Bears

Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Frankie O's Blog: No Fooling

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 10:52 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Given the date of this post, I was seriously considering writing about a Cubs-Sox World Series and then ending with the two words that would be appropriate. But having a child with said date as their birthday, Ive come to learn that the trick ending with the negative twist is not usually a crowd pleaser. Being a man of the people, Im nothing if not a pleaser! Ive found that indifference or outright denial, and then having something positive occur out of nowhere is much more fun. (Also making me a cool dad!)
While I cant claim indifference here, I have a vested interest, I can be honest in that I do not expect a Red-Line Series come October. That being said, this kinder, gentler Frankie O (Going third person never gets old!) can see a lot of positives happening here in Chicago on the local diamonds.

Of course, on the southside, there is a lot of expectation, since, as the team has reminded us in their advertising campaign, they are All in. What makes me optimistic is that this year they also have a D.H. (In fact my advertising campaign for them would be: The Chicago White Sox. Were putting the hitter back in the designated hitter! P.S. Good guys wear black!) I know that Mark Kotsay hit the hardest .239 that folks in these parts have ever seen, but enough is enough. The addition of Adam Dunn has Sox fans very excited. And with good reason, hes a run-producing machine. Something else I notice about him in this age of enhancement is the fact that he has averaged over 158 games played during the last 7 seasons. Thats not typical lately of large, power guys. Not saying, just saying. So it should be safe to pencil in the 38 homers and 100 RBI that he has averaged in that span. (2 choices here: Frankie O kiss of death! or, How you like your Kotsay now?!!)

Its hard to remember in the disappointment of how last season ended, that for most of the year this was a very good team, albeit a streaky one. After a 24-33 start, that left them almost double-digits out of first place, they finished the year on a torrid 64-41 stretch. Included in this was the 20-5 that put them back in the race and then the collapse down the stretch. Ill try not to remember September and focus on the beginning. Pennants arent won in April and May, but because of this teams performance during that time last year, the ability to win one was definitely lost. In fact the Sox have made a habit of getting out to slow starts recently. I do not think that will be the case this year. The increased payroll and advertising campaign are telling us thats not an option. The fact that the competition at the top of the division with the Tigers and Twins is expected to be microscopic close also behooves them to jump out early. The X-factor in all of this will be Jake Peavy.

His ability to come back from a detached muscle in his right (pitching) shoulder, I think will determine their fate. They are a good team without him, but they are a title contender with him. I have to admit, I dont really feel good about his situation so far. Its confusing to me about who is in charge. How does he get sick, then not touch a ball for over a week, then be allowed to throw over 80 pitches? Which then results in his being put on the DL since he now has shoulder tendinitis? This to me tells of the urgency to get off to a good start that is being felt by everyone in the organization. All in!!

On the northside, things are a little harder to figure. The realist in me wants to say 4th place in the central, but who saw the Padres 90 win season at this time a year ago? The Padres gagged the division and missed the playoffs by a game, but thats not the point. Every year there are one or two teams that come out of nowhere and are in the mix until the end. The way the Cubs finished last year under Mike Quade, pardon me Lou, left a lot of Cubs fans feeling all giddy about their chances this year. Not to burst bubbles, but did you notice that the Astros and Orioles finished with very similar 50 game records to end the season as the Cubs last year? How do you feel about the Astros or Orioles chances this year? I thought so.

Personally, I see this as a bridge year to the true vision of the new ownership regime. About 50 million will be coming off the books after this season. Increased revenue will be coming the Cubs way after their new facility is built in Mesa. Building a state-of-the-art training academy in the Dominican Republic should hopefully help mine that talent rich region for future stars. And we all know that every possible way to increase the revenue stream at Wrigley Field is being considered. These things are all related. The number one goal needs to be to put a winning product on the field. This will enable many of the things that ownership wants to accomplish, off the field, to happen. While you definitely need to spend to win in this game, true success is sustained if you can grow your own talent.

As much as I love my Phillies spending cash to acquire and retain top-notch talent, Im not very optimistic where they are going to be in a few years since they have pillaged their farm system in the process. Aside from my stated preference that they break the bank to get Albert Pujols, it would be very prudent if the Cubs were able hit the reset button, and grow a little slow. I know, theres the whole 103 year thing and all, and the urgency that it brings to the faithful, but the Marlins (or Yankees) way of just buying a title is not going to happen here. Just look at the Soriano and Zambrano contracts to understand why. Starlin Castro is the real deal and a good start.

I think Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin have bright futures. I cant wait to see Brett Jackson in the outfield later this summer. Having them learn their craft around such solid pros as Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd is a good thing. (And having them surround Pujols next year would be a great one! Not to mention having it buy more time. Sorry, cant help myself.) Dumping a malcontent such as Carlos Silva has earned a lot of respect. It seems as though the Cubs have been dealing with that issue in several different forms over the years.

I take this as a sign that the ownership wants to do it the right way. I have no problem with that, its their money. The issue is that you do not win with good intentions. You win with talent and motivated talent at that. This year I get the good vibe and the motivation that come with the new Quade era, how could you not? But in the end, for this year, it is going to take more than that alone. The times, they are a changing, but sometimes, its the same as it ever was.

So where does that leave us? Full of anticipation I hope. Why ruin the upcoming season with a lot of doom and gloom speculation? Baseball, more than any other sport, is a novel we cant put down. Its full of plot twists and surprises. Heroes and villains. Thats why we watch, well that and fantasy addictions. But its all about the ending. And as much as anyone wants to tell you they know, they dont. So feel free to dream a little dream. If you think that a Chicago World Series is possible, go ahead and think it. Reality will rear its pesky head soon enough. And remember this, If I was to tell you, with a straight face, on this day last year that the post-season (and subsequent off-season) was going to be dominated by a freakish black beard, you would have surely looked at me and replied, April Fools!

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

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USA TODAY

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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Bulls finally getting with the times, putting together versatile roster

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USA TODAY

Bulls finally getting with the times, putting together versatile roster

Position-less basketball is the hot new buzzword in NBA circles, but it's also an important one.

Consider what the 2016-17 Bulls rolled out the same year the Golden State Warriors Death Lineup'd their way to an NBA title. Led by the Three Alphas of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, here's how the minutes shook out, per Basketball Reference.

Rondo played 100% of his minutes at point guard despite having played 42% of his minutes at shooting guard the year earlier for the Kings (a year in which he shot 36.5% from deep). Wade played 84% of his minutes at shooting guard. The following seasons, the last two of his career, he played 31% at point guard, 54% at shooting guard and 15% at small forward.

Butler played 93% of his minutes at small forward. The next two seasons, in Minnesota and Philadelphia, his minutes were split up at 45% shooting guard, 48% small forward and 7% power forward.

Taj Gibson played 96% of his minutes at power forward and Robin Lopez played 100% of his minutes at center. Nikola Mirotic played 88% of his minutes at power forward. Over the last two seasons, he's played 74% of his minutes at power forward and 23% at center (and 3% at small forward).

Sensing a theme here?

While the NBA zigged toward position-less basketball, the Bulls...didn't do anything. They had traditional roles, had little depth that allowed them to tinker with lineups despite that being the best way to utilize Fred Hoiberg's philosophies, and they failed. Yes, they led 2-0 on the Celtics in the first round of the postseason. No, that didn't make that entire season any less of a mess.

Fast forward two years and one rebuild later, and the Bulls enter Year 3 of the post-Jimmy Buckets era with some serious versatility.

The latest signal that this franchise is ready to move forward came on Thursday when the Bulls drafted North Carolina guard Coby White. He's not a traditional point guard, and the Bulls don't want him to be. In fact, the Bulls' entire offseason feels like it could be more about finding the right players instead of the right positional needs.

"John (Paxson) and I have had great conversations about our team during the year, at the end of the season, about what we thought we needed, where we thought we needed to go, and today is a product of that, of those meetings, those discussions, and his view," Jim Boylen said Monday. "We talked about positional size a lot, we talked about speed, quickness, athleticism. Those are the things we thought we needed with the group of guys we had, to add to them. Whether it’s vertical spacing, speed, making defenses chase people over, all those kinds of things, we discussed. And as we went into the draft process we were hoping to find players to help us with that. Thankfully we have."

Of White specifically, Boylen said the Bulls won't "put him in this box where he just has to play this way," Boylen added. For the first time arguably since Nate Robinson in 2013, the Bulls have a legitimate shooting threat at point guard. What's more, the 6-foot-5 White can play off the ball and spot up for perimeter jumpers, something that makes Zach LaVine more valuable and the offense more versatile.

The Bulls are finally looking to look like a versatile group. Otto Porter's defensive ability will give the Bulls the option of playing small, something that prior to his arrival just meant Chandler Hutchison getting abused in the post. Lauri Markkanen is a work-in-progress as a center, though his limited minutes and skill set give optimism that it's something he can do in spurts going forward. LaVine was never going to take on a full-time point guard role, but he was more than comfortable with the ball in his hands acting as an offensive initiator last season. maybe Kris Dunn, LaVine and White all share the floor together.

We could even see second round pick Daniel Gafford and Wendell Carter Jr. together in massive frontline spurts if the opposition calls for it. That's more fantasy than reality, but having the option is something they didn't have in the past.

The next step is free agency. With the Bulls, in theory, having starters at all five positions - White could move to the bench if Paxson goes after a veteran free agent - the Bulls can again get versatile and hone in on particular skill sets instead of simply trying to round out the depth chart. It doesn't feel like the Bulls will make a major splash - either giving Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon a gigantic offer sheet or finding room to sign Brooklyn's D'Angelo Russell - but they'll be aggressive with their more than $22 million in cap space. They need point guard depth, more shooters on the wing and a locker room presence (Cris Felicio is a month younger than Otto Porter, the oldest player on the Bulls).

"We have a very good idea of what we want. But we’re going to have to wait until the 30th to go at it. But we know we need to add some veterans," Paxson said. "Definitely, we’re looking for a couple veteran guys that fit well with this young group – be pros, show these guys every day what it means to be a professional. Most guys that last a long time in this league, they last because they’ve been pros. They take care of themselves, they’ve played well, they’ve done all the right things. And that’s always best example for young players.”

The roster is far from a finished product. Injuries aside, the Bulls still won just 22 games a year ago, don't have max cap space, and White isn't Zion Williamson.

There's work to do. But for the first time during the rebuild, the Bulls are going to have options. The roster is beginning to look like what an group of NBA players in 2019 should look like. The Bulls are getting versatile, and it's an important step forward.