Friday, October 31, 2008

New Sharks coach downplays win over his old team

With 7:00 left to play in the third period Thursday night and the Sharks leading the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings 4-1, a larger-than-life image of new coach Todd McLellan appeared on the big screen above center ice, and fans at the sold-out Shark Tank began cheering.

The fans knew and appreciated what was unfolding before their eyes.

McLellan’s team held on for a 4-2 victory over his old team and coach Mike Babcock, his former mentor and boss. On this night, the student beat the mentor and the San Jose Red Wings, as some are bound to call the Sharks, beat the Detroit Red Wings.

You know what? McLellan shunned the spotlight as if it were radioactive.

We’re learning more and more about the Sharks new coach as the season moves on. This week we learned that he’d rather play goalie without a mask than accept credit for the accomplishments of those who play hockey for a living.

He’s not ego-lite. He’s ego-less. Or at least that’s the way it seems. In this era of big egos and bigger salaries, that's remarkable.

In a span of three days, the Sharks beat Pittsburgh and Detroit, the reigning conference champions. Yet when asked if it was “rewarding” for a rookie coach, he poured ice cold water all over that story line.

“Not for the coach. For the players,” McLellan said. “It’s about the players. It’s not a reward for us as a staff. They’re the ones that are sweating and beat up and bruised. They did a pretty good job tonight.”

Many of McLellan’s players said they were happy they could give their coach a win over his former team. But he relentlessly downplayed the personal accomplishment.

“It’s a win. It puts us two points ahead of the team behind us,” McLellan said. “I’m pleased. Not for myself. Everybody’s making this out (to be) about me. It’s not about me. It’s about the players. It’s nice to know that they want to play hard for the coaching staff. It’s their team. I hope that by the time we get to the end of the year that we can take a step back and they get out there and do their thing and really they don’t even need us. And that will be a sign of a championship team.”

The Sharks under McLellan are dropping plenty of hints that they just might be a championship team this year. Winning back-to-back games over Pittsburgh and Detroit certainly made an impressive early-season statement. They held the Penguins and Sidney Crosby to 11 shots. The Red Wings had scored 28 goals in their previous six games before facing the Sharks.

Granted, the Red Wings had a tough overtime loss Wednesday night at Anaheim while the Sharks rested. And Detroit started backup goalie Ty Conklin. Even so, this was an impressive win and an impressive double dip.

“I think we have respect around the league as a good team,” forward Ryan Clowe said. “I think we showed this year we’re probably ready to take the next step. “We played the runners-up. We played the Stanley Cup champs. It was a huge win for us. Not only are they Stanley Cup champs. We stole their assistant coach. It was a big night for him.”

Well, at least that’s the rumor. McLellan never admitted as much to the press or his players. And he certainly didn’t play the win-one-for-the-coach motivational card.

“He didn’t mention it at all,” Clowe said. “I think he was probably sick of hearing that. But we knew. We knew the impact. We were pleased. I’m sure he had a smile.”

Well, maybe when no one was looking.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Cal QB Riley finally winning over his tough-love coach?

I noticed an interesting change Tuesday in Cal coach Jeff Tedford’s approach to quarterback Kevin Riley. It was almost as if Tedford switched roles from bad cop to good cop.

For much of the season, Tedford has been very hard on his young quarterback. No doubt he wanted to humble Riley a bit and make sure he understood how much he still had to learn.

But in the wake of Cal’s 41-20 victory last week over UCLA and just days before a huge home game against Oregon, Tedford had little but praise for Riley during his weekly press conference. Tedford went so far as to say that he might have been too critical of Riley in the past.

I get the feeling that Tedford has had enough of this season-long quarterback shuffle with Riley and Nate Longshore, that he's getting close to going all-in on Riley and that he decided it’s time to start boosting his young QB's confidence. Yeah, I could be wrong. Tedford could do an about-face and make another QB switch – or two or three.

But consider Tedford’s review of Riley’s play against UCLA, a game in which he threw a 53-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker.

“Actually I thought Kevin played pretty well,” Tedford said. “I thought the difference in the game was decision making. They had four turnovers. We had zero. Kevin was harassed a little bit but held onto the ball, pulled it down when he needed to, those type of things. Didn’t make any poor decisions with the football. And that becomes critical in a close game. And then I thought he made some really good throws, too. He made some throws with tight coverage that were right there, that either they made a good defensive play or we maybe dropped a ball.

“I think the play of the game for Kevin was the flea-flicker. That play we had a lot of penetration off our right guard. As (Jahvid Best) is pitching the ball, Kevin’s there waiting for the ball to come back and he’s kind of moving sideways as he gets it and steps up in there and makes a great throw. I thought that was a key play. That was a great play by Kevin. Looking at it. I say again, always probably too critical of that, expecting guys to complete every pass. That’s not going to happen. As I’m watching tape, every quarterback misses throws. But I think we’re kind of used to Aaron Rodgers and those type of things where I think it’s a little easy to be too critical of a very tough position. And Kevin’s playing fine. Sure, he is going to miss a guy every now and then. Everybody does. I thought Kevin played a good game last week.”

If you’ve followed this quarterback saga at Cal this year, you know that qualifies as high praise from Tedford for Riley. It seems that Tedford is starting to truly appreciate the way Riley makes decisions and avoids turnovers. Just two of his 150 passes have been picked off. He has thrown nine touchdown passes.

Then there’s Riley’s mobility and quickness, assets that are even more important in light of mounting injuries that have struck Cal’s offensive line.

“I think one of his tools is to be able to pull the ball down and run,” Tedford said. “And he’s not afraid to do that, and he will do that. He’ll take a sack and get up. He’s made good decisions that way. If nothing’s there, either it’s a coverage sack or someone happens to get beat up front, or the backs or the tight ends or whomever’s in charge of that pass protection scheme, he’s made good sound decisions and pulled the ball down and not turned the football over. And that’s critical.”

Tedford didn’t go so far as to say Riley would definitely start against Oregon. But asked if he saw Riley as his starter this week, Tedford said, “As of right now.”

Spoken like a good cop.

Here’s a transcript of brief interview with Riley after Tuesday night’s practice.

Q: The coach came about as close as he has to naming his QB starter on a Tuesday. He said you are the starter as of right now. Does that give you confidence going into the week?

Riley: "Yeah. Definitely. After I watched the film I felt a little better about the UCLA game. There's still some throws i wish i could take back, just a little high, that could have been caught balls. But overall i thought it was OK. Needs to be better of course. It feels good. I actually didn't hear that. Definitely. We just got to get ready. We've got a good Oregon team. They're strong all around, especially on 'D'. I mean, that's all I've watched. Just watching them, they don't make a lot of mistakes. They're sound. This is going to be the best game we're going to have to play all year."

Q: The coach was talking about the way you managed the game and your decision making. He stressed no turnovers. Were you pleased with the decisions you made?

Riley: "I think I've done a pretty good job of that all year, taking care of the ball. That's something you need to do to win the game. There was one bad throw, the start of the second half on the first drive. That was a dumb throw and almost got picked. Even learning from that, I can't do that. Just drop down and run, get some yards. Just got to come out, make more plays, be smart with the ball. If there's some turnovers against this team, it's going to be a lot more trouble than it was last week."

Q: Coach said he's been overly critical of the offense this year. You guys do that to yourselves too. Is that a good thing, though, that you're expecting perfection?

Riley: "I think so. It hasn't happened. It kind of seems like our best game offensively was that Michigan state game. Everybody expects more and we expected by now that we'd be more in a rhythm all around like consecutive four quarters playing good offense. Like we say every week, we've got to start out early, but we've got to maintain that. We can't have that third quarter where penalties just killed us the whole quarter. It's hard to get in a rhythm at all when you're getting third-and-20, second-and-40. It's very unlikely you're going to convert those. So just try to keep ourselves in good situations to make plays, and I think we will."

Q: How good is the Oregon secondary?

Riley:"They're good. There's no question about it. We're going to have to be strong with the ball. They can jump stuff, make plays, big hitters. Probably overall the best secondary we're going to go against all year. Like I said, we're going to have to play our best game of football."

Q: Is this a game where a few runs by you might help to slow down Oregon's pass rush?

Riley: "Yeah, possibly. We're just going to have to see. They bring the rush. They do what they've done for a while now. They have the same 'D' that they had last year. They're just going to do what they're good at. We just got to be ready for everything."

Q: Did you get recruited by Oregon?

Riley: "I did a little bit. They were pretty late. They were a little late in their recruiting. For a home-state boy (Beaverton High School), I was like, 'What's going on?' No grudge at all against them. I know they're a good school. ... I knew about Oregon, growing up watching them. Coach (Mike Bellotti) was there when I was growing up. It's going to be kind of cool to start against the home state. Last year my first game ever was against Oregon State. I know a couple guys on their team. So it will be fun."

Q: Did Oregon State recruit you?

Riley: "Yeah. They recruited me a lot more."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

49ers' Singletary lays down the law in a rough debut

I just finished watching 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary’s debut Saturday, and I want to post the transcript from one of the most interesting and entertaining post-game coaching interviews I’ve ever heard.

Just a few thoughts before I get to Singletary’s quotes.

Singletary lost his debut 34-13 to the Seattle Seahawks, but man, did he make a strong impression in so many ways beyond that embarrassing final score.

He benched combustible tight end Vernon Davis late in the third quarter after Davis drew a costly personal foul. Then he sent Davis to the showers. Incredible. That’s something fired coach Mike Nolan should have done long ago.

I’m not a Davis basher. I actually like the guy. But he needs to know his limits. Now, hopefully, he does, although I’m not convinced considering that he pleaded innocent after the game, calling the penalty unwarranted.

Davis isn’t the only player Singletary benched. He yanked quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan from the game late in the first half after O’Sullivan threw a fourth-and-4 interception that Josh Wilson returned 75 yards for a crushing touchdown. Shaun Hill came on and did an admirable job in relief.

Singletary laid down the law during the game and after, in the locker room. Yeah, this game was about as ugly as you can imagine. Seattle fullback Leonard Weaver caught two touchdowns passes, the first one 43 yards and the second 62. O’Sullivan was wretched, again. The 49ers were outgained 388 yards to 261. The usual. But after watching and hearing Singletary in action, you know it won’t be business as usual this coming week during the 49ers’ bye.

Now for the Singletary post-game transcript. And yes, he delivered his opening statement and answered the questions with passion and conviction, just as you’d expect a former Hall of Fame player who played for Mike Ditka to do.

Singletary opening statement: “Before you ask any questions, I want to say this. No. 1, is I apologize. Apologize for the start. It’s like this, the day was good for me. It was good for me because sometimes you take a step back and you look at it and you think, ‘Hey, you know what? …We’re going to make it work. They’re working hard. They’re doing this, they’re doing that. We’re going to go out there, and it’s going to change right now.'

"It will change. ... I want you guys to understand where I’m coming from. It will change. And it will change because they want it to change. Not because of me. It will change because they want to be champions. But right now we’ve got to figure out the formula, our formula. Our formula is this. We go out and we hit people in the mouth, No. 1. No. 2, we are not a charity. We cannot give them the game. No. 3, we will execute from the very start to the very end of the game. That did not happen. I do not apologize about ... (At this point, Singletary cut off his opening statement and asked for questions)

Q: What happened between you and Vernon on the sidelines?

Singletary: “Vernon just. It was something I told everybody at the beginning of the week. I will not tolerate players that think it’s about them when it’s about the team. We cannot make decisions that cost the team and then come off the sidelines just nonchalant. You know what? This is how I believe. I’m from the old school. I believe this. I would rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we’ve got to do something else, rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person has not sold out to a part of this team. It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win.”

Q: Did you kick him off the field? Did you tell him to go to the locker room?

Singletary: “I told him that he would do a better job for us now taking a shower and coming back and watching the game than going out on the field. Simple as that.”

Q: Is he your starting tight end in two weeks?

Singletary: “Well, we’ve got to think about it.”

Q: Who’s your starting quarterback?

Singletary: “We’ve got to think about that too.”

Q: Who made the decision to change the quarterback? Did you decide to put Shaun Hill in or was Mike Martz involved in that?

Singletary: “It was my decision.”

Q: Did you get resistance from Mike Martz?

Singletary: “Well, I think Mike knows me enough right now, going through this week, that we didn’t have to talk about it.”

Q: Why did you do it? Why did you make that decision at that point in the game?

Singletary: “I thought that it was just one of those situations where you feel like you’re going in the game, and you want the best opportunity to win. You want the guy that, the quarterback is going in, he’s not playing well, he’s just not in that rhythm. After a while, his teammates can get frustrated and coaches can get frustrated. Rather than going there, just say, ‘You know what? Let’s make the change. We’ll revisit it later. But, I think right now, Shaun Hill today, in that situation, will give us a better chance of winning.’ ”

Q: Can you comment how Shaun Hill played?

Singletary: “One of the things that I asked the guys to do this week was manage the game. I talked to the quarterbacks early in the week and said, ‘All I’m asking you to do is manage the game. You don’t have to go out and win the game, just manage the game. We will win. We have special teams. We’ve got defense. We have other parts of the offense that can click and work. Give us a chance. Let’s just go out there and manage the game and let’s go.’ ”

Q: Is this an indication that it’s going to be a lot more difficult than you might have thought?

Singletary: “You know what? I’ll put it this way. I think if something like this is going to happen, happen now and not on national television. We’ve got between now and that time when we play Arizona to correct some things. And it’s not so much the play. It’s more the mindset and still having a chance to find out who wants to win, who really wants to win. Sometimes, you have guys that, it’s been so long that we’ve been unsuccessful, sometimes it’s like a bad relationship. You don’t know when it’s going to turn again. And after a while you become a part of the problem rather than the solution. I want guys that are solution-oriented, starting with myself. I’m not going to try to make something work when it doesn’t fit. And that’s really the bottom line with me.”

Q: Why did you take the quarterback out with 24 seconds left in the half as opposed to (after the half)?

Singletary: “Because Mike Martz said, ‘Mike, if we’re going to take him out, instead of waiting ’til the second half, why don’t we allow him to get in, get in a rhythm, get a feel for it, so that in the second half he gets that pressure off of him.”

Q: Is there anything specific that you can correct?

Singletary; “Got to look at the film. I was trying to keep up with it on the sidelines, and for a while I was. I think more so than anything else, we just have to look at the film. Right now, I don’t really want to talk about the things I want to correct. I know there are some things in the back of my mind.”

Q: So you do have a specific plan now?

Singletary: “In terms of what?”

Q: In terms of, because you have a bye week next week, so there has to be something that you really have to lay out. The defense is really (struggling). … There were too many fumbles in the beginning. It died down the whole crowd.

Singletary: “One thing I’ll say about that is this. I think sometimes when you have a loss like you had today. When I look at the defense. When you look at the pad that I had on the sideline, it says we got off the field a lot of times, particularly at the beginning. Then, all of a sudden, boom, they come out with a split backfield. One of the linebackers missed a guy underneath. FULLBACK, runs for a touchdown. It happens again. Quarterback scrambles around. Fullback, touchdown. You know what? We won’t play like that. We cannot play like that. I just talked to the player. He said, ‘Coach, I promise you it will never happen again.’ I know that. We will get it. We’ll deal with it.”

Q: Late in the first half, you had fourth-and-4, about a 47-yard field goal, decided to go for it instead and got a pick six. Why now go for the field goal at that point?

Singletary: “I turned to Mike and said, ‘Mike, what do you think.’ He said, ‘I’d like to go for it.’ Of course I knew he’d say I’d like to go for it.’ But, he said, ‘I’d like to go for it.’ I looked in his eyes and said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go.’ I don’t want to take anything … We’ve got our coordinators and they’re doing a good job. Greg (Manusky’s) over there, busting his tail, racking his brain, trying to find the right call. And sometimes it’s not the call, it’s the way it’s executed. Mike Martz, I’m very blessed to have him as a coordinator, a guy that you can turn to, been there, done that. And when he tells me, ‘Mike, I want to go for it,’ sometimes I’m going to say no. Probably most of the time. But at that time I felt, you know what, I want to support what he feels. So let’s go.”

Q: Were you at all influenced by the fourth-and-6 conversion by Seattle earlier?

Singletary: “Not at all. That had nothing to do with it.”

Q: What was your message in the locker room?

Singletary: “I’m going to say this, about that. I’m always been a firm believer, and it’s nothing like it was anything magical, and in all honesty you probably do not want to hear it. But, it was just sharing my heart with them. It’s as simple as that. I just believe that things that we talk about in the locker room should stay there.”

Q: Does Vernon Davis face any more disciplinary action?

Singletary: “I don’t know. I don’t even want to think about that right now.”

Q: Did you get a chance to talk to him after the game?

Singletary: “He wanted to talk, and I just told him he did not want to talk to me. I said, ‘I assure you, you do not want to talk to me right now.’ ”

Q: Was he arguing with you on the sideline?

Singletary: “He just said, ‘What? What?’ ”

Q: About being benched?

Singletary: “No, when he was coming off the sideline, he said, ‘Coach, what? What?’ ”

Q: When you first came in here, the first thing you said was I apologize. What specifically did you apologize for?

Singletary: “We did not play anywhere near to where I felt we could have played. And rather than going to the, ‘Well, this happened here, and that guy was outplayed,’ I’m not going there. I’m just going to apologize and … say, just keep watching. That’s all I can say. Just keep watching, and we’ll go from there.”

Warriors get one right by extending Nelson's contract

I’m here at Candlestick Park, waiting for the 49ers-Seahawks game to begin, so I thought I’d use the time to weigh in on Warriors coach Don Nelson’s new two-year contract extension.

Of course I love it. I’ve ripped Warriors owner Chris Cohan and president Robert Rowell for pushing point guard Baron Davis out the door and killing a tentative three-year extension that lame duck executive vice president Chris Mullin had worked out. I criticized Rowell, in particular, for the way he took shots at Mullin in public over his call for leniency and forgiveness in the Monta Ellis moped affair. Rowell was very disrespectful to someone who has done so much for the Warriors as a player and executive.

But when it comes to Nelson’s extension, I’ve got to give Cohan and Rowell credit. I actually lobbied for the Warriors to do exactly that last year, to come to Nelson and offer him an extension before his contract became an issue again. It took them awhile to come around, but they finally reached the same conclusion.

It’s true that Nelson could get fed up and retire at any time during this and the following two seasons. But Nelson rarely walks away from money, and he told the Contra Costa Times’ Marcus Thompson II that he has had a change of heart and no longer pines for retirement in Maui. He said retirement is “not all it’s cracked up to be. So my philosophy has changed a little bit. I’ve lost some dear, dear friends over the last year. And the philosophy’s changed a little bit. Now I think I better bop ’til I drop.”

The Warriors have become so Nellie-dependent that the transition they’ll face when he does retire will be painful. But at least now the Warriors have bought themselves a little more time to prepare for that day when Nelson and his bag of small-ball tricks leave the Bay Area.

All in all, a good move for the Warriors and their fans.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cal's Riley deserves another start after turnover-free day and win vs. UCLA

Cal’s revolving door at quarterback continued spinning Saturday, and no one, including coach Jeff Tedford, knows if or when it will ever stop before the season ends.

Kevin Riley returned to the starting lineup Saturday, throwing two touchdown passes in a penalty-fiilled 41-20 victory over UCLA that was uglier and closer than the score indicates.

In a span of roughly two months, Riley won the starting job out of training camp, lost it to Nate Longshore after four games and won it back after two games on the bench.

So will Riley start next week against Oregon?

“We’ll see,” Tedford said. “Same thing. Evaluate through the week.”

Tedford may need to see more, but I saw enough from Riley on Saturday to believe he deserves another start. And with just five games left for the 5-2 Bears, it might be a good time for a little stability at the quarterback position.

No, Riley wasn’t perfect against UCLA. He completed just 11 of 22 passes for 153 yards. He missed some wide-open receivers. Again. But as he’s done throughout most of the season, Riley made good decisions and avoided the type of killer interceptions that have plagued Longshore.

Not one of Riley’s 22 passes, in fact, was picked off Saturday. For the season, he’s been intercepted just twice in 150 passes while throwing nine touchdown passes.

On the flip side, UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft threw four interceptions Saturday, and Cal returned two of those for touchdowns. Ball game.

“We need to be better, still,” Tedford said when asked about Riley’s performance. “I think Kevin would tell you that, too. … But he was harassed a lot today in pass protection. That’s the worst that we’ve protected the passer all year.

“The thing about Kevin, though, is Kevin made good decisions. He didn’t turn the football over. The difference is they had four turnovers. We had zero. That’s a big part of the game, and Kevin didn’t turn the football over. Even though he was harassed in the pocket, he made good decisions, threw the ball away, ate the ball.”

Riley did more than just avoid mistakes. He also made a huge play in the fourth quarter, using his agility to avoid a UCLA defensive lineman then throwing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nyan Boateng on a flea-flicker with 9:29 left to play.

First, let’s set the stage.

The Bruins trailed just 20-13 with over 10 minutes left to play. They faced third-and-23 from their 31. Time to punt? Nah. Coach Rick Neuheisel ordered a fake punt, and it almost worked.

Punter Aaron Perez connected with a wide-open Courtney Viney down the right sideline, but cornerback Chris Conte recovered just in time to tackle him one yard short of the first down.

Cal took over at its 47. And on first down, the Bears hit UCLA with a trick play of their own.

The play started with Riley handing off to Jahvid Best, who headed toward the line. But Best stopped, turned and pitched the ball back to Riley. The Bruins bit on the fake, and Boateng ran past safety Bret Lockett.

Riley stepped up in the pocket, avoiding a rusher, and threw a high-arching pass deep down the middle. Boateng caught it at the 3 and fell into the end zone, putting Cal ahead 27-13.

“Right when I (handed) the ball to Jahvid, the nose tackle saw me set up,” Riley said. “I saw that. I knew he was going to come at me. So I just tried to step up and get it off. It worked. We needed it.”

The Bears and their banged up offensive line will continue to face fierce pass rushes in the coming weeks, starting with Oregon and continuing against USC and Oregon State. The Bears will need Riley’s ability to avoid the rush and to run, whether by design or out of necessity, against those defenses. Against UCLA, he ran a handful of quarterback draws.

“I like running the ball,” Riley said. “It calms you down a little bit, too. You just get hit. You go, ‘Ah, sweet.’ You’re part of the game. It was fun. I wish we would have broke one.”

Riley came off the bench and replaced Longshore in the fourth quarter of Cal’s 42-27 loss to Arizona last week. He didn’t find out he was going to start against UCLA until Friday.

“It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s just something you have to deal with,” Riley said of the quarterback shuffle and uncertainty. “You can’t really worry about it. You’ve just got to go in, play your game, do your best and try to win.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lakers still look like the best in the West

You want NBA predictions? I’ve got them. Well, at least for the Western Conference, where the Golden State Warriors have gone from legitimate playoff contenders to long shots after a tumultuous offseason.

Let’s just say there’s not much playoff fever in the Bay Area approaching the Warriors’ season opener Wednesday night at home against New Orleans. That’s understandable considering that the team let point guard Baron Davis leave as a free agent and lost guard Monta Ellis indefinitely to an ankle injury he suffered in a moped accident.

So how will the West’s 15 teams stack up when the season ends in April? Here’s my best guess. And hey, if you think I’m off base, send me your predictions. It’s always good to compare notes.

1) Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals last season without injured center Andrew Bynum. Now Bynum is back, giving the Lakers a strong inside force to team with guard Kobe Bryant, the best player on the planet, and 7-foot power forward Pau Gasol. This is a deep, talented team, and it’s no secret that coach Phil Jackson knows how to get the most out of a talented lineup.

2) Houston: Last season the Rockets won 55 games then pushed Utah to the limit in the first round of the playoffs without an injured Yao Ming. Well, Yao is back, and the Rockets added the combustible but super-talented Ron Artest to a roster that includes lights-out shooter Tracy McGrady. Coach Rick Adelman’s team can score and defend. The question is, can the Rockets stay healthy? I’ll roll the dice and say yes.

3) Utah: What you saw last year when Utah reached the Western Conference semis is basically what you’ll get this year from the Jazz, which returns most of its roster intact. Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Ronnie Brewer and the rest of this very deep roster have another year of experience playing together in coach Jerry Sloan’s system. The biggest change this year is that C.J. Miles is expected to start at small forward with Andrei Kirilenko coming off the bench.

4) New Orleans: It’s only a matter of time before point guard Chris Paul wins an MVP award. He’s that good. Paul is all but unguardable. He either gets his shot or draws a double- or triple-team and dishes to either 7-1 center Tyson Chandler for a monster jam or to marksmen such as Peja Stojakovic or Morris Peterson for wide-open treys. The Hornets also added some experience in forward James Posey.

5) San Antonio: Yeah, the Spurs are getting old. Yeah, Manu Ginobili is injured and will miss the first two months of the season. I won’t bury this team until Tim Duncan retires. Last year, coming off an NBA title, this aging team made it to the conference finals. And we all know the Spurs never win back-to-back titles. History tells us this is there year to make another title run. The combination of Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich is enough to keep the Spurs afloat until Ginobili returns.

6) Phoenix: The Suns won’t be nearly as much fun to watch under new coach Terry Porter as they were under former coach Mike D’Antoni, who took his run-and-gun ways with him to the New York Knicks. But Porter, a more traditional coach, is probably better suited to lead a team that has 7-foot-1, 325-pound Shaquille O’Neal as its center. The Suns’ window of opportunity for an NBA title may have closed, but they still have Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Grant Hill, along with Shaq. Not bad at all.

7) Portland: Last year the up-and-coming Trail Blazer won 41 games even though center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, missed the entire season with a knee injury. Oden is healthy, and he’ll join a deep pool of young, talented players that Portland has collected, including All-Star guard Brandon Roy and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Oden should help put “Rip City” back on the NBA map again.

8) Dallas: I don’t think Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs ever truly recovered from their confidence-shattering playoff loss to the Warriors two seasons ago. Before that series, Dallas was considered to be one of the NBA’s elite teams, a true title contender. Now the franchise is in turmoil. The Mavs made a very questionable mid-season trade last year for aging point guard Jason Kidd then got bounced by New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs. After the season, Dallas fired coach Avery Johnson and hired Rick Carlisle.

9) Denver: The Nuggets slipped into the playoffs last year and were crushed 4-0 by the Lakers in the first round. This year, there’s little reason to believe Denver will even get the No. 8 spot. For some reason – money? – this defensively challenged team traded its best defender, Marcus Camby, to the Clippers. Superstars Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will still put on an entertaining show, but the Nuggets’ defensive lapses might drive coach George Karl into retirement.

10) Los Angeles Clippers: With the addition of former Warriors point guard Baron Davis, the Clippers might push for the eighth playoff spot. Davis will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after the Warriors shoved him out the door. And he’ll be playing in front of his hometown fans, vying for attention in Lakers land. The Clippers lost Elton Brand and Corey Maggette but added Davis and Marcus Canby, who will team with Chris Kaman to give the Clippers a solid inside presence.

11) Golden State: Two years ago, the Warriors made the playoffs and stunned Dallas in the first round. Those will be considered the good old days for Warriors fans. They traded guard Jason Richardson to Charlotte in a 2007 draft-day deal. Now they’ve let point guard Baron Davis walk away as a free agent and lost guard Monta Ellis indefinitely to an ankle injury. Captain Stephen Jackson and free-agent pickup Corey Maggette will have to carry too much of the load. Then there’s the front-office turmoil. Executive V.P. Chris Mullin is a lame duck, and so is coach Don Nelson, who has a young team that might make retirement in Maui sound very inviting.

12) Memphis: The Grizzlies are still going to run and gun under ex-Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni, but they’ll also try to mix in a little more defense and toughness. The addition of 7-foot-1, 265-pound center Marc Gasol, brother of Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, should help. But with racehorses like Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Hakim Warrick on the floor, this team is going to run from start to finish.

13) Sacramento: The days of cowbells and playoffs are long gone for the Kings. This team is in full-blown rebuilding mode. Mike Bibby and Ron Artest are gone, leaving Kevin Martin as the undisputed star of a very young team. Coach Reggie Theus will have the Kings playing hard, but they’re not close to being a playoff team.

14) Minnesota: GM Kevin McHale got power forward Al Jefferson a little help, adding rookie Kevin Love and sharpshooter Mike Miller. Having a healthy Randy Foye to man the point guard position is a plus, too.

15) Oklahoma City: After moving this franchise from Seattle, a jewel of a city with a long NBA history, team owner Clay Bennett will get what he deserves. Kevin Durant is worth the price of admission, but this team is exceptionally young, raw and defensively challenged.

Monday, October 20, 2008

49ers make the right moves in firing Nolan and promoting Singletary

I just heard that the 49ers reportedly fired coach Mike Nolan and replaced him with defensive coordinator Mike Singletary. So let’s get right to the gut reactions.

This was a good move, a necessary move by the 49ers. They should have fired Nolan after the disastrous 2007 season. Instead, John and Denise DeBartolo York let Nolan talk them into bringing him back. They stripped him of much of his front-office power and let him return as what could only be seen as a lame duck coach. For weeks, Nolan had that dead-man-coaching look. He knew what was coming.

Nolan was 2-5 this season and 18-37 in three-plus years with the 49ers. In the cutthroat NFL, getting 55 games qualifies as more than a fair chance. Granted, he took over one of the worst teams in the league, almost void of talent. So Nolan deserves credit for raising the level of talent on the team. But the results just haven’t followed.

During his tenure, Nolan made far too many strange game-day decisions. His handling of quarterback Alex Smith last season was a football crime. He publicly questioned Smith’s toughness when he was sidelined with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Smith responded by playing when he should have been letting his shoulder heal and wound up getting hurt even worse. Now, Smith’s very career is in jeopardy.

Nolan’s players didn’t quit on him. Just last week, running back Frank Gore said how much he liked Nolan and respected the job he’s done.

Even so, there was just something missing from Nolan, that intangible that great NFL coaches have. The great ones are either tactical wizards or charismatic leaders or, in rare cases, both. Unfortunately for Nolan, he was none of the above with the 49ers. Even the team’s defense – his area of expertise – took a huge and inexplicable step back this year.

Nolan was a solid NFL defensive coordinator who seemed in over his head as a head coach. He got the 49ers job largely because he played up his roots with the team as ex-coach Dick Nolan’s son and convinced the gullible John York he could fix the incredible mess that York had created. He somehow convinced York to give him power over almost all things 49er, on and off the field, even though he had never been a head coach before or held front-office power. As it turned out, Nolan was a better salesman than head coach.

I’ll give the 49ers credit for promoting Singletary, their assistant head coach. A few years ago, just before the Raiders hired Art Shell, I lobbied for them to hire Singletary. He definitely qualifies as a charismatic leader, a coach that players will follow. He has the Hall of Fame pedigree and a Super Bowl ring from his playing days with the Chicago Bears when television cameras loved to zero in on his perpetually wide-open eyes.

Some have questioned Singletary’s Xs and Os and point to the fact that he has never been a defensive coordinator. Get real. He’s a Hall of Fame linebacker now is in his sixth season as an NFL coach. Besides, Singletary has defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and offensive coordinator Mike Martz to call the plays. Singletary’s job is to motivate and lead, to make his players believe in themselves and raise their level of play.

Some will wonder why the 49ers didn’t promote Martz. Well, Martz already showed in St. Louis that he’s better offensive coordinator than head coach. Many of his game-day decisions regarding time outs and challenging calls were baffling. Besides, the 49ers need Martz to concentrate all of his efforts on coordinating their offense and tutoring struggling quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

There’s no guarantee that firing Nolan and promoting Singletary will save this from being another lost season for the 49ers. But in this case, changing coaches was far better than standing pat.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Raiders' Cable refuses to let history taint his first career win

Don’t believe those so-called official NFL standings when you read that the Raiders are 2-4 after Sunday’s 16-13 win over Brett Favre and the New York Jets in overtime.

They’re 1-0. And Raiders interim coach Tom Cable is 1-0, not 1-1, since replacing the fired Lane Kiffin. Just ask him. Actually, Cable told us without prompting after Sunday’s win.

“Well, how ’bout that,” Cable said. “Let’s talk about the character of this football team before we talk about anything else, how hard they played, how long they played. We’re 1-0, and that is the goal of this team every Sunday, and we were able to go out and do that.”

The longer Cable lasts in this job, the more we learn about him. We now know that he loves coming up with themes – weekly and long-term – that he pounds into his players’ heads and repeats compulsively to the press.

This week Cable put his spin on taking them one game at a time.

During his seven-minute post-game press conference, Cable must have said the Raiders were 1-0 as often as John McCain says “my friends” in a stump speech.

“I think we made some strides,” Cable said. “We’re not going to worry about what went wrong or what we could have done better right now. We’ll worry about that tomorrow because we’re 1-0.”

A bit cheesy? Yeah. Think sharp cheddar. But coaches often resort to cheesy slogans and motivational ploys because, well, they often work.

Many of Cable’s players were parroting his “We’re One and Oh” line after the game.

“Bottom line, we got the win,” said Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who intercepted a Favre pass and helped hold him to 197 yards passing and zero touchdowns. “We won. It wasn’t pretty. One and oh.”

What’s important is the fact that Cable’s players are apparently buying almost everything he’s selling, not just the one week at a time mantra.

According to Hall, Cable met with the players on Monday and “called out” a wide assortment of Raiders to do more than they had been doing, to play up to their potential. He told his players to “challenge themselves” to make more plays and to practice and play harder.

“Tom’s been preaching his style of play, his attitude,” Hall said. “It’s rubbing off. We’re fired up. Guys bought into it.”

Cable’s attitude is straight blue collar, just what you’d expect from a beefy, no-nonsense offensive line coach. After the Raiders got crushed last week by the New Orleans Saints in Cable’s debut, it was crucial that they got some positive reinforcement Sunday. Another loss, and Cable’s players might have started tuning him out the way countless Raiders players have tuned out countless former coaches during tough times.

Under Kiffin, the Raiders suffered come-from-ahead losses to Buffalo and San Diego, blowing fourth-quarter leads both times. The Raiders let New York come back in the fourth quarter and force overtime, but they prevailed in overtime when Sebastian Janikowski hit a team-record 57-yard field goal.

“Relief, relief, relief,” Hall said of his reaction to Janikowski’s game-winner. “These wins are hard to come by. We let two slip out of our hands. This was huge. Just for the sake of Tom Cable’s success.”

Cable now has some evidence that his approach just might work.

“It’s a great win,” Raiders running back Justin Fargas said. “Guys are believing. It’s more than just a single win. It’s something we can look to down the road whenever we face adversity or tough times.

“We did need this. It was a test. We passed it. We’re 1-0.”

Must be true.

What else have we learned about Cable? Well, he’s making sure to embrace former Raiders greats and the team’s history, something Kiffin didn’t do, to Al Davis’ dismay.

On Saturday night, Cable had former Raiders Ken Stabler, Ray Chester and Phil Villapiano speak to his team. An overriding theme to their speeches, Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said, concerned digging deep and finding ways to win close games.

“We believe now,” Asomugha said. “I think we needed this to spark our success.”

Cable is demanding a lot from his players and coaches, but he’s also giving them plenty of praise and deflecting much of the blame. Again, Davis must be happy.

Asked about the Raiders’ penalty-fest in the first quarter – 7 for 40 yards – Cable blamed himself.

“That’s my fault,” Cable said. “I wanted them juiced and ready to rip someone’s lips off. That’s what it was. So that’s on me. At the same time, we have to have better attention to that detail. I’ll look at that tomorrow. Right now, I’m enjoying being 1-0.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Cable outsmarted himself when, with the Raiders leading 13-13, he called a late timeout, just before Jay Feely attempted a 52-yard field goal. Feely missed, his kick hitting the left upright. But thanks to Cable, he got a second chance. Of course he made that one.

Cable said he had second thoughts after channeling Mike Shanahan.

“Sure you do, but what do you do? I called it. And so you’ve got to live with it,” Cable said. “Yeah, I was kicking myself for a bit.”

Once overtime began, the Raiders went three-and-out twice before putting together the game-winning drive, with JaMarcus Russell hitting Javon Walker for 16 yards and Zach Miller for 38.

“We got a little conservative. And that’s my fault on offense,” Cable said, accepting more blame. “I said, ‘Look, let’s just go back and be balanced. Let’s go back and throw it and run it and mix it up. We did that and JaMarcus was marvelous and guys caught the football for him. Greg (Knapp) did a great job of calling that last segment. I’m just proud of those guys.”

If you couldn’t tell already, Cable is a so-called players’ coach, another quality Davis values highly.

Consider his decision to let Janikowski kick what turned out to be the longest field goal in Raiders history. Cable said that Janikowski told him he could make it if the Raiders drove to the Jets’ 40. They got to the 39, and Cable sent Janikowski onto the field.

“You’ve just got to believe in your players,” Cable said. “That’s really what that decision was all about.”

Cable made one other decision that pointed to his aggressiveness and fearlessness. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders faced fourth-and-2 from their 27. The Jets had just marched 87 yards for a touchdown to tie it 10-10. Cable decided he needed to do something to reclaim the momentum and jumpstart his team.

So he ordered a fake punt, a play the Raiders have been practicing for two weeks. Up-back Jon Alston took a direct snap and raced 22 yards around right end for a first down, extending a drive that resulted in a 37-yard Janikowski field goal.

“I thought it was really a pivotal point in the game because it really juiced us back up,” Cable said. “It really put some life back in there. We were kind of teetering, you know, that gray area you don’t want to be in.”
Spoken like a coach who’s undefeated, at least for one week.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Shark defenseman Boyle gets offensive vs. Flyers

I got my first live look Saturday night at new Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s team when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in overtime at the Shark Tank.

My first impressions?

There’s no better place to start than with defenseman Dan Boyle. McLellan said he wanted his defenseman to be more offensive, and Boyle definitely got the message.

Boyle scored the game-winner, taking a pass from Joe Thornton and slamming it home past a helpless Antero Niittymaki for his first goal as a Shark. But that was just the exclamation point to Boyle’s game. Boyle, who came to the Sharks during an offseason trade with Tampa Bay, was seemingly everywhere at once, on both ends of the ice. He had two assists to go with his goal.

“I wanted to win bad,” Boyle said. “I just got involved offensively, and once again Joe made a great play. It was an open net. It was pretty easy.”

Maybe the finishing touch was easy. But Boyle put himself in position to take Thornton’s pass by aggressively crashing the net from the right side.

“That’s his game,” Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo said. "He goes 100 mph all the time. He’s so shifty and good with the puck, he usually gets in and creates some chances for us.”

Boyle helped create a great scoring chance for the Sharks after Philadelphia had taken a 4-3 lead on Daniel Briere’s second goal at 11:11 of the third period.

Boyle controlled the puck, weaved his way toward the goal then flicked a pass to his left to Jeremy Roenick who fired a shot. Devin Setoguchi, in the right place at the right time, banged the rebound home for the tying goal.

“I was coming down the flank, and the rebound came right on my stick,” Setoguchi said. “That’s the way Todd wants us to do it.”

What McLellan wants is for the Sharks to get bodies in front of the net and for his defenseman to lend a hand on offense.

Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff followed orders. He scored the Sharks’ first goal early in the second period, hammering home a long shot from the right side. It was his second goal of the young season.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Boyle earned assists on Jonathan Cheechoo’s second-period goal.

Ehrhoff got an assist on Boyle’s game-winner. He fired a hard shot that went wide of the net but bounced off the boards to Thornton, who maneuvered toward the middle then fed Boyle a perfect pass.

“I think for the most part this year we’ve jumped in the play when we’ve had to and we’ve gotten some chances,” Boyle said of the Sharks’ defensemen. “We just really haven’t put the puck in the net. We’re getting a lot of shots. It’s just a matter of getting the puck through.”

Boyle said he was even more aggressive than usual Saturday because he had yet to find the net.

“When you’re in a slump, I guess as far as scoring is concerned, you have to make something happen,” Boyle said. “You can’t just sit back and wait for it. Try to be smart about it, jump in when I could. I had tons of chances really. Wish I had more, but we’ll take one.”

“Nice to see him rewarded, first of all,” McLellan said of Boyle. “I think he’s been pressing as much as anybody on our team right now to produce some offense and finally got rewarded. He logged a lot of minutes the last two nights. Showed us that he has the stamina to do that. Very smart, intelligent player.”

Smart and fearless, as Boyle showed by going behind the Flyers’ net several times when the Sharks were battling back from behind.

“When you’re down by two you have to gamble a little bit,” McLellan said. “He’s playing with a pretty good partner right now. (Brad Lukowich) has the ability to stay back and cover for him. Again, making good decisions at the right time is real important. Danny makes them most of the time, and we want to see that continue.”


When the Sharks hired McLellan, they expected him to put some power in their anemic power play. Whatever power play tactics he brought with him from the Detroit Red Wings haven’t quite taken hold.

Against the Flyers, San Jose was 1 for 7 on the power play, including one failed 5 on 3. The Sharks also gave up a short-handed goal to Jeff Carter when they got sucked in too close to the Flyers’ goal and got beat on a 2 on 1 break after a long deflection off the boards.

For the season, the Sharks are now 4 of 32 on the power play.

“I wasn’t as concerned tonight,” McLellan said of his team’s trouble scoring on the power play. “I was more concerned about the frustration. The guys did a pretty good job of moving it around. They have a very aggressive penalty kill. The frustration started to creep in after the 5 on 3, but we had a number of real good looks at the net. Sometimes the goal-tender is the best penalty killer, and he was tonight.”


McLellan learns something new about his new team every game. What did he learn Saturday night?

“On the positive side that we’re resilient, we have a little bit of character,” he said. “We found a way to control our frustration when it was starting to show itself. On the negative side, I found we were a little impatient. We had control of a game. Even though we weren’t leading, we were still controlling it. Got impatient once we tied it. But it’s a satisfying night that we were able to dig in and come back.”


Joe Pavelski tied the score 3-3 early in the third period, and an assist should go to Niittymaki.

Pavelski flipped a soft shot from near the blue line between two Flyers and toward Niittymaki and sprinted toward the net. The Flyers’ goalie tried to grab the puck with his glove but it somehow bounced out, directly to Pavelski, who buried the gift in the net.

Pavelski was fortunate, yes. But he was also rewarded for his hustle and for being clever enough to split two defenders with a shot and beat them to the goal.


The Sharks didn’t have a single fight in their first four games. But if you were worried that they had gone soft, rest easy. Since those first four games, there hasn’t been a lot of peace and love on the ice.

The Sharks mixed it up with Anaheim on Friday night. And on Saturday night, the Sharks and Flyers acted as if there were bad blood between them, even though they met exactly one time last season, in February.

Midway through the first period, new Sharks defenseman Rob Blake introduced himself to Flyers center Mike Richards, who was making a dangerous rush toward the net and goalie Evegeni Nabokov.

Trailing Richards, Blake knocked him headfirst into the left post, sending his helmet flying and Richards sprawling on the ice.

Moments later, Steve Downie blasted Blake and a multi-player scrum ensued. Downie and Blake each headed to the penalty box for two minutes for roughing.

That was just the preliminary bout. The main attraction came late in the opening period when the Sharks’ Jody Shelley and Flyers’ Riley Cote started exchanging haymakers. Shelley, a 6-foot-3, 225 brawler, got the better of the 6-1, 210 Cote, knocking his helmet off and pulling his sweater over his head before they were separated.

Both players were hit with 5-minute penalties for fighting.

There was still time for one more free-for-all in the first period, touched off after Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen gave Boyle a shot to the back. When order was finally restored, three Flyers (Braydon Coburn, Scott Hartnell and Mike Richards) and two Sharks (Mike Grier and Boyle) headed to the penalty box for two-minute stays.


Kudos to the NHL for making a major change in its scheduling and bumping up the number of interconference games this season. The Sharks played their first of 18 games against Eastern Conference teams Saturday night. For the past three years they played just 10 games against the East.

That was a joke. If you’re a hockey fan living in a Western Conference city, you shouldn’t have to wait years to get a chance to see Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

Both of those young superstars are coming to San Jose this season, Crosby on Oct. 28 and Ovechkin on Nov. 22.

You shouldn’t have to wait that long for a chance to see four members of the NHL’s original six – Boston, Toronto, Montreal and the N.Y. Rangers – that have such long, storied histories.

Sharks fans still won’t be guaranteed of seeing every team in the league in person every year. But the Sharks will play each Eastern Conference team at least once every year.

This year Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders are coming to the Shark Tank.

Sharks fans can tune in and watch their team play road play road games against Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Florida and Tampa Bay.

The Dec. 12 game vs. Toronto will be a homecoming for ex-Sharks coach Ron Wilson. That should be interesting.

Boyle and Lukowich will face their former Tampa Bay teammates twice, on Oct. 25 at Tampa and Jan. 13 in the San Jose.

In an 82-game schedule, the Sharks will still have more than enough chances to face their familiar Western Conference foes.

After two benchings, Cable's approach starting to come into clearer focus

When the Raiders fired Lane Kiffin and promoted Tom Cable to the job of interim coach, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would truly change. Well, other than the fact that Cable wouldn’t snipe at Al Davis the way Kiffin did, and he’d probably let JaMarcus Russell throw a few more passes.

This week I started getting a clearer picture of Cable’s coaching approach.

First, Cable benched free safety Michael Huff and replaced him with Hiram Eugene. Then, he benched wide receiver Ronald Curry and replaced him with rookie Chaz Schilens.

In both cases, Cable sent two very clear messages approaching Sunday’s home game against the New York Jets.

1) Cable demands aggressiveness out of his players. He praised Eugene for throwing “his body around in there.” He said he likes the way Schilens fights for the ball in traffic.

2) Cable values production over pedigree. Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft. Eugene was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2005 and spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad. Curry is in his seventh season with the Raiders and started 13 games last year. Schilens is a seventh-round draft pick out of San Diego State.

Good for Cable. He needed to shake things up and let his starters know that their jobs weren’t guaranteed. Huff has been blowing coverages and missing tackles. He deserved to be benched. Curry had just six catches for 61 yards and on touchdown in five games. It was well past time to give someone else a shot.

As the Raiders’ offensive line coach, Cable set the bar extremely high for his players. Now, apparently, that bar applies to the entire team.

Will that change translate into more wins? Who knows? Cable’s a coach, not a miracle worker. But you can bet that Cable has his players’ attention. That can only help.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An upsetting start to NFL season

If you’re a tunnel-visioned fan and only keep track of the Raiders or 49ers, you wouldn’t know that this has already been a crazy, unpredictable NFL season, one that makes you glad you don’t try to make a living by gambling on football.

The Raiders and 49ers keep losing to the teams they’re supposed to lose to and beating the few teams they’re supposed to beat. The only “upset” came in Week 2 when the 49ers beat Seattle 33-30, but the Seahawks were decimated at wide receiver and have struggled most of the season. So that wasn’t exactly a stunner. Their other win was against the awful Lions, while the Raiders’ one victory came against the woeful Chiefs.

Isn’t it nice to know we can count on something in the Bay Area?

As for the rest of the league, you never know what’s going to happen. After only six weeks, I’ve already got a pretty impressive list of Top 10 Upsets. Here they are, starting with the biggest:

1) Miami 38, New England 13 (Week 3): Yeah, I know Patriots QB Tom Brady is out, and New England isn’t what it used to be. But come on. The Pats hadn’t lost a regular-season game since the days of leather helmets, and the Dolphins were coming off a one-win season. What made this upset even more stunning was the way the Dolphins embarrassed New England -- in Foxboro, no less -- with a scheme that featured direct snaps to Ronnie Brown. The Pats were clueless and helpless.

2) Cleveland 35, New York Giants 14 (Week 6): Who saw this butt-kicking coming? Unbelievable. The Browns’ offense finally woke up and realized the season had started. QB Derek Anderson and WR Braylon Edwards remembered how to play catch. The Giants were undefeated going into this game and had won 11 straight road games, counting a 3-0 postseason run leading up to the Super Bowl last year. Well, that streak is dead. Eli Manning was intercepted three times in a thoroughly ugly loss.

3) Kansas City 33, Denver 19 (Week 4): Until this game, I had a feeling that the Chiefs might run the table the wrong way. Their offense was that bad. The Broncos, meanwhile had been putting up some ridiculous numbers on offense. This looked like a rout in the making. That was before Chiefs running back Larry Johnson gave Denver a blast from his not-so-distant past and ran for 198 yards.

4) St. Louis 19, Washington 17 (Week 6): For one of the rare times, firing the coach got immediate results. The Rams dumped Scott Linehan, and the fiery Jim Haslett, his replacement, won his debut. It was the Rams’ first win, and it came against a red-hot Redskins team that had won four straight. St. Louis forced three turnovers, all fumbles, from a Washington offense that hadn’t had a single turnover. Yeah, just as we expected.

5) Arizona 30, Dallas 24 (Week 6): There’s a little more elbow room on the Cowboys’ Super Bowl express after this loss – and the loss of QB Tony Romo to a broken pinkie on his throwing hand. Granted, the Cardinals play better at home. But this is a team that lost 56-35 to the New York Jets, giving up six touchdown passes to Brett Favre. How ’bout them Cowboys.

6) Atlanta 27, Green Bay 24 (Week 5): Atlanta imploded last season and won all of four games. Who’d a thunk the Falcons would go to Lambeau Field this year with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and beat the Packers? Not me. Of course it helps the Falcons’ cause to have ex-Charger backup RB Michael Turner on their side this year. He rushed for 121 yards against the Pack.

7) Atlanta 22, Chicago 20 (Week 6): The Falcons may well have won their way out of underdog status for the rest of the year. The Bears’ dared Ryan to beat them through the air, and that’s exactly what he did, throwing for 301 yards, 112 of those to WR Roddy White, who’s having a career year.

8) Miami 17, San Diego 10 (Week 5): Maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised at this outcome. Just as they did last year, the Chargers dug themselves an early hole and are now trying to fight their way out. These aren’t your one-win Dolphins of one-and-done coach Cam Cameron. New coach Tony Sparano and executive V.P. Bill Parcells built a much tougher and better team. But still. Come on. The Chargers should have won this game.

9) Washington 26, Dallas 24 (Week 4): The Cowboys had won 11 of the past 12 games against Washington at Texas Stadium. They were 3-0 and talking big. Oops. Redskins RB Clinton Portis went off for 121 yards, and Santana Moss killed the Cowboys with 145 receiving yards. In a way, this was Washington’s coming out party.

10) Carolina 26, San Diego 24 (Week 1): Right out of the shoot, we got our first upset. The Chargers had all the Super Bowl hype after nearly getting to the final game last season. Carolina was coming off a .500 season, and QB Jake Delhomme was coming off of “Tommy John” surgery on his throwing elbow. Then there was this: the Panthers were missing WR Steve Smith, suspended for punching teammate Ken Lucas in the face. I’d call this an upset.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some fishy business going on with the Warriors

As Randy Moss might put it, something “fishy” is going on in the Warriors’ front office, specifically with the relationship between executive vice president Chris Mullin and his bosses, team president Robert Rowell and owner Chris Cohan.

Mullin is in the final year of his contract. He’s a lame duck. But there have been no discussions about a contract extension and no talks have been scheduled.

Fishy? Yeah, I think smell some bad salmon.

When Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury asked Rowell if Mullin had done a good job, he said: “I think he’s done a lot of things for us over the last several years that have helped the organization, yeah.”

Boy, that’s a ringing endorsement. Praise of the highest order.

Get a whiff of that rotting carp.

That alone is enough to make you think Mullin is on his way out after this season. But there’s also this red flag: Cohan and Rowell reportedly vetoed a tentative three-year, $39 contract extension that Mullin had reached with point guard Baron Davis.

Davis would have been locked up with the Warriors though the 2011-12 season. Instead, he opted out of his contract and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. No big deal, you say? I guess not if you think it’s no big deal for the Warriors to lose their best player, someone that coach Don Nelson and captain Stephen Jackson said is “impossible” to replace.

Not only is Mullin a lame duck. But now higher ups in the organization with zero NBA player-personnel knowledge are questioning his judgment and nixing his plans.

Week-old tuna, anyone?

Want more? OK, how about the whole Monta Ellis moped-gate affair. Rowell and Cohan suspended Ellis 30 games for violating his contract by riding a moped when he suffered a serious ankle injury. Ellis will lose about $3 million.

Here’s the rub. During a news conference, Rowell ripped Mullin for not taking Ellis’ transgressions seriously enough.

Rowell said that “Chris Mullin made it perfectly clear to both Mr. Cohan and myself that he didn’t think this was a big deal at the beginning. And we happen to think it’s a very big deal.

“We happen to think that it’s a big deal for our fans, it’s a big deal for our season ticket-holders, it’s a big deal for our business partners, it’s a big deal for the Warriors organization.”

Ouch. That had to hurt. Of course neither Rowell nor Cohan have Mullin’s perspective as a former player who made mistakes but used them as the catalyst to become a star. Mullin credits Nelson, his former coach, with saving his life by making him get help for an alcohol problem.

No doubt Mullin felt Ellis had suffered plenty with his injury, surgery and public humiliation. He no doubt figured Ellis had learned his lesson without a $3 million hit and that the best course of action for the organization would be to support him and encourage him to become more serious about his profession and the way he takes care of his body. That’s exactly what Mullin did after going through rehab.

So yeah, there appears to be a serious disconnect between Mullin and his bosses. When it comes to the way the Warriors have dealt with Baron and Monta, I think they should have listened to Mullin.

Very fishy, indeed.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This crystal ball sees four wins in Cable's future

A few days ago, I posted a poll asking readers to predict the number of regular-season games interim Raiders coach Tom Cable would win this season. The choices are 0 to 2, 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12.

I don’t vote in the polls I post, but here’s my prediction: Cable will go 4-8. Some will call me overly optimistic. Others will call me a Raiders hater. We'll see.

Now for the game-by-game breakdown:

Oct. 12, at New Orleans: The Raiders don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep up with Saints QB Drew Brees, especially on the road. This would be a tough assignment for Tom Landry, let alone Tom Cable. Prediction: Saints 27, Raiders 14

Oct. 19, vs. N.Y. Jets: Remember that Monday night game a few years ago when Brett Favre, then playing the Packers, torched the Raiders at the Coliseum just a day or so after the death of his father? If you saw that performance, you’d be nuts to pick against Favre this time, even if he is playing for a new team. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall could be in for a long day. Prediction: Jets 24, Raiders 21

Oct. 26, at Baltimore: Oakland’s defense can’t wait for this game. The Raiders should have their way with Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and get Cable his first NFL victory. Prediction: Raiders 20, Ravens 14

Nov. 2, vs. Atlanta: Another week, another rookie quarterback on the other side, this time Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Cable should win back-to-back games for the first time. Prediction: Raiders 24, Falcons 21

Nov. 9, vs. Carolina: Panthers coach John Fox, a former Raiders defensive coordinator, has his team playing well on both sides of the ball. Panthers QB Jake Delhomme and WR Steve Smith could have a big day. Prediction: Panthers 24, Raiders 20

Nov. 16, at Miami: Last year the Raiders steamrolled the Dolphins 35-17 in Miami, rolling up huge running numbers. These aren’t you’re 2007 Dolphins. New executive VP Bill Parcells and coach Tony Sparano have quickly built a tougher, better team. Prediction: Dolphins 23, Raiders 20

Nov. 23, at Denver: Broncos coach Mike Shanahan keeps making Al Davis pay for canning him in 1989. Prediction: Broncos 28, Raiders 21

Nov. 30, vs. Kansas City: The Raiders already beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. They’ll double their fun against one of the NFL’s worst teams. Prediction: Raiders 30, Chiefs 17

Dec. 4, at San Diego: The Raiders have lost 10 straight times to San Diego, including a 28-18 setback earlier this season at the Coliseum to former coach Norv Turner. This streak has to end sometime, just not this year. Predictions: Chargers 30, Raiders 20

Dec. 21, vs. Houston: The Texans beat the Raiders last year in Oakland, 24-17. This time the Raiders will even the score against this underachieving bunch. Prediction: Raiders 24, Texans 17

Dec. 28, at Tampa Bay: The Raiders will face yet another former coach, this time Jon Gruden. Gruden is 1-1 against the Raiders, but that one win was huge, a 48-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Winning so far from home at the end of another lost season will be a nearly impossible task for Cable’s team. Prediction: Bucs 20, Raiders 14

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Leaving a comment just got easier

If you've visited this site before and tried to leave a comment, you know it was a pain in the back side. There were far too many hoops to jump though. Well, I tweaked the comments section, and now you can leave a comment without having to register, lose your anonymity or jump through a single hoop.

I hope this helps.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Sure-handed Cunningham grabs a big role in Cal's offfense

(I've posted my article about Cal wide receiver LaReylle Cunningham that appeared in the Bears' football program for Saturday's game against Arizona State. Cunningham used his sure hands Saturday to catch three passes for 42 yards, including a sweet 19-yard score where he had to go low to grab Nate Longshore's toss. He now has 14 catches for a team-high 223 yards. He ranks first among receivers in catches and is tied for third overall, one behind tight end Cameron Morrah and running back Shane Vereen, the co-leaders.)

Former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor’s eyes are naturally drawn to any wide receiver who catches passes as if his hands were covered with Stickum.

Taylor said he spotted LaReylle Cunningham’s sure hands the first time he watched him during a training camp practice in 2005.

“I saw him catch the ball and was like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ ” said Taylor, Cal’s football radio analyst.

That guy, Taylor found out, was a walk-on from Fairfield’s Vanden High School. He came to Cal with no guarantee of ever seeing the field in a game. But those good hands helped Cunningham grab a spot on the team, earn a football scholarship last spring and win a starting job this fall as a redshirt senior.

“I’ve always had the ability to catch the ball wherever it’s thrown,” said Cunningham. “I guess it was just natural.”

Cunningham had a breakout game against Maryland three weeks ago, catching seven passes for 138 yards, both career highs. But for most of Cunningham’s career at Cal, he’s been relegated to putting on pass-catching clinics in practice. He red-shirted in 2004 then was stuck behind the talented DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan for most of the past three seasons.

The one exception came on Oct. 22, 2005, when injuries struck Cal’s receiver corps and Cunningham took center stage as an emergency starter. Cunningham caught five passes for 112 yards in a 42-38 victory over Washington State that night at Memorial Stadium. His 57-yard touchdown catch keyed Cal’s comeback win.

The next week against Oregon, however, Cunningham was back on the bench.

“If anything, it made me hungrier,” Cunningham said of his first career start.
“It made me more motivated to keep working hard, (knowing) that my number can be called at any time, and when it is, I’ll be there to make plays and do what I came to do. If my role is a backup, then I’ll just do the best I can being a backup.”

Cunningham said he had no “set in stone” football scholarship offers from any college coming out of high school. That made his decision to walk on at Cal easy.
“I just kind of had my mind set on Cal,” Cunningham said. “My mother (Adrienne Cunningham) really wanted me to come here to Cal because it’s a great university. I was able to get in through academics. It all worked out good.
“I was taught well. Always, school (came) first. Thanks to my mother. She sent me on the right path.”

Now he’s taking the final class he needs to graduate with a degree in sociology.
On the football field, Cunningham caught just 10 nine passes for 155 yards and one touchdown during his first three seasons after red-shirting.

Even so, Cal coach Jeff Tedford thought so much of Cunningham that he awarded him a scholarship last spring. With Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan no longer blocking his path, Cunningham moved up the depth chart by catching everything that came his way in spring practice and training camp.

“They’re ridiculous,” Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said of Cunningham’s hands. “If it’s in his vicinity, he’s going to catch it.”
Best hands on the team?

“Oh yeah,” Williams said. “Hands down.”

Cunningham isn’t a speed “burner,” Taylor said, but he has tremendous hand-eye coordination, body control and timing.

“He has obviously had one of the better pairs of hands on the team since he’s gotten here,” Taylor said. “Just real consistent, real smooth.”

Cunningham said he also has a knack for getting open.

“I’m good at getting my body in position to catch the ball,” Cunningham said. "I’m good at getting separation, enough needed to get the ball caught. I’m really good at body position. My routes are decent, too.”

When he played for the Bears, Hawkins liked to work over the middle, while Jackson was most dangerous on deep routes. What’s Cunningham’s preference?

“I like to work the middle, side, top, bottom,” he said. “Anywhere. Wherever the ball is, I like to work it.”

Cunningham said his favorite route is the “fade” in the end zone, where he’s able to “go up top and get it.”

“Or the post (route),” he added. “Anything, really. I just like the ball.”

As you can sense, spending the previous four years without consistently getting his hands on the football has been tough for Cunningham. But he’s persisted and persevered.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Cunningham said. “I’ve definitely been through a lot. It’s been a grind, mentally and physically. Everything’s fine. Everything turned out the way it should be. So I’m happy. I’m fortunate and blessed.”

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A peak inside Patriots Nation

I spent Sunday at Candlestick Park covering a winning NFL team. Of course I was doing a freelance job for the Boston Herald and writing a sidebar about New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk -- not the 49ers.

Faulk hadn't run for a touchdown since 2006, but he rushed for two against the 49ers. It was that kind of day for the home team. Faulk seemed like a class act, a team-first type of player. He caught the 49ers napping when he took a direct snap and scored a crucial touchdown in the third quarter on a 2-yard run.

After spending decades sitting in football press boxes where I was surrounded by beat writers and columnists from the Bay Area, it seemed odd being smack in the middle of Patriots Writers Nation. It kind of reminded me of the 49ers' press corps near the end of the team's dynasty. Let's just say the standards are extremely high after so many Super Bowl seasons. Understandably so.

Here's the link to my story in the Herald.

The Patriots are going to practice most of this week at San Jose State before heading to San Diego for a game against the Chargers. No wonder they rallied to beat the 49ers 30-21. The fear of losing back-to-back games then being stuck in the same hotel for a week with Bill Belichick, their warm and fuzzy coach, was more than enough motivation.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Defense a big hit in Cal's victory over Arizona State

That sound you heard Saturday afternoon from Memorial Stadium was Cal linebacker Zack Follett hitting Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter at 100 mph midway through the fourth quarter, separating him from the ball and, most likely, his senses.

It was a huge hit. A violent hit. It was a great defensive play on a day in which Cal’s defense made big plays seem commonplace. And if you’re looking for a signature moment in Cal’s 24-14 victory, Follett’s payback sack has my vote.

Follett had been waiting nearly a year for another shot at Carpenter after last October’s 31-20 loss to ASU in Tempe.

“That felt good, man,” Follett said. “That was a long hit coming since last year. Last year he kind of got in my ear a little bit, talking a little trash. A long hit coming. A year of frustration was let out on that play.”

Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan saw the play unfold just a few feet yards in front of him.

“I had an (offensive) tackle, and I had him stood up, ready to pull him,” Jordan said. “I saw Zack make contact, and I literally might have stopped playing and watched. I told the offensive lineman, ‘Your quarterback just died.’ ”

No, not literally. But Carpenter did leave the locker room on crutches and with a foot in a boot after the game. Follett’s sack and forced fumble forced the Sun Devils to punt and helped kill their comeback bid.

Quarterback Nate Longshore, starting for the first time this season after losing his job to Kevin Riley, deserves some credit for Saturday’s win. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

Running back Shane Vereen, starting for the injured Jahvid Best, did his part, rushing for 98 hard-fought yards and catching five passes for 51 yards. LaReylle Cunningham, Cameron Morrah and Nyan Boateng each caught a touchdown pass.

But if you want to pass out game balls, you might want to hand a dozen or so to the defense. The Bears held ASU to 71 net yards rushing and 2.2 yards per carry. They sacked Carpenter three times, Jordan notching two. They picked him off twice -- Chris Conte got one and red-shirt freshman Sean Cattouse the other – and broke up countless other passes. Cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson, as usual, played out of his mind.

Carpenter completed 20 of 35 passes for just 165 yards. Of course it’s hard to complete passes when you’re running for your life, trying to escape, Follett, Jordan, Tyson Alualu and a cast of thousands.

“Our biggest goal going into the game was stopping the run,” Follett said. “Even though they have a great passing attack, they came off their bye week saying how they were going to be more physical, they were going to run the ball. That was our first priority, and at home we usually take care of the run. So we came out of there fired up.

“As far as taking care of the pass, I’ve got to give credit to the ‘D’ line and to the pressure (defensive coordinator Bob) Gregory called. That’s what I think took care of the pass. Then after getting pressure on them, the (defensive backs) made plays. It was great defensive play all around.”

The longer the season goes, the better handle Cal’s defense seems to get on its new 3-4 base scheme, which allows the Bears to keep four linebackers – a team strength – on the field. Last year their base defense was the 4-3.

“The 3-4 did amazing,” Jordan said. “It gives us one less ‘D’ lineman, but it seems to put more pressure on than last year.”

Cal’s defense had four sacks and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, in a 42-7 victory over Colorado State two weeks ago. So Saturday’s game makes it back-to-back dominant defensive performances by the Bears.

“People are telling us this is the best they’ve seen the defense play so far,” Follett said. “The defense is going to get better as it gets more comfortable in it and starts knowing our strengths and what we can do and gets a little more experience. Because we’re still a little young.”

Cal needed its defense to step up, especially in the second half. That’s when the Bears’ offense scored just seven points and repeatedly stalled, giving ASU chance after chance to get back into the game. Longshore was 14 of 22 for 159 yards and two scores in the first half. In the second, he completed 3 of just 6 passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. Vereen had 111 of his 149 combined yards rushing and receiving in the first half.

“As an offense, we need to do better,” Longshore said. “It’s always nice to win. But in order for us to continue to have success, I have to do better.”

“The defense played hard all day for us,” Vereen said. “They’re a big reason why we were able to win this game. They picked us up.”

Longshore was right. Cal’s offense will need to play better, especially in back-to-back-to-back games against Oregon (Nov. 1) at home then USC (Nov. 8) and Oregon State (Nov. 15) on the road.

Arizona State was picked to finish second in the Pac-10. But the Sun Devils, who have now lost three straight games to UNLV, Georgia and Cal, were clearly overrated entering the season. And Colorado State offered little opposition to the Bears. Tougher tests are coming, and Cal will need more help from its offense.

Longshore played well enough to keep the starting job for at least another week. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Longshore would “probably” start against Arizona on Oct. 18 after Cal’s this coming week’s bye. “We’ll talk about it.”

Tedford bristled when asked whether he may have created a quarterback controversy by benching Riley, who went 3-1 as a starter, for Longshore, who struggled last year down the stretch when Cal’s season imploded.

“You guys create the controversy,” Tedford said. “I don’t create the controversy. We just put in who we think is going to give us the best chance to win. I’m not saying it can’t be Kevin. I’m saying there are certain things we watch and evaluate, and we’ll make decisions. We’ll evaluate this game and we’ll look to see what Nate could have done better and what Kevin would have done differently.

“I’ve said it many times. It may take both those guys to get where we need to go. … Both those guys support each other. They’re completely fine. … There is no lock on the quarterback position. We may play both of them.”

Tedford said he made the quarterback switch Saturday in an effort to get a faster start.

“I felt we’d been starting a little bit slow, so I wanted to switch roles a little bit and let Nate have an opportunity to start the game. For all of our games, we haven’t started real fast offensively. We’ve had big runs, but we’ve missed some plays in the passing game. So I wanted to change it up a little bit and see if we could create a spark.”

Longshore certainly helped Cal get off to a faster start Saturday. But it was Cal’s defense that played the role of closer.

“To tell you the truth, I like that,” Follett said. “I hate to see the offense stall, but that’s more opportunity for us on the field. The day we were having today, that was nothing but fun. We were having a lot of fun. I was like, ‘If we go three and out, oh well, we’ll go back out and get a sack or an interception.’ That’s how the day was for us. It was a fun game.”

A day filled with big hits and big plays by Cal’s defense.

Friday, October 3, 2008

For Cal wide receiver Sean Young, it's better late than never

(I’ve posted my story below about Cal wide receiver Sean Young that ran in the Bears’ game-day program last week when they played Colorado State. After a fast start, Young’s numbers have dropped quite a bit, but his story is still compelling. You’ve got to admire someone who didn’t give up after five frustrating seasons and two major surgeries. So in case you didn't go to the game or didn't buy a program, here's the story.)

You couldn’t have blamed Cal wide receiver Sean Young if he had walked away from football after the 2007 season and moved on with his life, far away from the frustration, disappointment and pain of his career.

In five years at Cal, Young had undergone two major surgeries – one on each of his big toes – and caught just three passes. He had spent countless hours in rehab or on the bench and only a few minutes on the field.

So when he had to decide whether to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility – a solid proposition considering his medical history – Young had serious reservations.

“I knew coming back in I was going to be at the bottom of the depth chart, where I’d been the whole time,” Young said. “I was still recovering from an injury.”

Young said he was leaning heavily against petitioning the NCAA. Then some advice from his father, Henry Young, hit home.

“I think he was just really discouraged,” Henry Young said. “I said, ‘You never want to walk away from something and say I wish I would have.’ ”

Young not only came back for his sixth year at Cal, but he also won a starting job. And in his first career start he caught four passes for 81 yards in the Bears’ 38-31 win against Michigan State.

“The whole week, I couldn’t think of anything but this game,” said Young, whose brother, Eddie, is a starting outside linebacker for Cal. “I was having dreams and waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about making plays.

“I was nervous the first portion I got in, and I just started easing up and everything just felt like practice. I was able to make plays. It felt great. It felt awesome.”

So did catching his first career touchdown pass in a victory over Washington State, a 14-yarder from Kevin Riley. For the season he has eight catches for 112 yards.

If you ever doubted that good things come to those that wait, Young might convince you otherwise. He’s been at Cal for so long that his teammates call him “Grandpa.”

“I know one comment a lot of guys make to me is, ‘Sean, you know, I was in middle school when you were in college,’ ” said Young, who turns 24 in December. “Everyone teases me, but it’s nice being the older one. A lot of people look up to me, and I can kind of mentor guys.”

When Young came to Cal in 2003, he was a highly touted receiver from Berkeley High School. But in his first training camp he was tackled from behind, ripping the ligaments in his right big toe and breaking a small bone.

“I must have seen about 10 different foot specialists,” Young said. “Over half of them said they couldn’t perform the surgery. They said if I did get the surgery there was the possibility I would never be able to play football again or run.”

Young finally found a doctor who performed successful surgery in January of 2004. But he missed spring practice and faced a long, arduous rehab program. What’s more, by 2005 he was looking up on the depth chart at DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan, among others.

When the 2007 season began, Young was still buried on the depth chart, but at least his body was healthy. That is until Cal’s third game when he caught a 19-yard pass against Louisiana Tech, was tackled from behind and suffered the same injury on his other big toe.

More surgery. More rehab. More pain.

After all that Young had been through, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he was surprised to learn he wanted to come back.

“Because he’s really had some pretty poor luck here,” Tedford said. “He’s been injured ever since he’s been here. I think he saw or he recognized at least there would be an opportunity for him to be a strong contributor.”

With Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan no longer blocking his path and with his body healthy again, Young moved up the depth chart.

“I’m so happy to see Sean Young go out there and finally get his chance,” Cal linebacker Zack Follett said.

Henry Young said that when he watches Sean play now, he can tell that for the first time since coming to Cal his son is “in that zone” again where he believes he can catch everything.

“It felt great to see him there, see him experience that feeling again,” Henry Young said. “That in itself will be a lifetime memory for him.”