No Gore, No Hope; Tejada Not the Answer for Giants; Tedford and his QBs
The second part of that is certainly true, and there was no better example of that than Monday night’s game between the 49ers and Cardinals in Arizona. The Cardinals are just awful, perhaps the worst team in the NFL.
But the bad news is, the 49ers aren’t much better. At 4-7, they’re only a game behind the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, but they’re going to stay there. The NFC West may be represented in the playoffs by a 7-9 team, but the 49ers won’t win more than six games.
The Arizona win was costly, too, because Frank Gore was lost for the season with a hip fracture. That was almost predictable, given Mike Singletary’s insistence on running Gore so often and with no hint of deception. Just hand Frank the ball and send him pounding into a defense that has eight men in the box. Sometimes I think Singletary is the reincarnation of a coach from about 1905.
For the Monday night game, Brian Westbrook was a good substitute, gaining 136 yards, but Westbrook is not the kind of back you want carrying the ball 25 times a game. He’s been a “third down back,” used as a change of pace runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Singletary should have been using him that way all along but when he’s called Iron Mike, people are referring to his head. Westbrook will soon join Gore in sick bay if he’s used that way. Those who wanted to see more of Anthony Dixon will soon get their wish.
And, it’s not like the 49ers have a great passing attack to take the pressure off. Troy Smith is a one-hit wonder, one sensational game against the St. Louis Rams and then a dull thud the rest of the way. Even against the Cardinals, he was . . . well, mediocre. Teams know he can only roll to his right to throw, never to his left, and that he has trouble throwing from the pocket because he’s only six feet. He also has a habit of throwing the ball up for grabs, hoping his receivers will get it. That’s a style that works well in college but will soon yield a lot of interceptions.
HO, HO, HO: The most unintentionally funny line of the week came from Raider head puppet Tom Cable when he was told by a writer that the perception is that Bruce Gradkowski is Cable’s choice for quarterback and Jason Campbell is Al Davis’s choice. “Anybody who believes that is stupid,” he said. “It’s all about winning.”
Is it possible Cable is so dumb he doesn’t realize everybody knows he’s not making independent decisions?
GIANTS CHANGES: The Giants are starting to pay the price for success in their attempts to keep the team together that just won the first World Series in the franchise’s San Francisco history.
Brian Sabean’s first move was to lock up Aubray Huff with a two-year, $20 million deal, plus a third-year buyout for another $2 million.
One national writer, Ken Rosenthal, called it a mistake, and at first glance, it does seem to be another example of Sabean overpaying. Still, Huff brought a lot to the table for the Giants this season, starting with his team-leading 26 home runs and 86 RBIs. Those seem modest compared to other National League first basemen like Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard (who had 31 homers and 108 RBIs in an off year), but they were huge for the power-starved Giants.
Huff also brought an important attitude to the club. He was willing to play in the outfield when it became necessary, even the difficult right field. Though he came with the reputation of a defensive butcher, he was fine, both at first and in the outfield. He will never be a Gold Glover, but he didn’t hurt the team.
He also seemed to be a player his teammates could rally around. He and his wife love San Francisco and he has been very happy to play on a winner. At 33, he should have at least two productive seasons left. And compared to Aaron Rowand, he’s a real bargain.
Losing Juan Uribe was a jolt but hardly a surprise. The Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins wrote that Uribe wasn’t a “true Giant” because he went to the Dodgers. Give me a break. Uribe had played on two consecutive one-year contracts for the Giants, for $1 million and $3 million, and he’d been a tremendous addition, getting clutch hit after clutch hit. I hope nobody tells Bruce that Juan Marichal pitched for the Dodgers at the end of his career. Did that make Juan “not a true Giant”? Well, there’s a statue commemorating him at AT&T Park, so I guess that question is answered.
Now, the Giants have big questions about the left side of their lineup, especially at shortstop. Yes, I know they just signed Miguel Tejada. Apparently, Edgar Renteria’s clutch hits in the postseason made Sabean forget that Renteria’s biggest contribution during the regular season was staying on the disabled list. Tejada, like Renteria, is a once-great player who still has a little pop – 15 homers last season – but has slowed noticeably in the field.
The Giants should have gone with Emmanueel Burris, who may never be a good major league hitter but would be a big help to the pitching that is their life blood because he’s an excellent defensive shortstop and also has speed, a quality largely missing on the Giants.
Theoretically, the Giants have two shortstop prospects, Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, but neither has hit very well in the minors. Adrianza is only 21, so he has a chance. At 24, Crawford is a real long shot, as has been true of most of the position players the Giants have touted as hot prospects in the recent past.
The big question at third is whether Pablo Sandoval can lose enough weight to play the position – and whether he can adjust to how pitchers are handling him. I also think he needs to stick to just hitting lefthanded; he was pathetic swinging from the right side this last season.
Mark DeRosa is also under contract but he’s damaged goods after missing almost all of last season with wrist surgery. Frankly, I thought he was a mistake even before he got injured last year.
The Giants also will have to give Andres Torres a huge raise, either on their own or in arbitration, and they should re-sign Cody Ross, also with a big raise. It would be nice if they could trade Rowand, but they’d have to pay part of his salary the next two years. That was a terrible signing from the very beginning and it’s beginning to smell like two-week old fish now.
OH, MY: The Wall Street Journal “reported” earlier this week that the Giants were interested in Derek Jeter. This was a classic case of adding two and two and getting five. Apparently, the writer heard that Sabean had called Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, to discuss Jeter. In fact, Sabean said he was talking to Close about another of his clients, Mike Fontenot, who ended the season with the Giants.
Sabean worked for the Yankees before coming to the Giants and he knows the reality: Jeter isn’t going anywhere. Though he’s declining as a player, Jeter has been the face of the Yankees for many seasons now, a star player and the most recognizable to the New York public. Money is obviously no problem for the Yankees so they’ll work out a contract, perhaps for two years, with an agreement that Jeter will also work for them after he’s through playing, much as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda do now for the Giants, in a promotional capacity.
CAL QBS: Jeff Tedford came to Cal with a reputation as a great developer of quarterbacks; as an assistant at Fresno State and Oregon, he had developed NFL first round draft choices Trent Dilfer and Akili Smith, among others.
That continued when he came to Cal. Kyle Boller had been a big disappointment in his first three seasons but he blossomed under Tedford, becoming another NFL first round pick. The next quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was even better, and he’s since become the one Tedford quarterback who has been a big NFL success, at Green Bay – as 49er fans moan about what could have been if Mike Nolan had taken him with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft instead of Alex Smith. (Don’t blame me; I wrote at the time that he should draft Rodgers.)
Since then, the quarterbacking has not reached that level, and it plummeted dramatically when Brock Mansion had to take over for Kevin Riley when Riley’s collegiate career was ended with a tackle in the Oregon State game.
The turning point came when Rodgers left to enter the draft. Joe Ayoob was supposed to take over but he was hammered incessantly by Cal fans when he wasn’t an immediate success.
I had always thought Cal fans were different from those in other parts of the country, particularly the Southeast and Texas/Oklahoma, where the college teams are treated like pro teams. But it turns out that the only difference was that Cal hadn’t been winning. As soon as the Bears had success, the “win or else” fans surfaced. I like to think that they were mostly non-alums who just were what I call fans of winning, but I suspect some of the younger alums were like that, too.
I still think Ayoob should have been a great quarterback for the Bears. He had all the physical tools, both as a passer and runner, and he had been a star in junior college – and California junior college football is high caliber. But when he was treated that way, I have to think that it made other top quarterback prospects think twice about coming to Cal. Nate Longshore, rated as high as the nation’s No. 5 quarterback prospect as a prep, was already in school, but there haven’t been any rated that highly to come to Cal since.
The quarterbacks who have followed Rodgers have all been disappointments. Longshore’s lack of mobility made him an easy target for blitzes, which often caused costly interceptions. Riley never developed the consistency a top quarterback needs. Tedford has liked Sweeney’s potential but he hasn’t developed quite as fast as expected.
Because of the falloff at quarterback, I’ve had readers suggest that Tedford has become a “CEO-type” coach but that’s not true. He’s still very handson. But there’s no question he has to develop a quarterback who can take the Bears back to where they were a couple of years ago.
A’S CHANGES: Player moves naturally draw the most attention but perhaps the most significant moves the A’s have made in the offseason have been in totally overhauling their medical/training staff.
The last four years have been ridiculous as the A’s have set record for number of times players have been on the disabled list. If these were older players about to end their careers it would be one thing, but the great majority of these cases have been young players.
I have no idea why these visits to the DL had become necessary but when the pattern still existed last year, and even accelerated, something radical had to be done.
PET PHRASES: Do you know what a “bubble screen” or a “fly sweep” are? Neither do I, but I heard those phrases repeatedly from Greg Papa when he was the play-by-play announcer on the Cal-Washington telecast last Saturday.
I can, however, tell you where they come from: That’s clearly the language coaches used in describing plays to Papa before the telecast.
Coaches use those terms so their players will recognize the calls, but they have no place on a telecast because they are meaningless to viewers. Announcers use them in an attempt to impress viewers with how much they know, but the usual effect is to confuse viewers. Not a good idea.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: In the Raiders lunch room last Sunday, I introduced myself to a member of the Miami media contingent. He smiled and said, “I recognize the name. I grew up in Buffalo. I was six when you enraged the whole town.”
Ah, yes. In 1968, I was The Chronicle beat writer for the Raiders when they took a three-game swing, playing the Buffalo Bills, Boston Patriots (they were playing home games at Fenway Park then) and the Houston Oilers. In between the first two games, we stayed in Niagara Falls, a great place for a honeymoon but not a whole lot of fun when you’re with 40 football players.
At the time, Jim Murray would often write humorous columns ripping cities he had visited. I decided to do a Murray imitation on Buffalo during the week. Nobody ever successfully imitated Murray, an unique talent, and I was no exception. My story landed on page 6 of The Sporting Green, which is about what it deserved.
But Frank Dill, a longtime San Francisco radio/TV man who had started in Buffalo, sent the story back to a newspaper friend in Buffalo, and it was reprinted on the front page of the newspaper. It created an immediate uproar.
By this time, we were in Houston and I got a call from a TV station in Buffalo, wanting me to come back and be on a show there. I just wanted to go home to my wife; Nancy and I had only been married about a year and a half at that point. But Bob Valli, then the beat writer for The Oakland Tribune, told me, “Ask them how much they’ll pay.” I did, and it was sufficient to get me back there, where I appeared on a TV show and three radio shows, all of which got a lively response.
Years later, I was on a 49ers road trip to Buffalo – by this time, I was a columnist – and learned that the Chamber of Commerce had decided after that to take visiting media around the area, including Niagara Falls, so they would have a better impression of Buffalo.
And all because of one mediocre article!
E-MAIL: My e-mail was out from Wednesday last week to late Sunday when my son finally fixed it for me. Scott, like many of his generation, is much more savvy about these things than I am. When I finally got back in, my inbox was overflowing and I decided it was better to just delete it all and start from scratch. So, for those of you who e-mailed during that period, that’s why you didn’t get a reply.
EXAMINER COLUMNS: The Examiner has re-done its website, so it’s not always easy to find my column. If you have problems after reaching the Sports page, click on”News” in the menu at the top, then scroll down to “Featured Writers”. Click on my icon and my latest column will come up.
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