NFC West: Charlie Weis

A few thoughts on each of the known candidates for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching vacancy:
  • Andy Reid: Hiring Reid would have been the safest move for several reasons. Reid has 130 regular-season victories and a Super Bowl appearance, so he's proven. Reid could have assembled an experienced staff quickly. Arizona would have won the hiring-day news conference had Reid taken the job. Finding the next up-and-coming coach is tougher than identifying the established ones. Reid was the safest choice, but was he the best one? He favors a relatively traditional West Coast offense. Most of the league appears to be heading in another direction.
  • Ray Horton: The Cardinals' defensive coordinator presumably remains in consideration while the team interviews other candidates. On-field results suggest he's done a very good job coordinating the Cardinals' defense. Some have hinted that Horton might be able to land Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, but it's unclear whether that is true. Horton has said he would hire someone to run the defense if Arizona promoted him to head coach. That would free up Horton to focus on being a head coach, but a trade-off could be weakening the one area where Horton could make the Cardinals strongest, on defense.
  • Mike McCoy: The Denver Broncos offensive coordinator will presumably remain occupied by the playoffs for as long as his current team remains in contention. He gets credit for successfully adapting the Broncos offense to Tim Tebow last season and Peyton Manning this season. McCoy previously spent most of his career with Carolina. The Panthers ranked near or below the NFL averages in third-down conversion rate, touchdowns, points per drive and NFL passer rating from 2004 through 2008, the years when McCoy coached quarterbacks or coordinated the passing game. McCoy is known for getting along well with others. He had a positive working relationship with Jake Delhomme and was instrumental behind the scenes in relating to mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith.
  • Jay Gruden: Gruden just finished his second season as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator. He played quarterback in college and should have a good feel for the position, a plus for the Cardinals as they try to improve behind center. Gruden's work with 2011 draft choice Andy Dalton works in Gruden's favor. Gruden, 45, had a winning record as a head coach in the Arena League. Dalton's postseason struggles (zero touchdowns, four interceptions) and overall ineffectiveness on third down may or may not reflect on Gruden. Dalton ranked 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR on third down this season (10.5). Even Mark Sanchez was better (16.4). Arizona's Ryan Lindley (4.1) and John Skelton (1.4) were worse than Dalton, but neither played enough to qualify in the rankings. They were 38th and 39th, respectively, in third-down QBR among players with at least 50 pass attempts. Kevin Kolb was 33rd at 19.2.
  • Todd Haley: Haley wants the job, but he has been reluctant to embrace the process without first knowing how serious the Cardinals are about hiring him. The Cardinals have turned over much of their offensive roster since Haley left his job as the team's offensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Sure, Haley knows Larry Fitzgerald, but that isn't reason enough to hire a head coach. The Cardinals would have to feel Haley could help them identify talented quarterbacks and then develop them quickly. Haley was Kansas City's head coach when Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel tossed 27 touchdown passes with seven interceptions in 2010. The team finished 10-6. Cassel, despite a 93.0 NFL passer rating that year, graded out as merely average that season in Total QBR (52.2), however, and he no longer projects as a starter. That might actually reflect positively on Haley. Perhaps he was able to get a winning season from Cassel while other coaches could not. But as some have mentioned, Charlie Weis could have played a more prominent role. He was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2010.

More to come as long as the wireless remains functional on my 5-hour, 41-minute flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.

Thoughts, observations from Rams camp

August, 18, 2011
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams following their training camp practice Thursday:

  • Preseason plan: The starters will play until halftime unless the Saturday night game against Tennessee features an unusually high number of snaps. Coach Steve Spagnuolo thinks the team needs extra work given restrictions on practice time and cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game against Chicago.
  • [+] EnlargeDonnie Avery
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDonnie Avery is expected to be in action for the Rams Saturday night.

  • Receiver alert: The team expects Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) to play against the Titans. Avery in particular has been sharp since returning to practice Wednesday. Quarterback Sam Bradford singled out Avery for making proper route adjustments and operating efficiently within the offense. Avery caught a deep ball down the middle in practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly pleased with Avery's attention to detail on an outside route. Danario Alexander missed a couple chances to make plays on the ball high in the air and well downfield. On one, he fell back and waited for the ball instead of leaping to catch it at a higher point. Something to work on. He's at his best letting his size work to his advantage. Brandon Gibson is enjoying a strong camp and continues to work exclusively with the starters.
  • Legend watch: Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil dropped by practice wearing a golf shirt with a "Vermeil Wines" logo. He mingled with fans watching practice and spoke with the team afterward. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is on the guest list for Friday. He's joining the team's television network.
  • Mikell's impact: Recently signed veteran safety Quintin Mikell has caught Bradford's attention with his quickness on blitzes and ability to disguise intentions in the secondary. The Rams expect both of their safeties to support the run near the line of scrimmage at times. Mikell appealed to the Rams for his toughness, particularly against the run.
  • Jackson's return: Running back Steven Jackson was back on the field after resting a hip injury this week. Bradford reiterated his expectation that Jackson will see his total for receptions increase this season given the nature of McDaniels' offense.
  • Afternoon free: Spagnuolo called off afternoon meetings with an eye toward getting players fresh for the game against Minnesota.
  • Weis payoff: Bradford said his two-day meeting with former McDaniels associate Charlie Weis during the lockout gave him a firmer grasp of the basics heading into camp. Bradford: "Talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like and what his offense was going to be based around really helped me grasp the very basics of it and what we were going to try to do at the beginning of camp."
  • Striking out: Receiver Mardy Gilyard and offensive line coach Steve Loney strung together six or seven strikes in a row during a recent team bowling event. Spagnuolo lamented his inability to beat Bradford. The coach wasn't particularly forthcoming about his score, either. Bradford: "He never really told me his score. I have a feeling I beat him pretty bad."
  • Stuffing the run: Justin Bannan has blown up a couple running plays in the practices I've watched. The free-agent addition from Baltimore has played the nose in 3-4 defenses, but he's not as massive as prototypical noseguards such as Vince Wilfork or the retired Ted Washington. He can swing between nose tackle and traditional 4-3 defensive tackle.
  • Linebacker shuffle: Bryan Kehl continues to work with the starters at weakside linebacker, but recently signed veteran Ben Leber is getting reps there, too. I would expect Leber to take over starting duties as the season progresses. Na'il Diggs continues to work with the starters on the strong side. Brady Poppinga could be a candidate to start there as well.

The Rams will be back on the field Friday for a walk-through session.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers highlights from an XTRA910 radio interview with Cardinals quarterbacks coach Chris Miller. Somers: "Miller was forthcoming with his opinions on the top quarterbacks in this draft. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford is big, strong and throws a tight spiral. Like most people, Miller thinks the Rams will take Bradford with the first pick. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen is impressive, too, but Miller said teams have to wonder how much he will improve. Clausen played at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis in a pro system. Texas' Colt McCoy doesn't have a great arm and might have some trouble throwing some routes. But Miller likes McCoy's leadership ability and toughness and thinks he could be a good QB, maybe best suited for a West Coast attack."

Darren Urban of says new Cardinals kicker Jay Feely doesn't shy away from contact, same as predecessor Neil Rackers. Feely: "If you see the play develop and you have the guts and ability to go down and fill that hole at the 25-yard line, they only have two or three yards to beat you and you can make the play. That’s when I feel like a football player too."

Also from Urban: Catching up with globetrotting Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Brian McIntyre of passes along dates for the Seahawks' organized team activities. The team has a minicamp scheduled for next week.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks will not select Clausen in the first round, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper. I wasn't able to hear all of Kiper's media conference call Wednesday, but at one point I thought he said Seattle could consider Clausen. I'm in the minority on this one, though. Multiple reports are quoting Kiper to the contrary. The call lasted two-plus hours.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says there's too much smoke before a draft to make sense of various projections. Boling on Seattle: "Some of the talk suggests that they don’t need to expend high-end picks on offensive linemen because of the nature of the zone-blocking scheme brought in by new line coach Alex Gibbs. Baloney. This line has been dreadful and the tackle on that left side is still going to have to block the best pass rushers in the league regardless of scheme. Look at the big picture. How would it have been in 1997 if somebody had said they didn’t want to take Walter Jones because he didn’t fit the current scheme. The Seahawks are on their fourth head coach since Jones was drafted. Schemes have come and gone; great players persist."

Michael Lombardi of says the Broncos still want a first-round choice for Brandon Marshall, and that trade talks could accelerate. Seattle would not give up one of its current first-round choices for Marshall, in my view, unless the team received something more in return.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Clausen while noting that the Rams appear more likely to select Bradford. Clausen: "I've played in a pro-style offense for the past three years, played under center under coach (Charlie) Weis, and I feel that I'm the most ready guy out there. ... I think I translate the best to the NFL because I've already had to deal with what those guys are going to have to go through, which is learning a pro-style system and having growing pains growing up in a system."

Also from Thomas: Na'il Diggs is the newest Ram. Thomas: "Rams general manager Billy Devaney has continued to work on getting bigger in the front seven this offseason, in an effort to improve the team's run defense. Diggs, a 6-feet-4 and 240 pounds, had good size for an outside linebacker and has a reputation as a good run defender."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Diggs is most likely to play the strong side, contrary to expectations.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Diggs' addition gives the Rams three linebackers from Ohio State.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says during a chat that the 49ers would be wise to draft Dan Williams, if available, because teams running 3-4 defenses need good nose tackles and Aubrayo Franklin could leave after the 2010 season. Barrows on Alex Smith: "My gut feeling is that he'll have his best year yet but that there will be enough bad spots that at the end of the year we'll still be asking the same questions about him. Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but I just don't see it being black and white."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers draft advice for the 49ers. He lists Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Bryan Bulaga, Eric Berry, Joe Haden, Derrick Morgan and Sergio Kindle as players the 49ers should draft if available to them (the assumption being that Bradford, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy would be long gone).

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers should use mid-round picks for offensive tackles if the team cannot find one worth taking in the first round.