Bears

Wells heads back to Iowa as Dempster, Wood activated

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Wells heads back to Iowa as Dempster, Wood activated

CINCINNATI Randy Wells packed his bag for Des Moines on Thursday morning. Even if he sensed a demotion to Triple-A Iowa was coming, it didnt make it any easier.

Im not happy, Wells said. I didnt pitch well, so theres nobody really to blame but yourself. It still sucks. You obviously want to pitch well and put yourself in a good position, but the numbers just dont stack up. It is what it is.

The Cubs made a series of roster moves before Thursdays game against the Cincinnati Reds. Wells again lost the numbers game when Ryan Dempster came off the disabled list, becoming the sixth starter in a five-man rotation.

The Cubs also activated Kerry Wood and optioned left-hander Scott Maine to Iowa. They didnt seem interested in moving Wells whos making 2.705 million this year to the bullpen.

Hes got a future, manager Dale Sveum said. We cant sit here and promise anything. Right now, thats the role he has as a swingman coming up when we need starts.

So the Cubs will have insurance in case another starter goes down. Their bullpen remains a work in progress.

The coaching staff will have to be careful with Wood, whose right shoulder has been bothering him periodically since the beginning of spring training, and isnt ready for back-to-back games yet.

Well monitor him, Sveum said. It will be every other day and when you get him up, you get him in the game. Early on here, well probably use him in less-stressful situations. Its a sixth-, seventh-inning thing right now.

The Cubs will continue to carry Lendy Castillo, a Rule 5 pick who hasnt pitched in a game since April 20. Michael Bowden is out of options and can pitch multiple innings. James Russell is the only lefty in the bullpen.

Maine didnt do anything wrong he allowed one run in 5 23 innings and notched 10 strikeouts but still wound up losing another numbers game.

Its unclear whether the Cubs would have really changed their plans, but Wells didnt help his cause in two spot starts. The Cubs lost both games and combined Wells gave up six runs on nine hits and nine walks in 8.2 innings.

Wells who reported to spring training with a 27-30 career record and a 4.01 ERA in the majors has shown that he can be a decent piece at the back end of a rotation. Virtually every team could use more pitching. He was asked if he feels like he still fits in here.

I dont think its that at all, he said. I just think theres no room.

Wells didnt make any excuses, and isnt the type to make waves and demand a trade. He blamed himself.

Im not pitching well, he said, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

As the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving and the 2019 college football season slowly comes to a close, attention will soon shift to the 2020 NFL draft and the pool of prospects who will be showcased in the college football playoffs and bowl games around the country. And that means mock draft season is here.

The Bears will be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. But let's be honest, they still have Khalil Mack. And that's a win.

What the Bears do have is two second-round picks, which if the draft were held today would be two selections in the top 50. It's unlikely they'll remain that valuable as the season marches on and Chicago and the Oakland Raiders (re: Mack trade) continue stacking wins, but the point remains: The Bears have some draft capital that they can use to improve this roster heading into 2020.

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the biggest question surrounding the Bears is at quarterback, where Mitch Trubisky is struggling to establish himself as 'the guy.' If his struggles continue, Chicago could use the draft, in addition to a veteran free-agent signing, to create a full-blown quarterback battle next training camp.

In this mock draft, that's exactly what GM Ryan Pace does.

Round 2: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts is getting some first-round love right now but it feels like his draft stock will depend on how his December goes. There's no denying his ability as a playmaker and comps to Lamar Jackson are already starting to bubble. Hurts is having a ridiculous season statistically, completing over 73% of his passes and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has five games with at least 75 yards rushing, too. 

Hurts doesn't profile as a quarterback who'd be ready to step in and start early in his rookie season, and that's exactly what the Bears should look for in this year's draft. Trubisky will be on the roster next season, and coupled with a free-agent veteran signing, a prospect like Hurts will have the time to learn from the bench in Year 1. And if he's too good to keep off the field, it's a fantastic problem to have.

Round 2 (from Oak): Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

The Bears' tight end problems have been well-documented this season. Trey Burton has been an oft-injured bust of a free-agent signing (2018) and Adam Shaheen is an even bigger bust of a second-round pick (2017). Young developmental players like Ben Braunecker don't project as long-term answers at the position, so adding a prospect like Okwuegbunam with their second of two second-round picks would be a good play.

Okwuegbunam's scouting report is likely all over the map right now. Some front offices will love him, others will think he lacks any special quality to be a top-50 pick. The former All-SEC freshman suffered a broken scapula in 2018 that limited his season to just nine games, but he flashed appealing upside as a receiver over that span. His production hasn't been great this year -- 22 catches, 280 yards, 6 TDs -- but his tape is promising. And, let's be honest: even if Okwuegbunam's true grade is somewhere closer to the third-round range, the Bears can't afford to wait on a guy at a position of need who could legitimately win the starting job as a rookie.

Round 5: Trevon Hill, EDGE, Miami

The Leonard Floyd experiment is over. And it's not that he won't be back with this team; it's just he won't be relied on as part of the pass-rush plan. He simply can't do it and it's time to move on. Enter Trevon Hill, who offers some twitchy upside as an edge defender.

Pace will have to do his due diligence on a player like Hill, whose checkered past includes dismissal from Virginia Tech in 2018. Still, he's managed 15.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss over the last three-plus seasons.

The Bears need more pass-rush options, and that's what Hill represents at this point in the draft.

Round 6: Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia

It's unlikely the Bears will make any sweeping changes to the offensive line this offseason, especially at tackle where Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are both under contract for the next several seasons. But the roster could use some depth on the edges which is where McKivitz fits in nicely.

Considered a riser early in 2019, McKivitz has experience at both left and right tackle and has been a reliable pass-blocker during his tenure as a Mountaineer. Entering the 2019 season, McKivitz had allowed just eight sacks on 1,459 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Round 6: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Ryan Pace loves small-school prospects, so I had to fit at least one (kind of small-schooler) in this mock draft. Fortunately for the Bears, it's one of the top lesser-known players who will be available in 2020 who also happens to fill a team need.

Highsmith has 9.5 sacks so far this season and fits the mold of that twitchy pass-rusher off the edge that Chicago must find to complement Mack. The likely Senior Bowl invite will have a chance to impress scouts in Mobile, Ala., and could ascend into the Day-2 conversation. For now, he's a great value pick in the sixth round.

Round 7: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver profiles as a poor man's Nick Kwiatkoski, who the Bears might lose in free agency this offseason if he continues playing at a high level. With Danny Trevathan also on an expiring contract, Chicago needs to add another inside linebacker to the roster regardless of who they re-sign. 

Weaver isn't the best athlete. He's vulnerable in coverage. He isn't going to wow at the Scouting Combine. But he's strong, no-nonsense inside linebacker who isn't afraid of to throw his body around. Sounds like a Bear to me.

What are your thoughts on this mock draft? Share them with me on Twitter!

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Headstrong: Andrew Joy helping Blackhawks deal with mental challenges on and off the ice

Headstrong: Andrew Joy helping Blackhawks deal with mental challenges on and off the ice

Andrew Joy joined the Blackhawks as Mental Skills Coach in 2014 and his dreams of winning a Stanley Cup quickly came true, even though it didn’t come as a player.

“As a young hockey player you always want to win the Stanley Cup,” Joy said. "You never think you’re going to do it working through psychology.”

Joy’s focus is on helping Blackhawks get through certain problems they are facing. Those problems aren’t always on-ice issues. He said sometimes they will come to him to talk through personal problems, family issues or whatever they may be going through.

“From my experience working with athletes, a lot of guys like to keep it hush hush, especially because as an athlete at that level you’re up on this pedestal and you’re not really supposed to have chinks in your armor,” Joy said. “It’s really great when guys are able to pull you aside and say ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ and ‘Can you help me work through this?’”

Joy was on the ice for the 2015 Stanley Cup win. His work off the ice with the players may have been just as important as the work that was being done on it. Shortly after that season, Joy quickly expanded and transitioned his work to helping youth and college students cope with the pressure and expectations of sports and performance. His company “The Mental Difference” partners with clients to gain greater personal insight and understanding of thoughts, feelings and actions.

See more from Joy in the video above.

This is all part of a larger message and project from the NBC Sports Regional Networks. Religion of Sports — the media company founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan and Gotham Chopra — has partnered with NBC Sports regional networks for a new one-hour documentary addressing the issue of mental health in sports. “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports” is executive produced by six-time NFL Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

“Mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront of our national conversation,” Ted Griggs, president, Group Leader and Strategic Production & Programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks, added. “Thanks to athletes like Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, and executives such as NBA commissioner Adam Silver, we know that our sports heroes face mental health challenges, just like so many others. We hope this project will advance that conversation and show people that resources and assistance are available to everyone.”