NFC West: Al Johnson

Posted by's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Seahawks free-agent tackle Ray Willis has visited the Redskins and Raiders.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic provides updates on Cardinals free-agent guard Elton Brown and former Cardinals center Al Johnson. He also suggests coaches had problems with Nathan Hodel's snapping accuracy and coverage ability. What I know: Hodel failed a physical before his termination. He has had some knee issues.

Darren Urban of says Cardinals general manager Rod Graves hopes to meet with Drew Rosenhaus to discuss free-agent cornerback Bryant McFadden. Rosenhaus might have other business following Terrell Owens' release.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean says Cardinals free-agent cornerback Eric Green plans to visit the Titans. Green is no longer in the Cardinals' plans.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers aren't interested in Jeff Garcia as a free agent because coach Mike Singletary isn't convinced Garcia would provide a definite upgrade over Shaun Hill.

Line shuffling common for also-rans

December, 13, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Way back during training camp, the Cardinals were stressing continuity. They brought back their coaching staff and most starters, including all five starters on the offensive line. Center Al Johnson went on injured reserve before the season, but Lyle Sendlein might have been the choice, anyway.

Thirteen games into the season, the Cardinals are the only team in the division to start the same five on the offensive line in every game. The 49ers have used five starting combinations. The Rams have used six. The Seahawks have used seven.

The Seahawks have used four starters at right guard, the most players to start at one position on the line among NFC West teams. The 49ers have used three right tackles. The Rams have used two starters at every position on the line but right guard, where Richie Incognito has started every game. The Seahawks have used two starters at every position but right guard, where Rob Sims, Floyd Womack, Ray Willis and Mansfield Wrotto have started.

Seattle has used a different starting combination on the line in each of its last five games, with at least one change at every position.

Eight offensive linemen in the division have started every game at the same position this season. The Cardinals' Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Sendlein, Deuce Lutui and Levi Brown made the list, as did 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, 49ers center Eric Heitmann and Incognito. Rams right tackle Alex Barron came close, but the team benched him for the start of its game at Arizona after Barron was late to a meeting.

Former Cardinals starter lands in Miami

November, 29, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando


The Cardinals entered the offseason thinking Al Johnson would be their starting center. They later placed the veteran on injured reserve and released him when Johnson refused to reduce his salary to the team's expectations.

Johnson landed on his feet Saturday when the Dolphins signed him to their 53-man roster. Dolphins vice president Bill Parcells was the Cowboys' head coach when Dallas made Johnson a second-round draft choice in 2003. Chronic knee injuries have affected Johnson, but he started 14 games for the Cardinals last season and 31 for the Cowboys in 2004 and 2005.

The Dolphins had been without a true center behind starter Samson Satele. The backup role should suit Johnson well as he works his way back from the knee problems.

Around the NFC West: 49ers move on

October, 22, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat spent 15 minutes on the phone with recently fired 49ers coach Mike Nolan. Nolan used the word "sad" to describe his post-firing conversation with running back Frank Gore.

Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers need to reassess their approach from top to bottom.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle explains the 49ers' stated reasoning for firing Nolan. GM Scot McCloughan pointed directly to losing a fourth-quarter lead at home.

Also from Crumpacker: George Warhop's firing as coach of the offensive line came as no surprise.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee puts Mike Singletary's latest job in perspective by mentioning his former ones, from motivational speaker to Hall of Fame linebacker.

Also from Barrows: He thinks the 49ers' front office leaked word of Nolan's impending dismissal.

Gary Peterson of the Bay Area News Group says Singletary hasn't failed at anything of significance, but this job is tougher than the others.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary plans to bring fire to the job, something ownership said the team needs.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thought McCloughan should have shown less empathy for Nolan during the news conference to introduce Singletary.

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News wasn't impressed by what she saw when the 49ers announced their coaching change: "There was Scot 'Trigger Man' McCloughan looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. There was Jed York looking like a teenager play-acting as an NFL owner. There was Mike Singletary, sounding exactly like a newly minted, untested head coach."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News describes the upcoming offseason as a pivotal one for the 49ers.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Cardinals center Al Johnson plans to file a grievance against the team, as expected, following his release from injured reserve.

Also from Somers: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt spent his bye-week Sunday watching football with his wife at a sports bar. The story addresses the thought of expanding the season to 18 games.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' defensive line is playing to expectations.

Bill Coats of Around the Horns says the Rams' Steven Jackson is the NFC's player of the week after rushing for 160 yards against Dallas.

Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star looks at Jim Haslett's contributions in two games as the Rams' head coach.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' quarterback situation remains in flux.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times looks at Seneca Wallace's career and wonders if the Seahawks could have made better use of the backup quarterback.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks at Mike Holmgren's future and the likelihood of the Seattle coach landing with the 49ers.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says frustrations boiled over on the Seahawks' sideline Sunday night as running back Julius Jones lashed out. Holmgren sounded unconcerned.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Lofa Tatupu expects to be fine following the concussion he suffered in Week 7.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Receiver Billy McMullen has joined nine other Seattle players on injured reserve as the Seahawks matched Baltimore for the most players on IR heading into Week 7.

Seattle's list features four receivers: McMullen, Logan Payne, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu. All but Obomanu started a regular-season game for the Seahawks this season. Obomanu surely would have started had he not been injured during the exhibition season.

Also on IR for Seattle: guard Rob Sims, guard Chris Gray, long snapper Tyler Schmitt, tackle William Robinson, cornerback DeMichael Dizer and linebacker Wesly Mallard.

A quick look at IR lists for the other NFC West teams:

The Rams' IR list includes several players expected to contribute this season. McMichael was a big part of the offense. King was likely going to be the third corner. Manning was playing extensively after injuries sidelined King and Tye Hill. Setterstrom and Gorin comprised much of the team's depth on the offensive line.

Regularly scheduled checkup: Cardinals

September, 15, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Where they stand: The Cardinals are 2-0 and alone atop the NFC West.

Preseason projection: 2-0

Next three games: at Redskins, at Jets, vs. Bills

Biggest surprise: Kurt Warner hasn't lost a turnover in two games. Warner hadn't started consecutive games without a turnover in the same season since early 2004.

As expected: The Cardinals' defensive additions have added depth and versatility. Travis LaBoy had two sacks in the opener. Clark Haggans played extensively against the Dolphins. Bryan Robinson has filled in while Gabe Watson and Alan Branch recover from injuries.

Fingers crossed: Injuries at offensive tackle or cornerback could present problems. A calf injury briefly sidelined right cornerback Eric Green against the Dolphins.

Rookie to watch: Running back Tim Hightower had 11 touches against the Dolphins. He has two touchdowns in two games and has run effectively in short-yardage situations.

Injury watch: Center Al Johnson is out for the season. Watson is expected back from a knee injury soon.

Quick look at injured-reserve lists

September, 13, 2008
TeamNFC West player on injured reservePos.Starter
ARIAl JohnsonOLYes
ARIScott PetersOLNo
SEARob SimsOLYes
SEANate Burleson
SEAChris Gray
SEABen ObomanuWRNo
SEATyler SchmittLSNo
SEAWilliam RobinsonOLNo
SEAWesly MallardLBNo
SEADeMichael DizerCBNo
SFAlex SmithQBNo
SFJay MooreLBNo
SFDamane DuckettOLNo
STLJustin KingDBNo
STLMark SetterstromOLNo
STLBrandon GorinOLNo
STLRob PetittiOLNo

Posted by's Mike Sando

NFC West teams are carrying 17 players on injured reserve lists. That ranks tied for second with the AFC South by my count, trailing only the AFC North (23).

Seattle has eight players on IR, most in the league. This includes two players I had listed as starters, tied with Jacksonville for most in the league. The Jaguars lost both starting guards.

These figures count only players currently on IR lists. Teams have placed other players on IR, only to waive them once the players became healthy. Some teams have reached injury settlements with players, sparing those players from IR.

Arizona and San Francisco have remained quite healthy so far. The Rams lost key depth at cornerback and along the offensive line. The Seahawks have lost key depth at receiver and on the offensive line.

NFC West teams have no players on their physically unable to perform (PUP) lists. I'm counting 16 players on PUP across the league, including six in the AFC South.

Players on IR get paid. In most cases, they cannot return until the following season.

Linemen falling fast in NFC West

September, 10, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

It's early in the season, but injuries are already affecting offensive lines in the division. A quick look at those situations on a team-by-team basis:

  • Arizona: Starting center Al Johnson went on injured reserve before the opener. The Cardinals like his replacement, Lyle Sendlein, as much or more. Left tackle Mike Gandy played through a bruised knee suffered late in preseason.
  • St. Louis: Starting left guard Jacob Bell, one of the Rams' key offseason acquisitions, missed practice Wednesday. He suffered a hamstring injury against the Eagles in the opener. Roy Schuening or John Greco could start in Bell's place. Both are rookies. Neither was active last week. Backup guards Brandon Gorin and Mark Setterstrom are already on injured reserve. Left tackle Orlando Pace took a hard shot to the ribs in that game, but the team said he's OK.
  • San Francisco: Starting center Eric Heitmann returned to the 49ers' season opener after a shoulder injury forced him to the sideline for part of the game. Right tackle Jonas Jennings is playing with a broken knuckle. David Baas is back from pectoral surgery, but Tony Wragge took his starting job at right guard.
  • Seattle: Starting right guard Rob Sims went on injured reserve today. Floyd Womack replaces him. Womack has a long history of injuries. Mansfield Wrotto backs up Womack. Center Chris Spencer started the opener after missing most of camp with a back injury. The team lost depth at all three interior positions when a back injury forced former longtime starter Chris Gray into retirement. Ray Willis continues to start at right tackle while Sean Locklear recovers from a knee injury.
As bad as NFC West lines have it, things could be worse. Jacksonville lost both starting guards to season-ending injuries.

In the end, football is a business

September, 7, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando


Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sheds light on the Cardinals' reasoning for placing center Al Johnson on injured reserve. Johnson's knee wasn't recovering as quickly as hoped. The Cardinals sought to reduce his salary. Johnson thought their demands were unreasonable. The team placed him on injured reserve, ending his season.

The Cardinals signed Johnson in March 2007 despite known knee issues, paying him $7 million in first-year compensation. Why would they place him on injured reserve given depth concerns on the offensive line? Among the potential reasons:

  • Johnson's knee troubles could be such that the team might not expect him to contribute much this season;
  • The team might not see a substantial drop in performance from Johnson to backup Lyle Sendlein;
  • Johnson's $3.5 million base salary this season would have become guaranteed in full had he remained on the 53-man roster for opening day;
  • Sendlein is earning $295,000 this season, making him a much more cost-effective alternative.

Left guard Reggie Wells would most likely move to center if something happened to Sendlein. Yes, the Cardinals signed center Pat Ross from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in time for the opener at San Francisco. Asking Ross to man the center position in a game situation would carry huge risk given Ross' inexperience. That's why I would expect the versatile Wells to slide over one spot in an emergency.

A statement from general manager Rod Graves read in part:

"It's fair to say the play of Lyle Sendlein was a factor in the decision. Lyle's ability to start and play at a high level certainly gave us the flexibility and confidence to make this move. When deciding the the make-up of the 53-man roster, one challenge is whether we need to carry a player without knowing when he might be able to contribute or how long he might be able to. That was another factor."

Elton Brown, who challenged for a starting job at right guard this summer, would be a candidate to replace Wells at left guard if Wells moved to center. Wells might also be the Cardinals' most capable backup at the tackle positions.

Cardinals' line depth takes a hit

September, 6, 2008
TeamPos.LinemanAgeStarterNFL Starts
ARILTMike Gandy29.6Yes78
ARILGReggie Wells27.8Yes58
ARICLyle Sendlein24.4Yes2
ARIRGDeuce Lutui25.3Yes
ARIRTLevi Brown24.4Yes11
ARIG/TElton Brown26.2No14
ARITElliot Vallejo24.3No0
ARIGBrandon Keith23.7No0
ARICPat Ross25.4No0

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals had heard enough about depth problems on their offensive line before the team placed starting center Al Johnson on injured reserve Saturday.

Johnson had been ruled out for the season opener, but previous reports suggested he would return from a knee injury in time for the second game. That will not happen. The injured-reserve designation ends Johnson's season. Lyle Sendlein becomes the full-time starter.

With Johnson hurting this summer, I had expected the Cardinals to keep backup center Pat Ross on their initial 53-man roster, at the expense of safety Oliver Celestin. Johnson's placement on injured reserve made that happen today. The team signed Ross from the practice squad after releasing Celestin.

Sendlein, 24, has two regular-season NFL starts in one season (2007, with Arizona). Johnson owned 45 starts, including 14 with the Cardinals last season. He previously started for Dallas during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Ross, 25, has never played in an NFL game. He spent time with Seattle as an undrafted free agent from Boston College. The Cardinals had claimed him off waivers from Carolina.

Backup Elton Brown conceivably has the ability to start at guard if needed. He pushed Deuce Lutui for the starting job on the right side. Starting left guard Reggie Wells has started games at both guard spots and right tackle, but the team needs him at left guard. Guard Brandon Keith, a rookie, impressed the Cardinals during camp. He was a seventh-round choice from Northern Iowa.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gives an overview of the Cardinals heading into the season. A line about Antrel Rolle stood out to me: "Rolle has moved from corner and looks like he'll be a solid player at the other [free] safety spot."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' coordinators single out Tim Hightower, Clark Haggans and Travis LaBoy as players to watch this season.

More from Somers: Travis LaBoy starts over Bert Berry. Deuce Lutui starts over Elton Brown. Reggie Wells and Elton Brown are candidates to play center if something happens to Lyle Sendlein before Al Johnson returns from injury.

And this from Somers: optimism abounding in Tempe.

Darren Urban of checks in with Kurt Warner after the Cardinals named him their starting quarterback. On a related topic, Matt Leinart was unavailable to reporters.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune circles the Cardinals' Nov. 16 game at Seattle as one that could send Arizona on its way.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Craig Terrill and Josh Wilson will likely replace Rocky Bernard and Jordan Babineaux during the season opener. Bernard and Babineaux will be serving suspensions.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune expects Deion Branch back on the field for the Seahawks sooner rather than later. Otherwise, Branch might have landed on the physically unable to perform list.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revisits the exhibition season to see what the Rams learned about themselves. Improved red-zone defense was evident.

Also from Thomas: No surprises among the Rams' roster cuts. That in itself is no surprise. Most cuts around the league could have been predicted five or six weeks ago.

And this from Thomas: Chris Long faces a difficult adjustment going from a 3-4 scheme in college to a 4-3 scheme in the NFL. Long: "The overwhelming thing is not the physicality of it. It's the technique. You have to work on that every day. I'm doing OK. I've just got to keep chipping away every day." 

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Nick Leckey will open the regular season as the Rams' starting center.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Ashley Lelie has the highest yards-per-catch average of any active NFL receiver. That didn't mean much in the training room.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle channels Frank Gore's sheer delight at the 49ers' offensive capabilities this season. The realist in me expects mixed results. I expect to see weeks when the offense flourishes, and others when little goes right.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider blames former 49ers center Jeremy Newberry, now with San Diego, for injuring current 49ers defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin.

Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers provides Mike Nolan's reasoning for various cuts. He also notes that Jeff Ulbrich remains the starting "Ted" linebacker ahead of Takeo Spikes. The 49ers would like another receiver, but they viewed Ashley Lelie as a durability issue. I wonder if they'll feel so strongly after the opener, when teams can re-sign veterans without guaranteeing their salaries for the season.

Also from Maiocco: Gone are the days when the 49ers ran low on defensive backs. The team kept 11 on the initial cut to 53 -- 12 if you count return man Allen Rossum.

Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee tells a tragic story of a 49ers fan killed at Candlestick Park when a runaway police horse named "Seattle" ran over him. Eugene "Bud" Caldwell was 78 and had recently overcome a severe heart attack. Caldwell was a longtime 49ers season-ticket holder.

Cardinals: Cutdown analysis

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Biggest surprise: There weren't any. The Cardinals enter the season thin at center after releasing third-stringer Pat Ross, but Ross wasn't going to solve the problem. The team is banking on Lyle Sendlein staying healthy while Al Johnson recovers from injury.

No-brainers: Undrafted rookie receiver Lance Long had a strong camp at times, but the Cardinals knew he wasn't going to contribute right away. Look for Long to land on the practice squad.

What's next: The Cardinals head into the season with Kurt Warner as their newly-named opening day starter. The long-anticipated move, announced today, ends any suspense and lets the Cardinals focus on the Sept. 7 opener at San Francisco.

NFC West needs healthy centers

August, 28, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

A good veteran center can ease the mind of any NFL quarterback by reading defenses and adjusting blocking schemes. As the Colts deal with Jeff Saturday's injury, three of the four NFC West teams also face the possibility of life without an established starting center.

  • Arizona: A knee injury will likely sideline starter Al Johnson into the regular season. Johnson, 29, has 45 starts over the last four seasons. His replacement, 24-year-old Lyle Sendlein, has two starts, both last season. A sore knee has slowed Sendlein recently, leaving Pat Ross to man the position.
  • St. Louis: A hand injury has sidelined projected starter Brett Romberg recently. Romberg, 28, has 12 starts over the last two seasons. His replacement, 26-year-old Nick Leckey, might represent an upgrade. Leckey has 22 starts over the last four seasons. He might keep the job. Guard Richie Incognito has also worked at center this summer.
  • Seattle: A back injury sidelined incumbent starter Chris Spencer until this week. Spencer, 26, was a first-round draft choice in 2005. He has started 29 games over the last two seasons. Replacement Steve Vallos, 24, has never started a regular-season game. Vallos has played better than expected this summer, easing concerns.

The 49ers have no such issues. Eric Heitmann has brought stability to the position. The Cardinals should be able to weather Johnson's injury if Sendlein is available. Going with Ross would present more challenges. I was watching the Cardinals-Raiders game Saturday night when Ross suddenly went flying backward. Big No. 90 for the Raiders, Terdell Sands, simply overpowered him.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals haven't announced how they'll play their quarterbacks in the final exhibition game. The depth chart remains unchanged for now, with Matt Leinart starting ahead of Kurt Warner. Also, center Al Johnson will miss the regular-season opener, leaving Lyle Sendlein as the starter at San Francisco on Sept. 7.

Mitch Levy of KRJ radio in Seattle joins Hugh Millen in breaking down all things Seahawks, including Mike Tirico's on-air comments about Seattle-area media. Note: This links to audio.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee takes an in-depth look at the 49ers' offensive linemen. Rookie Cody Wallace has improved, but he doesn't fit the 49ers' established prototypes at the position. Fellow rookie Chilo Rachal looks like a future starter.

Also from Barrows: Alex Smith says he trusts coach Mike Nolan's explanation for comments made to's Peter King.

Also from Barrows: Bryant Johnson was back at practice today.

Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers predicts the 53-man roster for the 49ers. He sees evidence the 49ers want to keep Ashley Lelie as the sixth receiver, based on Lelie's speed. He thinks Mike Martz might want to move Delanie Walker from tight end to receiver. Maiocco also gives a roster spot for Keith Lewis at the expense of Marcus Hudson. And he thinks another team will claim Jay Moore off waivers.

Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read joins Maiocco in spelling out King's interpretation of what Nolan told him about the 49ers' quarterbacks.

Mailbag: Questioning Rams' firepower

August, 17, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kyle from St. Louis writes: I have to disagree with you on the Rams not having the offensive personnel to move the ball down the field. Granted, my biased opinion is factoring in health and Jackson being there. Still, Holt's knee is better, and at 32, he still gets it done. With protection, Bulger is as accurate a QB as there is. Jackson in a beast. Bennett is serviceable at WR, but Avery and Burton should provide explosiveness. They also have Brian Leonard at fullback/running back, and Randy McMichael at tight end, and Al Saunders knows how to utilize that position. Please don't tell me you think Seattle, for example, does have the weapons to score more so than StL.
Mike Sando: I think we're on the same page here, Kyle. I meant the Rams lacked the firepower to move the ball consistently in this second exhibition game because Steven Jackson and Torry Holt were not playing. I also agree about McMichael. However, I'm less impressed by the Rams now than I was a month ago. This team lacks depth. Dante Hall is the third receiver. Can Holt's knee hold up for a season? What about Orlando Pace? Bringing back Jackson will help a great deal, but Marc Bulger already looks like a guy worried about getting hit.

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