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Injuries could test Bears' depth

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Injuries could test Bears' depth

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears' belief that they have the depth to withstand injuries is being tested.

They officially ruled out return specialist and receiver Devin Hester and guard Chris Spencer for Sunday's game against Seattle.

The good news is that linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte made it clear they expect to be ready after injuring ankles against Minnesota, meaning the banged-up Bears will likely have at least two of their star players available.

Asked after practice on Thursday if he expects to play this week, Forte said, ``I do.''

Briggs made a similar vow earlier in the day. He's missed just four games in 10 seasons and has no intention of adding to that total this week.

``Four games. I don't plan on missing this week, either,'' the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker said.

Briggs and Forte practiced Thursday on a limited basis, as did star cornerback Charles Tillman, who left the Vikings game with an ankle injury.

``They're backbones of our defense, part of it,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, referring to Tillman and Briggs. ``Just great players, Pro Bowl players. It's important and their leadership is so important.''

The fact that they were back practicing certainly was a good sign. While Tillman did not make himself available for comment, Briggs had plenty to say during his weekly session at the podium with reporters.

``I feel good,'' he said. ``Getting better every day. Modern medicine.''

Sitting out is something Briggs rarely does. He missed two games in 2007 and one each in 2009 and 2010, but mostly he's been durable during his career.

The same goes for Forte, who hadn't missed a game until he sat out the final four last season because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He also missed one early this year because of a sprained right ankle.

Even if they get Briggs, Forte and Tillman back, the Bears (8-3) will still be short-handed as they try at least to maintain their one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.

They had to scramble on the offensive line this week after losing both starting guards against the Vikings. Besides Spencer going down, they lost right guard Lance Louis for the remainder of the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Gabe Carimi, who filled in at right guard for the first time once Louis went down, figures to get the nod there. The Bears could go with Edwin Williams at left guard for Spencer.

Either way, Forte said, running behind a revamped line won't change his approach.

``I've just got to trust those guys up front,'' he said. ``They're getting a lot of reps in practice right now so they know what to do in the game, and if we make mistakes in the game, go to the sideline and make adjustments so that we don't continue to make them.''

The offensive line play has been a big issue for the Bears all season. They made some changes following an ugly loss at San Francisco two weeks ago, with Carimi losing his starting job at right tackle to Jonathan Scott. Chilo Rachal left the team, and Spencer stepped back into a starting role at left guard before going down.

The blocking is a big reason why the Bears' offense ranks 30th overall, certainly not what they envisioned after trading for star receiver Brandon Marshall.

They've strayed from the run at times, although that wasn't the case against Minnesota. They rushed 39 times in that game, and that commitment helped open up the passing game even if they managed just 113 yards rushing.

The defense appears to be in better shape at the moment.

Even if Tillman or Briggs is unable to play, the Bears believe they have enough star power and depth to get by at least in the short term.

``I feel good about it,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ``We've got good backups. Kelvin (Hayden) did a good job last week when Peanut (Tillman) went out. Up front we're deep. At linebacker we made some good moves in the offseason. ... So I feel all right about our depth in most positions.''

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to the Raptors, including Kelly Oubre Jr's putback slam

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USA Today

5 must-see moments from Wizards' loss to the Raptors, including Kelly Oubre Jr's putback slam

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 117-113 on Saturday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Early on in this one, there was a difference in Otto Porter Jr. He came out firing from long range after not taking a single three in the Wizards' season-opening loss to the Heat earlier in the week.

This was Porter's best play. Off an incredible fastbreak pass from John Wall, Porter knocked down a near-corner three and got the and-1:

It's often you see a four-point play. Porter finished with 11 points in 24 minutes after fading in the second half.

2. This may have been the best play of the night for the Wizards. Wall zoomed down the floor and missed a contested transition layup. But Kelly Oubre Jr. was there to clean it up with a vicious putback slam:

Oubre had eight points and six rebounds, but shot 3-for-8 and had two turnovers in 19 minutes.

3. It was a bad overall night for the Wizards, but Bradley Beal did provide a great moment in the second half when he knocked down his fifth three of the game. That one passed Gilbert Arenas on the Wizards/Bullets all-time list for career threes:

Beal had 32 points in 35 minutes on 12-for-21 from the field and 6-for-11 from three. He also added six rebounds, a steal and a block.

4. Per usual, Wall made a lot of plays attacking the rim on Saturday night. On this one, he got the bucket and the foul:

Wall finished with 25 points, six assists and four steals.

5. Those were the good moments for the Wizards. But the play of the game was by Raptors guard Fred Van Vleet.

On a broken play with the shot clock ticking down, Van Vleet threw up a desperation shot that went in and sealed the victory:

It has only been two games, but the Wizards failing to execute late to secure victories has been an early season theme. 

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What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

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USA TODAY

What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. What is his job during the game?

Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers was one of the rare games that featured four goalies. Braden Holtby and James Reimer started, but both were ultimately pulled in what was a high-scoring affair. In stepped Pheonix Copley and Michael Hutchinson.

And yet, despite being little more than an afterthought in the team’s preparation for the game, both Copley (one goal allowed on 19 shots, .947 save percentage) and Hutchinson (one goal allowed on 11 shots, .909 save percentage) stepped in and out-performed the starters giving both of their respective teams a chance to win the game.

“It's easier in some aspects,” Holtby said of coming into a game off the bench, something he has done at various points of his career despite being the primary starter for Washington. “I think that's why you see a lot of guys go in and have success right away and have good games because you don't have that day or two days to be getting rid of your thoughts and that kind of thing.”

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. Every team dresses two goalies on the roster for a game. One starts and one sits on the bench as the backup in case he is needed because of injury or because a coach chooses to make a goalie switch. That backup is tasked with being ready at all times to step into the game knowing full well that, if all goes according to plan, he will not get to play at all.

Holtby and Reimer had prepared for Friday’s game knowing they were going to start. Both players took warmups in order to prepare them to play a full game while Copley and Hutchinson had little reason to think they would see any action at all.

By the end of the second period, however, both Holtby and Reimer had been replaced. Copley at least had an intermission to prepare as he came on at the start of the second period while Hutchinson had to step in midway through the second period.

“I guess it can be a little challenging,” Copley said, “But I feel like as long as you’re kind of paying attention to the game and your mind's kind of in that hockey mindset then if something happens, I'll be ready to go.”

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. To have to step into a game unexpectedly with little to no warning or preparation and be expected to perform at the highest level is an incredibly tough mental challenge.

And yet, in many ways, it can be easier than starting.

“The whole thing about mental preparation is so that you go out there not thinking about anything, not worrying about any of that,” Holtby said. “When you're forced in with a matter of 30 seconds, there's no time to think about anything. You just go in and play.”

For goalies, not starting does not mean having the night off. Both coaches and teammates alike can lean upon a backup netminder as an extra set of eyes.

“Sometimes they'll ask a question like did it look like I had room there?” Copley said. “Was it a shot or missed? Did you see what happened on this play? So I just try to be there and watch.”

Some coaches even give goalies assignments in game, though that practice seems to be on the decline.

“I know [Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock] makes them look at faceoffs or something,” Holtby said. “It's pretty archaic. There's guys that do that now that are better than the backup goalie at looking at things.”

In truth, there is no defined in-game requirements for most goalies in the NHL when they sit as backups and that is true of the Caps’ tandem. That makes the job of a backup a very simple one.

“I just try and be ready if I have to go in,” Copley said. “Make sure I'm physically and mentally ready and be a good teammate.”

Holtby put it even more succinctly as he said, “Don't do anything stupid.”