Chat wrap: From Okung to 'Camp Alex'

The latest blogger-organized NFC West chat led with a question about the San Francisco 49ers' player-organized practices. I'll break out a few highlights below before adding some closing thoughts.

Steve from San Jose asked how helpful "Camp Alex" will be for Alex Smith and the 49ers.

Mike Sando: I think these player-organized workouts will not make a huge difference on the field. For years, some have questioned the importance of the actual minicamps teams hold, and those are obviously far more valuable than informal practices without coaches. "Camp Alex" is really important for Smith because it builds upon whatever collaboration he had with Jim Harbaugh earlier in the offseason. That is big for Smith. I'm just not sure it'll make a huge difference on third-and-7 against a good defense. Smith must play well and there is no evidence to this point that a good offseason will make him into something he has not been to this point. He was taking charge last offseason too.

Deric Hodge of Twin Falls, Idaho asked how Seattle Seahawks tackle Russell Okung matched up against the Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers last season, specifically whether perception lined up with reality.

Mike Sando: Russell Okung fared just fine against Julius Peppers in both games, I thought. He also got after Brian Urlacher pretty good on Justin Forsett's touchdown run. I seem to recall charting Okung's performance in that first game, but I could not immediately find my notes. The perception was that Okung fared well. I'd say the perception was true. It's not like Okung dominated, but he did enough to prevent Peppers from taking command.

Gary Watson from Porterville thinks persistent offseason talk about the Rams needing to pursue a receiver in free agency is overrated. He'd rather have the team pursue help for a defense he thinks can become the NFL's best.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Gary. The Rams should consider helping themselves at receiver and defensive tackle. Their potential interest in a receiver does not necessarily diminish their ability to pursue a defensive lineman. Given a choice, though, I'd side with you. There's evidence to suggest Josh McDaniels can maximize the value of one or more receivers (Brandon Lloyd comes to mind). That is tougher to do at defensive tackle.

Shane from Los Angeles wants to know whether the Arizona Cardinals have one of the NFL's strongest secondaries on paper after drafting Patrick Peterson in the first round.

Mike Sando: Arizona has the best secondary in the division without question. Adrian Wilson is the best strong safety. Kerry Rhodes is among the best free safeties. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, though coming off a rough year, would start for any team in the division. Patrick Peterson would, too. Ray Horton, the new defensive coordinator, is a former NFL cornerback. I would expect the Cardinals to get more from their secondary with Horton as coordinator.

There's an art to properly analyzing Smith's leadership of the 49ers during the lockout. Striking the right balance is my goal. Smith's approach to the offseason is admirable and significant to his own future with the team. It gives him the best possible chance to succeed under the circumstances. It does not lay an unshakable foundation for the regular season.

The 49ers' decision to bring back Smith was not intended as an endorsement of his chances to fulfill expectations associated with his draft status. I've defended the 49ers' interest in Smith as a plausible move under unusual circumstances. The same sort of restraint and perspective is appropriate in analyzing Smith's role in these offseason workouts. If Smith succeeds in 2011, he'll do so for reasons that go far beyond whatever is taking place during informal practices sessions with 15 or 20 teammates at San Jose State University in June.