- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Thanks to those of you who dropped by the chat earlier today. I've been going through the mailbag, so let's get right to what's on your minds.
Juice from Colma, Calif., writes: Why isn't anybody making a play for Kurt Warner? He obviously wants another shot to start for at least two more years or at least compete for that spot. Not only can he mentor Smith, the learning curve w/ Martz system is minimal at best since his "salad days' with the greatest show on turf. The organization (49ERS) has invested time & monies in Smith if we get rid of him now it would set back the 49ers between 7 to 10 years to un-due selecting him the #1 overall pick. Heck, we have enough linebackers (which Arizona needs) to put together a trade package for Warner. This team needs a leader on offense to elevate to the next level. Your thoughts.
Mike Sando: I've got a different read. One, Warner might start for the Cardinals this season. They aren't going to donate him to a division rival. Two, the Cardinals like their depth at outside linebacker/defensive end after adding Travis LaBoy and Clark Haggans in free agency. Trades have to make sense for both sides. Getting rid of Warner makes no sense for the Cardinals. They still have to find out if they can win with Matt Leinart. An injury forced Leinart to miss much of last season. Warner filled in and put up big numbers. The Cardinals need Warner.
David from Manalapan, N.J., writes: Hey mike, a rams fan from NJ here. I haven't gotten a good look at the team yet this year because of where i live but based on the preseason games its going to be the same old story on defense. I know the overall depth on the team is poor which skews some of the preseason numbers. My question is: barring a bunch of injuries of course, do you think this team can finish any better than 7-9? A .500 season is a fair goal considering last year's 3-13 train wreck. Obviously, winning the division should always be the goal for every team but just based on what the box scores are telling me this team will be hard pressed to win 7 games this season. Any insight to how you think the rams will fare this season? thanks -Dave
Mike Sando: First, a confession. I went into last season looking to identify a potential playoff team coming off a nonplayoff season. I narrowed my choices to the Packers and Rams. I went with the Rams. Injuries blew up their roster beyond recognition.
The thought entering this offseason was that a healthy Rams team might have a chance to contend. Then Steven Jackson held out. Injuries depleted depth on both lines, at receiver, tight end and in the secondary.
I'm reassessing the Rams at this point. I do think the Rams have a chance to field a good pass-rushing defensive line. Depth in the back seven is a big concern. The Rams probably need one of their young receivers, Donnie Avery or Keenan Burton, to emerge this season. And of course they need that offensive line to avoid what happened in 2007.
Kraig from Puyallup, Wash., writes: What happens if an offensive player is (1) good enough but (2) there's not quite enough room for him, yet (3) the team doesn't want another team to pick him up? Do teams "hide" that player from scouts by limiting his touches in pre-season games? Obviously it's too late for the Seahawks' Justin Forsett; that cat is out of the bag. But what about other standout players, e.g., Jordan Kent and/or Michael Bumpus, the leading receivers so far?
Mike Sando: Teams use the exhibition season to evaluate players. So, while I have heard of teams hiding players during preseason, specific examples elude me off the top of my head. I think it's something teams would like to do in theory, but they have a harder time executing it in reality. I wouldn't consider Kent and Bumpus as standout players. Ben Obomanu has put up big preseason numbers in the past.
Matthew from parts unknown writes: I am a big 49ers fan. I am expecting at least a 6 win season with the potential to compete in the NFC West. Am I wrong for this? As long as J.T O Sullivan starts, I feel like he improves the team and does not leave the young but talented defense to waste like Alex Smith did last year based on what we have seen this preseason.
Mike Sando: Your characterization sounds about right. I would expect the 49ers to win at least six games, with a chance to push for a .500 record.
Don from Illinois writes: So, Sir Sando, are you inferring from your quotation of Aik & Buck that there is more to this Matt Hasselbeck back business than a mere weekend irritation? In other words, is the NFC West more up for grabs than ever because Hasselbeck's future with the league is in question, due to the uncertainty of his condition?
Mike Sando: No, I would not infer that at all. National announcers study up on the teams they're watching on a given night. They wouldn't necessarily be in tune with Seattle in this situation, nor did they imply as much. Back injuries can be unpredictable, so it is a concern. But the Seahawks aren't seriously worried at this point.
Weston from Lake Stevens, Wash., writes: With the recent release of wide reciever Joe Horn from the Atlanta Falcons, why are the Seahawks, with their questions at wide reciever, not trying to get on board with talks of signing him?
Mike Sando: Let's flip around the question. Why wouldn't the Falcons want Horn on their team? Their receivers are Roddy White, Laurent Robinson, Brian Finneran, Michael Jenkins, Eric Weems, Chandler Williams, Adam Jennings and Harry Douglas. And yet they were willing to release Horn. Why would that be? Horn is 36 years old. His receiving totals have declined from 94 to 49 to 37 to 27 over the last four seasons. Also, signing a veteran for the first game guarantees the player's full contract.
Michael from Phoenix writes: Mike, I read alot of the messages sent in, seems like alot of people feel the same way about Alex Smith as I do. Three different systems, injuries, no supporting cast, etc. seems unfair to him to lose his job. I'm a Niner fan, win, lose, or tie. But, i got to say I'll be crushed if this year (a year we look really good) turns out to be another bust. I'm not sold on JT. I want to know your thoughts, honestly. Do you think Nolan and Martz are making the right choice here? Smith hasn't had his job since Martz walked in the picture. Are you sold on J.T.? Which do you think is the best option at QB for my dear franchise?
Mike Sando: I would start O'Sullivan based on what we've seen this summer. The question on Smith was whether the 49ers should have installed him as the starter from the beginning and then worked to get him ready for the regular season. Taking that approach would have given Smith a better chance to succeed. Throwing Smith into the lineup right now might qualify as unfair to Smith, O'Sullivan, the team and the fans.
Guest 49er from the Bay Area writes: Hey Mike Sando, I'm feeling torn up as a 49er fan. I want the 49ers to win. I'm getting what I want, but I don't feel it anymore. I feel Mike Nolan lied to us when he claimed there was a QB competition, and I don't feel J.T. O Sullivan is the right QB. I don't think he can help us beat the NFC East/AFC East/Seattle/New Orleans. If you were to break the 49ers' schedule down and you factor in O'Sullivan's performances that seem to improve, where do you see the 49ers and will Nolan avoid the axe? I feel if the 49ers do not beat NFC/AFC East/Seattle/New Orleans or make a good showing, Nolan is still gone. How come J.T. O Sullivan seemingly gives the 49ers an edge, and do you think the 49ers should release Alex Smith right now? What Nolan has done is wrong. Your thoughts, and how can I get over this?
Mike Sando: I would not release Alex Smith. He might wind up starting. If you want to feel good about your team, think about the promising young receivers (Josh Morgan, Jason Hill). Think about an up-and-coming defense featuring Patrick Willis and Manny Lawson. And go into the season knowing the offense is going to be better in 2008 (or, as the cynic would say, the offense cannot be worse).
The axe is a slight favorite in your analogy. Take a look at the 49ers' first nine games. Home against the Cardinals, Lions, Patriots, Eagles and Seahawks. Road against the Seahawks, Saints, Giants and Cardinals. Let's say the 49ers win at home against the Cardinals and Lions. And let's say they steal one of the other games. We are looking at a 3-6 start to the season, correct? Games are tough to predict this far out, but that's a tough start.
Baby J from Seattle writes: Hey Mike! Cardinals fan here! I'm excited about the front seven we have in DL and LB - lots of depth and talent. My question is, how do you think the secondary is going to form with Rolle moving to safety? How do you think Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is going pan out? Also, do you see good improvement out of the O-Line (with Grimm, and same crew together)? I have high hopes for Brown and Lutui on the right side. I just hope Leinart can come through and show his worth. Cardinals are looking strong in 08! Watch out Hawks!
Mike Sando: Deuce Lutui might lose his job at right guard in favor of an all-Brown right side (Elton at RG, Levi at RT). I do like Rolle's move to free safety, at least on paper. Rodgers-Cromartie looks like a keeper. The line continuity should improve and I do like Russ Grimm's approach there. But one injury at tackle might be one too many.
Nick from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, my question this time is about Justin Forsett and his potential role in the offense. After hearing about all of the different possible options for him, I wondered it would it be possible to see the Seahawks use him as a potential Maurice Jones-Drew type of player? Jones-Drew is a nice change of pace back for Jacksonville and he manages to be very effective, despite his size (he's not even as big as Forsett, either). I don't think it could happen this year, but maybe down the road, thoughts?
Mike Sando: The RB position is crowded already. Fullback Leonard Weaver is also a third-down option in one-back personnel groupings. Just not sure how many reps the Seahawks could set aside for a rookie.
Scott from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, I don't get what the deal is with the Smith/JT/Hill situation in SF. Any thoughts on why they didn't draft a QB? It's not like they've showed any faith in Smith, yet they're still too chicken to cut him. I realize nobody hates to lose money but it's about time they cut their losses. They can't expect to ever win with him hanging around like the Bears' debacle or Boller in Baltimore.
Mike Sando: The 49ers weren't going to find a starting QB late in the first round. They weren't going to find a proven veteran in free agency. They still owed Smith lots of money and figured as an organization that dumping Smith after three seasons (with three coordinators) would be a premature move. You are right about the situation being less than ideal, but the alternatives weren't necessarily better.
BigD from Bend, Ore., writes: Mike, your coverage of the NFC West is incredible. My question is this. If you were Mike Holmgren and this was opening week, who would you take receiver wise and why, based on what you've seen from them so far?
Mike Sando: Thanks, BigD. I would start Nate Burleson and Courtney Taylor, with Logan Payne as the third receiver. I would also probably be fired by Week 2 for overall coaching incompetence, but let's proceed with your scenario. Taylor has the best big-play potential of the young receivers. Burleson caught nine touchdown passes last season, so he already has a rapport with Matt Hasselbeck. And then Payne seems to come closest to offering some of the things Bobby Engram offers when healthy.
Dain from Sedona, Ariz., writes: Hi Mike, Not to rain on the parade in SF, but as a Cardinals fan I feel it is my duty. I'm not sure why they're so high on Bryant Johnson being such a big part of their offense. The man dropped more perfect TD passes to him than he caught, and that was wi
th Warner throwing bullets that hit him in the chest. He dropped a few from Leinart as well. I can only imagine how bad it will be when he doesn't even know who his starting QB is. Regarding the Cardinals, do you know what the coaching staff it referring to when they say Deuce Lutui has been making boneheaded plays at guard? I've watched both games and I don't recall anything obvious, and the commentators never mentioned anything. Thanks, I appreciate the dedicated NFC West coverage!
Mike Sando: Good question on Lutui. I'm heading down to Oakland for the Cardinals game tomorrow, and I'll find out. As for the 49ers and Johnson, the team expects him to be a contributor but not a primary focus for the passing game. Josh Morgan's emergence provides some insurance there. I'll keep an eye out for the dropped passes with Johnson. I wasn't aware he had that many drops, but I'm watching more closely this season.
David from parts unknown writes: Mike, the fact is that niners fans don't need to worry about the qb situation right now. I am a long time niner fan and an alex smith fan, but i wouldn't mind if he is the back-up to O'Sullivan to start the season ... you need three qb's to get through a season in this league. I predict smith will get his opportunity by the bye week ... O'Sullivan will either get hurt or benched from inconsistent play. Smith is the best athlete of the 3 QBs on the roster. I have seen him improve his pocket awareness and make some really good reads and throws done field this pre-season. All he needs is more reps to learn the timing of this offense and improve his "touch" pass. The Niners in their glory years always had a Steve Bono type back-up, which i think O'Sullivan will become. Niners fans need to relax, the strength of this team is the D and special teams, which are both top ten in the league. the offense will move the ball and score points with Gore, Davis, Morgan and Bruce...starting the season, the QB position doesn't need the resurrection of Montana, just someone that can move the chains and give the play makers a chance to Make plays. By mid season or sooner, I believe it will be Smith and he will do well Niner Faithful
Mike Sando: How dare you inject sanity into this QB-driven frenzy! Seriously, though, I think you raise valid points here. The QB position is important, but the offense is most likely going to improve this season almost no matter what. The thing I want to see about O'Sullivan is whether he can remain disciplined enough to avoid the killer turnovers.
Nick from St. Louis writes: Mike, what`s your thoughts on Rams DE Leonard Little so far ? It appears he has back that initial burst that made him so effective before last year`s toe injury slowed him down. Thanks
Mike Sando: Little looks good. He sounds confident. He feels better. He also turns 34 in October. Can he hold up for a full season? That seems to be a question we're asking about quite a few Rams. Orlando Pace, Torry Holt and Little as well. I do think Little looks good so far. As a Rams fan, keep your fingers crossed.
Rich from Green Bay writes: Wassup mike, i would like to know if j.t could lead the niners or will it be another season like last year. also will morgan be a starter.
Mike Sando: The 49ers will be better than last year almost by default. I would not expect anything along the lines of the hopelessness that set in offensively in 2007. But I do question whether the team will emerge from this season feeling appreciably better about its long-term prospects at quarterback.
Max from parts unknown writes: Good Blog and thank you for bringing back a once dominant NFC West in to the mix. The 49ers have had a rough time with many changes. As a 49er fan ever since i could see the red and gold, it is depressing to see a team that was once the best team ever to being the new age Arizona Cardinal. The quarterback dilemma is hard and confusing. There are many theories to what you can say about who will be the starting quarterback and why. In my opinion, its hard to say but Alex Smith should start, no matter what. No one is born a super star quarterback. Look at Steve Young's career. No one gave him a chance, and once he proved himself, no one said a word. JT from what I have seen in preseason, is good but takes too long to read the defense, thats why he is throwing interceptions. The way I see it, its going to be another long year for all niners fans, lets keep the FAITH and start Alex Smith.
Mike Sando: With apologies to Max, he sent this mailbag item before the game last night. Going with Smith might have made more sense heading into the offseason than it does now.
Zach from Boise writes: Hasselback definitely has a couple good years left in him, but wouldn't it be a smart move to start developing a young quarterback in the next couple years? Would Seattle be more likely to draft a quarterback or to trade/claim one off waivers? I had hoped that Charlie Frye would become a good option for the Hawks but so far it looks like that is not going to work. Granted it has only been one year, but you would hope that he could succeed against second and third string defenses. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando: I thought Seattle might snag a quarterback early in the draft last season. I would expect them to add a young quarterback in the upcoming draft. Seneca Wallace has looked pretty good as a backup, so they're OK for the time being, most likely.
Dan from Lafayette, Calif., writes: Mike, I love the blog. People continue to worry about the 49ers defense, but isn't what's really wrong with the defense the fact that they're on the field for 40 minutes of each game? Certainly a better offense will give the defense more rest and allow them to play to their potential as the defense has great play-makers like Clements, Smith and Willis...right?
Mike Sando: Yeah, I think an improved 49ers offense will help the defense quite a bit. This defense does need a pass rush, though. I think that is key for bringing out the best in Nate Clements. Look what happened for Marcus Trufant in Seattle last season. Patrick Kerney becomes a big sack threat from the left-end spot and suddenly Trufant goes to the Pro Bowl.
Joseph from Woodbridge writes: Hey Sando, great job on the blog. I'm not a 49ers fan, but I've been following the Alex Smith situation for a while. What you think about him bolting to San Diego (no pun intended) after this season, assuming he gets released, to join Norv Turner and the Chargers to back up Philip Rivers. That way, he can regain his confidence on a winning team with the coach who he had his best season under. I'm probably in the minority here, but I think Alex Smith still has a chance. He has all of the physical tools to be a successful quarterback, plus he's still young enough, 24, to develop into a quality football player. I think that the Alex Smith story is a perfect example of how NOT to handle a number one draft pick. The Ni
ners have consitently failed to put quality weapons around Smith. In the three years that Smith was the starting quarterback for the Niners, he had three different OCs and his top recievers were Brandon Lloyd, Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle. Yuck. I don't know that anybody can succeed under those circumstances. What do you think?
Mike Sando: That would make quite a bit of sense. The 49ers certainly could release Smith after this season if he weren't the starter by then. And the cap consequences would not be prohibitive. Turner did tell associates in private that he liked Smith and thought he could develop into a good quarterback. He drew some parallels to a young Troy Aikman in terms of demeanor.
David from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Mike-- maybe a question all NFC west blog readers can relate to -- Has the NFL looked at all at the huge competitive disadvantage west coast teams face when travelling to play east coast time zone teams? Teams travelling from the west to the east coast lose a whole day flying and end up playing at the equivalent of 10 am on Sunday. East coast teams going west play at the equivalent of 4 pm eastern -- something they often do anyway. Why cant the NFL schedule games where western teams have to travel east a 4pm eastern start? It would make that game the equivalent of a 1 pm start, and at least even things out a bit. I expect a mover and shaker like you to make it happen.
Mike Sando: I loved the 10 a.m. PT starts in my newspaper reporting days because the games would finish with plenty of time to make the West Coast deadlines. The Seahawks hated the early games because it was tough convincing their bodies it was time to wake up on game day at 4 a.m. PT. Television is going to drive these things, not the preferences of West Coast franchises. I'm afraid moving and shaking from me isn't going to accomplish much beyond proving I can't dance.