Tedford's Decisions, 49ers QBs, Giants/A's Woes
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 20, 2008

PREPARING FOR this season is quite different for Cal coach Jeff Tedford than it was last season, when the Bears were projected as a top 10 power and a candidate for a BCS bowl. This year, the expectations are much lower; Cal has generally been picked in the mid-30s nationally and the media which covers Pac-10 games predicted a fourth place conference finish.

“I haven’t had to give the players any talks about not believing the hype,” Tedford said after a recent practice. “Frankly, I prefer it this way.”

Some predictions are easy; your 90-year-old grandmother could predict that USC will be the conference champion. All other college football predictions are dicey, because there’s no way to predict injuries or how much younger players will improve.

Generally, predictions are based on the previous year and the school’s latest recruiting season. The Bears don’t fare well this year on either count; they ended the season with six losses in eight games and, as a result, had a mediocre recruiting year.

But Tedford has tried to correct the mistakes he thinks he made last season, mainly in dealing with the entire team, not just the offense. This year, he’s turned over the offensive play calling to new coordinator Frank Cignetti, and there’s already been a difference in practice, as Tedford has spent more time than before observing the defense. In the offseason, he also made certain he had one-on-one conversations with all the key players.

Last season, media and fans put almost all the blame for the collapse on quarterback Nate Longshore, who tried to play through an ankle injury, and I was as much to blame as anybody.

But there were many other lapses. The most shocking: The Bears yielded 360 yards rushing to a weak Washington team that was missing its main offensive weapon, freshman quarterback Jake Locker.

The defense has to step up big time this year and it appears it will. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has switched to the 3-4 because his linebacker group, headed up by Zach Follett, Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams, is the strength of the defense.

As of today, Tedford has not announced his No. 1 quarterback. Both Longshore, healthy again, and sophomore Kevin Riley, the people’s choice, have looked good in practice. Riley’s future is brighter; as I wrote after he played against Oregon State last season, he has a chance to be the next great Cal quarterback. But Longshore has much more experience, which may give him an early advantage this season.

What I think will happen is that Tedford will use both quarterbacks extensively in the first four games, only one of which (the second, at Washington State) is a conference game. It won’t be a true two-quarterback system as some teams have used, with one quarterback primarily a passer and the other primarily a runner. Riley is a better runner than Longshore and capable of turning a broken play into positive yardage, but he is not Steve Young or Randall Cunningham. His arm, not his legs, is his biggest attribute.

In some ways, this resembles the 2003 season, when Aaron Rodgers transferred to Cal. Reggie Robertson was the starting quarterback but by the fifth game, against Illinois, Rodgers was the starter, beginning a two-year run that made him a first round pick in the NFL drafte in 2005.

Will that happen with Riley? It’s possible. Tedford no longer has the doubts he had last year about Riley’s ability to manage a game and make consistently good decisions.

Last year, many of us felt that Tedford put too much faith in Longshore and had too little in Riley. That won’t happen this year. Whichever quarterback plays, it will be on merit.

This year, it’s all about accountability. Tedford has acknowledged his own mistakes and has challenged his players to do the same. In both spring drills and summer camp, the play has been spirited and the attitude of the players has been good. I firmly believe that the Bears are going to surprise people this year – and, in contrast to last season, in a good way.

49ERS QUARTERBACKS: Writers covering the 49ers have wondered why head coach Mike Nolan has hesitated in naming his No. 1 quarterback because, in their eyes, J. T. O’Sullivan has won the competition.

There are two reasons:

1) Nolan is not making the decision. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is. Martz did not come here to allow a coach who knows nothing about offensive football to decide who’s going to run his offense. Nolan always has to pretend he’s in charge, so he can’t publicly defer to Martz on this. So, he’s doing a lot of dancing on the issue.

2) Writers are largely basing their conclusions on what has happened in games, but Martz told me again in training camp what he had told me in the spring: He doesn’t make evaluations off exhibition games. “I learn more in practice,” he said. “The games actually slow down the process.”

In the first two exhibition games, coaches don’t game plan, as they do in the regular season games. Instead of using plays to win games, they work on specific areas – and nobody outside the team knows what they’re working on. That doesn’t stop writers from making silly assessments; a Chronicle columnist wrote off the 49ers after their first exhibition!

It appears to me that O’Sullivan will be the choice, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Martz prefers Alex Smith.

Either way, Nolan will announce the decision as if it’s his – and writers will pretend it is.

EXAMINER COLUMN: Many of you were as frustrated as I was when the Examiner changed its website to SFExaminer.com and the link I had to my columns was no longer valid. Good news: My webmaster has put in the new link, so you can now go through the link on my web page. You’ll get the sports section of the Examiner site and can then click on the headline on my column. If you missed Tuesday’s column, the leadline for it is still there.

GIANTS/A’S WOES: Though they’ve gotten to this point differently, the Giants and A’s are in the same situation, basically trying out prospects to see if they can become solid players in the future.

That makes for many problems. After a surprisngly good first half, the A’s have been in a nose dive in the second half. The Giants have been more consistent: They haven’t played well except in spurts all season. The pathetically weak NL West has disguised that somewhat but throughout the season, there have been only 3-4 teams in major league baseball with worse records. Even now, as poorly as the A’s have played the last two months, their record – in a better league – is four games better than the Giants.

Among my readers, the A’s fans have been much more critical of their team’s management, probably because the A’s traded their best pitcher, Dan Haren, and perhaps their best player, Nick Swisher, in the offseason.

Billy Beane had to do that because the A’s farm system was no longer producing top prospects. The trades he’s made have rectified that situation. The A’s system is now rich in both pitchers and position players, some of whom have been up at some point this season. We won’t know for at least one season and perhaps two whether Beane’s plan will work, but his track record is good.

Meanwhile, though readers sometimes criticize him, manager Bob Geren’s job is safe. He’s been told his primary job is to develop players for the future. You don’t fire a manager in that situation.

The Giants are more problematical. Their major league team has strong starting pitching and there are more excellent pitching prospects in the minors, but we’ve seen this season that starting pitching isn’t enough if your bullpen blows games. Though they’ve brought up a record number of rookies, the only younger player who’s shown any consistency has been Fred Lewis and, since he’ll be 28 at the end of the year, it’s a real stretch to call him young. He basically has no upside. What you’re seeing is what you’ll get.

And, I have no confidence in Brian Sabean. He should have been fired after last season. He’s held on to Randy Winn (just hope that he doesn’t extend Winn’s contract because he’s been hot in August) because he thinks his team can be in the race next season. Earth to Brian: It’s not going to happen. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers, who have made trades for Adam Dunn and Greg Maddox, are moving away from you. So are the Rockies, who are winning again after a disastrous start. All three teams will be further ahead of the Giants next season than they are now.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL is coming and tickets are available for hot matchups like USC-Ohio State, Michigan-Notre Dame and Arkansas-Texas on TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS!: Tickets for Cal home games - Michigan State, Aug. 30; Colorado State, Sept. 27; Arizona State, Oct. 4; UCLA, October 25; Oregon, Nov. 1; Stanford, Nov. 22; and Washington, Dec. 6 – are also available. New York will host the top tennis stars – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters – for the U.S. Open. On the concert state, Radiohead will be in San Francisco on August 22 and then at the Hollywood Bowl, August 24-25. Neal Diamond plays Fenway Park on August 23, Jimmy Buffett is at Boston’s Comcast Center on Sept. 6 and Tony Bennett will be at the San Francisco Symphony on Sept. 14. And, Madonna is back in the spotlight with her October tour. Just click on the local or national links and everything will come up.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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