Jeff Tedford, Al Davis, Franklin Mieuli, Taylor Mays, Giants Chances
--Defense. Tedford said he expected the defense to play more aggressively this season. “We dropped eight a lot last year,” he noted. “I was very disappointed in our coverage in the secondary. This year, I expect we’ll be blitzing more. The players seem to like that style.”
So do the fans.
--Kicking game. Tedford looks for improvement in both punting and place kicking.
“We set up a target for Bryan Anger near the goal line, and he hit it every time. His teammates were cheering for him because, if he missed, they’d be running more wind sprints. That put a lot of pressure on him.”
Tedford hopes to set up informal workouts for Anger with one of the local pro punters, Shane Lechler of the Raiders or Andy Lee of the 49ers. “Bryan has no competition with us because he’s far better than anyone else we have,” said Tedford. “I’d like him to see what the really good punters can do.”
The kicking game, both on field goals and kickoffs, was a continuing frustration for Tedford last season. This spring, kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D’Amato have also been given targets to hit on kickoffs and generally done well. “They have the ability, but sometimes, they’ll be kicking well and then just shank one. We’re working to get them to concentrate on what they’re doing.”
--Quarterbacks. Kevin Riley is still No. 1, primarily because of his experience. Brock Mansion sprained his ankle badly and missed the last part of practice but will be ready for summer camp and could seriously challenge for the starting job. Beau Sweeney, a redshirt sophomore, has the ability but, said Tedford, he showed his inexperience in the offense this spring. Tedford likes Riley’s experience but he also praised Mansion for his potential. Whichever one shows the needed consistency in summer practice will be the starter.
Receivers: “Marvin Jones is definitely our best,” Tedford said. Jones made some spectacular catches in spring drills. He’s always had the speed and hands but has had to learn to get away from tight coverage at the line. Tedford added that “Jeremy Ross should play better than he has. Michael Calvin has had the injury bug but he could be very good if he can stay healthy.”
--Prospects for this fall. Tedford had probably his best recruiting year ever and said there may be as many as four true freshmen competing for starting jobs this fall. Tedford is already looking for Chris Martin, a five-star linebacker prospect, to be a starter and fill the Zach Follett role of two years ago. Defensive end Gabe King, a four-star recruit, is also a likely starter. “I’m anxious to get these guys in here,” Tedford said.
I’ll be writing more on my conversation with Tedford in my Friday Examiner column.
SOME OBSERVERS think that the new format of the NFL draft, with the first round only on Thursday night, the second round on Friday and subsequent rounds on Saturday, gave NFL decision-makers more time to ponder their decisions and make good ones. If that’s true, nobody benefited more than the Raiders.
Frankly, I had doubted that Al Davis knew how to put a team together any more, not just because of last year’s disastrous draft but the many free agent mistakes. (They finally got rid of the last one, Javon Walker, when the salary cap expired this year. He was kept around last year only because all of his signing bonus money would have counted against the cap this year.)
Davis made a series of moves that strengthened the Raiders, both in the draft and with a trade for quarterback Jason Campbell.
The task was daunting. Offensively, the Raiders had four quarterbacks, none a long-term solution, and no NFL-calibre tackles to protect any of them. Defensively, they were good against the pass but continued to be porous against the run.
Davis decided to try to fix the defense first, drafting Rolando McClain, the winner of the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, on the first round and defensive tackle Lamar Houston in the second.
He waited until the fourth round to pick workout champion Bruce Campbell. Many had predicted Davis would draft Campbell on the first round, which would have likely been as disastrous as the Darrius Heyward-Bey pick last year. But a fourth round pick is certainly worth the gamble. Campbell is obviously very athletic and may develop into the type of tackle the Raiders need.
Then, he traded for Jason Campbell, who had lost his starting job when the Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb. Campbell is not a great quarterback and he struggled as the ‘Skins tried to use a version of the Bill Walsh offense last year – but Davis hates that offense, anyway. Campbell can throw the deep ball Davis loves, and you can forget any quarterback competition. He’s the starter.
Everyone now thinks that JaMarcus Russell is gone, which is the logical move because the Raiders would have to pay him $6.45 million this year to be a spectator. Kyle Boller probably won’t get off the practice squad, either. As in last year’s training camp, it will probably be Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye competing for the backup job.
Because the Raiders are so secretive, it’s always difficult to know what’s going on. Many of us thought last year that, when coach Tom Cable said he had Davis’s blessing to bench Russell, he was whistling past his own spot in the graveyard. But, apparently, Cable spoke the truth. Davis had finally recognized the obvious: Russell is not an NFL quarterback. Probably, he never will be. He’ll rival Ryan Leaf as the greatest quarterback bust ever. I hope he’s saved his money.
49ERS STADIUM: All the publicity on the 49ers stadium lately has focused on the attitude of Santa Clara voters, but that’s almost irrelevant. Any stadium is all about money, and this is certainly no exception.
The 49ers’ plan depends on a public-private combination, which is why they need Santa Clara’s involvement. Though the G3 program has paid out all the money in it, everybody around the NFL assumes that it will be replenished before the 49ers would need it for their stadium. The program provides that the league would “loan” a team up to $150 million for a new stadium. It’s really a gift, not a loan, because the money is re-paid out of the visitors’ share of the gate.
The Santa Clara contribution will be small, less than 20 per cent of the total cost of the stadium, so the 49ers will be on the hook for at least $500 million. Who’s going to pay that? Not Denise DeBartolo. She’s a smart businesswoman who knows the only way to recoup that investment would be by selling the team, which her husband, John York, doesn’t want to do. That’s the only reason they still own the team.
If the team is in the playoffs and in serious competition for a Super Bowl berth, other economic possibilities open up. PSLs, for instance, and private investment.
Winning is always important, but it’s especially vital to the 49ers right now.
DRAFTNIKS: The NFL draft is great fun, but you always have to remember that everybody in the media is guessing, and I include myself in that. The crucial point: Nobody who isn’t in a team’s organization ever sees the team’s board, which shows how the decision-makers rate the players and the team’s needs. Mel Kuiper Jr. has made a living out of doing this and he talks to a lot of NFL people, but all that means is that he gets lied to a lot.
This year more than any other I can remember, the mock drafts were often blown to bits after the first 4-5 picks. The quarterbacks were the most obvious. Who expected Tim Tebow to go No. 22 or Jimmy Clauson to falls to the second round and Colt McCoy to the third?
Sometimes, the TV gurus went to great lengths to rationalize their errors. When Jacksonville shocked everybody by taking Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick in the second round, I’m told one TV guy said the Jaguars wanted somebody who got picked earlier and panicked. That’s ludicrous because there were still many quality players on the board. A better explanation came from Bill Kuharich, a former NFL executive, who said Jacksonville saw something they really liked and had Aluala marked for that spot.
The 49ers picked up another player who fell, USC safety Taylor Mays, and there are all sorts of wild stories coming out of Los Angeles from Trojan alums. Among them: Pete Carroll talked Mays out of leaving as a junior, costing him untold millions because he would have been a No. 5 pick last year; Carroll badmouthed Mays this year, saying he wasn’t good in pass coverage, and that reputation lingered.
To take them in order: The top five projection last year was simply a guess; see above. I saw speculation he would go as high as six or seven this year. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have fallen last year as he did this year.
The second claim is even sillier. The only reason Carroll would have badmouthed Mays is to pick him up after clubs had passed on him, but when he was available on the second round, Carroll passed on him.
And I can tell you, after years of experience with NFL front offices, the last thing NFL teams listen to is a coach’s evaluation of his players, which is always biased. They make their own evaluations, mainly from watching hours of video.They also judge players in context: Mays played with some very good teammates, which always makes a player look better.
I don’t know why he fell but I think the Niners may have gotten a steal. And if he’s determined to show that those who passed on him were wrong, so much the better.
FRANKLIN MIEULI: After Mieuli bought out Eddie Gottlieb, he made his first big splash by trading Wilt Chamberlain for, well, three nobodies. One player, Lee Shaffer, retired immediately. Another, Connie Dierking, was a backup center. Guard Paul Neumann was the only player who did anything at all for the Warriors.
So, from an athletic point of view, it was a disaster. But, it was also a trade that probably kept the Warriors afloat economically. Unlike football and baseball, NBA home teams do not share the gate with visiting teams. When the Warriors went on the road, Wilt was a big draw – but the Warriors saw none of that money. Meanwhile, San Francisco fans were turned off by his one-man show. Another 50-point night? Yawn.
Mieuli persevered through some crazy times. The Warriors bounced around, from the Civic Auditorium to the Cow Palace to USF. They even played one game in the Oakland Arena in the downtown Kaiser Center. I know because I covered it for The Chronicle.
(Personal story: One night in the fall of 1966, when I was courting the woman who became my wife, we double-dated with my college roommate, Tom Kramer, who had played basketball at Cal. I called Warriors GM Bob Feerick to have four tickets left for us at the box office. When we arrived at the Civic Auditorium, they weren’t there. I badgered the woman manning the Will Call booth until she produced four tickets. We walked into the arena and saw…..the Ice Capades. The Warriors game was at the Cow Palace. The women were delighted with the change in entertainment._The men? Not so much.)
Finally, the Warriors settled in at the new Oakland Coliseum Arena, but Mieuli wasn’t confident of the team’s future. He scheduled a half dozen games in San Diego and called his team the Golden State Warriors. The San Diego visit lasted only one year but the silly Golden State name has lasted.
Along the way, Mieuli turned himself into a character. If you look at early pictures of him, when he first bought the Warriors, he was clean-shaven and wearing the button down shirts that were de rigeur. He soon grew a beard, wore casual clothes and a deer-stalker hat and rode around on a motorcycle. He also visited the sports department of The Chronicle (and, probably, other papers), bringing fruit as gifts for those working.
He was a gentle soul, Franklin, and very likeable. He was close to his players and coaches, especially Al Attles, who coached the one Bay Area Warriors team to win the NBA champions, in 1974-74.
It wasn’t much after that when Mieuli played a critical role in the future of the 49ers. Lou Spadia, president of the 49ers, thought he had worked out a deal with Wayne Valley to buy the club, but Mieuli (apparently prompted by Al Davis) wouldn’t give his approval as a minority owner, so the deal was killed. Spadia didn’t talk to Mieuli for years after that, though a deal was eventually struck with the De Bartolo Corp.
I never asked Mieuli why he killed the Valley deal because he certainly had no intentions of buying the 49ers. I’m not sure I would have gotten a straight answer, anyway. That’s just the way he was – quirky, unpredictable. And, always fun.
GIANTS CHANCES: Any assessment of the Giants hopes to make the postseason has to consider the weakness of the National League. If you assume, as I do, that Philadelphia, St. Louis and Colorado will win their divisions, there’s not much left to compete for the wild card.
In the East, Florida looks like a contender. The Mets always do but never seem to put it together. Atlanta is struggling. There’s only mediocrity behind the Cardinals in the NL Central; the Cards may be the only team over .500 at the end of the season. In the West, the defending champ Dodgers have suffered some significant losses because their owners are going through a messy divorce, and Manny Ramirez can’t stay healthy. That puts a serious dent in their offense..
But, even in that muddled field, the Giants may still come up short. Their pitching is outstanding; even Barry Zito is finally earning his money. But their hitting—except for Pablo Sandoval-- is often woeful. Carney Lansford got fired because the hitters were swinging at so many bad pitches but, guess what? They still are. After beating the Giants on Sunday, Brad Penny noted that, even with a 3-1 count, he could get the Giants hitters to swing at pitches out of the zone.
That’s why they’re also terrible at situational hitting. They had a runner on third with no outs in one game last week and couldn’t score him.
Some observers think they should go after Jermaine Dye, who would bring a power bat, which they sorely lack. Dye is asking for too much money and he’s a defensive liability. Yes, he’d be a perfect fit.
They have no speed, except for Eugenio Velez, whose speed has no effect because he can’t get on base. Velez will never be a legitimate major league hitter. He’s not quite the defensive liability in the outfield that he was at second base, but he’s no Gold Glover there, either.
And, this team is old. Their normal starting lineup has six regulars on the wrong side of 30. That does not bode well for them in August and September.
AND, THERE’S THIS: “Oft-injured second baseman Freddy Sanchez, now with the San Francisco Giants, thinks he could be ready to play for the team as early as mid-May. No word on which year.” – Janice Hough, Palo Alto.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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