Saturday, April 25, 2009

Texas Tech coach takes aim at Browns' Mangini in defense of Crabtree

Can we call this Diva-Gate?

By any name, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach helped liven up the first day of the NFL draft.

After Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 10 pick in the first round, Leach spoke to reporters at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

Leach used the interview to praise Crabtree and defend him against accusations that he’s a diva. Leach took aim at Cleveland coach Eric Mangini for apparently leaking that claim after Crabtree visited the Browns before the draft.

“Anybody who refers to him as a diva doesn’t know him very good,” Leach said during a conference call. “My definition of a diva is somebody who’s loud and self-absorbed. Michael Crabtree’s the furthest thing from loud I’ve ever seen. Michael Crabtree is self-effacing to the point where when he’d have the biggest of games and the biggest of moments, he would shyly hold his helmet and shuffle his feet. The sports information director would say,’ We have ESPN here, we have Sports Illustrated, we have the Sporting News, and then you’d look up and he was gone and he’d refuse to answer the phone. I’ve seen Michael Crabtree run from the spotlight more than I’ve seen him chase the spotlight.”

Leach was later asked if Mangini had ever called him to get information about Crabtree.

“No, which I find interesting,” Leach said. “I think he took it upon himself to figure that in a few minutes he had all the expertise on Michael Crabtree that he needed. So, you know, we’ll see how all those non-divas up there in Cleveland do this year. And here’s the other thing. It’s interesting that a guy who really has not accomplished a great deal there at Cleveland or the Jets, for that matter, would have the temerity to publicly comment on A, someone that he doesn’t even know and B, someone whose accomplishments speak for themselves. And within the specific field that Michael Crabtree is in, Michael’s accomplishments speak louder than Mangini’s do.”

At the end of the interview, Leach had a parting shot for Mangini.

“I appreciate your having me on,” Leach said. “On behalf of everybody here at Texas Tech, we’re very sorry we did not make a proper impression on Eric Mangini. We certainly hope that in the future that we can do better, because out here in West Texas, we’re all aspiring to somehow impress him.”

49ers stand pat and let Crabtree fall to them at No. 10

First things first. I think a thank you note from the 49ers to the Raiders is in order. Don’t you?

The Raiders chose Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick in the first round, taking the fastest receiver in the draft but leaving Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, arguably the most skilled receiver, for the 49ers.

This actually worked out perfectly for both teams. The Raiders got the big speedster they wanted, someone to run down JaMarcus Russell’s deep passes. The 49ers got a polished receiver with great hands, someone to move the chains and get into the end zone.

The 49ers, apparently, also got themselves a receiver with a bit of an edge and attitude. Crabtree has been mentored by none other than Deion Sanders. What’s more, 49ers coach Mike Singletary said he reminds him a little bit of former Dallas Cowboy wideout Michael Irvin, in terms of his “attitude” and physical skills.

As long as Crabtree doesn’t go T.O. on the 49ers, I have no problem with that.

Here’s the complete transcript of Singletary’s interview, just minutes after making the pick.


“Very glad about the pick that we had a chance to make. We had no idea that he would be there at 10. It was one of the last scenarios we thought we’d end up with. Obviously he’s the most productive guy the last couple years in college football as a receiver. So very excited to get a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball.”

When you saw him there, did you think, this is the guy we’ve got to get?

“It’s one of those situations where, like I said, there’s so many different scenarios, and when we were coming down to it, we thought for sure that the last couple of picks that were there, he wouldn’t be there. When he was, Scot (McCloughan) said, ‘Mike, you know what? This is great. This is outstanding. Make the pick.’”

Where does he fit in terms of the other receivers on the team?

“I think we’ll figure it out. I think it’s one of those scenarios where you’ve a playmaker. The biggest thing is we’re not going just put him out there and say, ‘Hey, you’re the X, you’re the Z,’ whatever it is. He’s going to have to earn his way on, but the most important thing is we know we have a playmaker. We were very excited about having that opportunity on our football team.”

He came in here several weeks ago to visit with you. During that time and since then there’s been a lot of talk about him being a diva and the entourage and the roommate. What did you learn from sitting down and talking to him that made you comfortable making this guy the pick at No. 10 overall?

“I think first of all, these are young men, not just him, but all those college guys, and they’re going from one team to the next, they’re being picked apart. I think it’s very difficult to get a feel for the guy just sitting there. But I think the thing that we had the opportunity to do, you talk to people that know him, you talk to people that played with him, you talk to people that have been around him. Just made several phone calls and really did our homework and came away feeling very good about his character and who he is and knowing that he’s one of those guys that really has the opportunity to be special. That’s just very exciting for us.”

Do you want the No. 1 receiver to be a little bit cocky, to be a little full of himself out there?

“Well, I don’t know a little bit full of himself. I just think it’s one of those things, normally when you get great players, sometimes you get a little bit of attitude with them. It has a tendency to throw some people off, but I think for us on the offensive side of the ball, a little swagger is fine with me.”

At No. 7, the Raiders picked. They had similar needs to you. What was the reaction in the room when they took Darrius Heyward-Bey?

“Well, they got the guy that…. When you look at Al Davis, Al Davis has been very true to what he’s done all along. He loves speed. He loves size. And that’s what he went with. I think for us, I think the speed is obviously a question for a lot of different people, but obviously not for us. When we look at the film we see a guy that has a different speed. I don’t know how fast he is. I just know that when he catches the ball, there’s separation there. I know he’s a physical guy. He does the things that he has to do. He’s willing to block. I’ve seen him do that. So, very excited about all of the upside he has.”

How did he check out medically?

“He checks out fine. Our doctors checked him out, and he checks out just fine.”

Will he be able to participate in next week’s minicamp?

“Minicamp, probably the biggest thing he’d be able to do is the walkthrough we’d have. I wouldn’t want him to do anything more than that, but he will definitely be ready for training camp. That’s really the most important thing.”

Did you have a chance to talk to him yet?

“Yes. I talked to him right after we had the pick. For him, I’ve been there. I knew that he was a little bit down but at the same time excited about the way we feel about him and how we see him and having the opportunity to come to our football team.”

What did you say to him?

“I just told him, ‘You know what, how do you feel about being a 49er?’ ‘Coach, I feel great about that.’ I said, ‘I know what you’re feeling right now. There’s a lot of different things going through your mind. Probably projected, you thought this or thought that, but just know that you came to the best place. We’re going to make the best of your talent and we’ll go from there.’”

Jeremy Maclin was on the board, too. Was this a clear choice

“For us, Crabtree on our board was the best receiver, and really one of the best players. For us, it was just jumped out at you. When you looked at the board, you really didn’t have to make the decision, the board and all of the work the guys have done and gone through this offseason really made the decision for us.”

Production in games important?

“Absolutely. You have the production. When you see him at wide receiver, it’s not just a guy catching the ball. It’s a guy out there, he finds a way to get separation. He knows how to use his body. He has exceptional hands. And he’s running away from people at the same time. He’s willing to block and does a good job of that as well. I’m very excited about what we saw on the film.”

Was there any discussion about (Mississippi offensive tackle) Michael Oher?

“Absolutely a thought. You know for me, that was definitely a thought. You look at Michael Oher, you look at a tackle. You want to protect the quarterback. But at the same time you have the opportunity for a playmaker, and you’ve got to make that decision, you’ve got to make that call.”

How much time did you need before deciding Crabtree was your guy?

“In all honesty, we were talking about a couple of other scenarios, whether Eugene Monroe would be there. And you come back and he’s still there and ‘Whoa, OK. We’ve got to rethink this and rehash some of the thoughts and ideas.’ But once he was there, as I said before, it’s just a matter of, if you look at the board, it just jumps out at you. It’s not even something that you really have to talk about.”

Did other teams call to trade up?

“We had several feelers, but nothing serious.”

You have Texas roots. Did that help in your research on Crabtree?

“It helped a lot. If you’re going to draft at the No. 10 spot, you’d better know a lot more than what you saw on film. For me, it’s having the opportunity to have some resources to go to and ask a lot of questions about the kid, his family, his background, his upbringing, all of those things. They all check out very well. The guy’s a winner. Very excited about his though process about what he wants to do and how he wants to work and what he wants to bring to that position.”

You’ve played against a lot of great receivers, you coached against some. Can you compare him to anybody?

“I guess to stand here and say, ‘He reminds me of this guy,’ I can’t think of anybody off the top of my head. Obviously you think of a guy like Jerry Rice. I don’t want to go there because he hasn’t done it yet at this level. Obviously we feel he can do it at this level. But there are certainly some other receivers. … He’s a thick guy. You may think of a Michael Irvin type of receiver. He’s big enough, he’s got the attitude. He’s got great hands. That may come to mind when you see him.”

The 49ers took two receivers most recently in the first round that didn’t work out so good, Rashaun Woods and J.J. Stokes. Any concerns about the risks of any player chosen at No. 10?

“Every player drafted today is a risk. Detroit paid seventy-some odd million dollars. That’s a tremendous risk. So I think that’s what the draft is all about. It’s about you doing your homework and not relying on hearsay. It’s a chance to see the kid, meet the kid, and to the best of our knowledge, this is a really good pick for us, and we’re very excited about it.”

Picking a receiver so high, any concern?

“No. The film to me speaks to itself. … When you look at this guy, then when you see the guy, obviously there’s something there. I really do think he has the chance to be special, but we’ll see. Time will tell.”

Who were some of the people that you talked to in Texas, concerning his diva image?

“As far as his diva image, one of the guys I talked to, I talked to Deion Sanders a little bit, who spent a tremendous amount of time with him. Basically, when you talk to Deion about him, it’s one of those things where, ‘Mike, here’s what it is, here’s what I see. I’m with the kid all the time. Here’s what it was before the season was over, during his last year at school, during his sophomore year at school, all of those things.’ We really talked about it. When you look at the kid, the most interesting thing he said when he was here, we sat and we talked. I said, ‘What is your hobby?’ He said, ‘You know, I could sit in front of a computer and just really get into fashion.’ He said, ‘You’re never going to see me wear the same thing twice. I’m really into fashion. I like designing things.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, fashion? Talk to me a bit. What do you mean?’ He broke it down a bit. He’s really into clothes. So of course I could see right away the connection between he and Deion. I felt like I was talking to Deion there for a bit. But this guy, he knows who he is. He knows what he wants to achieve. He has a best friend that he spends a lot of time with. He’s surrounded by good people. So I’m OK with all that. And I’m sure some things will come up here and there, but we’ll deal with that.”

As usual, Raiders think fast in NFL draft and grab speedy receiver Heyward-Bey

You’ve got to hand it to Raiders boss Al Davis. He’s nothing if not consistent. He had his choice of wide receivers with the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL draft, and he took the fastest one, Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Most draftniks had Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin rated ahead of Heyward-Bey. But when did Davis ever accept the consensus view? Try never.

The way Davis values speed, you’d think he owned a NASCAR team. It’s all about the vertical game in Al’s world. As one of the talking heads on the NFL Network said, Davis is a height-weight-speed guy. In other words, his draft motto might as well be, “In the NFL Combine We Trust.”

Heyward-Bey wasn’t just the fastest wide receiver at the combine. He was the fastest player at any position, clocking a 4.3 for 40 yards. Combine that speed with his great size -- 6-foot-2, 210-pound -- and you have a perfect Raiders pick.

Some have questioned Heyward-Bey’s hands. Some have called him a boom-bust pick, a player who could become a superstar or could break your heart while he breaks the bank.

That’s perfect Al Davis, a man who’s never been afraid to take a risk or go against the tide.

Fortunately for the Raiders, Davis didn’t go too much against tide. The Raiders desperately needed a wide receiver, a go-to guy for quarterback JaMarcus Russell, and Davis grabbed one.

Time will tell if he got the right pass catcher.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some free draft advice for the Raiders and 49ers

The Detroit Lions are on the clock, but I’m more interested in what the Raiders and 49ers are going to do in the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday.

Here’s what I think they should do, starting with the Raiders, who have the No. 7 overall pick. Take the best wide receiver on the board. Not just the fastest wide receiver or the best combine workout warrior. The best wide receiver, someone who has good hands, runs good routes AND has good speed.

The Raiders invested the No. 1 overall pick and countless millions of dollars on quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007. They’ve got to get him a marquee receiver to catch his passes. You’re already starting to hear whispers that Russell is a bust. But it’s hard to tell if he is or isn’t when the Raiders’ receiving corps is so weak. I mean, when Chaz Schilens, Johnnie Lee Higgins and, if they can stay healthy, Javon Walker and Drew Carter, are the best of the bunch, you’ve got problems.

The Raiders haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 1988, when they chose Tim Brown out of Notre Dame. I’d say that pick worked out well. Certainly a lot better than some of the first-round picks since then, such as safeties Michael Huff and Derrick Gibson, cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Phillip Buchanon, tight end Rickey Dudley, offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb and quarterback Todd Marinovich.

Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree could be a nice fit, if he falls to No. 7, although knowing the Raiders, they’ll probably be tempted by Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s blazing speed and maybe even Maryland wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey’s combination of size, strength, speed and potential, despite the red flag warnings that he’s a boom-or-bust risk.

Who knows? Maybe the Raiders can work a draft-day trade for disgruntled Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He’s probably not as fast as Al Davis wants his No. 1 receiver to be, but he’s a proven commodity, and one of the NFL’s most physical wide receivers.

Now for the 49ers at No. 10. If USC quarterback Mark Sanchez falls to them, the 49ers should take him and thank the football gods.

Quarterback is the most important position in football, and the 49ers have been searching for a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback ever since they let Jeff Garcia leave as a free agent after the 2003 season. Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, was supposed to be the answer. But he struggled early then battled injuries. This year he had to take a huge pay cut for the chance to stick with the 49ers and battle journeyman Shaun Hill for the starting job.

During their glory years, there was always one constant for the 49ers. They had a future Hall of Fame quarterback leading the team, either Joe Montana or Steve Young. The last time they went to the playoffs was 2002, when Garcia threw 21 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions.

If the 49ers draft Sanchez, Hill can keep the position warm until he’s ready to step in. They won’t have to throw Sanchez into the fray, the way they did Smith in 2005.

So what if Sanchez is gone when the 49ers pick, a very real possibility? If Crabtree slides that far, they should grab him. Same for Maclin.

The 49ers haven’t had a receiver who scared anyone since Terrell Owens forced his way out of town following the 2003 season. This is a franchise that has been known for its receivers, from the days of Dave Parks and Bernie Casey, to Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and T.O.

Now they’re relying on Isaac Bruce, the ancient one, and youngsters such as Josh Morgan, Jason Hill and Brandon Jones, a free-agent pickup.

Here’s what the 49ers shouldn’t do. They shouldn’t pick an offensive tackle at No. 10. Yeah, I understand that coach Mike Singletary wants the 49ers’ to become more physical on offense, able to pick up a yards on the ground whenever they want, no matter how many defenders are in the box. A young, physical tackle would be nice to have.

On the other hand, the 49ers landed Marvel Smith, a veteran offensive tackle, in free agency. What’s more, since 2005, the 49ers have invested a first-round pick in offensive tackle Joe Staley, two second-round picks in guards David Baas and Chilo Rachal and a third-round pick in offensive guard/tackle Adam Snyder. Staley, Baas and Rachal are starters, while Snyder is expected to be the top backup at guard and tackle.

If the New York Giants have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need a stable of high draft picks to have a quality offensive line. The 49ers have invested enough for now in their offensive line. Besides, the top offensive tackles, Baylor’s Jason Smith and Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, will already be gone when they pick. Alabama’s Andre Smith will probably be gone, too, which would leave Mississippi’s Michael Oher as the top remaining offensive tackle.

If Sanchez, Crabtree and Maclin are gone by the time they pick, the 49ers might be better served to grab a pass-rushing defensive end/outside linebacker or a nose tackle (to protect linebacker Patrick Willis) than an offensive tackle.

Or, they could trade down and stockpile picks to use on say, a safety, a situational pass rusher and a cornerback to groom for the future – Walt Harris isn’t getting any younger.

There’s my free advice. We’ll see what happens on Saturday.