Bears

Rubio, Roy preach patience to Rose in recovery process

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Rubio, Roy preach patience to Rose in recovery process

Friday nights contest was a typical preseason game, with the Bulls avenging last Saturdays loss in Minneapolis by beating the Timberwolves at the United Center. It may have been more notable, however, by its absences.

No offense to Minnesota All-Star power forward Kevin Love, out for six to eight weeks with a broken hand, but eyes across the league are on the ongoing recoveries of two of the games premier floor generals and elite young players, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and his Timberwolves counterpart, Ricky Rubio.

Everybody in Chicago knows the saga of Rose, who suffered an ACL injury in the Bulls playoff opener against the 76ers last spring. Rubio suffered a similarly devastating injury in March, but with a couple months head start, hes closer to coming back to the court and therefore, worth monitoring for anybody with even a passing interest in either Rose himself or the Bulls as a whole.

Ive been working every day and Im dying to come back. I want to come back soon, but I know that if I come back early, its hard for me, so I want to make sure everythings fine, said the affable Rubio before the game. Im close to start practicing with five-on-zero, no contact. I dont know how long, maybe a month from that, but I want to come back as soon as possible. But like I said, I want to be healthy, so Im at a stage now where I can do more things, like running and I think Im close to being athletic again.

Im able to jump a little bit, so I can start practicing some jump shots, but only moving forward, not lateral yet, continued the native of Spain, who added that he cant do any cutting yet. I hope in two weeks. I dont know yet. Lets see when I start running harder and longer, and see if I dont have swelling at all. Then I can do more things.

Chimed in Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman: Hes doing fine. Hes progressing every day. Hes been moving up, as far as his running. Its still just straightaway running; its not cutting or anything. He was just shooting set shots now. Hes jumping a little bit. I talked to him today, this morning, and he said hopefully in the next couple of weeks, hes going to increase his running, his acceleration.

Im sure were just like Chicago. You want to get him back, but you want to be sure theyre comfortable coming back. But I think hes probably just like Chicagos guy. Theyre going to work their tail off to come back and thats what Rickys been doing. Hes been working, hes around the team all the time and were hoping when he does come back, that he can play, but even when he does come back, its going to take some time and hes going to have his ups and downs, and were going to have to find a way to work him in. But its going to be good to have him back.

At the time of his injury, Rubio had established himself as a budding superstar, was challenging Clevelands Kyrie Irving in the Rookie of the Year race and had Minnesotas long-suffering fan base thinking playoffs. But as he said in reference to Loves ill-timed injury We have so much bad luck on this team.

Still, the point guard remains optimistic and expressed high hopes for not only himself, but Rose, as well.

I know its tough. Its a tough injury. Youre six, eight, nine months without playing your favorite sport, and sometimes playing basketball is where you forget about everything and you just enjoy it, so I wish him a healthy recovery, he explained. Ive talked with Spanish guys who have had the same injury like Raul Lopez, who was in the NBA for a couple years and every player is different. Nobody has the same injury maybe a little more meniscus or two ligaments so every player is different, every recovery is different. We dont have to look at somebody else to see where one can come back, so you just take your time, but work hard every day to come back.

Well, in the beginning, it was physical because you were in so much pain and you had to fight every day, and you had to bend the knee, and every day was painful and then, when that pains goes away, you just have to work out and see your teammates, and all your friends playing. Not just basketball games, but basketball in the street, Rubio went on to say.

Added Adelman: I think you have to be a little bit cautious, for sure, when youre bringing him back. Its not like Kevins injury, where its a broken bone. He can still run and everything. But weve got to be careful. Thats why I say, when he comes back, you dont know what the timeframe is going to be, but its still going to be good to have him when he does come back, but we have to be cautious with him and make sure. But thats down the line.

Ironically, Minnesota also has former All-Star Brandon Roy on its roster. Roy was one of the elite shooting guards in the league before his recurring knee issues got to the point where it was bone on bone and he temporarily retired, before launching a comeback and signing with the Timberwolves during the offseason, over interest from the Bulls, among others.

Just going through the mental grind of being back in the league, the ups and downs. Some nights feel great. Some nights, not so great, so physically, I feel really good. Right now, mentally, Im just trying to learn the team, learn the system and then get used to playing the game day in and day out, said Roy about his own progress, before giving some advice to be passed along to Rose.

The biggest thing for him that I would say is just to be patient. Hes a young guy, hes got his whole career ahead of him and again, being patient and being mentally tough I think is the biggest challenge.

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: