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Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Mailbag: Alexander and the Hall of Fame

By Mike Sando

Posted by's Mike Sando

Matt from Seattle writes: Sando, Is Shaun Alexander a hall of famer? I raise this question after reading your Largent post. I dont think SA gets the love he deserves because of two injury plagued final seasons. Had he hung it up after the 05 season he would be idolized. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: After the 2005 season, I thought Alexander needed one or two more great seasons to break into the Hall of Fame discussions. A victory in Super Bowl XL also would have helped. Remember, Alexander averaged something like 4.5 yards per carry in that game. The Seahawks got a little pass happy. Alexander was well on his way to a 100-yard game if the Seahawks had fed the ball to him.

The passage of time could help Alexander. His numbers over a five-year period will hold up well. In the end, I'm just not sure how hard the electors will argue on Alexander's behalf. Alexander's style of play and happy-go-lucky personality led to the impression he was soft.

Adam from Sacramento, Calif., writes: J.T. O'Sullivan is getting another start. Does that pretty much close the door on Smith? Nolan said that it was due to the short week, but come on... What does the great Sando say?

Mike Sando: I can't find the Great Sando, so you'll have to settle for me. We could make the case that the door was closed on Smith long before this week. I would have expected him to get more first-team reps this offseason to help salvage his career. But as I've pointed out, Mike Nolan is coaching for his job, not for Smith's long-term prospects.

Ryan from parts unknown writes: Mike, Why do things seem so utterly hopeless for the Rams, besides the simple fact that it is hopeless? Does this franchise seem well positioned for the future? Next season? Chronic runs of sub-par seasons are mostly an anomaly in the league, except for STL. What happened?

Mike Sando: What happened? Well, the Rams got older in key positions (receiver, left tackle Orlando Pace). They failed to draft impact players after the first round (Joe Klopfenstein, Claude Wroten, Jon Alston, Dominique Byrd). And then they've been terribly unlucky with injuries, particularly last season. This team needs to add personnel and do a better job filling in depth with its mid-round draft choices.

To be clear, the Rams have been 8-8 twice in the last four years and above .500 three times this decade, so we're not talking about chronic runs of subpar seasons -- yet.

OriginalVampyre from Blacksburg, Va., writes: Joe Montana is and was a hall of famer but John Taylor, Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and Jerry Rice made him and he had an offensive genius behind him. Without them he would have been just another good quarterback.

Mike Sando: No question, Montana was the right guy in the right place at the right time. But most of the greats had great people around them. Johnny Unitas had Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore, among others. We're left to judge players on what they accomplished, not what they might have accomplished under different circumstances. Football is such a team game.

Jason from Roseville, Calif., writes: Mike, I have really enjoyed reading your daily blogs. You make my day a little better with your 49er updates. I have to ask though what's up with Ashley Lelie? A calf injury, come on. Is he just playing injured to get out of training camp? Are the Niners going to cut him. What are your thoughts on our wide receivers this year compared to the last few years past? Thanks againn for all your hard work!

Mike Sando: I'll let you in on a little secret here, but don't tell anyone. This is not technically work. But thanks for the kind words.

The 49ers' receiving situation is improved this season. Bryant Johnson's hamstring injury is the only real negative with this group. Lelie was probably on the outside looking in, even without the injury. He needed a strong camp to convince the 49ers to keep him as the sixth receiver. I'm not sure about Isaac Bruce holding up for a full season. He is a bit of a stopgap at this stage of his career.

But you should be excited about a future with Johnson, Josh Morgan and possibly Jason Hill. The biggest concerns, as I see them, are the quarterback situation and the constant changing of offensive coordinators. Nolan's long-term future with the team is obviously in question. If management makes a change, would the same offensive system remain? If not, how long before the young receivers get back up to speed? And who throws the ball to them?

Mark from El Cerrito, Calif., writes: Hi Mike, thanks again for all of your great coverage of the Seahawks. Courtney Taylor, despite his ability to impress during practice, has not caught a pass in two preseason games while his contemporaries Jordan Kent, Logan Payne and Michael Bumpus have displayed some production. Is Taylor a player who practices well but disappears on game day, or are there other explanations for his lack of game day production? Could Taylor lose his roster spot if this trend continues? Thanks.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks think Taylor has more natural ability than the others, so I would be surprised if they let him go. Taylor started the Chicago game and nearly came up with a huge play. He and Charlie Frye were just a little off in their timing. I would like to see the snap breakdowns for the receivers. My perception is that Taylor hasn't played as many reps as some of the other guys.

Clifford from Seattle writes: There seems to be a fair amount of speculation that the naming of Mora as next year's coach might cause problems this year. It strikes me that this is overblown. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: I see no evidence right now that this situation is untenable. I think that sort of thing would become more relevant if the team struggled during the season. If the Seahawks were 2-6 at the break, for example, then I think you wonder about internal loyalties. But if this team performs to expectations, I see no problems.

Ken from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Mike, This NFC west blog is great and have been really enjoying reading all the content. I'm a big Hawks fans and have season tickets, follow the games and players pretty closely as well. This blog is a great central info source with the comments and links to the local news. Also nice to keep tabs on the other teams around the NFC-W without having to do much search! Things are shaping up well for the Hawks and will be interesting to see who makes the final roster, sure is fun seeing these young guys go out there and compete for a spot! The bears game was so sloppy though, the obvious highlights are there but a few real disappoints as well. Duckett, haven't seen him do much well yet, I'm not ready to give up on him but I am hoping to see something a little more that we have (esp since its not against top teams yet). Also Charlie Frye has a long way to go, the thought of him starting is a nightmare situation so hopefully Seneca and Matt stay healthy. Last thing is the setbacks that Carlson had during the Bears game, little errors like how he made really show you how much progress he is going to need to make to be a good starter (which they are hoping for). I sit right on the south end zone near the front so I had a front row seat to those errors. These were 3 key things I noticed in terms of individual play that I thought needed the most improvements. Specials teams also REALLY has to improve. Keep up the great work!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Ken. Charlie Frye is the third quarterback, so it'
s not as though the Seahawks expect him to be a Pro Bowl performer. Having to play the third-string quarterback is a nightmare scenario for any team.

John Carlson is in a great position because he's going to get plenty of reps during the season. He'll make some mistakes, but he'll have a chance to correct them right away. He strikes me as the type of guy who will work to remedy those errors you pointed out.

Duckett has been under a microscope a little bit given how well Justin Forsett has played. You are right that Duckett hasn't wowed anyone yet. I would not expect him to do so. He's a short-yardage guy and a backup with some experience. They don't envision him as more than that.

Colby from Shelton, Wash., writes: Will Hasselbeck do as good as he did last year even though of this back injury? Will Engram [play] anymore after this year and will Justin Forsett be a quality back unlike Alexander was?

Mike Sando: Oddly, Hasselbeck has been at his best in odd-numbered years. At least that has been the case recently. He was very good in 2003 (7.5 yards per attempt, 88.8 rating). He wasn't quite as good in 2004 (7.1, 83.1). He was better in 2005, the Super Bowl season (7.7, 98.2), then not as good in 2006, when the offense faltered amid injuries (6.6, 76.0). He was then very good last season (7.1, 91.4).

Hasselbeck set the bar high in 2007. History says he might not necessarily raise it in 2008, although I would not expect him to drop off significantly.

I don't know if Engram has a future with this team beyond the Holmgren era. Engram asked for an extension beyond this season. The team declined his request. An extension might have provided some security for Engram by forcing management to release him if the team decided he didn't fit into its plans. Without the extension, Engram quietly becomes a free agent and it's easier to let him go, should the team decide he doesn't fit.

The Seahawks should be pleased if Forsett turns into half the back Alexander was at his best. No question, Alexander fell off over the last two years. No question, he was not a complete back. But let's not forget about his almost unprecedented production over a five-year period. He had a great run in Seattle.

Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, Do we get to blame you for getting our hopes up if Josh Morgan bombs in the regular season? ;) Just kidding Mike, appreciate the constant updates.

Mike Sando: You can blame me, no question. Seriously, though, I know better than to fawn over promising rookie receivers. Morgan has moved past the point of just being a guy who flashes early in camp. At this point I would be surprised if he didn't contribute in meaningful ways as a rookie. We should remember, though, that Bryant Johnson remains sidelined by injury. The reps become a little harder to come by once Johnson is healthy.

Jon from Seattle writes: Sando, bet you're not missing the rain up here in Seattle!! Just wanted to check on Nolan's thoughts on what Smith need to do to land the starting job. I'm still on the fence on a starter for the Niners but at least Smith has a history of putting it all together like in '06.

Mike Sando: I'm sure they'll save some rain for me once I get back there tonight. Here is what Nolan said when I asked him what Alex Smith must do to win the job: "Just keep playing well. He is doing a good job. All three of the guys are doing well. Some are getting more reps than the others. I've been pleased with all three of them. I do feel confident we have three guys who can win games. Two of them I know can because I've played with them in the past, and continue to take a look at J.T."

That qualifies as a non-answer answer. No specifics, nor should we have expected any.

Dukeshire from Portland writes: Sandyman, Thanks for all your great info. With Forsett having such a great camp, practice and games both, how would you assess the chances the Seahawks release Duckett and keep only 5 rbs? (Assuming Weaver and Schmitt are both in.)

Mike Sando: That seems unlikely. The Seahawks haven't been disappointed with Duckett, to my knowledge. They simply appear to have hit on Forsett unexpectedly in the seventh round. The team paid a $2 million signing bonus to Duckett. They owe him a $2 million guaranteed roster bonus in 2009. That buys him a little security, I would think. Duckett has a fan in Seahawks president Tim Ruskell, who courted the running back in past offseasons and knows him from their days together in Atlanta.

Kendal from Seattle writes: Mike, Over the last few years everyone in Seattle has had to listen to the national media say, "If it weren't for the division winners getting an automatic playoff spot, no one from the NFC west would get getting into post season play this year." But in the last 4 years the hawks have finished no worse than fourth in the conference record wise and in 2003 two NFC west teams made the playoffs with the Rams tied for the best record in the NFC. Until the 49ers or Rams become dominant, is this confererce destined to be black sheep of the NFL since writers seem to forget so quickly that the hawks have won playoff games in each of the last three years and are led by a pro bowl QB on offense? ps. Love your blog. I never had a chance to read about the other NFC west teams in depth before.

Mike Sando: Playoff success speaks for itself. Seattle has won playoff games against the Redskins and Cowboys over the last two seasons. It's fair to wonder if the Seahawks would have won those games on the road, however. The Redskins and Cowboys play in a tougher division. They have a harder time securing home playoff games. In that sense, yes, the weak NFC West gives Seattle an advantage. Everyone knows the Seahawks are tough to beat at Qwest Field. But we haven't seen them pull off what the Giants managed to accomplish last offseason, winning road games in the postseason.

Larry from Seattle writes: Mike - Is this the year that Seattle keeps only two QBs (dumping Frye)? I know you will pull up one of your fancy charts and tell me that Holmy has had three QBs on his roster for the past 12 years and, thus, answer my question with a resounding 'no.' Nonetheless, in light of the roster issues with Engram and Branch holding dead spots for the first few weeks, wouldn't it make sense to dump Frye? If Frye gets any meaningful playing time in 2008, it's a lost season anyway. Also, Holmy does not appear to be inclined to play Seneca at WR because he lacks confidence in Frye. To me, all of this adds up to cutting Frye as the most logical decision. Maybe Ruskell can just cut Frye without telling Holmy.

Mike Sando: Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona opened the 2007 regular season with only two quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. Seattle acquired Frye via trade early last season. Holmgren does like having three quarterbacks. I expect that to continue this season.

While cutting Frye without telling Holmgren might qualify as poor management, I would pay $50 to see Holmgren's reaction upon learning the news from a third party and another $50 if that third party were a media report.

Steve from Vancouver, B.C., writes: Mike, I know everyone is focused on discussing how many RB/WR Seattle can keep on its final roster. The situation with Branch and Engram makes it more difficult. This might be a silly question but, given the poor outing by Frye on the weekend, is it possible that Seattle could keep only two QBs on their active roster to make room for an extra RB or WR...and keep a third 'developmental' QB on the Practice Squad?

Mike Sando: It is possible, Steve, and obviously you're not the only one thinking along those lines.

tt from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes:
Sando, Can you make a post detailing your "schedule" for the upcoming season? Do you have specific games you plan on attending? Maybe a breakdown of what is in store for us as the season progresses?

Mike Sando: I know this will come as a shock to regular readers, but I've got every 2008 regular-season game entered into a spreadsheet. I can sort the games by divisional affiliations. I've got another column showing which games might seem most logical to cover. Things change during the season, of course, and that makes it tough to settle on a schedule this early. I'll get into this in an upcoming blog entry. Thanks for getting the conversation started.

John from Sacramento writes: With Seattle's log jam at running back, could it be possible that Maurice Morris is either cut or traded? You have Jones who would be the starter and Forsett as the backup and future running back for the Hawks.

Mike Sando: Anything is possible, but Morris has been the most impressive runner during the exhibition games. I'd be shocked if the Seahawks released him and surprised if they traded him. He might be their starter, after all.

Talons from parts unknown writes: Do you really see Forsett as a long shot? Even if its only punt and kick off specialist? Seahawks 10-6 this year !!

Mike Sando: I do not see Forsett as a long shot at this point. He has done enough to earn a roster spot, in my view.

John from Helena, Mont., writes: Mike, very little has been written about Seattle's first round pick Lawrence Jackson. How is he progressing in the Seattle defensive scheme? Will he be playing more at tackle or at end? Also, what do you think the chances of the Seattle defensive unit cracking the top 5 in defenses this season? Thanks

Mike Sando: Jackson is starting at right defensive end. He has not been named the starter for the regular season, but I would expect him to crack the lineup sooner rather than later. Patrick Kerney's health could dictate how the Seahawks use Darryl Tapp this season. Tapp is the incumbent starter at right end, but Jackson could overtake him. Jackson is bigger and stronger than Tapp. He projects as more of an early-down defensive end. Tapp is more of a pure pass rusher. Jackson could play tackle in the nickel defense.

John from Flint, Texas, writes: MIke: My comments are Regarding Joe montana. You are one of few to accurately access Joe Montana's greatness. His great accuracy, timing, seeing the "whole field" and leadership (most writers forget this about Montana). Look at the modern day QB, except for a few, and how bad their timing is. Sad, but the longer one is removed from seeing great players from the past, the better the "modern" QB looks. All my life (I'm 72) I thought there would never be a greater QB than Johnny Unitas. I was wrong. In the golden years of the 49ers I saw Montana play from 1980 until his trade to Kansas City. I don't know if you ever saw Montana play "live" -- that is, at candlstick park, If not you have missed seeing greatness in person. I cannot describe to you how awed I was when I saw him play. Others may argue who was the best, but I will guarantee there has never been a smoother QB in all of football. The countless times I have seen him play at candlestick Park no other QB has come close. I now live in Texas but i'm still a 49'er fan. I miss seeing JOE MONTANA play but I guess one can't have all the good things in life last forever. Sorry for my ramblings Mike but I was happy with your perception of Montana.

Mike Sando: I was a kid living in Northern California when Montana began his career, but I never went to a 49ers regular-season NFL game until either the late 1980s or early 1990s. I do recall seeing a 49ers-Bears game on Monday night at Candlestick, but most of my Montana watching was on TV. I was never a 49ers fan, but Montana might have been the coolest, most accurate passer.

Hardy from parts unknown writes: Eric Dickerson by far, no St. Louis Ram in my top twenty. LA Rams had a lot more greats.

Mike Sando: Dickerson finished second to Marshall Faulk in balloting. Winning a Super Bowl probably went a long way toward breaking ties in voters' minds.