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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Zane from San Jose, Calif., writes: One of the BEST things that has happened for the Cards may go overlooked. They get to play well into the EVENING on Saturday night. As a 20 year coach of elite athletes training for U.S. Olympic teams, I understand the extreme disadvantage that comes with having to travel east, through 3 time zones, and then compete early in the day.
At the highest level of sport, this disadvantage is profound and universal. In the night game, the Cards will be playing the game when their bodies and metabolisms are at their peak. This will significantly help offset the colder game temperature. While this fact is certainly not an automatic predictor for Cards success, e.g., see the "Thanksgiving Day Debacle", I am sure that the players and coaches were pumping their collective fists when they learned about the game time.
[Note most elite level Olympic athletes, who admittedly tend to compete less frequently that pro team athletes, will begin to adapt their training and sleeping schedules for any 2 hour+ time change, 3 to 4 weeks ahead of the competition.]
Mike Sando: I do think the kickoff time is potentially significant and I thank you for shining light on it. I would give the Cardinals less chance if the game kicked off at 11 a.m. MT.
John from Great Falls, Mont., writes: In my opinion Willis got jipped out of a first team All-Pro by Jon Beason. Sure, Jon Beason is good ... but Willis is outstanding and is quite possibly the best 49ers defender since Ronnie Lott. Willis was better in every statistical category except interceptions, and even then Willis returned his on interception for a touchdown! Also, the 49ers do not have the same amount of talent (especially on the defensive line) to keep Willis clean like Beason, who has the advantage of playing behind a line that includes Julius Peppers and Maake Kameaoutu, and so usually Beason is allowed to run free.
Willis, on the other hand, still routinely makes plays all over the field even when routinely having to fight off blockers. Willis also makes way more plays behind the LOS (7 tfl, 1 sack) while Beason does not. So, bottom line: Do you think Willis should have beaten out Beason for the 1st Team All Pro? Or not. I'm just curious about what you think (honestly, I was really hoping that Willis would be the first 49ers defender to make two pro-bowls and two first team all-pros in his first two seasons). Btw, love your blog.
Mike Sando: Thanks, John. I think the Panthers' team success helped put Beason over the top, more than anything Willis or Beason did differently this season. Both are very good young players. One of them enjoyed much more team success. I really think that was the difference.
Mike Sando: I seriously doubt anyone hates the Cardinals. I do think people were more apt to dismiss the Cardinals as a product of a bad division after Arizona repeatedly lost games, sometimes by wide margins, when playing against the better teams. Those perceptions die hard.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Patrick. Glad to have you here. I expect Deion Branch to return in 2009. He finished the season strong. Seattle doesn't have great depth at the position. President Tim Ruskell traded away a first-round pick for Branch, so he has something invested in this personally. For those reasons, I would expect the team to give Branch another season to meet expectations.
Mike Sando: Sure, Sproles would make for a nice addition, but at what price? And will the Chargers let him get away? I see the Seahawks considering a back in the draft. They've already gone the free-agent route with Duckett and Jones. That's just my feel at this point.
Careful, there, Sando - this 'voice of reason' stuff is not what we reactive, know-it-all sports fans are used to!!
Mike Sando: Guilty as charged. I know being reasonable isn't always as fun, but it has more staying power.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Glenn. I'm not sure we know Hill's true value given how the Seahawks have used (and not used) him so far. I wonder if the new staff might be able to unleash Hill a bit more, specifically as a pass rusher. Ideally, the Seahawks would bring back Hill, giving them some flexibility in the draft. If they let him go, they might enter the draft needing to address the position, and that wouldn't be the best situation.
Lewis and Hawthorne did some good things, but I think Hill is a superior athlete. If the new staff can find better ways to use Hill, keeping him makes all the more sense.
Mike Sando: I think the 49ers' relatively poor record gave Jon Beason an edge this season. I still think Willis is worth of All-Pro consideration.
1) Is Aubrayo Franklin the answer for the nose tackle spot? I just don't see him as a typical NT in successful 3-4 defense. Isn't that spot for the real big guys who are ridiculously strong. Teams that have run the 3-4 and have been successful against the run are the teams that have those top notch NT's like Pittsburgh (Hampton), San Diego (Williams, and as of recently NYJ (Jenkins). I think Jenkins is the main reason why that defense was so so strong for most of the year. With that said, what are the chances that the niners go after Haynesworth? I think he would be a good fit for the 3-4.
2) With the 10th pick in the draft, will the niners take one of the top 4 OT prospects (Andre Smith if he declares, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, or Michael Oher) to try to fill up the RT spot or would they go after a safety, possibly Taylor Mays if he declares and lives up the to hype at the Combine and Pro Day?
3) This is more of a question regarding the 3-4 defense. I think I understand the whole defense except one position. What's the difference between the Mike and Ted LB? Also, who are some of the best Ted LB's in the league? I see that Spikes is a FA but I'm sure the niners will try to go after him.
Mike Sando: Thanks much. Aubrayo Franklin looked a lot better after Singletary took over as head coach. The 49ers should find that encouraging. The 49ers already invested heavily in Justin Smith, so I'm not convinced they'll spend even more for Haynesworth, should Haynesworth become available. As for Jenkins, he wore down badly late in the season. Eric Heitmann handled him pretty convincingly.
The higher a team drafts, the more that team probably needs to consider a playmaker. I'm not sure the 10th spot is where a team should find its right tackle. Left tackle, sure. Right tackle, perhaps not. I'll have a better idea of what fits for the 49ers after seeing who they hire as offensive coordinator and getting a better feel for the college players.
The Ted linebacker does the dirty work. He takes on offensive linemen more directly, hopefully freeing up the Mike linebacker to pursue. That's a simplified version, and a pretty accurate one.
Gotta jam. About to head out for Bank of America Stadium.