NFC West: Chris Cooley

On Carlos Rogers' rebirth with 49ers

October, 13, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency recently.

None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.

One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.

Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.

Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.

I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
  • On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
  • On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
  • On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
  • On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."

The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.
Our ongoing discussion on tight ends raised questions about which ones possess the best -- and worst -- hands.

"Any way you can add in 'thrown to' and 'drops' in this stat?" Furfanam asked in one comments section.

Consider it done.

Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information produced the information. I've broken it out in four charts. A few notes on the findings:
The first chart ranks NFL tight ends by most receptions. It also shows number of targets, drops and drop percentage. Witten, Jacob Tamme and Gates were the only tight ends with at least 50 receptions and no more than two dropped passes.



The second chart shows lowest drop percentages among tight ends targeted at least 20 times last season. Miller's standing atop the list backs up James Walker's contention that the Pittsburgh Steelers tight end was underrated in our power rankings.



The third chart ranks NFL tight ends with at least 20 targets by the highest percentage of dropped passes.

ESPN Stats & Information's totals on Bajema matched my charting. I had Bajema dropping passes against Tennessee, Denver and Arizona.



The final chart focuses only on NFC West tight ends, ranking them by lowest percentage of dropped passes.
Counting the reasons San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis ranked behind only Antonio Gates and Jason Witten on my ballot featuring the NFL's 10 best tight ends:
  • Production: Davis has 20 scoring receptions over the past two seasons, most among tight ends and one behind overall league leader Roddy White. Davis has 134 receptions over that span, five more than Gates and only 10 fewer than wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings.
  • Big-play ability: Davis averaged 16.3 yards per reception last season. His per-catch average over the past two seasons ranks 14th in the NFL among all players with at least 100 receptions during that span. Davis can outrun linebackers and safeties without trouble. He is faster than some cornerbacks.
  • Durability: Davis has not missed a game over the past three seasons. He has played through injuries. Injuries have slowed quite a few other top tight ends in the league during that time, including Gates, Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley, Chris Cooley and Owen Daniels.
  • Better focus: Davis has done a much better job controlling his emotions during games. He also reduced his penalty count from 12 in 2009 to two last season.
  • Transcendent talent. The consistently productive tight ends in the NFL tend to play with Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. Davis has not. He has also changed offensive coordinators every year since entering the NFL as the sixth pick in the 2006 draft.
  • Improved hands. Davis no longer drops passes regularly.

Davis finished fourth behind Witten, Gates and Clark in ESPN.com balloting. He was close behind Clark and well ahead of Cooley and Tony Gonzalez, quite an accomplishment given where Davis' career stood two-plus years ago.

Gates and Witten were my top choices because they have produced consistently for so long and neither appears to be trailing off. Gates was the top choice because he's the more dynamic receiver. Clark's injury last season made Davis an easier choice in the third spot. I ranked Gonzalez only 10th because he no longer threatens defenses down the field. He averaged a career-low 9.4 yards per reception last season and that figure has been in retreat since 2006.

Davis is only 27 years old. His yards-per-catch average is headed in the other direction: from 9.8 in 2007 to 11.5 (2008), 12.4 (2009) and 16.3 (2010).

"It is tough to argue he is not a top five tight end," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He is a tenacious blocker -- not a great blocker, but he can be a good one at times. He is one of the few tight ends in the league who is going to have 60-yard plays. I'm not even sure Gates or Clark is any more to the degree Davis is. I don’t think he is as good a route-runner. A lot of his stuff is just vertical. He is not as sharp out of his cuts yet. Those areas he can improve upon -- getting a better feel for coverages, getting better out of his breaks, better setting up routes, those types of things."

NFC West penalty watch: Week 12

December, 3, 2010
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Officials tapped into one of the rarely visited corners of the NFL rulebook when they flagged St. Louis for an "illegal bat" in the final critical moments of the Rams' 36-33 victory at Denver.

Chris Chamberlain, one of the Rams' best players on special teams, batted the ball out of bounds when fielding the Broncos' onside kick with about 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. The play violated rules because Chamberlain batted the ball toward the Broncos' goal line. It was the right call even though the ball went out of bounds almost immediately.

The Broncos were allowed a re-kick. Chamberlain caught this one cleanly, allowing the Rams to run time off the clock.

Officials have flagged 15 players for 15 illegal batting penalties during the regular season since 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Chamberlain, the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins' Chris Cooley drew flags for illegal batting this season. Officials previously hadn't invoked the rule since the 2007 season.

The Arizona Cardinals declined an illegal batting penalty against Seattle Seahawks punter Donnie Jones, now with the Rams, during a 2004 game at Sun Devil Stadium. The Cardinals' Gerald Hayes had blocked a punt. Jones batted the ball out of the end zone for a safety.

Rule 12, Section 1, Article 8 says a player may not bat or punch:
  • a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent’s goal line;
  • a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone.

The rule also says "a backward pass in flight may not be batted forward by an offensive player".

Also: "If a forward pass that is controlled by an airborne player prior to completing the catch is thrown forward, it is an illegal bat. If it is caught by a teammate or intercepted by an opponent, the ball remains alive. If it is not caught, the ball is dead when it hits the ground."

The Ben Watson non-sweepstakes

March, 12, 2010
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Despite having little talent at tight end, the Patriots seemed to shrug while tight end Ben Watson signed with the Browns, a move of some interest in the NFC West after Watson visited Seattle.

What should this tell us?

One, Watson had great appeal relative to a weak crop of free-agent tight ends, but otherwise not so much. Two, the upcoming draft appears deep at quite a few positions, including tight end.

The chart shows where teams have found Pro Bowl tight ends in the draft since 2000. Eleven of them earned Pro Bowl recognition. Seven were first-round choices and three of those seven -- Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey -- went to Miami. An eighth, Alge Crumpler, was an early second-round choice (35th overall).

Note: I added the Redskins' Chris Cooley to the list. He wasn't on the list initially because fullback was his listed position coming out of college. Thank you, Facebook friend Ben.

Around the NFC West: Hargrove's tale

February, 2, 2010
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Karen Crouse of The New York Times says former Rams defensive end Anthony Hargrove has found sobriety and personal redemption with the Saints. Hargrove's mother died when he was 9 and Hargrove eventually turned to drugs, attempting suicide by overdose while with the Rams. Hargrove: "When I was homeless and living in shelters, to me that was the best part of my life. Because when I was with my mother, even though we were getting kicked out of shelters and living on the streets, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t in a loving situation. My mom lit up my world."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dave Checketts' potential Rams ownership group isn't trying to lowball Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriquez.

Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times checks in with recently retired Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner for a primer on what Bears quarterback Jay Cutler should expect from new Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Warner was much different as a quarterback. Warner: ''It was so much about anticipation. 'When I've watched Jay -- not that it's a bad thing -- but he looks like a guy who relies more on his physical gifts, and he watches things develop and buys some time. 'I wonder how that's going to mix. I'm not saying he can't anticipate, but I just haven't seen that when I've watched him. He may throw some things later than I would, because of his arm strength and his ability to move.''

The Denver Post says former Rams and Broncos defensive back Billy Jenkins has pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide. Jenkins played for the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl team.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic expects Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett to provide good entertainment value while working as a Super Bowl correspondent with the Ravens' Ray Rice and the Redskins' Chris Cooley. Boivin: "Their work will be presented on a variety of social networking platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and the new OCNN site (motorola.com/ocnn)."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals' tight ends on his way to the Super Bowl. Somers: "Ben Patrick remains the team's best all-around tight end, but the team needs to get a full season out of him in 2010. He's been hampered by injuries and a suspension. Patrick is developing but he needs a breakout season. The same could be said of Stephen Spach, who played last year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. It's often said that athletes need a full year to recover, and that appears to be true in Spach's case. He made great progress in just being able to play in 2009, and should be that much better in 2010, provided he doesn't have a setback."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat expects the 49ers to receive one compensatory draft choice. Maiocco: "That would give the 49ers nine picks in the draft. The 49ers have their own selection in each of the seven rounds of the draft, in addition to the Panthers' pick in the first round. Compensatory picks cannot be traded. The NFL typically announces the compensatory selections in mid- to late-March." The announcement comes during the league's annual spring meetings.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at college players the 49ers might consider drafting in the first couple rounds. On Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga: "Mike Singletary desperately wants to beef up his offensive line, which wasn't able to deliver his vision for offense in 2009. Bulaga is big, agile and improved markedly as he recovered from a thyroid issue this past season. Like Joe Staley, he'd be able to player either left or right tackle."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers might benefit from adding another coverage safety, the better to match up with some of the speed receivers who burned the team in 2009.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Dashon Goldson's decision to switch agents suggests the 49ers safety wants to upgrade his contract in a big way.

Brian McIntyre of scout.com sizes up the Seahawks' situation at running back. The team has done a poor job managing that position. McIntyre: "Seattle's current group of running backs are a prime example of former general manager Tim Ruskell’s flawed approach to roster building. Instead of drafting young, hungry ball-carriers, Ruskell ignored them on draft day (Forsett, a seventh-round pick in 2008, was the only running back Ruskell drafted), bought high on Shaun Alexander ($15.1M guaranteed after his MVP season), and when that didn’t work, threw more free agent dollars at Jones, T.J. Duckett, and Edgerrin James. Despite a shortage of offensive play-makers, Ruskell’s coup de grace may have been allowing Leonard Weaver to leave via free agency."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Darryl Tapp deserves to start at defensive end for the Seahawks as the team looks to upgrade its pass rush. New coach Pete Carroll did sound intrigued by Tapp after breaking down video from last season.

Around the NFC West: Physical battle by Bay

September, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune frames the Seahawks' trip to San Francisco this way: "Do you have what it takes to go to Mike Singletary's house and try to take something from him?"

Brock Huard of 710ESPN.com offers keys to the game for the Seahawks, starting with turnovers.

Also from Huard: key matchups, including one between Seattle's guards and the 49ers' tough inside linebackers. Huard: This is a difficult matchup as [Takeo] Spikes is savvy and physical and [Patrick] Willis is explosive, violent and one of the top LBs in the game; however, the 49ers like to play a base 3-4 defense and that scheme can allow space for offensive guards to get on linebackers. When Sims and Unger get those shots, they must connect and get Spikes and Willis to the ground."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times puts defense in the spotlight while previewing the Seahawks-49ers game.

Brian McIntyre of Scout.com thinks the Seahawks might be wise to call a couple more screen passes against the 49ers' active front seven.

Adam Caplan of Scout.com expects the Seahawks to bring in tackle Chris Patrick for a follow-up visit Monday.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' victory over the Cardinals hardly registered nationally. Cornerback Tarell Brown: "We haven't arrived yet. We haven't done anything yet and we understand that. We try not to read the papers or follow the news. We want to keep up that intensity. It's a long season ahead of us. We play some great teams. We have to keep on pushing."

Also from Crumpacker: Brian Billick offers thoughts on Singletary. Billick: "I had good luck bringing former players [such as Jack Del Rio, Mike Tice and Dennis Thurman] into the profession. Mike [Singletary] had to learn what it was to become a coach. He'd been away from the game for 10 years. He had to know what it meant to commit to the profession."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers need to exploit the Seahawks' run blitzes by throwing to the perimeter. Also: "The Seahawks registered 13 sacks against the 49ers in their two meetings last year. Most came with Seattle rushing just four defenders. Harassing Shaun Hill today will be a priority for the defense."

Also from Barrows: The 49ers' rush offense went from being top-ranked through the preseason to last-ranked after Week 1. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye: "We're going to run the ball 60 percent of the time -- that's not going to change. We're looking for that balance of run to pass and, to me, that balance isn't 50-50, it's 60-40, and it's toward the run."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider is impressed by what he sees from the Seahawks. Lynch: "These Seahawks have so much depth, particularly in their receiving corps and on their defensive line, and it also looks like they've had a whale of a draft."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' ground game must improve. Seahawks coach Jim Mora: "It’s more of a mindset than scheme. Our guys understand the challenge. They’ve played Frank Gore many, many times, and they know what he’s all about and they have tremendous respect for him."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers will win if they consistently get 5 yards on first down.

Brad Biggs of National Football Post expects Tony Pashos to become the 49ers' starter at right tackle before long.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams are "putting on blinders" heading into their game against the Redskins.

Also from Korte: Albert Haynesworth presents a tough matchup for the Rams.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives the Rams' running game an edge against the Redskins' defense.

Also from Thomas: Rams center Jason Brown's comments about Haynesworth made it back to the Redskins this week. Brown in August: "I'm so glad we're playing Washington early in the year because it's going to be hot out there, we're going to be running hurry-up offense and he's going to get fatigued. And I'm not sure if you have watched film before, but when he gets fatigued, he taps out. He just falls down to the ground, and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, is he hurt? Is something wrong with him?' No, he's just giving the guy on the sidelines enough time to mosey on out there so he can get up, go to the sidelines, catch a breather, get something to drink and then he comes right back out."

More from Thomas: The Rams are still looking for ways to get Steven Jackson and the running game going.

More yet from Thomas: Staying upbeat is a priority for the Rams.

Turf Show Times' VanRam says the Rams face another tough tight end. After having problems with Seattle's John Carlson, the Rams face the Redskins' Chris Cooley in Week 2.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes keeps a low profile. Hayes: "I play the game because I love it. If they want to give me accolades and all that stuff and recognize me, then they do it. If they don't, I know what I can do and that's all I'm worried about."

Also from Somers: one way the Cardinals stopped the run in Week 1.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com expects more from Anquan Boldin this week.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' success last season set high expectations for 2009, making their Week 1 defeat hurt a little more.

More from Urban: Arizona could be "dangerously thin" at outside linebacker if Chike Okeafor cannot play.

Michael C. Wright of the Florida Times-Union looks at the Cardinals' efforts to avoid what has awaited so many other Super Bowl losers. Wright: "[Ken] Whisenhunt points to turnover on the coaching staff as potentially being one of the biggest obstacles Arizona faces in avoiding a Super Bowl hangover."

Sara Cardace of the New York Post reviews John Krakauer's book about former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. Cardace: "Although the book's narrative culminates with the exploitation of Tillman's death by a government desperate for good will in wartime, the tragic elements of Tillman's story were in place well before then."

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