkles were ironed out, the Fire took off.

"He came in with a real positive attitude and he included everyone. That's the difference between him and Carlos," Patrick Nyarko told CSNChicago in October. "He included everyone in game planning and building players' confidence, especially guys that have not played that much. He built their confidence to make them part of the team."

Make no mistake, 2011 was a transitional year for the Fire. They transitioned from de los Cobos to Klopas. They brought in numerous new players, from Dominic Oduro to Pavel Pardo to Sebastian Grazzini. They transitioned from a frustrating team to one with hope.

But the final transition for the team was the easiest. All they had to do was remove the word "interim" from Klopas' title.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.