Bears

Wells is prepared for whatever the Cubs throw at him

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Wells is prepared for whatever the Cubs throw at him

MESA, Ariz. Maybe this was a preview, but Randy Wells didnt want to search for any deeper meaning. He has tried to block out all the noise and just pitch when they give him the ball.

Wells came in during the fifth inning on Saturday and got five outs in a 5-1 loss to the San Diego Padres at HoHoKam Stadium. He has said all the right things, even as it seems like the odds are tilted against him.

This could become his role the long man out of the bullpen but Wells wasnt treating it like a showcase.

I dont really look into it, Wells said. Theres an obvious competition going on and you start getting caught up in that, then it makes it tougher to pitch.

Wells has received only one Cactus League start and threw three shutout innings that day against the Milwaukee Brewers. Hes pitched in an intra-squad scrimmage and a B game. Hes not complaining.

Its just the way we worked out this spring, Wells said. We got a lot of guys who have to get their starts. Thats just what the deal is.

Dale Sveum has Wells piggybacking and scheduling issues because of the number of rotation candidates that came to camp. The manager said that he knows Wells capabilities after his years in the division as a Brewers coach. That body of work also wasnt enough to guarantee Wells a spot.

If decisions are going to be announced by Wednesday Sveums timeline then there arent many chances left to make an impression.

Sveum wrote off Jeff Samardzijas performance (seven runs on 10 hits in four innings) on Friday against the Colorado Rockies as a lesson, all part of the learning curve.

You cant throw 90 percent of all your pitches 91 mph and above, Sveum said. You better have unbelievable location if youre doing that.

The manager didnt necessarily think that Samardzija opened the door for Wells or Rodrigo Lopez, instead framing it as probably the best thing that happened to him, so he realizes that you have to change bat speeds.

As a rookie in 2009, Wells went 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA. The next season he made 32 starts and accounted for almost 200 innings. A forearm injury wiped out two months of last season, but he closed by going 6-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

There is a reasonable expectation of what youd get from Wells as the fifth starter, but the Cubs see potential upside in Samardzija and Chris Volstad. Long man wouldnt be Wells first choice, but hes speaking in clichs, thinking team first, not wanting to make any waves.

Id be disappointed, Wells said. Its three years in the rotation and (then to) have to go to the bullpen. But it could be a new challenge, something exciting. Either way, youre going to have to make adjustments. And if I do end up in the rotation, then Ill just try (to) have a better year than I did last year and take it one step further.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.