Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Starting jobs still on the line

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Starting jobs around the NFC West could change based on what happens in the first week of the regular season.

Deuce Lutui vs. Elton Brown, right guard.
Lutui enters the season as the starter. Coaches continually push him. I asked Lutui about this following the Cardinals' preseason game at Oakland. He said: "Coach [Ken] Whisenhunt has done an excellent job putting guys in position for competition. Really telling me to focus on things, addressing it in film session. For the most part, it's been mostly technique and it was assignments last year, getting caught up in the league my third year. I've shown some maturity and good things this year. I'm optimistic."
Maurice Morris vs. Julius Jones, running back. The Seahawks haven't named a starter. Expect both to play extensively this season. Morris ran more effectively during the exhibition season. Jones shined in pass protection, a skill the Seahawks value after living with Shaun Alexander's deficiencies in that area.
Lawrence Jackson vs. Darryl Tapp, defensive end. The Seahawks haven't named a starter. Jackson seemed to overtake Tapp as the exhibition season progressed. The rookie also seems better suited to early downs because he's bigger and stronger.
Olindo Mare vs. Brandon Coutu, kicker. Look for Mare to prevail in the first week. It's unclear if the Seahawks will carry Coutu through the weekend or send him to the practice squad via waivers. Mare must kick well to keep the job. His power on kickoffs has impressed.
John Carlson vs. the field, tight end. The Seahawks have not formally declared a starter. Carlson projects as the best all-around candidate at the position. Jeb Putzier could see considerable playing time in passing situations. The team might also use more two-tight end groupings. Which player starts at tight end might not matter as much because Seattle mixes up its personnel so much.
Nick Leckey vs. Brett Romberg, center. Leckey has taken over after Romberg suffered a broken hand. Leckey could conceivably keep the job, but nothing is decided for the long term.
Quinton Culberson vs. Chris Draft, strong-side linebacker. Culberson has won this job for now. Draft projects as an ideal backup because he can play all three positions. Culberson, with one regular-season start on his resume, still has to prove he can be consistent over time.
Adam Snyder vs. David Baas, left guard. Snyder is the incumbent. Baas was projected to start at right guard, but Tony Wragge beat him out while Baas recovered from pectoral surgery.
Jeff Ulbrich vs. Takeo Spikes, "Ted" linebacker. Spikes might be the favorite to win this job with a little more time in the system. Ulbrich is the starter for now. Newly signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks currently projects as a backup to Patrick Willis at the other inside linebacker spot.

Those are the primary starting jobs at stake in the division heading into the first week of the regular season. Bryant Johnson will start at receiver for the 49ers unless an injury dictates otherwise. The 49ers are going with Mark Roman over Dashon Goldson at safety. Leonard Pope beat out the injury-slowed Ben Patrick at tight end for the Cardinals. The quarterback battles around the division appear settled for the time being.