Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Raiders Notes

In Monday's post, we did some breaking down of Saturday nights Raiders/Niners preseason game, but we focused mostly on the 49ers. So today we're going to talk a little Raiders football.

The Silver and Black are once again having trouble stopping the run, and it showed big time in Saturday's loss to the 49ers. The Niners ran for 275 yards against the Raiders and although it's still just pre-season, this is becoming a pattern that has to cause some concern for Tom Cable and co. Last season, the Raiders were one of the worst in the league at stopping the run, as they allowed nearly 160 yards per game on the ground. There problem on Saturday was their tackling, it seemed like Niners running backs were breaking at least a tackle on every run, and that's something that's going to have to be fixed asap. And I don't think it's a scheme thing with the Raiders and their run-stopping problem. In order to help bolster their run defense, the Raiders brought back a familiar face a few days ago when they signed Napoleon Harris to a 1 year deal. Harris was a mainstay on the Raiders defense from 2002 through 2004, before being dealt to Minnesota in the Randy Moss trade in 2005. He alone isn't going to turn around the Raiders run defense, but at least they're starting to move in order to help that weakness and he'll help improve the linebacker depth with Kirk Morrison shelved for the foreseeable future.

Offensively, the Raiders were OK, not great, but not bad either, on Saturday night. JaMarcus Russell started off slowly, but picked it up before he exited the game. He ended up going 7-11 for 77 yards with a 24 yards TD pass to the quickly rising Louis Murphy. Rookie Brandon Myers also stuck out on Saturday as he had a 4 catch, 75 yard performance, including a touchdown. The area that didn't really get going in Saturday's game was the rushing attack. The Raiders ran the ball 18 times and only netted 69 yards for an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Darren McFadden ran 4 times for just 5 yards and Justin Fargas gained 3 yards on just 2 carries. In order to jump-start the running game and bring a new dynamic to there offense, the Raiders are considering using Michael Bush in the backfield along with McFadden. Bush hasn't really gotten much of an opportunity as a pro yet, as he's still behind Fargas and McFadden on the depth chart, so using him as a fullback may be the best way to get him some touches without messing with the Fargas and McFadden two-headed monster at tail-back. The Raiders may also just figure out that Bush's upside is about 3 times that of Justin Fargas, and they may start weaving Bush into Fargas' role. Either way, the Raiders need to find a way to get the 6'1", 250 pound beast at least 12 touches per game. Just look at what he did against Tampa Bay in the season's final week last year.

Up next for the Raiders will be the New Orleans Saints, as Drew Brees and Co. will come to Oakland in what will be the most important preseason game of the bunch. The third preseason game is one in which most starters will play at least the first half and probably well into the third quarter as a lot of the important players won't play in the final preseason game... Also, with the NFL season right around the corner, NFL betting is getting ready to start up as well. For NFL picks and NFL odds, check out our friends at Locksmith Sports.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Niners Beat Raiders In Batte of the Bay

The annual pre-season battle of the bay took place this weekend, and with some late fireworks from some third-string players, the Niners pulled off the comeback victory over their cross-bay rivals.

Now, everyone says exhibition and pre-season games don't matter, and they don't for the most part. However, for individual players trying to win jobs and make names for themselves, the pre-season is as important as the playoffs. One guy who's viewing them in that light is former number 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith. Since the Niners took Smith with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, it's been an up-and-down run for the young QB, but mostly he's been down. He has gotten new life this summer though, as his play in training camp prompted Mike Singaltery to hold off on announcing a starting QB until later in the preseason. The thing is, Smith hasn't been all that impressive in his 2 pre-season outings. He did throw a TD in the first game and looked decent, but he pretty much struggled vs. the Raiders, going just 3-9 with an interception. Granted, the int wasn't entirely his fault, he threw the ball a tad high to Josh Morgan and the ball ricochet off Morgans hands and into an Ricky Brown's. The thing is though, Shaun Hill wasn't too impressive either. Hill went just 3-7 f0r 20 yards and was sacked once. Due to Hill's experience though, I would assume that Singletary will lean towards him as the QB to start the year off as long as nobody separates themselves from the other over the next 2 weeks. I don't think Smith's totally lost his chance, but he's going to have to do something that helps his cause big time and he's going to have to thoroughly outplay Hill if he indeed wants to be QB1 to start the year. I'd like to see that happen, but I think Hill gives the Niners the best shot to win right now and I think he's going to be their guy on September 13th.

The passing game was quiet in the first three quarters, but once again, the 49ers running game was thriving. San Francisco rushed for 275 total yards, including a 129 yard outing from back-up tailback Glen Coffee, and a 97 yard day from back-up fullback Michael Robinson. The strong running game is a signal that the Niners offensive line could be a strength. I know it's just pre-season and all, but the 49ers are taking control of games on the ground, and that's the way I expect them to be with Singletary at the helm. Another positive to come out of Saturday's game was the solid play of rookie quarterback Nate Davis. The former Ball State stud went 6-11 for 73 yards and a score, which put the Niners right back in the game in the 4th quarter. If fact, it was Davis at the helm for the whole 4th quarter in which the Niners scored 17 points and ultimately beat the Raiders 21-20. I still think the plan with Davis is to have him on the practice squad to start the year as the team has 3 NFL experienced QB's in Hill, Smith and Damon Huard. I would actually like to see Davis make the active roster over Huard if only one of those guys could make it. Davis has upside and I think he's a little bit further along than anyone really expected at this point and I wouldn't put him getting an active roster spot to start the year out of the question if he puts up another game or 2 like he had vs. Oakland.

Don't worry Raider fans, we'll get to the Raiders side of the recap in our next post. This one ran a little longer than I had anticipated so we'll just save our Raiders talk for the next post, so stay tuned!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

49ers Fantasy Preview

We here at the Bay Area Sports Journal are definitely into fantasy sports, and I don't think there's any question about it that fantasy football rules the fantasy sports world. I would like to devote some time here at this site to talking a little fantasy football throughout the season, just to mix things up a bit. Today, I figured, would be a good time to start our preview of the top projected fantasy players on both bay area football squads, starting with the San Francisco 49ers.

Now, the 49ers are a team that's going to be very tough to predict what they'll do offensively. They don't even have their clear cut number one quarterback yet, and they still have some questions up front on the offensive line. Obviously, their most valuable fantasy performer, and the guy who's held that tittle for the last couple of seasons, is running back Frank Gore. The 26 year-old back is coming of a sub-par season for his standards. He was the 31st ranked player in Yahoo's fantasy football last year, gaining just 1036 yards with 6 rushing TD's in 14 games. Gore saw his production fall off mightily towards the end of the year, right in the midst of the fantasy playoffs, as he rushed for just 202 yards in the final four weeks of the '08 season. However, his good friend and bruising fullback, Moran Norris, is back for his second go round with the Niners, and the consensus is that he will help Gore and the Niners running game out tremendously. Gore had his best season of his young career in 2006, the last time he and Norris lined up in the same backfield, and I'm expecting a similar type year from the all-pro halfback. Look for him to finish among the top 12 fantasy players this year, if he can stay healthy for the whole season of course.

Outside of Gore, there really isn't much value, fantasy wise, on the 49ers offensive roster. Issac Bruce was serviceable at times last year as a back-up fantasy receiver, but as we touched on at the top of the post, the Niners haven't yet committed to a starting quarterback, which makes it even tougher to project how the receivers will go. There is also some hype surrounding first round pick Michael Crabtree, but he's still holding out and it's really anybodies guess as to when he'll take the field. I'm sure the Niners will eventually sign him, but it may not be until late in the preseason, which will definitely set the star receiver back in his first NFL season. Tight-end Vernon Davis is always an attractive fantasy option too, because of his crazy athleticism and pass catching abilities from the tight-end spot, but he's still looking for that breakout season in which he catapults himself into the upper echelon of NFL tight-ends.

As a defensive unit, the 49ers should be pretty average as far as fantasy rankings go. They are getting better and aren't nearly the laughing stock they were 2-3 years ago in the middle of the Mike Nolan era, but they still have some deficiencies. I'd probably try and steer clear from the Niners defense on my fantasy team, but they could be worth a look if your planning to play week to week match-ups, then they could be worth an occasional look.... Also, for those of you looking to do some NFL Wagering this season, be sure to check out our NFL betting forum for our expert picks!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

49ers, Raiders Victorious in Preseason Openers

First off, I'd like to apologize for the somewhat inconsistent posting schedule here lately at The Bay Area Sports Journal. School is just starting up again and we've been busy with that. So busy in fact, that we've yet to touch on both the Niners and Raiders' pre-season openers.

The 49ers started their 2009 exhibition campaign with a victory over the Denver Broncos. The big stars of the game from the offense were the Niners back-up running backs. Rookie Glen Coffee, who the Niners selected in round number 3 in April's draft, ran 14 times for 67 yards and a 4.8 YPC average. Coffee is tentatively scheduled to be Frank Gore's main back-up once the season starts, so it was good to see him get off to a solid start. Potential 3rd string back, Kory Sheets, also impressed on the ground, tallying 51 yards in 10 carries. Amidst the solid running performance, all of the spotlight surrounded the 49ers quarterback situation though. Neither Alex Smith or Shaun Hill were particularly impressive, but they didn't play bad. As expected, Shaun Hill started the game, but only threw 2 passes, both completions for 41 yards. Smith connected on 5 of 7 passes for 38 yards, including a 3 yard touchdown toss new back-up tight-end Jeb Putzier. Both QB's showed the ability to move the ball and run the offense, but this competition is just beginning, so keep an eye on it throughout the next 3 weeks... Defensively, the Niners had a standout game from another rookie, fifth round pick Scott McKillop. The rookie linebacker lead the team with 9 solo tackles, 5 more than the next closest defender.

The Raiders kicked off their exhibition stretch with a home game vs. the Terrel Owens'less Dallas Cowboys, and the Raiders quarterbacks had a field day against "America's Team". Three Raiders QB's combined for 280 yards through the air, resembling a high-powered college football spread offense. JaMarcus Russell didn't impress too much to start the game, going 6-9 with 50 yards while getting sacked once. One of the receivers the Raiders are counting on big time in '09, Chaz Schilens, had a nice game with 5 catches for 52 yards. However, Schilens broke his ankle in practice earlier in the week and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks because of it. The one area of major question for the Raiders heading into the year is that receiving corps. They have rookie Derrious Heywerd-Bey who they have high hopes for, but they don't really have anybody to show him the ropes. They're hoping for a bounce back year from Javon Walker, who was a major bust in his first season in Oakland last fall. If the Raiders are going to improve upon what they've done over the last couple of years there, they're going to need a couple of receivers to step up and help ease the load for Russell, Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas, and in the first preseason game of the year, they got it! If I were a sports betting type of guy, I still wouldn't bet on the Raiders to make any post-season appearance, but they do look much improved from the last two years.

Next up for both of these teams will be their annual preseason match-up, this time at Candlestick Park on Saturday. Mike Singletary has yet to name the Niners starting quarterback for that game, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Alex Smith get a shot in that one.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A's Green, Giants' Wheeler Still Unsigned

The deadline to sign major league draft picks from June's amateur draft is quickly approaching and both the A's and Giants still have some work to do before it does.

The last day to sign draft picks from this years draft is August 17th, just 2 days away, and apparently both the Giants and A's are getting closer to signing their top picks, but neither club has sealed a deal yet. The A's have their top pick from USC, shortstop Grant Green, who Billy Bean is confident will get signed by the deadline, but there hasn't been as much talk about the Giants pick. The Giants took prep right-handed pitcher Zach Wheeler with their first pick and at #5 overall in the draft. The thing with Wheeler though, is that he could end up going to college for a year or two if he and the Giants can't agree on something, so it's going to be crucial for the Giants and Brian Sabean over the next 2 days to get that kid inked. I'm not too sure about the contract and bonus Wheeler is looking for, but he should probably get something close to what the Giants gave Madison Bumgarner back in 2007 ($2.25 million).

The Giants did get their second round pick, power hitting catcher/infielder Tommy Joseph signed a couple of weeks back, as well as the high-profile right-arm they selected in the 6th round of the draft in Matt Graham. The big rightie from UNC was a potential top-3 round pick, but apparently sign-ability concerns caused some teams to drop him lower on their draft charts. As a fan though, I'm not panicking. First round picks always take a while to get signed and many wait right until the deadline until they do actually sign on. It happened with Buster Posey last year and we're seeing with both teams top picks this year, so I don't have any real concern about these guys not getting signed.

The other deadline that we're quickly approaching is the August 31st, waiver deadline, in which teams must add any player they'd want eligible for the postseason to their roster. I still am hoping the Giants can go out and add another bat or maybe another starting pitcher to help them out for the last month. The Giants are in the midst of a 2-5 stretch and it's getting to the point in the year where things are getting more and more crucial by the day. I do think the Giants still have enough on their roster as is, if Randy Johnson can return in September, to make a nice run at the playoffs and possibly even sneak in as the wild card team, but another solid bat to help out in the outfield, or maybe one more decent pitcher could really give them a shot in the arm. Ryan Garko has been a significant disappointment since he arrived late last month and I think the Giants were certainly counting on a lot more from the first basemen. It should be interesting to see if the Giants do add anything, or the A's subtract anyone, before we hit September!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A's Release Giambi

The A's made their first move towards officially rebuilding their roster on Friday. They gave long-time fan favorite Jason Giambi his unconditional release, ending the first basemen/DH's second go round in Oakland.

The releasing of Giambi was a move that made too much since for Billy Beane not to do. The A's have a long way to go to get themselves back to a respectable level in the AL West, and they may as well start their roster overhaul asap rather then waiting for the winter. Giambi was hitting just .193 with 11 homers and 40 RBI in 239 at-bats. His .193 average is the lowest average amongst regulars in all of baseball, and because of that his OPS was a measly .697 at the time of his release. Giambi really was hurting the offense more than he was helping, so this move shouldn't come to a surprise to many. Filling in for Giambi at first for the time being is long-time minor leaguer Tommy Everidge. The former Sonoma State star was drafted by the A's in the 10th round of the 2004 draft and hadn't yet made his big league debut until just a couple of weeks ago. I think the A's plan was to hopefully let Daric Barton take the reigns this year, but he's been injured and/or ineffective throughout the year, so it's going to be interesting to see what transpires at that spot for Oakland over the last 7 weeks of the year.

Right now, it looks like Everidge could be the guy to man first base for the A's in the foreseeable future. He absolutely tore up the minor leagues this season before his call-up. Combined between AA Midland and AAA Sacramento, Everidge hit .338 with 17 home runs, 85 RBI and 33 doubles. He really turned it on when he was moved from AA to AAA though. In just 173 at-bats for the River Cats, Everidge hit .382 with 9 bombs and 32 RBI. Last year in a full season in Midland, he hit 22 home runs with 115 RBI, so he's definitely a proven run producer in the minors. After Everidge, the next guy in line could be the A's top-10 prospect, Chris Carter. The 22 year-old powerful first basemen is tearing up the Texas League this year, and his play this year may place him atop the A's positional prospects heading into 2010. Carter's hitting .333 with 19 home runs, 86 RBI and 12 steals in 110 games (also had 39 homers in A in 2008). He's got a rare combination of speed and power which doesn't come often in the form of corner infielders, and this year he's really starting to realize that potential. That speed especially is a bonus. I'm looking forward to September 1st to see if Beane decides to let the kid get his feet wet up here and see if he's indeed ready to start manning first base at the big league level!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Training Camp Notes

NFL training camps have been running for over a week now, and there's been plenty of news coming out of the two bay area football camps recently.

We talked in the last post about how the Niners were still in negotiations with their first round pick, receiver Michael Crabtree. At first, it seemed like the #10 overall pick out of Texas Tech would be signed immediately after camp begin, however, that hasn't coming to fruition. In fact, he recently has stated that he has no problem sitting out the 2009 season if the Niners don't meet his contract demands, which are is at least 23.5 million in guaranteed salary, identical to what the Raiders gave Darrius Heyward-Bey. Crabtree was widely speculated to be a top-5 pick, and he wants to be paid like it, regardless of where he was actually drafted. I think Crabtree and his agent aren't handling this thing correctly. I mean, the kid has top-5 talent, but he's already making a bad name for himself with this holdout going on. Who's going to want to take a player who wouldn't sign with the team that drafted him, just because they wouldn't pay him like a player picked 5 spots ahead of him? At the same time, if the Niners let this guy get away from him, it would truly be a shame, and maybe one that really sets the organization back a little bit. I do really hope they can figure this thing out sooner than later though, because Michael Crabtree is definitely an offensive talent that the 49ers desperately need.

Over on the other side of the Bay, the Raiders made some news today as they shipped one of their top defensive veterans and team leader, Derrick Burgess, to the New England Patriots. They also have gotten good news regarding Javon Walker, a guy who they are hoping can become the #1 receiver after a disappointing and injury filled season in '08... Burgess collected 38.5 sacks in 56 games with the Raiders and was by far the team leaders over that span. He has fallen off a bit over the last 2 years though, as he has just 11.5 sacks over that span, but still has tremendous value as a pass rusher. He really wasn't going to fit into the Raiders plans this year though, as he's held out all of training camp waiting for the trade, so it's not like the deal came out of nowhere. The Raiders added Greg Ellis earlier in the spring and he figures to get a lot of the snaps that Burgess would have gotten. Second-year end Grayson Gunheim could also figure into the mix at right-end, opposite of Jay Richardson.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Crabtree Still Unsigned As Camp Begins

NFL Training Camp is in full swing league-wide, but the 49ers are not yet practicing with their top pick from April's draft.

Michael Crabtree and the 49ers are in fact still a ways off in their negotiation for Crabtree's first NFL contract. Apparently Crabtree wants to be paid like a top-5 pick since that's what kind of value he's bringing, while the Niners are trying to ink him to a deal more along the lines of other picks from that part of the draft. It doesn't sound as if this thing is too close to being worked out, so I'd be surprised to see Crabtree suit up for the team's first pre-season game on August 14th. Right now, the Niners have been running Issac Bruce and Josh Morgan with the first team offense and Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill and Brandon Jones all battling to be third on the depth chart. I think the Niners had originally planned to have Crabtree come into the year as the team's number 3 guy, so he doesn't need to be on the field for every single snap, but if this contract situation keeps him out into the exhibition season, then it will certainly effect his place on the depth chart. Coach Mike Singletart keeps saying that he's not worried about Crabtree situation, but I think the Niners should be doing everything in their power to get this guy signed sealed and delivered. Their passing game needs it!

In other news coming out of team headquarters im Santa Clara, Dashon Goldson is taking the reigns of the 49ers starting safety job, and it looks like third year cornerback from Texas, Tarell Brown, is going to give Dre' Bly a tough battle for that starting corner spot opposite of Nate Clements. Singletary raves about both Goldson and Brown's play-making abilities in the secondary, and has already named Goldson the starting free safety. And, although the consensus was for Bly to take Walt Harris' spot after they signed him in April, that's not turning out to be the case. Coach Singletary has stated that Brown has just as good a shot to start at right corner as Bly does, and both will battle throughout camp to determine who will indeed start the year as the teams right cornerback. Brown had a solid sophomore season in the NFL last year, recording 30 tackles, picking off 2 passes and deflecting 3 others. I still think that Bly will ultimately be named the starter to begin the season, but Brown should be one of the better nickle-backs in the league, and will eventually be a starter in the NFL.