NFC West: Bobb McKittrick
Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung could have done without one cut block in particular Sunday. Okung was finishing a blocking assignment during a routine running play against the Arizona Cardinals when teammate Chris Baker tried to block defensive end Calais Campbell in the lower legs. When Campbell outran the block, Baker's momentum carried him into the back of Okung's left leg.
The result: a high-ankle sprain for Okung, the second time since August he has suffered one from contact with a teammate. The Seahawks have not ruled out Okung for their game Sunday because they aren't sure how the ankle will respond to treatment.
Okung missed the final two exhibition games and the first three regular-season games following his previous high-ankle sprain. He sprained the other ankle Sunday.
"It's not nearly like the other one," coach Pete Carroll told reporters Monday. "But it’s a legitimate sprain and they’ re calling it a first-degree sprain, so we' ll see what that means."
The injury likely means Tyler Polumbus starts at left tackle against Oakland in Week 8. I've seen the Raiders get pressure against offensive tackles at times this season. Seattle faces Osi Umenyiora and the New York Giants in Week 9. Umenyiora entered the Giants' Monday night game with eight sacks and seven forced fumbles.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo at the Senior Bowl. The Rams turned down a chance to coach the North squad. Spagnuolo: "I just felt like this year it was more advantageous for us not to do it. That does not mean I'm against doing it because there's some advantages and disadvantages. I just kind of weighed it out, and so we just went this way." Spagnuolo didn't want to get too close to the players he was coaching, for one.
Also from Thomas: The Rams do plan to speak with Isaac Bruce about possibly becoming their receivers coach, assuming Bruce retires, as expected.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com is taking suggestions for plays of the decade. Jordan Babineaux tackling Tony Romo after Romo fumbled the snap in that playoff game seems like one candidate.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times wonders whether USC's Taylor Mays might be a good fit for the Seahawks in the 2010 draft. O'Neil: "Mays is one of the most impressive physical specimens in this year's draft, an anomaly even in a league full of physical marvels. At 6 feet 3 and 231 pounds, he's as big as a linebacker and faster than just about anyone in Seattle's secondary. This is football, but he hits hard enough to be confused with a middle-of-the-order slugger. On the first day of Senior Bowl practice, he drew the loudest reaction from the crowd when he flattened Andre Roberts of the Citadel, preventing a reception."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Mays could be a bigger, faster version of Ken Hamlin, according to draft analyst Rob Rang.
Ben Malcolmson of usctrojans.com says USC assistant strength and conditioning coach Jamie Yanchar is following Chris Carlisle to Seattle for a job on Pete Carroll's staff.
John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at potential offensive line candidates for the Seahawks. This position will be interesting to monitor now that Alex Gibbs is the offensive line coach. How early will the Seahawks draft to fill a position of obvious need?
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Kurt Warner appears likely to announce his retirement Friday, but the quarterback hasn't told the team of his plans. Somers: "The Cardinals should be prepared for life after Warner, because it wasn't long ago that he didn't seem part of the present. The team took Matt Leinart with the 10th overall draft pick in 2006, and he started over Warner in 2007 until suffering a broken collarbone in the fifth game. Since then, Warner has started 48 of 49 games, missing a game against the Tennessee Titans this season because of the concussion."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it's unusual for NFL players to go out on their own terms. Urban on Warner: "With such strong roots with family, faith and his charitable foundation, he’s in a different place than most NFL players. Money is certainly not an issue, and while Warner has always wanted to make sure he was recognized for being a great player (especially when his career dipped there for a while), his ego isn’t as big as many other athletes. Maybe that’s why he’d be strong enough to walk away when he doesn’t have to walk away – a concept many cannot embrace."
Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick, who had this to say: "Because our offense puts up big numbers and points, the foundation of our offense is overlooked. Our offensive line has been key to our success. We were able to run the ball on almost any team this season. It's something definitely overlooked in the run game and in the pass game. They gave Kurt time to pick apart secondaries all year long."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers need more time to fully evaluate Alex Smith. Maiocco: "How much better can Smith get? I don't know, but I see no reason to believe he will be less productive in 2010 than he was when he split snaps in the offseason with Shaun Hill and then worked his way onto the field in the 49ers' sixth game of the regular season. That question will go a long way toward determining whether the 49ers can make a move in the NFC next season. When I look at how he played in 2009, I see one thing that leads me to believe he can be a good quarterback: He made a handful of very nice and important throws while hanging in there, knowing he was about to absorb big hits. That is something that can't be taught, and it speaks to his toughness. On the down side, there were some passes in which he either missed open receivers (a pass intended for Jason Hill against the Seahawks that sailed high and out of bounds comes to mind) or he waited too long to make some throws at the boundary."
Also from Maiocco: Former 49ers offensive lineman Ray Brown is expected to join the 49ers as assistant offensive line coach. Maiocco: "Legendary offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick coached Brown for four seasons and raved about his professionalism, class and playing ability."
Skeptical or curious 49ers fans should know Solari earned high marks from the late Bobb McKittrick, one of the 49ers' most acclaimed assistant coaches from their glory years. Solari coached tight ends and served as assistant offensive line coach for the 49ers from 1992 to 1996. McKittrick died in 2000.
"I went up to visit Bobb when he was sick, and he had worked closely with Mike on George Seifert's staff," then-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said in 2008. "He just said Mike's a special guy and he was really very impressed with Mike early on."
Back in 2008, when the Seahawks still had enough talent to consider a playoff run, Holmgren viewed Solari's hiring in Seattle as a huge step toward that goal. Injuries doomed that Seattle team, accelerating a rapid decline. That Solari's tenure in Seattle was a disappointment affirmed talent shortcomings without reflecting too negatively on his coaching, in my view. That was my read on the situation based on Solari's reputation around the league and the coaching I've witnessed firsthand at practices.
Solari is a natural fit for the 49ers on several levels. He already knows the NFC West inside and out. His mentality should fit well with the mindset 49ers coach Mike Singletary has instilled in San Francisco. The fact that Solari worked extensively with 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye in Kansas City stands as another positive for the 49ers.
This move was clearly in the works. The 49ers allowed their line coach, Chris Foerster, to speak with the Redskins about a job on Mike Shanahan's staff. Foerster took that job Thursday and the 49ers announced Solari's hiring within hours. This hiring falls into the no-brainer category.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Raise your hand if you thought Isaac Bruce would running on fumes after leaving the Rams for the 49ers. The man has defied reasonable expectations with six touchdown receptions, his most in a season since 2004, while bumping up his yards per catch.
Bruce's teammates recognized the 36-year-old receiver by naming him their most courageous and inspirational player, an award named after Len Eshmont, an original 49ers player.
Coaches voted defensive lineman/outside linebacker Justin Smith as team MVP. That's a strong endorsement given that Patrick Willis is already a perennial Pro Bowl player. I wouldn't read the MVP voting as slighting Willis in any way. Rather, it's a way to recognize a productive and consistent player whose efforts weren't recognized in Pro Bowl balloting
Center Eric Heitmann is the Bobb McKittrick Award winner as the 49ers' best offensive lineman, the third time in a row he's won the award named for the team's late line coach. Takeo Spikes won the defensive ironman award. Receiver Dominique Zeigler won the Thomas Herrion Award, named for the late lineman and given to players who have "taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality."