Patriots vs. Seahawks preview

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
8:00
AM ET
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PHOENIX -- Five months ago, when the NFL season started, this is the Super Bowl matchup many people expected.

How the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks got here was a bumpy journey. The Patriots started the season 2-2 and the Seahawks were 3-3. Seattle has won eight consecutive game and the Patriots have won five of the past six, with the only loss coming in the season finale to Buffalo when nothing was on the line.

Now they meet with a shot at history. The Seahawks hope to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots did it 10 years ago. The Patriots hope to become only the sixth team to win it four times (San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers).

Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take an in-depth look at how these teams made it here and how they stack up in Super Bowl XLIX:

Mike, the last time these teams faced each other is remembered by many for Richard Sherman’s “You mad, bro?” comment to Tom Brady after Seattle 24-23 victory. Brady threw 58 passes that day. Do you see the Patriots throwing that much this time or will they balance it out a little more with LeGarrette Blount running the ball?

Reiss: I’d be surprised if we see 58 pass attempts again. The unusual part about that game was that the Patriots ran 85 offensive plays compared to the Seahawks’ 55. I’d be shocked if we see that great of a discrepancy in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks, who were still creating their identity in that 2012 game, have a little bit of a Giants-like feel to them. Their pass rush is able to create disruption with the standard four rushers, and Patriots followers need no reminder of how that has given New England problems in past Super Bowls. One way to settle things down is to get the running game going, whether it’s Blount or Shane Vereen, I’d expect the Patriots to be committed to that part of the game early. The quick, short passing game – which is often an extension of the running game -- is part of that, too.

Terry, Bill Belichick said watching Russell Wilson reminds him of his youth and watching Roger Staubach with some of his Houdini-type plays. What stands out to you about Wilson’s third NFL season compared to the first two?

Blount: That’s certainly a good way to describe his ability to make something out of nothing, along with his incredible ability to elude pass rushers. But two things stand out for me now. First, his knowledge about when to run and when not to. It’s always his last option, but he’ll take off if he knows they are yards to be had. Second is his growing knowledge of what a defense is showing him and trying to do against him. He often checks off into a better play based on the defensive alignment. That’s what happened with the winning 35-yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse in the NFC Championship Game when he saw the Packers were in a cover zero, meaning no safety would be deep to help and Kearse would be one-on-one with a cornerback.

Mike, a lot has been said and written this week about Pete Carroll’s three years as the head coach for New England. After being fired there, his career blossomed at USC and now with the Seahawks. What’s the general feeling about Carroll’s time there from inside the organization and from the Patriots' fans?

Reiss: Owner Robert Kraft was unfiltered and honest this week at the Super Bowl when he said, “I think I probably handicapped Pete from doing as good a job as he could have done.” That was the case, because Kraft was coming off a situation in which Bill Parcells wanted the control to “shop for the groceries” and Kraft said he reacted to that by setting up a three-headed structure with Carroll as head coach, Bobby Grier leading the personnel staff and Andy Wasynczuk managing the salary cap. Kraft also said at the Super Bowl that it was part of his “evolution as an owner” and it ultimately led him to hire Bill Belichick to succeed Carroll. So to sum it up, it was tough timing for Carroll in New England, succeeding such a strong personality in Parcells and having a relatively new owner still finding his way; for fans, my sense is many of them didn’t fully get Carroll and unfairly labeled him as a laid-back, California guy.

Keying on Marshawn Lynch seems like an obvious place for the Patriots to start. How often have teams been able to limit Lynch this season, and when that happens, how have the Seahawks responded?

Blount: In three of the four games the Seahawks lost, Lynch rushed for 61 yards or fewer. If a team can stop him, it does improve its chances. However, two of those three losses came before the Percy Harvin trade, when Harvin was a big focus of the offense. After the trade, the Seahawks got back to doing what they do best as power-running team that uses the read-option to keep defenses off balance. Focus on Lynch, and Wilson is the master at taking off and running, but what makes him so effective is his ability to throw downfield accurately while on the run.

One year ago, Brandon Browner didn’t get to play in the Super Bowl with his Seattle teammates. Now he gets to play in the Super Bowl against them. Browner even said he wants his teammates to target the injuries of Earl Thomas and Sherman. Do you sense this is a special moment for him? And do you think Browner and former Seahawks defensive tackle Alan Branch know things about the Seattle offense that can help the Patriots?

Reiss: Great question, Terry, as this has been one of my big takeaways from the early part of the Super Bowl week. I sat in on the first 20 minutes of Browner’s session at media day and the passion was oozing; it was clear how much this means to him. As Chad Finn of Boston.com wrote, Browner “talks like a professional wrestling heel trying to rile up a crowd; his cadence and booming voice makes everything sound like a declaration, a boast or a threat.” I also thought it was interesting that Tom Brady said the team is tapping Browner’s knowledge. “Pete [Carroll] has run the same defense for a long time, and we’ve had a little insight from Brandon, who has talked to us about how he coaches,” Brady said.

The turning point for the Patriots’ season was a loss to the Chiefs. How fair would it be to say that a loss to the Chiefs was a turning point for the Seahawks?

Blount: Without question, it was a big turning point because the Seahawks haven’t lost since. Kam Chancellor and Thomas led a meeting with the team after that game to say, "This isn’t who we are, and we need to start playing for each other and trusting each other again." Another factor after the K.C. game was the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a nasty turf-toe injury. His presence in the middle, along with Chancellor finally getting healthy, solidified a defense that went on a historic run in the final six regular-season games. But I believe the real turning point for this team was trading Harvin. It’s taken a few weeks to get back to who they were, but shipping out Harvin brought back a feeling of trust and support among the players.

Mike, I don’t think anyone will be accused of deflating any footballs Sunday, but why do these wild accusations keep happening under Belichick’s watch? Does it all stem from the Spygate mess years ago? Is some of it just petty jealousy of all the team’s success?

Reiss: The past obviously doesn’t help them as it relates to this current issue. While I personally think the impact of the illegal videotaping was minimal, and the coaches they were filming were in plain sight of everyone else in the stadium, the fact they still did it after the NFL sent out a memo prohibiting the action doesn’t earn them much benefit of the doubt. I mean, we had a team heating footballs on the sideline of a Vikings-Panthers game this year -- which is clear manipulation of the football -- and it was hardly a blip on the radar. So from this view, there is a different level of scrutiny with the Patriots, and some of that has been brought on by the team itself from the past, while some of it is generated from the league, which probably views the Patriots as a team that pushes the envelope harder than most. And as for jealousy, as they say, it’s lonely at the top, and there are quite a few who would like to see the Patriots knocked down a few pegs. The Colts, who, based on owner Jim Irsay’s tweets, sparked the investigation of the underinflated footballs, are the latest to join the hit party.

What have been the keys for the Seahawks’ defensively?

Blount: The biggest factor was Wagner coming back. That enabled K.J. Wright to go back to his best position at Will linebacker, which improved both spots. But the Seahawks also had some players step up in the interior of the defensive line and make an impact after nose tackle Brandon Mebane went down with a torn hamstring. Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who signed with the Seahawks back in training camp, took over as the starter and played like the Williams of old. He made the most of his chance to finally reach the Super Bowl in his 12th NFL season at age 34. And the Seahawks received a huge boost from second-year defensive tackle Jordan Hill out of Penn State. Hill was sensational down the stretch with 5 sacks in the final six games before a knee injury ended his season in the playoff game against Carolina.

Mike, in light of nickelback Jeremy Lane’s comments last week, saying he didn’t think Rob Gronkowski was that good, all eyes will be on Gronk on Sunday to see if he make Lane eat his words. Lane isn’t likely to line up much against Gronk, but I can’t wait to see Gronk go toe-to-toe with Chancellor and Seattle outside linebackers. How do you see that playing out?

Reiss: I thought Browner’s remarks summed it up best: “That’s going to be one for the ages. Gronk is a beast and Kam is a beast.” I see them both making plays, so it might be a one-on-one matchup that is ultimately decided by which player rises up and makes the one final play in the critical situation that could decide the game. Just thinking about it fires me up for the game itself.

The Super Bowl often produces an unlikely hero. Any thoughts on some good candidates for the Seahawks in that regard?

Blount: Last year is a prime example with linebacker Malcolm Smith earning MVP honors after his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half. I’ll pick a couple on each side of the ball who could come up big this time. First is tight end Luke Willson, who has taken a major step forward in his second season. Willson is one of the fastest tight ends in the league. With Browner and Darrelle Revis on the outside for New England, Russell Wilson might look to make some big throws over the middle to the big Canadian. Also, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette is a blazer with good size who could get a shot at a big catch in a matchup with Browner. On defense, don’t be surprised to see linebacker Bruce Irvin make a game-changing play. He had two interception returns for touchdowns this season and has really blossomed after moving to the Sam linebacker spot last season. A real shocker as a hero could be rush end O’Brien Schofield, who has been a force off the edge in the second half of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him force a fumble and come up with a big sack at a key moment.
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Much ado was made of Colin Kaepernick working with two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner this offseason in Arizona. Especially with the San Francisco 49ers quarterback having such a different skillset than that of Warner.

Kaepernick is the hybrid, the cannon-armed quarterback with the nimble feet of a deer, while Warner, a Hall of Fame finalist in his first year eligible, was more of a lead-footed technician in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuColin Kaepernick regressed in many passing categories last season as the 49ers tried to make him more of a pocket passer.
And when the Niners attempted to make Kaepernick more of a pure pocket passer after he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract last summer that was fully guaranteed in the event of injury, the results made you look the other way.

Sure, his completion percentage was better than the previous season (60.5 versus 58.4) and his 3,369 passing yards were a career high, and he did rush for 115 more yards than in 2013. But he never looked comfortable as his touchdown passes were down (from 21 to 19) while his interceptions were up (from 8 to 10).

Oh, and his Total QBR plummeted from 68.6 (sixth in the NFL in 2013) to 55.9 (17th).

"There's always things you can tighten up," Kaepernick said late in the season.

"It's hard to break habits in season. You don't want to completely try to change something because it can throw off everything else you're doing."

So with his old position coach, Geep Chryst, now in line to become the Niners' offensive coordinator and his new position coach, Steve Logan, having last worked in the NFL in 2011 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running backs coach, what, exactly, is Kaepernick working on with Warner?

"We're early in the process," Warner told the Bay Area News Group this week in Arizona. "We've only worked together a few days so far. But it's a full process. To play quarterback, there's a lot of different things.

"Start with the physical part of it," Warner added. "We're trying to teach him ... what 'normal' looks like for a quarterback. Not an athletic quarterback. Not a guy that you've thrown in there and allowed to live on his athletic ability. It's about getting balanced and being in a situation where your technique is so good, that it drives how you throw the football. So we're starting there."

Sounds like Warner believes Kaepernick is still a major work in progress.

"Then the second part is going to be seeing how far we can push him from a mental standpoint, to understand the whole game," Warner said. "And I've been very impressed so far with what he knows mentally. We've been on the [chalk] board and we've talked about it. Been very pleased with where he is at. But you know, the whole thing is, you have to be able to decipher what 22 guys are doing, or at least 11 guys on the other side, in three seconds, know where to go with the football, know how to get there and technique-wise, be able to get it there. So we're going to push the envelope in all those areas and see how far we can get him."

With Kaepernick, though, as with every other quarterback, it begins with technique.

"Because if you don't have technique, you'll never have consistency," Warner said. "And then from there, we'll go to the mental side of it and see how far we can push the envelope and how good he can be."

The Bay Area News Group also asked Warner how long he figured to work with Kaepernick.

"From my understanding, he's going to be here until April," Warner said. "I'm not working with him exclusively, so I'm not sure how many sessions there will be but I want to work with him as much as I possibly can. My hope is to get two or three days a week whenever he's here and hopefully that's through April."
While the San Francisco 49ers were apparently having a tougher-than-expected time finding coordinators for new coach Jim Tomsula’s staff, they apparently had little issue in the personnel department in luring back a familiar face.

The Niners announced Thursday that Tom Gamble was returning to the organization as senior personnel executive after two years with the Philadelphia Eagles as their vice president of personnel.

“Tom is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable and respected personnel men in the business,” Niners general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “He played an instrumental role in our personnel department from 2005-2012 and is well versed in our system, having played a role in its development. This familiarity, along with his many strengths, will be tremendous assets as we prepare for free agency and the draft. It is great to have Tom back with the 49ers.”

Gamble, who was with the Niners for eight years, was the team’s director of pro personnel from 2005 through 2010 before serving as the team’s director of player personnel in 2011 and 2012. He oversaw both college and pro scouting.

His position with the 49ers was never truly filled after he left for the Eagles.

With the Niners, Gamble will help Baalke with some heavy lifting as the team has 15 unrestricted free agents, including running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree, left guard Mike Iupati and cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver, and will have some salary-cap issues to address as well. The 49ers also hold the No. 15 overall draft pick.
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks have three players who are going to their third consecutive Super Bowl -- fullback Will Tukuafu, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs.

All three were part of the San Francisco 49ers organization in 2012, but Tukuafu was the only one who played in the Super Bowl that the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens. Tukuafu said he played fullback, defensive end and special team in that game, the same as he does now for the Seahawks.

Lockette was on the practice squad and Dobbs was on injured reserve (IR) after suffering a knee injury in December of that season.

Along with his duties now on punt and kick coverage, Lockette likely will have significant playing time on offense Sunday because of Paul Richardson being on IR.

Lockette says feels he has come a long way from his days at little Fort Valley State in Albany, Georgia.

“It is the opportunity to show that anything is possible,’’ Lockette said. “I think a lot of people say things like, ‘Oh, I am doing this for my family or my hometown.’ That is really what it is about for me. So many kids and families watching from lower-class families and they know me personally. They watched me grow up.

“To go from a Division II school and going undrafted into a possibility of winning two Super Bowl rings in three Super Bowls and three NFC championships, it’s an inspiration to them. I want to be an example for them.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The NFL awards show is scheduled for Saturday night with such lofty honors as league MVP, coach of the year and this year's Hall of Fame class scheduled to be revealed.

Among the hardware expected to be handed out is Defensive Rookie of the Year, the only award for which a member of the St. Louis Rams stands to have a shot to win. That's where Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald comes in.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAaron Donald's 17 tackles for loss were the most by a rookie defensive lineman in NFL history.
Donald has already been given the award in various corners of cyberspace and by the Pro Football Writers of America, making him the odds on favorite to take home the "official" award Saturday night. That award is voted on by the Associated Press' panel of 50 voters around the country.

So, what are the arguments for Donald to take home the trophy and become the first Ram since linebacker Isiah Robertson in 1971 to win it?

There are plenty:

  • Donald's nine sacks led all rookies and represent the most by any first-year player in the past three years. That total was second most on the team behind defensive end Robert Quinn and eclipses the eight from Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah last year and Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin in 2012. It's also the sixth most by a rookie defensive tackle since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
  • Those nine sacks were the second most among all defensive tackles in the NFL in 2014, trailing only behind the 10 of Buffalo's Marcell Dareus. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded Donald as the best defensive tackle in the NFL.
  • Between Weeks 11 and 15, Donald had at least one sack in every game the Rams played. That five-week sack streak tied Donald with Denver linebacker Von Miller and Green Bay linebacker Brooks Reed for the longest streak by any rookie in the past 10 seasons.
  • Donald registered 17 tackles for loss in 2014, the most by a rookie defensive lineman in league history.
  • It took five weeks for Donald to elbow his way into the starting lineup but once he did, he was one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league. Without Donald in the starting lineup, the Rams had one sack, gave up 152.5 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 0.9 percent of opponents pass attempts. After he entered the starting lineup, the Rams had 39 sacks, gave up 96.25 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 9 percent of opponents pass attempts.
  • The lone argument that can be made against Donald is that he didn't play as much or make as many tackles as some of the linebackers he's competing with but given the fact that he's an interior lineman and still produced as much as he did, that should actually be a check mark in his favor rather than against him.

Donald will face plenty of competition for the award, namely from Oakland linebacker Khalil Mack and Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley. Mack was the only rookie in the league with at least 75 tackles and four sacks this season. Mosley led all rookies with 129 tackles and joined Houston's Brian Cushing as the only rookies in the past 10 years to have at least 120 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in a season.

Mosley also could benefit from playing for a winning team that advanced to the playoffs. He and Donald both had historic rookie seasons but all things being equal, Donald's impact across the defense should be enough to land him the award.

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
11:00
AM ET
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review ESPN.com's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.

 

PHOENIX -- Every team that faces the Seattle Seahawks tries to figure out how to handle the zone-read plays between quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch
Wilson says it isn't all that complicated.

"In terms of our zone read, I'm honestly trying to give the ball to Marshawn 99 percent of the time," Wilson said. "That one percent, I'll take if it's just wide open for me. I want to feed the beast. I want to hand him the football."

And when defenses focus on Lynch, it opens up Plan B for Wilson.

"It really helps us," Wilson said. "If they get Marshawn, we try to mix it up and have great balance passing. I think it makes it very challenging for a defense to figure out who to stop."

But Wilson said one thing never changes in the Seattle offensive plan: "The ultimate goal is to hand the ball off to the best running back in the National Football League."
PHOENIX – So who is the fastest linebacker of a team of speedy linebackers? Even the hint of that question is insulting to Seattle Seahawks Sam linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Irvin
“C’mon man,” Irvin said. “I don’t even got to say that. I know I’m still the fastest.”

Bobby Wagner is widely regarded as the fastest middle linebacker in the league.

“Wagner can’t beat me,” Irvin said. “If you look at the team, there’s a certain skill set. It’s big dudes who can run.”

Seattle All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Irvin is the best all-around athlete on the team. A couple of times this season during timeouts on the field, Irvin has passed the time by standing on his hands.

The Seahawks are known for their overall team speed on defense. Irvin listed strong safety Kam Chancellor and Will linebacker K.J. Wright as two Seahawks with exceptional speed for their size.”

“And the smallest person on defense is probably [free safety] Earl [Thomas],’’ Irvin said. “Well, he can run.”
Brady
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PHOENIX -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has an email buddy you might not expect. It's New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. It started through a mutual friend.

"I'm not sure if I should give that information out," Wilson said Wednesday. "It's [Wheels Up Co-Founder and CEO)]Kenny Dichter. I'm real good friends with him. He's a University of Wisconsin grad who I know really well, so that's how I know Tom. We've shared emails back and forth."

They haven't emailed each other in the last two weeks, of course, but Wilson said he and Brady recently sent a similar email to Dichter.

"It was right before the playoffs started," Wilson said. "I told Kenny, ‘Hey, we're probably going to play Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Get ready for it.' And Tom, the day before or the same day, said the same thing. It's just funny how that worked out."
PHOENIX -- There have been a lot of special moments for Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll the last two years in going to back-to-back Super Bowls, but the one that has meant the most to him is getting to do it with his son.

Nate Carroll, 27, is an assistant wide receivers coach with the Seahawks and is now in his fourth year with the team.

“It’s really a treasure for me to have Nate on the staff,” Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “Just to watch him develop through the years that he’s been with us and see his approach.”

Nate Carroll was a three-sport star at Peninsula High in Palos Verdes, California, while Carroll was the head coach at Southern Cal. Nate was Peninsula’s Athlete of the Year in 2006.

Nate had some college scholarship offers from small schools, including one to play quarterback at the University of San Diego. And here’s the part that will surprise you: Jim Harbaugh was the San Diego head coach who recruited Nate.

“I wasn’t there for the home visit, though,” Pete Carroll said about it last year. “Glena (Pete’s wife) took that one.”

But Nate elected to end his playing days after high school and attend USC. He earned a degree in psychology in 2010 but was a constant presence at USC football practices, watching his father work.

Nate started with the Seahawks as an assistant in the scouting department in 2011 before working with receivers coach Kippy Brown starting last season.

“It’s just makes it a cherished time for us, maybe more for me than [Nate]," Pete Carroll said. “To compete with your son at this level and try to figure out ways to win football games with someone you love, I just feel very fortunate.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- NFL teams can't trade players or sign free agents or do business aside from dealing with the guys on their own roster or not in the league until the new league year starts March 10.

But that doesn't mean the time between now and then won't be filled with plenty of rumors and speculation. In St. Louis, it's no secret that the Rams are going to explore all avenues to bolster the depth chart at quarterback. Even though they plan to bring Sam Bradford back, the Rams' search will include an extensive look at all outside options including the draft, free agency and, yes, the trade market.

"There's going to be competition at the quarterback position, there's no doubt," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at his end of season news conference. "With somebody that is not in the building right now. We're hopeful for that."

Which makes 'Who will be the quarterback(s) brought in to compete with Bradford?' one of the most pressing questions of this offseason. Earlier this week, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles had the honor of being one of the first names to be rumored as a possibility. According to a report at NJ.com, the Rams are one of a handful of teams showing early interest in making a deal for Foles.

Foles was viewed as one of the league's emerging young quarterbacks after a breakthrough 2013 season in which he threw 27 touchdown passes with just two interceptions in leading the Eagles to an NFC East Division title. Some of the shine came off Foles' star this season though, as he threw 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while playing eight games before a fractured collarbone ended his season.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY SportsWill Nick Foles be throwing passes for the Rams instead of against them next season?
Apparently, that drop off in performance was enough to leave Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly pondering whether Foles is the team's long-term answer at the position. In his season-ending news conference, Kelly was asked whether Foles was still his guy but offered no commitment.

"I don't know, we'll sit down and thoroughly evaluate everything in the offseason," Kelly told reporters. "It's no different than any other position. We'll look at it. Let's look at the film again. Let's get all the opinions on it and make valid decisions on it."

It's no secret that Kelly has an affinity for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner who Kelly coached before taking the Eagles job. But Kelly and the Eagles are almost certainly well out of range to select Mariota, as they hold the No. 20 overall pick in the draft.

Which might lead us to the crux of the situation. The Rams hold the No. 10 pick in the draft, which is also probably out of reach of Mariota but certainly a lot closer to Mariota's range than the 20th spot. Should Kelly and the Eagles decide to move up to try to get Mariota, they might have to make multiple trades and could dangle Foles as bait in one of those moves.

The question then becomes whether the Rams would be willing to make the move. There's no chance the Rams would simply trade the 10th pick for Foles straight up. If Philadelphia offered the 20th pick, Foles and a mid-round pick for the 10th pick, that would be something the Rams would have to take a closer look at.

As it stands, the Rams have no obvious in-house solution at quarterback, and there's no doubt that they'll explore any option out there. It remains to be seen how Foles would function outside of Kelly's offense, but at least he has more of a resume than any other free-agent quarterback or draft prospect the Rams could land.

Considering that the current Rams regime is entering its fourth year without a winning season to its name, adding a quarterback who could legitimately push to be the starter right away (while still drafting a young quarterback to groom) would make plenty of sense.

Over the next couple of months, plenty of other rumors will pop up, but Foles is one name that would be intriguing if he does become available and the price is reasonable.
The Oakland Raiderss and the St. Louis Rams' seasons ended last month, but there is still some postseason intrigue involved for both of the non-playoff teams.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oakland outside linebacker Khalil Mack are expected to be among the top candidates to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The award will be announced Saturday.

Rams NFL Nation reporter Nick Wagoner and Raiders NFL Nation reporter Bill Williamson discuss Donald's and Mack's candidacy here:

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Images/Ben MargotKhalil Mack has had an outstanding rookie season and has been a steady presence in the Oakland defense.
Wagoner: Bill, it seems Mack and Donald are sort of in the same boat in that they both were major difference makers but didn't garner much attention because they played on losing teams. I'm of the belief that Donald should win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. What's the case for Mack over Donald?

Williamson: Mack's case is pretty simple: He looked like a five-year All-Pro all season. He was so smooth, so smart. He was Pro Football Focus' top ranked outside linebacker in the NFL -- and we're not talking about just rookie outside linebackers. He never played like a rookie and he got better as the season progressed. He didn't have a ton of flashy plays, but he was just so steady. According to STATS, INC, he was second in the NFL with 11.5 "stuffs." Who led the NFL? MVP candidate JJ Watt with 13.5. He was also good against the pass. He hit the quarterback 25 times and had four sacks.

So, why Donald?

Wagoner: Well, like Mack the case is pretty simple. Also like Mack, Pro Football Focus rated Donald as the best defensive tackle in the league. Not the best rookie defensive tackle, the best defensive tackle in the league. But aside from a subjective grading system, Donald has the hard numbers to back it up. His nine sacks were the most among all rookies and he had 18 tackles for loss, fifth most in the NFL. His value is best recognized in what happened to the Rams defense after he stepped into the starting lineup. Without Donald in the starting lineup the first four games, the Rams had one sack, gave up 152.5 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 0.9 percent of opponent's pass attempts. After he entered the starting lineup, the Rams had 39 sacks, gave up 96.25 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 9 percent of opponent's pass attempts.

There are others involved in the mix in this, too. Namely, Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has the numbers and plays on a winning team. What do you think are the chances that Donald or Mack is able to overcome that hurdle?

Williamson: I think they are the two frontrunners. If I had to guess, I'd say Donald is going to win the award and Mack will be second. They may not have been on winning teams, but their dominance was so strong, voters couldn't help but notice. That's a testament to both youngsters.

What were the Rams immediate expectations for Donald?

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe Rams were surprised Aaron Donald fell to them in the draft.
Wagoner: Honestly, the Rams expected this. I can remember how former Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer saying he thought Donald had a chance to be Defensive Rookie of the Year all the way back in Organized Team Activities when the players were not even wearing pads yet. Jeff Fisher echoed those sentiments. They believed this was one of the most polished players in the draft and they were absolutely right. He probably still exceeded those expectations. The scary part about Donald is despite how good he is right now, he's still just scratching the surface of his potential.

Mack is obviously part of the foundation for the Raiders moving forward whether he wins the award or not. What do you think his ceiling is?

Williamson: There is no doubt; Mack is a building block for the rebuilding Raiders. He will get better as the Raiders add pieces around him. ESPN analyst Merril Hoge told me during the season that he thinks Mack can become one of the most complete, versatile linebackers ever to play in the NFL. That is heady, heady stuff. I don't know if we can expect that type of career, but, because there are no downsides to Mack's game, approach and attitude, I think he has a chance to be a perennial All-Pro player.

Did the Rams focus on Donald or were they surprised he was on the board?

Wagoner: I was told by more than one person in the organization as far back as the combine that they loved Donald but they had little expectation that he would be available. It was made clear as the draft approached that they would take him if he somehow slipped. But even the day before the draft, I was laughed at for even suggesting he might be available. The Rams had plans to take Dallas offensive lineman Zack Martin or Mosley in more realistic scenarios but when Donald slipped to them, it was academic. They were thrilled to get him and that enthusiasm has clearly been justified. He's going to be one of their primary players for the next decade or so.
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PHOENIX -- Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was the star of the show Tuesday at Super Bowl media day for doing, well, almost nothing.

Let's face it. Lynch is the star of the week, the enigmatic man of mystery who becomes more beloved by fans every time he defies NFL rules and thumbs his nose at its regulations.

For his teammates and coaches, the sideshow isn't important. They see a man who represents everything they cherish in a football player and friend. But one question remains: Can they keep him?

Lynch is under contract through next season, but would be an $8.5 million salary-cap hit when the Seahawks need to sign quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to extensions. The contracts for the pair are expected to exceed $120 million.

Releasing Lynch would save $7 million, but no one cuts arguably the best running back in the league and the heart-and-soul of the team's offense. Not to mention the fact Lynch is worshiped by Seahawks fans.

And even if they do want him back, who knows what Lynch will do, a man who often does the opposite of what anyone expects. He might ask for a contract extension and hold out of training camp until he gets it. Or, believe it or not, he might just call it quits and walk away from the game on top.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMarshawn Lynch may not have much to say to the media, but his teammates can talk plenty about him: "He's fun, he's active and he's hilarious," Kam Chancellor said. "He has great advice. ... He'll give it to you straight, clean cut. It's going to be real."
No one knows, probably not even Lynch. Drama should be his middle name. Tuesday was another example. Lynch repeatedly said he was attending media day to "keep from getting fined," then left after his five minutes of fame were up.

Once again, Lynch outsmarted the NFL.

"He is a lot smarter than what people think," Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He is very, very wise."

Baldwin and the rest of the Seahawks think the Lynch media/NFL war is meaningless. And it is.

"He is probably one of the best teammates I have ever been around," Baldwin said. "He is a comedian. He is a supporter. He will get on you when he needs to get on you when you need it. Obviously, he doesn't like talking to the media because that is just not him. We all know him in the locker room as the true teddy bear that he is and we love him for it."

You wouldn't think so, but Tom Cable, the Seattle offensive line coach and assistant head coach, said he has a lot in common with Lynch.

"Neither one of us care about the noise," Cable said. "We really don't. That's a blunt answer, but it's really about our teammates and our coaches. That's what I care about. I don't need to hear an opinion on someone or whatever. That just never really got very far with me. He and I understand that about each other. Let's just do what we do for all the other guys and worry about the other stuff later. We connect that way."

Cable has patterned the team's zone blocking schemes around Lynch's bruising downhill running skills.

"He's the best player in the backfield in pro football," Cable said. "I don't think there's a better runner than him. I've been around some good ones and they've all run for 1,000 yards, but he's done it his way.

"For me, he makes it easier for everybody. When you're the best and you accept that responsibility, which he has, that's what people need to understand. He truly gets the responsibility to take this football team where it wants to go. We all just kind of work with him and he works with us to get that done."

Lynch, however, tends to get things done in his life differently than most people. He was the only team member who didn't go the White House ceremony to meet the president last year. He doesn't go to organized team activities, which are voluntary, and he held out of camp for eight days last summer to get more money up front in his contract, sensing the uncertainty over the final year of his deal. His 2014 salary was increased from $5 million to $6.5 million.

He has been fined twice this season for making a lewd gesture after touchdowns, which will become a 15-yard penalty if he does it in the Super Bowl (all his teammates say he won't). And, of course, his constant battle to avoid talking to the media, which cost him $100,000 earlier this season.

"I believe we have our constitutional rights of freedom of speech about what we want to say," Seattle left tackle Russell Okung said. "Obviously, the NFL has certain stipulations in place, and they require us to speak at certain moments. When we all signed our contracts we all agreed to that. We understand that, but I believe if somebody wants to say something or they choose not to say something it should be just fine."

Most of the Seahawks see this as superficial nonsense. It has nothing to do with Lynch as a player or a person.

"He's one of my all-time favorite players I've ever played with," Seahawks center Max Unger said. "He's just like an awesome guy, totally cool locker room dude off the field."

Strong safety Kam Chancellor likes the fact Lynch always will tell you exactly what he thinks.

"He's fun, he's active and he's hilarious," Chancellor said. "He has great advice. If you are in need of advice or are ever going through something, you can go to Marshawn and talk to him. He'll give it to you straight, clean cut. It's going to be real."

The Seahawks accept Lynch's being different because they know when the whistle blows will sacrifice his body.

"Marshawn is an extraordinary character," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He is the most giving, the most loyal and one of the great teammates that you can want because of the way he takes care and looks after people. He's got a remarkable sense about that. His sense for loyalty runs extraordinarily deep and his teammates know that."

Many of the most talented and influential people in world history were a bit odd, possibly because they viewed things in a different light than everyone else.

That's not to say Lynch ranks in world history, but he is an exceptionally gifted athlete who doesn't care about doing things in a traditional manner. That's why he is hard to read and difficult to understand. And he is as unpredictable as he is memorable.

Consequently, Lynch's future is unknown, and he probably likes it that way.

"For Marshawn, it just doesn't matter," Cable said. "He's going to do what he does and he's going to be himself. He's a guy that cares about everyone in that locker room. Anytime you hand it to him, he's carrying them. He's not carrying the football, he's carrying his team. That's who he is. That's what he does."
Despite missing out on two higher-profile targets earlier in the day, the San Francisco 49ers have reportedly added a pair of assistants to new coach Jim Tomsula's staff.

Steve Logan, who was Tomsula's offensive coordinator in NFL Europe with the Rhein Fire in 2006, is expected to join the Niners' offensive staff in an unknown role, according to CSNBayArea.com., while former 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, whose position coach was Tomsula, is in line to be a defensive assistant, per the Sacramento Bee.

Also, the Niners have contemplated Philadelphia Eagles receivers coach Bob Bicknell as their offensive coordinator, while offensive assistant Ronald Curry, who was pursued by the Buffalo Bills, is now a target of the University of Florida to be the Gators' receivers coach, the NFL Network reported.

The 49ers have yet to announce any hirings.

Logan, the head coach at East Carolina from 1992-02, was the quarterbacks and receivers coach for the Berlin Thunder in 2004 and 2005, when Tomsula was the Thunder's defensive coordinator. Logan, who then was Boston College's O-coordinator in 2007 and 2008 and worked with quarterback Matt Ryan, has only worked in the NFL as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running backs coach from 2009-11.

Franklin started 59 of 62 games for the Niners between 2007, Tomsula's first year with the team, and 2010, with three of his four career sacks and his lone interception coming under his tutelage. He last played in 2013, for the Indianapolis Colts.

The Niners missed out on offensive coordinator target Rob Chudzinski, who was promoted by the Colts from special assistant to the head coach to associate head coach, and Perry Fewell, who chose to take the secondary coach position with Washington.
PHOENIX -- For a long time, Seattle Seahawks linebacker O'Brien Schofield thought about the moment he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals.

It happened on the first day of training camp in 2013, minutes before the conditioning test at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Seattle defensive end was called off the field by Arizona’s former vice president of player personnel Jason Licht and told he was released. Schofield jogged back to the Cardinals’ locker room and began searching for a new team.

It’s safe to say Schofield landed on his feet with the Seahawks.

Schofield
“For the longest time, that used to drive me crazy to even think about it because I felt like (I’d) done enough for the organization that I would’ve got more decency of how they let me go,” Schofield said during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday at U.S. Airways Arena. “But, I mean, it’s whatever. I’m a Super Bowl champ. They have to see me twice a year.”

Arizona's fourth-round pick in 2010 said he’s done holding a grudge against the Cardinals for letting him go, but Schofield doesn’t have many pleasant things to say about his time in Arizona -- he feels he’s receiving better coaching in Seattle and getting more opportunities on defense.

“But when it’s all said and done I’m just happy how everything happened,” Schofield said.

Schofield said his former position coach with the Cardinals, which would’ve been outside linebacker coach James Bettcher, wouldn’t talk to him after he got cut.

“My coach walked past me like he didn’t even see me,” Schofield said. “I was just like, ‘OK, however that works,’ but it’s funny. It’s funny now. It’s really funny now. I’m hoping to laugh a little bit harder after Sunday’s game.”

He’s gone 3-1 against Arizona in the last two seasons and said his range as a defender has grown with the Seahawks, having lined up at nose tackle, three-technique defensive lineman, defensive end and linebacker. He’s still basking in sacking Ryan Lindley in Week 16 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

His departure from the Cardinals reinforced to Schofield that the NFL is a business before anything else.

“It definitely opened my eyes to understand that you might not be an organization's preference at that time,” he said. “I wasn’t theirs but I was able to make another team and still I was able to play and produce. That definitely was enlightening and (provided) confidence for me.”

On Sunday, on the same field where his career received a new lease, Schofield will play for his second straight Super Bowl ring.

The thoughts of being cut by the Cards have been replaced by thoughts of celebrating on their home field.

“I think it’s going to be very exciting,” he said. “I’m definitely probably do a victory lap.”

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