Al Davis's Legacy; Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning, Joe Montana/Steve Young; Josh Nunes/Kevin Hogan; Zach Maynard/Allen Bridgeford/Zach Kline
AL DAVISíS legacy remains, but not in a way heíd like. We all know that new general manager Reggie McKenzie had to unload some decent players who had gotten much too generous contracts from Davis, throwing the payroll out of whack, but the negative impact of his player evaluation remains.
One area that never gets mentioned: wide receivers. Davis always looked for the fastest receivers and got them usually, but the results have been mixed. Because heís worked very hard, Darius Heyward-Bey has turned into a good receiver, and he made a great catch in last Sundayís game, reaching up with his right hand to pull in a long pass from Carson Palmer, which set up a touchdown. On the other hand, Denarius Moore, who should be a consistent big play receiver, often drops passes and runs the wrong pattern. In last Sundayís game, Palmer expected him to go deep on an early play and Moore broke off his pattern early, so the pass landed untouched about 30 yards further down the field. I seriously doubt that it was Palmer who made the mistake because he called the play.
These receivers are lucky they arenít playing with George Blanda, who ripped receivers up one side and down the other if they ran the wrong patterns. Palmer has been remarkably patient with the young receivers and never complains about the poor pass protection he usually gets. He also has to know that, by the time the team gets good, heíll be gone. But, he just keeps giving it his best. Heís a class act which surprises me, since he played at USC.
The Raiders were on a two-game winning streak going into last Sundayís game with Tampa Bay, which got their fans excited. One of them high-fived me in the parking lot before the game. ďGoing for three today, baby!Ē Much different, and better, treatment than I got in the Raiders parking lot earlier.
But, the winning streak was an illusion. I saw the first game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they won that game only because both the starting quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, and star running back Maurice Jones Drew were injured in the first half. Even then, they had to go into overtime to win it and Raiders coach Dennis Allen admitted to the media after the game that his team lost the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The following Sunday, in Kansas City, they faced a team that will probably have the top pick in the NFL draft next year because theyíre the worst team in the league. They may not win another game. When I covered the Raiders and for some years later, the Raiders-Chiefs rivalry was a great one, but not now. As bad as the Raiders have been lately, theyíve beaten the Chiefs six straight times in Kansas City. Ouch!
The Raiders defense looked good against bad offenses but the Buccaneers exposed them, rolling up more than 500 yards of offense, with rookie running back Doug Martin doing most of the damage. The Raiders D looked so bad, itís hard to know where to start if theyíre working to improve. Being in position might be a start. Actually tackling runners and receivers instead of just waving at them might be another.
Interestingly, one of the players the Raiders released in the offseason was defensive back Stanford Routt. Kansas City signed him but released him this week. The Raiders did not pick him up, which was the right move. Routt was another classic Davis mistake, very fast but without good football instincts. He was vulnerable to the big play with the Raiders and he continued with that pattern with the Chiefs.
Iíve written many times that Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will build a solid foundation for future success but that it was unreasonable to expect the Raiders to be a winning team this year. Obviously, the second half of that analysis is coming true. Itís not easy for fans to be patient, especially since the Raiders have had so little success the last 10 years, but itís their only choice right now. I think McKenzie will have a good draft next year and have the Raiders back in playoff contention soon.
ANDREW LUCK is starting out in the NFL just as he left off in the collegiate world, and it seems the Colts will be in the same position as the 49ers in the Ď80s and Ď90s, with one Hall of Fame quarterback following another.
The comparison is not exact because Steve Young was not drafted by the Niners, coming over when Eddie De Bartolo agreed to give Tampa Bay $1 million of his dadís money. Having Joe Montana and then Young meant that the 49ers didnít have to draft a quarterback in the first round for 15 years. When they finally did, they drafted Jim Druckenmiller. Need I say more?
In contrast, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning and then Luck. They are similar in many ways. Manning was thoroughly versed in a pro-type system at Tennessee, and Luck was also in a pro-type system at Stanford, which Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman then took to the 49ers.
Manning has been like a coach on the field, calling plays himself, often in a no-huddle system. At Stanford, Luck was given three options on each play and he then called the one he thought was best. Almost always, it was. The fact that he did that made it much easier to start fast in the pros, and in half a season, heís already exceeded Manningís wins (3) as a rookie. Thereís serious talk that the Colts will be in the hunt for a wild card.
Luck is probably a better athlete than Manning, able to scramble for yardage; at Stanford, he even caught passes.
I know Manning only by reputation, never haven spoken to him. I had several encounters with Luck as a collegian, and I was very impressed with him. He has a good sense of humor about himself. A couple of years ago, he showed up at a Big Game media luncheon wearing a blue-striped shirt and yellow tie. When I commented on his wearing Cal colors, he laughed and said, ďI have a limited wardrobe. These are the only things that were clean.Ē
Iíve known many great players in different sports and not all of them were pleasant to be around, so itís really nice to see a great player like Luck who is also a very likeable person.
RUNNING QUARTERBACKS: The problems Michael Vick is having with the Philadelphia Eagles brings up an interesting question: Is it an advantage or disadvantage if a quarterback is also a good runner?
It would seem thatís a no-bainer: Of course itís better if a quarterback can run for positive yardage if his receivers arenít open. But quarterbacks who are really good runners have a tendency to give up on the pass and run. And, itís a problem for offensive linemen because theyíre blocking for a pass play and suddenly, the quarterback is running.
The afore-mentioned Steve Young was such a good runner that many people in the NFL thought he should be shifted to running back. Bill Walsh, mindful that Young had set an accuracy record in college, thought differently. Young ran quite a bit early in his 49ers career because he didnít know the offense very well, and nobody who saw it will ever forget the 49-yard touchdown run he made against the Minnesota Vikings to win a game in 1988, but he ran less and less as he matured as a quarterback.
One time he explained the reason to me. ďIf I throw a pass for six yards, several players are involved. If I run for six yards, itís just me.Ē
Thatís a lesson Vick has never learned. I donít think he ever will, which is why his time as a top level quarterback is nearing its end.
MORE QUARERBACKS: Both Cal and Stanford will likely have new starters at quarterback this weekend.
In Stanfordís case, coach David Shaw has decided to start redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan in a very important game against Oregon State on Saturday night. Josh Nunes has been the starter and Hogan used only in specific situations before this.
Nunes is a good quarterback but nowhere near the level of Luck. Hogan hasnít played enough to get a clear read on what he can do as a starter but heís been explosive when he has played. My guess is that heíll show that he belongs, just as Luck did early and as Aaron Rodgers did as a sophomore transfer from Butte JC. He has the advantage of a strong defense, which gives a quarterback more of a comfort zone, and a good offensive line.
For Cal, starter Zach Maynard has not had either advantage this season. Naturally, Iíve heard from Cal fans complaining about Maynardís inconsistency. Iíve watched many quarterbacks over the years and have never known one who succeeded with inconsistent pass protection from his offensive line. Inevitably, the quarterback rushes his passes and throws poorly in those situations.
In the second half of last season, Maynard played very well, playing behind a good and experienced offensive line. This year, the offensive line has struggled because of inexperience and Maynard has, too. Can we please connect the dots?
Because of an injury, Maynard may not be able to start against Oregon, so backup Allan Bridgeford will probably get the start, which is obviously doing him no favors. The Ducks ran up 62 points against USC. The Bears will be just another road kill.
Next year, I expect Jeff Tedford to make Zach Kline the starting quarterback butTedford wasnít going to waste Kline this year, so heís redshirting. Kline went to Cal summer camps when he was still in high school, and he started at Cal in the spring, so heís already been through both spring and summer practices. He has a chance to be Calís best quarterback since Rodgers Ė if he gets the consistent blocking he needs up front.
ONE OF my fellow Cal alums is very upset over the night games the Bears have been playing, especially last week when the Cal-Washington game was played on Friday night. The crowd was sparse and one of the reasons was that it was difficult for working people, especially the alums who live outside the main Bay Area, to get off their jobs in time to get to the game. Friday night commute traffic within the Bay Area can also be hellish.
For some time, Iíve written that college football has sold its soul to TV. To me, the charm of college football has always been the fact that it brings together generations of students and alums, and small children of alums as well. Iíve thoroughly enjoyed walking around the Cal campus and visiting with friends before the game, even if the team is bad, as has been true more often than not in the 57 seasons Iíve been watching the Bears.
But, that only applies to games played during the day. Once upon a time, games started at 12:30, which allowed time for pre-game tailgates/parties and postgame as well. That doesnít work well for night games, especially late in the season, and what I call the TBA schedules, when game times arenít announced until 12 days before the games are played. That makes planning for a season impossible.
But, Iím talking about Bay Area football specifically, and what used to be Pacific coast football before our wonderful commissioner, Larry Scott, stretched the definition to include Utah and Colorado.
Unfortunately, what happens in college football has nothing to do with the football played out here. It has everything to do with the SEC and Big Ten. In those conferences, whose schools are mostly in small cities, the football game is the biggest thing that happens Ė and traffic isnít a big problem. It makes no difference when the game is played, those 100,000-seat stadiums are going to be filled with fans wearing the school colors. Thatís what drives college football.
The only way we could break that chain would be for the west coast schools to drop out of the NCAA and start their own conference. Of course, to do that, weíd have to ship Scott back to Florida. Altogether, that sounds like a great idea.
TV: Iíll be on ď49ers PreviewĒ on KPIX, which will be run twice on Saturday, at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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