Bulls

Mayers glad to be back with the Blackhawks

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Mayers glad to be back with the Blackhawks

Jamal Mayers was understandably upset when he was scratched during the final three games of the postseason. The Blackhawks veteran forward is a competitor who isnt used to missing many games. But now re-signed for another year with the team, Mayers is forgetting about those healthy scratches and focusing on another season.

Mayers, whose one-year, 600,000-deal was made official by the Blackhawks on Tuesday, is happy to have his immediate NHL future decided for another season. And it also saves another family move for Mayers, who has played for four different teams since the 2009-10 season.

For me, personally, I have a young family and you have to sort out a lot of the logistical things that come up, he said. Im excited to be in the city of Chicago and be here another year. For us, its been a great fit and Im excited to get it done early and get focused on training.

Mayers was a good physical element for the Blackhawks last season, and even more so after Daniel Carcillo was lost to a knee injury in January. It was Mayers who came to Jonathan Toews defense against the San Jose Sharks in February. Ryan Clowe was one of the Sharks tussling with Toews, and Mayers fought Clowe soon after in that game.

So it was a surprise when the fourth-line center was scratched against a physical Coyotes team, beginning with Game 4 of their series. There was some speculation that Mayers was scratched because he didnt challenge Raffe Torres after the Phoenix forwards hit on Marian Hossa, but coach Joel Quenneville denied that. Still, the scratches were tough on Mayers.

It was a tough pill to swallow, Mayers said. The reality is, you anticipate a long playoff run, a lot of guys did, and its tough as a competitor (to be scratched). But once you take a step back, it was a good fit (to re-sign), both for me and the Hawks. You look at the whole season; you try not to look at the way things ended. I still come away with the fact that I still have a lot to give.

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

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USA Today

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

Lauri Markkanen is seven feet tall.  Cristiano Felício is 6’10. It’s safe to say they’re big guys, which would lead you to believe they wouldn’t be scared by much. In a preseason outing to 13th Floor Haunted House in Chicago, Lauri and Felício showed that height doesn’t mean you’re immune to spooks (especially when Benny the Bull is let loose in the haunted house control room).  

Watch them try to maneuver their tall frames through cobwebs and zombies in the video posted to the Bulls’ Twitter here.

Viewers beware, ghastly ghouls and frightened NBA stars await you.

Despite all the screaming, the Bulls players sounded like they had a fun night. Lauri even responded to video on Twitter saying that while maybe he got scared a little, he ultimately had a good time.

Hey, if they can face-off against monsters and chainsaw mascot maniacs, taking on the other teams in NBA won’t seem so bad!

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With linchpin DL Akiem Hicks to IR, Bears D faces real challenge to stay at elite level

With linchpin DL Akiem Hicks to IR, Bears D faces real challenge to stay at elite level

With apologies to Khalil Mack, the Bears defense on Tuesday officially lost the player it could arguably least afford to lose when defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was placed on injured reserve with the elbow injury suffered early in the loss to the Oakland Raiders in London.

Perhaps “lost” isn’t entirely accurate, since “he’s going to be with us in meetings and for game-planning and on the sidelines on game days,” said defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. “You’re going to feel his presence. But we’ve got a good group with guys who can step into that role and play well.

“He’ll be a voice on the sideline, the classroom, everything we do. His personality will still be here… . He’s part of us, the Bears family, this organization.”

But great units are a combination of personalities as well as talents, and Hicks has been a defining presence both on and off the football field since he was signed as a free agent in 2016.

Hicks has been a vital influence with young players. Hicks and veteran defensive end Willie Young began a weekly dinner out with then-rookie Leonard Floyd. When the Bears landed a late-round gem in defensive lineman Bilal Nichols in the 2018 draft, Hicks was again a presence.

“He pretty much molded me into the young player I am,” Nichols said. “It just hurt to see him go through that and catch those types of breaks because I know how hard he worked.”

But the absence of Hicks projects to have its obviously most serious impact on the field, at a time when the Bears are struggling to stay within hailing distance of leaders in both the NFC North as well as the NFC in general.

The absence of any consistent offensive play underscores the importance of the defense remaining among the NFL’s best.

Linchpin figure

In a league where the margin between division leader and missing the playoffs is sometimes alarmingly thin, the Bears will be wary of players feeling some need to break their assignment integrity and take out-of-scheme risks to make a play because of missing Hicks.

“I remember last year when we lost Khalil Mack for the Buffalo game and Jets game, and we had some guys who came in and filled in those shoes and did pretty well,” Rodgers said. “We expect the thing. The ‘next guy up’ mentality is real. There’s a reason why we build the roster the way we build it.

“We didn’t have Akiem for the Minnesota game and I thought we played pretty well in that game. It’s all about understanding what your job is and what your role is, how to execute and execute under pressure, and do what we do. We’re not asking anybody to go outside the framework of the defense or do anything extra special. We’re asking you to do your job because you’re one of 11 in the defense.”

It is Rodgers’ task to help players modulate and avoid trying to do too much. The proverbial “take your game to another level,” which is hugely insulting because it presumes a player wasn’t giving the max previously.

And Rodgers is correct, that the Bears without Hicks allowed their season-low points (6) and second-lowest yardage total (222) of the season in the win over Minnesota. That game was one of only two in which the Vikings (4-2) failed to score 28 or more points, and whether the Bears could throttle Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and that offense again so thoroughly without Hicks would be questionable.

But the fact remains that Hicks rates as the central figure on a very good defense. Without Hicks for most of the Oakland game, the Bears allowed their highest point (24) and yardage (398) totals of the season and allowed more rushing yards (169) than in any other two 2019 games combined.

The Bears were a top-10 defense before Mack arrived at the start of last season. With Hicks missing all of one game (Minnesota), most of another (Oakland) and playing less than half the snaps in a third with a knee injury (Washington), they rank sixth in yards and third in points allowed.

The Bears ranked a dismal 20th in both points and yards allowed in 2015, the year before the Hicks signing. They immediately improved to 15th in scoring defense in 2016, then into the top 10 in both points and yards allowed in 2017.

The NFL then took notice last season, with Hicks selected to his first Pro Bowl and being given the fourth-highest rating among defensive linemen by Pro Football Focus.

One player CAN make that much difference

That the Bears performed well without all or part of Hicks vs. Washington and Minnesota does suggest encouragement, particularly if Nichols can play well with a hand injury that cost him the last three games.

The Oakland game points in an entirely opposite direction. It falls to the Bears collectively to keep the Hicks loss from having the kind of devastating effect that a handful of season-ending injuries had on past Bears defenses:

DT Henry Melton, 2013

The 2013 Bears broke fast (3-0) under new coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The defense and a portion of the season collapsed when Melton, voted to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and franchise-tagged by the Bears in 2013, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in game three against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A defense that included Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman allowed 24.7 ppg and 330 ypg for the three games Melton played. Over the final 13 games those indicators ballooned to 31.1 ppg. and 409 yards.

MLB Brian Urlacher, 2009

The Bears lost their Hall of Fame middle linebacker and linchpin at the end of the first half of the first game, in Green Bay. The defense still had Lance Briggs, Alex Brown, Tommie Harris and Charles Tillman, but Brown said after the season that the unit never made up for the loss of both the performance and leadership levels 54 represented.

From 2005-2012, Urlacher’s missed season was one of only two in which the Bears finished sub-.500.

DL Dan Hampton, 1989

The Bears opened 4-0. Hampton suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the team that had reached the 1988 NFC Championship game and still had Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, William Perry, Mike Singletary and Donnell Woolford proceeded to go 2-10 the rest of the way.

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