Archive for the ‘NFC West’ Category

The National Football League has a timeless proven theory that stable, strong-armed passers with leadership will grace an organization with Super Bowls. Unfortunately, that theory is easier spoken than executed.

One of “The League’s” most historic franchises is struggling, to say the least, in executing a plan they wrote. Back in the 1980s Bill Walsh designed a heavy passing game with Hall of Fame quarterbacks at the helm. Joe Montana and Steve Young helped San Francisco’s finest win titles in 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1994.

Since Young placed his helmet in his locker for the last time, the quarterback play in Candlestick Park has been dreadful to present day.

Jeff Garcia was the most successful of the signal-callers in the Bay Area, but even he struggled to win playoff games.  Garcia led to Tim Rattay in the gun. Then came Ken Dorsey, Alex Smith , Cody Pickett, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, Hill—again, Alex Smith—again, and finally Troy Smith.

Alex Smith was drafted as the next great San Francisco 49er gunslinger. With the revolving door of team leaders has been far from executing the plan of developing prosperous quarterbacks to be crowned Super Bowl champions.

The first good move was made in the offseason by hiring former Stanford coach and Pro Bowl quarterback, Jim Harbaugh. As a former player, Harbaugh knew what it took to be successful in the professional ranks. Although he never raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy, his desire as a coach has not wavered since he hung up the pads.

Thus far in the preseason, the 49ers have still struggled at the quarterback position. There are plenty of areas on the gridiron where less than stellar players can avoid the spotlight, but when a quarterback struggles, the entire stadium witnesses the rough day at the office.

Alex Smith has gotten the nod from Harbaugh at a 17th or maybe even an 18th opportunity at owning the starting position for San Francisco. In three preseason games, Smith has yet to pass for a touchdown, while tossing two interceptions and conceding four sacks.

His career numbers look relatively similar, drawing relentless concern from the Niners faithful. Anticipating another collapse by Smith, Harbaugh opted to draft Colin Kaepernick, a 6-foot-4, 230 pound mobile and “heady” quarterback with mobility.

Steve Young had plenty of success with mobility, and a better than above average arm in the 90’s. Kaepernick is a taller, right-handed “poor man’s” version of Young.

Kaepernick has looked comfortable in two preseason games, including a 6-for-8 passing performance against the Oakland Raiders. On the rookie’s two offensive possessions, both drives ended with touchdowns.

That might look like a solid indication on what the future holds for the former Nevada star, but the preseason can be deceiving. As of this moment, Kaepernick looks to be the more superior, and polished, passer in the 49ers crop.

If Smith picks another injury—which over his seven year career as been predictable—Kaepernick will get a shot at the starting job.

Hopefully injuries don’t become a problem, because Jim Harbaugh might be the next best option under center. He is only ten years removed from his last plays in the NFL.

And in the end, who knows the offense better than the Head Coach?

Published on August 29, 2011 

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Homegrown talent moving throughout the ranks is tough to find on the West Coast. Try and think of your favorite state, their high school stars moving on to the college within the borders and then earning acclaim as professionals, all in the same market. It is difficult to name a handful, especially within the last decade.

Dating back, Marcus Allen comes to mind, although a San Diego native, he still erupted at USC and drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders. Seattle Seahawk fans call Warren Moon their own, but even he is not a homegrown Apple state native. If John Elway became a 49er or ironically enough, a Raider, perhaps that would be a story for the ages.

As we know, history is written for a reason, and Elway wrote his chapter in excellent form.

For the fans, watching homegrown talent rise through the ranks as preps, than wear their university’s colors and finally wear the badge as ultimate competitors in the NFL within state borders is a rarity.

Drafting players from in-state colleges is not unique, but finding the trifecta within your border is a dime a dozen.

Arizona fans have that right in front of their eyes. Todd Heap has returned to the valley of the sun, and the fans already love it. With nearly 13,000 fans in Flagstaff for Arizona Cardinals training camp, the chant of “Heap” echoed through the woods.

Heap is not Jake “The Snake” Plummer or Pat Tillman, but with each catch, the former Sun Devil and Mesa Mountain View High School stud knew he was home. Smiling from ear to ear, the fans extended their arms, and vocal chords, to reciprocate.

With Kevin Kolb arriving from Philadelphia to revive the Cardinals passing game, Todd Heap will have an impact on both the passing game and ground game. But, that is nothing new with Heap.

After helping Mesa Mountain View win the first back-to-back Arizona state championships in football, he later became known as the “Golden Retriever” by Sun Devil fans.

His alias fit him very well. The combination of Heap’s blonde hair, Velcro hands and keen sense of the overall play, he shattered the previous ASU records for the tight end position. After all, Heap’s first catch was of the one-handed variety for a touchdown against the Washington Huskies.

Two seasons later, Heap was a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree and a first round draft pick with a year of eligibility remaining. Ten seasons after first suiting up with the Baltimore Ravens, the All-Pro tight end has ditched the purple and black for the red birds’ sleek look.

And the colors of Heap’s home state suit him well. Perhaps, it was a match made in heaven, or simply nature coming full circle.

It is always a player’s desire to perform at the highest level in front of the greatest fans a player could know: “the homers”.

Heap had the attention of maroon and gold supporters from day one in Tempe. He was a hometown hero before he left for the east cost, and fans surely have not forgotten.

Many athletes in today’s game go for the clearest path to their NFL payday. Sometimes that includes venturing off to college campuses and football programs that seem foreign in these parts, or others tryto earn their stripes at another historic institution outside of state lines.

Either way, players want to play on the grandest of stages with the biggest spotlight shinning down on them. Todd Heap proved stardom could be achieved within city limits. Heap’s style proved that it is not where you play, but how you produce.

With Heap’s return to the desert, perhaps a new generation of athletes will witness his actions both as a football player and a community member in Phoenix.

Published on August 11, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”