Good luck to the U.S. Women’s National Team, which plays Netherlands in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. Soccer isn’t really my thing, but I’m always rooting for greatness and I hope these women bring home the Cup this afternoon. Go get ’em!
- Speaking of greatness, Larry Mayer (ChicagoBears.com) circles the five defensive players to keep eyes on during training camp. Khalil Mack is such an obvious choice, he doesn’t even make Mayer’s list. Instead, Mayer features an under-the-radar type with rookie cornerback Duke Shelley, newcomer safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, his first-team All-Pro partner Eddie Jackson, pass-rusher Leonard Floyd, and linebacker Roquan Smith. The Bears’ defense is so loaded with talent, it’s tough to limit your choices to five. Frankly, I could’ve gone 12-15 deep if I was making a list. It’s a testament to what GM Ryan Pace has built over the last few years.
- While searching for Roquan Smith highlights to share, I stumbled across Tom Thayer’s early-season breakdown of how the then-rookie’s development:
- Smith led the Bears in tackles, racked up five sacks, picked up an interception, and earned All-Rookie honors for his efforts. Not bad for a guy who missed all of training camp and didn’t get into the action during the preseason due to a contract holdout. Smith’s physical skills and football IQ allowed him to catch on quickly and make plays out of the gate. But with a full offseason of training and complete familiarity with his teammates (not to mention playbook), Smith should be well-positioned for a breakout campaign. Giggity!
- I’m still not over how impressed I was with this interception:
— PFF (@PFF) January 6, 2019
- Smith showed a knack for making big plays as a rookie, and intercepting postseason hero Nick Foles in your first ever playoff game is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m still miffed that minor contact kept that from being a pick-six, but rules are rules. It still doesn’t take away the athletic feat Smith pulled off. And I can also appreciate Smith playing through the entirety of the play, just in case the NFL officials goofed. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time that group missed a call in a playoff game.
- Khalil Mack is the defense’s best player. Eddie Jackson is the most exciting member of the secondary. Akiem Hicks is a monster up front. But the more I think about it, the more I realize Smith’s importance in this defense. A linebacker who can rush the passer, drop back into coverage and disrupt passing lanes, tackle ball-carriers out of the backfield, and has speed as an asset to impact all parts of the defensive game-plan is integral to the Bears’ success. Smith has a long way to go before he hops in the conversation of great inside linebackers in franchise history, but he has so many components that it’s easy to dream on him being the next great one.
- But let’s not kid ourselves, Khalil Mack is that dude. So much so, NFL.com’s Adam Schein placed Mack at No. 2 on his list of the most indispensable defensive players in football. Only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams ranked higher. The Bears defense was a top-10 unit before Mack’s arrival, but adding an All-Pro rusher at the peak of his powers transformed the Bears into a certifiable winner and legitimate Super Bowl contender. Mack is a player who made everyone around him better last year, which is impressive when you think about how he had about a week of practice with his teammates before the season started.
- Elsewhere in Mack-related angles, the first-round pick the Raiders acquired in the 2019 NFL Draft as part of the big trade with the Bears is nearing a potential training camp holdout:
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 5, 2019
- I can’t get enough Devin Hester highlights, so I’ll continue to share them whenever they cross my timeline:
Let's talk about Devin Hester's rookie season (via @NFLThrowback):
🐻 Record 7 return TD (including playoffs)
🐻 2 return TD in one game vs. Rams
🐻 Then-record 108-yard missed FG TD return vs. Giants
🐻 First opening kickoff return TD in a @SuperBowl (XLI)#NFL100 | @D_Hest23 pic.twitter.com/qW26V4qJpV
— NFL (@NFL) July 6, 2019
- YEP! That’s what a future Hall of Famer looks like! Don’t goof this up, voters.
- There is something about large humans taking large golf swings that always seems to grab my attention:
— kyle (@Ky1eLong) July 7, 2019
- There have been times when people have asked me for advice on how to get into the sports writing industry. Rather than re-hash my history, I’d like to offer up this tweet and the embedded passage within it that offers a window into how NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski got to where he was:
I believe adamantly that most sports writers are better off if they start covering high schools. That’d be my advice to aspiring sports writers: Cover preps and work your ass off. You’ll be better for it. https://t.co/k4kQTvAK4t
— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) July 6, 2019
- Coby White is fun:
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) July 6, 2019
- On the other end of the spectrum, fights in the stands between fans is not:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) July 7, 2019
- Can’t we all just get along? We’ve got 19 days until training camp opens to the public and I’m going to need you folks on your best behavior!