Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paper Bears

The Chicago Bears are Paper Bears.

The more we look at this team, the more vulnerabilities we see.

Let's start with the big one: Quarterback.

Also: Receivers.

Last but not least: Defense.

The Bears are going to have a long year.

Injury Updates, Both Teams

The latest news on the Steelers' injury front is a bit disconcerting.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls weren't really expecting linebacker Lawrence Timmons to play this weekend anyway, but the Post-Gazette reports he tweaked his high ankle sprain in practice yesterday. Backup linebacker and special teams ace Keyaron Fox played well for Timmons against the Tennessee Titans, and we are confident that he will continue to fill in ably. Depth is a bit of a concern, though.

Also worrisome is news that wide receiver Limas Sweed sustained a mid-foot sprain, and those can be very tricky.

We wonder if this inury happened before the season opener, given that rookie Mike Wallace had a more prominent role in the game against the Titans and that Sweed, a second-year player, was pretty much invisible.

This is probably needless fretting -- there's no basis for this -- but we'd hate to think that Sweed might have a lisfranc injury, which could be a season-ending injury. They're serious. The New York Giants were mightily concerned this week that top draft pick Hakeem Nicks, a wide receiver of similar size and speed to Sweed, had sustained a lisfranc injury in the season opener vs. the Redskins.

As reported in the Newark Star-Ledger, "The lisfranc joint is located in the center of the foot and connects the metatarsal bones (those in the toes) to the tarsal bones (those in the arch). ... Lisfranc injuries are notoriously painful and slow healing."

Sweed had been looking decent in training camp, and we were optimistic he'd make the kind of big leap in performance you want to see wide receivers make from their first year in the league to their second. Rookie wide receivers typically struggle and take a full year or two to transition to the speed and nuances of the NFL. Sweed appeared to be making progress, but this injury could be a setback. How major or minor it will be, only time will tell. Again, depth is a concern, although rookie Mike Wallace has looked surprisingly polished.

The Chicago Bears are battling the injury bug, too. Just as the Steelers will miss one of their marquee defensive leaders, Troy Polamulu, the Bears will miss star linebacker Brian Urlacher. Also on the injury list for Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune, are the following players:

"Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said there is no chance he will play in Sunday's game as he recovers from a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, meaning Nick Roach will start at strong-side linebacker. Tinoisamoa had a sleeve on Wednesday as he sat out practice along with defensive end Mark Anderson (toe), cornerback Trumaine McBride (knee) and nickel back/returner Danieal Manning (back). "

So, let's review: That means Chicago will be starting two backup linebackers (Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach), and possibly one new cornerback.

That's because, according to the Tribune, there will be a shake-up in Chicago's secondary. Second-year cornerback Zack Bowman apparently will make his first NFL start.

The Bears selected Bowman out of the University of Nebraska with a fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft. The club placed him on the practice squad last year, only to add him to the active squad for game seven against the Minnesota Vikings. Bowman reportedly played well, particularly on special teams, but was hurt in that game and placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season. During this summer's training camp, he battled to overcome a hamstring injury. Bowman tallied nine plays in the season opener at Green Bay.

If the reports are true, Bowman would replace veteran cornerback Nathan Vasher, who got burned on the last-minute, game-winning 50-yard touchdown pas Sunday night in Green Bay -- he slipped while to trying to cover Greg Jennings on a crucial third-and-one play, when he got absolutely no help from the safety who bit hard on Aaron Rodgers' play-action fake.

It seems kind of a risky move, replacing Vasher with a player making his first start in the NFL and coming off a hamsting injury. It makes you wonder if Vasher's completely healthy, although he's not listed on Chicago's injury report.

Photo credit: Dr. Cope, Lexington Veterinary

A Note on the Charlie Brown Pittsburgh Pirates

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls haven't had much to say about the Pirates this season. What's there to say? They have the second-worst record in the major leagues. They have a few bright spots -- Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Ross Ohlendorf, PNC Park -- and the front office finally seems committed to building the franchise's scouting, development, minor league and international operations.

But, man, the current major league squad is tough to watch. It's painful. They've just worn us out. That's why, unlike the 2008 season, we haven't summoned the energy this year even to express outrage at the various foibles, follies and blunders routinely committed by the Bucs on and off the field. Plus, it's football season now, and there are other things to discuss, and hockey's just around the corner.

We still follow "The Battling Buccos," though. Never mind the 17 consecutive losing seasons, the .382 winning percentage, the 55-89 record, or the fact they're again in last place, 28-1/2 games out of first place. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls still doggedly watch 'em when we can -- we know we'll see at least one major-league team when the Buccos are playing.

Anyway, we missed yesterday afternoon's game in Los Angeles, thankfully. Hearing the post-game wrap-up, we couldn't help but be struck by one salient point: That lineup the jerk Joe Torre put out on the field for yesterday afternoon's game was an insult, a slap in the face. Granted, the Pirates, with a 2009 winning percentage of .382 (!) are in a 2-16 slump (!!), but still, it showed a total lack of respect for the Pirates -- and justifiably so, as it turned out.

It was if Torre was saying, "I know the Pirates won't score more than one run, so I'm going to sit five of my usual starting eight field-position players: Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake. It won't matter. We'll still win."

And the Dodgers did! Final Score: Dodgers 3, Pirates 1.

As Charlie Brown himself might say, "Sigh."

Unrelated Link to ...

A nice profile of "The Toy Cannon" -- retired outfielder Jimmy Wynn, who had a fine career with the Astros and Dodgers in the '60s and '70s -- in the Los Angeles Times: New Country for Old Man