Jahvid Best vs. Tim Tebow; Madison Bumgarner; Jeff Garcia/Richard Seymour; Michael Crabtree; Curt Schilling
I’ve said for some time that this could be Jeff Tedford’s best team and nothing I saw in Saturday’s 52-13 romp over Maryland changed my mind. Best was terrific, of course. Kevin Riley was poised and accurate at quarterback. The defense was as aggressive as I’d seen in practice; I love the young linebackers, especially Mychal Kendrick. The receivers had worried me because they dropped so many balls in practice; at one, it seemed Marvin Jones was the only receiver who could catch a pass. But Saturday, they all looked good. Nary a dropped pass.
Tedford is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, but he’s always believed in having a strong running game, too, and the Bears have usually had a couple of good running backs. Marshawn Lynch backed up J. J. Arrington, and then Justin Forsett backed up Lynch.
This year, it’s Best and Shane Vareen, nearly as good a runner as Best and a shade better as a pass receiver because of his ability to catch deep balls down the sideline. “We think it works well to rotate two backs because it keeps both of them fresh,” says Tedford.
When Best and Vareen came in as freshman, they were such similar backs that there was a competition to see which one would play as a freshman and which one would redshirt. Best soon separated himself from Vareen and played as a freshman. Now, he’s unquestionably No. 1, but the falloff when Vareen comes in is slight and doesn’t change the playcalling.
Best is a marvel. Like Lynch, he has the ability the great backs have to see openings where none seem to exist. Lynch is bigger and stronger, but Best is even more of a threat to break a long one. Once he breaks into the secondary, he’s odds-on to go all the way.
His first touchdown against Maryland, a 73-yard run, showed his instincts. Near the goal line, he slowed to allow Verran Tucker to get in front of him as a blocker. Then, he made a couple of moves to get a potential tackler totally confused and ran into the end zone. How did he even know Tucker was behind him? Probably just the instinct of a great runner.
The Beears have what should be an easy game against Eastern Washington this Saturday, but the schedule will get much tougher soon after that. In their third game, they travel to Minneapolis to play Minnesota in what will be a 9 a.m. game by Pacific Coast clocks. Then, they’ll come home to play USC and travel to Eugene to take on Oregon.
USC is usually slightly more vulnerable in early season because they’re replacing star players who have gone on to the NFL. Of course, they’re also replacing them with players who will become stars and go on to the NFL. This year, they’re starting a freshman quarterback because Mark Sanchez left school early to go to the New York Jets. Trojan coach Pete Carroll publicly lamented that decision, saying Sanchez would have benefited from another year of collegiate play. Perhaps, but I’m sure when he heard of Bradford’s injury, Sanchez assured himself that he had made the right decision. College ball can be fun, but if you endanger the chance at big bucks in pro ball. . .
Playing that game at home will help the Bears, too. “The first year I was here, when we were getting 20,000 people, I preferred to play on the road,” Tedford said this week. “There would be more emotion there and our players would respond to that. But I have to give the Cal fans credit. They’ve really stepped up and created a great atmosphere here. We definitely have a home field advantage now.”
Oregon was upset in its opener by Boise State, which is no disgrace, considering the recent success of Boise State. The Ducks are a talented group, and they’re especially tough in Autzen Stadium, which may be the toughest place to play in the conference.
But the Bears have jahvid Best, who can be the great equalizer. He probably won’t win the Heisman, but at the least, he should be recognized as the top running back in the country. Teamed with a consistent passing attack and an attacking defense, he should help propel the Bears into a major bowl. The Rose Bowl? Well, we can dream, can’t we?
GIANTS MOVES: The Giants are really rolling the dice in an attempt to get back into the postseason. For months, they’ve said they wouldn’t bring up their top pitching prospect, Madison Bumgarner, but when Tim Lincecum had to skip a start because of back spasms, Bumgarner was on the mound Tuesday night.
Of course, they also said they wouldn’t trade Tim Alderson, either, but he went in the trade for Freddy Sanchez. Some Giants apologists in the media wrote about Alderson’s loss of velocity this season, but Bumgarner has also had a drop. That’s not uncommon for young pitchers who are suddenly throwing more innings than they’re accustomed to. Rest takes care of that problem.
A couple of days ago, a writer posed the question: Is it more important to win the World Series – which the Giants haven’t done in San Francisco – or be in contention consistently, as the Giants have been in 10 (counting this season) of the 17 years the current ownership has had the team.
Some older fans deplore the fact that the Giants haven’t won a World Series since they moved from New York to San Francisco, but I think there’s far too much emphasis these days on being No. 1, in any sport. That’s especially true in baseball where the best team doesn’t always win the Series. With the addition of wild card teams (a move I applaud, by the way) just getting to the World Series can be a crap shoot.
I think it’s much better to be a consistent contender. I guarantee you that fans at AT&T Park would agree. They’ve been giddy this year because the Giants have been in the wild card race. Even if they fall short – as I think they will – it’s much more fun to have a serious rooting interest in September.
And, there’s one area in which the Giants are No. 1: Marketing. When the Bay Bridge was closed on Monday, the Giants immediately offered a $5 rebate on tickets for fans showing a BART or ferry receipt. That’s a relatively small sum, but it showed fans the Giants were thinking of them.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Reader Jim Quilici suggests another candidate for NL Manager of the Year: Tony La Russa. Knowing how writers think, I believe the choice will be between the Rockies Jim Tracy and the Giants Bruce Bochy, depending on which team wins the wild card. But, since the trade for Matt Holliday, the Cardinals have been rolling. They’ll win the NL Central easily and probably will have the top winning percentage in the league.
RAIDERS MOVES: The Raiders made two moves last week which were surprising, releasing Jeff Garcia and trading for Richard Seymour, and there’s a sub text for both.
A group of Raider fans took out a newspaper ad last Saturday urging the Raiders to cut Garcia, probably because they associated him with the 49ers. You can be assured that had nothing to do with the Raiders’ decision. I believe Garcia asked for his release, so he’d be in position to go to another team if a quarterback got injured. If he ever thought he had a legitimate chance to start for the Raiders – he didn’t – he realized that the Raiders, which means Al Davis, are committed to JaMarcus Russell.
The Seymour trade is of much more importance. As of late yesterday, he hadn’t shown up at Raider camp. Reading between the lines, he’s probably negotiating for a long-term contract with the Raiders, to replace the one year he has left on his current contract. It’s reasonable to think that he doesn’t believe going from what may be the best team in the NFL to what may be the worst is a good career move.
The Raiders have done this before, with DeAngelo Hall and Randy Moss. The results of those deals should make Davis cautious, especially since there’s reason to think the Patriots believe Seymour is very close to the end of his career.
LANE KIFFIN: My relatives in Tennessee tell me that the UT fans, which includes them, are very happy with Kiffin after the Vols’ season-opening win.
I thought when he was with the Raiders that Kiffin was best suited to being a college coach, with his rah-rah attitude. He was also a very good recruiter for USC, which is why Tennessee sought him. He should have been able to help the Raiders on draft day because he would have been involved in recruiting many of the top players who had since gone into the draft. But, of course, we know that Al Davis doesn’t need any help with the draft.
MICHAEL CRABTREE: By sitting out the entire exhibition season because he thought he should get the kind of contract the Raiders gave Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7, Crabtree has hurt the 49ers but he’s hurt himself even more. Even if he signs this week, it will be some time before he’s progressed enough to help the team.
His options now are: 1) Sign with the 49ers for the same money they’ve offered him all along; or 2) Sit out the year and go back in the draft next year. If he chooses the second option, he’ll be labeled a troublemaker and be drafted lower next year – and offered even less money. But hey, maybe he can make up the difference by bagging groceries at Wal-Mart this year.
At first, I thought it was his agent, Eugene Parker, who was holding up the negotiations, but Parker is a reputable agent and no reputable agent would advise Crabtree to do this. He must really by listening to his idiot cousin.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE (with apologies to Sports Illustrated): Curt Schilling has said he might run for Ted Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
Aside from the fact that he’s a far right conservative and Massachusetts is probably the most liberal state in the country, there is the problem of his personality. Schilling helped the Red Sox to win two World Series, but manager Terry Francona said wryly, “He’s probably not going to ask me to be his campaign manager.”
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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