Are you ready for some football?


Are you ready for some football?

The NFL season may be over (at least in terms of games -- the off-season is a season unto itself) but pro football is not gone completely. In just two short weeks the San Jose SaberCats will kick off their 16th season in the Arena Football League. Only long-time head coach Darren Arbet isn't exactly looking at it that way.The 2012 campaign will mark just the team's second season since its 2008 Arena Bowl loss to Philadelphia. As SaberCats fans are well aware the AFL closed its doors shortly after ArenaBowl XXII and was revived in 2010 after some major restructuring. The 'Cats didn't return until last season and quickly learned it was indeed a whole new league.San Jose's 7-11 record marked its worst since Darren Arbet's first season with the 'Cats in 1999.Anyone who watched last year's team knows lady luck was not on their side as the injuries were ridiculous. San Jose suited up 57 different players over the course of 18 games. Fifty-seven! AFL teams only have 24-man rosters.But Arbet told me this week he refuses to blame the injuries for the SaberCats' struggles."Obviously I didn't do enough homework on the players and understand the league," he said. "Now I have a better feel by being thrown into that fire last year and we feel pretty good about it."Knowing the players and the league was hardly the only obstacle Arbet encountered in 2011. So too was the reality that the new version of the AFL was a stark contrast from the original in terms of structure. Gone were the multi-year contracts and six-figure salaries for the league's stars. In its place was a revised modest pay-per-game wage table and mostly one-year deals.It's a new reality that forces most of the players in the league to hold down second jobs as they still pursue their football dreams. That takes some getting used to.Arbet told me he's well aware of the needs of his players to support their families and attempts to accommodate them as much as possible. But he still wants to win.Nothing illustrated that point more than his cross-country trip over the offseason, in which he traveled from Oklahoma to Florida and beyond to personally recruit some of the league's biggest stars to relocate to San Jose. It was a stark contrast from the previous year when he hired an assistant to do his "recruiting." And it paid big dividends.The 'Cats waiver wire signings read like a who's who in the AFL. The new additions include:2-time All-Arena WR Huey Whitaker
2011 All-Arena DB Andre Jones
2011 All-Arena DL Tim McGill
2-time All-IronMan selection WRDB Jason Geathers
2011 AFL O-lineman of the year Rich Ranglin
2010 All-Arena DB Vince HillThat's one heck of a crop. Now it's Arbet's job to make them mesh.A week into camp he likes what he sees."They're working together, they're working hard," he said. "They're doing what it takes to win football games."So yes, optimism is back as the SaberCats gear up for 2012, but if you are planning on cheering them on this year, be sure to buy a program. With just nine returning players off last year's team in training camp there's little doubt you'll need it. ------------------On the Air with the 'CatsCSN Bay Area will again be the TV home of the SaberCats as we are set to broadcast 14 of their 18 games. If you can't catch the telecast you can catch them on the radio on KNBR-1050. Yours truly will be handling the radio play-by-play for a number of their games this season, including the season opener March 10th against Arizona.

Raiders counting heavily on lightning rod CB against Patriots


Raiders counting heavily on lightning rod CB against Patriots

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders cornerback David Amerson didn’t practice all week, but ran just well enough to be considered “doubtful” for Sunday’s game against New England.

Translation: Outlook for Sunday is not good, but Jack Del Rio’s fingers remained crossed real, real tight. The Raiders hope there’s a way he can be active against Tom Brady’s buzz saw attack, because their cover men are beat up.

Amerson has missed two straight with a foot injury, and has dealt with injury all year. Gareon Conley’s season officially ended Monday, when he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Antonio Hamilton and Demetrius McCray were already there.

Reggie McKenzie hasn’t reached out for reinforcements. That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to play cornerback. Carrie’s been the rock, a sure tackler who hasn’t made spectacular plays but doesn’t give them up. McDonald has been forced into action, with holes let in his game.

Smith should be the No. 1 guy in this group, the steadying presence on the outside. That hasn’t been the case this year, where he lost a starting job in training camp and sub-package snaps during the season, only to have injuries to Conley and Amerson bring him in the fray.

He’s also been dealing with felony assault and battery charges in Los Angeles stemming from a July 4 incident in Pasadena.

Smith has been a lightning rod for fan criticism, a byproduct of his $9.5 million salary this year and explosive plays allowed early in the year.

If there’s an anvil weighing on his mind, teammates insist you’d never know.

“We’re human at the end of the day,” Amerson said. “You feel it, but you have to find a way to remain even keel and professional and do your job well.”

Smith will be counted on heavily Sunday against New England, especially if Amerson can’t play as expected. He has proven vulnerable to speed without help and proper disruption at the line of scrimmage, though that hasn’t been an issue lately because the Utah alum has recovered well after a rough start.

He got pulled after struggling against Vernon Davis in Washington. He didn’t play against the Chargers after giving up two huge plays to Baltimore the week before.

Amerson originally sprained his foot in Week 7 against Kansas City – he hasn’t played since – and Smith was called upon to respond. He wasn’t targeted in that game, and has been strong in coverage ever since.

Smith has allowed three catches for 12 yards in four targets over the last two games. The ninth-year veteran insists he wasn’t doing anything markedly different, and had zero interest in patting himself on the back for recent jobs well done.

“I’m not,” Smith said. “I’m out there doing my job, man, the best way I can.”

Smith says the off-field distractions during a roller-coaster season, one of his career’s most trying yet, haven’t impacted him much

“Nope. Not at all,” Smith said. “As long as I wake up a Raider, I’m all right. I’ll deal with whatever happens. I’ll always be there for my guys, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win.”

Raiders defensive backs laud Smith’s locker room presence, saying he’s an excellent teammate. Cornerbacks in general must have a short memory when things go bad, to refocus and prevent that from happening again. Smith apparently has that in spades.

“I know how things go, especially when you have a target on your back,” Amerson said. “Sometimes you get hit with the perfect pass and you give up some plays. You can’t do anything about that but take advantage of the next opportunity. Sean’s a good player, and he definitely has that mindset.”

Smith will lend experience to this big game, something the Raiders need after suffering so many injuries.

"It sucks that so many of us have gone down,” Smith said. "You want to have all your guys out there, but that’s the NFL. Injuries happen. As long as everybody comes to work and acts like a pro, we’ll be all right. We all have a job to do. We all would like to start, but you have to be ready when your number’s called.”

Kevin Durant takes shot at Zaza Pachulia while center's kid play one-on-one


Kevin Durant takes shot at Zaza Pachulia while center's kid play one-on-one

Kevin Durant doesn't take it easy on anyone. Not even the children of teammate Zaza Pachulia.

After practice on Saturday in Philadelphia, Pachulia's two sons, Davit and Saba, were playing one-on-one at the facility the Warriors were using. Kevin Durant filmed one sequence and posted it to his Instagram Story.

One of Pachulia's sons grabbed the ball and drives around the other without dribbling. As he makes the shot, Durant offers his commentary and took a shot at the Warriors starting center.

"That's a travel. Such a travel. Same thing your pops do," Durant said, taking a shot at Pachulia.

Durant also had another message for Pachulia written on the video.

"Yo, @zazapachulia at some you have to teach the boys how to play off the bounce," Durant wrote.