A. J. Jenkins/Trent Baalke; Matt Flynn/Terrelle Pryor; Jack Clark/Barry Zito;; Jared Goff/Zach Kline/Austin Hinder;Brandon Moss/Sonny Gray
THE 49ERS unofficially announced that they blew it with their first round choice last year when they traded A. J. Jenkins to Kansas City for the Chiefs first round pick in 2011, Jonathan Baldwin.
Baldwin’s numbers with the Chiefs were modest. Jenkins numbers with the Niners were nonexistent. Only one pass was thrown to him last year and he dropped it. In retrospect, it seems general manager Trent Baalke made a mistake many GMs make, though they swear they won’t: Drafting for need instead of taking the best available athlete. Baalke’s overall record is exemplary, so I’m willing to forgive him this stumble.
One of Jenkins’ problems as a rookie was a lack of strength so he added some muscle in the offseason but he had not looked good this year, either in practice or in exhibition games. The 49ers are desperate for receivers, with both Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out with injuries; Manningham is out for at least the first six games and Crabtree may miss the entire season. But even in that stage of desperation, Jenkins didn’t give the Niners any reason to think he’d step up.
This is a serious problem. Right now, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has only two good targets, tight end Vernon Davis and the newly acquired Anquan Boldin. Kaepernick proved last season that, without a good receiving target, he can run for very big gains, even touchdowns. But, when a quarterback runs frequently, it increases the chance he’ll be injured. That’s what happened to RG Griffin in the postseason last year. Backup 49ers quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien were not impressive in last Friday’s exhibition against the Chiefs, though it was a mismatch because new Chiefs coach Andy Reid played his starters much longer than is normal in these pretend games.
The 49ers showed their desperation weeks ago when they picked up receivers Austin Collie and former Cal Bear Lavelle Hawkins. Collie has been a very good receiver for the Colts but he has serious health issues, primarily concussions which may force his retirement. Hawkins is a longshot to make the team.
The 49ers are in a division that has suddenly developed some muscle. The Seattle Seahawks, coached by Pete Carroll, who has an ongoing feud with the Niners Jim Harbaugh, got a surprisingly good year from third round pick Russell Wilson, another of the good running quarterbacks. Arizona had a bad year but traded for Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, who should revive the offense.
The bottom line for 49er fans: Don’t make your Super Bowl reservations yet.
MEANWHILE, THE Raiders are still trying to find their way, and that wasn’t helped when they lost offensive tackle Jared Veldheer for the season with a torn triceps.
I talked briefly to new quarterback Matt Flynn in camp last week, mostly about how he was working with the offense and bonding with his receivers.
“It’s fortunate that we’re running a ‘West Coast’ offense that’s similar to what I’ve run with my last two teams (Seattle and Green Bay) so it’s mostly just learning different words,” he said. “I think it’s working well with the young receivers. They understand that it’s as important for the receivers to know the plays as the quarterback.”
That reminded me of the time I asked Bill Walsh why his team never seemed to have those plays when a quarterback and a receiver seemed to be on a different page, with the quarterback throwing the ball far from where the receiver was running. Walsh then showed me how receivers were supposed to recognize the defense when they started running a pattern and adjust. The quarterback, also reading the defense, would also adjust. Another example of why Walsh was ahead of everybody.
In the Raiders game in New Orleans, it did not go well for Flynn, whose offensive line broke down constantly, leading to five sacks. Raider fans were tweeting messages called for Terrelle Pryor – the backup QB is always a fan favorite in these games – but Pryor was only one-for-five. So much for that.
I’m still optimistic about the Raiders future, and coach Dennis Allen seems to be, too. Allen seems much more confident this year than he was last year. But, it’s not going to be an overnight change. My expectation is that the Raiders will struggle for most of the season before finally coming together and starting to show what the future will be.
It’s not easy to preach patience to fans, especially to Raiders fans who have suffered through some ghastly years as the Al Davis era closed. But, with general manager Reggie McKenzie in charge, I think they have a good plan for long term success.
JARED GOFF won the three-pronged race for starting quarterback for the Cal Bears and head coach Sonny Dykes talked of his accuracy, always the most important quality for a quarterback, and taking care of the football by avoiding fumbles and bad handoffs.
But I believe there was more than just football involved in this choice.
From the start, I never thought Austin Hinder had a chance. He had been working in the Jeff Tedford offense in practice for three years (he redshirted as a freshman) and had to learn an entirely new offense in the spring and summer.
Zach Kline was also a Tedford player. He had gone to Cal summer camps when he was in high school and redshirted last year, still working with the same offense.
Goff, though, played in an offense in high school which was similar to the one Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will be coaching this fall. He graduated high school early so he could enter Cal this spring and take part in spring drills. He is thoroughly versed in this offense.
I believe any of the three could do the job and a coach should have the quarterback he wants. It’s also not a choice that is rock certain. Both as a coordinator at Arizona and head coach at Louisiana Tech, Dykes switched quarterbacks during the season. So, he may make a switch during this season.
I feel sorry for Hinder, who has obviously been aiming at a pro career. Now, he has a hard choice to make. If he stays, he’s not likely to play enough to get the attention of pro scouts. If he transfers to a Division I school, he’d have to sit out a year. If he transfers to a Division 2 school, he can play, but NFL teams don’t often draft quarterbacks from Division 2 schools, though UC Davis has had Ken O’Brien, J. T. O’Sullivan, Mike Moroski and Kevin Daft drafted. (I realize the NCAA has changed the designation on their divisions but I’m sticking with the old ones for simplicity purposes.
With the early schedule Cal has – Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon among the first four opponents – Goff may not stay healthy for the whole season, either.
JACL CLARK got in trouble again, saying on St. Louis radio that Albert Pujols had taken PEDs, which Pujols staunchly denies. Clark was fired for his remarks.
When I read that, I thought, he hasn’t changed a bit. Jack has always said what was on his mind. That is often foolish, but it doesn’t make him a bad person.
I got to know Jack well when he played with the Giants. At first, I was critical of him because he did some stupid things, like losing track of the outs when he was in the field and starting to run in when there were only two outs. But we soon bonded because he was saying the same things about Giants management that I was writing. And, he backed up what he was saying while always giving his best on the field. With men on base in a critical time in the game, you absolutely wanted to see Jack Clark at the plate.
Our friendship spawned a humorous episode in 1982. I was in Arizona covering the Giants and A’s, and my office asked me to write on the USFL opener in Tempe. Dick O’Connor was covering for the Palo Alto Times and, at that point in our relationship, he was always angry with me, mostly because I got so much more attention than he did. At halftime of this game, we were standing in an area behind the press box and he was berating me for not always being in the Giants dressing room after games, which was not in my job description. “If you blast Jack Clark, we’re the ones he takes it out on,” said O’Connor.
“That’s strange,” I said. “Jack didn’t say anything to me about that last night when I was having dinner with him and his wife.”
Later in the decade, Jack was playing for the Red Sox and they played a series in the Bay Area. While we were talking behind the batting cage, he went on and on about the selfishness of the Boston players, which has often been a trademark of the Red Sox. I wasn’t taking notes because I never have but I was filing this away and wrote a column on it. The column appeared the next day, when the Red Sox were in Seattle, and Jack denied making the comments.
The next time we met, he apologized but I told him the truth: It didn’t matter. I knew my column was accurate and I knew he had to deny it because he was in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Jack Clark was the kind of player I admired because he gave everything he had on the field. It’s not surprising that he and Joe Morgan, the same kind of player, were close when Joe played for the Giants at the end of his career.
The kind of player I don’t admire is one who doesn’t give his best. Barry Zito comes to mind. Zito is a very good person, with many off-field causes to which he devotes both time and money. But he’s waltzed through his Giants career, only occasionally really bearing down and giving his best. He hasn’t respected either Giants management or the fans.
THE A’S are still hanging tight in the AL West, mostly because of the ability of general manager Billy Beane and his scouts to identify young pitchers and pitching coach Curt Young’s ability to develop them.
The latest find is Sonny Gray, who has shown the poise of a veteran along with a very good variety of pitches. Brett Anderson is rehabbing at Sacramento and may come back as a starter, not a reliever, as once thought.
Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon has gone on the 15-day disabled list for a non-baseball injury. This may be a blessing in disguise for the 40-year-old Colon, who had hit a wall. His velocity was off and his command was, too. A two-week rest may be just what he needs. Last year, he got nearly a third of the season off when he was caught on a PED charge, so he didn’t have to play a full season.
The other thing the A’s have going for them is an absolute conviction that they can win, no matter the circumstances. They have seven walk-off wins this season and their latest win, last night over Seattle, was typical, as Brandon Moss hit a home run to dead center in the bottom of the ninth. That surprised even Moss because the ball does not carry well at the Coliseum at night.
Meanwhile, despite all the attempts by Lew Wolff to discourage them, A’s fans are supporting their team. Last night’s crowd was thin, not surprisingly after good crowds for the weekend games, but even when they’re smaller, the fans still enthusiastically root for their team. The players often talk about how much they love their fans.
It’s a strange team. The third baseman, Josh Donaldson, is a converted catcher. Moss never played first before but he’s doing a fine job there. A star reliever, Sean Doolittle, is a converted first baseman. Somehow, they get the job done, and manager Bob Melvin does a masterful job of juggling.
It will be tough for the A’s to make the postseason because Texas isn’t going to go away and the race for the wild card positions will be tough because the American League is still the stronger of the two leagues, even after commissioner Bud Selig transferred the sad sack Houston Astros to the American League. The AL once again has an edge in inter-league games and, if the A’s are trying for a wild card spot, they’ll be battling Tampa Bay or Boston, whichever one doesn’t win the AL East, Baltimore, Cleveland and Kansas City.
The National League is a different matter. The Dodgers and Braves are running away with their divisions. There’s a tight race in the NL Central with Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati; one will win the division and the other two will be the wild cards. The other 10 National League teams, including the Giants, are playing the rest of the schedule only because they have to.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is at war with itself. Tom Verducci continued his rant about steroids in the August 12 issue and said the players wanted a clean game, as if that will ever happen. Meanwhile, Joe Sheehan had a much different approach, based on reason instead of emotion. Sheehan pointed out that steroids testing was all about the home runs Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds hit in the 1999-2001 period but home run totals returned to normal in 2002. Moreover, the spike in home runs was no bigger, percentage wise, than in the 1985-87 period.
Sheehan made another valid point: that all this talk about drugs keeps fans from talking about the players. He pointed out that the NFL had suspended two players for violating the league’s drug policy the previous week. “I doubt you could name the two players,” wrote Sheehan. “The NFL understands that you investigate, you discipline and you shut up the rest of the time. MLB, always at war with its players, has never grasped that.”
In the August 19 issue, L. Jon Wertheim had a very interesting piece on why Latino players are caught so much more frequently. Players from the Dominican Republic have been caught 252 times, the most of any country by a considerable margin. Venezuela accounts for another 99. The common thread is poverty. Latino players are willing to risk suspension because the reward is great. Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games last year so he lost nearly a third of his salary, but Toronto offered him a luctrative contract for this season. Club owners clearly don’t worry about any stigma. Oh, but don’t worry: MLB caught Miguel Tejada for taking an amphetamine for a medical condition. He had earlier been given an exemption but the exemption had run out and Tejada is being punished for that. Stunning – and I’m not referring to Miggy’s action.
All this is extremely silly. Sheehan made a point that I’ve made several times: Cheating has been a common theme throughout baseball’s history. To pretend this era will ever be any different is nonsense.
LAST WEDNESDAY, when Nancy and I were in the Napa Valley, we stopped at 1the Robert Mondavi winery to meet with my friend, Glenn Workman, the general manager of the operation. While we were in his office. Glenn told us a cute story.
The IT technician at the winery, Stayce Gatison and his wife have been married for more than 20 years. She has occasionally gone back to Texas to visit her family without him and she talked of her Uncle Joe often.
Last week, her family visited them. When Gatison saw Uncle Joe, he looked at him, then back at his wife and finally said, “You could have told me who your uncle was.”
Uncle Joe was Mean Joe Greene. You may have heard of him.
Greene and his family were visiting the winery that day so we went down to the tasting room and I met him, too. Interestingly, though I had covered many games in which he had played, including Super Bowls, I had never met or interviewed him.
So, it was a first for me, too.
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