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Monday, August 25, 2008
Mailbag: Warner will take chances

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Chris from Denver writes: Great blogging through the [Cardinals-Raiders] game. The NFC West blog is great. Mike, what are your thoughts on the AZ QB situation? I know that Leinart is the "future" but I feel as if Warner allows them the opportunity to win now, which is most important.

Mike Sando: Thanks much, Chris. Playing Kurt Warner does give the Cardinals a better chance. That's not necessarily a good thing for the organization, though. The Cardinals need Leinart to become the No. 1 guy at some point. Otherwise, they wasted a high draft choice.

The Cardinals' offensive players are presumably happy to have Warner at quarterback. However, opposing defensive players might happy to have him there, too. They know Warner will risk turnovers to make plays.


Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, considering that Martz doesn't like to keep extra protection and generally gets his QBs beat up, what's the likelihood of all three QBs getting action? And isn't Shaun Hill the only one guaranteed to be there beyond this year? Even if Smith ends up having a decent year it seems that would create difficult negotiations, management wanting to see more (and possible coaching change) and Smith wanting to get paid.

Mike Sando: The 49ers aren't obligated to keep any of the three quarterbacks beyond this season. Keeping Hill would make sense given the three-year investment, but the cap implications do not compel San Francisco to make a decision one way or another.

NFL teams used more than 60 starting quarterbacks last season, so it's an upset if O'Sullivan makes it all the way through, particularly on a 49ers team that used four quarterbacks last season.


Kyle from St. Louis writes: Mike - Keenan Burton and Donnie Avery both looked good on Saturday against Baltimore. Avery's speed, especially, is noticeable. If someone put a gun to your head and made you pick the one who will have the better season, what would you say (and let's hope this doesn't happen, by the way)?

Mike Sando: I would go with Avery because of his promise as a returner as well. That is admittedly a guess. Both players have missed time this summer.

Drew from Federal Way, Wash., writes: First, as a 49er fan, I must say I am excited that Nolan has the guts to give up on Alex Smith and go with the QB who is playing better. However, I must say I am surprised with how much support Smith still gets from the media, citing the four different offensive coordinators as a possible reason for his lacking performance. Honestly, can that make that big of a difference? I have seen him miss many open throws that have to be completed at the NFL level. Doesn't the bottom line come down to raw talent more than anything else?

Mike Sando: Sometimes you'll hear head coaches talking about how quarterbacks really start to figure things out once they've had three seasons in the same system.

Given what we know about Alex Smith -- he needs to fully understand a system before he plays freely within it, according to his college coach -- it's fair to place some of the blame on instability. It doesn't mean Smith would necessarily be a top quarterback by now. It just means the odds have been against him.


Scott from San Jose, Calif., writes: The more I watch or listen to the Niners this year, the less I hear Mark Roman's name, and the more I hear Dashon Goldson's name. I've read your discussions about the starting job, but what do you think is the over/under on a flip-flop in the depth chart? Week 9 (their bye week)?

Mike Sando: That depends on the coaches. Personnel people are generally more eager to get young guys into games. Coaches like veterans they can trust to execute the defense as planned.


Kelly from Spokane, Wash., writes: I have been a Seahawks fan since their inception into the NFL. We have seen decent to awful and now great ownership with this organization. However, it amazes me how short-sighted it was not to include a retractable roof on Quest field. Not only could Seattle have hosted a Super Bowl, but more importantly would have assured the optimal conditions for Holmgren's west coast offense to flourish, along with the quick-footed philosophy of their defense. We certainly do not want to see a repeat of the Green Bay fiasco in out house!

Mike Sando: The Seahawks have dominated at home, so it's tough to complain about the venue. Opposing teams have had a hard time operating in the conditions you described. Also, the crowd noise gives the defense a big advantage. I think Qwest Field is distinctly Seattle, from the skyline views to the changing elements.


Havik from North Carolina writes: What would be the drawbacks of expanding the 53-man roster. It seems that players get signed off the street every year for just about every team because of injuries. Why is the number 53 so static? It looks like the Seahawks must suffer somewhere because of a seemingly arbitrary, and restrictive number.

Mike Sando: The collective bargaining agreement comes into play here. Adding players means adding paychecks, which means adding to team expenses.


Shannon from parts unknown writes: Look for TE Vernon Davis to finally have his breakout year and make his way to being a Pro Bowler.

Mike Sando: The 49ers do not appear to be building their offense around Davis. Mike Martz said we should expect improvements in yards per reception. Let's keep an eye on Davis' touchdown numbers. Big TD numbers at that position can make up for fewer receptions.


Ryan from Riverside, Calif., writes: Mike, Glad you've kept up the fantastic blog work you started at the Trib! How encouraged should I be that the Seahawks starters having been running the ball well in the preseason? And that's without Spencer at center. I know it's just the preseason, but the addition of Wahle, zone blocking techniques, and Solari really seem to be making a difference.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Ryan. The running game does appear improved for the reasons you outlined. I think you should be encouraged based on what you see. This team has committed to improving the ground game. It almost has to happen.


Brad from New Castle, Pa., writes: hey after getting a look at the game and seeing the rams finally score a first-string-td in the scott linehan era, i thought the 2 rookie wr's looked good, and with practice patience and help from veterans i see them becoming good recievers, potentially great (it's early, but they have potential). and their performance made me a lot more comfortably with the depth at WR now. Was wondering if you had anything to say about them and the rams depth at that position.

Mike Sando: The Rams' depth at receiver is much better with those rookies healthy. I still don't see a great situation at the No. 2 and No. 3 receivin
g spots. Drew Bennett's numbers have declined sharply since 2004. Dante Hall has been the third receiver. How quickly can the rookies become regular contributors? The sooner the better.


David from Cold Lake, Canada, writes: Hi Mike, Thanks for all the great years withe the Tribune. Best Hawks news source ever. In your opinion, will the Hawks offense sputter this year with having Bobby Engram and Deion Branch out for long periods of time, or do you think that Taylor, Obomanu and Kent can step in? Thanks. David

Mike Sando: Thank you. The nine seasons I spent covering the Seahawks were fun ones.

I've seen Seattle's passing game work despite changing personnel at the position. The players they've plugged into spots -- Darrell Jackson as a rookie, Joe Jurevicius off the bench in 2005, D.J. Hackett more recently -- have produced.

The rapport between Matt Hasselbeck and the new receivers could be an issue in key situations. The talent itself appears sufficient.


Randy from DeKalb, Ga., writes: Hey Mike, great job with the daily blogs, I love your work. J.T. O'Sullivan seems to have found a rhythm with the 49ers offense lately, but I still can't be at ease with just one good showing during the preseason. O'Sullivan may have looked sharp on Thursday night, but he has been shaky for most of the preseason. Before his start in Chicago, he turned the ball over three times overall, completed less than half of his passes, and threw one touchdown pass due to a breakdown in Green Bay's secondary last Saturday.

Now that he has been named the starter of this offense, it'll be interesting to see how well he performs in his first career start under center against a defense during the regular season. Am I just being a worry wart, or do you think that J.T. has the necessary skills and the talent to blossom as a solid starter? I think it rests heavily on the shoulders of the five guys in front to keep him protected. From what I've seen in-game, J.T. throws with a lot of accuracy, and if he can let plays develop in front of him and wait for his receivers to get open, I think he'd be able to hit them every time. But what do you think is the key to his success in what is essentially his "rookie season" as a starter?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Randy. I guessed on your DeKalb being a Georgia reference, but let me know (update: DeKalb, Ill., is the proper venue). Your instincts on the quarterback situation are good. The 49ers' offensive linemen like the new scheme because it shifts pass-protection responsibilities to the running backs, receivers and quarterback.

O'Sullivan must make good decisions to beat pressure. He must be in sync with his receivers and backs. The line suffered from catastrophic assignment breakdowns at times last season. That must change.

It's also fair to be skeptical on O'Sullivan until we see how he fares against schemes designed to stop him. He gets a tough assignment right away because the Cardinals do so many things defensively.


Van from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Well, Leinart blew it... On the plus side the D was great, Adrian Wilson is as good as anyone, Dansby was everywhere, and Russell was always under pressure. Can this unit be top 10? Seattle is #1 in the division but I think both teams could have top 10 defensive units.

Mike Sando: You are right about the Cardinals' defense looking good against the Raiders. I'm not quite ready to bestow Top 10 status. We need to see consistency. We need to see how the depth holds up. I'm going to hit on this in an upcoming blog entry.


Oliver from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, I need your opinion on this one: As a Cal fan, I loved seeing Seahawks' Justin Forsett running all over the Bears. Do you think he'll make the team now, and do you think he'll get much playing time during the regular season? Thanks a lot!

Mike Sando: At this point, I see Forsett making the team, but it's tough to project many touches for him within the offense because Seattle has great versatility at the position. Even the fullback, Leonard Weaver, can catch the ball on third down and make yards after the catch. Forsett could conceivably project as a change-of-pace guy, but with Seattle already spreading carries among multiple backs, that becomes less needed.

I also think there's a big difference between carrying the ball against backups in a preseason game and functioning as an all-around back in a real game. Hasselbeck must be able to trust his running backs in protection. That's a lot to ask of a rookie.

Let's first see if the Seahawks find a spot for Forsett on the roster. If that happens, I think Mike Holmgren will be honest in letting us know how he envisions Forsett fitting in this season.