Bears

Konerkos slogan for 2012

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Konerkos slogan for 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The next time the White Sox need a new marketing campaign, I suggest they save the time and effort and just go straight to Paul Konerko. The longtime captain always has a way with words, and he did again on Thursday after the teams final workout before the season opener.

I asked Konerko what this White Sox team will be about in 2012, and what fans can expect to see.

He took all of a millisecond to come up with the answer.

Doing it right, Konerko said. Thats just the one thing that goes through my head more than anything is that everybody is in a mode right now, whatever their job is, to not even be concerned with the outcome or whats going to happen out there. Just doing it right.

Some might perceive this as Konerko lowering expectations, saying that as long as the White Sox play the game the way its supposed to be played, that will be good enough.

Far from it. Dig a little deeper.

Last year when the White Sox went All-In, it was all about the outcome Konerko mentioned. Win or lose. Period. That was the theme for 2011.

Thats great if you have a team like the 1927 Yankees who can just beat peoples brains out from April through October. It also works when you have a team where very little goes wrong. Case in point: the 2005 White Sox.

But last year, a lot went wrong. And when the ship started sinking, in many cases it was every man for himself.

Team baseball? Fundamentals? Everyone pulling from the same rope?? It might have been in the White Sox handbook, but it was often missing on the field.

That wont be the case this year.

If youre at the plate with guys in a certain situation, you know that your job is to do it as right as possible, and get that job done, Konerko said. If youre in the infield on defense, at that moment youve got a job to do. Everybody is really focused on that kind of stuff. Thats the way to go about it. If you do that and you have the talent, it will come out in the results.

Kenny Williams was laughed at when he toyed with the idea this offseason of having Konerko be the teams player-manager. It was more of a creative thought than anything else. But as Robin Ventura begins his managerial career on Friday, hell be comforted with the knowledge that he basically has another manager out there on the field, wearing a No. 14 jersey.

Outside of their own clubhouse, not much is expected from this White Sox team. The players dont need to be reminded. Theyre asked about it everyday.

How would you react if you were constantly asked about your shortcomings from last year, how SI.com is predicting 95 losses, how the Tigers are going to run away with the division, how you no longer have Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, etc, etc, etc?

If youre an athlete, or just a living, breathing human being, eventually its got to tick you off.

Say this, the 2012 White Sox already lead the league in having something to prove. That includes proving the doubters wrong.

If everything goes as we plan on it, theres going to be a lot of people crawfishing a little bit, backpedaling on where they have us right now, said John Danks who gets the Opening Day nod, as well as a clean slate after starting last year 0-8.

We obviously underachieved greatly last year. I think thats the reason why people arent talking about us, which could be a good thing, said Adam Dunn, who after his disastrous season is probably looking forward to the new year more than anyone.

So what kind of year will it be? Dont listen to the critics, because nobody knows the answer.

If Im going to listen to anyone, its Konerko.

Hes not predicting 90 wins and a playoff spot, nor is he calling for a rebuilding year where everything goes to pieces.

He calls it like it is, which in April is never black and white -- more like several shades of gray. It's a long season. There are 162 games ahead. What can we expect?

I feel like this team, whatever the results end up being as far as wins and losses, will be what this team is, Konerko said. I think were going to go about it correctly all the time. Theres always going to be a slip-up here and there, but for the most part were going to go about it right all the time, and well see how that bears out in the end.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.