Cubs

New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

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New Bears learning the ropes in minicamp

Every minicamp presents excitement for players, coaches and organizations as a whole. Its the first opportunity to see how new puzzle pieces fit to build your football team. Coaches have ideas through pre-draft film study and internal scouting reports as to how players will be utilized, but first impressions when unwrapping your draft day gifts always are important.

Coaches setting the tempo
Lovie Smith and his coaching staff want to introduce newly acquired players to their mission statement -- everything from explaining what it means to be a Chicago Bear to how new players need to practice properly. Everything introduced is going to be the Chicago Bear way. The reprogramming of free agent signings started April 16 in the classroom, but the brainwashing of fresh meat out of college starts this weekend.

Everything from the introduction of daily itineraries, workout schedules, playbook material, new surroundings, new co-workers and expectation from employees are covered thoroughly. Ive stated before in previous blogs that nothing can be assumed from organizations or coaches. Thus, from a coaching perspective, every nuance the coaches deem necessary for both long-term and a weekend rookie minicamp will be introduced. Learning doesnt happen through osmosis, it must be taught. How everyone learns is a different question, but that will be discerned this weekend by coaches in practice evaluations.
Wide-eyed newbies

I remember my first rookie minicamp for the Steelers back in 1994. I was just anxious to get started by showing up a day early because a college buddy lived in Pittsburgh. I crashed at his house then walked in the Steelers office at Three Rivers Stadium the very next day. Who just happened to be strolling through the lobby when I walked through the Steelers' front door like I was the next Joe Montana? None other than my new head coach Bill Cowher. Bill basically freaked out telling me it was against the rules, but admired my eagerness. A good first impression was made, but there was much I didnt know with plenty more to learn.

Its funny when I think about it. I was crushed, but getting started on your dream is really what all rookies are thinking about. They want to impress on the practice field, in the weight room, impress everyone organizationally but most importantly new teammates. Rookies fight the overall anxious nervousness just to fit in and be accepted. The constant learning is important if you want to be the difference-making player the organization thinks you can be.

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

How the Cubs pitching staff prepared for a three-week Summer Camp

As the Cactus League shuttered its doors and Cubs players scattered across the country – some headed home, others stayed in Arizona —Tommy Hottovy stepped into uncharted territory.

Hottovy has been the Cubs pitching coach since December of 2018, so he’s guided his pitchers through offseasons before. But going from ramping up in Spring Training to not knowing when Major League Baseball would return? No one had a play book for that.

“Our philosophy was be over-ready and not try to play catchup,” starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “So, luckily we were able to do that.”

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Fast forward to Sunday, Day 3 of Cubs Summer Camp. By the end of the holiday weekend, four of the Cubs’ five presumptive starters had thrown at least two innings in an intrasquad scrimmage and four relievers had also gotten time on the mound.

“It’s just a testament to the work those guys put in over the process,” Hottovy said.

During the shutdown, Hottovy held regular meetings with the pitchers via video conference. They bounced ideas off each other and discussed their overall approach.

“We had so many resources between Tommy, Rossy (manager David Ross), the whole coaching staff staying in touch with us the whole time,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “And then other players. So, we really did it as a group.”

Out of those conversations, Hottovy learned that many of the pitchers wanted arm strength to be a focus during the break.

“Not just pitch-count wise,” Hottovy said, “but to feel that their arm was in the right throwing shape.”

So, he incorporated that into the pitchers’ throwing programs.

Each pitchers’ program was catered to the resources and facilities he had access to, as well as his own goals. But before ramping up for Summer Camp, most of the starting pitchers were throwing one bullpen session early in the week and a simulated game later in the week. As the season got closer, they added a second bullpen.

RELATED: Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

“The reason I liked getting to those two bullpens,” Hottovy said, “was because now you kind of start simulating what it’s like to be on a five-game rotation.”

By the time they entered camp, many of the starting pitchers were already throwing multiple-inning simulation games. By Day 2 of camp, the Cubs were ready for a short intrasquad game. Hendricks threw three innings, and Yu Darvish threw two.

“Both of them had actually thrown more pitches in a simulated outing prior to coming here,” Hottovy said, “but we wanted to back that off a little bit, obviously knowing that the intensity was going to go up. They’re back on the field with players behind them facing more of our lineup, more of our hitters.”

On Sunday, the Cubs stretched an intrasquad out to five-innings. Chatwood and Alec Mills started, and Dan Winkler, Duane Underwood, Rex Brothers and James Norwood all pitched in relief.

“Everything’s based off pitching,” Ross said and then laughed. “We give the pitchers a hard time all the time; the pitchers kind of dictate how long the day’s going to go because these guys have got to get their pitch counts up.”

With less than three weeks until the season opener, Hottovy’s job still doesn’t return to normal. Instead of setting a schedule based on the order of the pitching rotation, he’s “front-loading” the starters. He also is preparing some relivers to throw extended innings.

“Right now, in my mind we have seven opening day starters,” he said, “…You can’t space them out too much in my opinion just because you can’t take that chance.”

 

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Mitch Trubisky among Sports Illustrated's biggest what-ifs of the last 10 years

Mitch Trubisky among Sports Illustrated's biggest what-ifs of the last 10 years

If you're a diehard Bears fan or a fan of Mitch Trubisky, you may want to skip this one. It isn't pretty.

Sports Illustrated recently published the NFL's 10 biggest what-ifs of the last decade, and Ryan Pace's decision to draft Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson made the cut. 

Look, this isn't earth-shattering stuff. Bears fans have assimilated to life after the 2017 draft and the painful reality that Chicago had an opportunity to select either Mahomes or Watson. It's obvious that that decision changed the fate of the Bears (for the worse), while the Chiefs are defending Super Bowl champions and the Texans are poised to always be in the mix despite the blunders by the coaching staff and shell of a front office.

But this is the Bears. And they're a popular target this offseason for reasons beyond comprehension. What in the world did this team do to offend football media so hard? But I digress.

At least SI is somewhat reasonable with the way things could've played out for Mahomes and Watson had they been picked by the Bears. It's easy (and somewhat foolish) to assume their careers would've taken the same path in Chicago that it has in Kansas City and Houston. In fact, Trubisky's had the most challenging start to his career. He's the only one of the three who's on his second head coach, and if we're being honest, Allen Robinson is the only legitimate (and proven) starting-caliber receiver he's had at his disposal.

If the Bears had taken Mahomes, and still fired John Fox after his rookie year, and still hired Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy, would the team find the same level of success? If Mahomes was not given the chance to sit his rookie season behind Alex Smith and smooth out the rough patches in his game, would he emerge as the same firebrand? If Watson was a Bear, without the comically high catch radius of DeAndre Hopkins and a foundationally sound offense (Trivia Question: Who led the Bears in receiving yards in 2017? Kendall Wright with 614!), what would’ve become of him?

There are some basic facts that can't be ignored, however. Trubisky has proven to be the least talented of the three from pure quarterbacking standpoint after three years in the league. He doesn't have the natural ability to make the kind of 'wow' plays that Watson routinely does and his arm is a full tier (or more) below Mahomes'. Trubisky certainly has physical traits consistent with a quality starting quarterback, but his mental processing is way behind Mahomes and Watson at this point, and we've entered that scary territory where it's worth questioning whether he's capable of growth in that part of his game.

If the Bears picked Mahomes or Watson, they'd be better equipped to make a Super Bowl run sometime in the not-too-distant future. But they didn't. And guess what? They're still good enough to make that SuperBowl run, assuming Trubisky (or Nick Foles) plays their best football in 2020.