White Sox

Notre Dame hoping for big things out of the backfield

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Notre Dame hoping for big things out of the backfield

Both Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix have mentioned during fall practice that they don't need to do too much, just get the ball to Notre Dame's playmakers and let them rack up the yards and points.

Last year, that strategy meant feeding Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert as much as possible. This year, Eifert's still around, but there doesn't appear to be one single wide receiver who's in a position to take over for Floyd's production.

Perhaps one will emerge, but as the Irish barrel toward their season opener against Navy Sept. 1, most of the offense's playmaking ability appears to be in the backfield.

Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III comprise a a three-headed monster at the running back position, although that doesn't mean they'll necessarily line up in the backfield on every down.

"We're going to play all of our backs," coach Brian Kelly said last week. "When we talk about all of our backs, they're playing both wide receiver, slot position, we can move them anywhere on the field as well as play the running back position."

Of the three, Wood is probably the most pigeon-holed into being a running back, although that doesn't mean he's not an adept pass-catcher -- he has 47 receptions for 359 yards in the last two seasons. But Atkinson and Riddick, especially, are able to take on more of a "hybrid" role, lining up either as a running back or receiver.

"I've seen great growth in George Atkinson," Kelly said. "We always look to George as somebody that maybe he's just a running back. Well, he's really evolved into somebody that can catch the football for us.

"We know about Theo, obviously with his stint at the wide receiver position, and Cierre has really made great strides over the past 10 days or so. They're all going to play, and it would not be a surprise if a couple of them are on the field at the same time."

Riddick came to Notre Dame as a running back, but was flipped to wide receiver after his freshman year, when Kelly's coaching staff took over in South Bend. He's caught 78 passes in the last two seasons while only rushing 25 times, but those numbers may even out for his senior year.

"It works out very well -- I have to know every position," Riddick said of his hybrid role in the offense. "I have great knowledge of the playbook and Im moving around, so you can never focus on just one position that Im playing."

Atkinson flashed his playmaking ability last year on kick returns, taking two back during his freshman season to tie a Notre Dame record. He'll remain there, but he -- along with Wood and Riddick -- have seen work with the punt return unit in fall camp.

Riddick was slated to be Notre Dame's punt returner last year, but struggled with catching the ball early on. He was eventually replaced by John Goodman for a few weeks until Kelly decided to go with Floyd in that spot.

"I wouldnt say uncomfortable, I was always comfortable," Riddick said of his punt returning woes last year. "Confidence was never a problem. But having the chance to do it again, I guess well see."

Notre Dame is hoping for more out of its punt returners, just like it's hoping for more out of its offense. And with an inexperienced quarterback leading the charge against Navy, the success of the team's running backs will take on added importance.

"Our team is so good around us, the quarterback position, we don't have to win the games, we just have to get the ball to our horses and let the playmakers do their job and just minimize mistakes," Hendrix said earlier in camp. "We moved backwards sometimes last year, and as long as we're always moving forward, never having negatives plays we're going to be a very good football team."

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease still in the minors, but White Sox end of the Jose Quintana trade looking real good right now

Who won the Jose Quintana trade?

It’s still way too early to actually answer that question. But a trade that seemed so beneficial for both the White Sox and Cubs when it was completed last summer seems to have a South Side lean at the moment, even if it’s a very slight one.

That’s not a knock against Quintana, who faced his former team for the first time Friday afternoon. He’s doing his part in the mission the Cubs acquired him to accomplish. A rocky start that afflicted most of the North Side starting rotation means Quintana’s season-long numbers aren’t dazzling, but he’s been excellent as the Cubs’ division race with the Milwaukee Brewers has heated up, with a 2.10 ERA in his last six starts heading into Friday’s Crosstown opener.

They acquired him to help them win another World Series, and he’s pitching well enough as the postseason nears to be a big piece of that equation this October.

But the team that traded Quintana away probably isn’t having second thoughts at the moment. While the return pieces in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades haven’t exactly hit the big leagues in dominant fashion — the ceilings of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all still very high — the two biggest return pieces in the Quintana trade are perhaps the two biggest reasons to be excited about the White Sox future at the moment.

Eloy Jimenez is being discussed as a superstar in waiting. His eventual promotion to the majors was the biggest discussion topic of the season, and though it didn’t end up happening in 2018, it doesn’t figure to be long into the 2019 campaign before he’s playing big league ball.

He lit the minors on fire this season with a .337/.384/.577 slash line and 22 home runs in 108 games split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. After being promoted to Triple-A, he posted a .355/.399/.597 slash line and 12 homers in 55 games. He’s currently ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game.

Dylan Cease, meanwhile, was good enough to be named MLB Pipeline’s minor league pitcher of the year. He posted a 2.40 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 23 starts between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. That includes a sparkling 1.72 ERA in 10 starts following a midseason promotion to Double-A. He went to the Futures Game and pitched in the ninth inning on that All-Star stage.

Coming into the season, Cease was maybe the fourth most highly thought of White Sox pitching prospect, trailing Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning — not to mention big leaguers Giolito and Carlos Rodon. But where the question then was whether Cease could find a place in a crowded rotation of the future, the question now is: Could he lead it? Cease’s magnificent 2018 has sparked thoughts of him being the pitcher with the greatest promise in the organization.

And so that sounds like a pretty good state of the trade for the White Sox. Of course, the win-now Cubs probably feel similarly about their end of the deal, Quintana’s performance of late helping to answer what was a glaring question earlier in the season.

It’s worth repeating that it’s extremely early to be making any definitive statements about the “winner” of this deal. It’s also very early to be able to say with certainty what impact Jimenez and Cease will finally have when they reach the majors. The two most exciting White Sox youngsters at this time last season were Moncada and Kopech, and while the organization still thinks the world of both, fan expectations have shifted as Moncada’s first full big league season has been an up-and-down one and Kopech is days removed from Tommy John surgery that will wipe out his 2019.

In other words, things can change. And fast.

But right now, Jimenez and Cease are arguably the two brightest parts of the White Sox future. There’s plenty of questions to be answered over the coming years, but in the moment, the South Side half of this win-win deal is living up to the billing.

The Way We Hear It: Mike Glennon plays Mitch Trubisky

The Way We Hear It: Mike Glennon plays Mitch Trubisky

With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Cardinals matchup: