NFC West: Cameron Wake

The Associated Press and Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America have announced their all-NFL first teams for the 2012 season.

I've compiled the results here and compared them against our all-division team.

As expected, Seattle's Richard Sherman earned all-league honors from both the AP and PFW/PFWA despite failing to land on the NFC's Pro Bowl squad. Pro Bowl voting took place before the NFL overturned a four-game suspension against Sherman for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The NFC West is heavily represented on all-league teams despite no representation for the St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals on these first teams (I did not list the AP second-team honors). The 49ers (six) and Seahawks (four) gave the NFC West 10 of 27 representatives on the AP first team.

I used slightly different position names for some spots on the all-division team. Those are noted parenthetically next to the players' names.

Silver linings: Seahawks at Dolphins

November, 26, 2012
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The facts: The Seattle Seahawks fell to 6-5 with a 24-21 road defeat to the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson set a rookie record with 16 consecutive completions. He posted an NFL passer rating of at least 125.9 for the third game in a row and the fourth time in his past seven games. He led the NFL in Total QBR for Week 12 through the Sunday games.
  • Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepted a pass. He had another interception wiped out by a penalty unrelated to the pick.
  • Running back Leon Washington had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to break a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter. Washington also had a 15-yard punt return.
  • Seattle did not commit a turnover.
  • Golden Tate made an acrobatic grab for a 32-yard reception.
  • The Seahawks allowed zero return yards of any kind. They downed six of Jon Ryan's seven punts inside the Miami 20-yard line. Ryan had a 40-yard net average.
  • Seattle converted half its 14 third-down chances and won time of possession by nearly four minutes.
  • Wilson, who had not played as well in third quarters this season, led a 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive to open the second half for Seattle's offense.
  • Seattle allowed only two sacks, including zero to Cameron Wake.
  • The Seahawks remained in position as the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race when Tampa Bay and Minnesota also lost.
Looking ahead: The Seahawks visit the Chicago Bears in Week 13.

Around the NFC West: Cards find a way

October, 1, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals handed Tom Brady the quarterback's second defeat in a span of 37 regular-season home starts. They rendered Michael Vick helpless. They have held each of their first four opponents to 21 points or fewer. And on Sunday, they broke a 47-game losing streak when trailing by 13-plus points at halftime.

A bad team might accomplish any one of those feats. Only a good one would accomplish all four while posting a 4-0 record.

The Cardinals are a good team, but as guard Daryn Colledge told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, they're not the prettiest girl at the dance.

"We're like a 'four' or a 'five'," Colledge told Somers, "but we dance like an 'eight.'"

That quote captured the Cardinals against Miami.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says there was at least a chance the performance could carry long-term meaning for quarterback Kevin Kolb in particular. Bickley: "A review of Sunday’s tape will show a few glaring mistakes and an interception that cost his team dearly. In his postgame news conference, Ken Whisenhunt refused to gush, pointing out the flaws in his performance. The head coach clearly understands how fleeting success can be in the NFL. But that game-tying pass to Andre Roberts on fourth down was an artful, transcendent moment. It was the kind of pressure pass -- blistering, accurate and free of fear -- that only comes from big-time quarterbacks."

Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defensive players knew they got away with a ragged performance. Bordow: "The Dolphins also caught the Cardinals by surprise with their hurry-up offense. Arizona came into the game believing Miami would use its running game -- it was averaging 175.7 yards on the ground -- to take pressure off Ryan Tannehill. Instead, Miami went to the no-huddle and Tannehill threw a season-high 41 times."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic takes a closer look at Roberts, a player Whisenhunt lauded entering the season. Noted: Roberts was frequently open last season without getting the football, Whisenhunt said during the offseason. Roberts got the ball plenty Sunday, a welcome development for the Cardinals. Arizona is stacked at the position and can afford to bring along Michael Floyd at a measured pace.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says winning overshadowed many shortcomings for Arizona. Patrick Peterson's struggles in the return game were particularly confounding. Peterson: "I was pressing a little bit today, the ball was dropping a little faster. I was trying to hurry up and get the ball in my hands and try and take off. I wasn’t patient today. I definitely wasn’t myself in the punt returns, but that won’t happen again. I told the return team, that’s my fault. We’ve got 12 more games to get to the end zone and make it right."

Also from Urban: Good things happened for Arizona when the team turned to its passing game in the third quarter. Urban: "Kolb hit Larry Fitzgerald for 12 yards. Then he found tight end Rob Housler for 15 and Roberts for 25 to put the Cardinals at the Dolphins’ 7. Two more passes to Fitzgerald and Cardinals had their first touchdown."

Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com: has Cardinals notes, including one on Bobby Massie's rough day against Cameron Wake. Massie: "He’s probably the best defensive lineman I’ve gone against in my entire football career. My hat’s off to him. He’s a good player. I just go to come back and practice and make sure it doesn’t happen again."
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals do not yet know which players will start at offensive tackle for them.

The Cardinals do have a pretty good idea which players those tackles will have to block in passing situations this season.

The list includes Jared Allen and Jason Babin, who combined for 40 sacks last season while ranking first and third, respectively, in that category. Overall, the Cardinals face nine of the 17 NFL players with at least 10 sacks last season, plus another player, John Abraham, who finished with 9.5. There are also players expected to reach double figures in sacks this season after failing to do so in 2011. Mario Williams and Clay Matthews head that list.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic identifies D'Anthony Batiste (left) and rookie Bobby Massie (right) as potential favorites to start at tackle after a triceps injury knocked out left tackle Levi Brown, perhaps for the season.

Batiste, 30, started four games for Atlanta in 2007. Massie, a fourth-round choice, started 29 consecutive games at right tackle to end his career at Mississippi.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2012 schedule, plus projected top pass-rushers from the left and right sides of each opponent's defense. Those pass-rushers' sack totals from 2011 appear in parenthesis.
Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil have gone where young NFC West pass-rushers Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn hope to venture.

Both Wake and Dumervil upped their first-year sack totals considerably after going from situational roles to the starting lineup.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 5.5 sacks in 2009, when he started only one game, to 14 sacks in 2010, when he started 16.

Dumervil, also a Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 8.5 sacks in 13 games (no starts) as a rookie in 2006 to 12.5 sacks in 16 starts the next season.

It'll be tougher for Smith to improve dramatically upon his already impressive 14-sack total as a rookie situational player for the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Quinn has more room for improvement after collecting five sacks in no starts for the St. Louis Rams. Both played around 50 percent of their teams' defensive snaps in 2011. Both project as starters this season.

"Who I’m looking forward to watching this year is Robert Quinn," Rams running back Steven Jackson told reporters during the team's ongoing minicamp. "I think he’s a natural pass-rusher. I think working on the opposite side of Chris Long, and the coaching that he’s receiving right now, I’m really looking forward for him to have a breakout season. If there’s anyone I’d tell our fans to look for, it’d be Robert."

Smith's teammate, defensive end Ray McDonald, said he thought Smith could reach the 20-sack level with additional chances. This seemed optimistic, I thought, but McDonald's own experience supported his thinking. McDonald became a far more dynamic player for the 49ers after the team made him its starter.

"Fourteen can turn into 20," McDonald said during the 49ers' ongoing minicamp. "When you’re just a situational player, you’re coming off the bench kind of cold and you have to warm back up. When you’re always out there, you are always warm. You can set your moves up more.

"It was the same thing for me, just coming off the bench and starting off cold. You don’t really get into your rhythm until the third or fourth quarter."

Smith did have 12 of his 14 sacks in second halves, including nine in fourth quarters. He had no first-quarter sacks. If McDonald's theory is correct, Smith could collect more sacks early in games while remaining at least as productive later.

The sacks Wake collected as a rookie were distributed more evenly. Dumervil actually had a higher percentage of sacks in first halves as a rookie.

Quinn had three of his five sacks in second quarters last season.

Rams: Dream/nightmare scenario

May, 25, 2012
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AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Rams in 2012:

Dream scenario (8-8): Sam Bradford takes every snap on offense for the second time in three seasons as the Rams protect their franchise quarterback with sensible play-calling. It's the sixth time a Jeff Fisher-coached team finishes 8-8, but no one is complaining after the Rams' 15-65 run over the previous five seasons. Trusting offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to salvage right tackle Jason Smith becomes one of the surprise success stories of the 2012 season, and a critical one for the Rams' efforts to re-establish Bradford.

Turns out the Rams were not fibbing when they suggested Brian Quick, the receiver they took in the second round, ranked up there with first-rounder Justin Blackmon on their board. The constant threat of Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead out of the backfield creates favorable matchups for Quick and the Rams' underrated receivers. Bradford publicly downplays a Week 2 victory over Robert Griffin III and Washington, but it feels good to win at home against the player St. Louis could have selected second overall this year.

Watching Janoris Jenkins score on a fourth-quarter punt return in Patrick Peterson's house improbably stakes the Rams to a 6-5 record, stirring visions of the postseason. It's certainly sweet to finally win within the division again. The Rams lose to San Francisco the following week and ultimately finish the regular season with a respectable defeat at Seattle, but the season is a success by any measure.

Nightmare scenario (3-13): Road games against Detroit and Chicago in the first three weeks expose Bradford to significant punishment as Smith and the line struggle to find their bearings. Bradford doesn't want to talk about the ankle injury he aggravated at some point in the season's first month, but it's clearly a factor. Facing Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Julius Peppers, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Cameron Wake and Clay Matthews in the first seven games leaves Bradford limping toward the bye week, his confidence shaken.

Jackson continues to plug away, but we've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well for the Rams. The depth at receiver is indeed improved, but Bradford doesn't have any truly dynamic weapons. Quick understandably needs seasoning, but with Blackmon and Arizona's Michael Floyd challenging rookie receiving records, the Rams look bad for trading down. It's tough finding open receivers with Smith struggling at tackle, anyway.

First-round pick Michael Brockers and free-agent addition Kendall Langford upgrade the run defense, but life as an every-down defensive end is tough for Robert Quinn. The veteran outside linebackers signed as stopgaps represent only a minor upgrade from last season. Off-field issues dog Jenkins, and the defense fails to meet expectations. Critics conveniently blame Gregg Williams' suspension, but the problems are more complex than that.

The Rams head into the offseason with another high draft choice, one they'll almost certainly have to invest in a playmaker of some sort.
NFC West teams might think twice before handing their top defensive ends contract extensions worth $49 million over four years.

Signing those players for $17 million over two years would be more palatable.

They could, in theory, do both of the above. That is what the Miami Dolphins did with Cameron Wake, handing him a deal that could range in value from $17 million to $49 million.

The details, laid out Thursday by the Palm Beach Post, carry interest in the NFC West as defensive ends Chris Long, Chris Clemons and Calais Campbell enter contract years.

"Wake's contract, originally reported as a four-year extension worth $49 million and $20 million guaranteed, is really a two-year extension that will pay him $17 million," Ben Volin writes. "He received a $7 million signing bonus, and his base salaries -- $615,000 in 2012, $3.6 million in 2013 and $5.8 million in 2014 -- are fully guaranteed."

Scouts Inc. ranked Clemons 37th and Wake 47th among current NFL players in the Top 50 piece Insider Matt Williamson put together during the 2011 season (NFC West angle here). Campbell fell into the "others of note" category. Long earned "up-and-comer" status.

I circled back with Williamson this week for his updated thoughts on where those players stand. He upgraded Wake based on pass-rushing skills.

"Campbell is certainly different than the other three because he is a bigger five-technique 3-4 defensive end," Williamson said. "But I think Wake is the best player out of Wake, Long and Clemons. In fact, I would rank those guys in that order right now.

"But Long is the youngest and just coming into his own. I would expect Long to get even more than Wake (because of his age) and Clemons to get a notch below what Miami gave Wake. Wake is a big-time pass-rusher."

The relative youth of Long and Campbell put them in better position to command longer-term deals.
The contract Cameron Wake signed with the Miami Dolphins had to resonate among pass-rushers in the NFC West.

Wake, 30, signed a four-year extension that could help define parameters for St. Louis' Chris Long, Seattle's Chris Clemons and Arizona's Calais Campbell. That extension was reportedly worth $49 million, with $20 million in guaranteed money.

Long, Clemons and Campbell are entering the final year of their contracts, as was Wake.

Scheme differences affect how these players are defined. They are connected by contract status and their ability to rush the passer.

The Cardinals named Campbell their franchise player, setting his value at about $10.6 million for the 2012 season. Long will also earn more than $10 million this season. Clemons' deal pays him $4.6 million in salary for 2012.

Clemons and Wake are similar in that both were undrafted, both are 30 years old and both emerged as prominent players only in the last few seasons.

Seattle values Clemons as a pass-rusher, defensive leader and mentor for new first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin. For those reasons, signing Clemons to an extension could make sense even though Irvin projects as Clemons' eventual successor.

Campbell, 25, plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, diminishing his opportunities for sacks (he has 14 over the past two seasons). But as the Cardinals' franchise player, he's in position to command a lucrative extension.

Long, 27, has seen his sack totals grow every season since the Rams made him the second overall choice of the 2008 draft. He had 13 last season.

The chart shows Clemons and Long with about the same sack totals as Wake over the past two seasons. While teams value players for their all-around games, pass-rushing ability carries a premium and sacks are an important measure.

Clemons, Campbell and Long all possess strengths beyond rushing the passer.

Getting up: Assessing QB verticals

March, 1, 2010
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Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart posted a 37-inch vertical jump at his pro day workout in 2006.

That wasn't the reason Arizona selected him 10th overall in the draft.

Tim Tebow's 38.5-inch jump at the combine tied Josh McCown's record for a quarterback at the annual event, narrowly edging the combine marks Philadelphia's Michael Vick and Seattle's Seneca Wallace posted. But those vertical-jump marks aren't particularly relevant when teams size up quarterbacks -- or players at other positions, in a lot of cases.

The mark is one indicator of overall athleticism. I suppose an especially poor mark could raise concerns about players at some positions. But when you consider players with exceptional verticals in recent combines -- Gerald Sensabaugh, Cameron Wake, Chris McKenzie, Donald Washington and Chris Chambers were all at 45 inches or higher -- it's not as though they all became top players.

Seattle's Nate Burleson (42.5 inches) and San Francisco's Vernon Davis (42) are among the current NFC West player with excellent verticals at recent combines. Rams receiver Keenan Burton and Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie posted 39-inch verticals at the 2008 combine.

Why CFL players head to NFL now

February, 18, 2010
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The Seahawks have reportedly added two former CFL players this offseason. The Rams tried to sign one of them, Ricky Foley. The Cardinals signed Stevie Baggs, formerly of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

All this activity across the border made me wonder whether we're seeing more CFL players than usual landing with NFL teams.

The numbers are slightly up, according to the CFL. Along the way, I learned how these signings generally work.

A typical CFL contract includes an NFL option window that usually begins Jan. 1 and always ends Feb. 16. Players with such options in their contracts can sign with NFL teams during that window. If later released from the NFL, the player's rights revert to his previous CFL team.

Thirteen CFL players with options in their contracts signed with NFL teams during their option windows, up from 10 last offseason. Five others -- all three added by NFC West teams so far, plus Ryan Grice-Mullen of the Dolphins and Martell Mallett of the Eagles -- agreed to NFL deals as free agents untethered to Canadian teams.

Six of the 10 from last offseason returned to the CFL. But Cameron Wake and Stefan Logan made significant impacts. Wake has challenged Joey Porter for playing time in Miami. Logan became a return specialist in Pittsburgh.

The chart shows all 18 players added from CFL teams this offseason. The CFL confirmed 17 of them, but had no information yet on Foley's reported deal with Seattle, which might not be official yet. I added Mallett to the list after realizing he had been omitted.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com thinks defensive end Calais Campbell can get 10 or more sacks in a season. Urban: "But in the 3-4 alignment, the Cards need speed and youth outside. Will Davis looked decent as a rookie before getting hurt. We’ll see on Cody Brown; he’s going to go through a rookie year all over again after getting injured in the preseason. The Cards think Mark Washington looks the part and could be a find after getting him on their practice squad. Stevie Baggs isn’t young (he’s 28) but maybe he has turned the corner in the CFL. If one of those guys -- plus whomever the Cards draft at the spot, and they will take a pass rusher, I’d think -- pans out, the Cards’ pass rush could be formidable, given what they already showed they can do." Matt Leinart is another key to the pass rush in Arizona. Rushing the passer becomes much easier when a team has points on the board and a lead.

Also from Urban: a look at Baggs, signed from the CFL.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic analyzes the Cardinals' specialists. Somers on kicker Neil Rackers: "There is a contigent of fans who would like to see Rackers replaced. And it's true he hasn't been good in the clutch. But as with any change, the Cardinals need to ask themselves if they can find anyone better. Rackers was one of several kickers who struggled in the playoffs." The Cardinals could need Rackers more in the clutch as their margin for error shrinks without Kurt Warner.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Ray Brown, the 49ers' new assistant offensive line coach. Brown: "Being smart, being tough, being physical, knowing what to do, knowing your assignments. All those things are going to apply to modern-day football. It's never going to change. It's going to be about leverage. It's going to be about being physical. It's going to be about being a good man. And I think that has a lot to do with whether you're successful or not. We got some good people in this organization. We got some young players who need some grooming and growing. We got great teachers on the staff. I think those combinations will lead us to being a much better football team."

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' running backs. Maiocco: "So, do the 49ers need another running back to give them more of an outside threat? I think it will be difficult for a rookie to get much playing time on offense. But, clearly, where the 49ers need help is in the return game. It would fill a major need to get an elusive running back to play no more than a handful of offensive snaps a game while also taking over the punt- and kick-return chores."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Brown and 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari have much work to do in helping the line improve.

Also from Barrows: summaries of recent interviews 49ers quarterback Alex Smith conducted with radio stations. Smith: "There is no formula for winning on offense. You can't go out there and say, 'Hey, we're going to run the ball 40 times a game and we're going to be three yards and a cloud of dust.' That's just not the way it is. Defenses are too good in this league. You have to be able to do both. You have to run and pass it. You have to be able to line up in different formations and be able to give defenses different looks and you have to be versatile. And I think that's where we're headed and where we need to be headed."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks' coaching staff under Pete Carroll isn't particularly young, at least in key spots. Johns: "If you look strictly at the 11 primary assistant coaching positions on the team -- offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line, tight ends, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs and special teams -- Carroll's core staff is actually slightly older and more experienced than last year's group."

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Luke Butkus and Dave Canales were two previously unreported names to surface on Carroll's coaching staff.

John Morgan of Field Gulls says an improved offense is one key to sprucing up the Seahawks' pass rush. The Seahawks never had great defenses during their most successful seasons under Mike Holmgren, but they did maximize their defensive ability by putting up points.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams tried out a defensive end prospect from Canada, Ricky Foley. Thomas: "One of Foley’s former B.C. Lions teammates, Cameron Wake, had 5.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins. The Rams could have a glaring need at the defensive end position in 2010. Leonard Little is an unrestricted free agent, and is contemplating retirement. James Hall also is an unrestricted free agent, and Victor Adeyanju will be a restricted free agent in an uncapped year."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Marshall Faulk is the latest former Rams player to criticize the current leadership. Faulk: "I don’t like the road that they’re going down. With guys like myself. And guys who can help deal with what it’s like in St. Louis. And I think that they just don’t know. I’m not out to hurt the team. I want to see the Rams survive. I have a job to do in talking about the Rams, and trust me -- it hurts me, it pains me, to see what’s being put out on the field. My objective is not to belittle or down-talk the Rams. I want to talk good about them. I want to praise them. I want to be sitting here right now, reliving the days when we played well, and happy because the Rams are in the Super Bowl. Sometimes, in their cloak-and-dagger atmosphere of shutting down Rams Park, and not inviting guys into this and that, and wanting to keep everything in house, you alienate yourself from getting opportunities of getting inside information. And having guys and people who could be very instrumental to the program help you. They've taken down photos of some of the great Rams players. For what? Why? I don’t want to take shots. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure -- there’s never been a first-time head coach, a first-time GM and a first-time president turn a team around. You need some experience from somewhere. You need some help. You need some inside information. Because all of your jobs are new." Great fodder for scheduled media appearances by Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney as Super Bowl week wraps up Friday.

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