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Mailbag: Davis top blocking tight end

Joel from Atwater writes: I love your pieces on the NFC West. I'm a huge 49er fan. I was wondering if you ever thought of putting a piece together on Vernon Davis and his blocking. I've been a huge fan of his since he entered the NFL.

Everyone takes for granted how good of a blocker he is. I recall a few games where he completely shut down an opponent's best pass rusher, i.e. Jared Allen, and it would have been Joey Porter also if it were not for the last play where Porter sacked Shaun Hill.

It's just something that I have been trying to see film on and I just cant find any. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mike. Keep up the great work.

Mike Sando: I'm with you on Davis' blocking. It jumped out at me right away when I started watching every play of every 49ers game. The first time I broke it down was following a 2008 game against the Saints. Davis was absolutely dominant, even against defensive ends.

As I wrote then, "Watching this game made me think Davis was one of the best pass protectors on the team. He regularly blocked (Will) Smith and fellow defensive end Charles Grant, tough duty for any tight end. Davis was effective as a run blocker. During the third quarter, he blocked Smith twice and Grant twice on runs that gained 9, 9, 6 and 7 yards."

The 49ers did not ask Davis to block nearly as much in pass protection last season. That is the main reason his receiving numbers took off. Davis is an every-down player, so he's in there on running plays and he's a willing blocker. It's a great sign with a talented pass-receiving tight end is a willing and effective blocker. It means he loves the game and isn't just going after stats.


Ryan from Dallas writes: Hey Mike, got a Rams question for you. I was reading an article you posted a link to that said the Rams only rushed four players 65 percent of the time last year which was most in the league. I was a bit shocked to find this out because I really thought Spags would put together craftier schemes than just a soft four-man rush that often.

Two years ago, the Rams were blitzing like crazy and the claim was that they had to out of necessity due to lack of playmakers. So what do you think would be the better route? Or is there a happy medium to be found in here? Thanks as always. Keep it up.

Mike Sando: I could not find that blog post, but I did write one discussing blitz percentages.

The knock on the Rams previously was that their schemes weren't all that sound. I had heard that from opposing players. ESPN Stats & Analysis tracked blitz numbers last season and the Rams rushed four or fewer players 71 percent of the time. The league average was 65.2 percent. The Titans, Panthers and Bucs -- all teams with defensive coaches -- all rushed four or fewer at least 76 percent of the time.

The Rams were pretty inventive with some of their blitzes, according to coaches for other teams. For example, then-Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp counted 12 unscouted blitzes the Rams used in the regular-season opener. That was a high number. By unscouted blitzes, I mean blitzes the Seahawks hadn't seen from Spagnuolo on video.

It's tough to blitz without having players who are good at it, particularly when you're running a 4-3 scheme without good coverage players. I think the Rams should be OK from a scheme standpoint with Spagnuolo influencing the defense.


Rick from Boise writes: We all know there is a point value for each draft pick that teams use to determine vaule in trading picks. My question is, in any given draft, are picks for future years valued differently from current-year picks?

Mike Sando: Yes, they are valued differently. A pick next year generally loses about one round's value. For example, a 2011 third-rounder would be worth a 2010 fourth-rounder (update: I initially had the rounds transposed).


Jeremy from Vallejo, Calif., writes: Are the 49ers' training camp practices free to the public? How do I get info on times?

Mike Sando: Tickets are sold out, according to the 49ers. Sorry about that, Jeremy.


Trevor from Kelowna, B.C. writes: Assuming the Seahawks have no pass rush (probable), what's the solution? Don't see any free agents out there. Maybe a trade? Whadya think.

Mike Sando: I think the Seahawks are stuck. They do not have outstanding pass-rushers and they aren't going to land one before the season.


Chris from San Diego writes: Do you see the 49ers' Navorro Bowman playing this year and where, inside or outside?

Mike Sando: Bowman projects as an inside linebacker even though he's not the biggest guy. Look for Takeo Spikes to start this season, but Bowman could get in there, particularly if Spikes wears down. The 49ers think Bowman is an instinctive player. Instinctive linebackers tend to get on the field sooner than guys who lack that feel for the game. Lofa Tatupu in Seattle is one example. He became an immediate starter and Pro Bowl player as a rookie drafted outside the first round.


Andrew from Fort Worth writes: What really stands out about the "Fortunate 50" list is the fact that the list is flooded with big name-stars -- that is, until you come across recent high NFL draft picks such as Matthew Stafford, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson and Mark Sanchez. All together, these second-year players will be collecting $103,487,280 in salary next year with none proving to be elite players or achieving any outstanding accomplishments (Sanchez did lead his team to the AFC title game).

This again highlights the NFL's issue with rookie salary structures and should be a major focus in the next CBA. While I have no sympathy for NFL owners, as they are by far the most powerful owners in professional sport, this is clearly a problem that deserves attention. Given that players can be cut at any moment and lose out on non-guaranteed portions of their contracts, is it somewhat surprising that you don't see more players hold out once they've outperformed their current contracts?

Mike Sando: Those NFL players are on the list largely because their rookie deals were structured to have massive payouts in the second year. Those players likely will not rank as high next year. I don't have a huge problem with player salaries in the NFL. These guys submit their bodies to brutal beatings. Their life expectancies shrink. They deal with life-long health issues.

NFL players generally do not hold out because teams hold the cards. Teams simply aren't beholden to a single player in the vast majority of cases. Football is such a team sport. Very few players are important enough to their teams for those teams to buckle when a player holds out.


Mitch from Austin, Texas writes: Sando, can you explain how the cap works? I'm lost. In your post about the uncapped year helping the Seahawks, it says that the 'Hawks basically would have had to eat Deon Grant's salary in a capped year, correct? I don't understand why a team is punished for cutting a player and therefore not paying his salary. In theory, if you cut a player, then you don't have to pay him, so why does it count against the cap?

Mike Sando: The base salary doesn't count against the cap after a team releases a player. Other aspects of the contract count against the cap (when there is a cap, obviously). Teams account for some bonus money over multiple years, not all at once. But when a player is released with time left on his deal, that money can accelerate against the current cap. In Grant's case, his base salary was about the same as the bonus money that accelerated upon his release.


Q from Victoria, B.C., writes: Hey Mike, do we give Louis Rankin any shot of making the team in Seattle?

Mike Sando: Yeah, he has a chance. I'm not sure whether the Seahawks will keep a traditional blocking fullback. If they do, it's tougher for Rankin.


Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: I saw article on NFL.com about the league pushing players to wear more padding this season and that something may be mandated for the 2011 season. The NFL anticipates a lot of resistance to this. I understand players want to maximize speed, but they need to compromise to protect their investment (themselves).

I was wondering if you could give some insight into how this would affect the CBA negotiations and if this gives the owners something to use ( i.e. wear more padding or we will pay you less). Thanks.

Mike Sando: This issue gives the owners an opportunity to show interest in player safety. I do think it's a valid issue, though. Even some linemen play without basic padding. I don't see this issue being a big one in CBA negotiations. Having padding built into pants is intriguing.


Jesper from Denmark writes: Hi Mike. I think you have already talked about this in an earlier chat, but I would like to hear your oppinion on Kevin Payne. As far as I have understood, he played strong safety in his second year with the Bears and was a really really good player. They then moved him to free safety, which did not work out so well. Now the Rams have moved him back to strong safety. Shouldnt that make him the starter over James Butler, who is solid at best?

Mike Sando: The book on Payne does say he was better at strong safety. I'm intrigued by his addition and wondering whether he'll take the starting job. Teams generally do not give away starting-caliber players, though, so we shouldn't assume Payne will win the job. He should be in the mix. It's one of the issues I'm interested in pursuing.


Scott from Boise writes: I don't understand why Seattle isn't hosting Pittsburgh next year. They only meet once every four years and last time around was in Pittsburgh. What's the justification for making it 12 years since the last time they were in Seattle?

Mike Sando: I don't understand the issue well enough to explain it as simply as I would like.

The NFL has made a couple alterations to its scheduling formula. One tweak spares teams from making two long trips to face West Coast teams. Also, the league reset the scheduling formula so that 2011 mirrored 2002 (instead of picking up where 2009 left off). The league wasn't able to make the home-and-home swaps match up evenly.

Let me try to get a better explanation for you. I know some readers of this blog follow scheduling stuff more closely than I do, and they might be able to explain it more concisely and definitively.


Keith from Seattle writes: Regarding your column, 'Much fantasy love for Gore, 49ers', where did you get those numbers for top TD scorers in 2009? I didn't even see Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew listed and they easily had over 10 TDs a piece!

Mike Sando: The chart showed NFC leaders but I did not make that clear. I've updated the item with clear labeling. Sorry about that.


Kyle from Tempe writes: Hey, Mike. I'm sure you record every nfc west game during the season and watch them when you return home. Is that how you plan on handling shark week being in the middle of training camp?

Mike Sando: I do record all the regular-season games and chart them. As for shark week, I'm sure my sons would like to watch that one with me. I wind up watching Top Chef with my wife. We also try to catch Pawn Stars and some true-crime shows.


Dave from Covington, Wash., writes: My question is regarding Earl Thomas. I just haven't heard many things on how he has done it organized team activities, and what we are to expect out of him this season and how close we are to signing both of our first-rounders. Thanks for your time and all the great insight you have for the blog.

Mike Sando: Hey, thanks for that. Earl Thomas looks like a cornerback out there. His ball-hawking ability shined through a few times at OTAs. He did not immediately dominate to the point where it was clear he would be an instant star. But I think he generally looked like a good coverage safety. As for signing statuses, I don't worry about them for early draft choices until training camps are nearly upon us. If they aren't signed when camp starts, we can evaluate the issue then. Right now, it's a non-issue.


Mastermind from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, the 49er glory days were characterized by some great minds in the front office, coaching staffs and on on the field. Who are today's masterminds in the 49ers' organization in those three categories, and how to they compare to past greats? One of my nagging worries regarding the Niners is this aspect of what it takes to be a great franchise. I'm just not sure they have many great minds throughout their organization, even if they have much more talent than recent years. Even our best player, Patrick Willis, was noted for avoiding playcalling duties on the field and seemed to want to play mostly with his intincts. Thanks!

Mike Sando: If you're looking for Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren types, keep looking. They don't exist in San Francisco or in most franchises. The people that made the 49ers great during the 1980s and beyond were exceptional people. They were exceptions. It's unrealistic to expect an organization to have those sorts of people forever.

The 49ers do have some sharp people. I think Paraag Marathe is very bright and he has shown himself to be capable in handling the team's contracts. That is one area where the 49ers are far ahead of where they were during the years that led to their salary-cap issues.


Fritz from Auburn, Calif., writes: Hi Mike. Interesting post on divisional age. Is there any correlation between division age and win/loss percentages? It would be interesting if divisional youth were a leading indicator for increased winning in a year or two. I don't have the raw data or I'd check myself. Thanks!

Mike Sando: I do not think we could safely make such a connection. Teams can be young for different reasons. For example, the Indianapolis Colts are among the very youngest teams year after year. It's the nature of how they build their team around a few big-time veteran stars. Other young teams tend to be rebuilding teams (the Rams last season, the Carolina Panthers this season). Going young is the easy part. Building that young team into a winner requires skill and good fortune.


Shane from Los Angeles writes: Sand-O, Can you believe Kurt Warner didnt even make an honorable mention on this list? As big as he has played in big games, I am shocked ESPN did not have him on here. Please comment on it in your mailbag or in your blog. Thanks!

Mike Sando: There have been quite a few great quarterback performances over the years. Which of Warner's games would you single out? I know he's had games with a perfect passer rating. Another time, he completed 20 of 23 passes for 323 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (against the 49ers in 1999). His playoff performance against the Packers has to go down as one of the great efforts. The list you cited covered regular season only, however.


Constantine from San Francisco writes: Mike, following up on your latest entries regarding the best lines in the NFC West, which team has the best linebacking corps? Receiving corps? One other question: I'm a bit confused as to why so many people are high on Josh Morgan, why is he considered an up-and-comer? His play has struck me more as a "split tight end" -- catching a few balls and being valued as a blocker. Is he really a legitimate second receiver? Thanks for the thoughts.

Mike Sando: The 49ers probably have the best linebackers in terms of how they've played recently. The Seahawks have the potential to have the best group, but it would help if they stayed on the field past Week 1. When you talk about receivers, do you mean wide receivers? The Cardinals probably have the best ones, even without Anquan Boldin. If you include tight ends, I could see giving the 49ers stronger consideration. On Morgan, I think he's viewed in the context of where the 49ers drafted him -- in the sixth round. That sets the bar lower for him. I think he can be a good No. 2 receiver.