Bears

Talking Turkey

Talking Turkey

Wednesday, November 25th

Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the year. No pressure, no stress, just family, food and football. Two things are constant in my house: The smell of turkey, putting me in a constant state of hunger and the sounds of the football games on the television, making everything right with the world. Well, almost everything.

For as long as I can remember, there were two NFL games on Thanksgiving. The games were aired by the networks that had the rights to each conference. Because of the size of the audience the networks would put their number one announcing team on the broadcast. The two lead analysts for the two big networks for the last five years are Troy Aikman for FOX and Phil Simms at CBS. While I didnt like either of them as players, (they both played in the NFL East. You do the math!) I had immense respect for them. They both are Super Bowl champions and deservedly so. They were successful at the ultimate level because of their physical and mental abilities. The understanding of the game they needed to play the game at its highest level is the reason they are on TV. What makes them great announcers is that they are able to convey what they see to us fans in a way that is detailed, accurate and entertaining. The combination of having great football knowledge and having used it to win gives them credibility. For most of us fans this credibility is very important. I mean, do you want a bartender describing the action? (I know, I do too, but the networks wont return my calls!) While I know a certain bartender would be very entertaining, these two have me beat. They both have established themselves as being among the best at what they do. When their network has a big game, they are going to be the ones analyzing it.

Then in 2006 the dessert of a 3rd game was added. But this game was put on the NFL Network and their broadcast has, to say the least, not quite had the big network feel to it. (Consider them the WB of NFL broadcast networks.) Now this is kind of odd considering their analyst for the first 3 years, Chris Collinsworth, is someone whom I enjoy listening to. But for two long years, he was paired with Bryant Gumbel and their partnership was not very compelling. Not quite fingernails on the chalkboard, but not quite Summerall and Madden either. Then, thankfully, Gumbel was let go and Bob Papa took his place. The pairing seemed to work well together, even though I didnt still feel that they were near the elite.

What happened next is something I still cant fathom. When John Madden, my favorite analyst in any sport all-time, decided to retire from NBC, Collinsworth was hired to take his place on the most watched NFL game of the week. Good for him, bad for us. Because in its lack of infinite wisdom the NFL Network decided to hire Matt Millen to be their new lead analyst. Now if this was 2000, I would applaud the move, since back then Millen was considered to be Madden Lite. He was a rising star at FOX and was very entertaining to listen to. As a player he had made the Pro Bowl and had FOUR Super Bowl rings. His rep was that of a working class, gutty linebacker and he brought that mentality into the booth. In fact he was so knowledgeable and entertaining that the Detroit Lions hired him as their G.M. Oops!! What followed is probably the worst tenure of any NFL executive EVER! Now you could argue about some others being in his league, but just about all of them OWNED the team, they werent about to fire themselves! The Lions during his stewardship were 31-97! Think about that. 66 games under five hundred. People here are calling for Lovie and Angelos heads and theyre 2 games under this year, 2 games under for the last 2 12 years. What do you think the people of Detroit think of his ability to analyze football? (I read something that I didnt know while I was reading up on Mr. Millen. Last year when he was on air as part of NBCs Super Bowl pregame show, Channel 4 in Detroit ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen every time his face appeared on camera: Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? Ouch! That is funny. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the anger that this guy has generated?) I wont even get in to the fact that someone let him have that job for EIGHT years, I mean it wasnt that bad for us in Chicago, two easy games a year for the Bears are good for everyone!

It seems though, that TV execs still love this guy like nothing ever happened. Because, since he was fired 3 games into the first 0-16 season ever last year, one that had his hand and footprints all over it, hes worked for NBC, ESPN and now the NFL Network. Does he have pictures? How does this guy keep getting hired? Now dont get me wrong, this is not personal, since when he was a player, I was a huge fan, especially since hes a Nittany Lion. Hes one of my boys. And I was one of those who thought he was great as an analyst before his misadventures as a G.M. But isnt TV about what have you done for me lately? I dont understand how anyone can take anything he has to say about football seriously, considering the fact of how close we still are to the wreckage.

For us hard-core fans, credibility matters. TV usually understands this, since in every sport, they repeatedly hire winning coaches and players as analysts. These people have names that are easily recognizable and bodies of work that can be admired. I cant think of any other guy, other than maybe Dick Vitale, (Detroit! Coincidence?) that had such a bad experience, then had the privilege of explaining the actions of others to us afterwards. And thats the point. He has to explain the actions of others to us. What? Not only that, he has to stand in judgment of these actions. Can you imagine the reactions of those around the league? Forget us fans, is there any peer who thinks he just had a run of bad luck, for 8 years? What a joke.

I think that if you are the NFL Network, you should act like it. Your broadcasts should be beyond reproach, you should set the standards. The league takes hard-line stances with everything else, why would they open themselves up for this issue of credibility? Wouldnt fans rather listen to someone like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Theyve had success. They know what it takes to win, during a game and over the long haul. Oh well, Ill be in a tryptophan stupor by the time the game is on anyway. Maybe in that state, what he has to offer will make sense and when I roll my eyes, it will be because Im falling asleep, not because of the keen insight of Mr. 31-97. Gobble, Gobble!!

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

Will Mitch Trubisky be this season's Jared Goff?

The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:

"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."

MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky

The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season). 

Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround in only one offseason. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.

Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.