Monthly Archives: April 2012
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With Matt Garza toeing the rubber for the Cubs Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, Cubs fans got to witness a stellar pitching performance by their unquestioned ace.
Garza gave up a leadoff single to shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the first, then retired the next 18 batters he faced, including a season high 10 strikeouts, matching his highest total as a member of the Cubs.
Normally it’s Phillies fans that are beneficiaries of dominant pitching efforts behind their trio of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, but Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick didn’t get the run support and couldn’t avoid some mistakes his defense made.
The Cubs took advantage of a misplayed a ball hit to right fielder Hunter Pence, when he misjudged a Jeff Baker liner that cost the club a run. In the third inning Cubs speedster and resident pest on the base paths, Tony Campana forced Kendrick to rush a pickoff attempt that first baseman Laynce Nix couldn’t corral.
Campana scooted to third and would score on a sac fly from Starlin Castro, who had two RBI despite not collecting a hit, giving Garza all the support he would need on a day where he had everything working for him from the get go as the Cubs beat the Phillies 5-1.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard sports fan and former football player from Chicago, the greatest city in the world. The home of deep dish pizza, the greatest skyline in the world, and the best sports fans in America. Patrick has been a fan of the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks since birth and is an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake Up Call”, a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10. View his show’s website here.
After selecting rush end Shea McClellin in the first and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the second round the bears filled their two biggest needs.
Holding the 79th pick in the third round the Bears selected Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hardin (6-3, 217) to play safety for the Bears. Marking the eighth consecutive year the bears have selected a safety, and the third in a row drafting one in the third round.
That many selections suggest that the position is clearly in a state of flux and are looking for an answer in the defensive backfield. After taking Major Wright and Chris Conte in the third round each of the past two seasons, many Bears fans may be wondering where Hardin fits in.
Hardin impressed scouts at the East West shrine game after missing the past season with a fractured left shoulder. On the heels of a strong showing at the East West shrine game, Hardin dazzled at his pro day, after not being invited to the combine, running a scintillating forty yard dash at 4.36 seconds.
With a background in track and field as a sprinter and jumper, Hardin figured to break in on each of the specialty teams while easing into the rotation at the safety position where holdovers Wright, Conte, and Craig Steltz all return.
Versatility is one of the strengths to Hardin’s game and Bears head coach loves that trait in his safeties. “There are a lot of physical gifts to work with” said Bears Gm Phil Emery after the pick. The biggest knock on Hardin is his ability to stay healthy as he has struggle with injuries during his career at Corvallis, Oregon.
However, his former college teammate and Bears second round pick in 2011, Stephen Paea said on Twitter after the selection is, “he’s a beast.”
The Bears are hoping Paea is right in his assessment, otherwise the Bears will likely be drafting a safety for the ninth year in a row in 2013.
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Holding the 50th pick in the 2nd round of the NFL draft the Bears traded up five spots, giving up their fifth round selection, with the St. Louis Rams to draft wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (6’3”, 216), wide receiver from South Carolina.
The big bodied receiver declared for the draft after his junior season that ended with his ejection in arguably his best game as a Gamecock. Facing Nebraska in the Capitol One bowl and covered by top pro prospect in cornerback, Alfonzo Dennard. Jeffery had four receptions for 148 yards and a score before his ejection for fighting.
Jeffery burst onto the scene as a sophomore where he had 88 receptions for 1517 yards and nine touchdowns, but saw his numbers drop considerably after quarterback, Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the squad.
Jeffery’s junior numbers of 49 receptions for 762 yards and eight touchdowns reflect a change at quarterback and offensive shift to a more run oriented approach behind bruising tailback Marcus Lattimore.
Facing questions surrounding his weight which has been over 230 pounds during his final season kept Jeffery out of the first round, and didn’t endear himself to NFL scouts and GM’s after declining to participate in positional drills at February’s combine.
However, Jeffery found a semblance of redemption at South Carolina’s Pro Day when the receiver weighed in at 213 pounds while running a forty at 4.56 seconds.
Concerns over Jeffery’s weight and work ethic will surround him until he steps on the field as a rookie, but the quickest way to dispel those notions is to produce on the field.
With Brandon Marshall commanding double teams on one side and Earl Bennett working underneath routes, Jeffery will get his opportunities to contribute early and often in his rookie season.
After Jeffery was announced with the 45th pick in the Draft, chances are the second happiest person about the selection after the wideout himself, was the Bears quarterback who has a new toy to play with.
Jeffery should see plenty of red zone looks and jump ball opportunities where his imposing size will be a tremendous asset to the Bears aerial attack under Jay Cutler, who had been clamoring for a tall receiver since his arrival to Chicago three years ago.
The rookie wideout will look to prove 32 teams wrong for passing him in the first round and prove the skeptics wrong once he steps onto the field when training camp opens in July.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard sports fan and former football player from Chicago, the greatest city in the world. The home of deep dish pizza, the greatest skyline in the world, and the best sports fans in America. Patrick has been a fan of the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks since birth and is an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake Up Call”, a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10.
With the 19th pick in the NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears drafted Shea McClellin, DE Boise State.
A fast rising defensive end out of Boise State was not projected to the Bears in any of the mock drafts prior to the draft, and many didn’t consider the player to be on the radar of Bears GM Phil Emery. Although it was revealed after the pick that the Bears sent their defensive line coach Mike Phair out to McClellin to put the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker through a workout.
Apparently the workout was a successful one as the Bears bypassed selecting higher profile ends, such as Whitney Mercilus, Chandler Jones, and Nick Perry. Also on the board when the Bears made McClellin their guy were offensive lineman Riley Reiff and David Decastro as well as Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright whom some had projected the Bears selecting.
Just shy of 6’4” and tipping the scales at 260 pounds, the Bears say McClellin will line up at left end along the Bears defensive line. A high motor, high sharacter, productive player dripping with intangibles will be counted on to rush the passer.
McClellin racked up 26 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons of his career on the blue turf at Boise State. Playing in a division where the Bears face Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers four times a season, McClellin figures to get plenty of opportunities to aid a Bears pass rush that badly needed a compliment to Julius Peppers.
Late on Thursday night the Bears announced McClellin will wear #99, which was famously worn by Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton.
If McClellin is half the player that ‘Hamp was, then Bears fans will be doing cartwheels on Sundays.
The Bears war room will have a new General when the NFL Draft gets underway tonight with new General Manager Phil Emery calling the shots. The rookie GM steps in for former Bears GM, Jerry Angelo, who had his share of first round hits and misses during his tenure as Bears GM.
Bears fans had been calling for Angelo’s head for the past few years after the team’s failure to find a #1 receiver, his propensity to draft players with injury history, and his philosophy of players with high floors vs. high ceilings.
In comes Emery with a background in scouting and while he has never been a GM or conducted a draft, his experience as a college scout will be on full display over the next three days and seven rounds of NFL Draft action.
Emery’s previous job was as director of college scouting with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons overseeing the drafting of players such as Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Eric Berry. Bears fans will be ecstatic to find a player comparable to any of these three players. Ryan and White have already been to the Pro Bowl and Berry likely would have if not for a torn ACL ended his sophomore season, after a superb rookie season, in the season opener vs. Buffalo last season.
During free agency Emery did what Angelo could not do during his run as GM, and traded for Brandon Marshall. Bears fans rejoiced and were ready to give Emery the key to the city and anoint him as Executive of the Year filling a black hole on the offense for the last decade.
Adding depth at the running back position by signing Michael Bush, backup quarterback Jason Campbell, special team aces Devin Thomas and Eric Weems, and 49ers cast-off Chilo Rachal to battle for a starting position at guard has stabilized and fortified the offense.
So where does that leave a Bears defense that features a number of marquee players on the wrong side of 30?
The Bears own the 19th pick in this year’s draft with their biggest needs at defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback, offensive tackle, and wide receiver.
Many mock drafts have the Bears drafting a defensive end. The names differ, but the position remains the same.
Players rumored to be on the Bears wish list include: UNC’s Quentin Coples, South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, USC’s Nick Perry, and the nation’s leader in sacks last year in University of Illinois rush end Whitney Mercilus.
At 19 it is difficult targeting a specific player at that point, because when the fireworks start and players start coming off the board and players rise and fall, the Bears may find themselves in a position where a wide receiver they have ranked higher on their board than any other defensive end is available.
I have long been a proponent of drafting the best player available over taking a player at a perceived need.
If Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, or Stanford guard David DeCastro is staring them in the face at 19, then The Bears should run to the podium to draft him.
Michael Brockers from LSU would be a fantastic choice if he were there at 19, if they didn’t like the available ends, and would be an anchor in the interior of the defensive line and complement rising star Henry Melton well at the defensive tackle position.
The moves made by Emery in free agency has put the Bears in a position of flexibility the team hasn’t been afforded in recent years after having to draft for need after missing or trading away first round picks under the previous regime.
Reading the tea leaves suggests the Bears will ultimately take a defensive end that can come in right away and have a huge impact on third downs.
The reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants have won two Lombardi trophies in recent years with a philosophy on rushing the passer and getting off the field on third downs. A stat the Bears have struggled with in past seasons, even despite having one of the premier sack artists in Julius Peppers.
The final word on the Bears first round is that whether it is to take a player on offense or defense, this rookie needs to have an instant impact to help the Bears back to the playoffs.
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The NFL’s version of Christmas
Luck, Griffin III headline 2012 draft class
By Patrick Schmidt
On the eve of the biggest event the NFL has to offer which doesn’t take place on the gridiron is lacking suspense at the top much like when you peek into mom and dad’s rooms and peek at what “Santa” got you for Christmas that year.
That doesn’t mean it’s still not exciting and brings your levels of anxiousness and intrigue to all new highs.
The NFL draft is set to get underway with the first round on Thursday at 6pm (EST) and many General Managers and Coaches around the league are ready to find out what’s underneath the tree and rip off the wrapping paper and see what new toy they have to play with.
The top two picks are anti-climactic and if you’re hosting a draft party that would be the perfect time to make sure your snacks are out and prepared and that there is plenty of ice for the beverages that will no doubt consumed in high volume.
This week the Indianapolis Colts confirmed what many had known for months and said Andrew Luck will be their pick. Many have said Luck is the best prospect at his position since the man he is replacing, the legendary Peyton Manning, who was released this offseason following a series of neck surgeries.
The second worst kept secret after who the Colts would take atop the draft is who would go immediately after him. Once the Redskins traded with the Rams to move up four spots up to two, the cat was out of the bag and the ‘Skins were going to draft the Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin III and bring his unique skill set to the Nation’s capitol.
The real intrigue begins with the Minnesota Vikings who are essentially on the clock with the third overall pick. For weeks the prevailing thought was that USC left tackle, Matt Kalil would be the pick and give last year’s first rounder Christian Ponder protection for the quarterback’s blindside.
However, as the war room debates have heated up in Minneapolis, the thought is that LSU cornerback, Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State wide receiver, Justin Blackmon could be in play. Could this be more pre draft subterfuge?
Probably, but don’t discount the Vikings from trying to trade down to a team trying to trade up for Texas A&M QB, Ryan Tannehill or Trent Richardson.
The Draft is here and it’s time to celebrate the union of college football and the National Football League spread out over three days. I holiday of sorts for football fans across the nation.
The NFL Draft is full of big, fast, strong, and intriguing prospects that tantalize fans, GM’s, and coaches with potential and upside. Meanwhile striking fear into their hearts when words and phrases such as, one year wonder, tweener, low motor, off the field concerns and questionable character are muttered when referring to a prospect.
The one guarantee there is to the NFL draft is that a few teams will wind up with their version of a Red Ryder BB gun under their tree, and many more will end up stuck with a sweater knitted from grandma and the dread of waiting another year in hopes of finding that illustrious new toy.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard sports fan and former football player from the greatest city in the world, Chicago, Illinois. The home of deep dish pizza, the greatest skyline in the world, and the best sports fans in America. Patrick has been a fan of the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks since birth and is an avid college football fan. Patrick is the host of a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10.
Last time the Cubs faced Cards right hander Adam Wainwright 11 days ago the Cubs lit him up like a pinball machine to the tune of eight runs in three innings of work dampening the mood of the Cardinals home opener as Jeff Samardzija grinded through five innings of work to notch his second win of the young campaign.
In a matchup of the two tall right-handers on a brisk April night, runs were at a premium as both starters sawed off bats much of the night. Wainwright gave up one earned run on a Castro sac fly in the first over six innings of work. Meanwhile his counterpart on the other side was one out removed from seven innings of shutout ball.
With the Cubs up on the Cardinals 1-0 with two outs in the top half of the eighth inning in front of the Wrigley Field faithful first year manager Dale Sveum called upon struggling Cubs closer Carlos Marmol for the four out save. Marmol quickly got ahead of Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday 1-2 as the Wrigley crowd rose to their feet in anticipation of the third out Matt Holliday got just enough of a Carlos Marmol. A high slider later evened the count before Holliday took advantage of a hanging slider and deposited it into the first row of the centerfield bleachers as Cubs centerfielder Tony Campana could only leap so high before watching the ball turn into a souvenir.
Marmol walked off the field to end the top portion of the eighth to a healthy smattering of boos from the restless natives.
When it appeared the Cardinals had the game in the palm of their hands, Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair took the first pitch he saw from Jason Motte into the open arms of the fans in blue in the left center field bleachers, tying up the game.
LaHair rounded the bases with his right forearm in the air reminiscent of Padres first baseman, Steve Garvey whose homer beat the Cubs in the 1984 playoffs.
LaHair’s homerun was the first by a Cub in nine games since he hit a grand slam off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright.
With the game now in extra innings, Cubs bat boy, I mean centerfielder, Tony Campana singling up the middle and stealing second with one out, the Cubs were in position to send the Wrigley Field faithful, which included Michael Jordan on this night home happy.
With the much maligned Alfonso Soriano up with two outs and down to his last strike he hit a bullet to second base that ate up cards second sacker alive. Tony Campana raced around third and scored the winning run in the tenth giving the Cubs their second walk off win in as many nights vs. the Cardinals.
The 3-2 win brought the Cubs record to 6-12 as the Cardinals fall to 11-7.
The Cubs look for the sweep Wednesday afternoon with the first pitch at 1:20.
The Coyote finally got what he was after. Behind another stellar performance by goalie Mike Smith, who recorded his first career postseason shutout, the Blackhawks could not force a game seven last night in front of a standing room only United Center crowd.
The Hawks looked good in the first stanza as they peppered Smith to the tune of 16 shots while limiting the Coyotes to a measly two shots. Two shots! Corey Crawford may as well have sat on the bench while the Hawks skated with an extra attacker.
However, that strategy likely would have not have altered the outcome the way the Hawks have played with the man advantage, one goal on 19 power play opportunities. A depressing statistic when you consider the offensive talents on the Hawks. The absence of Marian Hossa alone is not enough for the special teams to be so atrocious.
Facing a goalie coming of a season like the one Mike Smith has means you need to take advantage of these opportunities when they are presented. Much like a starting pitcher in major league baseball, a hot goalie can neutralize, rather take over and dominate a playoff series more so than any other position in professional sports. Mike Smith did just that as he stopped all 39 shots he faced Monday night. Outside of a couple late third period goals from the Hawks in the series, the Phoenix net minder was near perfect. Not Phil Humber perfect, but a one man team, nonetheless in dispatching the Hawks.
Where do they Hawks go from here?
Two years ago The Hawks were a team of destiny as they hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup and paraded down Michigan Avenue. Salary cap restraints mandated that the team be broken up, and ever since the summer of 2010, Hawks Gm Stan Bowman has been trying to get the band back together. Just how much blame should be leveled at his feet? It was his decision to stand pat at the trade deadline, rather than try to fill the void of a second line center, a position that has been neglected as much as a number one receiver for the Chicago Bears.
It was also his decision to sign a number of aged, broken down, decrepit veterans that failed to show up in crunch time. A veteran blue liner would have had more composure and hockey intelligence than what Nick Leddy displayed while he was being undressed by Mikkel Boedker in overtime of game four.
I have to wonder what happens to Corey Crawford now. Despite facing a minimum number of shots for the bulk of the series, he was thoroughly outplayed by Smith. Backup Ray Emery was inked to a contract extension, but he is not a starting goalie in this league. Will a “goalie by committee” situation be what Hawks fans have to look forward to? Teams don’t win Stanley Cups with that strategy. Crawford is still relatively young and has just finished his second season with the Hawks, but how much longer can they stick with him while the team is ready to win now?
Stan Bowman has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. In many ways it can be a career defining summer for the son of the immortal Scotty Bowman.
Does he make a bold trade and trade Patrick Kane for an All-Star Goalie? Perhaps he makes a trade involving Patrick Sharp for a Defenseman.
Or maybe he makes a move that isn’t as sexy or as drastic as the aforementioned ideas and makes a shrewd move and acquires a diamond in the rough and maximizes his value and talent with the surrounding players on the roster. Something similar to what the resurgent Blues did by acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Canadians AND Brian Elliott from Ottawa. They were two goalies that anyone could have had last summer. And now the Blues finished the season with the second best record in the Western Conference and are the highest remaining seed in the West after another early ouster from the Canucks.
Speaking of the Western Conference, isn’t it weird not to see the Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks, and Hawks not in the second round of the playoffs? One doesn’t need to do too much investigation to realize why the teams that beat them, Predators, Blues, Kings, and Coyotes, respectively, have done to win in a best of seven series. The answer is in the net. Pekke Rinne, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Quick, and Smith have had outstanding seasons and paced teams that in many ways were far less talented than the teams they defeated, yet the overriding difference maker is the guy that doesn’t score any goals or make any deft passes.
Hopefully Stan Bowman is taking notes.