Ask any general manager what he'd like to improve, and pass-rush ability will rank high on the list, even for teams proficient in pressuring quarterbacks.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at four NFC West players key to their teams' improvement in that critical area:
Chris Clemons, Seattle Seahawks. Clemons has exceeded expectations. Coach Pete Carroll loves what Clemons has shown so far. It's still early, though. Darryl Tapp, shipped to Philadelphia as part of the deal for Clemons, also enjoyed strong training camps -- only to fall off during the regular season. Carroll: "Chris has really been sharp every day, day in and day out. It's such a needed position, to beef up the pass rush. He's been a big factor for us."
Diyral Briggs, San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers went into training camp hoping outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks could build on a promising finish to the 2009 season. Brooks had 5.0 sacks in the 49ers' final five games, with three of those against Arizona. A lacerated kidney has sidelined Brooks this summer, and Briggs has seized upon the opportunity for more playing time. This could work out well for the 49ers if Brooks returns and Briggs continues developing.
Chris Long, St. Louis Rams. Long had 5.0 sacks over the final nine games last season, even though the Rams were rarely in prime position to rush the passer. He appeared more assertive during camp practices I watched. Long played at a high level during the exhibition opener against Minnesota. The Rams need him to take another step this season. They lack established pass-rushers.
Cody Brown, Arizona Cardinals. The 2009 second-round choice missed his rookie season after suffering a serious wrist injury. He is basically a rookie all over again, and it has shown. The only time I noticed Brown during camp practices was when tight end Steven Spach roughed him up and linebacker Joey Porter implored him to fight back. Brown will need some time to get comfortable in game situations. It's a bonus for Arizona if he emerges over the next few exhibitions.
Those are four players I'll want to watch during Week 2 of the exhibition season.