Ethan from Chicago writes: Mike, I am a Rams fan living in Chicago and I am craving good football this year, but I just don't see it for the Lambs. This regime is clueless and will be out of a job after another disaster this year. Last year, Billy Devaney confessed in an interview that even his family members were questioning why there wasn't a viable backup to Steven Jackson. Well, he had all offseason to correct that problem and did NOTHING. Jason Smith may end up being a serviceable tackle, but the No. 2 pick in the draft? BUST! Finally, Ike Bruce coaching the Bears? One of the classiest Rams of all time (and a Hall of Famer) was cast aside by Devaney, Steve Spagnuolo, etc. And where are the playmakers and pass-rushers on this team? Thinking about this upcoming season already has me sick to my stomach.
Mike Sando: Whoa, Ethan, did you move to Chicago with Mike Martz? Are you guys roommates or something? Let's separate fair criticism from understandable (but possibly unfair) ranting. Devaney told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before training camp that the Rams still might add a veteran backup runner before the regular-season opener. They could add a player released from another team, or they could ramp up their pursuit of Brian Westbrook. Also, Steven Jackson is holding up very well so far in training camp, it appears, so the backup position might not be quite as urgent of a concern. Still, if the Rams fail to act and running back becomes a serious problem, your criticism will be fair.
On the Jason Smith front, let's not declare him a bust after one injury-affected season. Let's also evaluate his selection in the context of which other players the Rams could have drafted. Tyson Jackson and Aaron Curry were the next two players selected. Mark Sanchez was taken fifth, but the Rams already had millions in guaranteed money committed to Marc Bulger, so the timing was not ideal. And they wound up getting Sam Bradford the next year. Smith, Jackson, Curry ... they're all promising players still finding their way. None turned around the fortunes of his franchise in one year.
On the Isaac Bruce front, I think he's a better fit for Chicago because the Bears are running the offense he ran during his prime years (and even with the 49ers later). The Rams have reached out to Dick Vermeil. They've showed a willingness to hire prominent former players for the coaching staff when the fit was right (Nolan Cromwell, who has vast experience in West Coast offenses). They've even saluted past Rams teams by hanging banners throughout their facility. I'm not going to trash the Rams for not hiring Bruce as a coaching intern. They did re-sign him and let him retire as a Ram, after all.
You're justified in feeling queasy about the upcoming Rams season. I think it's going to be a rough one. But if Bradford looks the part and some of the younger players around him show meaningful progress, you can at least feel better about the future.
Colton from Friendsville, Pa., writes: Hey Mike, I've been hearing buzz about undrafted rookie Stephen Williams. Before camp, I had never heard his name. Can you tell me something about him?
Mike Sando: Yes, I noticed Williams at Cardinals camp. He's quite tall (6-foot-5) and very rangy (208 pounds). The Cardinals do like what he offers. I think Williams would be an ideal candidate for the practice squad unless he plays well enough as a receiver during the exhibition season to command a roster spot, or unless he shows outstanding talent on special teams.
Levin from parts unknown writes: Sando, I appreciate the great coverage of the NFC West and 49ers in particular. If I may make one request, it would be for some coverage on how the 49ers are doing in the running game. Obviously, Frank Gore is a great back, but what did the blocking look like? Was it much improved and holes actually created, unlike much of last season? Also how are Glen Coffee and Anthony Dixon looking? All the write-ups I see from you and everyone else who gets access to practices tend to concentrate solely on the passing game. That is understandable, since that is the unknown part of the offense and the key to the 49ers' season, but the run game should get some coverage (especially the blocking of the OL). Thanks.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Levin. Mike Iupati jumps out right away. He will upgrade their run blocking. Center Eric Heitmann has been missing practice after suffering a stinger injury. Right guard Chilo Rachal missed some time after suffering from dehydration. Anthony Davis is finding his way at right tackle. The running game is very much a work in progress in terms of that line coming together. I appreciate the reminder to focus on it and will take a longer look at Coffee and Dixon over the next couple days (I'll be at 49ers practices Friday and Saturday).
Julian from Oak Harbor, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, love what you've done so far for the Cards' posts over the course of training camp. I know Matt Leinart has question marks, but one thing I didn't see in your articles was anything definitively positive or negative. So I ask, is there anything specific that you noticed that had improved in Matt? Arm strength, accuracy, footwork, timing, field vision, etc.? Anything at all that grabbed your attention? As always Mike, thanks for the hard work and dedication you put into you posts.
Mike Sando: Astute observation, Julian. I came away from my time in Arizona thinking the same thing. Isn't there something more definitive to say about this guy. There was no "wow" factor to the way he ran the offense. Neither was there a feeling he couldn't handle the job. That's what I mean when I say there comes a time when Leinart must play well enough for people to take notice and say, "That's a guy the Cardinals need to lead their offense." We have not seen it yet.
Scott from Germantown, Md., writes: Hi Mike, lifelong Seahawks fan out on the East Coast. Any chance the Seahawks will jump to sign Aaron Schobel now that he's released? It would seem to me that he could work in Pete Carroll's hybrid defensive front as either defensive end, outside linebacker or the Leo position. Any chance of this happening? We're going to need some kind of pass-rush if we're going to win any games.
Mike Sando: The fit does appear perfect. He had 10 sacks for a really bad team last season. He would probably give the Seahawks what they wish they could still be getting from Patrick Kerney. The feeling early, though, is that Schobel might be more likely to land with the Houston Texans. He has a farm near Houston and his family is there. It's still early in the process. Stay tuned.