Nnamdi Asomugha; Jim Harbaugh; Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn; Tim Tebow; Jared Goff/Brendan Bigelow
AS THE season gets underway this Sunday, the 49ers have solved some of their problems.
Nnamdi Asomugha has stepped up to be the third cornerback. He always seemed to be the best candidate – if he had anything left in the tank. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, in an unusually candid assessment early in training camp, said Asomugha might have reached that point in his career where age had caught up to him.
I was at the 49ers’ camp the next day, and Asomugha was asked about Fangio’s statements. He was not upset because he said he was always his worst critic. He also said he was sure he’d be able to contribute this season and now, Fangio agrees with him.
As much as anything, Nnamdi was a victim of a change of systems. He was a great corner with the Raiders, playing the man-to-man defense that Al Davis fervently believed in. The Philadelphia Eagles played more zone, and he didn’t do well with that. The 49ers also play a mix of coverages but they use a lot of man-to-man, in which Nnamdi excels.
Systems are everything in football. Davis got burned a couple of times because he brought in corners, Larry Allen and De Angelo Hall, who were accustomed to playing zone coverage and couldn’t stay with receivers in man-to-man coverage.
The 49ers have enough depth at linebacker that they released Parys Haralson. Third-round draft pick Corey Lemonier has been very impressive in the pretend games as well as in practice.
The one trouble spot is at receiver. The 49ers latest acquisition is Chris Harper, a fourth round pick by the Seattle Seahawks who was not able to get a spot on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster.
This was just the latest sign of desperation by the 49ers, whose best receivers, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, are both injured. Manningham will miss at least six games. Crabtree’s return probably won’t be until late in the season, if then. So, the Niners took a chance on Austin Collie and former Cal receiver Lavelle Hawkins.
Collie had been a very good receiver for the Indianapolis Colts but had had serious injuries, including concussions. He was released by the Niners and probably should retire. Hawkins had a good receiving night against the Chargers but got two 15-yard penalties for excessive celebrating and tearing off his helmet. That behavior is a no-no for coach Jim Harbaugh, so it was no surprise that he was released, too.
Colt McCoy finally stepped up and solidified his position as backup quarterback. He may be needed if Colin Kaepernick has to do more running because his receivers aren’t open.
The Niners start with what should be a real challenge, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, didn’t have a clue how to defend against Kaepernick when the teams met in the postseason in January. It will be interesting to see what he does on Sunday.
MEANWHILE, THE Raiders are apparently going with Terrelle Pryor as their starting quarterback, though he did not look good in his one start in the pretend season.
Despite that showing, it’s probably a good idea to start Pryor, who is a very good runner, because the Raiders offensive line has been a mess since Jared Veldheer went down with a torn triceps. Matt Flynn, who had been brought in to be the starter, is not very mobile and seemed to be traumatized by the five sacks he took in his last start.
Pryor, at least, has the mobility to avoid the rush and get positive yardage. He also has a strong arm and can be accurate when he sets himself. He needs to get out of that college mentality where he felt he could do anything. Pro defenses are much tougher. If he continues to spray his passes, he’ll complete too many of them to the opposing defense.
There’s another reason to play Pryor: The Raiders are not going to have a winning season and the losses will be more palatable if there’s some excitement.
TEBOW TIME is over. The New England Patriots became the third NF: team to cut him last week.
Tebow was never a NFL quarterback because he’s not accurate. When I saw him against the Raiders in his rookie season, he was missing wide open receivers by 10 yards of more. If he wants to play in the NFL, he should switch to running back.
I’m also turned off by his overt Christianity. I’ve always felt that athletes who say they’ve put their lives in God’s hands are shirking responsibility for their own failures. The Giants had some of those in the mid-‘80s – I dubbed them the “God’s Squad” – and, not coincidentally, the Giants had bad teams in that era.
THE BASEBALL season has its ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago, the Texas Rangers were red-hot and I was getting panicky e-mails from A’s fans who thought their team was falling out of the race.
But now, the A’s are heating up. They’ve been playing very good teams in the last week and a half – the Detroit Tigers and Rangers have been leading their divisions and the Tampa Bay Rays are second in the tough AL East. But, the A’s took three of four against the Tigers in Detroit, losing the fourth only when Grant Balfour had a very uncharacteristic meltdown, swept the Rays in three games in Oakland and then won the series opener against the Rangers in Oakland yesterday afternoon.
I was at Sunday’s game at the Coliseum, another tight win for the A’s, and A’s public relations director Bob Rose commented to me, “These games this weekend have all had the feeling of postseason games.”
They have indeed because these teams will probably all be in the postseason, either as division champions or wild card teams.
It is much better to go in as a division champion, and the A’s seem to be in good position to do that. Their pitching seems stronger than ever, with rookie Sonny Gray looking very good and Bartolo Colon back to his early season form after a 15-day stay on the DL, which gave him a rest.
The A’s are unlikely winners because of their collection of players who have changed positions and, in most cases, not drawn much attention before this season. But they play with great confidence, which is a big part of winning, and they have an excellent manager in Bob Melvin and a great pitching coach in Curt Young.
Don’t bet against them.
AS FOR the Giants, I was amused when manager Bruce Bochy said he was delaying Barry Zito’s start from Sunday in Phoenix until yesterday in San Diego to give Zito a little extra rest. Suuure. The fact that Zito could skip a good-hitting lineup in a hitter’s park to face a weaker lineup in a pitcher’s park had nothing to do with it.
The strategy didn’t work. Zito had another stellar effort in San Diego yesterday, giving up four runs in four innings. He’s clearly checked out on this season and his Giants career. With the expansion of rosters in September, the Giants don’t have to worry about his roster spot, so they should get Barry a nice soft chair and a paperback to read while he’s sitting in the bullpen. If the Giants go into the ninth inning of a game trailing, 1-0, that would be a good time to call on him. Otherwise….
THE GOOD NEWS is that Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour dropped the plan to move the 2014 Big Game to the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara. If she had consulted with alumni first, she would never have even considered that plan, but she has no connection with the university beyond her job. If she’d been an alumnus, she would have understood tradition, but she’s tone deaf on that subject.
The real question is whether the Bears can be competitive in that game. Jim Harbaugh restored Stanford to prominence after the disastrous Buddy Teevens/Walt Harris years and the much less bombastic David Shaw has taken the Cardinal even higher. Preseason rankings had Stanford No. 4 in the country, and The Los Angeles Times last week proclaimed them No. 1! Quite a statement in USC land.
Traditionally, successful Stanford coaches have understood the difference between Stanford and almost all other Division I schools. Nobody understands that better than Shaw, which helps him in recruiting and also in motivating his team. Stanford has always pitched its recruiting as the equivalent of any Ivy League school but with a big time athletic program. Because of their high entrance requirements, their available talent pool is small but they don’t have much competition for the top athletes in that pool. Northwestern now, probably, but Rice and Vanderbilt, with the same academic standards, haven’t had winning teams for many years.
Cal has a much different problem. It has a much larger pool of potential candidates but the competition is much stiffer. When I talked to Mike Montgomery when he was at Stanford, he often mentioned that, when he went to high school all-star games, there were many players he didn’t bother to contact because he couldn’t get them into school. But, when I talked to him after he came to Cal, he said, “When we targeted somebody at Stanford, we almost always got him.” For Montgomery at Cal, and for the football coaches, there’s great competition for the players they’re recruiting.
Jeff Tedford had a very good run but he was felled by a combination of factors. He spent a lot of time campaigning for the training facility (also open to regular students) which other schools already had. Recruiting was hurt by the fact that the spineless Cal administration and Berkeley city government wouldn’t do anything to get rid of the tree-sitters in front of the stadium.
Now, the Bears have a new coach, Sonny Dykes, with a high-flying offense that fell just short of beating highly-ranked Northwestern in its opener. I recorded the game and was quite impressed by freshman Jared Goff’s poise, as well as his accuracy. With running back Brendan Bigelow’s ability to make big plays with his feet, the Bears should have an exciting offense this year. With their killer schedule, I don’t expect them to have a winning season but at least, they’ll be exciting.
THE MISGUIDED plan for a huge Warriors arena on the San Francisco Embarcadero is running into trouble. With luck, if it’s built, it won’t be in that spot.
The costs for building up the pier are exceeding the Warriors estimates. Surprise! And, of course, they’re not willing to pay the extra costs. Since the America’s Cup has also not been quite the bonanza promised, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee may be having some doubts about the project.
The project still has to get environmental approval. Assemblyman Phil Ting, from San Francisco, attempted an end run with a bill that would have allowed projects to go through without requiring this approval but that has been sent to committee by the state Senate and has already been changed substantially.
That bill was a very bad idea because it would have given developers a green light to do whatever they want along the Embarcadero. Developers have no conscience. In the ‘50s, there were plans to fill in the bay for more housing. Fortunately, that was stopped by women who were well connected politically.
I came to San Francisco in 1963, just before the start of the freeway revolution, and I was living just off Divisadero, very close to where a north/south freeway was planned. If that freeway had gone through, it would have been a disaster. Fortunately, enough citizens realized that to stop it.
There were still too many freeways in San Francisco but the earthquake took care of that. Nancy and I were in the area where the Central Freeway came down a couple of weekends ago when our son and daughter-in-law took us to a performance at the SF Jazz Center. It’s a beautiful building with great acoustics and on the edge of a district which has been revitalized since that freeway came down.
The downing of the Embarcadero Freeway opened up the waterfront, and mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown did a magnificent job of building up the area around the Ferry Building. It’s a great area, whether you’re walking, bicycling or driving.
Putting Joe Lacob’s monument to himself there would be a terrible move. There are other places in San Francisco where it could be built without harming the environment or creating a gridlock driving situation but, of course, that wouldn’t be dramatic enough for Lacob’s ego. Poor baby.
I CAN’T believe I made that mistake last week about the last year the Cal Bears were in the Rose Bowl. I was there, and it was one of the worst days of my life.
At the time, I had just started work for The Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. I lacked the status to get press box credentials but I got two tickets through the Alumni Association, six rows up in the end zone, so my brother, Bob, and I drove down from Watsonville.
In the days leading up to the game, Bob stayed with friends. I was one of several sleeping on the living room floor of the family home of college friend Richard Charvat, whose father was a highly respected judge in Long Beach. Richard would go on to become a lawyer and then a judge. He and his wife, Veronica, now live in the Bay Area and he has the good sense to subscribe to my column.
The game itself was awful, of course, and Bob and I had a great view of the Iowa offensive line opening up huge holes for their backs to run through.
It was worse after the game. Most of my relatives lived in Iowa and it seemed they had all come out for the game. Naturally, they were gloating, and my only consolation was that they had to go home to Iowa.
Then, Bob and I had to take turns driving back to Watsonville. Outside King City, when I was driving, I was stopped by a Highway Patrol officer. I think he was lonely and just wanted somebody to talk to because there was hardly anybody on the road and I wasn’t going much over the speed limit. He did not give me a ticket.
We got back to Watsonville about 4 a.m. Four hours later, I had to be at work, and I stumbled through the day on autopilot.
Maybe that’s why I got the date wrong. I’ve been trying to erase that experience since!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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