- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey Sando. Great job as usual. I know it is very early in the season, but how do you feel about the 2006 draft picks in the West? They say it takes 3 years to evaluate a draft class and this is the 3rd year. As a Cards fan I feel Deuce Lutui has been a solid starter and Leinart's time will come (I hope another on the bench helps him like it helped Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.)
What are you evaluations of guys like Vernon Davis and Leonard Pope at TE? Pope seems to be more productive. I am not as familiar with the draft picks of the other West teams, but I would think that the Cards picks from that year would grade the highest of the four teams. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando: Thanks, Jason. The 2006 class appears very weak from an NFC West standpoint. Vernon Davis might be a very good blocker, but you expect a top-10 pick to catch passes more frequently. Matt Leinart isn't starting. Tye Hill is struggling. Manny Lawson was having a hard time getting playing time before his hamstring injury.
Kelly Jennings has been exploited in coverage this season. Deuce Lutui has been OK, but the Cardinals have threatened to replace him with Elton Brown more than once. Joe Klopfenstein has been a disappointment. Darryl Tapp is no longer starting for Seattle.
Claude Wroten is suspended. Leonard Pope is a good receiving tight end and a tough guy, but blocking is not a strength. Jon Alston is long gone. Dominique Byrd is long gone. A couple of the later-round picks have done OK -- Delanie Walker, Parys Haralson, Gabe Watson, Rob Sims -- but overall this is not a great class for NFC West teams.
Joe from Brentwood, Calif., writes: So after week 5 (even though it's early) is it finally safe to say this is offically a WIDE-OPEN division between the hawks, cards and niners? An under .500 team will take the division.
Mike Sando: I give Arizona the best chance based on what we've seen from these teams. I think the division winner could be in the 8-8 range.
Jerry from parts unknown writes: After Sundays Seahawks game, you interviewed Lofa--could I get the link to the interview you posted.(all about the helmet microphone) thanks Jerry
Mike Sando: No problem. That was actually from before the game.
Peter from Santa Cruz, Calif., writes: Mike, spot on about Nolan and the 49ers defensive struggles. The one thing I noticed in the Pats game, no one but Willis, Spikes, Nate Clements and sometimes Justin Smith wanted to make the play. The defense simply did not shed blocks to go make the hits that needed to me made on the Pats running backs. If the line isn't going to hold its own, it's time to stack the box on obvious running downs. One other thing, the thing that bothers me about Nolan is that he doesn't seem to motivate. Maybe he's an X's and O's guy, and passionate, but that passion does not translate to his players who are basically subdued. This team has no leadership except for the newcomer Spikes.
Mike Sando: The 49ers have seemed fired up going into games. I'm not noticing this team coming out flat repeatedly. Remember, they got pressure on Drew Brees early. Did you have specific examples of this team going through the motions?
Joe from Utah writes: Do you think the 49ers are a better team than last year's team? Also do You think the 49ers can bounce back against the Eagles?
Mike Sando: Yes, I think this 49ers team is better because the offense is more productive. I do not expect this 49ers team to beat the Eagles, however. Look for the Eagles to pick off J.T. O'Sullivan more than once, and look for Donovan McNabb to make plays down the field. That is my feeling at this point.
Cedric from Memphis writes: Hey Mike, I appreciate all your hard work on the posts for the NFC West. It's the only place I go to get my Niner news. Why don't the Niners run Frank Gore at least 20-25 times a game to control the clock and pass occasionally? Is Gore no longer capable? Coming in I thought the defense was supposed to be one of the 10 best in the league, what happened? Before the season, I felt the Niners would be 12-4/11-5. Is that still possible to get, if they let Gore and the real Niners D carry the team? Appreciate the info and your work, keep it up!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Cedric. I tackled this issue after you sent this mailbag item. Overall, I think Mike Martz is keeping Gore involved.
Mike from Portland, Ore., writes: I think Mike Holmgren is still in denial about how the Seahawks seem to have no life when playing on the east coast. In a recent radio interview he said Bill Walsh believed it was a factor, but for Holmgren he said it doesn't matter, saying something like, "We just have to go out there and play". I wonder what would happen if the Seahawks just changed their schedule every day to waking up earlier, practicing earlier as if every day were east coast time? Then east coast games would be "normal" for them and west coast games would be 3 hours late. At Qwest, the 12th man would negate any problems with playing 3 hours late. How can it hurt? It is just flat not working as is.
Mike Sando: I think Holmgren was trying to
prevent players from using the time change as an excuse. He's tired of hearing about it and that comes through in his interviews. The team's record in early games -- those played at 10 a.m. PT -- wasn't so bad in the previous couple of seasons.