Bears

Torn ACL could end Rivera's legendary career

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Torn ACL could end Rivera's legendary career

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Mariano Rivera drifted back to the outfield wall, just like he'd done in batting practice so many times before, baseball's greatest closer tracking down another fly ball with childlike joy. Everything changed before anybody could blink. The Yankees' 12-time All-Star caught his cleat where the grass meets the warning track in Kansas City, his right knee buckling before he hit the wall. Rivera landed on the dirt, his face contorted in pain, as Alex Rodriguez uttered the words "Oh, my God" from some 400 feet away. Bullpen coach Mike Harkey was the first to reach Rivera, whistling toward the Yankees' dugout for help. Manager Joe Girardi had been watching from behind the batter's box and set off at a run down the third-base line, angling toward center field and his fallen reliever. "My thought was he has a torn ligament, by the way he went down," Girardi said later. His instincts proved correct. Rivera was diagnosed with a torn ACL and meniscus Thursday night after an MRI exam taken during the Yankees' 4-3 loss to the Royals. The injury likely ends his season, and quite possibly his career, an unfathomable way for one of the most decorated pitchers in history to go out. "It's not a good situation, but again, we've been through this before, and we're being tested one more time," Rivera said, pausing to compose himself in the Yankees' clubhouse. "It's more mentally than physical, you know? You feel like you let your team down." The 42-year-old Rivera has said that he'll decide after the season whether hang it up after 18 years in the major leagues. And while Girardi said he hopes that baseball's career saves leader makes a comeback, Rivera sounded as if retirement is a very real possibility. "At this point, I don't know," he said in a whisper. "Going to have to face this first. It all depends on how the rehab is going to happen, and from there, we'll see." The injury seemed to cast a pall over the Yankees, who played from behind the entire way Thursday night. They put the tying run on third base in the ninth inning before Mike Moustakas made a stellar play on a chopper by Rodriguez, throwing him out by a step to preserve the win. Afterward, the only thing on A-Rod's mind was Rivera. "I saw it all go down," Rodriguez said. "It's hard even to talk about it tonight. I mean, Mo has meant so much to us on a personal level, and his significance on the field, on the mound. But the bottom line is we're the New York Yankees, and nobody is going to feel sorry for us." There's a much different feeling about Rivera, though. One of the most durable pitchers to ever play the game is well-liked and universally respected. That's what happens when you save 608 games and have five World Series rings. "You're talking about somebody who does something that's never been done," said Derek Jeter, who had four hits in the game. "It's not like somebody comes along the next day and does it." Jeter said that Rivera has been shagging balls for "20-some years," at least as long as they've known each other. It never crossed the captain's mind that Rivera would get hurt tracking down a fly ball in batting practice. It's just something that people had come to accept. "That's his conditioning. He's always shagging balls," Jeter said. "He's like a center fielder anyway. It was a freak thing. There's no other way you can explain it." Girardi also defended Rivera's decision to shag balls in batting practice, pointing out that the reliever hadn't been on the disabled list since 2003, and reasoning that Rivera may never have become the same shutdown closer if not for all the work he put in before games. "You have freak injuries, and this is one of them," Girardi said. "We had a guy carrying a box down the stairs that broke his foot. You can fall off a curb. You have to allow him to be an athlete and a baseball player and have fun out there. I've never seen Mo do anything recklessly, or seen Mo dive to try to rob a home run. It's the way he exercises." Girardi was too far away from the outfield wall to see what happened, but he knew that Rivera had sustained a significant injury when he saw players and coaches gathering around him. Rivera grabbed immediately at his right knee and started rubbing it, stopping only to briefly cover his face with his glove. Harkey and Girardi eventually carried Rivera to a cart brought onto the field, gently setting him into the back with his knee propped up. "At first I thought he was being funny, but then I realized that he was injured, he was down, and that's when I really got worried," said David Phelps, who made his first major league start Thursday night. "There's nothing I can do but stand there and watch. It's a miserable feeling." The cart rounded the warning track before disappearing up a tunnel, and Rivera didn't put any weight on his knee when he was helped back into the Yankees' clubhouse. He was examined by Royals associate physician Dr. Joe Noland, but it wasn't until the MRI exam was taken at KU MedWest that head physician Dr. Vincent Key made the diagnosis. "I thought it wasn't that bad, but it's torn," Rivera said. "Have to fix it." Girardi said that Rivera would be reexamined by the Yankees' physicians, but Rivera said that he would rather remain with the team in Kansas City than fly back to New York on Friday. The Yankees play three more against the Royals before a day off. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen doing something I love to do. And shagging I love to do," Rivera said. "I'd do the same thing, without hesitation. The reasons why it happen, you have to take it as it is. Fight through it. You know, just have to fight." Rivera is only the latest closer to go down with a significant injury this season. The Royals' Joakim Soria, the Reds' Ryan Madson and the Giants' Brian Wilson all required Tommy John surgery. Tampa Bay's Kyle Farnsworth is out with a strained elbow, Boston's Andrew Bailey had surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb, and Washington's Drew Storen had a bone chip removed from his elbow, though the Nationals expect him to pitch this season. Of course, none of those players has nearly the pedigree of Rivera. With the same devastating cutter that has carried him for years, Rivera has made at least 60 appearances each of the last nine seasons. He blew a save on opening day this year, but allowed only two hits in eight scoreless innings after that, picking up five of his 608 saves. "I always argued he was the best pitcher of all-time," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Not just the best reliever, but the best pitcher of all-time. "Accidents happen. That's all I can say. You can get hurt getting out of bed, literally. You can get hurt doing anything," Teixeira said. "That's Mo. Part of what makes him great is he's so athletic, and he loves to run around out there and have fun. You can't play this game for 15-plus years without having fun. It was just a tough accident."

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.

Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence. 

Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires. 

Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ended last season ranked in the bottom-third of pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.