<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Sports News, Sports Teams, and Scores for the Sharks, 49ers, Raiders,Giants, Bears and More]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com en-us Wed, 01 Apr 2015 20:24:44 -0700 Wed, 01 Apr 2015 20:24:44 -0700 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[SF Giants Unveil "What's New" at AT&T Park in 2015]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 16:16:07 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/giants_media_day_open_house_logo.jpg The San Francisco Giants held their annual Media Open House at AT&T Park Monday to unveil "What's New" at AT&T Park for the 2015 season. This is the 16th season AT&T Park has been open.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[USOC Says It Won't Drop Boston Olympic Bid]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 05:48:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/217*120/470969827.jpg

The U.S. Olympic Committee is standing behind Boston's Olympic bid despite a published report suggesting it might drop the city's push for the 2024 games if public support doesn't improve.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, which chose Boston as its city to nominate for the summer games, issued a statement denouncing the Wall Street Journal story claiming the bid could be pulled. The report, published Tuesday, cited people familiar with the U.S. Olympic Committee's plans.

"We believe that Boston can and should lead America's bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we are absolutely committed to our partnership with Boston 2024 and their innovative concept for hosting the Games," USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said. "Any suggestion that we are considering alternatives is simply not true."

Poll numbers have shown falling public support for the 2024 games in Boston. But the organization Boston 2024 says it believes it can turn that support around.

"Boston 2024 has enjoyed the unequivocal support of our partner, the United States Olympic Committee, since we were designated in January," Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey said. "Boston 2024 and the USOC will conduct polls from time to time during this bid process to ensure we are on track to win a majority support. In fact the IOC requires it. We welcome this initiative and we are confident that all polling over the coming months will reveal a significant increase in public support as we continue to inform and engage the people of Boston and Massachusetts about the long-term and sustainable benefits of the Games."



Photo Credit: FILE - Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[For Now, Wilhoite is Back in 49ers' Plans]]> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 19:16:06 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/175*120/whillhoyte.jpg

The past month has been interesting for Michael Wilhoite.

Less than a month ago, in early March, several reports surfaced that the 49ers’ inside linebacker was being offered in trade.

Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee, tweeted on March 4 that, according to sources, the team was trying to trade Wilhoite, who started all 16 games in 2014. The reasons were obvious.

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, two All-Pro inside linebackers, were expected to return from injury, while 2014 rookie sensation Chris Borland was also in the mix.

That left Wilhoite – who filled in for Bowman in 2014 – as the odd man out.

As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted at the time, the 49ers were hopeful that Wilhoite, 28, might produce a late-round draft pick in return.

But with the retirements of Willis and Borland, the reports of Wilhoite’s trade died quickly.

Now the former undrafted free agent is expected to start alongside Bowman in 2015.

Wilhoite, who’d been a capable fill-in for Willis and Bowman in 2013, played well in a starting role, and it’s likely he’ll be better this coming season with a full season of experience as a starter.

In 2014, Wilhoite had 87 tackles, the second highest total on the team, had two interceptions and was solid against both the run and pass.

Late in the season, when Wilhoite and Borland were both in the lineup, former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was enthusiastic about their play.

“They are playing great with a capital G, and rising to that level (of Willis and Bowman),” he told reporters. “It is great to see.”

The 49ers are much too thin at inside linebacker now, however, and are looking for more help at the position. They likely will take an inside linebacker in the draft, and they reportedly have been talking with veteran free agents Lance Briggs, Erin Henderson and Philip Wheeler. Also, on Tuesday, they signed veteran free agent Desmond Bishop, who finished last season on the 49ers roster.

But for now, at least, it appears Wilhoite is back in the 49ers' plans for 2015.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Antonio Smith Became Expendable for Raiders]]> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 19:13:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/204*120/antsmythgone.jpg

When the Raiders released veteran defensive tackle Antonio Smith Tuesday, it was a bit surprising.

Smith, after all, had started every game in 2014 and, as ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson noted, “was considered a leader on the team.” Even though the Raiders signed free agent Dan Williams and have young Justin Ellis at the tackles, Smith was considered a candidate to be a third tackle for 2015.

But with a price tag of $4 million (against the cap) in 2015 – and with unimpressive numbers of 20 tackles and three sacks – GM Reggie McKenzie decided to cut the 33-year-old Smith loose Tuesday.

For some Raiders observers, it was yet another sign that McKenzie’s free-agent class of a year ago was a disaster. Though McKenzie has stocked the roster this off season with young veterans in their 20s, last year’s crop was filled with 30somethings with recognizable names – but on the downhill side of their careers.

Smith joins defensive end LaMarr Woodley, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Matt Schaub (acquired in a trade, not free agency) as high-priced, too-old players acquired last season that have now been released or have retired.

Wrote Marc Sessler of NFL.com: “It’s another reminder of McKenzie’s gaffe-prone movements during a 2014 off season that saw him overpay for a rash of over-the-hill veterans.”

The Raiders still have plenty of money to spend on free agents – or by taking on expensive talent in a trade – with the draft still coming up on April 30, so the extra salary-cap space earned by releasing Smith will give McKenzie even further spending room. It seems certain that at some point McKenzie will acquire another defensive tackle – probably much younger – to fill Smith’s role.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ex-Seahawks Linebacker Smith Sharpens Raiders' Defense]]> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 12:30:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/MalSmythe.jpg

Malcolm Smith can make a difference in games, even without being a high-profile, high-impact player.

The versatile linebacker, who signed as a free agent with the Raiders recently (two years, $7 million), spent his first four NFL seasons in Seattle where he started just 16 of 57 games. And, with the Raiders, it’s unlikely that Smith will earn a starting spot in a three-man group that should feature Khalil Mack and Sio Moore on the outside, with free-agent addition Curtis Lofton in the middle.

But Smith can be an exceptional role player, as he showed in the 2013 season. The former USC standout was the Most Valuable Player of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII victory over Denver, as he returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown, recovered a fumble, was in on nine tackles and had two passes defensed.

By bringing in Smith, new Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. are adding competition to the linebacker mix and a player who – though he’s mostly played on the outside – can also play inside. And Norton knows him well, having coached him at USC and then at Seattle. He should be able to play to his strengths and know when best to use the 6-foot, 226-pounder.

In four seasons with the Seahawks, Smith, 25, was in on 129 tackles, had two sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles.

In Seattle in 2014, Smith’s playing time diminished. With a healthy and strong linebacking corps, Smith found it tougher to get on the field, playing in less than 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Del Rio recently told reporters that Smith should get plenty of snaps as a starter this offseason while Moore rehabs from an injury. Just his presence and experience in a winning program may help elevate the linebacking play and defense in 2015.

“I believe in making it competitive whenever we can,” Del Rio said at the recent NFL meetings, according to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “There are some guys that you could pencil at this point and say, ‘Yeah, that’s their spot,’ but even those guys are going to be pushed. Nobody’s just going to walk in. It’s not like we’re returning from the Super Bowl and have things figured out. We have a lot of work to do and competition is going to be a big part of it.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Questions About McDonald Force 49ers to Seek Tight End Help]]> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 12:05:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/vanceatte.jpg

When the 49ers selected Rice tight end Vance McDonald in the second round of the 2013 draft, general manager Trent Baalke cited all the things to like about him:

His 6-foot-4, 267-pound frame, his 34 3/8 arm length, his huge hands and his versatility. At Rice, McDonald was used all over the field – close to the tackles on some plays, in motion or split outside like a wide receiver on others.

The 49ers liked him so much, they even moved up in the round to get him.

And, Baalke wasn’t the only one who loved McDonald. Former Dallas Cowboys executive and current NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said at the time: “I love Vance McDonald. This is an excellent athlete. He’s big and he’s fast and I thought he was the second best tight end out there.”

The Niners had lost versatile backup tight end Delanie Walker, but Brandt believed McDonald could step right in to replace him.

“He’ll be able to do all the things Walker did for them,” Brandt told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch shortly after the draft. “I’m excited to watch him develop.”

Yet McDonald hasn’t developed as a playmaker in the NFL, and that has caused problems for the 49ers. Last season they didn’t get nearly enough from starter Vernon Davis, and McDonald didn’t add much, either.

Plagued by a back injury in 2014, McDonald played in just eight games and had only two catches for 30 yards. In his rookie season of 2013 he played 15 games – developing into a much better blocker than the team believed he would be – but caught just eight passes on 19 targets for 119 yards.

So in two seasons McDonald – who was known as a reliable receiver at Rice with soft hands – has just 10 catches and been thrown to only 27 times.

Now the 49ers go into the April 30 draft hoping to get help at the tight end position in a season when the talent available at that position is thin. Also, the 49ers are looking at getting help at so many positions now – at cornerback, wide receiver, guard, inside linebacker and defensive line – that the development of McDonald into a pass-receiving threat could have at least put this position to rest.

Recently, a report by David Fucillo of SB Nation indicated the 49ers have met with tight ends Clive Walford of the University of Miami and Cameron Clear of Texas A&M.

Since joining the 49ers, McDonald has had some trouble with drops. Also, he’s been unable to gain the confidence – or attention – of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Now McDonald is rehabbing after surgery to correct a problem with a disc issue.

After two seasons, the 49ers certainly aren’t giving up on McDonald. He’s diligently improved his blocking abilities and has been a hard worker. And, last season, former head coach Jim Harbaugh said McDonald had shown steady improvement. “We look forward to this (injury) being a bump in the road for him,” said Harbaugh.

But it certainly seems likely that the 49ers will be looking for another tight end in this draft to sharpen the competition behind Davis and challenge McDonald, Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek for a roster spot.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Landlord Says A's Pitcher's Dog Needs Resume for Apartment]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 13:12:53 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/175*120/176420838.jpg

Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan were asked to write a resume for their dog in order to rent a San Francisco apartment. 

The prospective landlord told the couple, "Think about it a little more in depth than what you would do for yourself," Dolan told SFGate. She had fun with the assignment, giving their Rhodesian Ridgeback Stella an imaginary degree from "DePaw University" and fictional awards like "Oakland's Hella Well-Behaved."

Ultimately, Doolittle and Dolan did not get that apartment, but they were told it was because their car is too big for the garage.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Browns GM Suspended 4 Games for Texting]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:51:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Cleveland-Browns-Ray-Farmer.jpg

The NFL sent a tough message to Browns general manager Ray Farmer for texting.

However, the league didn't delete any of Cleveland's precious draft picks.

Farmer has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for sending text messages to the sideline during games last season. The league announced its punishment on Monday, ending an investigation that hung over the franchise during yet another turbulent offseason and threatened to undermine the Browns' upcoming draft.

Farmer, who acknowledged sending the messages weeks ago, will not be paid during his suspension. The league said his ban begins on midnight of the Sunday preceding the Browns' first regular-season game and will end immediately after the fourth regular-season game. Farmer cannot be involved in any club matters and is prohibited from being at the team's offices, practice facility or games, the league said.

"I respect the league's decision and understand that there are consequences for my actions," Farmer said in a statement released by the Browns. "Accountability is integral to what we are trying to build and as a leader I need to set the right example. I made a mistake and apologize to Jimmy Haslam, (coach) Mike Pettine, our entire organization and our fans for the ramifications. Learning is a big part of who I am and I will certainly be better from this situation."

The Browns were also fined $250,000, but that's pocket change considering what they could have lost.

Cleveland has 10 picks in the upcoming draft, including two in the first round (Nos. 12 and 19) and six of the first 115. The Browns, who went 7-9 last season, could be positioning themselves to make a run at one of the top quarterbacks, and losing any assets would not only have weakened their bargaining power, but prevented a team with several holes from adding young talent. The Browns haven't been to the playoffs since 2002 and have had just two winning seasons since 1999.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, who has remained supportive of Farmer, has said the team is committed to finding a franchise quarterback. The team signed free agent Josh McCown , backup Thad Lewis and is waiting for Johnny Manziel to be released from rehab.

During its investigation, the league said it found no evidence that Haslam or other team executives knew about the texts.

Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations, said Farmer used a cellphone on "multiple occasions" during games in 2014. League rules prohibit teams from using any electronic devices beginning 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of a game. The rule forbids communication to the sidelines, coach's booths, locker room or any other club-controlled areas. The only exceptions are the league-issued tablets coaches use for still photos.

The texting inquiry was just one of several issues to hound the Browns this winter. Along with Manziel's trip to rehab, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a messy departure and troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended by the league for at least one season for multiple drug violations.

Throughout the inquiry, Haslam professed his loyalty to Farmer, who was promoted in February 2014 when team president Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired.

"We accept the league's ruling," Haslam said. "Ray made a mistake and takes full responsibility for his role in violating the policy. It is critical that we make better decisions. Ray has tremendous integrity and I know has great remorse for what occurred. We are all committed to learning from this and making the Browns a stronger and better organization."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nicks Hoping to Revive Career With 49ers]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:33:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/Niqcs.jpg

In his first three NFL seasons, Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks had the look of a longtime star.

After 47 catches in his rookie season of 2009, Nicks pulled in 79 for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 and added 76 the next season for 1,192 yards and seven TDs.

The former North Carolina star, 6 feet tall and 210 pounds, was both quick and fast, able to break loose on short or deep routes.

But over the past three seasons, Nicks’ star has dimmed. He had 53- and 56-catch seasons for the Giants in 2012 and 2013, then moved on to the Colts where he had just 38 catches for a career-worst 405 yards and a 10.7-yard average in 2014.

Injuries to a knee and foot, it seemed, had taken away his ability to separate from defensive backs. As Kevin Patra of NFL.com noted, “Nicks’ career trajectory nosedived after his stud 2011 season. Injuries helped dissipate his explosiveness.” And, wrote Patra, he started dropping passes – something he rarely did early in his career.

Now Nicks has told ESPN that he’s scheduled to visit the 49ers Monday, and the veteran free agent could provide the Niners some veteran depth.

Though the 49ers are expected to address the wide receiver position in the upcoming draft, it’s possible the team could wait until the second round and take a defensive player in the first round. If so, Nicks could be someone that GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Tomsula may believe still has much more to give than what he showed in 2014 with Indianapolis.

Nicks would give the 49ers another option behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and some competition for Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Jerome Simpson.

Nicks, just 27, has not drawn much interest in free agency after playing out his one-year free agent deal with the Colts.

Nicks was healthy enough to play all 16 games last season and says he’s now ready to prove he can be a playmaker. He’s just looking for another chance and says he’s learned a lot after trying to work through his various injuries.

“Now I am extremely healthy,” he told reporters at the end of the Colts season. “Looking back on it now, I think that’s something that I just had to go through. My body was adjusting. Coming into the NFL, I had never missed a game due to injury, so I look at it like it was just my way of getting broken in. Injuries come with the game. It was just a matter of missing time or not.”

Now, he’s hoping to revive his career with the 49ers.

 

 

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<![CDATA[3 Giants Players Who Impressed in Spring Training]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 00:26:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/465316116.jpg

As the final week of spring training approaches, it's time for the San Francisco Giants to decide who goes north to AT&T Park.

Some established players already have a spot on the team, but others must earn their way to the big club in 2015. Here are three players who impressed this spring.

1. Matt Duffy

Although Duffy had clutch postseason moments last year, it was no guarantee he would make the team in 2015. With his impressive spring, he could provide bench depth for the Giants. So far, he is hitting .383, with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 47 at-bats. He also has a very good on-base percentage of .420. And he's got wheels too, as we saw in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series when he scored the tying run from second base on a wild pitch in the 9th inning. Duffy could be a valuable piece off the bench for the Giants in 2015. And as of Sunday night, he is still on the Giants' active MLB roster.

2. Casey McGehee

One of the major questions the Giants faced in 2015 was how the Giants would replace third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The Giants' answer was to acquire the Northern Californian native McGehee in December in exchange for minor league pitchers. Well, the Giants have to feel a bit better after McGehee's spring. He's off to a great start with his new club, hitting .306 in 19 games. Although he doesn't have a home run this spring, he's a line-drive hitter who uses all fields and will get on-base. With the reduced overall power in the Giants' lineup heading into the season, he should help keep the line moving from the sixth spot.

3. Daniel Carbonell

With the Giants' outfield depth shrinking with injuries to Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan, they may have someone who could make an impact later in the season. The Giants signed the Cuban outfielder Carbonell as a free agent last year and has impressed so far this spring. In 15 at-bats, he's hitting .333, with a .421 on-base percentage, two home runs, and five RBIs. He could be the leadoff man of the future, especially with Juan Perez failing to grab a role with the team and Pagan's lingering health issues. Carbonell is not on the active roster as of Sunday night.

Who also has had a good spring:

  • Brandon Belt, .352 average, three home runs, nine RBIs, .470 on-base percentage, 54 at-bats.
  • Gregor Blanco, .326 average, .392 on-base percentage, three triples, 46 at-bats
  • Justin Maxwell, .316 average, .361 on-base percentage, two home runs, 11 RBIs, 57 at-bats
  • Sergio Romo, 1.59 ERA, 5.2 innings pitched, 8 strikeouts
  • Chris Heston, 2.40 ERA, 15 innings pitched, .192 average against

Follow Vince on Twitter @Vince_Cestone



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sold-Out Crowd Descends on Levi's for WrestleMania]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 17:44:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/WM31_03292015ca_2266.jpg

A sold-out crowd of 76,000 screaming fans descended on Levis Stadium for WrestleMania 31 — also known as the Super Bowl of wrestling. Tickets weren't cheap either, some wrestling fans paid more than $10,000 for a ticket. That helped make it the highest ever grossing event ever for WWE. It raked in more than $12.5 million.

Fans said it was well worth it.

After four days of buildup, the gates to the main event opened at 1:30 p.m. The crowd was loud and enthusiastic all night.

Joe DiBenedetto came from Fresno to watch the show. He said he had a great time at WrestleMania.

“The charisma, the camaraderie — everybody around us," DiBenedetto said. "It was like one, big happy family. And I mean you got to see some old characters, new characters, arising, departure. Everything was great.”

Fans watched as Sting stepped into a WWE ring after 14 years of anticipation, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was named a Hall of Fame inductee. Also, East Bay native The Rock paid a visit to the event.

But 15-year-old Damian Prado had his own highlights.

"I got to spend time with my father, and not just that, but I also got to spend time with the WWE Universe," Prado said. "So, it was awesome.”

WrestleMania 31 drew an international crowd with fans from 40 countries. People like Frankie Lawrence came from Bedford, England.

”This was a dream come true, coming across to America for the first time and actually watching my dream, WrestleMania,” Lawrence said.

Many jumped on light rail and came directly from a fan event at the San Jose Convention Center. The trains were definitely crowded, and many people had to stand for the trip.

"The light rail was an easy way to get from the hotel and convention to Levi's Stadium. You don't have to worry about car and parking parking and all the hassles," WrestleMania attendee Jason Heinitz said.

For those who opted to drive, many complained about a major backup once they got off Highway 101 and tried to make it to the stadium. But late Sunday afternoon, that seemed to clear up.

After the event, the parking lot cleared out within 45 minutes.



Photo Credit: WWE]]>
<![CDATA[WrestleMania Takes Over Levi's Stadium]]> Sun, 29 Mar 2015 14:55:13 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/160*120/wrestlemania_hall_of_fame_set1.JPG

Wrestling fans have had lots to do before the main WrestleMania event Sunday evening.

At the SAP Center Saturday, a WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony inducted some of the biggest legends in wrestling into the Hall of Fame. And some of the biggest names in wrestling were there to honor them.

Several wrestling stars on the red carpet have ties to the Bay Area, including Roman Reigns, who will be wrestling tomorrow in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Levis Stadium against Brock Lesnar.

Roman said he has lots of family in the Bay Area. So does Eva Marie from the show "Total Divas." She was born and raised in Concord and graduated from Northgate High School. She said she is thrilled WrestleMania will be held at the new Levi's Stadium.

"I think Levi's Stadium is phenomenal," Marie said. "I can't wait for us to go in there and perform tomorrow night. I think it's great for the community. It brings so many people out that wouldn't normally come out to Levi's Stadium because it's the 49ers spot. So now that WrestleMania is there, it's bringing so much awareness to that facility. It's awesome."

Brett Heart already has been inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. He said he is happy to have played a role in making wrestling so popular.

Seventy-one-thousand fans are expected to attend Sunday's event at Levi's Stadium. But on Saturday, it was all about honoring the legends as they are inducted into the Hall of Fame, including Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

VTA said it is ready to handle tens of thousands of fans. The system has had some practice, with a whole season of 49ers games under its belt. The big difference is that tomorrow, many more fans will be from out of town. And they will be using the light rail line for the first time.



Photo Credit: Christie Smith]]>
<![CDATA[Giants vs. Dodgers on NBC]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:47:22 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/169*120/455605300_8.jpg

It's Giants vs. Dodgers tonight at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area!

Chris Heston takes the mound for San Francisco against Donald Greinke for Los Angeles in this spring training match-up.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter as we live-tweet the game on @NBCBayArea and @GiantsCove!

Because tonight's game is airing on NBC Bay Area, you can watch regularly scheduled NBC programming on COZI TV (Comcast Ch. 186) or on broadcast channel 11.2.

Here's the Friday night primetime schedule:

7:00 p.m. -- San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers on NBC Bay Area

9:00 p.m. -- "Dateline" on COZI TV (Comcast 186) and over-the-air Channel 11.2

10:00 p.m. -- "Grimm" on NBC Bay Area (following the conclusion of the Giants game). PLEASE NOTE: In the event that the Giants game runs long (past 10:25 p.m.), "Grimm" will air Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.

For full Giants coverage, visit The Cove.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[V. Stiviano Calls Shelly Sterling a "Bully" During Testimony]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:49:00 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/224*120/3-26-15_Sterling-Stiviano.JPG

Former Clippers owner Donald Sterling's alleged mistress took the stand Thursday in a lawsuit by Sterling's wife to try to recover millions of dollars in money and gifts she says her husband gave his mistress.

V. Stiviano was defiant, sarcastic, and rarely cooperative as she took the witness stand.

She again denied that she and Donald Sterling had an affair, while at the same time, saying they loved one another.

She was often evasive when answering how much money Sterling actually gave her. She was often blunt but also confusing.

Stiviano was pointedly questioned Thursday afternoon by the attorney for Shelley Sterling.

Sterling is suing Stiviano to try to get back the millions of dollars in money and gifts she says her husband improperly gave her.

Stiviano said, "I do not hate Shelly Sterling," but she also said "she is an evil witch. She is a bully."

Regarding the marriage of the Sterlings, she said, "I can't break something that's already broken."

It was Stiviano's recordings of Sterling's comments about African Americans that forced him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers and banned him from the NBA.

Stiviano again denied being romantically involved with Sterling, but acknowledged he gave her tens of thousands of dollars, up to $300,000 between 2011 and 2013.

She also admitted using 10 of his credit cards to purchase various gifts. But she denied that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank deposits came from Sterling and also denied Sterling bought her a $1.8 million duplex.

Pierce O'Donnell, Sterling's attorney, said Stiviano had no job since 2010.

"She had no money in the bank," he said.

In court Wednesday Sterling described Stiviano as an ex-friend. But Thursday Stiviano said they spoke as recently as Sunday and said that they love each other.

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<![CDATA[Autistic Boy Forced to Remove His Letter Jacket]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:40:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/214*120/LetterJacket.jpg A mother is outraged after her son's school forces him to remove a varsity letter jacket because special-needs athletes aren't allowed to wear the letters.]]> <![CDATA[Bush Should Add Excitement to 49ers Offense]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:29:40 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/192*120/regbushlyons.jpg

It was just two seasons ago that Reggie Bush was one of the NFL’s most dynamic running backs.

With the Detroit Lions in 2013, Bush rushed for 1,006 yards and caught 54 passes for 506 yards. It was a career-high 1,512 yards from scrimmage for Bush in his eighth season in the NFL.

Now Bush, who just turned 30, will be in a 49ers uniform in 2015. Thirty is the age many running backs begin to go downhill. But the 49ers believe Bush is still an incredibly dangerous and exciting player who can be especially effective as part of a three-headed running back corps with Kendall Hunter and Carlos Hyde.

New 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula told reporters at the NFL Meetings in Arizona this week that he believes Bush can still “be an every-down back” and can be used in a number of ways. Tomsula dismissed the notion that Bush is simply “a gadget guy” who only will be used on third downs when his pass-catching abilities come into play.

Tomsula noted that the 49ers will try to play to Bush’s strengths, getting him the ball in positions where he can make use of his quickness.

“Reggie’s a very good space player,” said Tomsula.

Bush had a down year in 2014 because of injuries, playing in just 11 games – a big change from the previous three seasons when Bush missed only three games total. But even in a subpar year he was effective for Detroit, catching 40 passes and averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The previous three seasons, Bush has averaged 4.5, 4.3 and 5.0 yards per rush.

Playing to the strengths of Bush, Hunter and Hyde will be one of the prime tasks given to new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Instead of having Frank Gore as the team’s primary ballcarrier, the 49ers will have a trio they can keep fresh.

Said Tomsula: “They’re all just a little bit different. So as we get rolling here and we throw the ball out on the field, let’s take a look at what each guy does and build off that.”

Bush, too, seems excited to be back in his home state, ready for the next chapter of his career.

Tweeted Bush, upon agreeing with the 49ers: “The best is yet to come #49ers.”

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Despite Missing on Stars, Raiders Improved in Free Agency]]> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 07:52:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/179*120/ddanwmsz+10-23-33.jpg

The Raiders didn’t make the big splash in free agency that many had predicted.

They didn’t come away with defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, running back DeMarco Murray or one of several playmaking wide receivers.

Yet in the estimate of some, the Raiders made big strides forward through free agency, anyway.

A panel of ESPN.com NFL analysts this week awarded the Raiders a grade of B+ so far in free agency, the fifth-highest grade among all NFL teams.

Former NFL scout Matt Williamson wrote that the Raiders have used free agency to make themselves deeper and better in several areas.

Oakland has so far signed a league-high 10 players.

“The Raiders got way stronger at the two pivots, right up the middle with their big guys, which was a huge problem,” he wrote, citing the signing of former Chiefs center Rodney Hudson and former Cardinals defensive tackle Dan Williams.

He also liked the addition of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Nate Allen.

Though Williamson wrote that “ideally” the Raiders would have added one of the biggest available players – such as Suh or Packers wideout Randall Cobb – he believes the Raiders are much better now with their volume of signings.

New Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio – as would be expected – also was positive this week about what the team has done in free agency in a sort of low-profile way.

“It wasn’t sexy, but it was a very effective, methodical approach to fill our needs,” Del Rio said this week, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Plus, the Raiders still have money to spend – they could add more players in free agency or pick up a big salary or two in trade – and have a full hand of drafts picks, including the fourth overall.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said one of the goals of this offseason was to get better and stay young, giving this roster a chance to grow and improve together. The average age of the signed free agents is only 26.2 years, Tafur reports.

In the past, the Raiders often have gone after older players with big names but perhaps past their prime.

“We wanted to get some guys (who) are in their prime and will give us a few years,” McKenzie told the Chronicle. “We felt like the leadership that we have now, we can just add to the roster to get better.”

 

 

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<![CDATA[Former UNC Coach, Dean Smith, Leaves $200 to Former Players]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 19:45:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/80261754.jpg

Every letter winner who played for former North Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith, was granted with a heart-warming suprise a month after his death: $200 dollars from his estate.

A letter sent to 180 players was sent from Smith's trustee, stating: "Each player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his letterman. Accordingly, Coach directed that following his passing each letterman be sent a two hundred dollar ($200.00) check with the message 'enjoy a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.'

Smith, who died at age 83 last month, went 879-254 in his years at North Carolina, landing him in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. However, Smith was also known for the compassion he had for his players.

In 1965, Smith helped a black North Carolina graudation student, Howard Lee, purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood during segregations. A year later, Smith intergrated the Tar Heels, recruiting Charlie Scott, who became the first African-American scholarship player in the school's history.

Serge Zwikker, who played for Smith from 1993-1997, told ESPN: "My wife opened the letter and handed it to me. At first  I didn't know what it was, but when it hit me, it put a tear in my eye. Even after he passed, he was still all about this players."

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<![CDATA[Top Sports Photos 2015]]> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 15:33:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nba-AP393099046962.jpg Click to see dramatic sports photos from the NFL, to basketball, baseball and more.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Wisconsin Basketball Player Accidentally Admits Crush]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:13:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2015-03-26-at-5.37.13-PM.jpg

Cattywampus. Onomatopoeia. Antidisestablishmentarianism. For Nigel Hayes, University of Wisconsin  basketball forward, these are the words of a modern love letter.

Hayes answered reporters covering the NCAA March Madness tournament with these arbitrary words in a press conference a couple days ago, stumping everyone in the room.  Hayes originally joked that he wanted to break up the monotony of the stenographer’s job with some unique words.

A reporter kicked off the latest news conference asking Hayes if he wanted to say anything to the stenographer, Debra Bollman, before they began, in which he responded: “syzygy”.

A hot mic then picked up Hayes whispering to his teammate, “God, she’s beautiful.” His eyes lit up when he heard laughter in the room. He asked Bollman, “Did you hear that?” She responded “yes” before Hayes covered his face with his hands in embarrassment.

While it's not yet known whether Hayes’ “soliloquy” will help him get a date with Bollman, he can at least say he's made her day more interesting.


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<![CDATA[Cooper a Safer Pick for Raiders Than White]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 09:17:54 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/amkooper.jpg

Ever since West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White had a terrific showing at the NFL Combine, he’s been mentioned as perhaps the best player at his position in the draft.

The Raiders, with the fourth overall pick, are hungry for a play-making wideout, and White suddenly became an option for them at that position, along with Alabama’s Amari Cooper.

In fact, most mock drafts have the Raiders selecting either White or Cooper at No. 4.

Both may prove to be terrific NFL players. But according to some, Cooper is the much safer pick because of his work ethic and more consistent performance and more polished techniques. And if there’s one thing the Raiders absolutely cannot afford, it’s to make a mistake with their top pick. A whiff at No. 4 would be devastating.

Bill Williamson, who covers the Raiders for ESPN.com, wrote this week that he believes Cooper “seems to be the perfect choice at No. 4,” and cites the evaluation of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

“(Cooper) has ‘work ethic’ tied to his name as much or more than any great player in the draft,” Kiper wrote. “I think he’s your best bet to be a No. 1 wide receiver against seasoned NFL defensive backs early in his career as any wideout in this draft.”

Last year, the Raiders took another player with a strong work ethic, linebacker Kahlil Mack, and Mack showed he’s ready to star in the NFL. The same could be true of Cooper.

“Over the years, supremely talented receivers who also come with a strong work ethic usually are sure bets to have a long, impactful career,” wrote Williamson.

That opinion was echoed by the Scout NFL Network in its evaluation of Cooper. Its report of course cited the production numbers of Cooper at Alabama: 228 catches, 3,463 receiving yards and 31 touchdown catches in just three seasons, along with his precise routes, good hands and ability to go up for the ball.

But the Scout NFL Network report also adds this:

“Cooper is a perfect role model for the team’s younger players with his work ethic and takes well to hard coaching. He is called the team’s hardest worker by the coaching staff and a great program type that will do anything to get the job done. He pushes himself hard in games and practices and plays until the whistle.”

Scout NFL ranks Cooper as the No. 1 wideout in the draft, ahead of DeVante Parker of Louisville and White.

Former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, who now writes for NFL.com, wrote recently that “scouts favor White; coaches seem to like Coooper.” He added that, “The different views make sense because scouts/GMs think long-term potential; coaches are more inclined to like guys who are ready from Day 1.”

It will be interesting to see which way the Raiders go on Draft Day.

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Chryst and Kaepernick are Keys to Better Red-Zone Offense]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 09:17:08 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/187*120/redzonekapgeep.jpg

New 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula held court with reporters this week at the NFL’s annual meetings in Arizona, and talked about a number of topics related to his team.

One subject he addressed was how excited he is to see quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s development after working with former standout quarterback Kurt Warner and coach Dennis Gile for several weeks in Arizona.

The work – on everything from mechanics, footwork, fundamentals and the study of defenses – could pay off in a number of ways in 2015.

One key area could be the 49ers’ efficiency in the red zone.

In 2014, the 49ers ranked 29th of 32 teams in touchdown efficiency in the red zone, according to Dan Mori of Bleacher Report.

The inefficiency could be attributed to a number of factors: injuries along the offensive line, mistakes by Kaepernick, the play calling or the disappearance of tight end Vernon Davis from the red-zone playbook.

But with a new offensive coordinator, Geep Chryst taking over for Greg Roman, it’s likely that the 49ers will have a different approach when they get inside an opponent’s 20-yard line in 2015, and that approach could be even more effective because of the work Kaepernick has done this offseason. If, in working with Warner, Kaepernick has learned through film study how to better read defenses and deliver the ball more efficiently on short patterns, San Francisco could be scoring seven points more often than settling for three.

In addition, Chryst’s offense could be more dynamic in the red zone, with a return to more read-option and pistol sets that can give the 49ers more run-throw options.

Under Roman, the 49ers offense often was terrific. But it also stagnated near the goal line. When the 49ers had a chance to win the Super Bowl and then the NFC Championship Game a year later in Seattle, the final play Kaepernick was given each time was a fade route to Michael Crabtree – a difficult, finesse pass that can be tough to execute. And, he didn't.

Now, after Kaepernick reportedly spent a great deal of time in Arizona working on short passes, and with an offense under Chryst that may be more creative near the goal line, those red zone numbers for the offense in 2015 have a chance to get a lot better.

And that could be great news for a team in transition that will need to take advantage of every opportunity in its first year under Tomsula.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bengals' Devon Still: My Daughter Kicked Cancer's Butt ]]> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:45:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Devon+and+Leah+New.jpg

After months of treatment, constant updates on social media and nationwide support, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still shared the news he hoped to hear for over a year. His daughter, Leah's cancer is officially in remission.

"Today we received news from Leah's oncologist that her cancer, stage four neuroblastoma, is officially in REMISSION! After 296 days of day dreaming about what it would feel like to hear the doctors say my daughter is in remission, I finally know the feeling," Still said in an announcement Wednesday on his Instagram page.

Still and his daughter have captured the hearts of millions of people nationwide since she began to receive treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in June. Leah, who had a tumor removed from her abdomen back in September, completed her latest course of chemotherapy last month.

"It was not easy but every day, and every treatment Leah fought like hell and kicked cancers butt!" he said in his post.

Devon Still, a Delaware native and former Penn State Nittany Lion, was cut from the Cincinnati Bengals in August of last year. But the Bengals re-signed Still to their practice squad in order to help him pay for his daughter’s medical treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer.

The Bengals have said Still is considering a one-year deal to play next year. 

Still’s No. 75 jersey quickly became the team’s top seller after the Bengals decided to donate proceeds from his jersey sales to the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati and pediatric cancer care and research. More than $1 million have been raised from sales of the $100 jersey, according to the AP. 

Still has kept his followers updated on his daughter’s progress through social media.

 

 


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<![CDATA[Niners Hope Wright Can be a Playmaker]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:29:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/193*120/shareecenowinsf.jpg

New 49ers cornerback Shareece Wright went into last season with the Chargers as a backup and emerged a starter.

In his fourth year in San Diego, the former USC defensive back had started 13 games in 2013, but looked destined to play a smaller role in 2014 with the addition of veteran free agent Brandon Flowers and top draft choice Jason Verrett.

Yet when injuries impacted both, Wright stepped in, started 14 games and had his best season, playing a career-high 784 snaps. He finished sixth on the team in tackles (60) and broke up 10 passes.

The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Wright was praised by Chargers coaches for his tackling and run support. He still had flaws in coverage, allowing a 95.5 passer rating when opposing quarterbacks targeted the receiver he was covering. But, that was an improvement from the 99.9 rating he allowed in 2013.

Another red flag: He also led all NFL cornerbacks in pass-interference penalties, with eight.

Still, Wright showed consistent improvement since his rookie season and was a valuable player for San Diego. But with Verrett and Flowers targeted as starters, the Chargers knew Wright was likely headed elsewhere in free agency.

When the 49ers signed him recently to a one-year, $2.95 million deal, general manager Trent Baalke told reporters that Wright would be in the mix for a starting cornerback job opposite Tramaine Brock, following the loss of Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox in free agency.

Brock, Wright and second-year men Dontae Johnson and Jimmie Ward now appear to be the top four candidates to fill the two corner jobs and the nickel cornerback position -- although a cornerback also could be added in the draft.

Baalke said the four corners could give defensive coordinator Eric Mangini a chance to mix and match defenders based on matchups and situations.

Baalke also compared Wright’s signing to the signing of cornerback Carlos Rogers in 2011. Rogers had played six seasons in Washington and had been an under-the-radar signing, but turned into a Pro Bowler in 2011 when he intercepted a career-high six passes – just two less than he’d intercepted during his entire tenure in D.C.

“I look at him a lot how I looked at Carlos Rogers when we brought Carlos in,” Baalke said. “They’re guys who have played at a high level in this league and have shown they can go out and compete as starters. And you’d expect him to come in and compete as a starter, as well.”

Whether he can come into the 49ers secondary and start to make plays as Rogers did, however, seems a long shot. In four seasons, Wright hasn’t shown the best of hands. He has 20 pass breakups in 44 games played – including 27 starts – but has just one interception.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New York Yankees Pay Homage to "The Sandlot" in New Ad]]> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 05:10:37 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Brett-Gardner-Yankees-Rangers-0729.jpg

The New York Yankees are paying homage to classic baseball movie “The Sandlot” with a recreation of its famous Babe Ruth scene.

The ad, which stars Brett Gardner as the innocent Smalls who unknowingly plays with a ball signed by the legendary Ruth, was posted to MLB.com Tuesday.

C.C. Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius also make appearances in the spot.

Watch the video below:



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Niners May be Seeking Veteran Help at Inside LInebacker]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 08:46:12 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/erinbacker.jpg

With the 49ers obviously concerned about their thin corps of inside linebackers, the team reportedly is searching for options in the ranks of free agents.

In particular, the Niners have been linked to former Bears standout Lance Briggs and former Viking Erin Henderson.

Henderson, just 28, might be the more intriguing candidate with more upside at this point of his career.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reported that Henderson held a workout in Arizona this past weekend and that the 49ers were one of seven teams that attended. With the surprise retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, San Francisco must shore up its depth and ability at the position.

Henderson, a starting inside linebacker, had his best season in 2013 when he had 112 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, but did not play in 2014 after he was released by Minnesota following two DUI arrests late in the 2013 season, Barrows reported.

Briggs, meanwhile, is 34 years old and has played just 17 games over the 2013 and 2014 seasons because of injuries.

While Briggs has been an outstanding player and leader on the Bears over 12 seasons, it would seem his signing would be a long shot. He’s been a seven-time Pro Bowler, but at his age, it’s hard to see how he would be an improvement over Michael Wilhoite, who started all of last season for the 49ers.

The 49ers, who were awarded two compensatory picks in this year’s draft – a fourth- and seventh-rounder – will have nine picks, and could also seek some help at the position with a rookie.

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raiders Still Have Money to Spend]]> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 08:45:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/181*120/Markqspyndmuney.jpg

The Raiders have been busy in free agency, signing players such as defensive tackle Dan Williams, center Rodney Hudson, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Nate Allen.

Each figures to start, plus the Raiders have brought in running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Christian Ponder, linebacker Malcolm Smith, corner James Dockery and tight end Lee Smith for depth and specific roles.

But with about $22 million still to spend under the 2015 salary cap, team owner Mark Davis wants his franchise to continue to bring in more talent. A team that went 3-13 last season can’t afford to overlook a single player who might upgrade the roster.

On Monday, Marc Sessler of NFL.com tweeted that, “Mark Davis said he’s happy with the moves the Raiders have made in free agency, but made it clear: ‘We aren’t done yet.’ ”

It will be interesting to see where the Raiders spend their money, however. The top line of free agents already has signed, and many of the big names left on the market have drawn lukewarm interest.

Oakland needs to upgrade at wide receiver, tight end and at guard, and the team needs another good pass rusher and more help at cornerback.

One thing the Raiders have shown they aren’t willing to do anymore is spend money on players over 30 on the downside of their career.

So, former 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree, only 27, would still make sense and might be a nice fit for young quarterback Derek Carr. And Dwayne Bowe, too – though 30 – has been productive and knows the AFC West having been the No. 1 receiver in Kansas City for several seasons.

Linebacker Mason Foster, also just 26, is an aggressive, experienced former Bucs linebacker who averaged close to 90 tackles per season from 2011 to 2013 before losing his role in a new defensive system in Tampa Bay.

Another option, according to Levi Damien of SB Nation, might be that the Raiders at some point could make a trade to fill a need and take on a big salary – if they don’t like what they see in free agency.

Right now, they still have money to spend but it’s not certain where they’ll spend it.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Might Brooks Be a Candidate to Play Inside Linebacker?]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 09:16:27 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/ahmadinthemiddle.jpg

With the retirement of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, the 49ers now are shallow at a position that seemed so deep just a few weeks ago.

If NaVorro Bowman comes back fully fit from a season lost to injury, one of those slots should be in good hands. And, Michael Wilhoite – who started last season in Bowman’s absence – would figure at this point to be the other starter.

But what about Ahmad Brooks or Aaron Lynch? Might the 49ers consider moving either outside linebacker to the middle?

At this point, both are ticketed to compete for an outside linebacker spot. The veteran Brooks and second-year Lynch are both adept pass rushers, an area the Niners very much need.

But Brooks, who’s 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, has played on the inside before. The former standout at the University of Virginia played 13 games at middle linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals in his first two NFL seasons. Now, perhaps, the 31-year-old Brooks might be able to move back inside to challenge Wilhoite while giving Lynch more opportunities in 2015 on the outside.

It was thought after last season that Brooks was a candidate for a trade or release. He’d had a subpar season – his tackles and sacks were down – and he’d had some conflicts with the coaching staff.

But recently, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said Brooks and his $3.5 million base salary for 2015 will return.

“There has never been an indication from me otherwise,” Baalke told the San Francisco Chronicle. “… It was speculation based on our cap number and the cash flow that we had leading into free agency. A lot of assumptions were made, but wrongly.”

It’s still possible, of course, that if Brooks does stay with the 49ers, he and Lynch can share the outside linebacker position, with Lynch providing more rush potential and Brooks playing more on passing downs. According to James Brady of SB Nation, Lynch rushed the passer 90.8 percent of the time the opposing QB dropped back to pass, while Brooks rushed just 72.9 percent of the time.  And, while taking about 100 fewer snaps than Brooks in 2014, Lynch had six sacks, eight quarterback hits and 27 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Brooks had six sacks, five QB hits and 11 QB hurries. Lynch graded out better on run defense, according to Brady, but Brooks graded higher in pass coverage.

It could be interesting to see if new head coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini might experiment this spring with putting Brooks inside. His size certainly would work in the middle against the run, and he’s aggressive, quick tackler who might pair well with a healthy Bowman.

 

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Middle Linebacker Lofton Should Stabilize Raiders Defense]]> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 08:32:20 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/189*120/loftyatMLB.jpg

For much of his football life, new Raiders middle linebacker Curtis Lofton often has overperformed while being underappreciated.

At the University of Oklahoma, Lofton was a prolific tackler. As a junior in the 2007 season, he had 157 tackles, which ranked third in the nation. In his three seasons as a Sooner – even as a frehman on special teams – Lofton had a knack for finding the ball and making plays.

But at 6-feet-2 and 238 pounds, Lofton is neither ultra big or super quick and he slipped to the second round of the 2008 NFL draft before being taken by the Atlanta Falcons – even though he had been the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Yet since that first season, Lofton never has missed an NFL game and has started every game but one. He started for four consecutive seasons at middle linebacker in Atlanta, before moving on to start three consecutive seasons at inside linebacker for the Saints. Over 112 games he’s been in on 899 tackles – more than eight per game – while also collecting seven sacks, forcing 11 fumbles and intercepting three passes.

Now Lofton, who signed a free-agent deal with the Raiders, will step into the middle of the Oakland defense at middle linebacker to firm up an area of weakness. Nick Roach had played well in 2013, but was forced to miss all of 2014 because of injury. That pushed Miles Burris into the middle linebacker slot – out of his comfort zone. Last season Burris – who had played outside linebacker – missed a number of tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, and wasn’t a strength.

Now with Lofton in the middle – a solid defender against the run and a leader – new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. appears to have a strong threesome with mobile Khalil Mack and Sio Moore on the outside and Lofton in the middle.

Lofton, at 28, is still young but has plenty of experience.

The key phrase often mentioned in connection with Lofton is “tackling machine,” which was used by Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, who covers the Raiders, when the team signed him.

“He had 144 tackles last season and has had at least 123 tackles in each of the past four seasons,” wrote Williamson. “The knock on Lofton is he is not great in (pass) coverage, but he is a good, solid signal-caller for a defense.” Williamson called Lofton “an upgrade” who – in connection with other signings – such as defensive tackle Dan Williams and situational linebacker Malcolm Smith – should make the Raiders much stronger.

Upon signing, Lofton told reporters he wants to be a leader.

“I think my role here is I’m going to be the middle linebacker and kind of quarterback the defense,” he said. “Kind of help these young guys get lined up. Take charge and they brought me here to win.”

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>