NFC West: Brad Hopkins

Around the NFC West: Combine coin men

February, 24, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Among the lasting visuals from this Friday morning at the NFL scouting combine: West Coasters perched on their nightstands at 4 a.m. PT, eagerly awaiting coin-toss results for 2012 draft order.

I loved hearing from some of them via Twitter while the minutes counted down before Kansas City prevailed over Seattle for the 11th overall choice. The Seahawks will pick 12th, which some fans found appropriate in light of the 12th Man.

The difference between picking 11th or 12th should be relatively small, but it's a big deal to the teams and some of the die-hards. NFL officials tossed a special coin to break the draft-order tie. It was a fun way to begin the morning.

Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli arrived first. He ribbed his Seattle counterpart, John Schneider, by looking at his watch when Schneider arrived a few minutes before the scheduled 7:30 a.m. ET toss.

The ceremony took place behind closed doors. The parties dispersed after a few minutes and had little to say.

Also in the NFC West ...

Darren Urban of sizes up the Cardinals' quarterback situation with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton competing. Urban: "I think John has earned the ability to be given consideration for the position, just because of what he did, his record and the way he played. But I also think we’ve got a lot invested in Kevin as well for that position. There is nothing wrong with competition. I think it makes both players, all players, better. If we can get somebody to beat Larry Fitzgerald out that guy will be a pretty good football player. There will be competition, absolutely."

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic recaps a wild week of reality television for Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson. Strange stuff. No idea what to make of it.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times updates the Seahawks' contract negotiations with various free agents. O'Neil: "Each NFL team has only one franchise tag, and the Seahawks could have two priority free agents in [Red] Bryant and [Marshawn] Lynch, which would seem to leave the Seahawks vulnerable to losing one. There's still time left, though, as the deadline for applying the franchise tag is March 5, and free agency doesn't begin until March 13."

Also from O'Neil: the Seahawks' quarterback outlook heading into the draft.

Clare Farnsworth of offers notes on free agency, the draft and injuries for Seattle. Farnsworth: "Tarvaris Jackson did not need surgery to repair the pectoral he tore during the Week 5 upset of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, which John Schneider said surprised him. But he said that wide receiver Sidney Rice has had surgery on each of his shoulders -- one to repair the labrum he damaged during training camp and tried to play with, as well as an injury to the other that Rice had played with since entering the league in 2007 with the Minnesota Vikings."

Matt Maiocco of offers a transcript from Jim Harbaugh's media session Thursday. Harbaugh on the unsigned Alex Smith: "Yeah, Alex is our guy. That's well-documented. He had a tremendous season. Definitely as a coach, you worry about a lot of things. And when the quarterback's not signed and is a free agent, that leads to some lost sleep. But I'm excited to be back at work, very excited to be here and see what kind of improvement we can make from year 1 to year 2, and I hope all our guys feel the exact same way."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee asks whether the 49ers' can maintain their chemistry this offseason amid potential changes.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers general manager Trent Baalke remained in character after signing a contract extension.

Also from Branch: a look at the competition for veteran long-snapper Brian Jennings.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Browns could be a trading partner with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick. Browns coach Pat Shurmur, formerly of the Rams' staff: "Yeah, we're willing. With two first-round picks we have flexibility. We can just stand pat and take two really fine players, guys that we would hope to be starters for us. (But) having two first-round picks, you have flexibility if you want to do something."

Also from Thomas: USC's Matt Kalil could be a fit for the Rams. Thomas: "He certainly will be a player the Rams study with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. True, in Jeff Fisher's 16 full seasons as head coach at Tennessee, the Titans never selected an offensive tackle in the first round. Then again, the Titans had an anchor at left tackle for 13 seasons in Brad Hopkins, including Fisher's first 11 seasons as head coach. It's not as if the Rams have gone nuts selecting offensive linemen in the first round, either. In 17 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams have had 20 first-round picks and used just three of them on offensive tackles. Orlando Pace, taken first overall in 1997, made seven Pro Bowls, was voted to the NFL's all-decade team for the 2000s, and is a potential Hall of Famer."

Mailbag: How to handle quarterbacks

August, 29, 2010
Cory from Arizona writes: I was watching a replay of the USC-Cal game from 2003 on Fox Sports last weekend. This was the year Matt Leinart took over as a starter for USC. The thing that caught my attention about the game was a comment by the announcers quoting Norm Chow. The comment was that Leinart was over-thinking in situations and the coaches told him to just go out and play football. When he started doing this, everything started clicking for him. This got me thinking about the Cardinals' handling of Leinart. I think this is why Leinart played so well his rookie year, yet has struggled when faced with competition. He started to doubt himself, and never regained his confidence. Do you think the Cardinals mishandled the transition to Leinart?

Mike Sando: Every coach must establish his approach and stick to his basic philosophy. Coaches do not treat every player exactly the same, however. They recognize which buttons to push for certain players. The goal should be to get the very best from Leinart. After watching the game Saturday night -- Leinart completed 9 of 10 passes -- perhaps coach Ken Whisenhunt is doing that in his own way.

As a Cardinals fan, you're left to trust that Whisenhunt knows the situation better than anyone and he's making the decision based on what works best for the team, not based on any personal misgivings he might have about Leinart.

Much is made of the fact that Whisenhunt inherited Leinart, but coaches can be hard even on their own hand-picked quarterbacks. I recall Mike Holmgren acquiring Matt Hasselbeck and immediately acknowledging that his tenure in Seattle would "sink or swim" based on the move. A year later, Holmgren decided Trent Dilfer gave the Seahawks a better chance to win right away. It didn't mean Hasselbeck was finished forever.

"If there was any naivete, that was kind of lost now," Holmgren said at the time. "This is the real world and you’ve got to get it done when you get a chance and some of the hard facts of the business come into it."

Hasselbeck, like Leinart now, was not happy with the move (unlike Leinart, he had started the previous season). Hasselbeck fought through his disappointment and became a good quarterback. Can Leinart do the same? Here's what Hasselbeck said after losing his job to Dilfer heading into the 2002 season:
It’s a little bit of like a football game, I guess. You’re out there on the field and playing the game and you kind of get blindsided. You get up, shake it off and just come back, keep fighting, keep playing. It’s not like this is a final decision. I was once named the starter here. Brock Huard was once the starter here. Guys are going to be named the starter. Guys are going to lose their jobs. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys are going to play well. Guys are going to play bad. It’s a long season. I hope to get another opportunity at some point and this time I’m going to make sure I’m ready.

A torn Achilles' tendon sidelined Dilfer after six starts in 2002. Hasselbeck took over and finished strong enough to win the starting job. He hasn't lost it yet. Leinart has a shot at emerging from this preseason as the starter for Week 1. He is not necessarily finished in Arizona.

Jeff from Waco, Texas writes: Sando, it appears that Niners have developed a little bit of heart this offseason. It was good to see them come back and beat the Raiders in the fourth quarter Saturday night and it's got to give this team more confidence coming to the end of preseason. But what do you think? After watching three weeks of preseason football, do the Niners have your confidence to win the division?

Mike Sando: The 49ers remain the favorite in my eyes. The preseason has only reinforced that feeling. They have the most stability and continuity in the division. They have they fewest question marks. Arizona is still searching for its quarterback. Seattle has some issues on its offensive line, plus depth problems overall. The Rams remain in the early stages. That doesn't mean the 49ers will win the division. It just means they look like the safest choice right now, based on what we know. Things change quickly, though, so you shouldn't take that division title to the bank.

How the 49ers finished against the Raiders isn't a factor in my thinking, however. There are probably key veteran players on the 49ers who couldn't tell you specifics about how that game against Oakland ended. There were a bunch of backup players out on the field. I'm sure coach Mike Singletary liked seeing the backups come back to win, but that will not have bearing on the regular season.

Barry from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hi, Mike. With Russell Okung, Ben Hamilton, Ray Willis and Chester Pitts injured, why hasn't Seattle gone out and tried to bring in some outside talent to help bolster the line? All this talk about leaving no stone unturned makes me wonder. Is it possible we are waiting until the next round of cuts to see if some serviceable players become available?

Mike Sando: NFL teams will be releasing close to 150 offensive linemen over the next 10 days or so. The Seahawks will certainly check to see if any can help their depth (they tried to claim tackle Tyler Polumbus off waivers from Denver, but the Detroit Lions' waiver claim prevailed). They will need to decide whether Willis can help them this season. They will need to decide whether Hamilton can play well enough to justify a spot on the team in a mentoring role. Mike Gibson was probably going to start that third exhibition game at left guard even if Hamilton were healthy, and he might beat out Hamilton. Pitts' injury status is nothing new. The team knew he was coming off serious surgery and may or may not be ready for the season.

Arnold from St. Louis writes: Quick question about the Rams, Mike. Why has Rodger Saffold been at left tackle this preseason and Jason Smith at right tackle? I thought the plan was for Smith to be the future left tackle. I mean, we did draft him No. 2 overall! What gives?

Mike Sando: Your thinking is sound. A tackle drafted that early should play the left side. The Rams did not expect to land Saffold in this draft, however. Once they did, they saw he was well suited to the left side, in their view, and they thought Smith fit the mold of a mauling right tackle. Does this represent the most efficient use of resources? Not in theory. But if the Rams have bookend tackles for years to come, it doesn't matter as much how they got them.

I asked general manager Billy Devaney about the situation during camp. His reply: "We lucked out with Saffold. We didn't think we were going to take a lineman after taking Jason last year, but he stuck out. That was an easy one. There wasn't a lot of discussion. As it turned out, he may wind up being our left tackle. That is fine with us."

Rams left guard Jacob Bell said Saffold reminds him of Brad Hopkins, the longtime tackle for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. Hopkins and Bell played together for the final two seasons of Hopkins' career (2004 and 2005). Bell said they have similar feet -- quick and light enough to make a pitter-patter sound in pass protection. Smith is also athletic, but he might be less refined. His sledgehammer mentality could be better suited for the right side.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 31, 2010
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' decision at No. 1 will likely come down to quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.

NFL teams have taken three quarterbacks first overall in the past five years. Alex Smith (49ers, 2005) has been mostly disappointing, although he has shown signs of progress lately. JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, 2007) is looking like a flat-out bust. Matthew Stafford (Lions, 2009) hasn't played long enough for anyone to know.

The Rams won't find much comfort in analyzing defensive tackles taken first overall lately. NFL teams haven't drafted one first overall since the Bengals selected "Big Daddy" Dan Wilkinson in 1994.

Nine of the last 15 top picks were quarterbacks. Four were linemen. One was a running back. One was a receiver.

Seattle Seahawks

The sixth overall choice is high enough for Seattle to select the top-rated player at one of the less important positions. That's what the Redskins did when they drafted safety LaRon Landry sixth in 2007 and what the 49ers did when they chose tight end Vernon Davis sixth a year earlier.

The alternative could be selecting the second-rated player at one of the marquee positions. Andre Smith (Bengals, 2009) was the second offensive tackle selected in his class. Vernon Gholston (Jets, 2008) was the second defensive end in his class, though he became a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

It's also possible the Seahawks could find the first offensive tackle or defensive end available at No. 6. The probably won't look for a cornerback that early. Adam "Pacman" Jones (Titans, 2005) was the last corner taken sixth overall.

The Seahawks also hold the 14th overall choice. Three of the last five players taken in that spot were defensive backs, including the Jets' sensational Darrelle Revis. The Bears found the third-rated tackle at No. 14 when they drafted Chris Williams in 2008, but Seattle probably will not have that option in this draft. Too many teams ahead of the Seahawks could be targeting tackles. It's one reason Seattle could take one sixth.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers could use an offensive tackle. The 13th overall choice hasn't been particularly lucky at the position. The Saints' Jammal Brown, chosen 13th in 2005, is the only offensive lineman selected in the spot since the Houston Oilers drafted Brad Hopkins in 1993.

Relatively few offensive linemen have gone between the 11th and 16th picks during that time.

The last four picks at No. 13: defensive end Brian Orakpo (Redskins, 2009), running back Jonathan Stewart (Panthers, 2008), defensive lineman Adam Carriker (Rams, 2007), defensive end Kamerion Wimbley (Browns, 2006). Orakpo and Wimbley are 3-4 outside linebackers. The 49ers could use another one of those.

San Francisco also holds the 17th overall choice. Guard Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks, 2001) was the last true star taken in that slot. More recently, defensive ends Jarvis Moss (Broncos, 2007) and David Pollack (Bengals, 2005) haven't panned out. Moss reportedly contemplated retirement amid struggles adapting to a 3-4 scheme last season. A neck injury forced Pollack into retirement before he had a chance to develop.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals could use another linebacker and they could do much worse than finding a player as good as Clay Matthews, who went to Green Bay at No. 26 last year.

The 26th spot, which also produced potential Hall of Famers Alan Faneca and Ray Lewis years ago, hasn't been as kind to other teams recently.

Tackle Duane Brown (Texans, 2008), defensive end Anthony Spencer (Cowboys, 2007), defensive tackle John McCargo (Bills, 2006), center Chris Spencer (Seahawks, 2005) were 26th overall picks.

The Cardinals can't do much worse than the 49ers have fared at No. 26. San Francisco drafted tackle Kwame Harris (2006) and quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (1997) in that spot.