Around the NFC West: Singletary's focus

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News spent 30 minutes in Mike Singletary's office -- and lived to tell about it. Singletary: "The thing that I'm explaining to them right now is we're behind right now. The great teams in the league, they know who they are. ... They know who the quarterback is. They know who the receivers are. They know it. We don't. So we've got to work just a little bit harder. We've got to push just a little bit more. And, yes, the bar's going to be set high ... I don't want to go out there and go through the motions, ever. We go out there on the field, we're going to execute and we're going to get better. Or else."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com checks in with linebacker Patrick Willis. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky: "His progression as a linebacker has actually elevated from his first year to his second and I think it's going to elevate even more. I think defensively he knows what to do and I think he's going to try and focus on how is the offense going to attack us. And I think just from the classroom stuff I think that's how he can improve."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle suggests the 49ers' No. 13 ranking on defense last season is a starting point for 2009. We discussed the "Singletary effect" on defense in January. One area that dropped off late last season: red-zone touchdown percentage.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee saw Michael Crabtree run sprints, possibly for the first time since foot surgery. Also, the 49ers might become more aggressive on defense this season.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are focused on improving their pass rush and forcing turnovers. Improve the pass rush and turnovers will follow.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News summarizes Manusky's thoughts on the defense. Nothing too specific on rookie linebacker Scott McKillop, though. Manusky: "He's a very good, smart player. ... He's doing pretty well. He's picking up the system pretty well. All the rookies have that tendency to sort of fall back once there's an information overload, so we just have to keep on building and keep on working."

Also from Brown: Willis isn't getting antsy with three years remaining on his deal.

More from Brown: Kentwan Balmer appears to be coming around. Singletary: "Toward the end of last season, I'm telling you, I can understand what Scot [McCloughan] saw in him because he has a heck of a package and a lot of ability. I'm very excited about him."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains why he thinks long-term deals can be elusive for the Cardinals and other teams heading toward a potentially uncapped year. Urban: "Even if there is an uncapped year -- and even though the players' union has long insisted they will never go back to a salary cap if it goes away -- teams can't know for sure there won't be a cap in the future. There could be no cap in 2010 and a cap again in 2011, or at least some kind of salary control. All your contracts would have to fit into that mechanism. ... Most importantly, the economy has an effect on all these talks."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says a move to Los Angeles appears unlikely for the Rams. Agent Leigh Steinberg says he thinks Los Angeles might be further from landing a team, in some ways. Thomas: "Not that he thinks it would happen, but if it did, Steinberg doesn't think there would be anything resembling torchlight parades or civic glee for the return of the Rams. In 2016, 22 years will have passed since the Rams played their last game in Southern California. When you combine normal generational changes with continuing Latin immigration, Steinberg estimates that two-thirds of the Los Angeles County population will not remember, or have any kind of attachment, to the old LA Rams."

Also from Thomas: He checks in with rookie left tackle Jason Smith. Coaches like what they see.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis isn't forcing the leadership issue. Laurinaitis: "I feel like when guys come in and they start being vocal without proving themselves, that's where they can get on the bad side of people."

Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly calls the NFC West an underrated division. Arkush: "The Seahawks look like a team that could be breathing very heavily down the Cardinals' necks all season after making what look like major improvements in both the draft [OLB Aaron Curry} and free agency [T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cory Redding, Colin Cole, Ken Lucas]. I would agree with the widely held belief that the Seahawks were snakebitten by injuries more than any other team last year, and I think their luck will improve by leaps and bounds this season."