Jeff Tedford, Richard Seymour, Shaun Hill, Michael Crabtree, Serena Williams, A's Questions
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 16, 2009

JEFF TEDFORD is stubborn, but he’s not suicidal, which is why he changed his mind and will leave with his team on Thursday for Saturday’s early morning game against Minnesota, which starts at an unreal 9 a.m. PDT. It’s early enough in Minneapolis, at 11 a.m. CDT, but that’s the way it is in college football, where TV dictates starting times. Let’s hope no cable network decides it needs a game to compete against Conan O’Brien in his time slot.

When the Bears have played in a different time zone, Tedford has always put them on that time for practice and meetings in the week of the game, but the team has traveled only the day before. When Cal lost badly to Maryland last season, many fans – and some players – laid the loss to the time change, because the Bears seemed to sleep walk through the first half. (I have no opinion because my TV system at the time didn’t carry the game; I have a different system now, so I am able to get all the televised road games.) Tedford insisted it was the humidity, and I can confirm from trips to my wife’s home state of Tennessee, that no amount of time is enough to adjust to that.

At yesterday’s media lunch, Tedford said he hadn’t changed his mind but he had decided to change travel plans to see if that would make a difference in the team’s play. “Maybe they just need a day to rest and get used to being there,” he said, “instead of just getting off the plane one day and playing the next.”

Under Tedford, the Bears have played much better at home than on the road, which is not surprising. That’s the pattern for most teams. And, as Tedford noted, road losses have often come to tough teams and in tough situations. USC is virtually unbeatable at home, Oregon, Oregon State and the Arizona schools have very hostile environments for visiting teams. “We did beat a very good Oregon team in Eugene in 2007,” he noted. Autzen Stadium may be the toughest place to play in the Pac-10.

The Bears will have to go back to Eugene in two weeks and then face USC at Berkeley the following weekend. Those games will basically decide the Cal season.

Intersectional games are important, too, because they’re seen by a wider TV audience than conference games. Most important, they’re seen by prep prospects who may be on the recruited list – which is why coaches never complain about the starting times for televised games.

Minnesota appears to be a middle of the road team in the Big 10, which has become the weakest of the major conferences. But Maryland wasn’t regarded as a particularly tough opponent last year, either, so another big win for the Bears would solidify their national rankings, No. 7 in the USA Today poll, No. 8 in the AP poll.

Tedford addressed another question yesterday, why he hasn’t had reserve quarterbacks Brock Manion and Beau Sweeney throw more often in the first two lopsided games. Each threw just one pass, Manion against Maryland, Sweeney against Eastern Washington.

“We were up by 50 points (against Eastern Washington, less against Maryland), so I didn’t want to be accused of running up the score,” he said. “I think it still did them good to get the game experience, to run he offense.”

It’s always a problem with quarterbacks. At other positions, coaches can substitute freely in lopsided games without any worries, and there were many Cal reserves on both sides of the ball who got game experience the last two weeks. And other coaches aren’t so merciful; it’s common to see Big 12 teams run up the score on weak opponents to boost their position in the standings. But I’m glad that Tedford doesn’t try that.

RAIDERS COLLAPSE: The weakest excuse for the Raiders loss that I’ve seen was that their defensive linemen were tired in the fourth quarter on Monday night against the Chargers.

Tired? The Raiders had won the time of possession battle by a big margin in the first three quarters. (Even after the fourth quarter meltdown, they finished with almost a three-minute edge.) And the game was played on a cool night.

When I covered the team in the late ‘60s, the period Al Davis is trying unsuccessfully to replicate, the Raiders won games in the fourth quarter because they were in great condition. Not this team. Newcomer Greg Ellis talked about their partying in training camp. Some of the earlier Raiders partied hard, too, but they compensated with hard workouts on the practice field, but no coach would dare work modern players as hard as Raider coaches John Rauch and John Madden did in those days before free agency.

For the first three quarters, the Raiders defense did appear much improved, largely because of the addition of Ellis and the late arriving Richard Seymour at ends.

There have been some who harked back to Bill Walsh and his replacement of veteran players with younger ones when Patriots coach Bill Belichick traded Seymour to the Raiders for a 2011 first round draft choice, but there are significant differences.

There was no free agency in Walsh’s time so he was usually able to convince the veterans to retire. My recollection is that guard John Ayers was the only significant player to move on, after he was released by the Niners, and he didn’t have much of an impact.

It is quite different now. Seymour has only one year left on his contract and Belichick knew the Patriots wouldn’t be able to re-sign him as a free agent, so he got something for him while he could. (I suspect that he also thought Seymour’s play would diminish this year.)

Davis’s assertion that Seymour wanted to come to the Raiders is absurd. Why would he want to go from perhaps the best organization in the NFL to this dysfunctional operation> I’m sure he was talking to his agent, attorneys and the Patriots to see if there was any way out, but there wasn’t. If he didn’t report, he’d forfeit his salary for the year and still not be a free agent at the end of the year. So, he’ll play out the year and then be gone, about five minutes after the end of the last game.

49ERS PROBLEM: Though their win over Arizona was noteworthy, as I wrote in Tuesday’s Examiner, it also showed that the 49ers don’t have the offense to get into the playoffs.

Writers who don’t understand very much about football have referred to coach Mike Singletary’s approach as “smash mouth” football. That’s ridiculous. Singletary wants his team to be physically and mentally tough, and that seems to be working, but his insistence on building the offense around running back Frank Gore is realistic. The 49ers don’t have the quarterbacking they need to play the normal pass-first NFL offense.

The Cardinals game planned to stop Gore last Sunday, but even then, Shaun Hill did very little. Hill had one great play, when no defender was in the same zip code with him and Isaac Bruce had his defendeer beaten by two strides, and he hit Bruce on a 50-yard completion. Later in the game, he tried the same play but this time, he was under pressure and Bruce was double covered. Hill’s pass was well off line and the only reason it was not intercepted was that the two Cardinal DBs battled each other for the ball.

Otherwise, Hill’s big oment was the only real drive of the game, when he took the Niners to the winning touchdown. But that was the winning touchdown only because the 49er defense had held the Cardinals, with all their offensive firepower, to just 16 points. You won’t see many NFL games this year won by a team scoring only 20 points.

MICHAEL CRABTREE: This guy may be too dumb to be let out on the street. Now, the 49ers have reportedly told him that his guaranteed money will be cut for each game he misses. His contract includes incentives which could restore that money but he’s unlikely to reach those incentives because, even if he signed today, he won’t get enough playing time.

If Crabtree doesn’t sign, this is what he faces: He remains the property of the 49ers until draft day next April, so he can’t work out for other NFL teams in that period. If he goes back into the draft, he’ll do it with the reputation of a malcontent, so he’ll drop further than his 10th spot in this year’s draft, perhaps even into the second round, and will be offered substantially less money than the 49ers have offered him – and he’ll have lost a year of his prime.

Terminally dumb.

SERENA WILLIAMS: Think of her as the female equivalent of Terrell Owens.

It’s always been all about Serena. She’s a great player and a great draw – when she wants to play. Ask the promoters of the women’s July tournament at Stanford about that. They’ve built advertising campaigns around her, only to have Serena pull out of tournaments because of mysterious “injuries.”

Her profanity-laced outburst in the U. S. Open was probably triggered by her fear that she was about to lose to Kim Clijsters – and it deprived Clijsters of the attention she deserved for her win coming back from 18 months off to have a baby daughter.

John McEnroe defended Serena, which figures. McEnroe was notorious for his railing against officials during his playing days.

Most of McEnroe’s outburssts were gamesmanship, aimed at upsetting his opponents. I remember one in particular, at what was then called the Transamerica Open at the Cow Palace, when he sat down in supposed protest against a call, getting up only a few seconds before the chair umpire would disqualify him. His tactics changed the flow of the match and he won.

Serena’s outburst probably had a similar motivation, but it didn’t work. I’d like to see her banned from the next Grand Slam event, but the tennis people won’t be that brave.

A’S FUTURE: The A’s have rallied some in the second half of the season, but there will still be questions going into next season.

Their young pitching is looking very good and will be better next season because of the experience of this season. They have a number of good outfielders, on the team and in the minors. I never though Rajai Davis would hit enough to stay in the lineup but he’s been hitting over .300 for an extended period and playing a good defensive center field. He also gives the A’s a baserunning threat they’ve lacked for a long time, with 37 steals so far this season.

Kurt Suzuki at catcher and Mark Ellis at second are solid players, but the rest of the infield is questionable. Can Cliff Pennington hit enough to be the every-day shortstop? His minor league stats aren’t impressive. But the big question is whether Brett Wallace can play third in the majors. If he can, Chris Carter can play first and give the A’s solid hitting at the corners. Scouts question whether Wallace can play third, but I remember that Eric Chavez’s reputation in the minors was as a terrible fielder. Good coaching by Ron Washington helped turn Chavez in a Gold Glove third baseman, so I think we’ll just have to wait and see on Wallace.

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