Thursday, May 23, 2013

What to Do Without Crabtree?

Even if your a casual football fan in the Bay Area, I'm sure you heard the news circulation Bay Area sports talk waves Wednesday after news surfaced that the 49ers may very well be without #1 wideout Micheal Crabtree for most or all of the upcoming 2013 season.

What a tough break to hit a team with Super Bowl aspirations heading into next season, especially after the way Kaepernick and he built such a good rapport in the second half of 2012. If your not up on the details yet, Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon in the 49ers OTA's on Wednesday and immediately went under the knife to get it repaired. The initial thought after the injury was that maybe Crabtree would avoid injury and miss 3-4 months, but after surgery became necessary, his 2012 season immediately went into doubt. The tentative timetable coming out of 49ers headquarters is 6-months, which if true would put him back in position to return to the field towards the end of the regular season. Jim Harbough has made it quite clear that he's not counting out having his top wideout at some point in 2013, but most believe the injury will take closer to 8-10 months to fully heal. Whether it's 6 months and Crabtree's back for the last quarter of the season, or he misses it completely, the 49ers have just lost one of their top offensive weapons and they're going to have to address the issue.

That trade for Anquan Boldin is looking mighty good right about now, but even with Boldin in tow, the return of Mario Mannigham and the expected improvement from A.J. Jenkins, the 49ers have to go our and fill Crabtree's spot with another proven pass catcher that will take up some defensive attention. There's always the option to make a trade, but now that the 49ers are in obvious need, teams could really hold them for ransom. The one name I've seen that is intriguing and could be available is Tennessee's Nate Washington who has some big play ability and has put up decent numbers with below average quarterbacks with the Titans. The most likely addition, if they make one however, will likely come via the free agent market. There still could be other names hitting the market in the coming weeks, but right now I'd say their top target would be former 49er Brandon Lloyd. The 32 year-old showed signs of being a top wideout with San Francisco early in his career, but didn't quite start thriving until he arrived in Denver in 2010 and became Kyle Orton's number one target. Lloyd has had some injury issues in his career, but turned in a decent season in New England last year, putting up a 74/911/4 line while playing 3rd fiddle to Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Lloyd is intriguing because of his ability to stretch the field whereas Boldin and Manningham are more intermediate route runners.

While I fully expect a new addition to be made to the receiving corps by July, the 49ers are still going to need their players internally to really step up in Crabtree's absence. The two guys I'm talking about in particular are Vernon Davis and A.J. Jenkins. Davis fell of the face of the earth after Kaepernick took over for Smith last season, and those two must find a connection with each other this summer. Also, A.J. Jenkins was a major bust in year number one, although he did have quite a few guys ahead of him on the depth chart. If they're going to overcome the loss of Kaep's favorite target, they have to find him a new one, and both of those guys will have to be better and more consistent in 2013.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Warriors Thriving in Underdog Role

I have to admit, even I had my doubts about this team coming into the postseason after David Lee went down and without seeing much in terms of production out of Andrew Bogut. Instead though, the Warriors head into play Friday night looking to take a 2-1 lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference Semifinals.

As has been the case this whole season for Golden State, as each player goes down, it seems the Warriors just keep getting stronger and stronger. Early on, it was Andrew Bogut who couldn't get on the court, and many thought it would to a rough start for the Dubs. Then Festus Ezieli and Carl Landry each stepped up big and the Warriors instead thrived out of the gate. Coming into the postseason, just as Andrew Bogut starting finding his rythym, the Warriors lost their other big man, David Lee to what many thought would be a season-ending hip injury. After that happened, I don't think many outside of the Bay Area gave the Warriors a glimmer of hope in round one vs. Denver. Again though, they had other players step up and help overcome the loss of their 20-10 machine in Lee. Harrison Barnes has excelled in the postseason, Jarret Jack has been a steady veteran infleunce almost like Baron Davis was in 2007 and although it's taken a year and some change, the Warriors are finally reaping benefits from the Monta Ellis trade. It's taken a true team effort to get the Warriors to where they are. They really should be taking a 2-0 lead into the game Friday, but by coming back and taking game two after blowing that 16 point lead in the waning minutes of game one is a testament to what kind of fight this team has.

Now, the Warriors could lose the next three games, and be out of the tournament and it would still be considered a great season by Golden State's standards. The players know that, and I think that this team is really taking that underdog role and riding with it. It reminds me a lot of the Giants in 2010, as they weren't necessarily the best team in the game that year, but rode that late season momentum and became an unstoppable force in the playoffs. Mark Jackson's role in this run cannot be overlooked either, as he's seemingly pushed all the right buttons so far and has kept his team in the right mindset all year despite all the injuries. Jackson has this team in a defense first mind-set and they've all bought into the system and have executed it well. Since Lee went down, Jackson has had to mix and match starting lineups, going with a small, three-guard look with Jarret Jack, but he switched it up and used Draymond Green in the starting lineup Wednesday to give the team a little more defense. Despsite Green not lighting up the stat sheet, it worked out well defensively for Golden State and I wouldn't be surprised to see that same lineup take the court Friday night.

Note: David Lee is still listed as active for this series, but I highly doubt we'll see him make any kind of impact. That being said, should the Warriors advance past this round and make it to the Western Conference Finals, it wouldn't surprise me if #10 wills his way back into the starting lineup. He's still having some issues pushing off of his right leg, which would hamper his play inside, but he is practicing and is getting some of that strength back each day.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

49ers Draft Review: Eric Ried, Tank Carradine

As the dust has settled on the NFL draft, we wanted to go back and take a look at some of the 49ers top draft choices and examine what they could bring to the table for the 2013 season.

We'll go ahead and start out with the top two picks, starting with first rounder Eric Reid. Obviously, if you followed the draft at all, you know the 49ers moved up 12 spots in round one in order to ensure they got the man they hope to be their replacement for DaShon Goldson. Reid is a big-hitting free safety, who excels at coming up and helping in the run game but can also drop back and do a good job in pass-coverage. He was projected to go towards the end of the first round, which makes me wonder whether the 49ers traded up with the idea of using pick 18 on Reid, or if they had someone else in their sights. Nonetheless, Reid was the choice, and I like it. I saw him play extensively in LSU's game vs. Alabama last season, and he certainly stuck out as one of the top defenders on the field. I think the best way to describe him would be "ball hawk". He's always around the ball ready to make a play, as evident by his 91 tackles in 2012. He's good in space and has good instincts. If there's an area that is a bit of a question mark with him is his speed and whether he'll be able to keep up with some of the faster receivers at the next level. Overall, I have to give them a B for this pick, as it does meet a need and Reid should be a fine NFL safety, but I do believe they could have gotten him at 30.

Eric Reid highlight video here.

With their second pick, the 49ers grabbed impressive Florida State defensive end, Cornellius "Tank" Carradine. They definitely needed to add some depth to that defensive front, and Carradine was a sound choice at the end of round two. The 6'4", 275 pound end can supply the pass rush (11 sacks in 2012) and knows how to penetrate the O-line and get in the backfield to make plays (13 TFL). I expect Reid to be starting in week one, but it also wouldn't surprise me if Carradine works his way into the lineup as well. The question for him will be his health. He's coming off a torn ACL and was limited in his draft workouts, but is expected to be ready for full participation by July. Scouts have drawn comparisons between he and Justin Tuck, so that should give you an idea of what kind of strength and power this kid plays with. If he can stay on the field and keep getting better, I think the 49ers will wind up extremely pleased with this selection down the road. Outside of the Marcus Lattimore pick, which we'll discuss later, this was my favorite pick of this draft for the 49ers.

Conellius Carradine highlight video here.