Zach Maynard; Brandon Belt/Aubrey Huff/Brett Pill; Andy Roddick; Peyton Manning
CALíS DISTURBING loss to Nevada Reno in their first game in remodeled Memorial Stadium brought back memories for me.
In 2009,, I had a lengthy dispute with some Cal alums who were not only sure that defensive coordinator Bob Gregory was wrong with his defensive schemes but certain they had the answer: An all-out pass rush, with blitzers, to get to the quarterback.
My defense of Gregory was simply that he did not have the players to play that kind of defense. I agreed with the basic philosophy, that the best way to stop an offense is to sack the quarterback, but Gregory did not have the kind of pass rusher who could consistently get to the quarterback, nor did he have a strong defensive backfield. By using conservative defenses, he was trying to limit the damage.
I understood that, but my Gregoryís critics did not. One of them told me that their group included a successful high school coach. If he thought that was going to impress me, he was wrong. All his success proved was that he knew high school football, not college, a completely different level. Remember what happened when Notre Dame thought Gerry Faust, a very good high school coach, could make it as a college coach?
When Clancy Pendergast came on the next year, after Gregoryís resignation, the Bears defense looked very good in the first two games against weak opponents, and Gregoryís critics did mental high-fives, congratulating themselves on their football knowledge. Then, the Bears got ambushed in Reno by the Wolfpack, with their Pistol offense.
That wasnít Pendergastís fault, just as the Bears problems the season before had not been Gregoryís. No coach can overcome players who canít do the job or donít, for whatever reason.. That was the problem again last Saturday. Defensing the Pistol offense requires players to have specific responsibilities, including one designated to go for the quarterback on every play, even if it seems heís handed the ball off. There were individual breakdowns against the Wolfpack which made sophomore quarterback Cody Pajardo seem like an All-American.
There were other problems Saturday. Quarterback Zach Maynard didnít start because he had failed to follow up with an academic tutor in the summer. His replacement, Allen Bridgeford, showed that he has a strong arm but he was not in sync with his receivers, in large part because he had seldom worked with them in practice, going with the second unit while Maynard was working with the first.
When Maynard came into the game, he made some good throws, but was inconsistent for much of the game. Coach Jeff Tedford said Maynard was average, adding ďHe has to be better than that,Ē Every pre-season analysis of the Bears, including mine, has said that their success depends on Maynard being the type of quarterback he was in the final half of last season. He was not that quarterback last Saturday.
I would remind panicky Cal alums that college teams, even very good ones, often start erratically because there are no practice games leading up to the opener, as the NFL has. In 2006, the Bears were crushed by a very good Tennessee team in Knoxville, but they ended the season at No. 14 in the national rankings.
Itís been a rocky road since then, as recruiting has suffered and the results have shown that. But the recruiting impediments have been removed and the road ahead looks more promising, though it may not show this year.
It often seems to me that Cal alums, especially the younger ones, have unrealistic expectations. In the years since World War II, the Bears had one brief glory period under Pappy Waldorf but the results since then, including Pappyís last four years, have been very spotty. Thatís going to happen because Cal coaches have to pay attention to the academics. Can you imagine an SEC coach not starting a player because he didnít meet with his academic tutor? In fact, can you imagine an SEC player having an academic tutor?
Jeff Tedford is the best coach Cal has had since Iíve been writing on Cal football. Of course, that only goes back to 1956, so what do I know?
WITH THE expanded rosters, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has almost too many options. The chief example of that is with his first basemen. Bochy should stick with Brandon Belt, who has been hitting lately as he can, bringing his average up to .275, and he hit his first homer since June into McCovey Cove in last nightís game.
Belt is only 24 and a converted pitcher, so he should continue to improve; Aubrey Huff noted recently that he hit only eight homers when he was 24. Belt has very good plate discipline so his on-base percentage is in the high .300s, a better indication of hi value than batting average. Heís also only a tick behind J. T. Snow as a defensive first baseman, and Snow is the best Iíve ever seen.
But Bochy has other options, and he sometimes takes them, which is a mistake. One of them is Huff, who has spent two sessions on the disabled list this season. Frankly, I donít think Huffís mind has ever been in the game this season. He went through that episode earlier where he had a mental breakdown, which seems to have been caused by his wife filing for divorce in January. The two have since reconciled but Huffís mind didnít seem to be in the game when he returned. My guess is that heís already retired mentally but wasnít about to make it official when heís collecting $11 million this year. I canít blame him for that. Itís not his fault that Brian Sabean foolishly gave him a two-year contract instead of one year with a club option for the second.
Bochy has two other options. One is playing Buster Posey at first occasionally to give him a break from catching and using Hector Sanchez as catcher. I have no objection to that on an occasional basis. Sanchez is still learning to catch but heís tough and a decent hitter though, because heís a hacker, his on-base percentage is only a tick better than his batting average.
Playing Brad Pill against left-handed pitchers, though, is a serious mistake. Belt has proven he can hit left-handed pitching, and Pill showed last year that he is not major league hitter. No surprise. When a hitter doesnít reach the majors until he is 27, already in his peak years, the odds that he will become an important player are very much against him. Pill started strongly but when pitchers learned how to pitch to him his average drifted towards the low .200s. There is no reason to play him now, except as a pinch-hitter, because he has no future and canít help much in the present.
THE OAKLAND AíS have been a great story this year but it seems that the clock is about to strike midnight for this Cinderella team.
The Aís are still tied with Baltimore and the New York Yankees as the top wild card team (the Orioles and Yanks are also tied for the lead in the AL East) as I write this, after having dropped the first two games of their series against the Anaheim Angels. The Aís success has come with a combination of strong pitching, especially from their starters, and timely hitting, leading the league in home runs since the All-Star break. But, if you look at the Angelsí lineup, itís dynamite from top to bottom, starting with Mike Trout, who will be a runaway winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award, at the top of the lineup and anchored by power hitters in the middle, including Albert Pujols. Another early season slump, comparable to the one he had last year with the Cardinals, had some questioning if Pujols was on a decline, but as of this morning, he was hitting .289 with 39 doubles, 29 home runs and 90 RBIs. Some decline.
At the All-Star break, analysts said the Aís had no chance to make the playoffs because they had a high percentage of games against top teams in the second half. So far, the Aís have defied the nay-sayers but now they face a schedule of 17 of their next 20 games on the road, including series against the Angels, Detroit Tigers, Yankees and Texas Rangers. Ouch! I hope Iím wrong, but I just donít see the Aís surviving that stretch as a playoff contender. But then, I was one of those who thought at the beginning of the season that the Aís would be battling the Seattle Mariners to stay out of the AL West cellar.
ANDY RODDICK announced before his first appearance in the U. S. Open last week that he is retiring, and any assessment of his career has to contain two conflicting opinions: He was successful but he didnít fulfill his potential.
Roddick was the Golden Boy when he first hit the tour, the young star who could restore the luster to U. S. tennis. He was a handsome young man with a big serve and strong ground strokes who seemed only to need to learn how to serve and volley to become No. 1 in the world. But, he never learned that part of the game, content to stay back on the baseline, and though he won tournaments, he never reached the gameís pinnacle.
I donít know Roddick, so I can only analyze him from a distance, but itís always seemed to me that he didnít really want to be No. 1. That may seem strange because it would seem to be the goal of every athlete, but it isnít. Even those who attain that level talk about how difficult it is Ė I remember John McEnroe in particular talking about that before playing in Barry McKayís tournament one year, how the pressure on a player who had reached that level, as McEnroe had, was overwhelming.
But, McEnroe could handle that pressure, and he always had the drive to be No. 1. So did Andre Agassi, who made changes in his game so he could play with the best. So did Rafael Nadal, who had to work hard on his serve to become the best Ė when he can stay healthy. So did Bjorn Borg, who developed an overwhelming serve to go with his baseline strokes.
Roddick never did that. Heís always been near the top, capable of winning any tournament, even the big ones, but never reached the top of the mountain, which Iím sure was his choice.
Not that I feel sorry for him. Throughout his career, Roddick has always been coupled with beautiful women. I remember one time when he was playing in McKayís tournament and Mandy Moore was accompanying him. My colleagues in the media paid more attention to her than Roddick. Eventually, Roddick married Brooklyn Decker, a stunner who was the cover girl for one of the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue.
So, maybe being No. 1 in the world isnít everything.
PREDICTING THE Super Bowl teams is difficult even during the season. How many people thought that the Green Bay Packers wouldnít be in it last season? Predicting the teams involved at this point is even more difficult, yet every NFL writer has to attempt it.
The real head-scratcher this season, though, is from the usually reliable Peter King in Sports Illustrated, who picks the Packers (of course) against the Denver Broncos, simply because they signed Peyton Manning. Makes me wonder if Peter looked at the rest of the Broncos roster. A quarterback, even as good as Manning, canít win by himself.
If Manning can stay healthy, which is a big question, the Broncos should win the AFL West, but after that, itís hard to see them getting through the playoffs.
The Bay Area teams? The 49ers should be in the playoff hunt, the Raiders are obviously building for the future, a much more sensible decision than the futile attempts to be a contender in previous seasons.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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