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Thursday, August 21, 2008
Mailbag: Support for 49ers' Nolan

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dan from Knoxville writes: Mike, I have been a 49ers fan since birth. I think that Mike Nolan is a great coach. Think of that HUGE mess he had to fix when he arrived. He has drafted some fantasic players and has this team so close. I have been reading that many are troubled with the future of the staff. The offense will improve this year and the defense will be scary good, just wait. If Nolan leaves, just hire Martz as the coach/OC and its problem solved. I hope to be rollin' with Nolan for a long time. Great Job on the blog. By the way, Alex Smith should lose his job. He is terrible.

Mike Sando: Mike Nolan is obviously a very good football coach. The question is whether he's a good head coach in the NFL. That distinction stands until Nolan proves he can handle all aspects of the job. The situation with Alex Smith last season was unfortunate for all involved. The head coach ultimately bears more responsibility than the then-23-year-old quarterback.

Nolan isn't to blame for losing Norv Turner. That one change might be as responsible as anything for derailing Smith's career.


Sam from Springfield, Mo., writes: Mike - Now that Steven Jackson is ending his holdout, I am guessing that this will make Bulger a lot happier. Marc will now have Steven to get the ball to, and the opponent's defense will now have to worry about Jackson running over them, meaning that Marc will stay on his feet more often. I'm not too worried about him being able to turn on that 'NFL switch', I'm confident that he will be ready to go when we meet the Eagles. What I want to know is will Jackson being back in Horns make a difference in the NFC West standings?

Mike Sando: Yes, I do think Jackson is good enough to make that kind of difference. Without Jackson, I would put the Rams fourth in the division. With Jackson, I think the Rams have a chance to be better than that. Their depth still might be the worst in the division, but the Bulger-Jackson combination is a good one. Protection is always the key for Bulger. He's not the sturdiest guy and he's not the same when he's getting hit.


Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey, Mike great job with this blog. It's nice to have another source for great Cardinals info. With all of this hoopla about Q (Anquan Boldin), are there any developing stories flying under the radar this week? Any stories that might be more positive? It always seems that Cardinals fans only ever get bad news; (knocking on wood that there is no more serious bad news)

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jason. Much appreciated. The added depth on defense is certainly a positive story for Arizona. Travis LaBoy and Clark Haggans should help that team. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a positive story. Tim Hightower's running has been another positive development for this team. I'll be at the Cardinals-Raiders game on Saturday night, keeping an eye out for other developments, good and bad.


Aaron from Redmond, Wash., writes: Hey Mike! I was wondering what your thoughts are as far as the current jogjam at running back. Do any of them have any trade value? I know you have stated, and I totally agree, that Justin Forsett has done enough to earn a roster spot. But if the coaches disagree, there isn't much chance of him clearing waivers and signing him to the practice squad, is there? You stated in your coverage of saturday's game that there were scouts from 11 teams at Qwest, not including the Bears (who really need a RB). Surely more than 1 of them would take notice if he became availible. Considering we got him in the 7th round, wouldnt it be better to try and at least get back our investment by trading him for a 7th round pick? Or maybe even get a better pick, since I'm sure if the draft was done over today, that he would not last till the 7th round this time. What do you think? Are there any trade possibilities for the Hawks at RB? (preferably Duckett if anyone would want him) Or will we have to risk losing a promising young guy to another team? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Forsett is an interesting case. No team is likely to sign him as a starter. He simply isn't big enough to be that 20-carry player, most likely. The most likely scenario, I think, would be to keep six this season.


Jake from San Jose, Calif., writes: I frequently hear about retired veteran players who have relationships with current players from the same team. Most recently, Steve McNair and Vince Young as well as PacMan Jones and Michel Irvin. Do the current 49er quarterbacks, particularly Alex Smith, have any mentors to turn to from the 49ers? Joe Montana and Steve Young are two hall of fame quarterbacks who would be outstanding mentors for anyone. My question is do the 49ers have a system for connecting current players with former players who could help guide them through the trials in the NFL?

Mike Sando: The 49ers do have an alumni board featuring Steve Bono, Guy McIntyre, Jesse Sapolu, Keena Turner and Eric Wright. Mentoring is one of their roles.


Michael from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, The burning question on the local Seahawks blogs is will they keep Justin Forsett? I think they have to. What do you think?

Mike Sando: I do think they need to keep him, particularly after what he showed on special teams. Yes, the Seahawks have pretty good depth. But what message are you sending the rest of the team by releasing a player who produces so demonstrably?


Steve from parts unknown writes: Mike, JT was drafted in the 6th round by New Orleans. It is not a hard item to find out. Read his profile.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Steve. Shaun Hill was undrafted in 2002. J.T. O'Sullivan was indeed a sixth-round choice of the Saints that same year. I'm about to do 10 pushups off to the side while the rest of the team continues practicing.


Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, Any chance you can give us a quick breakdown on the Niners D line? Is anybody emerging as a NT capable of being the anchor of a 3-4? Without Bryant Young who is emerging as the leader? Is Balmer, a one year performer in college whose work ethic was questioned, playing hard and will he get snaps at DT and DE? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Ray McDonald has stepped up this summer.
The team says it's happy with Balmer, too, but we haven't seen him make plays the way McDonald has made them so far. If you count Justin Smith as a defensive lineman, he would be a natural leader simply by how he plays and practices.


Turk from San Diego writes: As Niner fan and empathetic human, I am pulling for Alex Smith. He should not need excuses although there are plenty of legitimate ones. One that is often missed is not only does he not have a stud WR, Battle is the only guy that has been there every year Smith has. What is going on with their WR corps anyway? Thanks

Mike Sando: They've had to fill in with stopgaps recently. Darrell Jackson fits into that category. Isaac Bruce, a great player in his prime, probably falls into that category simply because of his age. You should feel some optimism about Josh Morgan and Jason Hill. They have shown positive signs this summer. Bryant Johnson should turn into a positive addition once his hamstring injury heals.


Bob from Sacramento writes: What in the World has J.T. O'Sullivan done to earn a starting spot? Mike Martz? I don't think Alex Smith has been given a fair opportunity to compete for the job this season. We all know that he has had 3 different offensive cooridinators in 3 three years with each being vastly different from the prior. Imagine having a new editor each year with different philosophies.....bet you would be less than comfortable doing your job. I don't think Alex has had the best situation around him either...(see Kwame Harris) and a lack of legitimate receivers as well as injured last season.... From what I have seen this preseason, O'Sullivan won't last 2 weeks before losing his job.

Mike Sando: It's tough to argue with the points you have made. Mike Nolan has made it clear this is about which quarterback gives the 49ers the best chance in the next game. That might be unfair to Smith, but that is the approach.


EGMyke from Elk Grove, Calif., writes: Not sure if you have been following the whole mess in SF. Martz made his decision before camp. He got the GM to bring in O'Sullivan... and from the get go, J.T. gets all the first-team snaps and starts. Though Nolan continues to say it's open competition... it's been anything but that. Smith had the better numbers in the first game. Against Green Bay, J.T. was terrible in the first quarter. When the Packers' second string came in for the second quarter, J.T. did better. Smith may not be the answer.. but O'Sullivan and Hill are journeymen at best. Unless O'Sullivan stinks the place up Thursday night.. he's the QB. That was the plan from day one.

Mike Sando: You present a convincing case and I think you stand a good chance of being right when this shakes out.


Lee from Tampa Bay writes: Why doesn't San Francisco make a play at Chris Simms in Tampa. He wants out and they want him out so I'm sure the asking price isn't much. Simms has had his share of bad play the past couple of years but he is finally healthy again and could easily outplay Smith or the other guy.

Mike Sando: Adding another quarterback to the mix would make sense if the current three aren't the answer. A player might have a hard time picking up the Martz system quickly enough to start right away, but that would change over time.


John from Helena, Mont., writes: Mike, I am curious about the contract status of Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill. I know he is a free agent at the end of the year. I also know that his quality play will demand a pretty good chunk of money. Will Seattle be able to keep this dynamic trio of linebackers together or will it be impossible to keep Leroy? If it is possible have there been any talks between the two parties?

Mike Sando: It's definitely possible. Last I heard, Hill said he was unaware of substantive talks recently. The Seahawks definitely want him. Tim Ruskell drafted Hill. The team realizes Hill might be, at times, the best linebacker on the team. You do wonder how much money a team can pour into one position. That would be the only potential limiting factor in my estimation.


Stefen from Seattle writes: I saw some comments in a mailbag about the Rams franchise player, then went to check out that particular blog post. Completely agree about Youngblood. I was pretty young when he was around, but I do remember him playing, but his playing in the Super Bowl with a broken leg is just astounding and legendary. Where are the Jack Youngbloods of today? Anyway, what are your thoughts on the Hawks week 1 at Buffalo? I've been reading that Buffalo is improved this year and a dark horse playoff contender...and with the Hawks beat up all over the place, I feel like an upset might be in the works. Would it even be considered an upset?

Mike Sando: It's never an upset when Seattle loses in the Eastern time zone. I've seen it happen too many times. Jack Youngblood did play with a broken fibula. The NFL still has lots and lots of players who play and practice through painful injuries. Steve McNair was legendary that way. I've seen players sneak off the bench and into the game after injuries when they hadn't even been cleared to play. Chuck Darby did that a couple years ago. He sneaked back onto the field, beat a double-team block and forced an Eli Manning interception.


Wendell from Toronto writes: Hey Mike, You're doing a fabulous job with the NFC West blog. Guys that do a great job with reporting should be recognized. Great job man.

Mike Sando: I'm reluctant -- but not all that reluctant -- to include such a self-serving note in the mailbag.


Tyler from Laguna Beach, Calif., writes: Mike....I wanted to thank you for the spread sheet that you have made...wow....thank you for your dedication to the NFC West......My question is....From what you saw at 49er training camo how did Takeo Spikes look like he was doing picking up the defense? And what in your observation is keeping Alex Smith from leading this team? Is it ability or the inability of the coaching staff to stay consistent the last 4 years and in your opinion is Alex Smith's natural abilities good enough to run Martz's offense or is he just fundementally not the correct QB for the offense? Again thank you, bring us the news every day.

Mike Sando: You're welcome. The spreadsheets are a passion of mine. Takeo Spikes definitely looks the part. He is put together. I might question his ability to hold up physically for a full season at age 31. If healthy, I think he helps this defense. The pairing with linebackers coach Mike Singletary has the potential, on the surface, to be a good one. I'm not sure about Alex Smith and this offense. Le
t me explain. Coaches I know have told me they think Smith became gun-shy after getting hit (and hurt) over the last couple seasons. One coach told me he thought Smith might need a full season working behind a competent offensive line before he felt comfortable enough to function at a high level. Martz's system has produced fantastic stats over the years, but the sack numbers have jumped as well. If the trend continues, perhaps Smith might not be ready to face that this season. Just a thought.


Brad from Seattle writes: Mike- I have been reading your stuff since your days at the TNT and it is great to have you writing everyday again. I know that it is easy to get caught up in great preseason performances, but Justin Forsett looks like the truth. The question has always been whether or not he will make the team, but after last week, what are the odds he takes control of the starting job? MoMo and Julius Jones have both been around for a while and it seems everyone knows what they can do. How about the little guy?

Mike Sando: Forsett has probably been proving people such as me wrong his whole life, but I don't see him projecting as an every-down back at his current size. Again, he could prove otherwise. He certainly looks good so far. But some have wondered if Maurice Morris is big enough to take the pounding. Forsett is smaller.


Brett from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: It was a sad day for me when you left the Tribune for ESPN. Real Seahawk addicts knew they were losing a good thing. I'm very glad that you're continuing to provide coverage on the Seahawks, as well as the rest of the NFC west. My question is concerning Mike Solari and the new "blocking scheme" he has implemented. Does this represent a significant change for the veteran linemen? Is this a subtle shift that is limited to how the center makes line calls, or does it mean actually altering the playbook? With all the attention Steve Vallos is receiving lately, I am wondering if his (early) success might be built upon his abilities being more suited to this "newer" system.

Mike Sando: Thanks much, Brett. I loved working at the News Tribune and had a great experience there. The sports editor there, Dale Phelps, remained strongly committed to Seahawks coverage even amid tightening budgets.

As for Solari and those blocking schemes, I don't think the change is dramatic in that way. The Seahawks are not changing their offense for Solari, in other words. They are asking Solari to teach within the framework of the offense as it existed. Solari's impact comes from his teaching style, enthusiasm and knowledge of what it takes to play the position well on a consistent basis. The assistant line coach, Mike DeBord, is also making an impact. From what I have seen, they make for a very efficient and effective team.


Seth from Seattle writes: I've been hearing a lot of people talking about solutions for the logjam at running back that the Seahawks are experiencing especially with Forsett performing so well to date. Many have been calling for Duckett to be cut, others crafting scenarios where Morris is traded. I think both are unlikely because of Morris's experience in the WCO and the money committed to Duckett already, but what's your take?

Mike Sando: I agree with you. The only thing working against Morris, potentially, is that he predates the current personnel braintrust. Sometimes personnel people are less attached to players they didn't bring in. I'm not saying that is the case here, but it's just something to consider along with everything else.


Damage from Southern California writes: Sando, Everything I am seeing through my blue and green tinted glasses leads me to believe that the SEA defense, the LBs in particular, will have another dominant year. Is there anything you can say to make me think otherwise?

Mike Sando: Patrick Kerney is 31 years old and coming off surgery for the second consecutive offseason, and he wore down significantly last season. Was that enough to scare you? I doubt it. Adding Lawrence Jackson in the draft made a lot of sense. This defense definitely has the makings of another strong season. As I've pointed out, Seattle was the only team in the NFL to place starters at defensive end, linebacker and cornerback in the 2008 Pro Bowl.


Matt from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hi Sando - I'm a huge Seahawks fan. You did a great job with Tribune blog and I love the current blog on the NFC West you are heading. I check in almost every hour. Keep up the great work! My question is regarding Julius Jones. He has looked OK so far. He started the Bears game looking very good, but then fumbled and had the holding penalty, which seemed to take the wind out of his sails. MoMo has been the better runner of the two so far. Did Julius expect to start when signing with Seattle? I think Momo and Julius will split time to keep both backs fresh, but MoMo should get the starting nod. Will this affect Julius during the season? He seemed to fade when he split time with Barber eventually leading to his exit in Dallas.

Mike Sando: Jones did expect to start even though Mike Holmgren made it clear nothing was promised. Jones views himself as an every-down back with elite potential. He didn't like sharing so much time with Marion Barber in Dallas, but those are the breaks if the other running back is productive. No question, Morris has looked better in the exhibition season. That matters now, but let's see how they do against defenses that game-plan for the offense. Jones will have his chance to prove himself when it counts. I wonder if Morris will be appreciably better given expected improvements in the offensive line.


Chris from Seattle writes: Hey Sando, great work on the Blog. Just wondering if you could quell once and for all any rumors or speculation by Hawk fans that Joe Horn could end up in Seattle of all places? What is the probability of that happening?

Mike Sando: Not high.


Josh from Chicago writes: Mike, good to hear you on KJR. 1) Would it be better for Alexander to not play again? Yes, some team could pick him up if their backs are out for the year, but he would be playing for stats (10,000 yards, more TD's). 2) Hasselbeck is not 100 percent and Branch and Engram are hurt, what should they do? I grew up in Seattle for 10 years, that's why I am a Seahawk fan.

Mike Sando: Thanks for listening. I see no reason for Alexander to retire if he thinks he has unfinished business. Now, do I expect him to enjoy success somewhere else at this stage of his career? Not particularly. Mike Holmgren probably has the right approach when he rests Hasselbeck to make sure the back issue subsides. The Seahawks have become a defense-led team over the last couple seasons. They do not need to be passing for 300 yards per game to beat Buffalo or most teams. Seattle put lots into upgrading its running game this offseason. Let's see how that works early in the season.