Knapp excited to return as part of new Raiders regime

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Knapp excited to return as part of new Raiders regime

INDIANAPOLIS -- Within hours of joining Dennis Allen's staff, new Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp made a phone call to his quarterback.

Initially, there were questions about Carson Palmer's future with the Raiders after Hue Jackson, the man who brought him to Oakland in a blockbuster trade, was fired.But there is no longer any uncertainty about Palmer's role with the Raiders in 2012. Both Allen and Knapp have come out in strong support of the Raiders incumbent quarterback.

"I've heard all these great things about him before I got here and since I've been here," Knapp told CSNBayArea.com before returning from the NFL scouting combine.

"Talking to him on the phone about a half-dozen times, and I think I'm just as excited to work with him as he is to work in our offense."

Knapp, who previously worked for the Raiders during the forgettable Lane Kiffin era, is excited, all right. He used a form of the word six times in a six-minute interview.What's not to be excited about?Knapp spent the past three seasons as quarterbacks coach with the Houston Texans. The allure of returning to California was great, but he said he was even more eager to sign on with Allen and new general manager Reggie McKenzie.

"There's a definite positive vibe going on," Knapp said. "I was very excited to see what Reggie's plan was when I came in and initially met with him.

"D.A.'s energy is contagious with everybody. The players are feeling it. The guys who have been in the building for a long time -- equipment guys, trainers, video guys -- are feeling it. It's neat to be a part of something at the ground level and build this thing."

There isn't a whole lot of building that needs to happen on offense, as Knapp already has the main component of a passing game with a veteran quarterback. And he is reunited with one of the more dynamic running backs in the league.

"I was here last in 2008, and Darren McFadden was a rookie that year," Knapp said. "I'm excited to get back with him. He really fits our run scheme well, as far as the zone scheme which I'll be implementing with our coaches. That's a great starting point for me."

While Knapp has been in the NFL, he has been on staffs that regularly enjoyed success on the ground with such running backs of varied styles, such as Garrison Hearst (49ers), Warrick Dunn (Atlanta), Justin Fargas (Raiders) and undrafted Arian Foster (Houston).And Knapp believes McFadden has the perfect running style for the offense the Raiders will employ.

"He doesn't mess around when he runs," Knapp said. "When he makes a cut, he's going north and south. And he has the ability to go the distance any time the ball is in his hands. That's hard to find in this business because there is so much speed on the field on defense. Darren has the attributes to be able to take the ball all the way and score."

Knapp said in addition to Palmer and McFadden, he has also spoken with pending free agent running back Michael Bush, backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor and guard Cooper Carlisle. Due to new NFL rules, his first chance to begin coaching the new system to the players will be April 2.

"There will be a learning curve," he said. "I think that happens with any transition with a new team. But we'll have plenty of time to get it implemented. Whenever we're in a start-up mode like we are here, like a start-up company, it's my job to make sure that we don't do everything at once but piece it correctly together. We'll have building blocks, so to speak, to implement the offense."

And he'll have plenty of help.Steve Wisniewski was retained from the former staff as an assistant offensive line coach. Knapp added Frank Pollack, with whom he coached with the Houston Texans. Pollack knows the zone scheme from his training with legendary line coach Alex Gibbs and Texans line coach John Benton.

The Raiders also retained running backs coach Kelly Skipper, who served on the same Oakland staff with Knapp in 2007 and 2008. Another key individual retained is veteran coach Al Saunders, who held the title of offensive coordinator under Jackson and is back as "senior offensive assistant."

"It was great to be able to retain Al Saunders, who knows football and football's football," Knapp said "And he has enough years of experience, and he'll be very helpful in game-planning and talking about personnel."

With Allen's background on the defensive side, Knapp figures to have autonomy to run the show on offense. But Knapp said he does not look at it that way.

"I want Reggie's input on personnel and D.A.'s input on football stuff," Knapp said. "Those are two bright minds. That was a big reason I came here. The environment of how Reggie and D.A. envision the building and the team really coincides with what I believe it takes to play winning football. So I'm looking forward to getting a chance to work with those guys to help implement our offense and work together to win a championship."

49ers offense: Top competitions entering training camp

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AP

49ers offense: Top competitions entering training camp

The 49ers open training camp next week in Santa Clara with a number of competitions going on simultaneously on both sides of the ball.

Coach Kyle Shanahan did not hire an offensive coordinator. He will assume the role of running the offense, as he atempts to remake the 49ers' offense to his specifications.

Brian Hoyer is set at quarterback. Joe Staley will line up at left tackle. Kyle Juszcyzk was signed as the highest-priced fullback in the NFL, and the starting wide receivers figure to be Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin.

After that, things are a lot less certain.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ top four training camp battles on offense...

INTERIOR O-LINE
The tackle positions appear straight-forward with Staley and Trent Brown – though Brown will have to hold off Garry Gilliam to retain his starting job.

But there are a lot of options for the 49ers at the three interior positions. Zane Beadles started all 16 games last season at three different positions. He enters camp as the front-runner to start at left guard.

Jeremy Zuttah, who was added to the Pro Bowl roster at center last season, came to the 49ers in an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore will compete for the starting job. Tim Barnes, who started 32 games the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, is in the mix, too.

If Zuttah is not the starting center, he can transition to either guard position to compete with Beadles on the left side or, more likely, the right side.

Joshua Garnett, whom former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke traded up to select in the first round of the 2016 draft, will have to show dramatic improvement over his rookie season to return as the starter at right guard.

Brandon Fusco, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, started 16 games at left guard in 2015 and 14 games last season at right guard.

TIGHT END
It is within the realm of possibility the 49ers could have a complete overhaul at tight end, as none of the five players who finished the season with the team is a lock to win a roster spot.

The 49ers selected George Kittle in the fifth round. He showed a lot of promise with the best showing of any tight end during the team’s offseason program. The 49ers this offseason also added blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, who has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, and undrafted rookie pass-catcher Cole Hikutini.

Vance McDonald was the subject of trade talks during the draft – just months after signing a contract extension with $9.1 million in guaranteed money. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell also face stiff competition in order to be back on the 53-man roster.

RUNNING BACK
Carlos Hyde is entering the final year of his original four-year contract, and he has competition for the first time since Frank Gore’s exit cleared the way for him to be the featured back.

Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner handpicked former Utah running back Joe Williams for their scheme. Williams got off to a slow start after joining the offseason program, but he eventually put himself into a position to compete for a significant role in training camp.

Veteran additions Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs will be competing for roles in the backfield, as well. Undrafted rookie Matt Breida had an impressive offseason during the non-padded practices.

SLOT RECEIVER
Jeremy Kerley was one of the few free agents from last year’s team that the 49ers had any interest in re-signing. Kerley was the best receiver on the team a year ago -- and it wasn’t even close. He caught 64 passes for 667 yards for the league's least-productive passing game.

The 49ers selected Trent Taylor in the fifth round, and he made an immediate impact during the offseason program after catching 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Louisiana Tech.

A year ago, Bruce Ellington was the 49ers’ best receiver during training camp before his season came to an abrupt end with a torn hamstring in an exhibition game. The onus is on Ellington to remain healthy and prove himself to the new coaching staff.

O.J. Simpson a free man, granted parole in Nevada

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AP

O.J. Simpson a free man, granted parole in Nevada

UPDATE (11am on Thursday) -- O.J. Simpson is a free man. The San Francisco native was granted his parole on Thursday by the Nevada Parole Board with a unanimous 4-0 decision. 

Simpson, who turned 70 this month, can be released from prison as early as Oct. 1 after armed robery charges put him away for almost nine years -- the minimum of a 33-year sentence. 

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LOVELOCK, Nev. -- O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 "trial of the century" in Los Angeles.

Now, an aging Simpson will appear as inmate No. 1027820 in a starkly plain hearing room in a remote Nevada prison Thursday to plead for his freedom. He's spent more than eight years behind bars for armed robbery and assault with a weapon after trying to take back sports memorabilia in a budget hotel room in Las Vegas.

Simpson, 70, will ask four parole board members who sided with him once before to release him in October, a likely possibility with his clean prison record.

It will be a stunning scene for a charismatic star once known as "The Juice" who won the Heisman Trophy as the best U.S. college football player in 1968 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

He appeared to have it all.

He went on to star in Hertz commercials and movies like the "Naked Gun" comedies and do sideline reporting for "Monday Night Football" before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were slain in 1994.

Simpson is expected to reiterate that he has kept a promise to stay out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym where he works and counsels other inmates.

"I guess, my age, guys come to me," Simpson told parole officials four years ago.

The same commissioners granted him parole on some of his 12 charges in 2013, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.

At Simpson's side in his bid for freedom will be lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.

O.J. Simpson is expected to explain what he would do and where he would live if he is granted parole after reaching the nine-year minimum of his 33-year sentence.

He was convicted in 2008 after enlisting some men he barely knew, including two with guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.

"My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property," Simpson told the parole officials in 2013 before apologizing.

"Make no mistake, I would give it all back," he said, "to get these last five years back."

The items disappeared after Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend and before he was found liable in 1997 in civil court for the deaths.

He was ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors including his children and the Goldman family.

A Goldman family spokesman said Ron Goldman's father and sister, Fred and Kim, won't be part of Simpson's parole hearing but that they felt apprehensive about "how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released."

"They will remain patient and optimistic that the system will do what is necessary to ensure the public's safety remains a priority and that proper justice will be served," spokesman Michael Wright said this week.

The Goldmans believe Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in 2008 in Las Vegas wasn't just about the robbery.

Now, even the retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist acknowledges that Simpson has a good chance to go free. But David Roger denied Simpson's sentence was "payback" for his acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings.

The former prosecutor said Simpson took a gamble when he rejected an offer to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a felony that could have gotten him 2½ years in prison.

"He thought he was invincible, and he rolled the dice," Roger said.