Report: 49ers hire ex-Broncos DC to lead secondary

The 49ers will bring former Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods to San Francisco to join their coaching staff, according to a report from NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo.

Woods would work under current 49ers defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, as the defensive passing game coordinator, per the report. Saleh will enter his third season as the defensive signal caller for San Francisco.

The 48-year-old Woods was the Broncos’ defensive backs coach in Denver before becoming the defensive coordinator, which he’s been for the last two seasons. He’s also coached defensive backs for the Buccaneers, Vikings and Raiders. The 49ers’ previous such coach, Jeff Hafley, left the club to help run The Ohio State University’s defense.

Woods and Saleh have some work to do. The 49ers had just two interceptions from the defense in 2018, setting an NFL record. Nothing went right after franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL early in the campaign. With some more balance on the squad, Woods should have no problem increasing the number of interceptions for the 49ers in 2019.

Richard Jefferson says Cleveland would have defeated Warriors in 2017 if not for Kevin Durant

When Kevin Durant joined the Warriors on July 4, 2016, everything in the NBA changed.

Former NBA forward Richard Jefferson believes the move cost him a second championship ring. He says his Cavaliers, the team that defeated Golden State’s 73-win squad in the 2016 Finals, would have won again in 2017 if not for Durant, according to Jefferson himself via The Players’ Tribune, per NBC Sports’ Ali Thanawalla.

“It genuinely pisses me off that we didn’t repeat as champions. I should have two rings,” Jefferson said. “(F***ing Kevin Durant, man!!!)”

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the Cavaliers, led by star forward LeBron James, would have won another title if not for Durant’s free agent move to Golden State. Jefferson does have reason to be confident, however. The Warriors fell apart after forward Draymond Green’s suspension after Game 5 of The 2016 Finals and squandered a 3-1 series advantage.

But those Warriors didn’t win 73 games by accident. What could have been a rematch for the ages turned into a no-contest when Durant was added to Golden State’s already deadly lineup (putting aside the fact there are no guarantees in an alternate universe where Durant signs elsewhere).

Richardson is retired now, and he’s just thinking on what could have been. But he’ll just have to be content in beating the record-breaking 2016 Warriors squad led by Steph Curry, Green and Klay Thompson. Those three players won it all without Durant in 2015, and they would have been capable of getting revenge on their own.

With Durant, however, the team turned into a dynasty that is still going. The team will go for their third consecutive NBA championship in 2019, and the Cavaliers as we know them are gone, with James having moved on to the Lakers. And that’s just what the situation is, no revisionist’s history needed.

5 takeaways from Warriors’ romp vs Bulls

The Warriors overwhelmed the visiting Bulls from the opening jump Friday and won their third straight game after losing to the Rockets in overtime a week ago. Klay Thompson hit three consecutive 3-pointers to start things off, and Chicago never had a chance, losing 146-109.

It was Thompson’s backcourt mate, Steph Curry, that hit a career milestone, however. Curry headlined the happenings from this last game of a homestand before the club travels to play Dallas on Sunday.

Steph Curry|Moving up the 3-point ladder

Stephen Curry
Warriors at Wizards 02/24/15

Steph Curry moved past former NBA guard Jason Terry into third place in all-time 3-pointers made, going 5-11 from distance. He had 28 points in 27 minutes and sat out the fourth quarter.

His efficiency in this particular game is vintage Steph Curry, and it speaks to how he could already be on the heels of former NBA guards Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. They needed far more career games to eclipse 2,000 3-pointers made, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater.

Curry continues to melt minds with his devastating impact on the court, all set up by his deadly 3-point shot that can be unfurled at any instant. If Curry stays on course, he’ll smash this record.

Warriors to play stretch of national TV games after Cousins’ expected return

The Warriors are having a subpar season — for their high standards in the Steve Kerr era, anyway. Coach Kerr’s bunch is 27-14 as the year hits the halfway point, and they haven’t been themselves.

Golden State’s hunt for a third straight NBA title has barely begun, however. And All-Star center Demarcus Cousins hasn’t even joined the party yet. He’ll finally return from an Achilles injury suffered as a Pelican, reportedly on Jan. 18, according to ESPN’s Marc Spears.

Coach Kerr didn’t confirm the exact date, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, but did verify his timeline lines up closely with Spears’ report.

Assuming Cousins returns on Jan. 18, he’ll join the NBA Champs at the start of a rough road trip — in front of a national audience. Here’s the Warriors schedule, and TV schedule for that stretch, courtesy of Slater.

That Clippers game, on ESPN, is right at the start of the Warriors’ toughest road trip of the season. It includes games at the Lakers (on TNT), Celtics (on ABC), Wizards (on TNT) and Pacers (on NBA TV). Cousins is about to get tossed into the fire and under the microscope.

Now, everyone can see how Cousins reacts to the challenge of jumping into a championship chase while coming back from injury. The whole NBA world will undoubtedly be watching.

Cousins’ signing with the Warriors rocked the Association. It was a rare case of the rich hitting the lottery. Cousins actually called Golden State and signed a very team-friendly one-year deal.

If Cousins can incorporate himself into the team, the Warriors may be impossible to beat. Injuries to Steph Curry and Draymond Green, an uneven season from Klay Thompson and a near falling out between Green and forward Kevin Durant have knocked things a bit sideways.

But everyone knows Cousins, the four-time All-Star, is on his way. The Warriors can’t truly mesh until all their stars are healthy, so Cousins’ return will be must-watch TV — for those that love the Warriors and also those that don’t.

Raiders legend Cliff Branch bolstered by support as he waits on Pro Football HOF

Raiders legend Cliff Branch is still waiting to hear from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he’s got the support he needs to get him to that glorious moment.

“The Raider Nation, Raiders.com, the Raider organization, a lot of the sports writers, that goes into representing me. Art Shell, and former players like Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Mike Haynes and Marcus Allen and you know, guys speaking up for me, that I deserve it. It’s very supportive, man,” Branch said from National Sports Memorabilia in Petaluma, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Branch, 70, was selected as an NFL All-Pro three times, and he won three Super Bowls with the Raiders. Branch made an impact in the big game, and in the playoffs in general. He was the NFL’s all-time leader in playoff catches and yards when he retired in 1985.

A former world-class sprinter at the University of Colorado, Branch helped form the identity of one of the NFL’s most iconic franchises. The Raiders are known, to this day and likely forever, for having speed to burn. Without Branch, a fourth-round draft pick by legendary former club owner Al Davis, it’s questionable whether the Raiders would have that reputation — or own three Lombardi Trophies.

Branch has to be selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors Committee in order to make it to Canton. It didn’t happen this year, as the group nominated former Chiefs safety, Johnny Robinson, according to the PFHOF official website.

But Branch is still optimistic. A good word from another Raiders legend bolsters his spirits.

“John Madden says it’s gonna happen,” Branch said. “He says ‘be patient and stay alive.’ I truly believe it’s going to happen, I think about 2019, 2020.”

Branch is well aware of the fate of fabled Raiders quarterback, Ken Stabler and his wait for the Hall of Fame. One of the most worthy players of being immortalized in Canton, Stabler passed away before the honor was bestowed upon him.

“He got his due, but he just didn’t get a chance to enjoy it,” Branch said of his one-time QB.

That heavy reality doesn’t seem to weigh on Branch. He’s lively as ever — interacting with fans while signing autographs, and performing charity work in Sacramento. He still awaits word from the Hall of Fame, but the support he gets from Raiders fans and players and even adversaries makes the time more than bearable.

Raiders legend Cliff Branch offers thoughts on potential last game at Coliseum

Legendary Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch is signing autographs this holiday weekend at National Sports Memorabilia in Petaluma while he prepares for what could be his old team’s last game at the Oakland Coliseum.

But for Branch, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders, Monday night’s game against the Broncos doesn’t carry the feeling of finality.

“To me, it’s not the last game yet. I don’t feel it’s the last game because it’s not official,” Branch said.

The Raiders have broken talks with the city of Oakland in relation to renting the Coliseum for one more season. Team owner Mark Davis brokered a deal to move his club to Las Vegas, and his team will play there starting in 2020.

The Raiders were supposed to play 2019 in Oakland. Now, multiple options are on the table, including San Francisco’s AT&T Park. It still remains a possibility the Raiders will play in the Coliseum in 2019.

But when the Raiders and Broncos kick off Monday night, nobody will know the Coliseum’s fate with certainty. With the date of the Raiders’ departure from Oakland possibly moved up an entire year, fans, players and anyone affiliated with the team will have to put their emotions on hold until an official word.

“If we knew it was the last game, that’s when it’s real and it hits really hard,” Branch said.

Raiders’ Lincoln Kennedy talks Jon Gruden, Derek Carr from #vanlife tailgate presented by 76

Lincoln Kennedy looked a bit out of place sitting in the front seat of a 1975 Volkswagon Microbus. But it was fitting. Kennedy — a former All-Pro offensive lineman with the Raiders — was telling the story of how his illustrious football career began.

The 6-foot-7 Kennedy, who’s not far from his playing weight of 335 pounds, stood out for his size when he was discovered by his high school coach, John Shacklett, as well. He was as big then as he is now, and while he was on the football field when Shacklett first saw him, he had yet to play a snap. Kennedy was playing trumpet for the school marching band.

“He asked me what grade I was in,” Kennedy said of Shacklett. “I told him ‘ninth grade.’ He said, ‘You’re coming out for football in August.’ And the rest is history.”

He was cruising to the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where he represented the conference at a tailgate put on by the game’s sponsor, 76 gasoline. While there, Kennedy revealed insights about his primary employer, the Oakland Raiders. After broadcasting from the sideline for years, Kennedy is now the team’s color analyst.

Kennedy is perfectly positioned to be in the know in regards to the Raiders’ first-year coach, Jon Gruden. He played for Gruden during the coach’s previous stint in Oakland, and he also played against him in Super Bowl XXXVII. Now, Kennedy covers his old coach’s new Raiders squad.

Gruden’s return was supposed to bring a Super Bowl run before the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020, but the plan has floundered. Gruden and the Raiders traded superstar defensive end Khalil Mack before the season began and shipped Pro-Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper out of town once the campaign was off the rails. The team is 2-10 heading into their Week 14 game against the Steelers.

“They’re just not very good,” Kennedy said. “It’s nothing personal. They still have to learn how to play with one another, they still have to have other weapons.”

But they still have franchise quarterback Derek Carr. The relationship between him and Gruden is of the utmost importance moving forward. The Raiders are rebuilding again, after building up to a 12-4 record in 2016, but Kennedy says the season may have been destined to go this way.

“With the money Khalil Mack was asking for, even if they were to strike a deal, I don’t know how you could [keep Carr, Mack and Cooper]. You might be hog-tied by those contracts and really prevent you from building depth,” Kennedy said. “Khalil Mack’s a game changer and you see what he’s been able to do with Chicago, but they also have a few more pieces on defense. It’s not just him doing his own thing.”

Chicago’s defense does have more players in place to help Mack thrive. But one thing was clear after the first day of Gruden’s return campaign: The Raiders may have traded their season away in dealing Mack.

Mack’s career with the Bears started with a tsunami-sized splash on Sunday night football Week 1. He recorded a sack, a forced fumble, an interception and a touchdown. The Raiders were waiting to play on Monday night against the Rams and undoubtedly saw the show — or at least heard all about it.

The Mack deal was an appropriate re-introduction to the NFL for Gruden, according to Kennedy. The coach last patroled an NFL sideline in 2008 with the Buccaneers, and he’s faced plenty of questions about whether he could thrive in the league today.

“He’s the same. The game is the same,” Kennedy said. “The only thing that’s different is the attitude of the players. That’s something that Gruden has to get used to and he also has to deal with – the business side with the players. Now, there was always the salary cap when he was coaching so it’s not anything new”

“But the economics of it has to weigh into how you conduct business as a general manager slash head coach. These are all things Jon Gruden needs to be prepared for in today’s NFL.”

Quarterback Derek Carr’s contract is a good example of that. Carr’s $25 million salary made it difficult to pull the trigger on a deal for Mack, who is now the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

Carr earned his deal by playing at an MVP level in 2016. The Raiders were on an upswing at the time, and they’ve got to rebuild around their fifth-year quarterback once again. Carr’s play has suffered in spots this season, leaving some to doubt his standing with Gruden.

But Kennedy sees a quarterback that’s playing at a disadvantage.

“He doesn’t have enough weapons to go to. Secondly, his offensive line hasn’t done a good job protecting,” Kennedy said of Carr. “So how can you truly evaluate him when all these obstacles and circumstances are against him?”

The Raiders traded Cooper, the man that was to be their No. 1 target. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant have both battled injury. Running back Marshawn Lynch is out for the year. And the offensive line has allowed 39 sacks this season, the most since 2006.

The poor performance from the line comes despite heavy investments in the front five. Center Rodney Hudson and guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson are all signed to lucrative deals. Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller is a first-round pick, and the Raiders traded up to draft right tackle Brandon Parker two rounds later.

The line’s development, like the entire rebuilding process, will take time, according to Kennedy.

“Offensive line play is hell-bent on consistency. It succeeds when you keep the guys together,” Kennedy said. “There is so much miscommunication and non-communication between say, Parker and Jackson on the right side, and Kolton and Kelechi are getting a little bit better. But still, when you watch other teams run stunts and games against this offensive line, see how quickly those guys break down.”

Kennedy was Gruden’s starting right tackle from 1998-01, only missing two games and making the Pro Bowl team twice during Gruden’s first tenure in Oakland. Kennedy was voted All-Pro in 2002, the year the Raiders lost to Gruden’s Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.

The Raiders offensive line was a force during all five of those campaigns. They blocked for quarterback Rich Gannon, who was the league MVP in 2002. Gannon was an elite scrambling quarterback that had mastered Gruden’s offense, and he had superb skill players around him. Yet Gruden and Gannon were known to argue on the sideline and elsewhere, much like Carr and Gruden have been spotted doing.

“[They argued] quite a bit. I mean they were constantly against one another,” Kennedy said of his former coach and QB.

Kennedy says the creative friction between Gruden and Gannon was beneficial, and the same dynamic can work with Gruden and his new pupil, Carr.

“You want to have sort of that combative nature. You basically have two quarterbacks going at it,” Kennedy said. Gruden was a backup QB at Dayton in the early 1980s. “One sees one thing and the other sees the other thing.”

Carr needs to mimic Gannon in one other way, according to Kennedy.

“I think the relationship could work because I do think that Derek Carr’s a quarterback that can make every throw. However, he has limitations. This offense has limitations. I firmly believe that there are times when Derek holds onto the ball too long. He should just take off and run — much like Rich Gannon did,” Kennedy said.

Gruden agrees with his former lineman.

“We would like to get more rushing yards from him because he is capable of doing it,” Gruden said of Carr, during the Raiders’ Week 14 edition of In the Huddle with coach Gruden.

Gruden also said this about being able to make something out of nothing: “That’s what I think the great quarterbacks do.” Gruden was talking about Colts QB Andrew Luck before Indianapolis came to Oakland Week 8.

Kennedy says Carr’s key to unlocking a Gannon-like command of the offense, whether he becomes a scambler or not, is to make his thoughts a bit more elementary.

“There are times when Derek overthinks things. Gruden’s offense really is simple. It really is. But if you tend to complicate it or try to over-read things then you put yourself in a disadvantage.

“And he tries to come off [the field] and explain himself, why he’s thinking, and that infuriates Gruden. It’s dropping drives. It’s not scoring points. It’s giving up a turnover, it’s that type of thing,” Kennedy said.

And that’s where the Raiders are right now. A depleted roster stitched together with Gruden-endorsed veteran free agents, an underperforming offensive line, and a high priced coach and quarterback that have to figure each other out and lead the franchise.

But the Raiders have assets — five first-round draft picks in the next two years, thanks to the Mack and Cooper trades, and loads of salary cap space. Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie had a good draft haul in 2018, and their magic needs to continue if the team is to be on the rise again in 2020.

The Raiders franchise found some magic when they signed Kennedy in 1996. A former No. 9 overall pick for the Falcons in 1993, Kennedy started just six games his final two years in Atlanta. Al Davis, the late owner of the Raiders, came calling.

“When I heard that Al Davis was going to make a play for me, when I got here, I talked with Al Davis and Joe Bugel, who was the offensive line coach at the time, and they were like ‘look, your a Raider, you’re here,’ and so I was happy to get another chance to prove myself,” Kennedy said.

When asked about some of his best memories playing for the Raiders, Kennedy highlighted his All-Pro nod, winning the AFC championship against the Titans, playing in the Pro Bowl, and playing in the Super Bowl in his hometown of San Diego.

“I wish we could have won the game,” Kennedy said. “But it really was a dream come true.”

Kennedy is, of course, still a Raider. Plus, he’s the co-host of “The Fellas” on Fox Sports Radio on Saturday mornings, a Pac-12 studio analyst and he’s found time to be a motivational speaker for about five years now.

And he owns his own cigar company, El-K Cigars.

“It’s more of a fun hobby,” said Kennedy, who created his own custom blend. “I’ve been smoking cigars … even back when I was playing. I’ve always enjoyed having them to relax.”

There was no smoking at Great America, the site of our tailgate, as far as I could tell, but it was one heck of a party — complete with two marching bands. Although Kennedy’s trumpet-playing days are over.

Plus, Kennedy’s alma mater, the Washington Huskies beat Utah for the Pac-12 crown. It was just another busy day for Lincoln Kennedy, who was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015. But his most demanding endeavor, covering the Raiders, makes everything worthwhile.

“The opportunity after I hung up my cleats, to still be a part of it in some capacity is another blessing itself,” Kennedy said. “To be an ambassador for people in the organization, being a conduit, to be able to keep the passion alive, it’s special to me.”

 

 

 

Note: Photo credit- Aubrey Aquino