Bears

Mitchell Making His Mark in Comeback At Winston-Salem

Mitchell Making His Mark in Comeback At Winston-Salem

Saturday April 9, 2011
Posted: 9:45 p.m.
WHITE SOXWinston-Salem A
The Dash earned their first win of the season Saturday, topping Kinston, 3-2, in game that was called after eight innings because of rain at Historic Grainger Stadium.

Jared Mitchell continued to write an early remarkable comeback story, connecting for a two-run first-inning homer that would put Winston-Salem out in front to stay. Mitchell missed all of last season with an ankle injury but is 3-for-9 with a homer and four RBIs.

Jose Martinez, who had four hits, drove in the third Dash run in the fifth with an RBI single. Taylor Thompson earned the win pitching two scoreless innings in relief of starter Andre Rienzo.
Birmingham AA
The Barons surprise start to the season continued Saturday night as they squeaked by Montgomery, 6-4. Birmingham improved to 3-0 behind the big bopping of Chris Marrero, who had three hits, including a homer and three RBIs.

Kenny Williams added a double and two RBIs as Charlie Leesman went 5 13 innings to earn the win. The Barons will continue their season-opening five-game set with the Biscuits on Sunday night.

Kannapolis A
The Intimidators had their doubleheader with Lakewood postponed because of unsafe playing conditions at FirstEnergy Field. The two teams will play a Sunday doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m.
Charlotte AAA
Charlottes game against Norfolk was also postponed because of unplayable grounds. The game will be made up Sunday as part of a doubleheader beginning at 1:15 at Knights Stadium.

CUBSDaytona A
Nelson Perez hit only three home runs last year and has seven round trippers over the last two seasons. Yet Saturday night, he was a one-man power show for Daytona, which upended Brevard County, 7-3, at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Perez hit a pair of homers and knocked in three runs with his two-run shot capping a three-run second inning. Justin Bour also connected for a solo homer in the second to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. It was enough to make a winner of Aaron Kurcz, who allowed three runs on four hits in five innings.
Peoria A
Jean Almanzars three-run double in the 12th lifted Cedar Rapids to a 12-9 victory over Peoria at OBrien Field.

The Chiefs has staged a pair of rallies, finally knotting the score at 9-9 in the eighth inning. Yohan Gonzalez issued a pair of walks and surrendered a single in the 12th, setting the stage for Almanzars double.

Matt Szczur had a pair of hits, a walk, an RBI and scored twice. Greg Rohan added a pair of hits and an RBI while Pierre LaPage chipped in three hits and has hit safely in all three games this season.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies bullpen imploded and as a result Chattanooga handed Tennessee its first loss of the season, a 12-4 decision Saturday night. The pen allowed nine runs on 13 hits over four innings, erasing the one-run lead with which starter Alberto Cabrera had left it.

Ryan Flaherty and DJ LeMahieu each had a pair of hits while Brett Jackson singled to extend his hitting streak to three games.
Iowa AAA
The I-Cubs racked up 15 hits and made a late charge Saturday night but it wasnt enough as they dropped a 13-9 decision to Round Rock at the Dell Diamond.

Starter Robert Coello and Jake Muyco combined to allow all 13 runs through the first seven innings, negating the five runs that Iowa scored over the final three innings. Bryan LaHair and Scott Moore each had a homer and three RBIs.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears desperately need more from Jordan Howard, which may sound greedy given that he has been one of the only offensive sparks of the last two seasons. And they may be getting it.

Through the early practices in Bears Camp ’18, the nascent offense of coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich has been ... interesting. The intensity and conditions can be posited as factors, but the fact remains that the defense has intercepted a half-dozen passes and the pass rush has had Mitch Trubisky and the other quarterbacks frequently scrambling after coverage locked down their intended receivers.

Amid all that, something decidedly positive and mildly surprising was unfolding.

Rush-and-cover combos force check-downs to shorter routes, in particular running backs. If this were the Kansas City Chiefs offense under Nagy last year, that would have been Kareem Hunt, who caught 84 percent of the 63 passes on which he was targeted. If this were the Bears from 2008 through 2015, that would have been Matt Forte, who never caught fewer than 44 passes in any of his eight Chicago seasons.

But those were thens, this is now, and the featured back in the Chicago offense is Howard. That qualifies as a question for the developing Bears offense, an iteration of the West Coast system that is predicated on positive plays and ball control using the pass.

The reason is that Howard has developed two competing personas through his first two NFL seasons. One was that of a workhorse running back, the first in Bears franchise history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. A model of consistency at 4.6 yards per carry.

The “other” Jordan Howard was the model of inconsistency — a running back among the worst pass-catchers at his position, low-lighted by the drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Atlanta Falcons last opening day. Howard dropped six of his 29 targets last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The year before he was determined to have dropped seven of his 50 targets.

An emerging 'new' Howard

But maybe that latter was then and this training camp is now.

The defensive pressure has, by chance or by choice, sent Trubisky passes toward Howard. The third-year tailback has responded with both efficient pass-catching and occasionally light acrobatic work, turning off-target throws into positive plays.

The results qualify as a significant positive from early camp. Howard is getting a clean-slate start from Nagy and running backs coach Charles London, and the hope is for a three-down back in the Hunt/Forte mold, which Howard can only be if he is an effective third-down option. His head coach thinks he is.

“Obviously, there’s this façade out there, there’s this notion that (Howard) is just a first- and second-down back, and I don’t believe that,” Nagy said. “Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that. We’re going to use him. And we’re going to use other guys on first and second down when we need to.

“For us, it’s important for Jordan to know and for everybody on our offense to know that he’s a big part of this. This kid’s had a very successful career so far. We’re crazy as coaches and as offensive coaches if we don’t understand it and if we don’t use that to our advantage.”

Wanting Howard to be a three-down force and achieving that are two different things. For his part, Howard has worked to effect what can become a tidal shift for the offense.

“Definitely it’s important to me, just building my confidence more and more with catching the ball and working my body,” Howard said. “It’s definitely important to me. ... I definitely have improved my hand placement. I used to have my hands all over the place, but now coach London is working with me on my hand placement and looking the ball in.”

Possible impact on Howard

The impact of a multi-dimensional Howard cannot be overstated, and it could be overlooked in the buzz of all the other “weapons” the Bears brought in this offseason. It shouldn’t be.

Neither should the effect his enhanced skillset can have for Howard himself.

When the Bears’ offense broke out under Marc Trestman in 2013, finishing second in scoring, Forte caught 74 passes while posting his career-high 1,335 rushing yards on an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Hunt as a rookie last season led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while being the Chiefs’ third-leading receiver in both catches and targets. Howard was the only of the top eight leading rushers in 2017 with fewer than Leonard Fournette’s 36.

Tarik Cohen delivered 53 receptions. But Cohen is not a three-down back with the capability of the 200-plus carries that 17 of the top 19 running backs logged last year.

A critical element projects to be Howard’s conditioning and ability to take on a larger and more diverse workload. That limited him in his rookie season, when his usage in fourth quarters dropped at times because he simply wasn’t in requisite shape. The Bears hope that issue and the drops are behind Howard.

“He’s a patient running back,” Nagy said. “I think he as good vision so he’s patient, has good vision, and when you combine that with the power that he has, he finds ways to get yards. The nice thing for us is that we can move him around and do different things.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here: