Al Davs/DHB, JaMarcus Russell; Jeff Tedford; Billy Beane/Jason Giambi/Matt Holliday; Willie Mays Memory
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 12, 2009

WITH THE Raiders, the more things change, the more they stay the same. When I was at camp yesterday, it was once again obvious that there’s a disconnect between planning and execution, from players to coaches – and, most of all, to owner Al Davis.

The Raiders have a strong lineup of assistant coaches, but because of Davis, that really doesn’t make a difference.

For instance, Ted Tollner was brought in to work on the passing offense but he’s always taught an offense that resembles those created by Bill Walsh more than the one Davis prefers.

That showed Tuesday when most of the completed passes went to tight end Zach Miller. Chronicle beat writer David White was keeping track and he noted that of the first 10 completions by quarterback JaMarcus Russell, only two went to wide receivers.

Other than the system, there are two reasons for that: (1) Russell continues to be very erratic on deep throws, though he does well on the check-off passes; (2) First-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey is too consistent, meaning that he’s still dropping passes regularly. The sound of coaches saying, “Oh, no,” is already a constant at Raider camp.

The best catch of the practice was by running back Darren McFadden, who made a great over-the-shoulder catch while running full speed down the sidelines. Maybe he should devote some time to coaching DHB.

Fourth-round pick Louis Murphy ( Florida) has looked much better than DHB but it was Heyward-Bey who was drafted because of his great speed. So, the question is: Do you play the more effective receiver or do you play the No. 1 pick, setting up Raider fans for many plays in which they get excited as they see the deep pass, only to be deflated as Russell either overthrows of Heyward-Bey drops the pass?

Anybody who knows Al Davis knows the answer to that question.

There’s another disconnect on defense, where John Marshall has replaced Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Ryan was heatedly criticized by Raider fans because he didn’t call more blitzes, but though the Raiders are blitzing more in practice (they did last year, too), they aren’t likely to blitz more in games. When Marshall was defensive coordinator for the 49ers in the ‘90s, he was conservative in his calls, and I doubt he has changed drastically. And, the Raiders will play the defense Davis wants, and that doesn’t include much blitzing.

Everybody knows that Davis is locked into the past with his offense but he’s locked in just as strongly with his defensive ideas. Others in the NFL have gone to zone coverage, for instance, because it’s much easier to disguise weaknesses in your secondary but Davis remains wedded to the concept of tight man-to-man coverage.

The first year I covered the Raiders, 1967, that worked perfectly as the Raiders got to their first Super Bowl with a 13-1 record. But that team had a front four of Ben Davidson, Tom Keating, Dan Birdwell and Ike Lassiter, and a defensive secondary with future Hall of Famer Willie Brown at one corner and Kent McCloughan, the only AFL corner who could slow down Lance Alworth, at the other – with a converted corner, Dave Grayson, at free safety.

Nnamdi Asomugha is the only defensive back on the current roster who would have a chance of even making the squad for the 1967 team. Chris Johnson, the other corner, played well in the second half of the season, but teams this year will realize that Johnson’s strength is covering routes straight down the field. He does not change direction well, so teams will change up patterns and complete a lot of passes in front of him.

Meanwhile, the defensive line has taken a hit with the trade of Derrick Burgess.

The Raiders will have to blitz to have an effective defense, but, still dreaming of the ‘60s, Davis won’t allow that.

The more things change….

RAIDERS AND THE MEDIA: When I got to training camp, I learned that the Raiders have put in a new restriction on the media. Instead of letting us roam up and down the sidelines, they have a 10-yard box, marked off with red lines, in which we’re supposed to stay.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The Raiders’ relationship with the media is very contentious. Raider employes are told to call up writers or broadcasters who are critical and bawl them out. Offending writers are taken off the media e-mail list, which is self defeating for the club because that’s the way routine information is disseminated. I’ve been off that list for years, and so are Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury, Monte Poole of the Oakland Tribune and Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. It’s regarded as a badge of honor.

The Raiders really want writers who will only praise them. Perhaps such an individual exists, but it’s hard to type a story if you’re blind.

JEFF TEDFORD: One of the questions I get most frequently about Cal football is from alums who think the Bears lost to Maryland in last season’s opener because they didn’t go back two days early to adjust to the time change. So, I asked Tedford whether he’ll take his team back early for the Minnesota game, which will be played at 11 a.m. and televised at 9 am. in the Bay Area.

“We’ll certainly look at that,” he said, “but we always put our players on the same clock that week as the area we’re going (in this case, the whole schedule was moved back three hours).

“But, I think the biggest problem in Maryland was the humidity. The ball was slippery, the grass was slippery. Our players just weren’t used to that.”

So, I think the answer to the question is no.

NICK PETERS: In writing about Rickey Henderson two weeks ago, I was remiss in not commenting on Nick Peters being voted into the writers wing of the baseball Hall of Fame. Nick deserved the honor as much as Rickey did.

Nick and I broke in about the same time; he was on the Berkeley Gazette when I came to The Chronicle in 1963. So, I know how much this honor means to him. He truly loves baseball. I branched out into other sports, notably football, but Nick remained true to his first love. He even traveled to Cooperstown on his own to see earlier induction ceremonies.

Nick was most of all an excellent reporter. He asked the right questions and gave readers the information they needed. He never let his ego get in the way.

And, his judgment was impeccable. In his acceptance speech, he said Willie Mays was the best player he’d seen, Juan Marichal the best pitcher and Henderson the best leadoff hitter. My feelings, exactly.

I’m often skeptical about writers awards. Scott Ostler once won the award as the best sportswriter in California for two years when he was writing a general news column! I think Scott is a fine writer but you really should be writing about the subject if you’re getting an award for it.

In Nick’s case, though, the award was totally justified. Congratulations!

SPEAKING OF MAYS, younger readers often wonder why he was considered such a great player. The short answer is that he was a great hitter for average and power, a great fielder with a strong arm in his prime and the best baserunner I’ve ever seen.

In my early years at The Chronicle, I did many dressing room stories but I also had to work in the office, in which case, I’d sometimes come out to the park to catch a few innings, hoping to see Mays do something I’d never seen.

One such time came in a game against St. Louis. Mays was on first when a single was hit to left. Mays advanced to second, then took a few steps toward third. Cardinal left fielder Bob Skinner, obviously aware of Mays’s reputation, was mesmerized and held on to the ball as Mays just half-ran sideways toward third, watching Skinner all the time. Not until Mays reached third safely did Skinner finally throw the ball in.

49ERS LIVE: One of my favorite websites is 49ers Paradise, which collects stories written on the team from many different sites.

Now, the website is offering, free, another service. By logging into, you can share fans’ photos and experiences from training camp. If you want to share your own photos, e-miail them to

A’S MOVES: Billy Beane has been lambasted by columnists for his offseason moves in signing Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra, and trading for Matt Holliday.

I differentiate between moves which are bad from the outset (the outrageous Barry Zito signing is the best example) and those which seem reasonable but have bad outcomes. I put these moves into the second category. Beane’s plan of providing hitting to support the young pitchers seemed reasonable, but it didn’t work out. Realizing that, he’s traded Holliday and Cabrera and released Giambi. I’m hoping Garciaparra will soon be gone, too. The A’s are much better off going with young players at this point.

Holliday was the biggest disappointment. He seemed to be a hitter who could solidify the batting order but it’s become obvious that he’s at his best only in a strong lineup, where he’s not considered the leader. With the Cardinals, who have Albert Pujols, the game’s best hitter, carrying the load, he is hitting. 470 after Tuesday’s games.

Giambi’s average had declined in recent years but he was still hitting for power his last year with the Yankees. The mistake the A’s made was to think Giambi could actually play in the field (neither Giambi nor Jack Cust should have been position players, but the A’s couldn’t DH both). He’s through as a player and I hope he realizes that, instead of trying to squeeze out a couple of months more with another club.

Cabrera started slow at the plate and was erratic in the field, but he was hitting much better and playing more consistent defense in the last few weeks. He still has great range in the field and should help the Twins, but the A’s needed to give Cliff Pennington a good look at shortstop.

As Beane noted after the 2007 season, the A’s had a scouting slump which depleted the farm system. He knew he had to replenish the system, and the trades before last season did that. He also said it might take three years before the A’s would again be competitive, but he’s aiming to set up another run like that in 2000-2006 when they were in the postseason five times. Don’t bet against him.

PAY COLUMNS: In September, I will be going to a pay system for my website. The system isn’t fully established yet, but I will give at least two weeks notice before doing it, so keep watching this space. The charge will be $12 a year ($1 a month) and I have a PayPal account where you can pay.

STEROIDS FLIP-FLOP: It was amusing to see two stories in Sports Illustrated last week after the outing of David Ortiz’s positive result in the 2003 drug tests. The first, in the Scorecard section, talked about how Ortiz was so loveable, nobody saw this coming. The second, at the end of the magazine, had a writer posting a piece that Barry Bonds could have written wondering whether he would have been treated differently if he had been loveable.

The answer is unfortunately obvious. Writers used the steroids issue as an excuse to hammer Bonds, acting for a time as if he were the only user. It was embarrassingly unprofessional and, as we’re finding out, totally wrong. . Jose Canseco’s estimate that 80 per cent of the players have been users is probably much more accurate.

SI’s chief baseball writer Tom Verducci, who is very good when he sticks to baseball instead of moralizing, is one of the main offenders in this area, with his quaint claim that baseball was pure before and is pure again with the new testing policy. In truth, players have always looked for an edge, and now, they think they’ve found it with steroids. The new drug policy won’t make a dent in that.

DURING ONE of the Giants-Reds game, announcers Dave Flemming and Duane Kuiper were talking about small ball parks. Flemming first noted that the Reds have had defensively weak left fielders but, with the small outfield area in their home park, they don’t have to cover much ground. Both announcers then made the point that, when a runner is on second in Cincinnati or Houston, another small park, you can never assume that he will score on a single to the outfield.

Other parks have been built like that in recent years. The Phillies park may be the worst; just get the ball in the air and there’s a good chance it will go out. Those parks, and overexpansion which has made major league starters out of Triple-A pitchers, are big factors in the power explosion of the last two decades.

PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: The A’s will honor the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, who won the World Series, with a Sunday “throwback” promotion. No players from the 1929 team will be there. The invitations weren’t sent out in time.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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