NFC West: Bobby Engram

There are good reasons relatively few prominent NFL players transition into coaching.

Salaries are much lower for coaches, especially at the entry level. Hours are much longer. There is very little glory compared to the rush players experience routinely on the field.

Any highly-paid player making the transition probably loves the work.

Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram comes to mind. He's joining the Pitt staff as receivers coach after spending 2011 as an offensive quality control coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Quality control coaches often do the dirty work, including recording detailed play-by-play information for use with video systems. It is tedious work. Hours are long. Salaries are far lower than what other assistants earn. But as Jon Gruden, Steve Spagnuolo and others have proven, starting out at the bottom can result in getting the top job eventually.

Engram, 39, grew up in South Carolina and played at Penn State. He's obviously serious about coaching.

Playing for Joe Paterno in college and Mike Holmgren in the NFL gave Engram a strong coaching pedigree during his playing days. Working under Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers added more seasoning.

Engram will work under Paul Chryst at Pitt. Chryst's brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.

Rewarding Baldwin's special contributions

December, 15, 2011
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Doug Baldwin has gone from undrafted free agent to the verge of making NFL history.

The NFL, in naming Baldwin its special-teams player of the week from the NFC, noted that the receiver can become the first undrafted NFL rookie since 1960 to lead a team in both receptions and receiving yardage.

lastname

Baldwin


Baldwin's 45 receptions and 718 yards lead the Seahawks through 13 games. He's on pace for 883 yards and would need to average 94 per game over the final three weeks to become the first Seattle player since Bobby Engram in 2007 to reach 1,000 yards.

Baldwin had 93 yards and a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams on Monday night, but his contributions on special teams stood out at least as much. He gained 37 yards on a kickoff return to open the game, taking a handoff from Leon Washington. He blocked a punt, leading to Michael Robinson's touchdown return. Baldwin also downed a Seahawks punt at the St. Louis 6-yard line.

NFC West players have now won five of the 14 weekly NFC honors for special-teams contributions. Arizona's Patrick Peterson won twice. The Rams' Robert Quinn and the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. won once apiece. Peterson and Quinn are rookies.

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (offense), San Francisco's Patrick Willis (defense) and Seattle's Chris Clemons and David Hawthorne (both defense) have also won weekly NFC honors this season. The chart breaks down winners by division and category.
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Final Word: NFC West

October, 7, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKevin Kolb is completing just 38.9 percent of his throws from outside the pocket.
Burden could fall on Kevin Kolb. Beanie Wells' ability to carry the Arizona Cardinals' offense against the New York Giants might not translate to the team's game against Minnesota in Week 5. The Vikings are allowing just 76.3 yards rushing per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Both figures rank among the top six in the league. Minnesota's strong run defense could put more pressure on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb to carry the offense. Kolb hasn't made consistently good decisions on when to bail from the pocket and what to do once he does. He is completing only 38.9 percent of his throws from outside the pocket, one reason he ranks 27th among 32 quarterbacks in Total QBR from there (6.7).

Introducing the real 49ers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shut out San Francisco at Candlestick Park last season, the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977. So much has changed for the 49ers since that game, however. Alex Smith has replaced Troy Smith at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as coach. Joe Staley is back in the lineup at left tackle. The 49ers will have seven starters on defense different from those from last year, with most representing upgrades. One concern: The 49ers are without nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, a potential concern against a runner as powerful as the Bucs' LeGarrette Blount. And to think, Blount would have been a 49er had he not reneged on an agreement with the team as an undrafted free agent.

Marshawn Lynch's opportunity. The Seattle Seahawks' offensive line took pride in allowing no sacks in its most recent game. A repeat performance on the road against the New York Giants isn't realistic. However, this game does give the Seahawks an opportunity to improve their unproductive ground game. The Giants have allowed 100-yard rushers in their past two games. The Seahawks have failed to top 64 yards rushing in three of their four games. Marshawn Lynch has gained 61 percent of his rushing yards after contact this season, the fourth-highest percentage in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seattle's line needs to keep defenders off him a little longer.

An unlikely interception drought. Few safeties cover as much ground as quickly as the Seahawks' Earl Thomas, but that has not translated into interceptions. Thomas, after picking off five passes in his first 10 NFL games, has intercepted none in his past 12, counting playoffs. A penalty wiped out an interception for Thomas against Arizona this season. Seattle has collected only two of the 125 interceptions thrown in the NFL this season, and the Giants' Eli Manning has cut down on turnovers dramatically. A turnover from Thomas certainly would help the Seahawks' chances in a game few expect them to win. He's playing too well to go much longer without picking off passes.

49ers staring down history. A victory over the Buccaneers would leave the 49ers with a 4-1 record for the first time since 2002. Long-snapper Brian Jennings is the 49ers' only remaining player from that season. That 49ers team improved to 4-1 with a 28-21 victory over Seattle. How long ago was that game? One of Jennings' current coaches, Bobby Engram, returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown that day.

Challenging the 49ers' divisional dominance

September, 11, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers have changed head coaches and coordinators multiple times in recent years, but there has been at least one constant.

The team keeps defeating division opponents at home.

The 49ers have won their last seven NFC West games at Candlestick Park. The average final score: 31-12.

It's something to keep in mind when the Seattle Seahawks visit later Sunday. Seattle is the most recent NFC West team to defeat the 49ers at Candlestick, back in Week 8 of the 2008 season.

Eight 49ers starters from that 2008 defeat remain in the lineup or at least part of the game plan this week: Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Parys Haralson, Isaac Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Several 49ers backups and inactive players from that game also remain with the team, including Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Alex Smith was on injured reserve and did not play that season.

The Seahawks have had almost zero carryover. Koren Robinson, Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Keary Colbert, Seneca Wallace, Jordan Kent and current 49ers assistant Bobby Engram were among their offensive starters that day. They're hoping a nearly all-new team can produce different results against the 49ers on the road.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh inherits a team that has gone 11-3 in its last 14 divisional games, home or away. Seattle has accounted for two of those three defeats, including in the 2010 opener.

Final Word: NFC West

September, 9, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Rams must limit the big plays that come easy to Michael Vick and the Eagles.
Containing the Michael Vick experience: The St. Louis Rams have fielded one of the sounder defenses in the NFL. They allowed only five pass plays of 40-plus yards last season, one off the NFL low and 13 fewer than Houston's league-worst mark. The Rams will have to be at their best against a Philadelphia Eagles offense that has made the big play appear routine. With Vick at quarterback most of the way, the 2010 Eagles completed 15 pass plays covering at least 40 yards, most in the league. DeSean Jackson had eight of them and Jeremy Maclin had four.

World's tallest cornerback: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll emerged from the laboratory this offseason with something I cannot recall seeing at any level of football: a 6-foot-4 cornerback. Brandon Browner, late of the CFL, is expected to make his first NFL start against San Francisco. Seeing him lined up at corner takes some getting used to. Early in camp, teammates initially thought he was a safety and Carroll was testing out some weird new scheme. "When they said he was a corner, I thought maybe now they wanted to go with a 'created' player," receiver Ben Obomanu said. "I have a little cousin who plays NCAA and Madden football. He always creates these 6-7, 6-6 corners. I was like, 'Well, coach Carroll is trying something new.' But when I saw him play, I could see he has been playing corner a long time." Browner is a player to watch in Week 1.

Peterson, Washington and big returns: New rules for kickoffs will produce more touchbacks this season, but return specialists had to like what they saw in the regular-season opener between Green Bay and New Orleans on Thursday night. That game featured a 108-yard kickoff return and a 72-yard punt return, both for touchdowns. The NFC West has its share of big-play returners, with Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson joining a group featuring Leon Washington, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Ted Ginn Jr. Those last three combined for six return touchdowns last season. Peterson returned an interception for a touchdown during preseason and nearly broke a long punt return.

Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least meaning: Turnover is such in the NFL that every game is a grudge match or extra meaningful for someone. Quintin Mikell's first game with St. Louis comes against his former team, Philadelphia. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, the Eagles' former defensive assistant, faces his old boss, Andy Reid, for the first time as a head coach. Derek Anderson's first game with Carolina, albeit as a backup, comes against his former team, Arizona. Cornerback Richard Marshall's first game with Arizona comes against his former team, Carolina. Same goes for new Cardinals tight end Jeff King. Surprising Seattle rookie receiver Doug Baldwin's first NFL game falls against his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, who did not sign him as an undrafted free agent. Bobby Engram's first game as an NFL assistant coach, for San Francisco, comes against his former team, Seattle. Oh, and I seem to recall hearing something about Carroll and Harbaugh facing off in college. Subplots proliferate. As Carroll noted, better have those boom mikes at the ready.

Bradford and the deep ball: The Rams intend to stress defenses with more downfield throws this season. They'll rely more on scheme and creativity than raw speed to set up these opportunities. Doubters will have to credit quarterback Sam Bradford and coordinator Josh McDaniels if the Rams can beat the Eagles' stacked secondary with downfield throws. Philadelphia gave up 54 pass plays of at least 20 yards last season, ninth-most in the league, but they've since added cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Rams managed only 36 such plays, third-fewest in the NFL.
Josh from Redding, Calif., could use some help settling an argument. His friends say the Seattle Seahawks haven't used free agency to bring in any Pro Bowl-caliber receivers. Josh points to Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as players with that kind of potential, but he wonders why neither produced for Seattle the way they did for their previous teams.

Branch

Branch


Mike Sando: None of the wide receivers Seattle has signed in free agency during the Hasselbeck era were coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber season when he signed with the Seahawks. Therefore, no one should be surprised that the free-agent receivers Seattle signed during this era failed to reach that level with the team. That is the most direct, succinct answer to your question.

Bobby Engram was coming off a torn ACL when Seattle signed him back in 2001. He enjoyed his best season playing with Hasselbeck. Engram put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers for the team in 2007 with 94 receptions for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. Seattle got as much or more from Engram than the Chicago Bears had gotten from him. But there were no expectations of Pro Bowls when the Seahawks signed him. Engram was simply trying to get healthy.

Branch never put up Pro Bowl numbers before or after signing with Seattle (after the Seahawks acquired him by trade). He suffered a torn ACL in the final game of his second season with the Seahawks. Branch also joined the team at a time when the front office (Tim Ruskell) and head coach (Mike Holmgren) were falling out of sync. Holmgren could have done more to maximize what Branch offered, Ruskell could have done more to make sure Holmgren was getting what he wanted, or a combination of both. By the time Branch was back up to speed physically, Holmgren was gone, Hasselbeck was battling injuries and Branch, through his fat contract, had come to symbolize the unfulfilled expectations of a franchise in decline following its Super Bowl appearance.

Houshmandzadeh had been to one Pro Bowl in eight seasons before signing with Seattle. He was 32 years old and declining during his first season with Seattle. However, his numbers for receiving yards, yards per reception and touchdowns increased from 2008, his final season with Cincinnati, to 2009, his only season with Seattle. Houshmandzadeh, like Branch, came to the organization during a time of transition. He never seemed to mesh with Hasselbeck, either.

Burleson

Burleson


Nate Burleson's numbers with Minnesota had been in decline when Seattle signed him as a free agent in 2006. Burleson had one solid season with the Seahawks. He suffered a torn ACL in the season opener of his third season with the team. Burleson never put up Pro Bowl numbers before or after signing with Seattle.

Seattle simply has not signed Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in free agency during the Hasselbeck era. The team has done well finding solid role players on occasion, from Engram to Joe Jurevicius.

But only three wide receivers in Seahawks history have represented the team in a Pro Bowl. One of them, Alex Bannister, did so as a special-teams player. The others, Steve Largent and Brian Blades, never played with Hasselbeck. Blades was the last Seattle player to represent the team in a Pro Bowl as a wide receiver -- following the 1989 season.

Right off, then, we can say that Hasselbeck wasn't the only Seattle quarterback to spend his Seahawks career throwing to wideouts deemed unworthy of Pro Bowl acclaim.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on Peter King's recent tweets suggesting Matt Hasselbeck will not return to the Seahawks in 2011. King spent the weekend in Seattle and even tweeted a photo of Seahawks general manager John Schneider from the U2 concert at Qwest Field. His tweets about Hasselbeck followed not long after. Were these events completely unrelated? Hard to say. King tweets about all sorts of NFL subjects without running into general managers at concerts. We can safely assume Schneider did not leave King with the impression Hasselbeck would be returning. My read earlier this offseason said the Seahawks might have an easier time making a break with their past if the lockout dragged on for an extended period, because big-picture planning could have additional time to harden in decision makers' minds. Of course, the longer the lockout lasts, the less time Seattle would have to coach up another quarterback. Hasselbeck knows the team's new offense.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle offers thoughts on King's tweets, plus a link to an interview with King. I agree with Huard's take that Seattle wants Hasselbeck, but not at any cost. Re-signing Hasselbeck to a shorter-term deal becomes easier, in theory, if there's a perception the team is ready to move forward without Hasselbeck.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with the Blades brothers, Brian and Bennie, who became teammates in Seattle for the 1997 season. Brian: "Bennie was trying to get me to come to Detroit after my first contract was up. But I told him, ‘No, I’m going to stay put, because I like it out here.’ Once it got to the point where he was unwelcome in Detroit, it was a blessing that we had the opportunity to play at least one year together."

Also from Farnsworth: Brian Blades, now 45, earns a spot on the Seahawks' 35th anniversary team. Farnsworth: "In five of the six seasons when Blades started at least 14 games, he caught at least 70 passes and led the team in receptions. But he also had seasons when he started five, six, seven and nine games because of injuries. That’s because Blades made many of his catches the hard way -- by going over the middle, and taking the hits that followed."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along stats from Pro Football Focus affirming perceptions that Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown struggles in pass protection.

Also from Somers: another look at Football Outsiders stats, these for broken tackles. They have the Cardinals' Adrian Wilson with 16 of them, second-most in the league, after having only two in 2009. Somers: "Some perspective is needed, however, when evaluating the Cardinals defense. Its performance was terrible, no question. But it should be noted, too, that the Cardinals were better on offense in 2009 and possessed the ball an average of about four minutes longer per game than they did in 2010. This defense spent too much time on the field and was often in poor situations because of the anemic offense. Second, Wilson has some pretty good company on the list, including Bucs corner Ronde Barber, Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch and Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs. Corners, safeties and linebackers often play in 'space', so it's understandable they will have move missed tackles than defensive linemen."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers thoughts on Larry Fitzgerald's latest comments about wanting to stay in Arizona. Urban: "In this scenario, it’s the quarterback/offense that needs to be upgraded. I think that will happen, and I still think Fitz will remain a Cardinal. But until things are tweaked (and that can’t happen until the labor situation sorts itself out) Fitz’s future remains relatively vague regardless of his interviews."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree need one another. I would say Smith needs Crabtree more at this point, given that Smith does not project as a long-term starter for the 49ers.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Adam Snyder continues to practice at center for the 49ers this offseason. Barrows: "Snyder said he's been the de facto center all offseason and has spent a lot of time snapping the ball to Alex Smith. The 49ers, of course, are light on centers at the moment. 2011 starter Davis Baas and Tony Wragge are unrestricted free agents. Eric Heitmann is rehabilitating a neck injury at Stanford, his alma mater. Two other possibilities, Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person, are rookies who didn't play the position in college."

Also from Barrows: more on the 49ers' offensive line.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com profiles new 49ers assistant coach Bobby Engram. Price: "Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast offensive system aligns nicely with the concepts Engram learned as a player in Seattle. His experience and knowledge of the scheme allow him to be a great resource for the offensive staff."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie receiver Ronald Johnson eats, drinks and sleeps football figuratively, while sleeping with a football literally. Teammate Josh Morgan: "Ronald just wants it so bad. That’s probably the best thing I could say about him. He’s so eager to get everything right now. When you’re that eager to learn, and that eager to get it in you so you can get out there and play, you’re always going to have some positive results."

Also from Branch: Anthony Dixon wants to be a better all-around back.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on Crabtree and Smith. Kawakami: "It’s early June, there’s a lockout, there are no coaches in sight, and things are decidedly informal this week at San Jose State during the Smith-directed player workouts and offensive classroom sessions. But whether it’s intentional or merely grindingly passive-aggressive, while everything else is going smoothly, every day there’s a new twist to the Smith-Crabtree saga. No, they’re not Joe and Jerry. Or even Jeff and T.O."

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News suggests the 49ers are no closer to getting a stadium built in Santa Clara. Rosenberg cites the lockout, rising construction costs and questions about funding in this piece, while the 49ers say their plans remain on track.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Dixon, who faces additional competition at the position.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle passes along thoughts from the 49ers' offensive linemen. Veterans are helping younger players with the 49ers' new playbook.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com profiles Rams draft choice Lance Kendricks, who projects as a key weapon within Josh McDaniels' new offense. Wagoner: "At 6-2, 241 pounds, Kendricks has the size of a tight end, but his athleticism is comparable to some of the best receivers in this year’s draft. Kendricks was clocked at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of high school and has recorded a 36-inch vertical jump." Most NFL tight ends are bigger than 6-2 and 241, but very few possess Kendricks' athleticism. The NFC West now has quite a few athletic tight ends (Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Rob Housler, John Carlson, Kendricks and Mike Hoomanawanui). Kendricks: "I take a lot of pride in being able to do things such as blocking and doing some iso-blocks and splitting, lining up in the slot in single side, and lining up as a true tight end, and I definitely do take a lot of pride in that."
Michael CrabtreeThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMichael Crabtree joined teammates for informal workouts for the first time Monday, when offensive players began a four-day "minicamp" at San Jose State.
What to know when putting into perspective where receiver Michael Crabtree stands heading into his third season with the San Francisco 49ers:

  • This season is critical. Crabtree has shown flashes of excellence on the field. He led the team's wide receivers in touchdown receptions last season. Like quite a few young and supremely talented players, Crabtree needs strong guidance in becoming a professional. This team lacks a top veteran wideout for Crabtree to pattern himself after. The team's decision to hire recently retired receiver Bobby Engram as a quality control coach could come into play in that regard. Also, new receivers coach John Morton must reach Crabtree in ways his grizzled predecessor, Jerry Sullivan, did not.
  • Structure has been lacking. Crabtree went from relative unknown to superstar quickly during his college career at Texas Tech. He was wise beyond his years in football instincts, but also young and immature. Crabtree also lacked solid support structure. Remember his adviser, the controversial bail bondsman? Who else has had Crabtree's ear? Deion Sanders, one of the all-time greats on the field and someone so talented that the normal rules did not apply to him. Once the 49ers drafted Crabtree, the longest rookie contract dispute in 49ers history ensued. Now, a lockout is keeping the 49ers' new coaching staff from providing the structure and guidance Crabtree obviously needs.
  • The fast start hurt him. When Crabtree finally did report to the 49ers as a rookie, he succeeded right away despite having no training camp or minicamps. Veteran teammates were impressed. Crabtree appeared to be on his way to great things. Did the success go to his head? When Crabtree encountered the difficulties that await all NFL players -- recall his rough outing against Seattle in the 2010 opener, when passes intended for him resulted in interceptions -- he did not take ownership. By then, Crabtree had already rankled teammates, notably tight end Vernon Davis.
  • The Troy Smith factor. Crabtree's production picked up last season when an injury forced Alex Smith out of the lineup. Backup Troy Smith immediately developed a rapport with Crabtree, on the field and in the locker room. They meshed well. During one stretch, Troy Smith found Crabtree for gains of 12, 13, 28 (touchdown), 9, 15, 21 and 16 (TD) yards with only one incomplete pass along the way. Something to keep in mind when Crabtree tempers his support for Alex Smith.
  • Alex Smith has tried to reach out. The quarterback told reporters he had been in touch with Crabtree this offseason and unable to get the receiver to show up for practices. Why wasn't Crabtree there? "Good question," Smith said. "Asking the wrong guy." The implication was clear. When Crabtree finally did show up this week, he wouldn't even acknowledge that Smith was the likely starter heading into the season. These guys obviously aren't on the same page.
  • The subplot thickens. Meanwhile, Davis has continued to praise Smith's leadership and overall goodness. You'll recall that Davis and Crabtree had to be separated during practice last year when Davis took issue with the young receiver's overall approach. Said Davis at the time: "I hope he got the message. I think he did, I strongly believe, but if anything I see that I feel is wrong or that needs to be addressed, then I'm going to say something. I don't really have any frustrations with Michael. He just did some things during that time that I didn't like. That's all. ... It was basically taking ownership."
  • There's a pattern here. By his actions, Crabtree risks coming off like a player who has been catered to, and expects it to continue. He appears unwilling to meet people halfway. The 49ers' contract offers were not enough. The 2010 exhibition season wasn't important enough for Crabtree to play through lingering neck soreness. Alex Smith isn't good enough to command public acknowledgement from him. Player-organized workouts aren't worth his time even though he had been working out in the Bay Area for weeks. These are the perceptions. Is Crabtree going to change them?

The latest developments on the Crabtree front bear monitoring as the 49ers head toward what remains an uncertain 2011 season. When the lockout finally does end, coach Jim Harbaugh needs to move quickly and decisively in seeing if there's a way to help Crabtree take the next step.

A few thoughts on Plaxico Burress' availability as NFC West teams consider potential options at wide receiver:

  • By my count, six current NFL receivers are older than Burress, who turns 34 in August: Terrell Owens (37), Derrick Mason (37), Donald Driver (36), Brian Finneran (35), Hines Ward (35) and Brandon Stokley (35 in June);
  • Thirty players have caught at least 50 passes in a season at age 34 or older, according to Pro Football Reference; Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Bobby Engram accomplished the feat for current NFC West teams;
  • [+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
    Al Bello/Getty ImagesPlaxico Burress seems unlikely to end up in the NFC West.
  • Burress caught 35 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns over 10 games for the New York Giants in 2008, his last season before serving a jail term on a weapons charge; St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator that year, giving the NFC West one solid connection to Burress;
  • Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Ray Horton are among the Arizona Cardinals coaches who were with the Pittsburgh Steelers before Burress signed with the Giants in 2005, giving the NFC West another connection;
  • These types of connections can sometimes explain why teams do not pursue players; they know the bad as well as the good;
  • My initial feel is that Burress probably will not land in this division; Burress has played his entire career, from high school to the NFL, for teams in the East; I doubt he'll seek out a team in the West after spending two years away from his family;
  • Burress wore a Philadephia Phillies hat upon his release Monday, and the Eagles were the team considered most likely to sign him in a survey of ESPN.com bloggers;
  • The Rams' situation at receiver remains unsettled; bringing in Burress for a visit could make sense; the Cardinals' situation at receiver is more defined, and at least one Arizona-based reporter is saying there's no chance the Cardinals will sign him; I tend to agree and do not see the need, either;
  • Burress is five years older than any receiver on the Rams' roster and nine years older than the team's receivers on average, a potential consideration as the team decides how Burress would fit into the equation;
  • The Rams have previously resisted adding older receivers, passing on Owens and Moss over the last couple of seasons; Mark Clayton, who turns 29 in July, is the oldest receiver on the roster;
  • Seattle has been aggressive in considering unlikely options, making low-risk bets on Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, LenDale White and others; the team would ideally like to go with younger players at this stage;
  • Please let me know if you've seen anything, anywhere, suggesting the San Francisco 49ers would have interest; I do not see a great fit as the team establishes a new program under a first-year coach.

Would you want Burress on your favorite team?
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has this to say about Sam Bradford from the Rams' player-run practices: "He has grown quickly and confidently into the job, and now is well on his way to the same sort of franchise quarterback/quasi-assistant head coach status that only the elite star QBs like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady hold." Bradford said he has tapped into unnamed players familiar with new coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense. Bradford: "I feel pretty good with it. I spent quite a bit of time (studying) since I got (the playbook). Now it's just a matter of getting (repetitions). You can look at something on paper all day and it will make sense, but until you get on the field and actually run through it a couple of times, you don't actually know how it will play out and you don't know what the timing will be. So the more you work on it, the more you get the timing down."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookies Lance Kendricks and Greg Salas are staying at Bradford's house and soaking up as much as they can about the offense while attending practices Monday through Thursday. Salas: "It's great to get out here, get to know the guys, and get to know the offense and everything we're going to have to be learning. You can see the difference with the leadership and the maturity of the men out here. I haven't got to experience a full NFL practice yet, with the coaches and pads and everything. I'm looking forward to that as well."

Also from the Post-Dispatch: a photo gallery featuring shots from practice. The second one shows Bradford holding up a play card for Trips Right 64 Bundle Flare.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides an overview from Rams practice. He lists all 30 players in attendance and notes that several others either arrived later Monday or planned to arrive soon. Linemen were not asked to show up because there wouldn't be much for them to do given the non-contact nature of drills. However, five offensive linemen were already working out in the area, so they showed up. Linebacker James Laurinaitis: "We got some good work in. There was a lot of timing stuff for the 'O' (offense). And some refreshers on the calls and stuff for the defense. I was pleased with the turnout."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts and details from Rams practice. Softli: "All players were sent through foot quickness drills (a circuit), ropes, short sprints run over and around dummies in individual drill work. While Bradford put his receivers through a fast paced route-tree session and followed that up with a group session, his timing and anticipation was very good, crisp and accurate. Before they ended the last segment because of the storm that rolled in quickly, a 7-on-7 drill with the defense shadowing was running very smoothly."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says Bradford's work ethic and status as a gym rat give him a chance to excel.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com sees parallels between former Seattle receiver Bobby Engram and current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Engram, now on the 49ers' staff as an entry-level assistant, also hopes to advance through the ranks. Engram: "Jim is just a football junkie. The thing that I really appreciate is before I signed up here I talked to him on the phone for about half an hour and he basically walked the exact same path that I’m walking now. He got done playing, went to Oakland for a few years, went to San Diego and coached there, went to Stanford and now he’s back in the league. That gave me a lot of confidence, just kind of confirming what I was thinking. Having him actually go through it, he knows what I’m going through. So I can go talk to him if I have any questions. He’s walked the path, and it’s a good thing."

Also from Farnsworth: a look at differences between the 25th and 35th all-time teams for Seattle. Mack Strong over John L. Williams was a tough one. Strong was so valuable as a blocker for some of the Seahawks' best teams. Williams was so much more productive as a rusher and receiver. Each went to two Pro Bowls.

More from Farnsworth: Former Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck has no regrets after walking away from football when he had nothing left to give. Tobeck: "One thing I really cherish about playing here, when you’ve got to work for something -- and we did -- there are always those challenges in your path. It’s so rewarding when you work so hard and you finally overcome that mountain. Then there’s another one in your way. But it was fun. It was a fun experience."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Carlisle, who would be much busier if the lockout wasn't preventing players from stepping foot inside NFL team facilities. Williams: "I hate not being around the athletes and not being able to work with them. But instead, I’ve spent time reading, researching and figuring out how to do it better at this level than it’s been done before. And that kind of carries on what Pete talks about."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers would normally be finishing up 14 weeks of organized team activities in early June, but the lockout has prevented them from practicing at team headquarters all offseason. Maiocco: "The only time the new 49ers' staff has been able to provide on-field coaching was April 20, when 50 NFL hopefuls attended the local pro day for draft-eligible players. Currently, approximately 15 players are meeting four days a week to work out on their own in the South Bay. They get together to lift weights, condition, throw and catch some passes, and socialize. They must be careful not to push themselves too far and risk injury. If a player sustains an injury during these workouts, the team would not be liable to pay his 2011 base salary."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree plans to join teammates, including Alex Smith, for workouts in the near future. Barrows: "Chemistry issues between the two early last season led to a number of critical interceptions and to 49ers losses. Crabtree, the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2009, has never appeared in a preseason game. He missed the exhibition season his rookie year due to a protracted contract dispute that also wiped away the first five games of the regular season."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers cornerback Nate Clements as saying he plans to return for the 2011 season, but there's no word on how much of a pay reduction Clements would accept to make that happen.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick will try to buck a trend of underwhelming second-round quarterbacks. More here.

Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal says the Cardinals and other Phoenix-area sports franchises are redoubling efforts to retain season-ticket holders. Sunnucks: "Part of that Cardinals effort is to have sales representatives reach out to ticket holders to answer questions about the lockout and the Arizona team’s prospects next season. The latest effort in that strategy was Cards ticket reps calling season-ticket holders and prospective buyers after the NFL draft in late April. The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season after two straight post-season appearances. Season-ticket holders have until June 1 to renew their seats with the Cards, though the team may allow some flexibility. The team is promising refunds with interest if the lockout results in missed games." The Cardinals have sold out every game at University of Phoenix Stadium, but their 5-11 record last season could conspire with the lockout to put that streak in jeopardy. Making an aggressive move for a quarterback would help.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com asks whether the team has had a free-agent signing better than the one that landed linebacker Chad Brown, who went to two Pro Bowls over an eight-season span with the organization. Brown was an outstanding linebacker. But the franchise often struggled during his tenure, never winning a playoff game. Other players the team signed through free agency weren't as physically talented, but they played key roles for teams that enjoyed postseason success. Center Robbie Tobeck and receiver Bobby Engram would have to rank high on the list. Brown was, at his best, a better player. But Tobeck and Engram made significant impacts as well, helping the team enjoy sustained success that included a Super Bowl appearance.

Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the Seahawks' 1984 season. The team went 12-4 despite losing running back Curt Warner to injury.

Michael Kanellos of greentechmedia.com says the solar panels Seahawks owner Paul Allen has approved for facilities associated with his sports franchises have stirred controversy within the industry. Kanellos: "Solyndra is easily the most controversial company in solar and rivals Better Place and Bloom Energy for the overall title in green technology. Critics contend that its CIGS solar panels will never economically compete with crystalline panels and that the DOE loan guarantee and over $1 billion in equity investments will go swirling down the S-bend. Solyndra, on the other hand, says its products will dramatically decrease in price over the next few years. ... To top it off, the IRS has ruled that companies that install Solyndra solar systems can also get a tax credit for a new roof. Maybe Paul Allen's tax lawyer is sharper than yours."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says it's fair to question whether Michael Crabtree could be doing more to prepare this offseason. Crabtree has not been participating in player-organized practices sessions. Maiocco: "There are about a dozen players who are taking part regularly in the workouts. How much benefit are the players getting from meeting four days a week? It's difficult to gauge. But I understand the fans' concerns about Crabtree. After all, he has yet to play in an exhibition game with the 49ers. With it now apparent that Alex Smith will be back at quarterback, both Crabtree and Smith have a lot to gain from spending more time together and talking about the new playbook." Would this be yet another item leading with or featuring the 49ers? Yes, it would. This makes it eight blog entries in a row. Look, I tried to break the streak and mix it up a little, but at this precise point in the NFL lockout, we're reduced to stories about solar panels and clothing lines. On Crabtree, he's become an enigmatic figure. Smith's expected return adds another layer to the story.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with former 49ers running back Glen Coffee. Coffee on the gun that was discovered in his car: "In Tuscaloosa, I had two instances where pretty much -- in one instance, a guy pretended he had a gun and in another instance, a guy attempted to rob me. That happened my sophomore year in college. So I purchased a gun. I put it in my car for safety reasons. So then we go ahead on the timeline: I find Christ, but it's almost like, I already had the gun in my car. I'm already riding around with a gun in my car. And just because I found Christ, I didn't think in my head, 'Ok, I don't need to have a gun in my car anymore.' You know what I'm saying? It's almost it wasn't as a big of a deal. It didn't cross my mind to say, 'I need to take the gun out of my car.' If I had it in my car, I didn't feel I needed to take it out of my car."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman worked extensively with quarterback David Carr in Houston under then-coach Dom Capers. This profile is more about Roman than about Carr, who is not expected back with the team. Barrows: "In two seasons with Roman as his quarterbacks coach, Carr had 30 touchdowns, 25 interceptions and an 80.5 passer rating. In his three other seasons as Houston’s starter, Carr had 29 touchdowns, 40 interceptions and a 71.7 rating." Capers: "He understood the total concept so well that I ended up making him the quarterbacks coach. That was just because I felt he was the best guy for the job and he understood defense. He understood how to attack things. He not only knew the protections in the pass game, but he knew the route concepts."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com profiles team administrator Justin Casey. Urban: "He helps negotiate contracts. He’s the go-to man in the organization when it comes to rules – be it about the collective bargaining agreement, player personnel or salary cap. He’s the liaison for rookies when they first come to the Cardinals, lining up their new NFL lives. During the draft, he’s one of the few who stays in the war room, organizing all the information flowing around the league. On game days, the 35-year-old Casey helps out in the coaches’ booth in the press box. And in his spare time -- infrequent as it is -- he watches video, of both pro players and potential college draftees."

Mark Clayton of the St. Louis Rams is promoting his faith-based clothing line during the lockout. Says the promotional release: "Clayton's perseverance and faith have played a large role in his career and in his life. While this talented wide receiver has set and broken records time after time, his focus has always been on a higher purpose: his relationship with God. Now, Clayton is using his entrepreneurial skills to bring spirituality into the fashion world, creating a place where faith meets fashion in the form of T-shirts and a complementary online community that fosters acceptance and brings a spiritual message to a new audience."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides one more piece of evidence affirming Alex Smith's intentions to re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers. Barrows: "Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent, spoke publicly for the first time since the 2010 season ended. He said he didn't want to be quoted but said the thrust of his comments could be relayed. The main thrust -- that there's a good likelihood that he will return to the 49ers for a seventh season." The 49ers have already met with him, given him a playbook and declared Smith part of the team. It's become a foregone conclusion Smith will return for 2011. As coach Jim Harbaugh told NFL Network in his latest comments on the matter: "We're well-documented on the record that we very much want Alex to be a 49er next year. And he really is a 49er. In my mind, and hopefully in his mind, he is a 49er and we look forward to him competing for that starting quarterback position next year."

Also from Barrows: Is Kendall Hunter the next Brian Westbrook?

Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about Smith's likely return: "When he met with new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in January, the two men hit it off immediately, Smith said. He said he liked the idea of playing for an offensive-minded head coach who played quarterback in the NFL. Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, 49ers head coaches since 2005, both came from defensive backgrounds."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com explains why defensive backs Colin Jones and Curtis Holcomb appealed to the 49ers in the draft. General manager Trent Baalke on Jones: "When you look at the measurable, he's 6-foot, 210 pounds, runs low 4.4s and you can see it on film. He loves special teams. You look at the TCU film, covering kicks, covering punts, he's the first one down and he's not afraid of contact."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis looks at potential free-agent defensive tackles for the Rams to consider this offseason. The Giants' Barry Cofield and the Seahawks' Brandon Mebane made the list. Softli on Cofield: "Cofield has developed into one of the league's best interior defensive linemen. He has explosive use of his hands with quickness out of stance and plays behind pads. Good run stopper with football instincts and a nose for the ball. Solid lateral movement over and around trash, a dominant interior lineman with some nasty in his play. Pass rush is adequate, but reacts well to screens and hustles to second level."

Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoman says former Rams and Steelers defensive back Clendon Thomas will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Thomas picked off three passes for the Rams in 1961, then had 15 interceptions for the Steelers over a two-year period. Baldwin: "A second-round selection, Thomas played 11 years in the NFL with the Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing primarily defensive back, because of his size and speed, Thomas was considered one of the top athletes in the league. Selected to the 1963 Pro Bowl and a three-time second team All-Pro selection, Thomas played in 137 professional games. He compiled 27 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Thomas, 75, is a member of the Steelers Legends team. He also intercepted a Paul Hornung pass and returned it for a touchdown."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Bobby Engram was "humbled" to earn a spot as the third receiver on the Seahawks' 35th anniversary team, determined by online fan balloting. Farnsworth: "Finishing second to Steve Largent (5,004 votes) was Brian Blades (3,487), and coming in third -- as the slot receiver -- was Bobby Engram (2,254). Darrell Jackson finished fourth (1,388), followed by Joey Galloway (941), Daryl Turner (211) and Koren Robinson (95)."

Also from Farnsworth: Engram's former teammates reflect on the receiver's contributions. Lofa Tatupu: "His understanding of what the route needs or what the coaches expect out of it, the way he could read coverages, his understanding of route concepts and what the defense was doing -- it was all second to none. You put a nickel or a corner on him on the inside, he’d eat him up all day. Bobby was a professional in every sense of the word. He was an amazing guy – a guy you love to have in the locker room, a leader."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle asks whether Seattle could be in line to host a Super Bowl. ESPN.com's John Clayton put the chances at "virtually none" thanks to a combination of factors including hotel rooms, weather and stadium size.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com shows off a sensational "Grand Cannon" poster featuring then-Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax standing before a Grand Canyon backdrop.

Pat Kirwan of NFL.com thinks Arizona would be a good fit for Carson Palmer if the Bengals decided to trade the disgruntled quarterback. Kirwan: "There’s no denying his talent and experience. If you’re looking to duplicate some of the things you did with Kurt Warner, he’s your best choice." Palmer would instantly make the Cardinals a leading candidate to win the NFC West, in my view. His addition would energize the team and revive the offense, particularly with three capable running backs to lessen the load.
Larry Fitzgerald's arrival with the Arizona Cardinals via the 2004 NFL draft serves as the starting point for the latest item looking at recent NFC West choices.

Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions, far more than any other NFC West receiver over the last seven seasons.

In fact, the wide receivers with the most receptions for the Cardinals' division rivals during the same time period -- Torry Holt (St. Louis), Bobby Engram (Seattle) and Arnaz Battle (San Francisco) -- have long since moved on. I ran across Engram in the 49ers' main lobby Wednesday; he's a quality control coach with the team.

History tells us receivers carry more risk than some other positions. For every Fitzgerald, there seems to be a Koren Robinson, David Terrell or Troy Williamson -- high picks that never came close to realizing their potential. Mike Williams' revival with Seattle last season was an exception.

The charts break down every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2004. Will the St. Louis Rams add Julio Jones to their list of drafted wideouts?

As in the past, I'll preface each chart with thoughts from the teams' perspectives.

Immediate needs don't matter so much when front-line talent is available ...

Time to start finding replacements for veterans who might not fit into our plans (Terrell Owens for the 49ers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for the Rams) ...

These guys might not start, but every team needs secondary options in the passing game ...

We're getting late enough in the draft to consider grabbing a receiver while a few with decent potential remain on the board ...

Time to fill out the roster and hope we find depth for special teams ...
Don Banks of SI.com checks in with agent Tom Condon for thoughts on Marc Bulger's future. Banks: "Ravens backup quarterback Marc Bulger is still trying to decide his best course of action in 2011, Condon said. Bulger will be a free agent this offseason after spending last year as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore, and it's thought he could be a starting option this season for teams such as Arizona and possibly Tennessee. But Bulger also wants to stay close to the St. Louis area if possible, where his wife works as a doctor. Condon said Bulger still wants to play, and having what amounted to almost a year on the sideline allowed him to get completely healthy for the first time in years." Bulger can't be too picky on geography if he's interested in a starting job. The trip between Nashville and St. Louis is 270 miles by air and roughly a five-hour drive.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams gathered employees for a labor briefing Friday afternoon. Also: "League sources have told the Post-Dispatch that most, if not all, Rams assistant coaches will receive a pay cut under a work stoppage. It's not clear if new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was hired less than two months ago, is included in that group. And it's also not clear when that pay cut takes effect. Since there is still plenty for coaches to do up until the draft, the pay cuts might not take place until after the draft when the minicamps and the spring practices known as OTAs take place. No layoffs or job terminations are expected at Rams Park under a work stoppage. Any personnel changes will be changes that were already being contemplated regardless of the labor situation, according to league sources."

Also from Thomas: Longtime Rams executive Bob Wallace reflects on his tenure with the team, which ended when his contract expired this month. Wallace had been with the team for 16 years and was among the higher-ranking African-American executives in the NFL during his tenure. Wallace: "When ownership changes happen, even when the ownership changed from Georgia (Frontiere) to her children, people want to make changes. I wasn't surprised that there were changes in the organization. And at some point I'm sure Stan (Kroenke) will want to put his imprint on the organization as well."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has this to say, among other things, about the labor impasse: "The 32 NFL owners -- a group that includes 12 billionaires, according to the latest Forbes survey -- apparently want to convince us that their league is fraught with financial peril and could turn into the NHL any day now. ... Next time I walk along the Delmar Loop, I'll check to see if Stan Kroenke is on the corner, playing a harmonica for tips. And the players want us to believe that they're the victims in some real-life sequel to 'Norma Rae.' That they're valiant oppressed workers, standing up to the evil barons of big business. Here's the deal, fellows: When the first NFL franchise goes out of business -- like some plant closing in rural America -- then let us know. When you have to accept a minimum wage with no health insurance to play football, then give us a call, and maybe we'll walk the picket line with you and fight the power."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Chester Pitts, the Seahawks' union rep, following the NFL Players Association's move to become a trade association. Pitts: "Financial disclosure is everything when you want to go backward. There has been a lot of sitting on the high horse, making the statement, 'The books never needed to be opened any time before. We've always done these deals and never had to open the books.' But by the same token, we've never gone backwards as a PA. The PA has never gone backward. We've always trended upwards because the league has grown and the league has made more money, and the revenues have gone up. Everything has gone up. Everything. So again, what kind of sense would it make to go backwards with no justification."

Also from O'Neil: Seahawks owner Paul Allen tweets regarding the labor situation. Allen: "NFL players bailed on deal worth billions, sacked collective bargaining & sued, which could take years to play out." I say: In fairness, any deal dividing a $9 billion pie would have been worth billions -- even a deal that wasn't fair to the players.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits Nate Burleson's history as the team's punt returner, an arrangement that came about by accident. Burleson averaged better than 10 yards per return, scoring twice. Joey Galloway was the most dangerous Seahawks punt returner I can recall. He scored four times on punt returns and also averaged better than 10 yards per return. Paul Johns, Bobby Engram and Charlie Rogers were also excellent. They combined for five touchdowns on punt returns.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald says Jedd Fisch, who recently left the Seahawks to become offensive coordinator at the University of Miami, has been having players study Kurt Warner, Matt Hasselbeck and other veteran quarterbacks for tips, including how to anticipate throws. Jackson: "On Thursday, they studied Houston’s Matt Schaub to learn how to be more deceptive with play-action passes and Kurt Warner 'to show the ways he anticipates throws.' They see a lot of Matt Hasselbeck and Jay Cutler, and a lot of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning to learn how to control a game." Fisch coached Hasselbeck and Cutler.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along labor-related thoughts from kicker Jay Feely, the Cardinals' union rep, and receiver Steve Breaston. Feely: "I was hopeful I could be the voice of reason and look for logical, reasonable answers. But we didn't make any progress throughout the week."

The 49ers' website offers a letter team president Jed York has aimed at fans. It reads, in part: "As you might expect, Trent Baalke and Coach Harbaugh, as well as their respective staffs, are working tirelessly to prepare for the upcoming draft. And, as in recent years, we will be inviting you to participate in the draft weekend excitement with our annual Draft Contest and Draft Day Party, which will be held on Thursday, April 28, 2011 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. In fact, to every extent possible, we will be operating with a business-as-usual attitude." That will be easier said than done. Labor issues will cloud every conceivable aspect of the upcoming season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says via Twitter that Alex Smith, Justin Smith, Joe Nedney, Chilo Rachal, Ray McDonald and Parys Haralson are among the 49ers players who have been working out regularly at the team's facility prior to the lockout.

Welcoming Bobby Engram back to West

January, 28, 2011
1/28/11
4:15
PM ET
Years ago, when San Francisco 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was tackling Seattle Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram, the NFC West rivals probably never thought they would coach against one another.

They will in 2011, with a twist: Engram will be coaching for the 49ers, who hired him as an offensive assistant Friday, against a Seattle team featuring Ulbrich as assistant special-teams coach.

Not every player wants to grind away at coaching. It's good for the game when players as respected as Ulbrich and Engram do decide to go that route, even if it's strange for the rest of us to see them wearing unfamiliar colors.

This is Engram's first coaching job. He played for Chicago from 1996 through 2000, then with Seattle through the 2008 season. He finished with Kansas City in 2009. Engram's strong rapport with Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would become a natural storyline if San Francisco pursued Hasselbeck in free agency.

Engram's background in the West Coast offense makes him a natural hire for San Francisco. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh had long since left the Chicago Bears by the time Engram arrived as a receiver, but they'll speak a similar language from a scheme standpoint.

Engram and 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari were together with Seattle in 2008.

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