NFC West: Bruce DeHaven

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

Fake punt while up 30 not running it up?

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
6:54
PM ET
The Seattle Seahawks just executed a successful fake punt while holding a 47-17 lead over the Buffalo Bills with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The fake set up a field goal.

Last week, the Seahawks tried a deep pass on fourth-and-23 while holding a 51-0 lead against the Arizona Cardinals.

That play against the Cardinals seemed defensible to the extent that coach Pete Carroll wanted backup quarterback Matt Flynn to execute a wide range of throws during his first action of the regular season. Executing a fake punt, onside kick or two-point conversion while blowing out an opponent qualifies as something else. Those tactics qualify as showing up an opponent.

Before the fake punt, I thought the Seahawks were trying to rack up passing stats for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson as the second half progressed. Wilson had rushed for three touchdowns in the first half. He had thrown a touchdown pass as well, but his overall passing stats were lagging.

Wilson has now completed 14 of 23 passes for 205 yards with one touchdown and a 104.4 NFL passer rating.

We'll take a closer look at this one as time permits. Note that Seattle's former special-teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, works for the Bills. Carroll decided against retaining DeHaven from former coach Jim Mora's staff.

Around the NFC West: Vick to the Rams?

January, 15, 2010
1/15/10
8:29
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders whether Michael Vick could be an option at quarterback for the Rams. Thomas: "As long as Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb are in Philly, Vick won't get a chance to start for the Eagles. But what about St. Louis? What seemed totally far-fetched last summer, as Vick was about to get out of prison, no longer seems like such a longshot in St. Louis. Because Vick remains under contract with Philadelphia, Rams general manager Billy Devaney can't speak publicly on the topic. But Devaney has consistently said the team will explore all options to improve the club. He has made it a point in interviews to note that the 'four pillars' approach is being softened this offseason. In other words, the Rams are more likely to take a chance on a so-called 'character-risk' player than last year at this time. Devaney worked for the Atlanta Falcons before coming to St. Louis, so he's very familiar with Vick. In fact, Devaney visited Vick in prison while Vick was serving 18 months for running a dogfighting operation."

Also from Thomas: The Rams have signed tight end Eric Butler and linebacker Dominic Douglas. Thomas: "Briefly promoted to the 53-man roster for a few days in late November following fullback Mike Karney’s neck injury, Butler spent the rest of the season on the Rams’ practice squad. Douglas spent seven games on the Rams’ active roster, and five weeks on the practice squad."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times shares what he expects to happen with the Seahawks' coaching staff. Defensive line coach Dan Quinn is expected to stay. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley also could stay. One thing to note: New coach Pete Carroll was with the Vikings when Monte Kiffin was there in the late 1980s. Kiffin mentored Bradley in Tampa Bay. That's part of what Carroll meant when he referred to the defensive coaching lineage he shares with some assistants from Jim Mora's staff.

Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com says colleague Pat Kirwan could join the Seahawks as an assistant to new coach Pete Carroll, but not as a leading decision-maker. LaCanfora: "Carroll remains interested in close friend and former NFL personnel executive Pat Kirwan to be a part of the organization, but sources said the NFL.com analyst wouldn’t be in a top personnel role. Instead, he would be an assistant to the head coach should he come to Seattle."

Bob McManaman and Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic check in with Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, who missed practice again while recuperating from a sprained ankle. Boldin: "Everything is the same, nothing has really changed. It's better than it was a couple days ago, though, so I'm optimistic."

Also from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt and Sean Payton have turned around losing programs.

More from Somers: Expect Karlos Dansby to rake in big bucks this offseason. The $9.678 million Dansby earned this season wasn't bad, either.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' pass rush could be key against New Orleans. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis on Drew Brees: "He's such a quick decision-maker, and a guy like that, the ball is going to be out of his hand before you get to him. A lot of teams in the NFC tournament right now have quick decision-makers with high accuracy and a lot of weapons to go to. It's tough to sack guys like that. You can have the worst offensive line in the world - and they've got a good one - and he'll still make a quick decision and get rid of it. That's going to be a big challenge for us."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee updates the 49ers' search for a special-teams coach, noting that Bobby April took a job with the Eagles. That means former Eagles special-teams coach Ted Daisher is available. Bruce DeHaven, the Seahawks' special-teams coach in recent seasons, also appears to be available.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says his All-Pro vote at tight end went to Vernon Davis. Maiocco: "What pushed it over the top for me in Davis' favor was his blocking. In my opinion, he was the best all-around tight end in the NFL in 2009." Hard to disagree, although Davis' expanded role as a receiver meant he wasn't as involved in blocking. Davis was at times a dominant pass protector in 2008.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci would be a good choice as the next coach of the Raiders. Kawakami: "For a while Tuesday, it looked as if USC was about to hire Mooch. But stunningly, Lane Kiffin swooped in from Tennessee to grab the Los Angeles mega-job. Believe me, nobody is more startled by this development than Al (Davis), who loves the USC program and, to put it mildly, does not love Kiffin. But now Mariucci is without a team. Gee, is there one out there? Mariucci has a good history with skittery quarterbacks, so Al might be able to envision a solid Mooch-JaMarcus Russell pairing; plus, with his 49ers background, Mariucci could sell some tickets."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says defensive end Calais Campbell expects to play Sunday despite undergoing surgery to repair an injured thumb. Urban: "When I asked if he planned to play, I got that look that said it may have been the dumbest question I could have asked (and maybe it was). Campbell, as coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday, can play with it casted and that’s what he plans to do. He also didn’t seem worried it would affect his play. The best part, he said, was that even though he probably wouldn’t get to practice much if at all, the fact the Cards already got to prepare for the Packers last week puts him ahead of the game."

Also from Urban: Brian St. Pierre cherished the first regular-season touchdown pass of his career.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's contract does not include incentives for additional receptions, yardage or touchdowns. Fitzgerald was padding his stats against Green Bay in Week 17.

Also from Somers: Matt Leinart's spotty play in spot duty should concern the Cardinals. Somers: "Kurt Warner, 38, presumably will retire after the 2010 season, his last year under contract. That plan could change, of course, but that's the timeframe under which the Cardinals are operating. The club has to find out whether Leinart can play. And the fact that the question remains is troubling."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' agitation extends to how coach Ken Whisenhunt feels about Packers counterpart Mike McCarthy. Bickley: "Whisenhunt has been agitated by McCarthy tactics in the past. He felt the Packers' coach game-planned for an exhibition contest against the Cardinals in August, a game in which the Packers went deep and led 38-10 at halftime. A needless embarrassment, in other words. After sleeping on Sunday's loss, Whisenhunt's attitude hadn't changed much. He reiterated his regret for playing Anquan Boldin too long. He made it clear that he was rewarding Fitzgerald, ceding to a player who is (thankfully) driven by great personal ambition (fame and money). And then he struck back at the Packers. He made it clear that McCarthy was doing nothing different on the other sideline, allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball continually on the opening drive of the second half, even though the Packers led 26-0."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will evaluate their own players before determining which college prospect to draft first overall. Also, linebacker James Laurinaitis received no votes as the defensive rookie of the year. Brian Cushing won the award with 39 of 50 votes.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ndamukong Suh appears to be the clear-cut choice with the first overall pick.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring thoughts on the draft. Thomas: "I think Suh would help the run defense and the pass defense. Just with his inside push, he should force the QB out of the pocket more often, leading to more sacks by Chris Long and whoever the other DEs are. The Rams definitely need a starting weakside LB. And it would be nice to see another pass rusher added to the mix. I'd feel better about CB if I knew for sure that Bradley Fletcher would be ready for opening day. (The early assessments at Rams Park are optimistic on Fletcher.)"

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on the Rams' offense: "Over the past three seasons the Rams have averaged only 14 points per game, which ranks them dead last in the NFL among the 32 teams. I’m not saying Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can be counted on to rebuild this offense and make it terrific again; we don’t know enough, either way. But you’d have to be fairly fruit loops to believe that the coaches should have gotten a lot more points out of the talent they had to work with at WR and QB in 2009."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com wonders whether the Giants' collapse on defense could help the Rams by making available players familiar with Steve Spagnuolo's defense.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says all was quiet in the locker room after players dispersed for the offseason.

Also from Farnsworth: awards for the Seahawks' most impressive players this season. Bruce DeHaven emerges as assistant coach of the year. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks’ special teams really were this season, so the nod goes to the coach in charge of those units. Getting record-setting seasons from Ryan and Olindo Mare was enough, but the Seahawks also ranked among the best in the league in opponents’ average starting spot after kickoffs (24.2 yard line) and punt return average allowed (7.5)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks could be competing with Mike Holmgren's Cleveland Browns if they hope to hire the Eagles' Tom Heckert as general manager. The perception that Holmgren beat the Seahawks to a favored candidate would not make the Seahawks look good.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' struggles in the return game factored into Al Everest's dismissal as special-teams coordinator.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Everest was in the final year of his contract. A team spokesman confirmed Everest's firing.

Also from Barrows: a look at college prospects from Georgia Tech and Iowa, with insights from draft analyst Rob Rang.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers were mostly solid on special teams except for that punt return game. Crumpacker: "Otherwise, the 49ers were solid on special teams, especially up the middle with flawless long snapper Brian Jennings, holder/punter Andy Lee and kicker Joe Nedney. Lee finished second in the league to the Raiders' Shane Lechler in gross punting average. Nedney converted 17 of 21 field-goal attempts."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation offers thoughts on Alex Smith as the 49ers' quarterback. Fucillo: "The number some folks like to point to is his career high QB rating and the fact that is surpasses that of QBs like Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. I think that, combined with the fact that he had two of his best rating performances the last two games of the season, would hopefully rope in the last few folks who think it's some kind of phenomenal statistic. I remain stuck on two things (some might say excuses/reasons for optimism) when it comes to Alex Smith. The first is the issue of his offensive line and the second is the idea of having an OC for two straight seasons."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFL Coaches Association director Larry Kennan listed the 49ers and Cardinals among eight NFL teams known to have withdrawn from the league's employee pension plan since March.

That revelation doesn't necessarily mean the 49ers' Jerry Sullivan, Jimmy Raye and other assistant coaches nearing age 65 will follow Howard Mudd and fellow Colts assistant Tom Moore by considering retirement to maximize lump-sum pension installments. But Kennan said older coaches are increasingly worried about their retirement options after the league changed its pension plan while allowing teams to opt out of it altogether.

In March, NFL owners adopted a measure allowing teams to break from the NFL pension plan in favor of other plans. The goal presumably was to give teams greater flexibility in difficult economic times. Eight teams have exercised that option, but the Falcons were the only one of the eight to apprise employees in advance, according to Kennan (the 49ers and Cardinals declined comment, per team policy on internal employment matters).

Separately, the NFL altered its pension plan to affect how much money Mudd, Moore and other employees would receive if they waited past July to cash out.

"Can you imagine how bad it is for two of the greatest assistants in the game to retire over this?" Keenan said. "Did they overreact? Maybe. But they haven't been given better answers as to what the options are for them."

NFC West coaching staffs have undergone a youth movement this offseason, but several coaches face important decisions as they approach age 65. 

The 49ers' Sullivan turns 65 in July. He has coached in the NFL since 1992. Raye, an NFL coach since 1977, is 63. Rams quarterbacks coach Dick Curl is 69 and an NFL assistant since 2003. Seahawks assistant Larry Marmie, 66, entered the NFL in 1996. Seahawks special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven, an NFL assistant since 1987, is 60.

According to Kennan, one option for coaches could be to retire, collect the lump-sum payments and then return to coaching next season.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Howard Mudd's expected retirement over pension-related concerns threatens to remove from the game one of the finest offensive line coaches in NFL history.

Mudd, with the Colts since 1998, has NFC West ties to the 49ers (1977) and Seahawks (1993-1997). He is 67 years old and worried that changes to the NFL pension program for non-players would compromise his financial situation if he remained in the game.

Chris Mortensen: Mudd, 67, believes he has to take his entire lump-sum pension payment now because if he does not exercise that right at 65 under the revised plan, he will be allowed only to accept annuity payments upon retirement that will be reduced to 50 percent value for his immediate survivors if he dies, according to sources.

NFC West coaching staffs have gotten younger recently. Only a handful of assistants are in their 60s, including Rams quarterbacks coach Dick Curl (69), Seahawks defensive assistant Larry Marmie (66), 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (64), 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye (63) and Seahawks special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven (60).

Mortensen's story says Colts president Bill Polian is working toward a resolution for Mudd. Mudd's situation differs from those of most NFL assistants because he has served as an assistant for so long (36 years). Curl is older than Mudd, but his NFL experience dates only to 2003. Sullivan has been an NFL assistant since 1992. Marmie joined the NFL ranks in 1996. Raye has coached in the NFL since 1977, while DeHaven's NFL career dates to 1987.

Update: I've spoken with Larry Kennan of the NFL Coaches Association and he has some additional information on this.

Carthon's departure was in the works

February, 19, 2009
2/19/09
6:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cardinals had already hired Curtis Modkins to coach their running backs. They didn't say anything publicly until the Chiefs announced Maurice Carthon's hiring as assistant head coach.

Carthon coached running backs for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008. Modkins coached running backs for the Chiefs in 2008.

When Todd Haley left his job as Cardinals offensive coordinator to become the Chiefs' head coach, he wanted to bring along Carthon from Arizona.

The Cardinals allowed Carthon to pursue the promotion. They quickly lined up Modkins, who broke into the NFL with Kansas City in 2008 after six seasons coaching running backs defensive backs at Georgia Tech.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(shared)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB Chris Miller
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR John McNulty
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Curtis Modkins
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
Bill Davis
Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Matt Raich
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

The chart provides a general overview of NFC West coaching staffs. Yellow shading highlights changes from last season. Titles are imprecise in some cases.

For example, the Cardinals do not have an offensive coordinator. They have a running game coordinator in assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm and they have a passing game coordinator in Mike Miller.

Ten NFC West assistants in the spotlight

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
11:48
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The NFC West will break in seven new coordinators for the 2009 season. Five of them joined incumbent 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on my list of 10 NFC West assistants in the spotlight this season:

1. Jimmy Raye, offensive coordinator, 49ers. No head coach in the division has less administrative experience than the 49ers' Mike Singletary. He was going to need a strong, experienced offensive coordinator to handle the side of the ball with which Singletary was least familiar. Raye gets the call.

2. Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator, Rams. The Rams have a first-time head coach with a defensive background. Shurmur, formerly the Eagles' quarterbacks coach for seven seasons, is a first-time NFL coordinator. He has less experience than his predecessor, Scott Linehan. The Rams' recent failures seemed to leave some key offensive players jaded. Shurmur must win them over decisively.

3. Greg Knapp, offensive coordinator, Seahawks. Knapp is installing a new offense and taking the lead with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

4. Unnamed, defensive coordinator, Cardinals. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt figures to take over play-calling duties on offense. The defensive coordinator he hires must carry a full load on that side of the ball.

5. Steve Loney, offensive line, Rams. Loney is the only Rams position coach to keep his job from last season. The Rams figure to make the position a top priority in the draft and possibly free agency. Loney must coach 'em up.

6. Zerick Rollins, linebackers, Seahawks. Rollins is the only Seahawks position coach on defense to keep his job from last season. He must get more from Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson and possibly Leroy Hill after all three failed to meet expectations in 2008.

7. Ken Flajole, defensive coordinator, Rams. The defensive coordinator under a defensive-minded head coach can sometimes become a figurehead. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo indicated otherwise during his most recent media session. Flajole is a first-time NFL coordinator. He must step up if Spagnuolo spends less time focusing on the defense.

8. Bruce DeHaven, special teams, Seahawks. The Seahawks retained DeHaven even though their special teams haven't been as strong as expected. Former Mora assistant Joe DeCamillis was available, but the Cowboys snapped him up.

9. Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, 49ers. The 49ers' defense improved once head coach Mike Nolan departed and Manusky took over the defense in full. The schedule played into that, but Manusky can define himself as a coordinator on the rise if the defense continues to improve.

10. Unnamed, quarterbacks coach, Cardinals. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the point man with quarterback Kurt Warner. Now that Haley is gone, the Cardinals will need more from their quarterbacks coach.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete after the Rams assigned titles to Frank Leonard, Paul Ferraro, Andre Curtis and Clayton Lopez.

The chart shows which coaches retained their titles from the end of last season (gray shading) and which coaches are new to their current roles (yellow shading). The Cardinals could face additional changes if they fill vacancies from within.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(open)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB (open)
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR Mike Miller
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Maurice Carthon
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
(open) Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Bill Davis
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

All four offensive line coaches remain in their roles from last season (subject to change if Russ Grimm becomes the Cardinals' offensive coordinator). Every other core staff position features at least one change in the division.

The 49ers and Rams have the largest staffs with 20 members apiece, counting head coaches. The Seahawks reduced to 18 after moving assistant offensive line coach Mike DeBord to tight ends and eliminating the job of assistant special teams coach John Jamison. The Cardinals have 13 coaches, a number that figures to rise by at least three.

The 49ers and Rams have full-time administrative assistants assigned to their head coaches. The Cardinals do not formally list an assistant strength and conditioning coach, although Pete Alosi does help John Lott in that area.

(Read full post)

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 5, 2009
2/05/09
4:20
PM ET
Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
Todd Haley
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB Jeff Rutledge
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR Mike Miller
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Maurice Carthon
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
(unnamed)
Def. Coord.
C. Pendergast Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Bill Davis
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
(unnamed)
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (unnamed)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete. The chart provides a general overview showing which coaches are primarily overseeing key areas.

Some coaches have fancy titles. I'll list those below. Including those titles in the chart would have served them but not us.

The 49ers have two coaches assigned to linebackers and two assigned to the secondary:

  • Jason Tarver is a defensive assistant/outside linebackers. Vantz Singletary is coaching inside linebackers. Coach Mike Singletary and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky are former NFL linebackers, so the 49ers have that position covered.
  • Vance Joseph and Johnnie Lynn are both listed as secondary coaches.

The Rams have not named coaches at tight
end, linebacker or secondary. However, they have hired Andre Curtis and Paul Ferraro as unspecified defensive assistants. They have also hired Frank Leonard as an unspecified offensive assistant.

The Seahawks and Cardinals do not list administrative assistants as part of their staffs. Bill Nayes and Bruce Warwick fill those spots for the 49ers and Rams, respectively.

The following team-by-team list includes all the fancy titles, plus some coaches who did not appear on the chart:

(Read full post)

Rams' Brown making himself at home

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
3:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brown

Kicker Josh Brown, who left the Seahawks for the Rams in free agency, is kicking warm-up field goals from the same end of the field as his former teammates.

Brown has been hitting field goals consistently during warm-ups. He went out to 55 yards kicking toward the south end zone before trying his leg toward the north side. Brown and Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare were kicking simultaneously from different hashes toward the south end. They could have been playing a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E for all anyone knew.

The stands are still mostly empty, so fan reaction toward Brown has been difficult to judge. Seattle players and coaches greeted Brown warmly. Special teams coach Bruce DeHaven hugged Brown and joked with him near midfield. Brown also hugged Mare and chatted with him (they never played together, but it's a kicker thing).

As I finish writing this, Brown is finishing up his kicks toward the north end. The Rams' quarterbacks just ran onto the field with a few skill-position players.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seahawks receiver Nate Burleson, who expects to play in Week 2 despite a knee injury.

Bill Hoppe, writing for the Post-Intelligencer, examines the Bills' dominance on special teams against the Seahawks. The fake field goal embarrassed Seattle.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer asks Matt Hasselbeck about the bulging disc in his back. Hasselbeck says that's not why his back was hurting.

Also from Farnsworth: An overview of the Seahawks' performance, with references to "un-special" teams. Special-teams co-captain D.D. Lewis lamented poor attention to detail.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune explores the Seahawks' depth problems at receiver. Courtney Taylor expresses confidence in his abilities despite a poor showing.

Also from Williams: A closer look at the Seattle special teams, with comments from punter Ryan Plackemeier and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven.

More from Williams and Frank Hughes: Nate Burleson and Seneca Wallace wound up being the top two choices as punt returners. That could change with Burleson hurting.

Also from Hughes: Mike Holmgren says the Seahawks might need some time to get up to speed offensively. The Bills were good enough to make that obvious.

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune keeps the faith for the Seahawks, noting that they looked similarly horrible during the 2005 season opener, only to reach the Super Bowl.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Hasselbeck's back, confirming reports of a bulging disc and noting how much is riding on the quarterback this season.

Also from O'Neil: Seattle finished with more punts (11) than points (10). Ouch.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times assesses the damage following Seattle's first-game meltdown. Holmgren hopes it was a wake-up call.

Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says Burleson has suffered knee issues before, including the last time a team needed him as its No. 1 receiver.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith during a tough week. Smith's best friend committed suicide over the weekend. Smith: "I talked to him on Saturday, our day off. I asked him if he wanted to come up for Saturday's game. He was going to come up." Smith will attend his friend's funeral Friday, to be held in Smith's back yard at the family's request.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune confirms news that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie does not have a serious ankle injury. The rookie first-round draft choice could practice tonight.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams rookie Donnie Avery is finally back on the field after suffering a hip injury. Avery, a second-round choice, missed the exhibition opener. The Rams drafted him as a speed receiver.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Seahawks special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven on the punting race. Reggie Hodges has made it a competition. Incumbent Ryan Plackemeier is recovering from surgery.

Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider says the offense finally showed some spark in practice today. Maurice Morris' big run up the middle gave the offense something to talk about.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer singles out Brandon Mebane as the Seahawks' player of the day. Mebane is one player the Seahawks cannot afford to lose. He is exceptionally strong against the run and increasingly difficult to handle in pass-rush drills.

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