NFC West: 2012 Camp Watch

49ers Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Dashon Goldson's unsigned status is a temporary inconvenience. The team can get through any camp practices and exhibition games Goldson might miss. Given that rules prevent Goldson and other franchise players from signing long-term deals at this point, the 49ers know their Pro Bowl safety will sign in time for the season. They need to develop depth at safety and will have additional chances to do so if Goldson stays away for any significant period.

Unsigned franchise players have until Nov. 13 to sign their one-year qualifying offers. Goldson would forfeit nearly $365,000 for every regular-season game he missed. That is a significant sum for any player and particularly for Goldson, who earned $1 million last season and less than $600,000 per year previously, on average.

One thing that might happen: Competition at running back, wide receiver and backup quarterback could shift attention away from Alex Smith during camp and the preseason, a big change from recent seasons. Smith returns to the team entrenched as the starter. It'll be news if Smith struggles, of course, but it's inconceivable to envision another quarterback winning the starting job in camp. That could be an underrated positive for the 49ers.

I do wonder, still, how well Smith will fare in distributing the ball to receivers Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss in particular. Moss, Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie A.J. Jenkins give the 49ers four first-round draft choices at wide receiver, the most in the league. How will Crabtree and Moss react if the passing game falters and their stats suffer?

One thing we won't see: The same old thing at right guard. Former starters Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder signed elsewhere in free agency. The 49ers were ready to move on without them. Alex Boone has become a strong favorite to start after converting from tackle. Daniel Kilgore is another option. Rookie Joe Looney could project as the long-term starter once he recovers from a foot injury. Whatever the case, change is on the way.

Seahawks Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Free-agent addition Jason Jones will fit much better at defensive tackle in Seattle than he did as a defensive end with Tennessee last season. The pass rush should improve as a result. Jones' addition on a one-year contract holds promise because the Seahawks seem excited about him. The team's leadership has been right on just about every defensive player it has targeted by trade (Chris Clemons), the draft (see the secondary in particular), unrestricted free agency (Alan Branch), street free agency (Brandon Browner) and position changes (Red Bryant).

Jones had a career-low three sacks for Tennessee last season. That matched the total for Anthony Hargrove, the player Jones is replacing in Seattle. Doubling that total seems to be a reasonable expectation for Jones if all goes to plan.

One thing that might happen: The confidence Seattle has exhibited in its young receivers could prove too optimistic. I'm going to have it both ways on this one. A month ago, I pointed to receiver as a position where the Seahawks might have "hidden treasure" on their roster. That could be the case, but some skepticism appears warranted. Seattle has so far proven more adept at building on defense than on offense.

Mike Williams' recent release left the team with a roster spot for a veteran receiver heading toward training camp. Antonio Bryant, who participated in minicamp practices on a tryout basis last month, could get another shot. The team needs Sidney Rice in particular to become more durable. The same is true to a lesser extent for Kris Durham. Doug Baldwin's presence gives the team a proven target from the slot and on third down. Golden Tate appears on the upswing. Ricardo Lockette's blazing speed intrigues. There are still quite a few variables and unknowns at the position.

One thing we won't see: The offensive line coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider envisioned when the team used a 2011 first-round draft choice for tackle James Carpenter. The team expects Carpenter to miss training camp and open the season on the physically unable to perform list following surgery to repair a serious knee injury suffered last season. John Moffitt, a third-round choice in 2011, is also returning from knee surgery. Left tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall choice in 2010, is returning from surgery to repair a torn pectoral.

Breno Giacomini has proven to be more than adequate as Carpenter's replacement, to the point that he could remain at right tackle for the long term. Deuce Lutui's addition helps depth. However, another significant injury to Okung would set back the line tremendously.

Cardinals Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The defense won't be hurting for swagger this summer. These guys think they're good after finishing strong last season. They should have the upper hand in practice against an offense with question marks on the line and at quarterback.

The aggressive, brash tone coordinator Ray Horton sets reflects his roots as a longtime NFL cornerback. Horton marked his introductory news conference last offseason by vowing to blitz on the Cardinals' first play. He hadn't lost anything in the attitude department when I visited the Cardinals' mandatory minicamp last month. On the field, Patrick Peterson and O'Brien Schofield are outwardly confident young players. Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson are veterans with swagger.

One thing that might happen: Injury concerns at running back could linger, renewing questions about how the Cardinals handled the position this offseason. The top two backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, are coming off knee surgeries.

Durability was a concern for Wells when the team drafted him in 2009. Wells suffered an ankle injury during his first camp practice as a rookie. In 2010, a knee injury suffered during the final exhibition game sidelined Wells for the first two weeks of the regular season. Wells missed both Seattle games last season. He topped 1,000 yards anyway, but Wells' knee clearly limited him late in the season. His average yards per carry fell from 4.7 yards in September, October and November to 3.1 yards in December.

Williams, meanwhile, has made great progress in his return from a torn patella. He might not be ready to contribute extensively in the short term, however. The injury he suffered was a serious one.

It'll be interesting to see how the Cardinals divide their carries for running backs during camp and the preseason.

One thing we won't see: A quick resolution to the quarterback situation. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was ready with a quip when asked when he wanted clarity at the position. Two years ago, he answered. The race between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton appears too close for one player to suddenly earn Whisenhunt's endorsement early in camp.

Whisenhunt said he wants an honest competition. That seemingly can't happen without both quarterbacks getting ample reps during preseason games.

Rams Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
11:00
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The offensive line will remain a work in progress. The Rams feel good about new line coach Paul T. Boudreau. They think he can help tackle Jason Smith and other young linemen realize more of their potential. Adding Pro Bowl center Scott Wells in free agency also should help.

This group will need time together on the field, however, and personnel-related question marks persist. Can Rodger Saffold rebound from a rough, injury-shortened season at left tackle? Does the team have a viable left guard? Is Smith the answer at right tackle? A realistic best-case scenario would not produce the preferred answers overnight. Expect a few bumps in the road, at least.

One thing that might happen: Defensive end Chris Long taking more of a leadership role. Long has become more productive in each of his first four NFL seasons. He collected 13 sacks in 2011 even though the Rams rarely faced favorable pass-rushing situations (they held fourth-quarter leads in only three games). Long, only 27, became the oldest defensive lineman on the team once the Rams parted with veterans Fred Robbins, James Hall and Justin Bannan.

Those personnel changes and Long's on-field credentials enhance his profile. The Rams now have three relatively recent first-round draft choices projected as starters on their defensive line. Robert Quinn (14th overall choice in 2011) and Michael Brockers (14th this year) would do well to follow Long's lead.

One thing we won't see: Gregg Williams. The Rams aren't listing Williams among their defensive coaches while the would-be defensive coordinator serves an indefinite NFL suspension. They have not named a coordinator in Williams' place.

Williams' suspension has faded from prominence among NFL storylines in recent months. That figures to change some once the Rams and their coaching staff are on the field for practices. Seeing how the staff operates will provide a better feel for how the Rams plan to proceed this season. Coach Jeff Fisher probably becomes more directly accountable.

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