In the Wake of the Web

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Quick, digital-only thoughts from In the Wake of the News columnist David Haugh.
 
For openers:
 
Lovie Smith fancies himself a Father Flanagan among football coaches.

He considers saving souls and offering second chances to guys like Richie Incognito part of the job description. But never forget that job remains football coach.

Surely Smith never does.

That part of the narrative often gets neglected when describing his folksy and fatherly ways.
 
Leonard Little, Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, et al. The list of troubled players Smith has accepted despite their baggage is long and well-documented, beyond those big names. And every time Smith the person shows a capacity to overlook a player’s past, Smith the football coach benefits too. If that weren’t true, I wonder how willing Smith would be to risk his coaching reputation on guys who have shown such a penchant for causing problems. Football families always are more welcoming to social misfits who might help on Sundays. Smith’s is no different.

Which brings us to Incognito, the bully who visited Smith and the Buccaneers on Monday night in Tampa, Fla. The visit coincided with the NFL officially clearing Incognito for regular-season competition after he had been out of the league since last October for crossing the line with his treatment of former Dolphin teammate Jonathan Martin. Troubling revelations surfaced. If Incognito were an NBA owner, he likely would be banished from the league by Commissioner Adam Silver. But Incognito plays offensive line in the NFL, a league continually losing its way in terms of discipline, and the Bucs are desperate for a quality guard. That reality made Incognito much more appealing to Smith and the Bucs than he would have been as an unproven player knocking at the door of One Bucs Place with the same ugly track record. As much as I would have liked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to make it harder for Incognito to return, it’s just not realistic or feasible given the low standards the league has set for behavior. Coaches can change jobs and players can switch rosters but, in the NFL, the power of production to speak loudest stays the same.

In that context, Smith represents the kind of coach more likely to assimilate Incognito back into an NFL locker-room culture. Ownership trusts Smith and the fan base embraces him. Adding Incognito perhaps represents a risk for Smith given how young the Bucs are but his veteran status helps reduce it. So does Smith’s experience with strong personalities such as Olin Kreutz, whose tough-love leadership style dominated the Bears locker room every day of his Chicago tenure. Players liked and respected Smith for being the same coach every day and for the way he treated them like men, structure and consistency Incognito needs. It seems hard to fathom that Incognito would challenge Smith’s authority the way he did Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s. Smith can help Incognito revive his career and repair his reputation – as long as Incognito can help Smith enjoy his first year back on the sidelines.
 
ICYMI
 
Did you know Carlos Rodon likes taking pictures of the ballparks in which he pitches? In an interview on the “Kap and Haugh,’’ show on WGWG-FM 87.7, White Sox’s No. 1 pitching prospect came off as confident as advertised without sounding cocky. Get to know this cool customer, Sox fans. When he receives the call-up to the majors as expected, as early as next week, he could be a fixture on the South Side for years to come.  
 
ICYMI 2

His 7-year-old nephew was drowning in a pool. So USC cornerback John Shaw instinctively jumped from a second-floor balcony, injuring both ankles upon the landing, and heroically dove into the water to save the boy. A man of Troy indeed.
 
AS EASY AS ...

1. For a team struggling with special teams this preseason, the Bears made two unusual roster moves in the first round of cuts. A day after cutting Jordan Senn, who was signed in March to shore up that area, the Bears parted company with veteran safety Craig Steltz. Steltz stuck around in Chicago as long as he did because of his work in all phases of the kicking game. The LSU product was a staple on return and coverage teams, carving out a nice niche with the Bears. Combined, Steltz and Senn have 107 special-teams tackles in their careers. What do the Bears know the rest of us don’t?  Considering the Bears have turned punts and kickoffs into opportunities for their opponents the past two exhibition games, the pressure intensifies on a group that remains untested – and on special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis – to correct a glaring problem.

2. The NFL has an odd way of trying to make the game safer. Washington safety Brandon Meriweather received a lame two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. It was Meriweather’s sixth career violation of that rule. That’s not a habitual offender. That’s a thug in a helmet trying to hurt opponents, a disgrace to the game who deserved more than just two weeks off without pay. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seriously wants to clean up the league, then he will make it harder for someone with Meriweather’s history to keep getting back on the field – and soon, before somebody gets seriously injured. Making an example out of Meriweather would be a good place to start.

3. So running back Venric Mark finally broke his silence about his abrupt departure from Northwestern, citing health issues involving his mother and grandmother in transferring to Division II program West Texas A&M nearer his home. Mark can play immediately, which will give him an opportunity to show NFL scouts the dynamic play-making ability that made 2012 such a special season for the speedster. Anybody with Mark’s game-breaking potential can play at the next level. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald wished Mark well but neither side wanted to elaborate on the surprising two-game suspension for violation of team rules that preceded Mark’s exit by days. They don’t have to answer the questions but they linger, especially when one of the Big Ten’s most explosive players and a team leader responds to a disciplinary measure by leaving the program, for whatever reason.
               
TWEET-TWEET
 
@BarackObama •  Shout out to #LLWS U.S. champions, Chicago's own Jackie Robinson West All-Stars. You made your city and country proud.
 
--What a memory President Obama could create for this group of local heroes if he invited the U.S. Little League champs to visit the White House.
 
@JwPalms I'll be wearing #Bears gear and supporting the Bears for the rest of my life. Regardless of what happens. This is the best org in the NFL.

--Former Bears backup quarterback Jordan Palmer, who was cut Sunday. Palmer signed Monday with the Bills, the Bears’ first opponent.
 
PARTING WORDS
 
“It’s crazy. I didn’t think it was going to be this big. I thought it was just playing baseball, coming back home.”
 
--Jackie Robinson West shortstop Ed Howard, 12, commenting on the reception in his hometown that included autograph seekers and thousands of supporters.
 
DHaugh@Tribune.com
 
Twitter@DavidHaugh

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