Urban: Giants' Vogelsong at peak of powers


Urban: Giants' Vogelsong at peak of powers

July 18, 2011


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Mychael Urban

SAN FRANCISCO -- Whether it's Michael Jordan dropping a feathery finger roll over a 7-footer, Wayne Gretzky conducting an orchestra on ice behind the net, Jerry Rice turning a seam route into a 66-yard score, or Ken Griffey Jr. launching long balls with that languid lefty swing that looks like it came straight out of a bottle of thick maple syrup, the truly great ones make it look effortless.The ease with which they do what they do as elite athletes is akin to the ease with which rank-and-file mortals dump the previous morning's coffee grinds into the trash compactor.Wait, check that. Who hasn't dropped those grinds on the linoleum floor when the soggy filter basket busts? Oh, stop it. Yes, you have.We're getting off point now, though, so let's bottom-line it near the top: No matter the field, the best in that field at the very peak of their powers perform with such enviable grace and efficiency that you can't help but stop, watch, admire and wish you were them for one stinking day.Even a Cavs fan would want to be like Mike.What's all this got to do with Giants baseball? If you were at AT&T Park on Monday for the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Dodgers, you know.Ryan Vogelsong made it look that easy.RECAP: Giants 5, Dodgers 0
Not that anyone's ready to dive into a sea of hyperbole and come up claiming Vogelsong deserves a spot among the aforementioned all-timers, but if Vogelsong keeps doing what he did to the Dodgers for another few months, at the very least his story will be an all-timer -- not just locally but nationally.It was a shame that Vogelsong didn't get to make an appearance in last week's All-Star Game; if he had, the Fox announcers would have been forced to tell his story to an audience that likely hasn't heard it. Here in the Bay Area, we can recite it by rote.But the story isn't a story at all without Vogelsong doing incredibly special things on the mound, and while he's had games with numbers similarly impressive to the ones he posted Monday, Monday's outing had that magical simplicity that marks all masterworks.Strike one, strike two. Fastball in, slider away, wrinkles at the knees. Heck, everything at the knees. Everything around the plate. Nothing in the crush zone.Trouble? Whatever. Here, ground into a double play for me, you nuisance. There's a cup of water in the dugout with my name on it, and I'd very much like to get back to it before that Wilson character does something evil in it.That was Vogelsong's night in a nutshell. It was the kind of game you watch and think, "I could do that."But you can't. Not in a million years. That's the thing about guys who make it look easy. What they're doing is actually hard as hell, but you'd never know it watching them.It's when talent and preparation collide at the intersection of intelligence and preternatural poise.It's the best at their best, and with his dominance of the Dodgers, Vogelsong actually was able to lay claim to being the best: His 2.02 ERA is the lowest in the National League.Giants Insider gallery: NL ERA leader
He also improved to 7-1, an .875 winning percentage. The Giants are 10-5 in his 15 starts, a .667 clip of success.Can he keep it up? There were whispers before this one that he was fading, mostly because he'd issued 13 walks in his final three starts before the All-Star break, to the tune of a 3.38 ERA that looked beached-whale bloated compared to the minuscule numbers he was ripping off prior to that.Did Vogelsong hear the whispers? His own, perhaps. As the Giants clubhouse emptied well after the 5-0 victory was in the books, after he'd done the surrounded-by-cameras-and-notebooks thing, he conceded during a brief one-on-one chat that those three starts had, indeed, gnawed at him a bit."I felt a lot better tonight than I had in those three games before the break," Vogelsong said. "My command was back to where I want it to be, to where I need it to be."To where it has to be to make it look easy?If you think Vogelsong would bite on a question like that, maybe his story needs even more telling. This man does humility like Ghandi does peace and tranquility. He lauded the defense behind him more than anything, calling the double plays that got him out of his only two jams "big-time."But before those big-time turns can be made -- and there's no question that Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford made a little magic of their own -- there needs to be a big-time pitch made under big-time pressure.Vogelsong made them. And he made them look easy."It wasn't easy," he said with a smile, slowly shaking his head left and right. "It never is."

Curry takes 'unpopular position' on All-Star draft, has picked assistant GMs


Curry takes 'unpopular position' on All-Star draft, has picked assistant GMs

Steph Curry will be one of the leading players in the NBA's new experiment with the All-Star Game.

Curry and LeBron James will pick the teams from the pool of available All-Stars. Conferences are no more, giving the game a completely different look.

"It's the first time it's happened in the league, so you really don't know what to expect or how it's going to unfold, and just specifically, what it will look like on the floor with mixmatched rosters. LeBron has been an All-Star, what 14 straight years? And he's been with Eastern Conference guys every year, so to see him have to pick some Western Conference guys and vica versa, us in the West, you have the staple guys that are there every year. So to switch it up, I think it's going to be a fun look on the floor. Might take some getting used to, but the actual draft part of it will be cool<' Curry said to reporters after shootaround in Houston on Saturday.

LeBron has the first pick since he received more total votes than Curry. So that sets up the dynamic that LeBron picks Warriors forward Kevin Durant.

"That's a possibility. I'm putting together an assistant GM staff that can help me get my draft board and all that stuff and know how to respond if he picks a certain way. Get the algorythm going," Curry said.

Curry's assistant GM staff will consist of his father Dell and brother Seth.

"I may have to ask Riley and see what she thinks," Curry joked.

All-Star reserves will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 23 and it's possible Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be among the players Curry can select. Does he feel an obligation to pick them if they are available?

"I don't feel obligated. I would want to. To have the opportunity to play with them on the All-Star Game court, that's what it's all about, kind of embracing that moment, so we'll see how it goes," Curry said.

The big debate surrounding the new All-Star Game format is whether or not the draft should be televised or the results made public. As of right now, the NBA has no plans to show the draft on TV or reveals the order in which players were drafted.

"We've had a lot of dicsussions around that. There's a lot of people in favor of watching it live. There's also a lot of people that understand the reasoning why it's not this year. I'm sure as the new format unfolds year after year, it'll happen. But it won't be this first time," Curry said.

So which way does Curry lean in the debate?

"I've always been a proponent of protecting the players. I know that's kind of the unpopular position. I know we're all grown men, we can all handle it, We're all All-Stars, but we want to see how the new format the first time so it's presented in the right light," Curry said.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr doesn't believe players should worry about where they get drafted.

"No shame in being the last All-Star picked. You're still an All-Star," Kerr said after shootaround.

The All-Star teams will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 and game will take play Sunday, Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.

New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden


New Raiders DC explains what attracted him to joining Jon Gruden

Paul Guenther and Jay Gruden are great friends. The bond formed in Cincinnati, when both guys were Bengals assistants.

Jay Gruden moved on to Washington, and has been that club’s head coach since 2014. Last year, Jay Gruden tried to bring Guenther with him. The Bengals, however, wouldn’t let Guenther out of his contract.

It expired this month, allowing Jay’s brother Jon Gruden to purchase this hot commodity. The Bengals tried to keep him with a lucrative contract offer, but Guenther’s mind was made. He took the job as Gruden’s defensive coordinator, and the four-year contract that came with it. This is about more than money. Jon Gruden presented a unique opportunity worthy of Guenther moving on after 15 years in Cincinnati.

“I’ve known Jon for a long time,” Guenther said this week in a conference call. “Just the ability to come with him and start something fresh from the ground up really excited me. I’ve been in Cincinnati for a long time. My kids were basically raised there. I know a lot of the players. But to have this opportunity with Jon coming to the Raiders and the brand of the Raiders really attracted me. Overall, just an opportunity to come coach with him, see him do it, see how he runs this organization, this team, would be a great thing for me to learn from.”

The Guenther hire was important. He’ll be installing a new system and will have considerable clout running the defense with Gruden focused on the process of scoring points.

Guenther’s defense was built in Cincinnati, with current Minnesota head coach and former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer also contributing to the scheme. He runs a 4-3 defensive front with single-gap responsibilities. What you’ll see from Minnesota in the NFC championship will look a lot like the Silver and Black scheme next season.

“Structurally they’re very, very similar,” Guenther said. “I would say 80, 90 percent of the defense, the calls, the fronts, the coverages, the terminology is all about the same. I spent a long time with Mike. Really, when he came over from Dallas and Atlanta to Cincinnati, he had the system that was probably 60 percent intact and then we kind of built up to where we are today. Certainly, I have my own little things that I added to the defense as I went along. He’s added things. We’re always talking in the offseason, just because we’re close friends, about the things that he’s doing, things that I’m doing. I would say it’s very similar.”

The Bengals didn’t blltz much under Guenther, especially last season. He isn’t averse to bringing extra guys. He just didn’t need to dial up those plays with the Bengals pressuring the passer without extra help.

“It all depends on how many we can get home with four (pass rushers),” Guenther said. “I think the thing you really have to look at is the amount of pressure you’re getting on a quarterback. If you don’t have to blitz and you can get home with four guys.

“…I love blitzing, I got every blitz in the book up on my board here. We got it all – double A’s, overloads – any blitz you can imagine, we have it. That was what my role was with Mike Zimmer (when he was Bengals DC) coming up with the third-down blitzes. I’m certainly all for it, but I think from a team perspective, and you’ve got to really see how the game is going.”

Guenther inherits a defensive depth chart with some star power, young talent and holes aplenty. The Raiders have some issues at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle and cornerback. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are solid off the edge, but the unit needs a talent infusion. There’s roster flexibility, with high-priced veterans easily cut if Guenther and Gruden so choose.

“I believe there’s a lot of good players here, a lot of good, young players,” he said. “You’ve got to get them out and develop them and get them to understand your system. But I think there’s a lot of good pieces here for a foundation for sure. Obviously, every year, whether you’re the number one defense in the league or the number 32 defense in the league, you’re always looking to add pieces and fill out your lineup card. That’s what we’re going to be working through this spring and through the draft and through free agency as well as developing the young players that we have here. This day and age in the NFL when you draft guys and you think they’re worthy, you have to get them out on the field. You can’t sit on these guys for a couple of years because before you know it, their rookie contracts are over and they’re out the door. I certainly think there’s some good, young prospects here that I’m eager to work with.”