NFC West: Alex Stepanovich
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Russ Grimm has made a big difference as the Cardinals' offensive line coach. Bickley: "He inherited a mess left by former coach Dennis Green, who cut Pete Kendall on his way to training camp; drafted Alex Stepanovich and Nick Leckey; hired a former player as offensive-line coach (Everett Lindsay), even though he had no coaching experience; and insisted on playing Leonard Davis out of position. Grimm immediately simplified the scheme and instilled a sense of loyalty and toughness. Prior to the win against the Vikings, the starting unit had played in 27 consecutive regular-season games, and that doesn't happen by accident. After rushing for 100 or more yards just once in the first seven games, the Cardinals have surpassed that benchmark four times -- all of them victories -- in the past five games."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals-49ers matchup highlights the importance of a franchise quarterback.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals' decisions to rest Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner and Gandy have paid off.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ran pass routes and caught the ball from receiver Deion Branch after practice. Hasselbeck: "It gives the receivers a different [perspective], you know, realize what helps them and doesn’t help them. Definitely for quarterbacks it gives you a [perspective] when you’re running full speed where you really appreciate the ball and where you really wouldn’t appreciate the ball."
Jose Miguel Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are bracing for Texans receiver Andre Johnson.
Also from Romero: Hasselbeck says he's feeling much better physically.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Deon Butler's clutch reception from Hasselbeck against the 49ers reflected a developing rapport between receiver and quarterback. Hasselbeck: "Deon and I tried earlier this year and missed each other a little bit," Hasselbeck said. "I go back to the first third down we had against Arizona at home, we had an opportunity to score. There were other times we had opportunities and we just were off a little bit, so it felt good to hit that one. Obviously it was a critical one and hopefully we can keep going that way."
Matt Pitman of 710ESPN Seattle offers audio links to interviews with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and cornerback Marcus Trufant.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers highs and lows for the Rams over the last decade. Torry Holt emerges as the team's top player during that time. A game against the Broncos in 2000 qualified as the best season opener. Thomas: "The Gateway City hadn’t played host to Monday Night Football for 14 seasons, or since Bill Bidwill and the Big Red called St. Louis home. But with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on hand, the defending Super Bowl-champion Rams won a 41-36 track meet over Denver. The Rams scored three TDs of 72 yards or longer. One of them, an 80-yard catch and run by Az-Zahir Hakim, became a signature play of the Greatest Show on Turf. Hakim received an escort down the sidelines by Torry Holt, with the two laughing and joking with each other along the way. It looked like so much fun."
Also from Thomas: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller and Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant stand out as players the Rams might need to consider drafting.
More from Thomas: Rams fullback Mike Karney is eager to get back on the field after recovering from a neck injury. Of his injury: "I've put my neck and head in way tougher hits. But it goes to show that it can happen to anybody. The specialist told me it was like lightning striking. My head and neck were at the wrong angle hitting the defender ... and it just caught me." Karney sought advice from former NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams punter Donnie Jones is enjoying another strong season.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the Cardinals are expecting plenty of Frank Gore on Monday night even though the 49ers have all but phased out the running back in recent weeks. Barrows: "It's almost as if teams, especially division teams, aren't quite believing what they're seeing with the 49ers' new, pass-first attack. For the last three seasons, Gore has been the only offensive player who demanded respect from defenses. It doesn't appear that Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Josh Morgan and Delanie Walker have earned it yet."
Also from Barrows: The Cardinals could have a more balanced offense than the 49ers have shown recently. Mike Singletary: "They're really trying to focus more on a balanced attack. They're not there yet, but they're trying to focus more on a balanced attack. Both of those running backs are running hard. They're running downhill and they're doing a good job being physical, finishing their runs. I think that's where they are right now as an offense."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat says the 49ers have attempted passes on 73.6 percent of their plays over the last two weeks. Maiocco: "(Coordinator Jimmy) Raye said during the exhibition season that he wanted the 49ers to run the ball 60 percent of the time. But against Jacksonville and Seattle -- games in which the 49ers never trailed by more than a touchdown -- the 49ers turned into a shotgun, passing attack."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with ESPN's Ron Jaworski for an update on Smith's progress. Jaworski: "Some of those throws have a knee-lock, and it's kind of driving that shoulder up in the air. So you lose a little bit of your velocity. But he has gotten better. It's not as consistent and as noticeable as it was a couple of years ago."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers guard Adam Snyder uses about 27,000 feet of athletic tape over the course of a year. Snyder: "That's crazy. That's an interesting way of looking at it. It makes me feel bad using all that tape, but I need it. It keeps my joints intact for the most part. I haven't had many injuries in my hands. ... I have to do it for safety, to keep my wrists and fingers safe. Once you lose those as a lineman, you're in trouble. That's how I make my money, using my hands."
Shaun Alexander carried 23 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns during a 33-19 Seattle victory at Sun Devil Stadium. The Seahawks, headed to Super Bowl XL after that season, picked off Kurt Warner three times and sacked him four times.
A couple things about these teams have changed since that game. I had some fun sifting through those 2005 rosters.
Players no longer with Seattle
Offense (20): Bobby Engram, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray, Joe Jurevicius, Jerheme Urban, Mack Strong, Shaun Alexander, D.J. Hackett, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver, Floyd Womack, Ryan Hannam, Jerramy Stevens, Peter Warrick, David Greene, Wayne Hunter, Darrell Jackson, Itula Mili, Josh Scobey.
Defense (18): Bryce Fisher, Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs, Grant Wistrom, Jamie Sharper, Kelly Herndon, Michael Boulware, Marquand Manual, Jimmy Williams, John Howell, Niko Koutouvides, Kevin Bentley, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Joe Tafoya, Rocky Bernard, Etric Pruitt, Rodney Bailey, Andre Dyson.
Specialists (3): Josh Brown, Tom Rouen, J.P. Darche.Players still with Seattle
Offense (6): Walter Jones (injured reserve), Sean Locklear, Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace, Chris Spencer, Ray Willis.
Defense (6): Jordan Babineaux, Craig Terrill, D.D. Lewis, Lofa Tatupu (IR), Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant.
Players no longer with Arizona
Offense (23): Bryant Johnson, Leonard Davis, Nick Leckey, Alex Stepanovich, Oliver Ross, Eric Edwards, Marcel Shipp, Adam Bergen, J.J. Arrington, Josh McCown, John Navarre, Reggie Newhouse, LeRon McCoy, Fred Wakefield, James Jackson, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Harold Morrow, Jarrod Baxter, Adam Haayer, J.J. Moses, Elton Brown, Teyo Johnson, Reggie Swinton.
Defense (16): Langston Moore, Ross Kolodziej, James Darling, Robert Tate, Robert Griffith, David Macklin, Antonio Cochran, Darryl Blackstock, Orlando Huff, Eric Green, Antonio Smith, Lamont Reid, Quentin Harris, Isaac Keys, Lance Mitchell, Aaron Francisco.
Specialists (2): Scott Player, Nathan Hodel.Players still with Arizona
Offense (5): Reggie Wells, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Bridges, Anquan Boldin.
Defense (6): Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett, Bernard Berry, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle.
Specialists (1): Neil Rackers.Note: Thanks to spaumi10 for noticing that Aaron Francisco and Lance Mitchell were initially listed on offense. There was a little cutting and pasting involved with this entry. Missed those two. Thanks!
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rick from Charleston, West Virginia, writes: Hey Mike! As I'm seeing all these 2009 NFL Draft grades immediately hitting the presses, I'm reminded of what I heard a long time ago -- not sure who gets the credit -- you cannot judge a draft for 5 years. With that in mind, I went back and looked at each NFC West team's first 5 picks in the 2004 Draft.
Maybe you could post this and get some reader feedback. The numbers in parenthesis are the round, followed by overall pick:
Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas (1,23)
Michael Boulware, SS, Florida St (2,53)
Sean Locklear, G, NC State (3,84)
Niko Koutouvides, LB, Purdue (4,116)
D.J. Hackett, WR, Colorado (5,157)
Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma St (1,31)
Justin Smiley, G, Alabama (2,46)
Shawntae Spencer, CB, Pitt (2,58)
Derrick Hamilton, WR, Clemson (3,77)
Isaac Sopoaga, DT, Hawaii (4,104)
Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon St (1,24)
Anthony Hargrove, DE, Ga Tech (3,91)
Brandon Chillar, LB, UCLA (4,130)
Jason Shivers, S, Arizona St (5,158)
Jeff Smoker, QB, Michigan St (6,201)
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt (1,3)
Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn (2,33)
Darnell Dockett, DT, Florida St (3,64)
Alex Stepanovich, C, Ohio St (4,100)
Antonio Smith, DE, Oklahoma St (5,135)
My two initial impressions were that:
- The Cardinals had a GREAT draft. You could argue they hit a home run on 4 of their first five picks, and a grand slam on their #1 (Fitz.) Of course, they were picking high, and you would expect the #3 overall pick to be an impact player 5 years in. By all accounts, though, this would probably measure up quite well against ANY NFL team's draft over the last five years.
- The Rams seem to have done themselves a disservice by trading their 2nd, 4th, and 6th round picks (Chillar and Smoker were both compensatory selections.) They made a great first-round pick (Jackson) but by trading away a couple of picks, their 5th selection (201 overall) was a whopping 66 picks lower than the Cardinals (135).
Mike Sando: Good work, Rick. I was playing around with some related information over the weekend. I went through the Pro Football Reference database and collected 2008 starting information for every player in the league. I then singled out draft choices still playing for their original teams, adding up how many starts they made for their teams in 2008. The totals would not reflect players released since last season, but I thought that was a minor issue and something I could work around with a little more time.
The findings backed up what you are saying. Members of the Cardinals' 2004 draft class still with the team combined for 68 regular-season starts last season. The rest of the league averaged 16 combined starts for members of their 2004 draft classes still with their original teams. San Diego ranked second with 45. The Rams had zero.
Members of the Cardinals' 2003 draft class still with the team combined for 69 regular-season starts last season, another league high. The rest of the league averaged 15 combined starts.
In fact, the Cardinals' 2003 through 2008 draft classes averaged a league-high 42 regular-season starts for their original teams last season (again, not counting any players released since last season). The rest of the league averaged a combined 25 starts last season.
This is something I'll break out in greater detail once I have time to do some more tinkering.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle compares 49ers coach Mike Nolan to a guy "being given a wedgie by a crane operator." Left unsaid: Ratto is operating the crane, and quite ably, too. This is a rollicking read. The way Ratto sees things, Nolan can't win unless 2005 No. 1 overall draft choice Alex Smith wins the starting QB job and plays well. Almost any other scenario could make Nolan vulnerable. As noted here previously, and again in the chart below, every QB drafted first overall since at least 1967 has started in his fourth NFL season. Smith is looking to avoid becoming an exception to the rule.
Meanwhile, Tom FitzGerald of the Chronicle notes that 49ers owner John York huddled with Nolan following practice. York was predictably vague when reporters stopped him afterward. They asked about Nolan's job security. York wasn't going to go there.
Also from FitzGerald: a story on J.T. O'Sullivan's reemergence as a candidate for the 49ers' starting job. This is turning into theater. I'm half-expecting Jim Plunkett, Steve Spurrier and Norm Snead to take reps with the 49ers in the coming days.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals think rookie tackle Brandon Keith could one day become a starter on their offensive line (see last note in story). Keith is a seventh-round choice from Northern Iowa. The Cardinals have drafted eight offensive linemen this decade and all eight remain in the league. Reggie Wells is probably the best among those who remain with the team. Leonard Davis seems to be better in Dallas. I'll throw in a bonus chart below showing summary information for the Cards' OL picks this decade.
The Associated Press describes Glenn Dorsey's injury in Chiefs camp. Some thought the Rams should have taken Dorsey second overall instead of Chris Long. Others wondered if Dorsey's injury history might make him a risky choice. Every NFL player gets hurt, so we shouldn't read too much into Dorsey's sprained knee. Yet.
Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian describes the Seahawks' pecking order at receiver. After the top three -- Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch, in no particular order -- Fentress lists Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu. He then places Jordan Kent, Logan Payne and undrafted free agent Michael Bumpus as candidates for the sixth spot. I could see Engram, Burleson, Branch, Taylor, Obomanu and Payne if Seattle keeps six. The team has kept between four and seven receivers on its last five opening-day rosters, an average of 5.2 per season. Keeping six would make sense depending on Branch's health.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times, making a rare appearance on the Belleville News-Democrat's site, says the Seahawks' young receivers generally stepped up during the scrimmage. Coach Mike Holmgren is putting pressure on them to emerge as the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth receivers.