NFC West: Al Everest

10 NFC West thoughts after Super Bowl

February, 7, 2011
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Those responsible for making sure fans had Super Bowl seats weren't responsible for maintaining seats on airplanes leaving Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I'm home, in other words.

Ten thoughts relating at least tangentially to the NFC West following the Green Bay Packers' 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl:

  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson was doing a good job whether or not Green Bay beat the Steelers. The victory only bolsters his credibility as a primary architect for Super Bowl teams with multiple franchises. Thompson played a role in the Packers' two Super Bowl appearances of the 1990s. He played a bigger role in putting together the Seattle team that appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2005 season. More recently, he won a championship after replacing a successful head coach (Mike Sherman) and legendary quarterback (Brett Favre).
  • [+] EnlargeBryant McFadden
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPittsburgh's Bryant McFadden, 20, had a rough day against Jordy Nelson and the Packers.

  • Cornerback Bryant McFadden, traded from Arizona back to Pittsburgh before the 2010 season, had a tough game. After recovering from an abdominal injury to start the Super Bowl, McFadden suffered a hip injury that forced him to leave the Super Bowl. The Packers had already completed a couple passes against him to that point. With McFadden out, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers beat McFadden's replacement, William Gay, for a touchdown. McFadden returned and the Packers continued to have success through the air.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers linebackers Diyral Briggs and Matt Wilhelm won Super Bowl rings with Green Bay. The 49ers released Briggs early in the 2010 season. They parted with Wilhelm on the reduction to 53 players even though the move seemed to leave them a little thin, at least at the time. Wilhelm made one special-teams tackle Sunday, after an 18-yard kickoff return. Briggs made one assisted special-teams tackle, after a 2-yard punt return.
  • Lots of things would have changed had the 49ers drafted Rodgers first overall in 2005. Around here, we generally approach the subject in terms of what Rodgers might have meant to the 49ers. The Packers would obviously be vastly different, too. Perhaps they wouldn't have drafted a quarterback in the first round. Would they have kept Brett Favre?
  • NFC West teams loaded up on pass catchers in the 2008 draft. Donnie Avery, John Carlson, Early Doucet, Keenan Burton and Josh Morgan come to mind. The Packers drafted Jordy Nelson, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. Avery went 33rd overall. Nelson went three spots later.
  • The punt Green Bay muffed early in the game did not cost the Packers because they recovered. A turnover there might have changed the game. At the time, I thought of Steelers special-teams coach Al Everest, who was fired by Mike Singletary following the 2009 season.
  • The Cardinals plan to again pursue one or more members of the Steelers' defensive staff about possibly becoming defensive coordinator in Arizona. That makes sense. Pittsburgh has been very good on defense overall. The Steelers' pass defense has had problems in the team's past two Super Bowls, however. Rodgers and Kurt Warner combined for 681 yards passing and six touchdowns with one interception in those games.
  • On second thought, those passing numbers against the Steelers' defense don't look so bad. Arizona allowed 664 yards passing and seven touchdowns with one interception in its last two playoff games, both after the 2009 season. Rodgers and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees did the damage.
  • Former 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle played in the game for Pittsburgh, but he did not register a statistic.
  • Former Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett -- chosen right before Reggie Wayne, Todd Heap and Drew Brees in the 2001 draft -- started at left defensive end for the Packers. He made tackles following runs of 1 and 3 yards.

By the way, thanks to those who offered ideas for the blog via Facebook. Nicely done.

Update: Another thanks goes to those who pointed out ex-Seahawk Howard Green's role in pressuring Roethlisberger into an interception.

Thoughts on Michael Robinson's release

September, 3, 2010
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Special-teams ace Michael Robinson was looking like a keeper for the San Francisco 49ers.

Looks can be deceiving.

News that the 49ers released Robinson in advance of the 53-man roster deadline could reflect a couple realities. One, the 49ers have a new special-teams coach in Kurt Schottenheimer. Any equity Robinson had built up with the previous special-teams coach, Al Everest, didn't carry over. Two, Robinson wasn't a factor on offense. In fact, when unusual circumstances thrust Robinson into the lineup for the exhibition opener at Indianapolis, Robinson lost a fumble on the team's first offensive play.

A player with no value on offense and no equity with his special-teams coach was more vulnerable than anticipated.

Connecting the dots in free agency

March, 8, 2010
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The moves teams make in free agency can be predictable based on personal connections.

  • The Cardinals hired Donnie Henderson to coach their secondary. When Antrel Rolle signed with the Giants, the Cardinals quickly acquired Kerry Rhodes from the Jets. Who was the Jets' defensive coordinator when the team drafted Rhodes in 2005? Henderson.
  • The Rams hired Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator before last season. When the Rams sought a veteran quarterback this offseason, the team signed A.J. Feeley. Who was the Eagles' quarterbacks coach when Feeley was a backup in Philadelphia? Shurmur.
  • The 49ers watched free agent Arnaz Battle leave in recent days. Battle joined recently fired 49ers special-teams coach Al Everest with the Steelers.
  • The Seahawks spent Saturday visiting with Broncos restricted free agent Brandon Marshall. Their new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, coached Marshall previously in Denver.

So many of these moves are somewhat predictable if we pay close enough attention to the connections. St. Louis made another reconnection Monday when they signed defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who played for Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo when both were with the Giants. The Cardinals reportedly have interest in linebackers Joey Porter and Larry Foote, who played for the Steelers when Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt was a coach for Pittsburgh. On and on it goes.

It makes sense for teams to seek players they know will fit their systems. I also think teams can value familiarity too much. Sometimes it's easier for a coach to plug in a known part than to put in the work needed to develop a younger or more talented player.


Around the NFC West: Everest mystery

January, 19, 2010
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Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers coach Mike Singletary as saying the team has made finding a return specialist a high priority this offseason. Singletary also indicated that a personal matter led to Al Everest's departure as special-teams coach, stressing that the botched reverse at Seattle wasn't the reason for a change. Singletary: "If I was that shallow as a coach, I need to be out of the game. It was just something that Al needs to take care of." Everest subsequently interviewed with the Steelers for their job as special-teams coach.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says new 49ers special-teams coach Kurt Schottenheimer held the same job with the Chiefs when 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was a top special-teams player for Kansas City. Maiocco: "Schottenheimer was out of coaching in 2009. He said he studied the principles of the spread offense in visits to Texas A&M and Illinois. He is defensive coordinator this week at the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, so he is getting a head start evaluating draft-eligible players."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Singletary as saying Everest was "doing a fine job" for the 49ers. Why, then, would the 49ers let his contract expire, allowing Everest to surface as a candidate with the Steelers? Singletary was vague.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Singletary this way on Everest: "I think Al was doing a good job during the year, but there were some things I had to deal with personally. It was just something Al needed to take care of. I had to let him go."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says longtime Pete Carroll associate Pat Kirwan told radio listeners he wasn't pursuing a job with the Seahawks. That might mean the Seahawks weren't ready to offer him a high-level job within the organization.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the current postseason shows why the Seahawks shouldn't be too quick to write off Matt Hasselbeck. Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and even Drew Brees went through career difficulties before re-emerging as excellent players. Favre appeared finished with the Jets last season before making a run at MVP honors with Minnesota. Warner landed in Arizona after the Rams and Giants moved on with younger quarterbacks. Favre had enjoyed one good statistical season in his previous four before catching on with the Vikings. Warner had enjoyed one good statistical season in his previous four before signing with Arizona. Like the Rams' 32-year-old Marc Bulger, Hasselbeck, 34, has enjoyed one good statistical season in his last four. Warner was 34 in his first season with Arizona.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic raises six questions about the Cardinals heading into the offseason. Somers: "The contracts of a handful of assistants are ending, and team President Michael Bidwill tried to get some to sign new two-year deals. Only one problem: the Cardinals didn't spell out how much they would pay should there be a work stoppage in 2011. So some members of the staff remain unsigned, including strength coach John Lott, who has become a guru to many of the players. If the Cardinals want to send a bad message to players and fans, they will allow Lott and others to depart. To borrow a phrase from Lott, who borrowed it from 'Cool Hand Luke,' the Cardinals need to get their minds right." Letting key assistants get away would validate criticisms the organization has made strides in overcoming.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com lists the eight players Arizona recently signed to future contracts. The following players will join the 80-man roster once the NFL postseason concludes: receiver Onrea Jones, cornerback Rashard Barksdale, linebacker Ali Highsmith, receiver Ed Gant, defensive end Ryan Kees, guard Jonathan Palmer, tackle Tom Pestock and linebacker Mark Washington.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo will need to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left to join Derek Dooley at the University of Tennessee. Spagnuolo suggested the Rams won't rush to name a replacement. The Rams' problems at receiver appeared largely related to personnel. The team lacked proven talent at the position even before injuries sent Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton and Brooks Foster onto the injured reserve list.

Howard Balzer and Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat say the Rams' coaching staff is in Orlando for the East-West Shrine game. The staff will head to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl next week.

Thoughts on 49ers' special-teams hire

January, 18, 2010
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The 49ers' hiring of Kurt Schottenheimer to coach their special teams should work out because the team has good personnel at snapper, kicker and punter.

But replacing Al Everest with Schottenheimer is a curious move. Everest was known as a solid special-teams coach (he could wind up with the Steelers). Schottenheimer has a long history as an NFL assistant coach, but he has not coached special teams since 1994.

The 49ers' return game was poor in 2009. I think that was because they lacked a good return specialist, not because Everest forgot how to coach returners.

Schottenheimer otherwise inherits a solid situation. The 49ers are set at snapper, kicker and punter. They have one of the NFL's very best special-teams players in Michael Robinson. Coach Mike Singletary has made toughness a priority, and toughness is critical for good special teams.

Around the NFC West: Game day here

January, 10, 2010
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Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says it's time to trade pregame storylines for the real thing when Green Bay visits the Cardinals in the wild-card round. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I think we showed last year our potential and what we can do, but I think we've done it more consistently this year, which, to me, makes you a better football team. When you can show up and win in all facets and do it more consistently, that shows a better football team."

Also from Somers: Anquan Boldin appears likely to test his injured ankle in pregame warm-ups before the team decides whether he can play.

More from Somers: a look at key stats and variables in the Packers-Cardinals game. The Packers are plus-24 in turnovers this season. Somers: "It's an astounding number, keyed by 30 interceptions. The Packers don't commit many turnovers themselves, just eight fumbles and eight interceptions. The running backs have carried 374 times without losing a fumble. The Packers don't beat themselves much, in other words, so the Cardinals can't afford to be careless with the ball. If so, the Packers offensive will capitalize and this game could turn ugly."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic raises questions about how long Kurt Warner will continue playing. Bickley: "As kickoff nears, Cardinals fans will become jittery, nervous. There's a lot on the line, maybe even a window of opportunity. But most will take great comfort in their quarterback and wouldn't trade him for anybody in the NFC. Warner has the experience. He has proven himself over and over in pressure situations. He has been to three Super Bowls, and delivered each time. He rates a big edge over the blossoming Aaron Rodgers, who never has participated in a playoff game."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com suggests injuries were bound to strike the Cardinals at some point.

Brian Jennings of the 49ers picks the Packers to beat the Cardinals in a game that could be a blowout, he thinks, if Green Bay can force a couple of turnovers. Jennings: "If the Cardinals can win the turnover battle, they could win this game. Another thing I can’t overlook is Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff. They do a great job of preparing their team for the playoffs. But in the end, I’m going to go with Green Bay. I like the Packers to win 27-23. The game is being played indoors, so I think both teams will probably be able to score a lot of points. If the Packers get a couple of turnovers, it could be a blowout. I think the Packers are really the only team out of the wild-card round that can play in the Super Bowl this year."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers and Browns talked about a potential Josh Cribbs deal before the trading deadline, but the sides could not agree on compensation. Maiocco: "Would the 49ers be interested if Cribbs hit the trade market? I'm sure they would. But at what price, I do not know. But let's not get too carried away with disgruntled Cribbs' trade demands. Heck, the trade period does not open until March."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have spoken with Larry MacDuff about their opening for special-teams coach. MacDuff coached for the 49ers from 2003 to 2006. Bobby April could be another candidate to coach the 49ers' special teams after Al Everest's firing.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have indicated "president" is not one of the titles "in play" for Pete Carroll. O'Neil: "Carroll will not have final say over all football decisions as it relates to personnel. The Seahawks have told the Fritz Pollard Alliance that -- if Carroll is hired -- he's not the ultimate authority on draft choices and trades. Carroll is going to serve as final authority on the 53-man roster. The Seahawks specified this to the Fritz Pollard Alliance as well."

Also from O'Neil: Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy and Lawrence Jackson vouch for Carroll. Bledsoe: "I can't speak highly enough of Pete as a coach and as a person. I really would have loved to have played for the guy for a bunch of my career."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune isn't convinced Carroll would be the right person for the job in Seattle. Boling: "If a deal comes together as reported, five years for as high as $35 million, with possible dual titles of head coach and franchise president, Carroll has two immediate requisites: 1) Put together an all-star staff of assistants, most with NFL experience, and 2) hire an indefatigable GM with a track record of personnel success in the NFL."

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times says the Seahawks could promote pro personnel director Will Lewis to be their general manager.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' special teams showed progress under Tom McMahon. Thomas: "The Rams' league-wide rankings in net punting (second), punt coverage (fourth) and kickoff coverage (22nd) were the highest for the team in the decade. (That's right, a No. 22 ranking on kickoff coverage was a single-season best for the Rams from 2000 through 2009.) The Rams' ranking in kickoff returns (11th) was their second-highest ranking of the decade; gross punting (fourth) was third-best; and punt returns (eighth) was fourth-best."

Also from Thomas: Rams cornerback Ron Bartell says he knew the Rams were not going to succeed right away. Bartell: "I got into it for the long haul. So I knew it was going to take time. ... We still have the right people in place. I totally, firmly believe that. I think I made the best decision for me. I still think we can get this thing turned around."

Around the NFC West: Boldin fallout

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
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Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' season will be defined by how the team performs Sunday. Bickley: "The mood in town is certainly different from last January. A rash of injuries has muted the optimism. The saga of Anquan Boldin -- injured when he shouldn't have been on the field last week -- threatens to dog coach Ken Whisenhunt for years to come. That would be a shame." Leaving Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in the game too long put both players at unnecessary risk on a day when Whisenhunt's top priority was to avoid injuries.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says during a chat that he thinks having Ben Patrick and Dan Kreider available should help the Cardinals' ground game. Also: "My sense is the Cardinals will try to trade Anquan Boldin in the off-season." That could be easier to do now that Beanie Wells appears ready to carry more of the offensive load. I just wonder whether the team can justify taking away a primary weapon from quarterback Kurt Warner. Much could depend on what Arizona could get in return for Boldin. Would another team make it worth their while? Would another team want to give up compensation to the Cardinals and then give up big bucks for Boldin?

Also from Somers: a look at the impending matchup between Larry Fitzgerald and Charles Woodson.

More from Somers: Clark Haggans is thankful for his health after missing the Cardinals' playoff run last season. Somers: "Haggans has been a regular starter at left outside linebacker and has been among the team's more consistent defenders."

More yet from Somers: The Cardinals' injury situation in the secondary has improved, but receiver Anquan Boldin might not know his status until Sunday.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says playoff experience can be overrated, according to running back Tim Hightower.

Also from McManaman: Woodson's smarts help make him such a dynamic player. Fitzgerald: "He's a cerebral guy, crafty, a phenomenal talent, super intelligent. He's all over the field. Usually he's matched up against the top receiver, but he's still able to get after the quarterback and cause a lot of disruptions."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at the team's ability to avoid back-to-back defeats in a season for the first time since 1975. I'm not sure we should count Week 17 as a normal defeat, though, since the Cardinals didn't make a legitimate effort to win the game.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times reads between the lines in determining reasons for the Seahawks' offensive struggles in 2009. O'Neil: "The Seahawks face an offseason of change, which won't be confined to the front-office addition of a new president. Something has to be done to bridge the gap between the offensive game plan and the players being trusted to run it after the offense was slow at first and then got worse."

Also from O'Neil: Giants personnel man Marc Ross is expected to interview for the Seahawks' general manager job. The Seahawks have not confirmed interest in any candidates, allowing various reports to shape perceptions at a critical time for the franchise. It's all good if the team makes the right hire.

Seahawks.com offers details on recent surgeries for defensive end Patrick Kerney and safety Deon Grant. Kerney could return in 4-6 weeks after having loose cartilage and bone fragments removed from his elbow. Grant will have surgery to reconstruct a torn ligament in his wrist. He could return after the draft. Both players could be candidates for release this offseason, depending on what the next GM thinks about keeping around older players after a rough season.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams general manager Billy Devaney appears relaxed and in good spirits now that the regular-season grind has given way to thoughts about the draft and free agency. Burwell: "One of the biggest decisions he'll be making over the course of the next few months is what to do about the Rams quarterbacks, and part of that process begins with what to do with veteran starter Marc Bulger. Thursday, the Post-Dispatch reported that several team sources were convinced that the embattled 33-year-old passer is considering retirement. Yet on Tuesday, R.J. Gonser, who represents Bulger with agent Tom Condon of CAA, said Bulger isn't ready to hang up his cleats just yet."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's no reason for Bulger to return. Miklasz: "All he would do is absorb more of a pounding and probably get hurt again. He is not a difference maker in a rebuilding situation, but could be an effective quarterback when surrounded by good working parts. The Rams aren’t there yet. If they bring in a new veteran QB to handle the job for a couple of years until a youngster is ready, it should be someone who is mobile, someone who can give the offense a different kind of dimension. It’s just time to move on."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with injured Rams defensive tackle Adam Carriker, who hopes to bounce back. Thomas: "Coach Steve Spagnuolo's staff may have a sense of what Carriker can do. But they've seen very little of him in person -- on the practice field or on game day. Prior to the shoulder injury, he missed three weeks of training camp and three preseason games with an ankle injury. At this point, while the coaching staff and front office sifts through their roster options for 2010, Carriker can't be sure how or even if he fits into the team's plans. But he'd like the opportunity to revive his career for the team that drafted him 13th overall in 2007."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says during a chat that recently fired 49ers special-teams coach Al Everest won't be out of work long because he's very good at what he does.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat ranks the 49ers' offseason needs as offensive tackle, return specialist, cornerback, outside linebacker, guard and quarterback. Drafting a speed cornerback with return capabilities would address two of those needs in one move.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider passes along notes, including one about 49ers great Byrant Young possibly becoming a position coach at San Jose State. He also passes along this quote from Everest: "I tell my players all the time, you have to make a bad play into a good play and a good play into a great play. That's what I plan on doing."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation takes a statistical look at the 49ers' defense in 2009.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says defensive end Calais Campbell expects to play Sunday despite undergoing surgery to repair an injured thumb. Urban: "When I asked if he planned to play, I got that look that said it may have been the dumbest question I could have asked (and maybe it was). Campbell, as coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday, can play with it casted and that’s what he plans to do. He also didn’t seem worried it would affect his play. The best part, he said, was that even though he probably wouldn’t get to practice much if at all, the fact the Cards already got to prepare for the Packers last week puts him ahead of the game."

Also from Urban: Brian St. Pierre cherished the first regular-season touchdown pass of his career.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's contract does not include incentives for additional receptions, yardage or touchdowns. Fitzgerald was padding his stats against Green Bay in Week 17.

Also from Somers: Matt Leinart's spotty play in spot duty should concern the Cardinals. Somers: "Kurt Warner, 38, presumably will retire after the 2010 season, his last year under contract. That plan could change, of course, but that's the timeframe under which the Cardinals are operating. The club has to find out whether Leinart can play. And the fact that the question remains is troubling."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' agitation extends to how coach Ken Whisenhunt feels about Packers counterpart Mike McCarthy. Bickley: "Whisenhunt has been agitated by McCarthy tactics in the past. He felt the Packers' coach game-planned for an exhibition contest against the Cardinals in August, a game in which the Packers went deep and led 38-10 at halftime. A needless embarrassment, in other words. After sleeping on Sunday's loss, Whisenhunt's attitude hadn't changed much. He reiterated his regret for playing Anquan Boldin too long. He made it clear that he was rewarding Fitzgerald, ceding to a player who is (thankfully) driven by great personal ambition (fame and money). And then he struck back at the Packers. He made it clear that McCarthy was doing nothing different on the other sideline, allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball continually on the opening drive of the second half, even though the Packers led 26-0."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will evaluate their own players before determining which college prospect to draft first overall. Also, linebacker James Laurinaitis received no votes as the defensive rookie of the year. Brian Cushing won the award with 39 of 50 votes.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ndamukong Suh appears to be the clear-cut choice with the first overall pick.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring thoughts on the draft. Thomas: "I think Suh would help the run defense and the pass defense. Just with his inside push, he should force the QB out of the pocket more often, leading to more sacks by Chris Long and whoever the other DEs are. The Rams definitely need a starting weakside LB. And it would be nice to see another pass rusher added to the mix. I'd feel better about CB if I knew for sure that Bradley Fletcher would be ready for opening day. (The early assessments at Rams Park are optimistic on Fletcher.)"

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on the Rams' offense: "Over the past three seasons the Rams have averaged only 14 points per game, which ranks them dead last in the NFL among the 32 teams. I’m not saying Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can be counted on to rebuild this offense and make it terrific again; we don’t know enough, either way. But you’d have to be fairly fruit loops to believe that the coaches should have gotten a lot more points out of the talent they had to work with at WR and QB in 2009."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com wonders whether the Giants' collapse on defense could help the Rams by making available players familiar with Steve Spagnuolo's defense.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says all was quiet in the locker room after players dispersed for the offseason.

Also from Farnsworth: awards for the Seahawks' most impressive players this season. Bruce DeHaven emerges as assistant coach of the year. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks’ special teams really were this season, so the nod goes to the coach in charge of those units. Getting record-setting seasons from Ryan and Olindo Mare was enough, but the Seahawks also ranked among the best in the league in opponents’ average starting spot after kickoffs (24.2 yard line) and punt return average allowed (7.5)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks could be competing with Mike Holmgren's Cleveland Browns if they hope to hire the Eagles' Tom Heckert as general manager. The perception that Holmgren beat the Seahawks to a favored candidate would not make the Seahawks look good.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' struggles in the return game factored into Al Everest's dismissal as special-teams coordinator.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Everest was in the final year of his contract. A team spokesman confirmed Everest's firing.

Also from Barrows: a look at college prospects from Georgia Tech and Iowa, with insights from draft analyst Rob Rang.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers were mostly solid on special teams except for that punt return game. Crumpacker: "Otherwise, the 49ers were solid on special teams, especially up the middle with flawless long snapper Brian Jennings, holder/punter Andy Lee and kicker Joe Nedney. Lee finished second in the league to the Raiders' Shane Lechler in gross punting average. Nedney converted 17 of 21 field-goal attempts."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation offers thoughts on Alex Smith as the 49ers' quarterback. Fucillo: "The number some folks like to point to is his career high QB rating and the fact that is surpasses that of QBs like Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. I think that, combined with the fact that he had two of his best rating performances the last two games of the season, would hopefully rope in the last few folks who think it's some kind of phenomenal statistic. I remain stuck on two things (some might say excuses/reasons for optimism) when it comes to Alex Smith. The first is the issue of his offensive line and the second is the idea of having an OC for two straight seasons."

First NFC West coaching casualty

January, 5, 2010
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The San Francisco 49ers are parting ways with special teams coach Al Everest, Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports.

Everest has coached with the 49ers since 2007. The 49ers have had highly productive specialists during that time, from Andy Lee to Michael Robinson to Manny Lawson and others.

A botched reverse during a crushing defeat at Seattle stood out as the primary special-teams lapse this season. That play seemed to turn the momentum against San Francisco in a game the 49ers could not afford to lose.

Punt returns were a problem all season.
The 49ers' ill-fated decision to call a reverse during a punt return against the Seahawks resulted from a coaching miscommunication.

That was the word from head coach Mike Singletary during his news conference Monday.

The 49ers had worked on the play in practice, Singletary said, but that should not have automatically led to the team calling the reverse during the game.

"That was my fault for not articulating that we might do it in the game but we are not for sure going to do it in the game," Singletary said. "That is my fault for not making it more plain. Whenever something like that happens, it is my fault. The communication should be better. We didn't touch on it the way we should have to say we are definitely going to do it in the game."

Special-teams coach Al Everest presumably made the call to run the reverse under the assumption that Singletary had signed off on the decision. I will attempt to confirm that part of the scenario through the 49ers. Brandon Jones muffed the handoff exchange with Arnaz Battle. The Seahawks recovered and scored a touchdown shortly thereafter.

"It's just a situation in which you have two players back there and one player, Brandon Jones, is not really your normal guy to do that," Singletary said, "so maybe you don't want to have him do that. Just go ahead and let Arnaz return punts. Keep it simple and go forward from that. But we did practice it last week, so it showed up in the game."

Singletary's accountability on these matters is important. Jones also owned up to his mistake on the play. Longer term, players must have confidence that their coaches will make the right decisions and handle such situations properly. As a first-year head coach, Singletary will certainly be looking to improve.

Niners make inexplicable miscue

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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Mike Singletary's body language gave the impression he didn't know the 49ers were going to try a reverse during their recent fateful punt return.

Cameras showed Singletary shaking his head and appearing unimpressed while special teams coach Al Everest appeared to be explaining the situation.

The fumbled handoff was exactly the sort of play the 49ers needed to avoid. The Seahawks appeared largely listless to that point in the game. Their offense had done nothing. The 49ers led 7-0, and another score might have served as an early knockout blow.

Instead, the Seahawks scored quickly to tie the game, 7-7.

The 49ers still look like the better team, but that turnover could make them work much harder for victory.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune provides observations suggesting Matt Hasselbeck's back problems are no longer an issue. Boling: "When the Seahawks gathered for their team stretching drills, I saw one contortion that would convince even the most skeptical fan that Hasselbeck is fully recovered. The players lay face-down on the grass, arms out to the side. They lift their left leg back up into the air and rotate it around to touch the ground on the right side of their body. Then they roll back and do the opposite with the other leg. It looks impossible for any vertebrate mammal other than yoga instructors."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com takes a look inside the Rams' revamped weight room. Strength and conditioning coaches Rock Gullickson and Chuck Faucette oversaw a quick overhaul after new coach Steve Spagnuolo hired them. Wagoner: "The Rams donated the outgoing equipment to local fire and police academies and those organizations came quickly to pick up the goods. Within a week, the order had been placed and the old equipment had cleared out. With no players around, Gullickson and Faucette had hoped to have a new beginning waiting for them in the weight room upon their return. In the record time of 27 days, the makeover was complete and the Rams returned to a completely re-designed weight room."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers will find a way to get "X" receivers Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree on the field together if both command playing time. Barrows: "Having said that ... Keep in mind that Crabtree [foot] won't be able to practice with the team until training camp. So he's not only a rookie learning how to play against big, physical cornerbacks, he's also getting a late start on the learning process. In other words, there's no guarantee he'll be a starter in Week One. Something else to keep in mind ... Very rarely does a receiving corps make it through an entire season unscathed."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has enjoyed each of his roles with the team over a decade-long run with the 49ers. Special-teams coach Al Everest: "For a guy to be going into his tenth season with the same team, going through free agency with him making the decision to stay and for the Niners to keep him is a great tribute to him. He is what football is all about. He prepares well, he has fun, and he's a great learner. He learns his techniques and plays with those techniques. He knows his assignments and has fun doing it. He's a real pleasure to coach."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com recognizes the late Pat Tillman and other veterans on Memorial Day. Urban: "A great day off, for sure, but also important as a time to remember. Almost everyone is connected to someone in the military. My late grandmother was one of the first women Marines for our country, and if you are reading this blog, you almost certainly feel linked to Pat Tillman. Tillman is one of the famous soldiers, not like my grandmother, for instance, or the father of Cardinals fan Jerry Jones, a World War II vet named Chester."

Carthon's departure was in the works

February, 19, 2009
2/19/09
6:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cardinals had already hired Curtis Modkins to coach their running backs. They didn't say anything publicly until the Chiefs announced Maurice Carthon's hiring as assistant head coach.

Carthon coached running backs for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008. Modkins coached running backs for the Chiefs in 2008.

When Todd Haley left his job as Cardinals offensive coordinator to become the Chiefs' head coach, he wanted to bring along Carthon from Arizona.

The Cardinals allowed Carthon to pursue the promotion. They quickly lined up Modkins, who broke into the NFL with Kansas City in 2008 after six seasons coaching running backs defensive backs at Georgia Tech.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(shared)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB Chris Miller
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR John McNulty
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Curtis Modkins
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
Bill Davis
Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Matt Raich
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

The chart provides a general overview of NFC West coaching staffs. Yellow shading highlights changes from last season. Titles are imprecise in some cases.

For example, the Cardinals do not have an offensive coordinator. They have a running game coordinator in assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm and they have a passing game coordinator in Mike Miller.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete after the Rams assigned titles to Frank Leonard, Paul Ferraro, Andre Curtis and Clayton Lopez.

The chart shows which coaches retained their titles from the end of last season (gray shading) and which coaches are new to their current roles (yellow shading). The Cardinals could face additional changes if they fill vacancies from within.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(open)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB (open)
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR Mike Miller
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Maurice Carthon
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
(open) Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Bill Davis
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

All four offensive line coaches remain in their roles from last season (subject to change if Russ Grimm becomes the Cardinals' offensive coordinator). Every other core staff position features at least one change in the division.

The 49ers and Rams have the largest staffs with 20 members apiece, counting head coaches. The Seahawks reduced to 18 after moving assistant offensive line coach Mike DeBord to tight ends and eliminating the job of assistant special teams coach John Jamison. The Cardinals have 13 coaches, a number that figures to rise by at least three.

The 49ers and Rams have full-time administrative assistants assigned to their head coaches. The Cardinals do not formally list an assistant strength and conditioning coach, although Pete Alosi does help John Lott in that area.

(Read full post)

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 5, 2009
2/05/09
4:20
PM ET
Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
Todd Haley
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB Jeff Rutledge
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR Mike Miller
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Maurice Carthon
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
(unnamed)
Def. Coord.
C. Pendergast Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Bill Davis
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
(unnamed)
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (unnamed)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete. The chart provides a general overview showing which coaches are primarily overseeing key areas.

Some coaches have fancy titles. I'll list those below. Including those titles in the chart would have served them but not us.

The 49ers have two coaches assigned to linebackers and two assigned to the secondary:

  • Jason Tarver is a defensive assistant/outside linebackers. Vantz Singletary is coaching inside linebackers. Coach Mike Singletary and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky are former NFL linebackers, so the 49ers have that position covered.
  • Vance Joseph and Johnnie Lynn are both listed as secondary coaches.

The Rams have not named coaches at tight
end, linebacker or secondary. However, they have hired Andre Curtis and Paul Ferraro as unspecified defensive assistants. They have also hired Frank Leonard as an unspecified offensive assistant.

The Seahawks and Cardinals do not list administrative assistants as part of their staffs. Bill Nayes and Bruce Warwick fill those spots for the 49ers and Rams, respectively.

The following team-by-team list includes all the fancy titles, plus some coaches who did not appear on the chart:

(Read full post)

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