Cubs

NIU Florida natives prep for return home

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NIU Florida natives prep for return home

DeKALB, Ill. -- Northern Illinois football players each receive six tickets for family and friends to attend the Huskies Jan. 1 Orange Bowl date with Florida State.
But for members of NIUs Florida delegation, six is nowhere near enough.
Im going to need at least 30, minimum, senior linebacker Victor Jacques said. But Im shooting for 40.
The demands on running back Akeem Daniels, a junior from the Kissimmee, Fla., are similar and rising.
Ive got 20-plus so far, he said. Everybodys calling. Family, friends, familys friends. Im trying to do my best to get everybody tickets. Im asking other teammates if theyre not using them.
The Huskies roster is dotted with 11 players from the Sunshine State, some who were recruited by in-state schools but opted to migrate 1,000 miles north. As many as eight could start on Jan. 1 against the Seminoles.
I wanted to see something different, Jacques, a redshirt senior with 28 tackles in eight appearances this season, said. Coming here, I saw how it was a great program, had great facilities, was on the rise and it was kind of an easy choice.
Jacques, who was also recruited by Florida International, Central Florida and South Florida, said there were adjustments to make from the balmy and culturally distinct Miami region.
Its (was) a big transition, he said. The people are a little bit different, but for the most part the weather was the biggest thing. I finally got a winter coach and got used to it.
Jacques cant wait to play at his hometown Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 1 against the Seminoles.
Its a complete, absolute dream for me being able to play in front of all my friends and family, he said. Especially (being) my last game, its quite an experience that I will cherish for a long time.
Daniels already had a connection in DeKalb. His older brother, Kiaree, played defensive back at NIU from 2008-10. And Akeem liked the chemistry and closeness among Huskie players.
I thought that was real special, you dont get that everywhere, he said. At the end of the day I had to make the decision, but my brother being here and liking the team bonding, the team chemistry, it made it an easy decision.
Daniels been a dual threat for the Huskies with 432 rushing yards on 65 carries and nine touchdowns. Hes also caught 18 passes for 192 yards and two TDs.
And Daniels, who says he long ago adjusted to DeKalbs cold and legendary winds, has no regrets about coming north.
Three MAC championship (games) the past three years, he said. I like this place.
Other top Floridians on the Huskies include Tommylee Lewis, Riviera Beach, the No. 2 receiver with 43 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns; linebacker Jamaal Bass, Miramar, the Huskies third-leading tackler (76); cornerback Demetrius Stone, Miami, 73 tackles; and defensive tackle Ken Bishop, Sunrise, 52 tackles.
Northern Illinois coaches started serious preparation for Florida State this week and had at least one day (Monday) to work outdoors at Huskie Stadium before moving practice to the enclosed DeKalb Recreation Center on Tuesday.
Yesterday we started the main part of our game plan and we got some time with the coaches to get some film study done, head coach Rod Carey said. Were still in the middle of what I call a four-day game-plan week. Were treating this like we build up to a normal (game).
The Huskies (12-1) will face a Florida State team (11-2) unlike any theyve faced.
Theyre good, thats an understatement, probably, Carey said. Theyre long, theyre athletic, theyre sound in what they do and well coached. They do all the things you expect an ACC (Atlantic Coast) champion to do.
But NIU counters with plenty of talent and exceptional seniors.
We have a lot of really good players on this team, he said. From Martel Moore to Perez Ashford, Sean Progar, Alan Baxter -- all of our seniors are playing their best football. Thats what makes this team.
If you look through the roster and highlight a senior, thats one of our best players.
The Huskies plan to practice in DeKalb through Thursday, then break for the holiday. Theyll return Christmas night and depart for Florida at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
Northern Illinois will practice daily in the run up to the Orange Bowl, set for a 7:30 p.m. (Central) kickoff on ESPN.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”