Cal Defense, Colin Kaepernick/Kevin Riley; Jim Harbaugh; Andres Torres
CAL DEFENSE:The story of the Cal season so far has been the defense. You’d never know it by just looking at the scores – 52 points in each of the first two games – but the offense has been inconsistent.
Not the defense, though. Under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the Bears have an attacking defense, with different looks up front and a common goal: Pressuring the quarterback.
This is the kind of defense I’ve always favored, with one proviso: You have the players to run it because, if you don’t get to the quarterback, defensive backs are all in solo coverage. That was a real problem for the Bears last year. Defensive coordinator Robert Gregory was unfairly blamed for being too conservative when he was only trying to limit the damage. Gregory’s defensive schemes had been more aggressive in the past but when he called a blitz last season, too often the blitzer didn’t reach the quarterback, who could then pick apart the weak Cal secondary.
This year, the whole defense seems much faster and certainly more aggressive. But, the Bears have faced very weak teams, so it’s really difficult to evaluate them. UC Davis figured to be a pushover because the Aggies are in a lower division, but Colorado was expected to provide much more of a test. Not at all. The Buffaloes were only marginally better.
My opposition to the Pac-10 expansion is well known, but late in the first half Saturday, when Pac-10 media relations director Kirk Reynolds (whom I’ve known since he was with the 49ers) passed by, I said, “Kirk. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to love seeing Colorado in the Pac-10!”
I can certainly see why Colorado wants to leave the Big 12, which is the toughest football conference in the country. They’re still playing in that conference this year, and I see some 50-, 60- and possibly even 70-point drubbings ahead for them. Big 12 coaches don’t call off the dogs when the score is lopsided. They want those big victories to climb in the national standings.
This week, against Nevada Reno on the road, won’t be another cake walk for the Bears. The Wolfpack has a very potent offense. “They’ve been scoring 50, 60 even 70 points in games the last few years,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford noted in yesterday’s weekly news conference.
They haven’t slowed down this season, beating Eastern Washington, 49-24 and Colorado State, 51-6. Like Cal, they haven’t faced stiff opposition – Colorado State had lost to Colorado, 24-3, in its opener – but it’s obvious the Wolfpack offense is rolling.
And, star Cal linebacker Mike Mohammad had his ankle in a cast this week. Tedford said it was just precautionary for Mohammad who is expected to play on Friday but won’t practice this week.
Nevada has an unusual offensive scheme in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick can either pass or run. “It won’t be like Colorado where the quarterback was just sitting there,” noted Tedford.
Indeed. Kaerpernick has passed for 65 touchdowns in his Nevada career and run for 43. If he has the same kind of season this year he’s been having, he’ll win up with the second-most yards in both passing and rushing in Nevada history – and first in total offense.
Kaerpernick went to high school in Turlock but apparently was not recruited seriously by Cal.
The current Cal quarterback, Kevin Riley, has good statistics so far this year but he also showed the maddening inconsistency that has marked his collegiate career. He threw some beautiful passes but also missed on wide open receivers.
One of those missed passes was a swing pass to Shane Vereen. Riley has always had problems with that pass, and when he missed Saturday, it took me back to 1968, when I was covering the Raiders in the AFC championship game in New York.
Daryle Lamonica always had problems with that type of pass, too. In this game, he and Joe Namath had put on a tremendous passing show (Lamonica threw for 401 yards) despite a howling wind in Shea Stadium. But in the fourth quarter, he threw what was supposed to be a forward pass to Charlie Smith, but the pass went behind him. Smith though it was just an incomplete pass but it was actually a lateral and in play. The Jets recovered, went on to score a touchdown and won the game – and Namath became a folk hero by predicting a Super Bowl victory.
There was no such drama about Riley’s missed pass, just another errant throw in a game where he didn’t have to be sharp.
That won’t be true in Reno Friday night. The Bears could play well defensively and still give up a lot of points to the potent Wolfpack offense. Riley has the receivers, especially when the addition of freshman Keenan Allen, to have a big game, too. It’s time for him to step up.
JIM HARBAUGH: Reader Janice Hough has an interesting prediction: Harbaugh to become 49ers head coach, around the 2012 season.
Could be. I’ve always thought Harbaugh would stay as a college coach, but if the 49ers offered him the job, it would be hard to resist. He wouldn’t have to move…and the 49ers are not the Raiders.
DUH RAIDERS: One of the big differences between Al Davis then and now is in the ability to evaluated players, and that difference shows markedly in Davis’s evaluation of offensive linemen.
The Raiders used to have great offensive lines. Davis inherited Jim Otto but he drafted Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, both in the Hall of Fame, and Bob Svihus, not in that class but much better than any tackle the current Raiders have. Later, he picked up Bob Brown and Ron Mix, both Hall of Fame tackles. Quarterbacks Lamonica and Ken Stabler thrived behind that kind of protection.
Now, it’s a disaster. The Raiders’ highest pick, Robert Gallery, was not a fault of wrong evaluation because everybody liked Gallery. I have a strong suspicion that Gallery was on steroids in college and got off them when he came to the NFL. He has never shown the kind of aggressive play that marked his college career. He’s been switched to guard, a much less challenging position.
But the others? A year ago, the team’s resident buffoon, er, coach, Tom Cable was proclaiming that Marlo Henderson was the answer at tackle. But Henderson has been a swinging gate.
When the Raiders took Langston Walker in the second round, they crowed about their “steal.” I had seen Walker at Cal where he was no great shakes, so I couldn’t imagine he’d improve in the pros. He didn’t. He left as a free agent and was a disappointment at Buffalo. So, the Bills let him go and the Raiders picked him up! Why, for heaven’s sake. Walker is the same player he’s always been, large and ineffective.
Of course, this pales beside the attempt to make Kwame Harris their left tackle. The 49ers were the first to overrate Harris, taking him high in the first round. He looked good, a big tackle who was obviously smart, coming from Stanford. But, he lacked the quick feet an offensive lineman needs. Trying to compensate, he often started moving into position before the ball was snapped. Oops! Another false start.
So, the Raiders picked him up and moved him from right tackle to the much more demanding left tackle position. The only question was whether Harris would have more false starts than quarterback sacks allowed. Both numbers were inexcusably high.
No matter who you have in the backfield, if you don’t have a good offensive line, you don’t have a good offense. The Raiders got a good/bad start against the Titans in proving that.
49ERS WOES: The absolute collapse of the Niners on Sunday certainly shocked their fan base, but I haven’t seen many signs of outright panic. Maybe fans are just numb after the last few years.
I did get a couple of interesting responses to my Tuesday Examiner column, suggesting ways the 49ers could right the ship.
One was written directly to the paper, suggesting that what the 49ers need to do is find a quarterback like Joe Montana or Steve Young. Hard to argue with that. So, let’s just shake the nearest tree and see if one like that falls out.
The other was written to me by a fan in such anguish that his e-mail was longer than my column. I couldn’t get past the first sentence, though, when he castigated the 49ers for not signing a veteran quarterback like Kurt Warner or Jeff Garcia.
Good grief. Warner retired after last season. If he’d wanted to play another season, he certainly would have stayed with the Arizona Cardinals, whom he’d led to a Super Bowl title after the 2008 season. The Cardinals would have done anything to keep him because they were not happy with Matt Leinart, who has since been released.
I admired Garcia when he played for the Niners and wrote that it was a mistake when he was released after the 2003 season. I take no special credit for that. Everybody knew it was a mistake but Terry Donahue, the man who made it.
But now? Garcia is 40 and doesn’t have much left in the tank. Even last year, when he signed with the Raiders, many of us thought he’d be the starter by midseason, when the JaMarcus Russell experiment would collapse. But Garcia couldn’t stay healthy, so he didn’t even make it out of training camp. Russell imploded, as expected, but Bruce Gradkowski and then Charlie Frye replaced him.
Garcia still wants to play and has signed with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. There has been speculation that he might be signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, if he could get out of his UFL contract, but that would only be for a short time as an emergency backup because of the Eagles’ quarterback injuries. He is not the answer for the 49ers.
GIANTS LOSS: The National League playoff race is still too close to call, but the Giants took a serious hit when Andres Torres had an appendectomy, probably sidelining him for the rest of the season.
Torres has been the feel good story of the year. He’s played a great defensive centerfield, he’s the one Giants base stealing threat with 23 and, though I don’t have any stats, I’d bet he has more clutch hits than anybody else in the lineup. Time after time, he’s been the one whose hit has ignited a rally that brought the Giants from behind.
Now, he’ll be replaced by Aaron Rowand, the $60 million mistake. What a comedown.
The National League playoff race has been an unpredictable one, and not just in the NL West. I expected the Cardinals to win the NL Central easily, but they’ve been in a funk for the last two months and Cincinnati has taken charge. The Phillies are the best team in the league but injuries held them back. Healthy again, they’ve risen to first in the NL East.
In the NL West, just about the time I started believing in the Padres, they lost 10 straight. Then, I thought the Rockies were making one of their September runs – and they lost their next two games.
The Giants? Even if they don’t make it, this has been the most exciting season since, well, since the last time they were in the postseason, 2003. As those going to the games know, it makes a huge difference when every game means something, and it’s been that way all season at AT&T.
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