From Comcast SportsNetGREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Charles Woodson has been cleared to play again, and the Green Bay Packers are counting on the defensive back to provide a lift in Saturday night's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.Woodson deferred to team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and gave his broken collarbone as much time to heal as possible, sitting out Sunday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. He was injured on Oct. 21 and has missed nine consecutive games.But now that the Packers are in win-or-go-home mode, Woodson is back."Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said after practice Tuesday evening. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."Every team we play has to respect him."Playing without Woodson each time, Green Bay split its two regular-season games against Minnesota. But Vikings star Adrian Peterson had two strong performances against the Packers, rushing for 210 yards in Green Bay's 23-14 victory on Dec. 2 and gaining 199 yards on the ground in Minnesota's 37-34 win on Sunday at the Metrodome."I just think having Charles Woodson back on the field helps our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in announcing that Woodson had been cleared. "I mean, just what he's meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He's extremely productive, so I'm just glad to have him back on the field."The 36-year-old Woodson was not in the Packers' locker room during the media access period on Tuesday night. But when he last spoke at length with reporters on Dec. 21, he acknowledged that he hasn't always agreed with McKenzie or McCarthy's recommendations. But if waiting allows him to make it through an entire playoff run - right through Super Bowl XLVII - without reinjuring his collarbone, he will be grateful, he said.Before his injury at St. Louis, Woodson was playing strong safety in the Packers' base defense, then playing the nickel and dime slot positions in sub packages. After he went down, M.D. Jennings was his primary replacement at safety in the base defense, while rookies Casey Hayward (nickel) and Jerron McMillian (dime) covered opposing slot receivers.It's unclear where Woodson will line up this weekend, but his defensive teammates believe he'll help against Peterson and Christian Ponder, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday."(Woodson) helps us in every aspect of the game, just his experience," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "No doubt about it, obviously he's a great player from the start, but with that experience, we know he's going to be in the position he's supposed to be in, we know he's going to be looking to make a play. You can be aggressive yourself because you know you have a guy back there you can trust."Williams said Woodson also makes a difference because, while some of the team's young players have done well in his absence, his knowledge of the game allows him to do things that younger players aren't able to do, aren't comfortable doing or can't do as well as he does them."This defense is based off disguising and things like that, so Charles has been so experienced so he knows how long to hold a disguise, and he's not scared to do it," Williams said. "It's definitely going to help us in the long run."
Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era.
It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.
“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”
Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.
Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly.
“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”
From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too.
“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”
Rebuilds are full of surprises.
Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.
Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.
But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?
Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.
He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?
“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”
Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.
It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.
“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”
“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”
Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.
Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.
“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”
What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.
“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”
It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.
There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.
You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.