NFC West: Brian Blades

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."
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.
Joel from Columbia, Mo., has concerns about the St. Louis Rams' situation at wide receiver. He thinks newly drafted wideouts Austin Pettis and Greg Salas will help, particularly in the red zone, but he still doesn't see a No. 1 receiver on the roster.

Mike Sando: The Rams aren't alone on this front. Back in 2008, ESPN's John Clayton pointed to league-wide troubles in developing true No. 1 receivers.

In the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks have tried to revive Mike Williams' career, with some success. Is he a true No. 1 wideout? Not from a speed standpoint. The Seahawks have not placed a receiver in the Pro Bowl since Brian Blades qualified in 1989 (Alex Bannister made it on special teams more recently). The San Francisco 49ers used a top-10 draft choice for Michael Crabtree recently, but the team hasn't had a Pro Bowl wideout since Terrell Owens in 2003.

The Rams did the best they realistically could have done in the 2011 draft. Taking a receiver at No. 14 wasn't realistic given how teams and analysts rated the prospects available at that point. Moving up eight spots to select Julio Jones at No. 6 wasn't going to work; Cleveland enticed the Atlanta Falcons to jump 21 spots for the choice, and at a high price.

The Rams did use their second, third and fourth picks for pass catchers. New coordinator Josh McDaniels has gotten good production from players with questionable pedigrees. Brandon Lloyd put up No. 1-receiver numbers for Denver in 2010. But others share your concerns, Joel.

"I am all about drafting for value and they did it with Robert Quinn in the first round," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said, "but in the end, you have seven wideouts for 5-6 spots and you still don't have a No. 1. When analyzing how they picked, you can't be critical. I'm just not sure you are any better at receiver."

Growing the depth at receiver at least gives the Rams a larger, healthier and younger pool from which to draw. Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton are coming off serious knee injuries, as is developmental receiver Dominique Curry. Danario Alexander has long-standing knee issues. Laurent Robinson missed two games last season and has missed 25 over the past three. Brandon Gibson has missed time and has yet to show consistency. Mardy Gilyard's career has yet to get going.
Our weekly positional power rankings shift to running backs this week.

Paul Kuharsky will have the main piece on the AFC South blog later Tuesday.

In the meantime, I wanted to offer another item on the receiver rankings that came out last week.

Larry Fitzgerald finished second to Andre Johnson in that poll, but he has no serious competition in the NFC West.

The chart ranks NFC West wide receivers by regular-season receptions since 2008, based on totals available at Pro Football Reference. The totals reflect only those catches made while playing for teams in the division. Anquan Boldin's receptions with Baltimore would not count, for example.

Fitzgerald (three) and Boldin (one) are the only receivers to earn Pro Bowl honors while playing for an NFC West team during the three-year period in question.

The San Francisco 49ers last had a Pro Bowl wideout in 2003 (Terrell Owens). The St. Louis Rams had one in 2007 (Torry Holt). The Seattle Seahawks haven't had one since Brian Blades in 1989. Receiver Alex Bannister made it as a special-teamer in 2003.

Mike Williams' strange trip back to NFL

October, 20, 2010
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Those interested in learning more about Mike Williams' improbable revival with the Seattle Seahawks should check out Arash Markazi's in-depth piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The story includes anecdotes from former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen, former USC and NFL assistant coach Norm Chow, the trainer who tried to help Williams get into shape and others. Chow was with the Tennessee Titans when he talked the team into taking a chance on Williams:
I talked to everyone in Tennessee hard about getting him. Oakland had cut him and I actually wanted to trade for him, but when they cut him I fought hard for us to sign him. When he got to Tennessee, he was 286 pounds. It was unbelievable. I really couldn't believe what I saw. He could still run around, but he was too heavy to play receiver. ... He actually got me in trouble, because when he got here they said, 'What are you talking about? Why would you bring a 286-pound receiver here?' It was really disappointing. I don't know what allowed him to do that. Maybe instant fame or whatever when Detroit made him a top-10 pick and gave him all that money and he just didn't have that drive anymore."

Williams set NFL career highs with 10 receptions for 123 yards during the Seahawks' victory over Chicago in Week 6. But even Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll never thought Williams would return to this level of production. Williams joined Steve Largent, Brian Blades, Bobby Engram, Darrell Jackson and Tommy Kane as the only wide receivers in Seahawks history to catch 10 or more passes in a game.

Mailbag: Waivers and late-round picks

September, 12, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Richard from New York writes: Mike, apologies if you've covered this during the preseason, but could you explain again how waivers work? Doesn't this mean that another team could sign the player? Why would a team "waive" one of its draft picks so early on (e.g., Seahawks/Forsett)? I thought Forsett was signed to a multiyear deal?

Mike Sando: Not a problem, Richard. It's a good question and something we should brush up on every so often.

Late-round draft choices fail to earn roster spots somewhat routinely. Justin Forsett was a seventh-round choice. NFL teams drafted 80 players in the sixth and seventh rounds this season. Half those players were not on 53-man rosters as of midweek.

Contracts can include guaranteed money, but the contracts themselves are not guaranteed. An NFL team can terminate a veteran's contract, making the player eligible to sign a new contract with another team.

Nonveterans can be waived. Another team can file a waiver claim. If more than one team claims a player, the team with the worst record in the previous season prevails. The league then awards the waived player to the claiming team. The claiming team inherits the waived player's contract.

(Read full post)

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