Mailbag: Cards' optimism reaches Alaska

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jose from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: Alright, I have been a hardcore Cardinals fan for a long time. And boy have I been through some bleak years. However, I really do think this year it is different.

I mean, honestly, the defense is one of the best in the league. We got playmakers like Adrian Wilson, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Antrel Rolle's move to FS should pay dividends. Also, the additions of a healthy [Bert] Berry and [Chike] Okeafor on top of the rookies [Calais] Campbell and [Kenny] Iwebema should only help. The only problem I see is our DB depth. So my question to you is, barring any huge injuries to key players, are the Cardinals poised to have a top ten defense this season?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals ranked 17th in yards allowed last season and 27th in points allowed. I'd be surprised if they finished in the Top 10 for either category, but I do expect their defense to improve. As far as this season being different, hey, last season was different. The team got to 8-8. I see a similar record this season if the final seven games wind up being as difficult as they look from this vantage point.

Foggidew from Boonville, Mo., writes: Who was the 49ers' all time best defensive player? I'm "old", but I remember Dave Wilcox. At the time, before Joe Thomas, he was the premier middle linebacker in the league.
Mike Sando: I would rank Wilcox among the top two, with Ronnie Lott, based on what I know. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Wilcox played before my time. The impressive thing about Lott was that he dominated from the secondary, which is very difficult to do. He played both cornerback spots and both safety spots. He landed a spot on the 75th Anniversary team, and he won all those championships. I would be interested in hearing the case for Wilcox.

For the uninitiated, Joe Thomas was the 49ers' general manager during some lean seasons.

Nick from Portland writes: Okay so I am a huge Jordan Kent fan I had class with him at the "O" and aside from being an awesome and humble dude, turns out he's a pretty good ball player too. Where do you see him fitting into that receiving group? Does he get playing time or will he have to [bide] his time and sit all year?
Mike Sando: I do see Kent getting playing time early in the season, but things probably get tougher for him once Deion Branch and Bobby Engram return. Kent made strides this preseason. He must perform well early to justify a continued spot in the rotation. He has as good a shot as any of those guys.

Middlebrook from Illinois writes: I have my lineup basically set for week 1, but my Qb and my flex. Warner or Garrard? Desean Jackson, Selvin Young, Mendenhall. Hightower or Cotchery?
Mike Sando: Not sure how your league scores things, but David Garrard has done a very nice job protecting the football. He hasn't thrown many interceptions. Warner would be more apt to suffer turnovers from week to week. Warner will probably throw more touchdown passes. I would wait and see on Tim Hightower. He fumbled just enough during the exhibition season to make me wonder if he'll be consistent early in the season.

Joey from Peoria, Ariz., writes: Hey sando, so I'm just wondering about [Deion] Branch. Do you think there is any chance that if Branch has a good week in practice we could see him for a couple snaps in Sunday's game against the bills or is that totally out of the question. What about Seneca? Any word on what they plan with him because I though Charlie [Frye] looked really good against the chargers and we all know how bad we are hurting at WR. Thanks.
Mike Sando: I would be surprised if Branch played in the opener without practicing much this week. The Seahawks have not named a punt returner. Wallace would be an ideal candidate, even if the team put him in fair-catch mode. I do think Frye showed enough to warrant using Wallace under these very dire circumstances. But we probably won't know until the team practices Wednesday.

John from Southern California writes: So Mike, are you and SandoWife going to do your head-to-head picks this year like you guys did in the good 'ol days at the TNT? I always enjoyed the comments and the hard times you two gave each other. Pretty please ...
Mike Sando: No plans at this time, John. My wife has too many things going now that our kids are getting a little older and involved in so many activities. Plus, she would probably beat me.

Adam from New York writes: Love your blog Mike--keep up the good work! If the niners have a successful season this year (big emphasis on IF), what are the chances Mike Martz will stick around for another year? Please tell me they're better than slim-to-none.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Adam. I think Martz would probably stick around if the 49ers enjoyed a strong season. The 49ers would presumably want to build on any success offensively. And I'm not sure one good season would necessarily vault Martz back into the head-coaching fraternity. The last four head coaches hired had never been head coaches at this level: Jim Zorn, Mike Smith, John Harbaugh and Tony Sparano.

Scott from Bremerton, Wash., writes: Sandman, I am reading conflicting reports as to who will be handling what duties for the Hawks kicking game. Here it says "Mare will handle kickoffs, and Coutu, field goals. (My preference, btw, I mean, why use a draft pick on a kicker if we don't start him?!) However, here it claims Mare is the starter for both, with quotes from Mare seemingly backing that up. Can you shed some light on this?
Mike Sando: Mare has been named to handle both duties for the regular-season opener. The team would not keep two kickers active for a game because those 45 roster spots are precious on game days. Hope that helps.

Guest 49ers from the Bay Area writes: Hey Mike. Last year when the 49ers went 5 and 11, they had a lot of 'C Commentary' coverage, as in JC Pearson, Terry Donahue, or some other commentary group I never heard of. Are the 49ers going to get better coverage crews this year, like if they have the CBS game vs. AFC, they will get Phil Simms' group, or Fox's top group Troy Aikman's group? The bottom tier commentary doesn't seem to respect the 49ers. Or does it all depend on how the 49ers do coming out of the gate...like 3 and 1 instead of 1 and 3? I hope this isn't too complicated. Thanks.
Mike Sando: Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan and Chris Myers are working the Cardinals-49ers gam
e for Fox this week. I've found them to do a good job. In general, though, the No. 1 crews work the best matchups.

Cheryl from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Mike, Do you know of any website where you can watch NFL games online like MLB.tv does? I am a huge Seahawks fan stuck in Arizona and am trying to figure out how to catch the Hawks every week. Thanks!
Mike Sando: DirecTV offers its Sunday Ticket package over the Web. It's very cool if you have a fast enough connection. You can go from game to game at the click of a button.

Gavin from San Jose writes: Just reading your column and noticed all the banter about Whitworth - I graduated Class of 95! Just wanted to give props where they're due. I'll stay tuned, as I am a huge Seahawks fan and get to see them whenever they come down to pound on the Niners.
Mike Sando: Watch out for those 49ers this season. They could surprise Seattle. Remember what happened to the Seahawks when they went down to Arizona last season for what they thought would be another victory in the desert. Let's see if Seattle overlooks the 49ers at Candlestick.

Bill from parts unknown writes: Geez, Sandman, it's like you went on IR for a year and now you're back on the playing field. Hope your wife and kids are fine, school is good, and you continue your tireless efforts in exceling in your profession. Thanks for your work.

Mike Sando: Thanks much for the kind words. My wife has instituted a curfew this year to make sure I don't work through the night, so everything should be OK.

Kraig from Puyallup, Wash., writes: What's different about a waiver claim from just plucking a player off the practice squad later? In other words, What does it mean to "clear waivers" when a player is just as available on the PS as he is right after he was waived?

Mike Sando: The waiver claim comes in handy if other teams have interest in the player. For example. the Saints waived 2007 third-round guard Andy Alleman. Seven teams submitted waiver claims. The Dolphins got him because they had the worst 2007 record among teams that submitted claims. Also, teams that win waiver claims inherit the player's contract as it stood with his previous team. Players on the practice squad do have the freedom to sign anywhere. Waived players must clear waivers before enjoying that freedom.