Change for Bears; Warriors: Robinson Legacy
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 17, 2007

THERE WILL be a new look for Cal football this fall, or, more accurately, a return to an old look as coach Jeff Tedford goes back to calling plays.

Tedford brought in Mike Dunbar last year because he wanted to install elements of the spread into his offense. “I was happy with that part of it,” he said in a conversation in his office. “We’ll keep the spread elements this fall.”

But Tedford gave up most of the playcalling duties to Dunbar, too. “We (offensive coaches) all worked together on the game plan,” he said, “and I think the offense was pretty much the same.”

The one critical difference, though, was that the offense became predictable as the season went on. The euphoria of the 40-plus outbursts early in the season evaporated in the disappointment of an unproductive offense in losses to Arizona and USC which kept the Bears out of a New Year’s Day bowl.

Now, Dunbar is gone and Jim Michalzik, in his sixth year on the staff, will be offensive coordinator as well as offensive line coach. On game day, Tedford will be making the play calls. “I’m comfortable with that,” he said. “I’m also happy with our staff, which has been together a long time.” In fact, all the key assistants have been in the Cal program at least six years, except for quarterbacks coach Kevin Daft, who is in his fourth year.

There’s experience in another key area, too: quarterback. For the first time in Tedford’s career at Cal, he will have a quarterback, Nate Longshore, who was the starter for the whole season. Aaron Rodgers didn’t become a starter until midway through his first season though, Tedford said, “It seemed like he’d been the starter all year.”

Now, says Tedford, “Longshore is like a coach on the field. He understands our system and what we’re trying to do perfectly.”

And, though Longshore is not the model for the type of quarterback who is most successful in the spread, Tedford thinks Nate prefers working out of the spread. “He’s tall (6-5) and it gives him a chance to look over the defense without having guys right in his face.”

Though Tedford praised the progress of the two backups, Kevin Riley and Kyle Reed, he said that “They’re not yet where we want them to be.” Both were injured at the end of spring practice, and Riley’s was the more serious, a fracture of a finger joint that requires splints on both sides. It will be three months before he can resume throwing.

Tedford was not happy with his offense in the final day of the spring. “It was a lot of little things, the way we came out of the huddle, the execution.” But overall, he thought it was a productive spring. “We always put in everything in the spring,” he said, “and for the first part of summer camp, too. Then, as we start game planning for the season, we cut back.”

There will still be some important pieces who will arrive for summer camp because only one member of the recruiting class, tight end Skylar Curran from Butte College (the same college where Rodgers played as a freshman) was in school this spring.

Five offensive linemen will be coming in;, and they’ll be in the mix. Two very talented running backs, Jahvid Best from Salesian High in Richmond, and Shane Vareen from Valencia, will have a shot. Both are very elusive with great speed and Tedford wasn’t ruling out the possibility that both of them will play this fall, behind starter Justin Forsett.

He’s also high on two corners coming in, Chris Conte and Sean Cattouse, who are both big (6-3) and fast. “Our recruiting class is big,” Tedford noted. “I didn’t realize until I was looking it over that everybody but the two running backs is over six feet.”

The reason he didn’t notice the size was that his emphasis has been on speed, at all positions. “Defensively, if you’re out of position, you still have the ability to recover if you have speed,” he said. “Offensively, it means the difference between long gains and touchdowns. Taking nothing away from a back like Joe Igber, we used to have 30-yard gains. Now, if our backs get into the secondary, they go all the way.”

The season is less than five months away, with the opener coming against Tennessee at Sept. 1 at Memorial Stadium. Tedford doesn’t make predictions, but he does promise, “We’ll be ready for them this time.”

DALLAS DEFAULT: It was shameful that Dallas coach Avery Johnson virtually gave the game to the Warriors as he played his reserves last night. Both Johnson and Dallas owner Mark Cuban should get hefty fines from NBA commissioner David Stern.

It’s a given in sports that a team which has clinched its playoff spot still gives its best in a game with playoff implications. In this case, with the Warriors holding only a game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the battle for the eight spot, Johnson should have been trying to win the game. Instead, he conceded it.

The Warriors got the benefit of not just a win but a game in which they could rest their starters in the fourth quarter, leaving them in better shape for tonight’s game in Portland.

But the way they got that win over Dallas will leave a stain even if they now make the playoffs. The Warriors have made a gallant drive down the stretch, but if they grab that playoff spot, what will be most remembered is Johnson’s gift to his former boss, Warriors coach Don Nelson. Shameful.

ROBINSON LEGACY: In the debate over the decline of American blacks in major league baseball, one factor has been overlooked: The draft.

In recent seasons, teams have concentrated on drafting college players, not high school players. Young black athletes almost always need athletic scholarships to play college ball, and there are relatively few available for baseball. So, the blacks go to basketball and football, leaving college baseball teams overwhelmingly white.

Joe Morgan, who came out of the Oakland/East Bay environment that also produced Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Curt Flood and Willie Stargell (and, Bill Russell in basketball), has pushed for American baseball academies, modeled on those in Central and South America, but so far, only one has been started, in the Los Angeles basin.

The academies – there are three in Venezuela alone – have been largely responsible for the huge influx of Latinos into baseball, on both the major and minor league levels. Youngsters get much more than baseball instruction. They also get three solid meals a day, which is three more than most of them had been getting at home, which can do a lot to fuel love for the game.

But, I don’t regard it as a crisis that the percentage of American blacks has dropped in baseball. Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line was huge at the time. The other pro sports, football and basketball, were also pretty much white-only, but baseball paid much better than the other two. Now, salaries are out of sight in all three sports, and basketball has the highest average. So, blacks are not hurting themselves by not played major league baseball.

The first influx of blacks into the game brought in some great players, including Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, as well as Jackie Robinson himself.

But the Latino players coming into the game now are giving baseball the same kind of energy boost, and the game is as exciting as it’s been at any time in the 50 seasons I’ve been watching major league games.

NFL SUSPENSIONS:

“Regarding the whole Pacman Jones business,” writes reader Janice Hough, “NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said it was ‘detrimental to the game and has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club and the NFL.’

“Does this mean if they start off playing like last year, the whole Raiders offense could be suspended for the season?”

GIANTS RAINOUTS: The best solution for the games the Giants lost to the weather in Pittsburgh is not to play them. Neither of these teams is going to be in the postseason, anyway, and this would improve the Giants’ chances of avoiding a 100-loss season.


SPORTS, CONCERTS: Tickets for the Warriors and Sharks playoff games, the May 5 Kentucky Derby and the All-Star game at AT&T park, are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets are also available for The Police show at the Oakland Coliseum on May 13, along with hot summer concert tours featuring Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Kenny Chesney, among others. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.

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