NFC West: Bertrand Berry

Final Word: NFC West

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Draft order disorder. Every NFC West team but San Francisco faces a potential significant shift in draft order based on Week 17 results. The St. Louis Rams will emerge with the No. 1 overall pick if they lose to the 49ers while Indianapolis defeats Jacksonville. The Colts will pick first if they lose, or if the Rams win. The winner between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks will finish 8-8 instead of 7-9, producing likely a swing of several spots in the order. The 7-9 team with the easiest strength of schedule will pick ninth. The 8-8 team with the strongest strength of schedule would pick 20th.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAlex Smith has had quite a 2011 season, including a passer rating that could eclipse some of Joe Montana's seasons.
Gunning for the record. Two of the NFL's sack leaders will stand on opposite sidelines at the Edward Jones Dome. San Francisco's Aldon Smith has 14 sacks, one more than St. Louis' Chris Long. The NFC West in its current form has never produced two players with as many combined sacks in the same season. Smith needs one more to break the NFL rookie record Jevon Kearse set in 1999 (records kept since 1982). Smith and Long are both close to setting an NFC West single-season record since realignment in 2002. Bertrand Berry had 14.5 sacks for Arizona in 2004. Patrick Kerney had the same total for Seattle in 2007.

Alex Smith's improbable rating. The 49ers must be pleased to know that Smith, with a 90.1 NFL passer rating through 15 games, has a chance to finish with a better single-season mark than Joe Montana posted with the team in 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988 or 1990. Passer rating is but one tool for measuring quarterback performance. No one is saying it's perfect, or even that Smith has played better this season than Montana did during those five seasons. Still pretty tough to believe, though, right?

Battle of the backs. Frank Gore leads NFC West running backs with 1,202 yards even though his production has trailed off late in the season. Marshawn Lynch would have to outgain Gore by 85 yards to overtake him for most rushing yards in the division. That is unlikely, but Lynch has set a furious pace lately. He leads the NFL in rushing since Week 9, gaining 855 yards over that eight-game period. The Rams' Steven Jackson ranks eighth in the league with 620 yards during that time. Arizona's Beanie Wells is 15th (541 yards), one spot ahead of Gore (527). All four primary backs in the division have topped 1,000 yards.

Spagnuolo's last stand? The Rams started the season with an 0-6 record. They're in danger of finishing it with seven consecutive defeats. No team in the NFL has a worse record than the Rams since Steve Spagnuolo became head coach in 2009. St. Louis, shut out by the 49ers earlier this season, needs 10 points to avoid becoming the lowest-scoring Rams team since the franchise left Los Angeles. The 49ers, meanwhile, are allowing a franchise-best 13.46 points per game. The 1946 team, which played in the AAFC, allowed 13.5. The current team can break that record by allowing 13 or fewer points. The 1976 team holds the NFL-era franchise record at 13.57 points per game allowed. The current 49ers could break that record by allowing no more than 15 points to the Rams.

Around the NFC West: Robbins among best

July, 7, 2011
7/07/11
10:40
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Arizona Cardinals

As speculation surrounding Kevin Kolb eventually landing in Arizona intensifies, Adam Caplan asks if Kolb is really as good as advertised.

Former Cardinals defensive lineman Bertrand Berry says the Cardinals should try to acquire Vince Young instead. Berry: "The next team that lands him is going to get a very motivated guy that has a lot to prove. If he gets somebody who believes and trusts him, he can be a great quarterback."

San Francisco 49ers

Colin Kaepernick speaks highly of Alex Smith, who is helping the rookie transition from college to the NFL.

Key milestones were met Wednesday night in the pursuit of a new 49ers stadium.

Seattle Seahawks

Could Carson Palmer be the answer to Seattle's quarterback issues?

Clare Farnsworth looks back on the Seahawks' 2001 season that finished at 9-7.

St. Louis Rams

Fred Robbins comes in at No. 10 on Pro Football Focus' list of the top 4-3 defensive tackles.
About those quarter-by-quarter sack numbers discussed here earlier:
  • The St. Louis Rams had at least twice as many fourth-quarter sacks (16) as any other team in the division. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins had four of his six sacks in fourth quarters. Defensive end James Hall had five of his 10.5 sacks in fourth quarters. Those two combined for more fourth-quarter sacks than any other NFC West team.
  • The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith had only one of his 8.5 sacks in fourth quarters last season, down from 3.5 in 2009 and three in 2008.
  • The Seattle Seahawks' Chris Clemons had five of his division-leading 11 sacks in third quarters. Clemons and Hall were the only NFC West players with five sacks in any quarter. Seattle's Raheem Brock had 4.5 in second quarters.
  • The Rams' production for 2010 is impressive given that their leading sacker over the past decade, Leonard Little, had transitioned into retirement. Little's 82 sacks since 2001 are easily the most in the division during that span. Chike Okeafor (49.5) is next, followed by Julian Peterson (42), Bertrand Berry (40) and Grant Wistrom (32.5).

The first chart shows team-by-team sack numbers, by quarter.



The second chart shows quarterly sack numbers for the five NFC West players with more than six sacks last season. Smith also had one sack during overtime.


DALLAS -- The Arizona Cardinals experienced more roster turnover than most from 2009 to 2010.

They felt it, too.

Arizona finished with a 5-11 record largely because quarterback Kurt Warner retired. The team hoped it had enough veteran strength throughout its roster to keep the Cardinals competitive. A favorable schedule and division in transition made it seem possible.

Looking back, the roster turnover played a leading role in the Cardinals' fall, coach Ken Whisenhunt said from the Super Bowl media center Friday.

"What you lose more than anything is that equity buildup that you have had for a couple years," Whisenhunt said.

Specifically, Whisenhunt said the Cardinals too often couldn't draw on shared experiences -- say, adjustment that worked against an opponent the previous season.

"Even though you have a Kerry Rhodes, you have Paris Lenon, you have guys you are comfortable with that are good players in the league, they don't know what you have gone through to get to that point," Whisenhunt said. "To have those guys step up and say, 'Listen, we are not practicing the right way, we are not making these plays like we should be,' you don't have that history with them. You can get away with that if it is one or two, but if you have five or six -- especially if they are good football players -- that is hard to overcome."

The Cardinals parted with a long list of players featuring Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Bryant McFadden, Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Neil Rackers, Anthony Becht, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban, Matt Leinart, Ralph Brown, Monty Beisel and Dan Kreider.

"You can never go in and say, 'Gosh, woe is me because we lost those guys,' because you are counting on the other guys to step in and you always want to be positive," Whisenhunt said. "But you have to recognize it's a pretty big blow to lose [key] guys."

Whisenhunt called the situation a "perfect storm" with Warner retiring, key players hitting the market and the NFL heading toward an uncertain labor situation.

"There is no operating plan for what you do or how you do it," he said. "It doesn't really matter at this point. You just have to move forward."

Quite a few younger players gained more experience than anticipated. That could help Arizona build back some of that equity Whisenhunt said was missing. But so much comes back to the quarterback situation. An upgrade at that position would cover for imperfections elsewhere on the roster.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
Tags:

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was particularly sharp in practice Wednesday. Maiocco: "Smith could not have thrown the deep ball better when he put four consecutive passes on the money during a passing drill. On consecutive go-routes against man coverage, Smith hit Brandon Jones, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn with perfect passes approximately 40 yards down field. Crabtree, however, dropped his pass."

Also from Maiocco: Chilo Rachal sat out practice a day after suffering from dehydration.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams, a seventh-round draft choice trying to catch the coaches' attention.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers carted off linebacker Scott McKillop with a knee injury diagnosed initially as a sprain.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers shuffled their offensive line thanks to personnel changes. Barrows: "Tony Wragge is clearly ahead of Cody Wallace at center, and he's been the No. 2 center since training camp began. (Baas also had taken some snaps at center before his concussion). Adam Snyder's chances of making the team go up because he can both play inside and outside on the offensive line. Both Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are very inconsistent, which is what you'd expect from a rookie on Day 4 of training camp. In one instance, Iupati is mowing down the opposing defensive end as he did against Khalif Mitchell this morning. On the next two, he is beaten by Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, respectively. Davis, meanwhile, has been the culprit on a couple of blown protections the last two days. Today he was beaten soundly by Parys Haralson who disrupted Alex Smith." It's all good for the 49ers as long as Iupati and Davis are getting extended work with the first-team offense. They need the reps.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the 49ers will hold only one practice Thursday and it will be in Monterey.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' Delanie Walker suffered a concussion.

Also from Brown: Jerry Rice's legacy and its impact on current 49ers players.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says during a chat that the Cardinals have been impressed with inside linebacker Paris Lenon. Somers: "They like Paris Lenon a lot. They watched him video the past few years and say he didn't make a lot of mistakes. Washington has been good. He can really run. My guess is he will open the season playing in passing situations and then maybe work into the starting unit."

Also from Somers: Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick suffered a knee injury and will undergo an MRI exam. The injury was initially diagnosed as a sprain. Patrick is the most versatile tight end on the team. Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach are primarily blockers.

More from Somers: What's in a number for strong safety Adrian Wilson?

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated checks in from Cardinals camp. Wilson on Matt Leinart: "To be honest with you, Matt has really jumped out at me. He's been a much more vocal leader. He wasn't like that in the past. The quarterback position is the head position; everybody looks up to it. Matt wasn't just thrown in that spot, he had to wait a while. I think he's really matured and it's showing. If he misses on a ball, he knows it's his fault and not the receiver's fault. That's just something he has really grown into." I haven't gotten the sense Leinart's job has been in question this summer. It's easier to be assertive without that doubt. However, it's also important for Leinart to play well enough consistently enough to make it obvious he's a legitimate starter. He'll need to do that the rest of the summer.

Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic says Early Doucet is shooting for a breakout season.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers notes from practice, plus a photo of former Cardinals pass-rusher Bertrand Berry in his new role as reporter.

Also from Urban: This Cardinals training camp is more intense.

More from Urban: Beanie Wells is much more comfortable in Arizona than he was one year ago.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com looks at recent roster moves for Seattle, including the addition of defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. Johns: "The Seahawks aren't particularly thin at defensive tackle with starters Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole backed up by veterans Craig Terrill, Kevin Vickerson and Jonathan Lewis. Vickerson, a 6-5, 321-pounder obtained from Tennessee in the LenDale White trade on draft day, has shown flashes of considerable power at times early in camp. But GM John Schneider has made it clear he's willing to look for talent anywhere he can find it, so the Seahawks apparently will bring in Pitcock to see what he can offer."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times asks whether the grueling camp Seattle conducted under Jim Mora one year ago contributed to a poor finish. O'Neil: "Consider Mora's regular-season record. In four seasons as an NFL head coach, his teams were 25-19 before Dec. 1 (.568). His record after Dec. 1? 6-14 (.300)." New coach Pete Carroll gave the Seahawks a day off from practice Wednesday. Several teams give players down days on occasion.

Clare Farnsworth of seahwaks.com reviews the first four days of Seahawks training camp. Farnsworth: "Matt Hasselbeck has been en fuego, but his touchdown pass to rookie Golden Tate on Monday afternoon was a beauty. As Tate slipped behind cornerback Cord Parks, Hasselbeck not only hit Tate in stride, he put a little something extra on the pass so Tate could make the catch before running out of end zone."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the competition between backup quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman. Boling: "Whitehurst is more nimble than one might expect, given his height. And he has a decent enough presence in the pocket. But his pure passing and arm strength do not appear to be the equal of Losman’s. Two plays in recent team drills seem fair comparisons. On one deep pass, receiver Golden Tate got behind cornerback Josh Wilson. Whitehurst put too much air under the ball, and as it finally nosed downward, Wilson had time to recover and deflect the pass. On the other side, Losman saw Deon Butler streaking up the sideline past his coverage. With a lower trajectory and more velocity, Losman’s pass was out in front of Butler where he could run it down. Butler didn’t make a great adjustment to it, though, and it fell incomplete. But not because the pass wasn’t there. Whitehurst looked very competent in a two-minute drill on Tuesday. Losman countered with continued zip on his ball, including one sideline completion of an 'out' route that was absolutely humming as it reached the receiver."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams defensive end Leonard Little is undecided about continuing his career. Most veterans with Little's age and experience aren't excited about participating in training camp. Little: "Sometimes I feel like I want to come back," Little said. "Sometimes I feel like I don't. It's a hard decision to make when you're used to playing football. I've been playing football since I was 5 years old. I love the game. And I do miss it. But my decision is not going to be about football. It's going to be about other things -- things I'd rather not talk about right now."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is working through the usual rookie mistakes. Bradford: "We've put a lot [of the offensive scheme] in every day," Bradford said. "And the more we put in, the more I have to think. ... Once we get everything in and I've repped everything, I think I'll feel more comfortable. I think it's just a matter of me really adjusting to the speed and all the different variations can that occur in a play."

Also from Coats: Bradford has high expectations for the offense.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat updates Rams injuries, noting that Ron Bartell suffered a low ankle sprain and tight end Eric Butler has a shoulder injury.

Also from Korte: Bradford says he's having fun working the "best job in the world."

Camp Confidential: Arizona Cardinals

August, 4, 2010
8/04/10
11:44
AM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 15

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- You know what the 2010 Arizona Cardinals are not.

They're not the team with Pro Bowl-caliber talents Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. They're not the team with established veterans Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry and Mike Gandy. They're not the team that won the past two NFC West titles and posted a 4-2 postseason record.

They're not dead, either. Who are these new-look Cardinals? A trip to training camp at Northern Arizona University provided some clues.

This team will be easy to underestimate for those analyzing from afar. What I saw up close was a team with strong leadership -- both vocally and by example -- throughout its roster. The Cardinals are accountable to one another. I saw an organization with a track record for developing young talent (think Calais Campbell, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, to name three). I saw a head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who loves a challenge and thinks the Cardinals will do just fine in one of their favorite roles -- underdogs.

This team has an edge to it. The Cardinals will compete and they can make another playoff appearance with a little help from their quarterback.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeLeinart
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Cardinals have confidence that Matt Leinart can succeed in this offense.
1. What's up with Matt Leinart? Let's take a listen to Whisenhunt: "You see it in his body language, you see how he handles himself in the huddle and then you also see it in the confidence when he takes a step and he throws the football, or even when he makes the checks in the run game. There is not the hesitation that there used to be." If you think that quote reflects renewed confidence in Leinart heading into the 2010 season, you'd be wrong. That's what Whisenhunt said about Leinart in training camp two years ago, before the Cardinals switched to Warner and won back-to-back division titles.

What's he saying now? Whisenhunt dismisses Leinart's shaky 2009 performance against Green Bay in Week 17 as a product of unusual circumstances (the Cardinals watered down their game plan with an eye toward playing the Packers in the wild-card round). He points to Leinart's performance against the Tennessee Titans last season -- 21 of 31 passing for 220 yards and an 88.1 rating -- as evidence the quarterback knows the offense well enough to succeed even without getting practice reps (Warner was scratched from the lineup shortly before kickoff). For that reason, Leinart will not get extra playing time during the upcoming preseason. Whisenhunt doesn't think it's necessary.

"I feel like there's a hurdle you have to cross as a young quarterback where no matter what situation you're thrown into, you have to perform," Whisenhunt said. "He is at a point with our offense where he is comfortable and he may not get the reps."

Leinart has four seasons in Whisenhunt's offense. He's playing for a new contract, backed by two productive running backs and one of the NFL's elite receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. Leinart will never be Warner, but he will not have to be. He'll be leading a re-made offense with increased emphasis on the running game. I'm not entirely sold. Leinart has much to prove.

"The last two years, I've learned really how to prepare mentally and studying and all that," Leinart said. "I finally get to take that to the field every single day and get the reps and make mistakes, but come back and learn from them. I worked extremely hard just to get to this point."

2. What does Joey Porter have left? The former Pro Bowl pass-rusher showed up for training camp in vastly better condition than he appeared during offseason minicamps. His speed and quickness stunned me during the Cardinals' afternoon practice Monday. Porter even kept pace with Fitzgerald on a special-teams coverage play 35 yards downfield. And he stayed home defending bootlegs.

The team's training camp practice jerseys do not feature players' names across the backs, and with so many new faces in camp, I double-checked the roster to make sure No. 55 was indeed the 33-year-old Porter. It was him.

The Cardinals knew they were getting a fiery personality and potential mentor for some of their younger players. The first few days of training camp have given them reason to think Porter might have more left physically than first anticipated. He had nine sacks for the Miami Dolphins last season and 17.5 the year before. Arizona will put him on the same side as Campbell, who had seven sacks at defensive end. There's potential for Porter to help this defense more than expected. Let's see if he can sustain the fast start.

[+] EnlargeWashington
AP Photo/Matt YorkRookie Daryl Washington may be called on early to contribute.
3. Are the Cardinals in trouble at inside linebacker? Veteran Gerald Hayes called out defensive teammates after a rough stretch of practice Tuesday. They were getting pushed around by the offense in the running game. There's reason to wonder if the Cardinals should expect more of the same, on a larger scale, when the regular-season schedule serves up Steven Jackson and Michael Turner in the first two weeks.

Hayes could return from back surgery by then. The Cardinals will find playing time for second-round choice Daryl Washington. They'll lean on veteran Paris Lenon. They'll move strong safety Adrian Wilson into the box for run support as needed.

It might not be enough.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Rashad Johnson. The second-year safety appears more physical and closer to contributing. His rookie season was a wash. Johnson might not be needed for extensive snaps, but they might not have to dread turning to him in a pinch.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Hayes' injury status. The Cardinals downplayed their key run defender's back situation during the early stages of the offseason. They hoped Hayes would overcome the back problems that slowed him last season. Hayes finally underwent surgery. He's a spectator and the Cardinals miss him.

OBSERVATION DECK
[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Matt YorkWide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is one of several veteran leaders on the team.

  • Guard Deuce Lutui was arguably the Cardinals' best offensive lineman last season. He could have a hard time staying active for games in 2010. Alan Faneca's addition at left guard sent 2009 left guard Reggie Wells to the right side at Lutui's expense. If Lutui fails to win back the starting job -- contract issues kept him away from the team this offseason and he reported to the team overweight -- his inability to play another position on the line could make it tough for the Cardinals to make him one of the two active backups for games. Jeremy Bridges can play guard or tackle. Rex Hadnot can play center or guard. Even Wells could play tackle in a pinch.
  • This team has strong, outspoken leaders everywhere. Fitzgerald organizes offseason workouts with Cris Carter, Jerry Rice and various current NFL stars, setting a standard for receivers. Faneca provides the offensive line with a needed voice and identity. Wilson is the enforcer in the secondary and the most credible leader on the team. Porter adds veteran leadership and attitude at linebacker. Darnell Dockett holds the defensive line accountable.
  • The Cardinals do not fear the truth. They confront issues directly. Free agent Kerry Rhodes came to Arizona with a reputation as Mr. Hollywood. Even Rhodes acknowledged that former New York Jets teammate Kris Jenkins was likely targeting him with comments suggesting the team had added "real men" to replace the "women" they had lost. Rhodes didn't like it much when Dockett questioned his work ethic amid globe-trotting tweets from the vacationing safety. Whisenhunt's response? No big deal. "Besides," Whisenhunt said of Rhodes' reputation, "our guys have been on him hard enough about it that they're not going to cut him any slack."
  • Speaking of Rhodes, the Cardinals think he can be a good blitzer for them, particularly in combination with Wilson.
  • Fitzgerald's capacity for self-motivation borders on the ridiculous, but it works for him. "I'm getting older. The window of opportunity is closing. I was sitting around talking to Cris Carter this offseason and it seems like seven years has gone by so fast. The hourglass is turned over on me now. The sand is going down and my career is on the downward side now. I have to really pick it up and try to help this team get a playoff win and win a Super Bowl."
  • Faneca, 33, struggles in one-on-one pass-rush drills. The Jets released him even though his salary was guaranteed, making a strong statement as to what they thought he had left. The Cardinals couldn't pass up adding Faneca to their line. They can benefit from his leadership and experience. I just wonder whether he'll be one of the two best guards on the team this season, particularly once Lutui rounds into shape.
  • Beanie Wells benefited from his first full offseason in the NFL. Graduation rules at Ohio State prevented him from joining the team until mid-June last offseason. Wells then reported to training camp slightly late and immediately suffered an injury. He appears much better prepared for the upcoming season. Wells is still fine-tuning some aspects of his pass-protection skills. He catches the ball well, though, and his running will set him apart this season. The versatile Tim Hightower remains the starter early in camp and Wells will have to beat him out. I expect that to happen.
  • The Cardinals ran more four-receiver personnel groups than any team in the league last season. I noticed one four-wide play in five practices and that was with backups playing receiver. Teams tend to focus on base packages early in camp. That could partially explain the proliferation of two-receiver personnel groups. Still, the offense appears different from last season and that will carry over into the regular season.
  • Arizona emphasized continuity over the past two seasons, particularly on its offensive line. Only the Seattle Seahawks have fewer players returning from Week 17 last season, however. Center Lyle Sendlein is the only starting offensive lineman returning at the same position.
The question in the headline seems misplaced given popular perceptions about the team that subtracted Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and others.

But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.

It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.

Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.

Quarterback

Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.

Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.

Running back

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
Fernando Medina/US PresswireBeanie Wells should have a larger role in the offense this season.
Barrett: In a pass-oriented offense, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower combined to rush for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns, but they also fumbled the ball nine times and lost six of those. Both backs are looking to get even more carries this season, with Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling perhaps having an increased opportunity to get touches over last season (combined nine attempts for 32 yards last season). Verdict: same.

Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.

Wide receiver

Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.

Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.

Tight end

Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.

Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.

Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets released Alan Faneca this offseason after just two seasons in New York.
Barrett: With the free-agent additions of Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot, starting quality and depth are already improved on a unit that has seen more postseason action in the past two seasons than any other offensive line in the NFL. This lessens any blow the line might take if an overweight Deuce Lutui does not return. There's also a second-year man by the name of Herman Johnson who just might be big enough to take over his spot. Verdict: better.

Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).

Offense overall

Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.

Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.

Defensive line

Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.

Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.

Outside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJoey Porter
Kim Klement/US PresswireJoey Porter has 92 career sacks.
Branden: There has been talk about the age of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Both are 33. While they will start, expect to see plenty of others in special situations -- including Will Davis, who played well last year as a rookie until suffering a knee injury. Cody Brown is practically a rookie and needs to contribute to help this position. Others at the position include Mark Washington and CFL star Stevie "Shakespeare" Baggs. Are they better as a unit than last year? Questionable. Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor performed average last year, and I'm not sure how much Porter has left. Verdict: same, but young guys need to step up.

Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.

Inside linebacker

Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.

Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.

Cornerback

Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.

Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Wilson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAdrian Wilson is a three-time Pro Bowler.
Safety

Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.

Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.

Defense overall

Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...

Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.

Special teams

Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.

Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.

Coaching

Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.

Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.

Schedule

Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.

Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.

Final thoughts

Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.

Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likes the championship banners coach Steve Spagnuolo has displayed in honor of the Rams' past, but he also thinks it's time for the team to show significant improvement in the present. Burwell: "I believe that while this isn't necessarily the breakthrough year for the Rams, it has to be the year when we see strong evidence that this is finally an ascending team. They have a new franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) to groom, two potential young offensive tackles (Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold) to transform into reliable anchors, a superstar running back on the mend (Steven Jackson) and a stable of unproven young wide receivers who will be given every opportunity to confirm the unsubstantiated support they've been given by the coaches and front office."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams still have interest in Brian Westbrook and the team is "hopeful" it can sign him. Adding Westbrook would help lots on paper. The Rams would have addressed an area that needed addressing. Westbrook could be a good fit in a backup role because he would be less prone to injury. It's just tough to expect much from 30-year-old running backs. Westbrook turns 31 in September.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams expect Jackson to practice Saturday for the first time since back surgery. Also, the Rams are holding evening practices during this training camp in an effort to beat the heat and allow more fans to attend.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams never made an offer to Terrell Owens.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers highlights from the 49ers' annual "State of the Franchise" gathering. Coach Mike Singletary called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "one of the finest coaches anywhere in America." Singletary also said the 49ers were as talented as any team.

Also from Barber: Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Montana, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox and Steve Young are expected to attend Jerry Rice's Hall of Fame induction.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers expect to have their draft choices signed in time for camp.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers plan to sell seat licenses that never expire and can be transferred once the team's new stadium is finished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers 49ers-related notes, noting that first-round choice Anthony Davis has been working out at the facility since organized team activities ended in June. Also, the 49ers think their new stadium will empty 50 percent faster than Candlestick Park following games.

Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' situation at safety and a reminder that Reggie Smith could be in the mix eventually. Barrows: "Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties -- starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward -- the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although (Curtis) Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says improving the offensive line was the 49ers' top priority this offseason.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says there was less bluster from the 49ers at their annual gathering this year.

Scott Allen of Raising Zona checks in with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, who has this to say: "I do believe I have a great chance at being the number 3 or 4. I just need to learn my plays and gain the confidence of the quarterback and I believe I’ll be right there in the hunt."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals' Gerald Hayes and O'Brien Schofield to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals released tackle Devin Tyler to make room on the roster for the newly signed Schofield.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com raises 10 questions heading into the Cardinals' training camp. The fourth question -- where will the pass rush come from? -- is one the Seahawks and Rams also might be asking. Urban: "The Cardinals piled up 42 sacks last season, their highest total in years and they did it by committee. Defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven. The idea in signing linebacker Joey Porter, who had 9.0 sacks for Miami, is that he can provide more of a dynamic pass rush than what the Cards were getting last season from Bertrand Berry or Chike Okeafor. Campbell, at end in a 3-4 look, should increase his total, and Dockett comes across like a man on a mission (and in search of a new contract). Even if Porter doesn’t revert to his stellar 2008 (17 sacks), he needs to be a difference-maker. The Cards also need help from some unknown factor, whether it is Cody Brown, Will Davis, Mark Washington or Stevie Baggs." It's reasonable to expect more from Porter than the Cardinals got from Berry and Okeafor last season.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals receiver Onrea Jones. Jones on what it takes to earn a roster spot: "Well I know one thing -- it's special teams -- to find the right spot on special teams. Mike Adams was big as a gunner last year on special teams. I kind of look up to him for that. Because he's been in the Super Bowl and he knows what he's doing. And that's one thing I've learned from Sean Morey also. I'm really concentrated on special teams, gunner, trying to get a spot on the kick off team, kick off return, any special teams I can get on, that's my ticket. Obviously you have to make plays as a wide receiver. I'm battling for a number 4 and 5 between me and Andre. Whoever gets that spot, he has to have a big role on special teams. As long as I can produce on special teams, I know I'll be alright."

Pro Football Weekly's NFC West preview singles out Laurent Robinson, Alex Smith, Justin Forsett and Ben Patrick as potential fantasy sleepers in 2010. On Forsett: "Although he is expected to battle Jones for touches in every game, Forsett has the kind of big-play ability (5.4 yards per carry in '09) as a runner, receiver and returner to develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy force. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was out with injuries last season and could be increasingly effective both running and catching passes out of the backfield behind what figures to be a more stable offensive line." It's just tough to know how much playing time each Seattle running back will get this season. Leon Washington's status is one key variable.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says another postseason appearance by the Cardinals could be a sign Ken Whisenhunt is on his way to a Hall of Fame career as a head coach. Whisenhunt: "In my last nine years (coaching) in the league, we've been to two Super Bowls, 5-6 championship games and won the division 6-7 times. That's what drives me. When you get a group of guys to believe in something and actually be successful, when you get a town to respond the way this town has supported us . . . there's nothing else like it. Look at where we were four years ago." Winning Super Bowls, plural, would help the Hall of Fame credentials. Current Hall of Fame coaches: Paul Brown, Jimmy Conzelman, Joe Gibbs, Bud Grant, Curly Lambeau, Tom Landry, John Madden, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Guy Chamberlain, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Greasy Neale, Steve Owen, Don Shula, Marv Levy, George Halas, Hank Stram, Weeb Ewbank, Vince Lombardi and George Allen.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders whether rookie Daryl Washington could get on the field this season while Gerald Hayes recovers from back surgery.

Also from Urban: Adrian Wilson is replacing Bertrand Berry on the Cardinals' in-house podcast.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals do not appear close to signing either of their top two draft choices, but there's little reason for alarm. The deals should be relatively straightforward. Somers: "Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves has been traveling and [unavailable] for comment this week, but I'm hearing the Cardinals aren't far along in contract talks with (Dan) Williams or linebacker Daryl (Washington), their second-round pick. That's not unusual, however. Camp is still a week away, and the two deals should not be complicated ones."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill is due in court again Friday. O'Neil: "Hill is in his sixth year with the Seahawks. He was suspended last week for the season-opening game against San Francisco for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse. Whether he faces additional league punishment for this incident could depend on the outcome."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says T.J. Houshmandzadeh enjoyed a strong season in 2009. Houshmandzadeh increased his yards per reception, breaking a trend in the other direction. Morgan: "As a player, T.J. was very good in 2009. He is a number one possession receiver, so to speak. He is more of a complementary downfield threat, but so be it. He earns tons of targets and maintains a high catch percentage, and if his stats declined in 2009, I saw no indication that his performance did."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a Rams overview. Thomas: "Even in this so-called 'baseball' town, and even with all the recent losing by the Rams, the selection of (Sam) Bradford has created a mild buzz in St. Louis. Ticket sales are up over last year, although several games could still be blacked out locally. No one is dreaming of a playoff berth, but improvement is expected."

Also from Thomas: The Rams could bring in former Missouri receiver Denario Alexander, who was cleared medically this week, according to his agent.

Turf Show Times' Tevin Broner outlines three keys for the Rams this season: Bradford, the defensive line and the receivers.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com thinks tight end Nate Byham and running back Anthony Dixon could be lesser-known players to watch at 49ers training camp. Maiocco: "Dixon is an impressive-looking player. He has quick feet and nice moves for a big man. But the 49ers want to see less dancing and more north-south running. If he lowers his pads and runs with power, he has a chance to make his way up the depth chart."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com previews the 49ers' defense heading into camp. Price: "Tthe 49ers' 5-1 record against the NFC West was largely because of a stingy defense which allowed 10.2 points per game against the division, tops by any NFL team against its division in 2009. From top to bottom, the 49ers defense features play-makers and game-changers at all levels of the field."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with 49ers legend Jerry Rice, who spoke with reporters Thursday during a Hall of Fame conference call. Brown: "These days, Rice's preparation involves the speech he'll have to give on induction day, when former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. will present him. Rice was vague about the status of his speech-writing efforts but acknowledged that he's been checking in with other Hall of Famers for advice."
Revisiting top NFC West storylines this offseason:

Mass retirements

Walter Jones, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Patrick Kerney and Bertrand Berry combined for 20 Pro Bowls during their NFL careers. Each retired this offseason.

[+] EnlargeWarner
John David Mercer/US PresswireKurt Warner's retirement may tip the competitive balance heading into the 2010 season.
Warner's departure from the Arizona Cardinals was by far the most significant based on how well he probably would have played had he returned in 2010. No other move this offseason will affect the 2010 standings as much. The San Francisco 49ers' chances improved significantly when Warner walked away.

Quarterback turnover

Every team in the division changed its No. 2 quarterback. Sam Bradford, Charlie Whitehurst, Derek Anderson, A.J. Feeley, David Carr and J.P. Losman are new to the NFC West this season. Predicting the division is tougher with so many changes and potential changes at the position. The door is open for Matt Hasselbeck to re-emerge as the top quarterback in the division. The big question, I think, is whether we're underestimating Matt Leinart in Arizona. He's not getting much credit at all.

49ers stadium vote

The team moved closer to having a new stadium in Santa Clara for the 2014 season. Getting Measure J passed doesn't guarantee anything, but the 49ers' ability to clear this hurdle suggests the team's ownership and front office have made progress. That's a welcome development for 49ers fans -- even those not wanting to see game days relocated from San Francisco.

Ownership uncertainty

The St. Louis Rams appeared less flexible than they would have liked this offseason during an ownership change that remains in progress. All signs point to Stan Kroenke finding a way to become full owner of the team. Rams fans should welcome the development because Kroenke has resources and an established record as an effective sports franchise owner.

In Seattle, meanwhile, the Seahawks continued to operate as usual while owner Paul Allen underwent cancer treatments. The long-term prognosis for Allen remains unclear.

Stability in Arizona

The Cardinals endured lots of changes this offseason, but they signed coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to contract extensions through the 2013 season. They also re-signed strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott, whose addition and retention Whisenhunt had made a priority.

Failing to re-sign Whisenhunt and/or Lott in particular would have raised questions about the Cardinals' direction and stability. Those are non-issues at this point.

[+] EnlargeCarroll
Juliann Tallin/US PresswirePete Carroll took over as the Seahawks' head coach.
Drama, intrigue in Seattle

The Seahawks' strange and ultimately futile dance with Mike Holmgren -- followed by Jim Mora's abrupt firing and Pete Carroll's quick hiring -- marked the most dramatic offseason in Seattle since Holmgren stepped down as general manager in late 2002.

This was an organization in turmoil for a while. The Seahawks regained their footing and put together a unified front office.

Surviving change atop 49ers

Losing general manager Scot McCloughan five weeks before the draft qualified as a potentially ominous development.

The 49ers held together their front office and smartly promoted from within. Adding a GM from the outside might have undercut coach Mike Singletary, quarterback Alex Smith and others just as the 49ers finally appeared in position to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

This offseason was about continuity for the 49ers and they managed to achieve it even though McCloughan left them. Re-signing Patrick Willis, sticking with Smith when Donovan McNabb was available and getting the stadium measure passed added to the sense of stability and direction for the franchise.

Line dances

The 49ers lucked into offensive line coach Mike Solari when the Seahawks decided to hire Alex Gibbs to coach their offensive line.

The team of Solari and assistant line coach Ray Brown looks like a significant upgrade at a critical time for the 49ers. Solari's familiarity with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye -- they worked together in Kansas City -- was a bonus.

Gibbs is the right hire for Seattle as the team more fully adopts the blocking scheme for which Gibbs is best known. Hiring him at Solari's expense strengthened a division rival, however.

Cardinals exodus

Warner, Berry, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, Bryant McFadden, Mike Gandy and Chike Okeafor combined to start 107 games for the Cardinals last season. All are gone -- some by design, some against the Cardinals' wishes.

Arizona fans should be excited to see how the Cardinals develop some of their younger players. The organization has done a good job plugging holes with youth in the recent past. This roster has turned over to a degree generally not seen among playoff teams, however.

At least the Cardinals recovered to some degree. Adding Kerry Rhodes, Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, Rex Hadnot and Jay Feely helped.

Steven Jackson
Jeff Curry/US PresswireKeeping running back Steven Jackson healthy will be very important for the Rams.
Back surgery for Steven Jackson

The Rams' best player and only Pro Bowl representative wore down last season. Surgery to repair a herniated disk should give him a chance to bounce back in time for training camp and the regular season.

Still, it's fair to wonder if the Rams overused Jackson following his injury last season, and whether they've done enough to shore up their depth in case Jackson wears down again in 2010.

RFA unrest

This was a league-wide phenomenon with special application in the NFC West stemming from Oshiomogho Atogwe's unusual transition from franchise player to minimally tendered restricted free agent to street free agent.

Atogwe might wind up re-signing with the Rams anyway. If that happens, the RFA storyline becomes much ado about not so much -- particularly with the Cardinals' unhappy RFA, Deuce Lutui, re-signing this week.

Fellow NFC West RFAs Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp and Alex Barron found new addresses via trade.

Divisional smack talk

The jaw-jacking between Arizona's Darnell Dockett and San Francisco's Vernon Davis provided cheap entertainment for a while this offseason.

At one point, Dockett asked Davis how he spent Week 18 last season.

"Oh, that's right," Dockett tweeted. "He was home watching the cardinals in tha playoffs!"

[+] EnlargeVernon Davis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWe'll see if the verbal sparring between Vernon Davis (pictured) and Darnell Dockett carries over into the regular season.
To be continued.

Brandon Marshall non-acquisition

For a while, the Seahawks were the only team showing serious interest in the Denver Broncos' most productive receiver.

Marshall wound up landing in Miami, a relief to the rest of the NFC West.

The Seahawks might have a cheap alternative in Mike Williams, the surprise of the offseason for Seattle. The next trade-related question for the Seahawks is whether they'll add Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills.

Jerry Rice, Russ Grimm to the Hall

Four recent Hall of Fame enshrinees played at least briefly with NFC West teams. Another, Grimm, coaches in the division.

Rice's election headlined the 2010 class.

Another former NFC West star, Cortez Kennedy, made the list of 10 finalists.

Farewell to a legend

Merlin Olsen's death from cancer saddened those who knew him and those who appreciated the warmth and dignity he projected.

Even opponents liked him.

Not even Rice could match Olsen's career total of 14 Pro Bowls.

Farewell to a non-legend

LenDale White's sudden and quick release from the Seahawks came as an unexpected jolt.

Carroll proved he wouldn't give a free pass to his former players at USC.

Your turn: Any major issues we're missing here? Fire away.
The earlier item quantifying NFL roster turnover since last season ranks the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals among the three teams with the most changes.

Some of the research used for that project shows up in the latest version of the anabolically enhanced rosters found here periodically. Specifically, the 26th and final column shows which players were starters, backups or on injured reserve for NFC West teams in Week 17 last season.

Download the rosters here.

The column showing player ages makes it easy to see how roster attrition affects older players. I'll list below the players currently 30 or older who have been released, traded, announced their retirements or were not re-signed as unrestricted free agents since last season:

Seattle Seahawks (9)

Patrick Kerney, Walter Jones, John Owens, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Sean Morey, Ben Hamilton and Chris Baker.

Arizona Cardinals (9)

Kurt Warner, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Bertrand Berry, Neil Rackers, Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Ralph Brown, Dan Kreider,

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Jay Feely, Paris Lenon, Joey Porter and Alan Faneca.

San Francisco 49ers (6)

Shaun Hill, Arnaz Battle, Mark Roman, Walt Harris, Dre' Bly, Jeff Ulbrich

Note: The team added 30-plus vets David Carr and William James. In looking at the chart, note that receiver Isaac Bruce, 37, is still on the 49ers' roster for the time being.

St. Louis Rams (5)

Leonard Little, Marc Bulger, Lenon, Clinton Hart, Randy McMichael

Note: The team added 30-plus vets A.J. Feeley, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and Fred Robbins.
Bad teams tend to change coaches and overhaul their rosters.

It should come as little surprise, then, to see the Seattle Seahawks retain a league-low 66.1 percent of their players from last season. It should likewise make sense to see the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings retain a league-high 94.4 percent over the same period.

But when the two-time defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals rank right behind Seattle and the Detroit Lions with a 70.2 percent retention rate, third-lowest in the league, we gain context for the magnitude of change in the desert. Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, Bryant McFadden, Mike Gandy, Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry combined to start 107 games for the Cardinals last season. All are gone.

Not that change is always bad, even for good teams.

The Indianapolis Colts (73.0 percent retained) and Philadelphia Eagles (74.6 percent) made quite a few changes this offseason. The Colts annually field one of the NFL's youngest teams while funneling massive amounts of cash toward their star players. The Eagles sought to get younger.

Rosters throughout the league will change significantly again as teams comply with 53-man limits in September.

The chart shows how many Week 17 starters, backups and players from injured reserve remain with their 2009 teams. The retention rate divides those totals by the sum of 53 plus all players who were on IR lists in Week 17. The starter totals can be somewhat misleading for teams that rested key players before the playoffs, but the retention rates apply equally. Every team had 53 players on its roster in Week 17.

In double-checking totals, I noticed that teams have parted with 107 of the 294 players listed on IR in Week 17. That works out to 63.6 percent retention for players who were on IR, compared to 82.1 percent retention for players who were on 53-man rosters. The total retention rate -- 79.4 percent -- reflects both sets of players.

The chart breaks down totals based on rosters I have updated through moves made Thursday. I also accounted for the Denver Broncos' reported release of quarterback Tom Brandstater, who was with the team in Week 17. I'm counting unsigned franchise players (Aubrayo Franklin) and unsigned restricted free agents as still being with their 2009 teams, based on the fact that their teams hold rights to them.

Update: I adjusted the San Diego Chargers' total and the Tampa Bay Bucs' total after accounting for trades involving Tim Dobbins and Byron Leftwich, respectively. San Diego dropped two spots. Tampa Bay dropped one spot. The overall retention rate fell slightly.

NFC West thoughts

San Francisco (.833): The 49ers like their team and they have been proactive in re-signing younger players. Continuity has been a top priority and that shows in the totals. The 49ers' retention rate fell because the team has not brought back five of the seven players it listed on IR in Week 17 (Thomas Clayton, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt and Jeff Ulbrich).

St. Louis (.773): It's a little surprising, on the surface, to see the rebuilding Rams rank second only to the 49ers in retention rate within the division. The Rams made massive overhauls last offseason, however, so there were fewer moves to make in recent months. Only the Lions and Baltimore Ravens brought back more players from IR, a total that could grow if Oshiomogho Atogwe re-signs. How well some of those players recover and hold up will be important for the Rams.

Arizona (.702): The turnover in Arizona has been documented thoroughly. Only Seattle has fewer players back from Week 17.

Seattle (.661): New coach plus new general manager plus a mandate for change leaves the Seahawks with only 39 players on their roster from Week 17 (counting those listed on IR). Every other team in the league has more. The league average is 49.4 players back.

Unrestricted free agency has come and gone for the NFL in 2010 after no teams made qualifying offers to the more than 100 unsigned UFAs by June 1.

The following former UFAs from NFC West teams remain free agents able to sign with any team that will have them, but none will factor into the formula used for awarding compensatory draft choices:
Arizona: left tackle Mike Gandy, outside linebacker Chike Okeafor, outside linebacker Bertrand Berry (retiring), cornerback Ralph Brown, fullback Dan Kreider, quarterback Brian St. Pierre

Seattle: fullback Justin Griffith, linebacker D.D. Lewis, cornerback Ken Lucas, tackle Damion McIntosh, snapper Jeff Robinson, snapper Kevin Houser

San Francisco: safety Mark Roman, cornerback Dre Bly, cornerback Walt Harris, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich (retiring)

St. Louis : defensive end Leonard Little, tight end Randy McMichael, safety Clinton Hart

The chart breaks down the players by team and 2009 starts.

Bad teams aren't the only ones churning their rosters during the offseason.

The defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals have parted with 15 of the 53 players on their Week 17 roster from last season. Only the rebuilding Seahawks have parted with more -- 16 -- among division teams this offseason. The Rams have parted with 11. The 49ers, seeking continuity as they try to build on an 8-8 season, have parted with only three.

The first chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have returned to each NFC West team.

The second chart shows how many Week 17 starters and backups have left each NFC West team.

I'll first list the players by team.

Seattle (16): receiver Nate Burleson, quarterback Seneca Wallace, linebacker Lance Laury, defensive end Cory Redding, guard Trevor Canfield, quarterback Mike Teel, tackle Damion McIntosh, linebacker D.D. Lewis, snapper Jeff Robinson, fullback Justin Griffith, cornerback Ken Lucas, safety Deon Grant, defensive end Darryl Tapp, guard Rob Sims, tight end John Owens and defensive end Patrick Kerney.

Arizona (15): linebacker Pago Togafau, safety Antrel Rolle, receiver Jerheme Urban, receiver Sean Morey, kicker Neil Rackers, linebacker Bertrand Berry, fullback Dan Kreider, cornerback Ralph Brown, quarterback Brian St. Pierre, defensive end Jason Banks, receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby, quarterback Kurt Warner, cornerback Bryant McFadden and linebacker Chike Okeafor. Note that Rolle did not start in Week 17.

St. Louis (11): defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey, cornerback Jonathan Wade, receiver Ruvell Martin, quarterback Mike Reilly, defensive end Leonard Little, safety Clinton Hart, snapper Ryan Neill, running back Samkon Gado, linebacker Paris Lenon, tackle Alex Barron and tight end Randy McMichael.

San Francisco (5): receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Marcus Hudson, quarterback Shaun Hill, safety Mark Roman and cornerback Dre Bly.

The third chart shows what happened to players who were on injured reserve in Week 17.

I'll first list by team the players who were on IR but are no longer with their teams.

San Francisco (5): tackle Tony Pashos, punter Ricky Schmitt, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, cornerback Walt Harris and running back Thomas Clayton.

Seattle (4): running back Tyler Roehl, tackle Walter Jones, snapper Kevin Houser and tackle Brandon Frye.

St. Louis (3): quarterback Marc Bulger, defensive tackle Adam Carriker and safety Eric Bassey.

Arizona (2): tackle Mike Gandy and fullback Justin Green.

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