49er QBs, JaMarcus Russell, Cal Hoops, March Madness, Tiger Woods, South America
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 19, 2010

DAVID CARR announced when he signed with the 49ers that he was going to compete for the starting quarterback role. In fact, though, he’ll be competing with Nate Davis for the No. 3 quarterback – and I hope he loses that battle.

Carr isn’t a bad quarterback, and it’s always a good idea to have a veteran backup in case your starter goes down. But it would be a definite step back for the 49ers if he were to become the starter at this point.

In many ways, Carr’s career parallels that of Alex Smith. Both had the misfortune of being drafted No. 1 by terrible teams with very weak offensive lines. As a result, neither did well and absorbed most of the criticism for their team’s failures.

But, there’s a significant difference: Carr will be 31 in July, while Smith will be 26 in May. Smith is still young enough to improve, but what you’ve seen with Carr is what you’ll get.

And surely, Mike Singletary has learned from last season that, while competition at most positions is good, it can be a detriment to developing quarterbacks. The starter needs to take the majority of snaps in practice, so he can be in sync with receivers, especially.

Dividing time, as the Niners did with Smith and Shaun Hill in training camp last year, doesn’t work. Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye really wanted Smith, but when he didn’t show enough in the exhibition season, fell back on Hill, who had ended the previous season as the starter. Hill’s success was always a product of other teams not knowing much about him, a fact which escaped many of the media; one Chronicle writer compared Hill favorably to Tony Romo early last season. When other teams learned how limited Hill was, his production went down and he had to be replaced. He’s since been traded for a seventh round draft choice, which is an accurate evaluation of his value.

Hopefully, the 49ers will get some offensive line help in what seems to be a very deep draft. They especially need a player who can start at right tackle, and they need more depth, as they learned the hard way last season.

In spring workouts and training camp, they should emphasize working out an offensive plan which utilizes the strengths of both Smith and Frank Gore. Smith has obviously been most comfortable working out of a spread offense, but he might get more comfortable working out of the regular T if he doesn’t have a defender in his face when he turns around to pass. He has quality receivers now, with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis leading the way.

Nate Davis remains an intriguing possibility. He has the most physical ability of the three quarterbacks. He also has a learning disability so it takes him longer to assimilate the offense, but that didn’t stop him from putting up impressive numbers in college and probably won’t in the pros over the long haul. Spring and summer workouts should give an idea of how far he’s progressed. He also should get chances to show what he can do in exhibition games.

Ideally, the 49ers will be better off if Davis has progressed enough to back up Smith in the regular season, with Carr as the emergency quarterback. If Davis doesn’t show enough progress, though, Carr will have to be No. 2.,

In another year, Davis may be ready to make a serious challenge to be No. 1. But in this season, the 49ers’ hope for the playoffs depends on Smith becoming consistent and reaching his potential.

RAIDERS QBS: Tom Cable, who apparently is still the Raiders coach though Al Davis has made no formal announcement, says that there will be open competition for the starting quarterback position. Despite what I just wrote about the 49er quarterbacks, this is a good thing.

When JaMarcus Russell played himself out of the lineup last season, Bruce Gradkowski took over and the Raiders were a different, and much better, team. Gradkowski has the ability to throw any kind of pass, and he has the mobility to move away from the rush. When he was injured, Charlie Frye played and, though he didn’t look as good as Gradkowski, he was also more effective than Russell.

JaMarcus went to Arizona this winter for a conditioning program that will supposedly make him a little less of a sitting duck for onrushing linemen and linebackers. But that was only part of his problem when he was starting. He doesn’t seem to have much of a feel for the game, and he lacks mental intensity. He didn’t show for the recent voluntary workouts at the Raiders headquarters in Alameda, but that’s no surprise. He’s never attended voluntary workouts.

Russell lost the confidence and support of his teammates last year because of his lackadaisical approach. He’ll have to work hard to get it back. Will he do that? Don’t hold your breath.

MARCH MADNESS: I wasn’t terribly optimistic about Cal’s chances in the tournament, even before the suspension of Omondi Amoke. Not that I blame coach Mike Montgomery for his move. It’s important for players to know that, if they break the rules, they’ll be punished. This isn’t the NBA, where players rule.

So, Montgomery will go small, a la Don Nelson, which will put the burden on the Bears to block out bigger Louisville players to get rebounds. It’s doubtful they’ll be able to do that.

If the Bears lose, it will be another blow to the Pac-10’s reputation. Their eighth seed was the lowest for the conference champion in more than a quarter of a century, but that was an affirmation of the widespread opinion (which I share) that the conference was the weakest it has been in many years.

NBA scouts will no doubt be assessing three of Cal’s seniors – point guard Jerome Randle and swing players Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher, each of whom would have to be a shooting guard in the NBA. Randle might be even more effective offensively in the pros, where he wouldn’t face the zone defenses, double teaming and trapping defenses of college ball. But he’s undersized, probably less than the 5-10 at which he’s listed, and would have trouble defending bigger guards. Christopher and Robertson both have a chance because they can shoot well from outside, but they both may go undrafted. Free agents often make NBA teams, though.

Meanwhile, logic continues to be missing in the way teams are sent great distances; Cal is in Jacksonville, Fla. while St. Mary’s is in Providence, R.I.

When I was in school, the Regionals were truly regional; the West Regional had only teams from the West. And, there were only 16 teams, all conference champions, in the entire tournament.

Now, the tournament has grown to 64 teams, and there is even talk of expanding to 96. As always, money is the reason. If the tournament is expanded, that means a bigger TV contract and more money for schools. The audience for the games is large because so many people are involved in office pools, so the TV watchers include people who wouldn’t normally watch college basketball.

I prefer the old way, but I’m realistic enough to know there’s no turning back the clock.

TIGER WOODS: It was hardly a shock when Tiger announced he would return to the PGA tour with the Masters, which is a major tournament on a course he likes.

The real surprise was that some writers thought he should play in a tournament the week before, to get competitively sharp.

Let’s be realistic here. Golf is not a team sport. In baseball, hitters have to face live pitching and pitchers need to face hitters to get sharp; they can’t do it by hitting off a tee or throwing in the bullpen. In football, they have to practice to get accustomed to playing together.

None of that is true for golf. It’s an individual sport that Tiger has been playing for most of his life. He can sharpen his game on the practice tee. He’ll no doubt face a lot of media questions, but the tournament officials will limit that, too. And golf followers are notoriously quiet and respectful, nothing like football or baseball crowds.

Though some of his fellow golfers, lost in their own bubbles, have criticized Woods (when Tiger made his first public comments, Ernie Els criticized him for diverting attention from a tournament), they should be very happy that he’s back. When he’s playing, media and public attention grows disproportionately. Otherwise, it’s a group of mostly anonymous men playing what may well be the silliest game ever devised.

EXAMINER COLUMN: For those of you who have not yet checked, I wrote about Scot McCloughan’s firing today..

NEXT WEEK: I’ll be filing on Tuesday because I may be on jury duty Wednesday. Hopefully, my number won’t come up, but just in case…

SOUTH AMERICA: Nancy and I returned from our three-week trip to South America on Tuesday, exhausted but also excited about seeing a section of the world where we’d never been.

We’ve taken two distinctly different types of trips over the year. Some have been relaxing, such as the Christmas cruises in the Caribbean we’ve taken the last three years (with a fourth coming up this Christmas) with our son, Scott, and his wife, Sarah, and two trips to Hawaii, the last one so we could show it to my parents.

Mostly, though, we’ve preferred trips where we could learn something, and we’ve concentrated on European countries.
From 1976 to 2006, we took 13 trips to 13 European countries, counting England, Scotland and Wales. Scott was with us on our first 11 but Nancy and I were alone on the last two.

We’re urbanites, so we’ve sought out the big cities, using them as bases to travel to less populated areas. We’ve walked the cities, taken metros/subways. We even took a ride on a Rome subway and were peppered with questions by Romans who had never seen an American on their subway. At first, we stayed in hotels. Since 1990, though, we’ve rented apartments and eaten at restaurants in the area and shopped in the stores for food to eat in the apartment.

We rented a car in France once, to drive through the Loire Valley and the Alsatian countryside, and three times in Italy, the first to drive down the Amalfi coast – a drive I definitely do not recommend to the fainthearted – and twice in the Tuscany/Lake Como area. Mostly, though, we’ve used the trains for our travel through Europe and England because they’re fast and efficient.

Our favorite city and country originally were Paris and France, but lately, we’ve tilted more to Rome and Italy, in large part because we love Italian food. And, you can’t beat Rome as a walking city. If you stay in the Spanish Steps area, as we’ve been doing, you can walk to all the major attractions, which we prefer to putting our lives in the hands of Roman taxi drivers.

Now, though, it’s more difficult for us to do the walking we once did and more dangerous to be on our own, so we’ve largely switched to cruises, though we did spend two days in Rio de Janeiro, three in Buenos Aires and one in Valparaiso, Chile, in addition to two weeks on a cruise on our last trip.

As much as possible, we’ve tried cruises where we could learn about different countries. (The Christmas cruises are a different matter; that’s a family thing.) .

So, our favorite cruise has been the Eastern Mediterranean cruise we took in 2007 because that took us into so many areas where Western civilization began. The Baltic cruise in 2005 was also very interesting, particularly the stop in St. Petersburg, where we got ship tours of the museum and palaces.

This last trip was a combination land/sea trip. We really enjoyed Buenos Aires, where we stayed in the Recoleta area which has a number of restaurants and shops. Since it was summer, we ate outdoors at night. Since it was South America, where the dinner hour is much later, we usually had a lot of privacy, generally leaving about the time – 10 o’clock – that others were arriving.

We also saw the penguins, of course, when the ship stopped at an Argentinian port which featured them. We saw Cape Horn and went to two cities, one in Argentina and one in Chile, which each claim to be the southernmost city in the world. Whichever one is right, we’ve got it covered.

We knew very little about South America, but we discovered in talking to guides that they didn’t know much about North America, either. Not surprising, I suppose, because our interests don’t usually coincide with theirs.

Cities like Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Uruguay and Santiago, Chile look much like European cities, which shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Like our own country, they were settled by European immigrants.

There’s relatively little English spoken, once you leave the hotel. In that respect, it’s similar to Europe when we started our traveling. Now, English is spoken everywhere in Europe. The fact that it isn’t in South America is probably an indication that not many Americans travel theree.

Of the cities we visited, Buenos Aires was definitely our favorite. Santiago was also a beautiful city with plentiful parks and plazas filled with monuments. Their National Cathedral is awesome, not quite St. Peter’s in Rome but still very impressive.

A day before we boarded the ship in Buenos Aires, an 8.8 earthquake hit Chile – and we were scheduled to fly out of Santiago in two weeks. But Chile is accustomed to dealing with earthquakes. In city tours in Valparaiso and Santiago, we saw some damage and buildings or churches that were closed, but otherwise, life seemed to be going at the usual pace. In Santiago, that pace was a rapid one.

The Santiago airport was damaged and much of the terminal was closed off, so we had to wait in a tent outside for nearly three hours. Inside the terminal, it was a madhouse, but no worse than Chicago’s O’Hare when we had to change planes on the way back from a Christmas cruise two years ago. The gates had been destroyed, so buses took us to our airplanes. But planes were flying out pretty much on schedule and we made our connections, barely, in Dallas/Fort Worth.

The whole trip was an interesting, educational experience, but I’m really glad to be back.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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