NFC West: Art Valero

Around the NFC West: Rams' Gilyard eager

October, 15, 2010
10/15/10
9:07
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Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says injuries and illness have slowed the early development of Rams rookie Mardy Gilyard. Clayton's injury could give Gilyard additional opportunities. The Rams love the aggressive, borderline cocky attitude Gilyard brings to the game. Gilyard: "Through misfortunes, it's my turn now. And I do not want to let any of these guys down. I do not want to let James Hall down, I do not want to let Chris Long down, I do not want to let Steven Jackson down, I don't want to let Sam (Bradford) down, I don't want to let Brandon Gibson down, Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry. I don't want to let any of those guys down, because I feel like I owe them everything. Especially the vets, who've just put their arm on my shoulder and haven't treated me like a bonehead rook." Count that quote as evidence the Rams have a good thing going on the team chemistry front.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' Steven Jackson is closing in on Eric Dickerson in the team's record book. Thomas: "In his seventh season with the Rams, Jackson needs 141 yards rushing to surpass Dickerson's career record. Dickerson, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, rushed for 7,245 yards in just five seasons with the Rams. Jackson is at 7,105 -- and counting."

Also from Thomas: The Rams' sponsors have bought enough tickets to the team's game against San Diego to avoid a local television blackout. Failing to sell out games hurts, but sponsors' willingness to scoop up tickets reflects strong TV ratings and, perhaps, confidence in the longer-term direction of the team.

More from Thomas: Brandon Gibson needs to pick up his game following Mark Clayton's season-ending injury.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the team hopes to get a boost from its returning tight ends.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui is improving while his weight continues to drop. Lutui is one of the more hilarious people I've encountered in an NFL locker room. Bickley got Lutui going on his Tongan roots. Lutui: "The history of Tongan people, we were warriors! We were the Vikings of the South Pacific, the pearl of Polynesia. I come from the Kingdom of Tonga! That means, when I'm Tongan to the 'T,' I'm Tongan to the death! I'm a Lutui, and I come from a tiny nation, a dot in the middle of the map. Even if you look, you might miss it."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com thinks rookie Andre Roberts will be the Cardinals' fourth receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet once all the team's wideouts are healthy. That would leave coaches to choose between Stephen Williams and Max Komar for the final roster spot at receiver on game days. Seems like Williams needs to be part of the mix. He has worked ahead of Roberts in the rotation previously.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers highlights from practice Thursday, plus this quote from Matt Hasselbeck about Julius Peppers: "Julius Peppers is a great, great player. When he was in Carolina, they were playing him at wide receiver. It’s not often that a guy’s playing defensive end and wide receiver who’s not like in the sixth grade. It’s amazing that he’s doing it in the NFL." The play Peppers made in picking off Kurt Warner at University of Phoenix Stadium last season stands out as one of his more memorable ones.

Also from Farnsworth: Hasselbeck's presnap battle with Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher should be a good one. Hasselbeck: "Urlacher does a great job of audibling as a middle linebacker. He’s a great player and he’s well-coached. He’s been playing in this scheme a long time and you’ll see when an offense checks – a quarterback checks – he’ll check. Or, if he gets the sense that you’re pretending to check, then he’ll call it off. It’s one of those things where you make eye contact with him, you’re making a check, and he’s like, 'No. No. No. Let’s just leave this one on.' Or other times, he’ll be like, 'Yeah, let’s check.' And so he’s a great player."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who is eagerly anticipating his Seattle debut.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Chester Pitts missed practice to rest a sore knee Thursday. Pitts has had a tough time putting together back-to-back full practices on his surgically repaired knee. If the knee does improve enough, Seattle will have found an upgrade at left guard. That's why the team has been willing to carry him on its roster this long without getting any on-field contributions.

Also from Johns: Rains began falling just as the Seahawks' offensive linemen broke their season-long silence in compliance with NFL rules.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Seahawks center Chris Spencer as saying Seattle's line is beginning to jell.

Also from Williams: Lynch has never played at Soldier Field and he's looking forward to playing in Walter Payton's house. Lynch: "Sweetness did it there for a long time. So I mean probably to go in there and have one of those games that he would have had would be wonderful, wonderful for our backfield. But just to get out there with my guys and just put something together and hopefully come out with a win is my biggest thing."

John Morgan of Field Gulls explains Tyler Polumbus' perceived drop in play by noting that Seattle's game against the Rams marked the first time the team fell behind against a capable defense. Having to bounce between right and left tackle also had to present challenges.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald quotes Seattle line coach Art Valero this way regarding Russell Okung's matchup with Peppers: "They’re all good in this league. It’s like a rodeo. You’ve got to ride the bull that comes out of chute A. That’s yours, whether you want him or you don’t. You have no choice. If you’re afraid, go to church. They’ve got no choice. They’re all on full scholarship, so they’ve got to go play."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers want quarterback Alex Smith to play with a more aggressive mindset. Smith isn't naturally aggressive. His demeanor is reserved. He became more assertive throughout the offseason because he had a better understanding of the offense and he felt as though he had earned the starting job. But he's still not naturally aggressive. The question now becomes whether he can become more aggressive and play more freely without forcing the ball into coverage. Smith has been better this season when freed to "cut it loose" after the 49ers have fallen behind. Can he adopt that mindset earlier in games? He has actually been quite effective on opening drives recently.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up the 49ers' evolving offense.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' improved prospects on third down.

Also from Branch: The Raiders-49ers rivalry is more between fans than players. Imagine my delight (dread?) upon hearing that my dear mother would be attending the Raiders-49ers game at Candlestick Park this weekend. She doesn't really follow football, but was invited to the game as part of a group outing. I told her to watch Nos. 21 and 52 on the 49ers. But mostly I'm hoping she doesn't find herself in the middle of a brawl between Raiders and 49ers fans. Keep your head on a swivel, Mom.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' run-heavy play calling on first down against Philadelphia was designed to produce more manageable third-down situations.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Michael Crabtree is excited to face the Raiders after Oakland drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey over him in 2009. Crabtree: "I'm not worried about Darrius. I'm focused on winning the game. But at the same time, I'm thinking about the Raiders."

The Associated Press says former 49ers guard Woody Peoples passed away at age 67.

Around the NFC West: Beanie Wells' status

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
9:33
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Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals might not have Beanie Wells for the regular-season opener at St. Louis. Somers: "(Ken) Whisenhunt said he has three quality backs in addition to Wells and has no qualms about going with Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Wright. Whisenhunt said this summer that he sees an increased role for Stephens-Howling this season." The Cardinals do have good depth at running back, but for the second time in two NFL seasons, missed practice time before the season is putting Wells at a competitive disadvantage.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals rebuilt their defense. Kerry Rhodes: "This year, I think people are sleeping on us a little bit. We're under the radar, and under the radar is fine for us right now. It doesn't count what anybody says right now. The Jets look good on paper. Baltimore looks good on paper, but at the end of the day, it's going to be the team that jells the best and can get it done when it counts."

Dan Bickley and Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic debate the Cardinals' likely fortunes in 2010.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Whisenhunt has learned his lesson about overthinking heading into an opener. The coach thought he had too many ideas heading into a 2007 opener at San Francisco.

Also from Urban: Hightower has two 100-yard rushing games in his career and both were at St. Louis. Holding off Wells for the starting job has been easier with Wells missing practice time. Hightower seems to understand why Wells was expected to win the job this year after leading the team in rushing as a backup in 2009. Hightower: "This is a results-driven business. You can say what you want about being a complete back, but at the end of the day, people look at stats. They look for results, and that’s one thing I haven’t had. I haven’t rushed for 1,000 yards, I haven’t been to a Pro Bowl. From an outside perspective, you’re not looking for, 'Oh, this guy blocks well on third downs.' Or. 'He does the intangibles,' or 'He does the things that help the team win.' You’re looking for stats. You understand where they are coming from. But from my perspective, I know what I have to do."

Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports looks at Max Hall's outlook heading into his first NFL season. Farrar: "Hall had two advantages to draw from when he did get to the NFL level -- his uncle is former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White, and the West Coast Offense he ran at BYU gave him an impressive ability to read more complex defenses quickly. While he's been talking to and getting help from White since his high school days, Hall said that the real football education came in college. Unlike many spread-happy quarterbacks, Hall played exclusively under center in high school and only started running shotgun snaps after a semester at Arizona State, his two-year mission, and his eventual transfer to BYU."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says James Laurinaitis is the leader of the Rams' defense even though teammates did not vote him as captain. Laurinaitis makes the defensive calls. Laurinaitis: "I like the role of being in control, because I think it holds you to a higher level of accountability. And when you have that accountability, knowing that you're the guy making the checks and the calls, you can't blame anybody else. It's on you."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with A.J. Feeley, who has recovered from a thumb injury well enough to back up Sam Bradford in Week 1. Thomas: "Feeley has been working with the scout team in practice and has not been listed on the team's official injury report. Feeley can only wonder what might have been had he not suffered the thumb injury. Remember, Bradford struggled in the Browns' game, generating only one first down (via penalty) in seven series. But Feeley isn't dwelling on that; he always knew he was keeping the seat warm for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are 4-26 in NFC West games since the start of the 2005 season. Scott Linehan, Mike Holmgren, Mike Nolan and Dennis Green were the NFC West head coaches when the Rams last won an NFC West game (in 2007).

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams and Steven Jackson in particular expect to see plenty of blitzes from the Cardinals on Sunday.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Crabtree appears baffled by the "diva" label applied to him in recent years.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says linebacker Aaron Curry is getting work with the defensive linemen at times because the team wants to use him as a pass-rusher.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times profiles Seahawks rookie safety Earl Thomas. Thomas was born after doctors told his mother she had six months to live and could not get pregnant.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says there's no shame in saying the Seahawks are rebuilding. Teams don't like to use the word because the rebuilding message isn't helpful when motivating players in the short term.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the 49ers can expect to see Tyler Polumbus lining up at left tackle for the Seahawks in Week 1.

Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune says Art Valero is the Seahawks' new offensive line coach, with Pat Ruel taking over as assistant offensive line coach. The official team release on Ruel's hiring called Ruel the primary line coach. However, coach Pete Carroll subsequently said Ruel would be working in a support role while learning the offense and terminology. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates: "Yeah, Art Valero is now the offensive line coach, and he's going to have some different eyes, everyone has different ideas. You can't be someone else so we're going to go in without Alex and Art's got the job now. ... Art has been at Tampa, he has been at St. Louis. He has learned some football that has been different than Alex. You have to be comfortable with the style of the way you're coaching and your philosophy. I think the toughest position would be if we made him do exactly what Alex did. There's going to be a lot of carryover, but at the same time you've got to be yourself."

John Morgan of Field Gulls compares Mike Williams to Brandon Marshall and Deion Branch to Eddie Royal when examining similarities between Seattle's offensive scheme and the one Bates ran at Denver.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Carroll wants to show that it's possible to win in the NFL without being so serious all the time. Carroll: "Only that you can't have fun coaching football at this level and still compete like crazy and win. If there's anything that people don't understand, it's how you can enjoy it in the way that we do and still work really hard and be really disciplined."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' Travis LaBoy will try to exploit any issues on the Seahawks' offensive line. Barrows: "Last year in Seattle, Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks each had a sack. (The 49ers had five total). This year the triumvirate will be Lawson, Haralson and newcomer Travis LaBoy. As was the case with Brooks last year, the concern this offseason was making sure LaBoy, who began his career as a defensive end, was up to speed on playing linebacker on first and second downs."

Also from Barrows: Vernon Davis came up behind Michael Crabtree and hugged the receiver during Crabtree's first media session in an extended period. Said Crabtree, whose sideline dispute with Davis during practice made headlines during preseason: "Ah, man. That's just something inside, you know? It's something I don't really want to talk about. Because it's not a problem. And by me talking about it, it's going to make it a problem, so ... It's nothing."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com identifies Taylor Mays' primary Week 1 role -- as a special-teamer, not on defense.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' rookie offensive linemen are gearing up for their first visit to Qwest Field. Branch: "Sure, the team has pumped in crowd noise during practice this week. But no one is kidding themselves. They know it can't replicate the din they'll discover when they open the season against the Seahawks at 67,000-seat Qwest Field, the place where eardrums go to burst."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat examines Mike Singletary's direct, honest style.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers anticipate a limited role for Brian Westbrook in the opener. It's tough taking Frank Gore off the field.

Also from Brown: Davis' comment to Crabtree upon hugging him for reporters to see: "Michael, good to see you, buddy."

Around the NFC West: Alex Smith's role

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
10:03
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Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers hadn't named a quarterback as captain since Trent Dilfer was on the team. Alex Smith broke the streak this week. Frank Gore: "He's grown, especially in the huddle. He talks a lot and tells us what to do. Even when we don't do something right, [he] comes to us and tells us we should've done this or that. That's a big part for this team." It's impossible to fool veteran players by forcing a leadership role onto an undeserving player. Vernon Davis did seem to grow into the role after Singletary named him a captain. Smith is not naturally an outspoken leader. His position lends itself to leadership and Smith does seem to have earned respect from teammates through his approach. Can he lead them?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Nate Davis returned to the 49ers as a member of their practice squad.

Also from Barrows: 49ers-related notes, including this one from Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck regarding any advantage Seattle might have with former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan onboard. Hasselbeck: "Scot, I think I've seen him one time in the cafeteria." So true. Anyone with visions of McCloughan hunkering down with coaches should know this: I drove through the Seahawks' parking lot at their facility Wednesday and couldn't immediately find one. I finally spotted an available space and drove toward it, only to discover a name plate noting it was reserved for, you guessed it, McCloughan. I'm sure McCloughan's insights on the 49ers have been welcome, but he's working as a college scout for the team and he continues to live in the Bay Area.

Sam Good of 49ers.com offers audio links to conference calls featuring Pete Carroll and Hasselbeck.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says McCloughan isn't the only ex-49er working for the Seahawks these days.

Also from Brown: Dilfer, now with ESPN, will hold Smith to a higher standard this season. Dilfer: "If they don’t (make the postseason), then Alex is going to be criticized very harshly, and I think that’s probably fair. Now, saying all that, I believe he will meet the expectations. I believe he’s a different man after watching him the last couple of years grow up. He’s playing with a harder edge. He definitely has more command to his personality and he has complete ownership of this offense. I would argue he has more ownership of this offense than the people calling it. He knows where everyone is supposed to be at all times, all the nuances of it. He is ready for the moment. He feels like it’s his time to run the show and get things done in San Francisco like they haven’t been done. I think that’s going to happen. I think they’re an 11-5 football team that can get in the playoffs and win a game in the playoffs. If it doesn’t happen, it’ll probably be (Smith’s) last year in San Francisco."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at what the 49ers might do if something happened to Patrick Willis.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider examines the 49ers' status as a division favorite.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Jordan Babineaux is going back to the role that helped him earn some acclaim as "Big Play Babs" during the Seahawks' run of division titles. Babineaux: "I kind of go back to being that plug-in guy, the guy who comes in on third down and is a nickel and dime guy; the guy who is the first to go in in emergency situations. Really, I’m back to being that move-around guy, which is good for me because I’m eager to accept the situation because I missed playing inside. That’s where I was able to make most of my plays and kind of earn a name a little bit. You know the name …"

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sizes up the Seahawks' makeshift offensive line, noting that coach Pete Carroll called his potential starting left tackle, Tyler Polumbus, by the wrong first name four times during his news conference Wednesday. Seattle acquired Polumbus from Detroit during the latter stages of the exhibition season.

Also from O'Neill: Carroll sees the glass half-full.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' new starting running back, Justin Forsett, knows he has much to prove.

Also from Brewer: This season will test Carroll's patience.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along comments from Seahawks offensive line coach Art Valero, noting that offensive linemen Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts heckled Valero while the assistant fulfilled media obligations. Hamilton and guard Mike Gibson acted similarly toward quarterback Matt Hasselbeck while he chatted with reporters. I understand the need for offensive linemen to create their own little world to help build camaraderie, and I know former line coach Alex Gibbs tried to foster that by telling his players to skip their league-mandated media obligations, but courtesy and professionalism are appreciated from this end.

Also from Williams: Seahawks owner Paul Allen showed up for practice Wednesday.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers highlights from Carroll's news conference Wednesday. Boling: "Pitts got most of the work Monday but was limping around a little. They're already familiar working on a weakness at left tackle because they had to shape a game plan in the preseason against Minnesota with Mansfield Wrotto starting over there when Russell Okung went down."

John Morgan of Field Gulls runs through potential scenarios for Seattle this season.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Derek Anderson eagerly awaits his first start as Cardinals quarterback. Somers: "It's not a coincidence that Anderson's best season, 2007, came when he was surrounded by the most talent. He had three excellent receiving targets in Joe Jurevicius, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. He handed the ball off to running back Jamal Lewis, who gained 1,304 yards that season. Then, the Browns disintegrated. Jurevicius missed the 2008 season after knee surgery and a staph infection. He was released in 2009. Winslow and Edwards were later traded. Meanwhile, Anderson was battling (Brady) Quinn for a job, and neither one was making an impression."

Also from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt remains vague on Beanie Well's injury situation.

More from Somers: a chat transcript featuring his thoughts on which player not named Kurt Warner the team will miss most in 2010. Somers: "Karlos Dansby, no question. He was so versatile. I think Kerry Rhodes could be better than Antrel Rolle, who blew some coverages and missed tackles. Anquan Boldin is one of the all-time Cardinal greats, but we didn't see the great Q runs last year."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says receiver Larry Fitzgerald had nothing to do with the quarterback change from Matt Leinart to Anderson, according to Fitzgerald. Have any Cardinals players said anything publicly that would count as supporting Leinart? I wouldn't expect strong statements, but for a player who had been with the team since the Dennis Green years, Leinart didn't seem to get much support publicly.

Also from Urban: Darnell Dockett is no longer openly using the term "fresh meat" to describe new Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is spending plenty of time at the office -- enough time, in fact, to justify adding a bed within the bathroom adjoining his office. Miklasz: "Not that a 1-15 rookie coach can sleep peacefully. When I asked Spagnuolo what it was like to go 1-15 last season as a rookie coach, he laughed and pointed to the bathroom."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says new Rams receiver Mark Clayton is catching on quickly. Bradford: "To see him come out Day 1 and have what seemed to be a great grasp on the offense already, he didn't ask a lot of questions. He just got in the huddle, I called the play, and he knew where to go, knew where to line up and knew what to run."

Also from Coats: The Rams avoided a local television blackout for Week 1.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the Rams' struggles within the division, specifically against Arizona.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Bradford knows he's going to see new looks from Arizona.

Quick notes from Seahawks headquarters

September, 6, 2010
9/06/10
8:41
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RENTON, Wash. -- A few thoughts from Seattle Seahawks headquarters after the team finished practicing Monday in preparation for its Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers:
  • Okung
    Okung
    Left tackle Russell Okung will not play against the 49ers, coach Pete Carroll said. The job will fall to Tyler Polumbus, an eight-game starter for Denver last season, or Chester Pitts, who hasn't played in a game since suffering a knee injury in Week 2 last season. Expect the Seahawks to adjust their game plan as they match up against Justin Smith and the 49ers' outside pass-rushers. Pitts began practicing only recently. He's sound fundamentally, but throwing him onto the field against Smith this early in Pitts' return seems risky. Seattle heads into the 2010 season with issues at tackle, same as last season. Okung will change that for the long term, but that will not help Sunday.
  • Assistant offensive line coach Art Valero is taking the lead in coaching the position following Alex Gibbs' abrupt resignation. The newly hired Pat Ruel is still learning the Seahawks' personnel and playbook. Ruel was about to go to sleep Friday night when Carroll called to offer him a job. Ruel was preparing to help coach a scrimmage the next morning as part of his job with the Omaha Nighthawks. As for sizing up the 49ers? "I was up watching them last night," Ruel said. "I know a little too much already. They are very good up front."
  • Carroll said the massive roster changes of the past few days were part of the plan all along. He also said the changes don't affect the team's preparations for the 49ers because the team has been game-planning for months. All the shuffling has to come at a short-term price, however, particularly against a 49ers team that has largely been together for the past two or three seasons. The 49ers have had defensive philosophical continuity since 2005 -- a very long time ago in NFL terms, as Seahawks fans know too well.
  • Justin Forsett will start at running back for the Seahawks, as expected. Carroll said it wasn't clear which back will get the most carries. Julius Jones, who kept his roster spot by accepting a pay reduction, said he "got a lot of phone calls and text messages" over the weekend, but wasn't frustrated by confusion over his employment status.
  • Receiver Mike Williams let a few smiles slip through during a post-practice interview. He seemed determined to project earnestness, though. Williams' journey from first-round bust to potential Week 1 starter qualifies as an improbable story, but that first-round bust status isn't gone for good. Williams must produce and he knows it, particularly after the team released receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "I didn't know if I was going to be here," Williams said. "It's a good feeling, but it's just a feeling. I still have to go out every week and prove that I'm worth it."

Carroll is projecting a business-as-usual feel, and that is expected. There's no advantage to acknowledging the effects of roster turnover before the first game. The storyline will be there all season, however, and its effects should be most pronounced early in the season.
Thoughts following Alex Gibbs' abrupt resignation as the offensive line coach of the Seattle Seahawks eight days before the regular-season opener:
  • Gibbs cited burnout. He's 69, extremely intense and has burned out before. This is a plausible explanation.
  • I've seen no evidence a personnel dispute precipitated this resignation. The Seahawks' decision to trade for Philadelphia Eagles guard Stacy Andrews seemed curious at first because Andrews is much bigger than the typical Gibbs guard. But the acquisition makes more sense now that we know Seattle plans to play Andrews at tackle. The Seahawks placed backup right tackle Ray Willis on injured reserve Saturday. They needed a tackle.
  • This is no time to be looking for an offensive line coach. Art Valero served as Gibbs' assistant after coming to Seattle from the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Valero has coached mostly running backs and tight ends since making his NFL debut in 2002. He played offensive line at Boise State and has coached the position extensively at the college level, but Gibbs was an icon among all-time NFL line coaches. Replacing him will not be easy. I would expect the Seahawks to look outside the organization for a potential long-term replacement.
  • Gibbs stepping down does not come as a shock to those who have followed his career. The timing was a surprise. I figured Gibbs would last at least a season or two. But he's known for pouring everything he has into the job, at the expense of balance in his life.
  • The Seahawks should wince in Week 1 when they look across the field to see their former line coach, Mike Solari, manning that job for the San Francisco 49ers. Seattle tried to retain Solari as tight ends coach, but he declined the demotion and quickly landed in San Francisco, where he was already familiar with 49ers coordinator Jimmy Raye. Former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan was one of Solari's biggest advocates in San Francisco, but he now works for the Seahawks.
  • Did I mention the horrendous timing of this change for Seattle? It might be more important for Seattle to keep around players familiar with Gibbs' scheme. Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts come to mind (although Andrews' arrival could precipitate the departure of another lineman).
  • The impact of Gibbs' resignation on the Seahawks is only part of the story. Gibbs' welfare is also important. At this point, it appears as though he gave all he could.

What a day in the NFC West, huh?

Hiring Alex Gibbs costs Seahawks dearly

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
6:31
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One question following the Seattle Seahawks' hiring of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs was whether the San Francisco 49ers would come out ahead long term.

The decision to hire Gibbs freed incumbent Seattle line coach Mike Solari to join the 49ers. Gibbs had the higher profile, but he was also much older and more volatile, raising questions about how long he might stick around in Seattle.

No one figured Gibbs would quit before the regular-season opener, however. ESPN'S Adam Schefter says that's the case, leaving Seattle with assistant line coach Art Valero in charge with eight days remaining until the regular-season opener. The Seahawks have confirmed Gibbs' resignation.

Why would this happen?

The early word is that the hard-charging Gibbs has burned out, which wouldn't be the first time. Gibbs was known as a strong advocate for guard Ben Hamilton, one of his former players in Denver, and it wasn't clear if Hamilton was going to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. It's natural to wonder if Gibbs resigned in protest of personnel moves, but I have no indication that was the case. But assistant coaches regularly disagree with the choices his team makes. They don't resign.

Gibbs' departure leaves the Seahawks in a tough spot. Valero joined the Seahawks from the St. Louis Rams only this season. He hasn't worked for Gibbs long enough to step in seamlessly.

The Seahawks did try to keep Solari onboard as insurance by offering him a job coaching tight ends, but Solari declined the switch. The 49ers hired Solari quickly after allowing Chris Foerster out of his contract for a chance to join the Washington Redskins.

Gibbs could always decide to come back. Until then, however, the Gibbs-for-Solari tradeoff is looking like a bad one for Seattle.

Update: The Seahawks acquired guard Stacy Andrews from the Philadelphia Eagles. As noted, Andrews weighs 342 pounds, making him an odd fit for Gibbs' zone blocking scheme, which favors much smaller guards. With Gibbs resigning from the Seahawks on Saturday, it's fair to ask whether personnel disagreements played any role in the abrupt departure. The Seahawks were withholding their list of cuts pending league approval on the Andrew trade. But if Andrews is on the team at the expense of Gibbs' hand-picked guard, Hamilton, it'll be tougher to believe that Gibbs walked away purely because he burned out.

Second update: The Seahawks apparently plan to use Andrews at tackle, which would diminish the Gibbs-got-mad angle.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated checks in with Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, who says he's never been this excited about an upcoming season. Jenkins: "In a league desperate for quality quarterbacks, Leinart is a rarity -- a pedigreed passer who couldn't get the necessary snaps. Although he is often regarded as a first-round bust, the statistics tell a different story. As a rookie, he threw for more than 210 yards per game. He has completed more than 57 percent of his career passes. In his only start last season, he was 21 of 31 for 220 yards and no interceptions at Tennessee. He has not been Kurt Warner, by any means, but he has not been Ryan Leaf, either. This season will do much to reveal who Leinart ultimately becomes." Yep, and we shouldn't automatically assume he'll flop. As Jenkins heard defensive end Calais Campbell say to Leinart, "I'm hearing a lot of good things."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com provides photos from coach Ken Whisenhunt's recent appearance at the annual golf tournament at Lake Tahoe.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has this to say about the contract negotiations between Rams executive Kevin Demoff and Tom Condon, the agent for first-round pick Sam Bradford: "There's no reason to believe that Bradford won't be in training camp on time, give or take a day or two. Condon does not have a history of holding out clients, and Demoff's track record in signing players has been good so far during his brief tenure in St. Louis. ... The larger question is can Bradford show enough during training camp and preseason play to be the Rams' opening day starter Sept. 12 against visiting Arizona? Coach Steve Spagnuolo was on the conservative side last season when it came to starting rookies."

Jeff Kolpak of the Fargo-Moorhead Forum has this to say bout Rams safety Craig Dahl: "The former North Dakota State safety started eight games a year ago and finished fifth on the team in tackles with 65. He added two quarterback sacks and also showed his versatility playing three different positions: strong safety, free safety and nickel back -- a spot that also had linebacker responsibilities to it."

KSDK.com says the Rams are closer to choosing a mascot name.

Brady Henderson of mynorthwest.com provides an audio link to Pete Carroll's recent interview with 710ESPN Seattle. Carroll on Terrell Owens: "That's not the right guy for us at this time. I like him and all that but we're going to continue to work with the guys we got and (go) in a different direction than that."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com links to Carroll's recent interview with NPR. I was about to say it seems as though Carroll has granted interviews to everyone but NPR.

Also from Farnsworth: Curt Warner isn't the only former Seahawk heading into the College Football Hall of Fame. Grant Wistrom, Gordon Hudson and Gino Torretta also played for the team.

More from Farnsworth: a profile on Seahawks assistant coach Art Valero, who appreciates Steve Spagnuolo's decision to let him join a division rival. Valero: "I thank him from the bottom of my heart, because I know it had to be tough on him to let me go to a divisional opponent." Valero had joined Scott Linehan's staff in St. Louis only four games before the Rams fired Linehan.

John Morgan of Field Gulls is pulling for Ben Obomanu to earn a roster spot with Seattle "because he is a solid athlete, tough and has worked hard to stick around so long."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says 49ers rookie Taylor Mays isn't yet ready to challenge Michael Lewis for the starting job at strong safety. Lynch: "Lewis contributes to the team's deserved reputation as a run-halting unit with his skills as an in-the-box player. But it begs another question: Is that what's needed in a league increasingly dominated by the pass? Lewis's speed and coverage skills are underrated, but he's still considered much more of a run player."
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

If it all starts up front -- and most quarterbacks will tell you it does -- NFC West fans will want to keep an eye on the men coaching their teams' offensive lines.

No division in the league features higher-caliber line coaches across the board. And in an unusual twist, NFC West teams used the offseason to play musical line coaches. A look at what it means for each team:

[+] EnlargeAlex Gibbs
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenSeahawks line coach Alex Gibbs is one of the most respected in the league.
Arizona: The Cardinals were the only team in the division to keep the same coaching dynamic at the position, and why not? Russ Grimm ranks among the most acclaimed line coaches in the league and one of the few to command serious consideration as a head coaching candidate. When Grimm arrived in Arizona with Ken Whisenhunt for the 2007 season, he replaced Steve Loney, now the Rams' line coach. More on Loney in a bit.

Seattle: For years, Alex Gibbs has ranked among the most highly regarded line coaches in the league. He's the absolute best for installing a pure zone blocking scheme. Gibbs is also 69 years old, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll stick around. Gibbs is a coaching lifer and an extremely intense personality. Gibbs' hiring has changed what the Seahawks want in their offensive linemen -- see Rob Sims' departure -- while more clearly defining the team's approach to offense. This is a zone team all the way.

San Francisco: The 49ers were big winners this offseason when the Seahawks fired coach Jim Mora. The change from Mora to Pete Carroll led to Gibbs' hiring, displacing Mike Solari as offensive line coach. Solari was the perfect fit for the 49ers because he's an excellent teacher and he worked previously with San Francisco offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Raye largely had inherited the 49ers' offensive staff upon his hiring by Mike Singletary before the 2009 season. Solari gives Raye a trusted lieutenant at a position critical to the 49ers' success -- just as the 49ers were about to add two offensive linemen in the first round of the draft. Solari likes his linemen to have quick feet.

St. Louis: The Rams felt good enough about Steve Loney to keep him around as line coach when Steve Spagnuolo took over for the 2009 season. Art Valero also stayed on staff, serving as Loney's assistant, but Valero left the Rams for the same job in Seattle this offseason. That makes Valero a potential heir-apparent to Gibbs.

Seahawks' emphasis on line obvious

February, 5, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Seahawks have been plugging holes with mixed results in recent seasons.

In 2007, they threw $10.5 million in bonuses at Deon Grant and also signed another veteran free agent, Brian Russell, to address deficiencies at safety. They threw another $15 million in bonuses at Patrick Kerney to help the pass rush. In 2008, they hired Mike Solari to coach their offensive line and signed veteran left guard Mike Wahle to finally plug the hole Steve Hutchinson left two years earlier. In 2009, the Seahawks responded to chronic injury problems at wide receiver by committing about $15 million in guarantees to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, then trading up in the draft to select receiver Deon Butler.

The offensive line was the biggest problem for Seattle in 2009.

One look at the Seahawks' coaching staff shows the team's renewed commitment to that area. Seattle has three assistant coaches dedicated to its offensive line, more than any team in the division and more than any team I can recall covering. Alex Gibbs leads a group featuring assistant line coach Art Valero and quality control coach Luke Butkus. Seattle has a separate quality control coach for offense (Dave Canales), with Butkus focusing on the line only.

Update: The Texans had three line-oriented assistants under Gibbs last season if we count offensive assistant Bruce Matthews. Gibbs' title in Houston also was not line-specific. He was assistant head coach/offense.

Hurricanes coach fills out Arizona staff

February, 5, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Cardinals have filled out their coaching staff by hiring Tommie Robinson to coach running backs.

Robinson has spent the last three seasons coaching running backs at the University of Miami. He previously coached under current Bills coach Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech.

NFC West coaching staffs appear close to set for the season. The Rams have yet to hire a receivers coach and it's unclear who, if anyone, might replace Art Valero as the team's assistant offensive line coach. Valero left the Rams for the Seahawks this offseason.

The 49ers might need a new offensive quality control coach if Shane Day leaves to become the Bears' quarterbacks coach under coordinator Mike Martz.

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 4, 2010
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MIAMI -- With the Seahawks announcing their 2010 coaching staff, I went through every NFC West team's staff to produce a chart allowing for easy comparison.

It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.

In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.

I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.

The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).

The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.

Musical coaches in NFC West

January, 24, 2010
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The Seahawks offered offensive line coach Mike Solari a chance to stick around as tight ends coach.

Solari passed, instead joining the 49ers in the same job he held with Seattle.

The Rams offered assistant offensive line coach Art Valero a contract extension, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Valero declined, instead joining the Seahawks -- presumably in the same job he held with St. Louis.

Other NFC West coaches with experience on more than one staff within the division: Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole (Seahawks); Cardinals secondary coach Teryl Austin (Seahawks); 49ers tight ends coach Pete Hoener (Cardinals); 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye (Rams); 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (Cardinals); Cardinals defensive coordinator Billy Davis (49ers); Rams offensive line coach Steve Loney (Cardinals); Rams secondary coach Clayton Lopez (Seahawks); Seahawks tight ends coach Pat McPherson (49ers); Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn (49ers); and Rams offensive quality control coach Andy Sugarman (49ers).

Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. played for the 49ers. Seahawks secondary coach Jerry Gray played for the Rams.

Valero's connection to Seahawks

January, 23, 2010
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The Seahawks' interest in Rams assistant offensive line coach Art Valero makes sense.

Valero was with the Bucs when new Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was there from 2002 to 2004. Bates was with the Broncos under head coach Mike Shanahan from 2006 through 2008. The Seahawks' new offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs, was with Shanahan from 1995 through 2003.

That helps explain how adding Valero, possibly as assistant offensive line coach, could make sense for Seattle.

Report: Seahawks talk to Rams coach

January, 23, 2010
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a couple of Rams-related personnel notes:

  • Rams assistant offensive line coach Art Valero interviewed for an unspecified job with the Seahawks. Valero worked with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Tampa Bay earlier this decade. Valero has coached offensive line, tight ends and running backs at the NFL level. Steve Loney is the Rams' offensive line coach. I'll update when I know whether Valero remains a candidate for a job with Seattle, and in what capacity.
  • The Rams are replacing longtime trainer Jim Anderson. Anderson has stuck around a long time and across multiple coaching staffs. Sometimes a new head coach wants his own person in a specific role, though. In 1999, Mike Holmgren made a similar move in Seattle when he replaced trainer Jimmy Whitesel, who had been with the team since its inception.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill Coats of Around the Horns focuses on the Rams' youth movement in looking at the team as part of an NFC West offseason recap. Coats: "In addition to getting younger, the Rams also got bigger with the additions of free-agent pickups Jason Brown, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound center, and James Butler, a 6-3, 215-pound strong safety, plus tackle Jason Smith, a 6-5, 306-first-round draftee."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com checks in with Rams offensive line coach Steve Loney, a holdover from the previous staff. Loney: "I think there's always some anxiety whenever you are a holdover. This is my first experience with it but I know I have gone into new situations with guys that have been held over and I have empathy for them. I would say that coach Spags and I talked coming in that it's important I be treated just like anybody else and he has done that. He's treated me great so any anxiety was not well founded. Everything has gone pretty smooth."

Also from Wagoner: a report on assistant line coach Art Valero as part of a continuing series on assistant coaches.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks back on Ray Wersching's career with the 49ers. Price: "If you ask him which field goal meant the most to him during his entire career, Wersching insists it was his game-winning field goal on November 22, 1981, which beat the Los Angeles Rams 33-31."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation asks whether Joe Montana was the best football player in NFL history. Montana was the best quarterback for the 49ers when they fielded some of the best offenses in NFL history. That's good enough.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals rookie Cody Brown. Cardinals scout Don Corzine was with Brown at UConn, giving Arizona a better feel for the pass-rusher. Brown: "Pound for pound, he was the strongest kid at UConn. He is extremely athletic. You can see his upside."

Also from Urban: Rookies are dispersing for what remains of the offseason.

Revenge of the Birds' Bezekira wonders whether any Cardinals player will reach at least 10 sacks this season. I would think not.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Jim Mora, Tod Leiweke and Roger Goodell following their successful climb on Mount Rainier. Goodell: "There's some fear involved, I'll tell you. You're out there on the middle of this mountain, it's pitch black, and you're out there with 12 people or so, and you have flashlights on your helmet."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune provides spectacular photos from the Mount Rainier climb. Guide Ed Viesturs took the photos.

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks back on the Seahawks' trade for Deion Branch. Branch has played well when he's been healthy. He simply hasn't been healthy nearly enough.

Also from Morgan: Will Mike Wahle bounce back from recent injuries to give the Seahawks' a veteran presence at left guard?

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