NFL Draft; 49ers Stadium; DH in 2013; Aubrey Huff/Nate Schierholtz; Bob Myers/Joe Lacob
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 25, 2012

25APRIL

THIS IS THE silly season for the NFL, with both professional media and bloggers coming out with mock drafts for the Thursday-Saturday extravaganza. I’ve read a number of them, but more for entertainment than any real appraisals. I’m especially amused by those who have separate categories for “will draft” and “should draft.” Even a professional writer assigned to the NFL beat can’t possibly know more than those in the front office of a team. But, they think they do.

In the case of our local teams, it’s more frustrating than usual. The 49ers surprised everybody with their seventh pick last year, which was Aldon Smith, a great choice. The year before, everybody knew they needed serious offensive line help, but nobody knew they’d trade up to get two, guard Mike Iapatu and tackle Anthony Davis, both of whom have been starters since Day 1.

This year, having filled their wide receiver void with free agent signings, their one big need is at right guard, with Adam Snyder having left for the Arizona Cardinals and only two low-round picks from last year who have virtually no NFL experience. But, unless they trade up again, they’ll be drafting at 30, where their options are limited.

As long as Al Davis was alive, it was fairly easy to predict the Raiders’ pick: Just look for the fastest player at a position of need, ignore his actual performance and predict that Davis would take him. Only one proven star has come of that process, running back Darren McFadden, and his success has been balanced against frequent injuries. JaMarcus Russell ranks among the top draft busts ever, perhaps surpassed only by Ryan Leaf. Darius Heyward-Bey finally had a good season last year but he is not the deep threat Davis thought he could be because he doesn’t trust his hands. Most of his catches are made against his body, so he’s more of a possession receiver.

This year, new general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen have made it plain that they will draft on the basis of football skills, not the measurables that swayed Davis. But, since the Raiders don’t draft until the third round because Davis and Hue Jackson traded away their first and second round picks, they’re obviously not going to have a shot at the to p-rated players on the board. Given McKenzie’s comments about building a solid foundation, I seriously doubt that he’ll trade away more future picks to move up in this draft. Though he’s made the proper remarks about Davis, everything McKenzie has done tells you he thinks Davis’s methods in the last 20 years were totally wrong.

McKenzie has been working in the scouting end of the Green Bay Packers, where he initially learned from Ron Wolf, who started his career with the Raiders, of course. There’s no doubt Wolf gave him a strong recommendation when he talked with Mark Davis after Al Davis’s death. I’m sure we can look for his first draft to be heavy with players with upside for the future, not players who can be expected to make a big splash in their first year. Realistically, it’s much better to look for the first type of players if you’re building a foundation because it’s very difficult to find a third-rounder who can make an immediate splash. That’s why Davis let his scouts pick after he made the choices in the first two rounds. Raider fans can hope that, though they may not recognize the players drafted this year, they’ll come to know them as good players in the near future.

In a media session last week, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said the Niners have their eye on a specific player they’re sure will be available with their 30th pick. Coach Jim Harbaugh later said Baalke was just having fun, teasing the media. We won’t know for certain until Thursday night.
The one guard who would be ideal for the 49ers played for Harbaugh at Stanford before he left for the 49ers, David DeCastro, who is especially good as a run blocker. But DeCastro is widely thought to be a middle-of-the-round pick, so he won’t be there unless the 49ers make a trade to move up. I don’t see that happening.

If there really is a player Baalke is certain will be there when the 49ers draft, it’s probably Amini Silatolu, who played tackle at a Division 2 school. It’s not difficult for a college tackle to switch to guard, a much easier position; Snyder, in fact, played tackle in college but was much better as a guard as a pro. Other possibilities are Wisconsin linemen Kevin Zeitler or Peter Konz; the Badgers are known for turning out offensive linemen who do well in the NFL.

It’s always possible that the 49ers will draft one of these players, especially Silatolu, for the future, and then pick up a free agent to fill the gap for a year. Leonard Davis, a former Pro Bowler, has worked out with the Niners. He has not been signed, a possible sign that they’re waiting to see who they get in the draft.

Whatever, I have great confidence that Baalke will make the right move. His decisions since taking over for Scot McCloughan have been excellent.

NEW STADIUM: As I noted in my Tuesday column in the Examiner, the whining by San Franciscans – and some former San Franciscans who now live down the Peninsula – about the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara has been overwhelming. Of course, that column produced more e-mails yesterday.

There has been one amusing idea proposed in an e-mail to The Chronicle where a 49ers fan said he thought the Yorks should build a new stadium where the old Kezar Stadium was.

I’d sure like to know what this guy was smoking.

I’m not one who is nostalgic about Kezar. It was a stadium wedged into a small area next to Golden Gate Park, so it could not be expanded. There was virtually no parking. Since virtually all the 49er games I went to there were when I was assigned by The Chronicle to do a story, I had parking next to the stadium. Fans were not so lucky. They had to park far away in the park or take the streetcar from downtown. The bench seating in the stadium was so cramped – and beer sales were so big – that fights often broke out in the stands.

When Lou Spadia, then president of the 49ers, commissioned a study to see about putting in chair seats, he was told that the capacity would be reduced to 37,000 seats. That’s when he made the decision to move to a remodeled Candlestick Park.

Now, there is a high school field there, with seating for about 7000, I believe.

To build a new stadium on that site, the current field would have to be removed. Then, since the site cannot be expanded, you’d have a stadium with 37,000 seats and virtually no parking.

Oh, yeah, that’s a terrific idea.

THE GIANTS have been struggling with an approach to the problem of Aubrey Huff leaving for unexplained “personal issues.” I have a solution: Just put him on the 60-day disabled list and go on with the season.

Manager Bruce Bochy called Huff an important part of the team, which he was in 2010. Right now, he’s a road block to younger players who are better now and have much more upside.
Remember that, at the start of the season, Nate Schierholtz was on the bench, despite a solid 2011 season, because Bochy wanted to use Huff in left field when he wasn’t playing first base. Schierholtz has fought his way back into the lineup and, since he’s clearly the best right-fielder, is playing there, with Melky Cabrera in left. I certainly wouldn’t want to see Huff replacing either one of them.

Nor do I want to see him at first base, where Bochy has the choice between Brandon Belt and Brett Pill. Belt is the better first baseman defensively, and miles ahead of Huff, but the fact that he hits lefthanded and Pill righthanded gives Bochy the opportunity to platoon at the position if he chooses.

So, what does Huff bring to the team? He admits he didn’t work on his conditioning in the offseason after the great 2010 run. What kind of example is that for younger players? NL pitchers have clearly figured him out; he didn’t hit much last year and was struggling mightily before his mysterious absence this season.

His contract is another of GM Brian Sabean’s mistakes, but the Giants shouldn’t let Huff continue to clog up the works because of it.

NEXT SEASON: Bruce Jenkins has suddenly realized the 2013 season is going to pose a problem because there will be inter-league games every day. Writers for two national publications, Sports Illustrated and USA Today’s weekend sports edition, have both written long stories saying the National League will have to adopt the DH. Naturally, Jenkins doesn’t want that – Bruce dislikes every change in the game since he was a teenager – so he’s got a different idea: Expand the rosters to 27 players.

Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the major problem: That some games would be played with a DH and some without. That’s been an awkward and unsatisfactory method for regular season and World Series games. It would be farcical for the entire season.

I’m quite certain that the writers mentioned above have talked to their sources in baseball to learn that commissioner Bud Selig will push the National League owners to join the rest of the baseball world with the modern model, instead of clinging to the 19th century model.

Sports evolve and make necessary changes to survive. Football went to unlimited substitution because that made for a better game. Basketball dropped the center jump after every basket.

Baseball is slower to change, but there have been substantial differences in the game over the years, most notably the adoption of a much livelier ball. That eventually brought on the DH. It didn’t matter when baseball started that the pitcher couldn’t hit because the other players weren’t much better, having to hit as ball that would seldom go further than 200 feet.

Now, though, it does make a difference that pitchers cannot hit. What the DH does is replace a defensive specialist with an offensive one. Those who dislike the DH like to claim that this is just the opening for more specialization, having somebody hit for the shortstop, for instance. But this is a bogus argument. In 40 years with the DH, nobody has ever proposed something like this.

My experience with the DH has been that the people who most strongly oppose it are over-50 males who grew up as National League fans. I don’t think younger people give a damn about whether or not it’s used. And, guess which group is going to more games – and who will be going to games when the traditionalists stop going entirely, as many already have.

ALTHOUGH THE Warriors had said that it would be three years before Bob Myers was promoted to general manager, nobody was surprised when Myers got the promotion this week.

Although I think Larry Riley did well under difficult circumstances, transitioning from the Chris Cohan ownership to the much more aggressive Joe Lacob, this is a good move. Myers is smart and, as a former agent, has a good relationship with many players. I had noticed at this year’s Media Day, held when the NBA and Players Association finally came to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that the writers who cover the Warriors regularly were going to Myers for information, not Riley.

Right now, it appears the Warriors will be either 8th or tied for 7th in the lottery. More important is what happens when the actual lottery is held because they need to finish seventh or higher to keep their draft pick, instead of relinquishing it to Utah because of a long-ago trade. They’re due for some good luck in the lottery because they’ve had some stunners, starting with the first lottery when they had the worst record in the league but got only the seventh pick in the draw. They drafted Chris Mullin, who had a great career with them and has recently had his uniform retired, but the Knicks got Patrick Ewing with the first pick.

Lacob is obviously very aggressive and, though his public remarks and predictions have often been unfortunate, is good news for the team’s long-suffering fans. Much of their immediate future depends on the health of Andrew Bogut, for whom they traded, and Stephen Curry, who can’t seem to shake his ankle woes. There is hope for the future if those two are healthy.

In the meantime, root for the Warriors to finish seventh or higher in the lottery!

E-MAILS: I was out of town for a couple of days, for funeral services for my aunt in Fresno, who had died the week before – and yes, I know that dying in Fresno is a redundancy. When I returned, my inbox was flooded with messages. I haven’t been able to answer them yet and some may go unanswered, for which I apologize.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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