The NFL season opens today, and a lot of things will have to break right for it to be a bearable one in the Bay Area.
In a quarterback-driven league, that starts with Colin Kaepernick and Derek Carr, neither of whom showed a whole lot in the preseason.
Kaepernick has regressed since he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl three seasons ago. (Has it really been that long?) To his credit, the guy has worked hard to upgrade his game since last season. His fundamentals seemed to have gotten better, but at 27, there’s only so much a guy can learn at this point. Like how to read defenses and pick out the best option on a given play, for instance.
At least Kaepernick has been part of a Super Bowl team before. Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst hasn’t yet. In fact, Chryst hasn’t been the lead guy anywhere since the 2000 season, when his San Diego Chargers offense ranked 29th overall with Ryan Leaf and Jim Harbaugh at the controls. Yep, that Jim Harbaugh.
Chryst likes to pound the ball between the tackles, throw to the flanks and deep downfield. That could mean a lot of Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, which might not be a bad thing at all. Just how new long-ball threat Torrey Smith fits in the equation is another matter, because Kaepernick hasn’t been particularly accurate on deep throws in his career.
It’s time for Kapernick to take the next step, and it’s up to Chryst to help get him there.
PROUD AND POISED? What’s new with Carr in his second season? Just about everything. He has a new center, a pair of new wide receivers, a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new system.
That’s a lot for a QB with one year of NFL experience to digest this early in the game, but if the Raiders really are as good as some believe, then he’ll have to get it done.
Bill Musgrave arrives with a long resume of mixed results with mostly mediocre talent around him. The OC likes to run the ball, and in Latavius Murray and Roy Helu, he has the guys to do it. The more they pound the rock effectively, the less Carr will have to feel the heat on third-and-long. He threw the ball way too much in his rookie season. He can’t wing it 40-plus times a game and be effective, let alone stay healthy.
Here’s the rub: The Raiders’ run game was stuck in mud in the preseason. Was that an aberration or the start of a trend? We’ll see.
So if Carr and Kap improve with more reps, and if they acclimate themselves quickly to the new personnel and systems, and if their offenses run the ball consistently, and if they keep unforced mistakes to a minimum, this can be a fun season for both sides.
But those are a lot of ifs right now.
CLIP ’N’ SAVE: Balls’ lead-pipe cinch, can’t-miss division picks:
AFC East: Miami Dolphins. Tom Brady and the Belicheats won’t overcome their wreck of an offseason. Next team up.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers. If only they had the Steel Curtain…
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts. Hey, look, a Stanford quarterback who doesn’t play in a straightjacket!
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe this Alex Smith guy ain’t so bad, after all.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles. Only the wrath of waived Tim Tebow can prevent it.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers. But the loss of Jordy Nelson douses their Super Bowl aspirations.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints. Only because somebody has to win it.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks. What the 49ers coulda, woulda, shoulda been.
Super Bowl: Seahawks over Colts. This time, Marshawn Lynch gets the darn ball on the 1-yard line.
THE DAILY HAYNE: The store clerks at Levi’s Stadium can’t wait to get their Haynes on you.
The mania over 49ers rookie Jarryd Hayne is so intense that the Australian import has the hottest jersey at the NFL’s online store right now. That’s right — hotter than that of Brady, Dez Bryant, Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt and everyone else.
Fans have waited upward of an hour for custom-made No. 38s at the Levi’s Stadium team store. Kids, women, men — everyone wants a piece of the one-time rugby player, it seems.
And to think that Hayne took up football just last October. Now how crazy is that?
“I’ll be honest with you — I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s crazy,” a stadium sales person said the other day. “Not only do I watch pro football, but I watch other sports, too, and this is unheard of. It’s incredible. His jersey is in high demand right now. He’s exceeded a lot of expectations transitioning into NFL football. He’s a wonder kid.”
And you thought Dellymania was big a few months ago …
LOOK, HUE’S BACK: Former Raiders coach Hue Jackson got a raw deal four years ago, when he was fired after an 8-8 season for no good reason, and he admitted that it took him a while to get over it.
“I think it speaks for itself what has gone on there,” said Jackson, who will return as Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator this weekend. “I don’t have to say anything. It’s been what it’s been. I do think it’s a very stable place now. [General manager] Reggie McKenzie and [coach] Jack [Del Rio] I’m sure are doing a fantastic job. They’ll be up for the challenge this week. They want to play. We want to play.”
If team owner Al Davis had been around, Jackson might have stayed a while. It was Davis who promoted the Raiders’ offensive coordinator, but he passed away less than three months before the dismissal.
Dennis Allen replaced Jackson, and we all know how that turned out. Since his departure, the Raiders haven’t won more than four games in any season. And only once did they as much as break even in the nine seasons before his arrival.
“That [divorce] was hard,” Jackson admitted. “We were kind of close. I thought we were. But we just didn’t get it done. At the end of the day, it’s still a performance business. I thought we had a chance to make the playoffs, and we didn’t do it.
“They can decide to go into a different direction at any time, and that’s what they did, but I’m beyond that now. That’s in the rear-view mirror.”
JUST SAYIN’: The Pittsburgh Steelers-New England Patriots head-banger figures to be the highest-rated Thursday Night Football telecast in history. And Balls can’t help but think that Patriots owner Robert Kraft and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will have a good laugh over a $75,000 bottle of Cognac sometime soon.
THE LIST: Favorites (local and otherwise) to win Super Bowl 50, per VegasInsider.com: