NFC West: Chris Miller

Chris Miller played and coached in the NFC West, most recently serving on the Arizona Cardinals' coaching staff through last season.

Concussions interrupted and ultimately ended his playing career after one Pro Bowl appearance and more than 19,000 yards passing.

Miller, 47, says he "feels fantastic" now and probably took far fewer hits than players at other positions. He knew something was wrong, however, when he kept nicking the golf ball with his putter instead of striking it solidly while on the practice green.

With an assist from Rob Demovsky, I ran across a 21-minute podcast featuring Miller answering questions about concussions and the NFL.

Miller isn't crusading against the game. He calls concussion risks part of the game and applauds the league for improving how it deals with head trauma. He sounds relatively unconcerned about his future in relation to the roughly eight or 10 concussions he suffered:
"I was surfing over in Maui a couple weeks ago and caught a decent wave and got knocked down, the surfboard hit me right in the temple. I was dinged for a little while and felt crummy the rest of the afternoon, but came through pretty quick and felt normal before too long.

"You know, I'm concerned about it, but I try to be proactive. I used to drink a lot of beer back in the day, used to get after it pretty good with the boys. I quit drinking, felt a lot sharper from that standpoint. No backwards days in terms of going out and having a large night with the guys. And I try to keep my mind active doing Sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles, and I take ginkgo biloba, which is good for brain function and mental clarity and some of those things.

"I cognizantly try to take care of myself in terms of dealing with those issues, so I won't have to deal with them when I get older."

Overall, Miller sounds concerned about concussions. He's supportive toward players dealing with them. He expresses no bitterness toward the league for how his concussions were handled, chalking it up to how the game was played in a different era.
Revisiting three under-the-radar moves for the Arizona Cardinals to see how well these June storylines are holding up:

1. Cornerback shuffle. Improved depth at cornerback gave the Cardinals renewed confidence at the position even after losing productive veteran Richard Marshall in free agency. This angle holds up decently even though the competition at right cornerback hasn't been all that fierce. William Gay seems to be holding onto the position. Rookie Jamell Fleming appears on track. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. singled out Fleming for impressive work during the Cardinals' preseason game against Oakland. The Cardinals would like to see other players step up.

2. Naming John McNulty as QB coach. McNulty moved from receivers coach to replace Chris Miller. The idea was for McNulty to put more emphasis on the fundamentals, helping Kevin Kolb do a better job staying in the pocket and finding receivers. No one expected miracles, but some improvement seemed reasonable. The results have not been promising to this point. Kolb has struggled through the preseason. The quarterback competition between Kolb and John Skelton isn't inspiring much confidence.

3. Re-signing Levi Brown. Forget about this one. The torn triceps Brown suffered against Oakland could end the left tackle's season. I had pointed to Brown's re-signing as an under-the radar move because Brown made strides late last season. There seemed to be some similarities in career trajectory between Brown and San Francisco's Alex Smith. Both struggled and were heavily criticized early in their careers, failing to fare as well as other prominent players their teams could have selected. Smith rebounded last season. Brown appeared headed in the right direction.
Kevin Kolb Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe concussion Kevin Kolb suffered on this play capped off a season to forget for the Cardinals QB.

Half of a second can mean everything for a quarterback when an All-Pro defensive lineman is bearing down on him.

Kevin Kolb appeared to do little wrong on the play that ended his first season with the Arizona Cardinals. He dropped back to pass on third-and-6 and hesitated briefly before attempting to target tight end Todd Heap in the right flat.

Only 2.5 seconds elapsed between the snap and the blindside hit from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. Smith hit Kolb from behind and knocked the ball free. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks turned to chase the loose ball and, in the process, whacked Kolb in the helmet with a churning knee.

The diagnosis: concussion.

The treatment: lots of rest, followed by an offseason focusing on the little things a quarterback can do to avoid undue punishment and keep an offense moving efficiently.

In some ways, that play against the 49ers typified Kolb's first season. He never had much of a chance. Acquired from Philadelphia as the lockout was giving way to training camps, Kolb was on the field for his first exhibition game after less than 12 hours of camp practices. He struggled to make the transition. Kolb took 30 sacks in nine regular-season starts, missing seven games to injury and opening the door for backup John Skelton to challenge him for the starting job this summer.

The first-year reviews for Kolb were resoundingly negative.

"Kolb's play was disturbing and uneven in Year 1, but like the rookie QBs from a year ago, judging him just off of that is probably too harsh," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Still, he is a limited passer and takes way too many sacks. Of course, his offensive line didn’t help that. He isn't extremely accurate in terms of ball placement, either, which is something you must have if your arm is average."

On the positive side?

"He did do very well against the blitz, which shocked me, honestly, when I heard Jaws doing his Kolb breakdown, because I wouldn't have said that Kolb is the type of QB to stand firm in the pocket, take a big hit and deliver the football," Williamson said.

Even the praise was qualified, in other words.

Kolb's mindset

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't like to anoint players as starters based on their salaries, but he had little choice last offseason.

The lockout left little time for a true quarterback competition. Division-rival Seattle, another team big on competition at all spots, forced into its lineup the newly acquired Tarvaris Jackson, also in the interests of expediency.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireKevin Kolb's contract with the Cardinals averages $12.6 million per year.
But with Kolb, there was another factor. Arizona, desperate for a quarterback, paid a financial price high enough to identify Kolb as its man right away. Their agreement averages $12.6 million per year and included a $7 million payment this offseason.

"Sometimes when you want something really bad, you press a little bit too hard," Kolb said after a recent minicamp practice. "I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm trying to make sure I stay relaxed, stay calm, because when I play like that, I usually play pretty good football. ... Hopefully try to make that last for 16 weeks."

A new approach

The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and replaced him with receivers coach John McNulty. The move came after Arizona denied McNulty a chance to pursue the offensive coordinator's job with Tampa Bay. It also came with a mandate to re-emphasize the basics.

Arizona wants Kolb adhering more closely to the offensive script. That means methodically moving from one receiver to the next on schedule. It means throwing away the ball instead of inviting trouble with unscripted scrambles. Less creating, more executing.

"In Philadelphia, I think there was a lot of movement stuff they did," McNulty said. "They moved the pocket a lot. You can do that for a while and you can do that, I think, when a guy is playing on a limited basis. But when you want to operate the whole game and the whole season, there's a high percentage of the plays you're going to have to be in the pocket and operate in the pocket.

"He hadn't had as much experience, and he didn't have experience in our system of being just a pure pocket guy that hangs in there and doesn't rely on moving to get things a chance to get open."

Whisenhunt has alluded to the Cardinals having receivers running open frequently without getting the ball last season. That was the case specifically with Andre Roberts, a player Whisenhunt thought enjoyed a strong season without sufficient statistical rewards. Evidence collected over a four-game stretch suggested that might have been a problem for Kolb in particular.

A firmer grasp of the playbook should make it easier for Kolb to trust that his secondary receivers will be available. McNulty is working with Kolb on shortening the quarterback's movements in the pocket to keep plays on rhythm. Nothing too fancy, in other words.

"Just being around for a long time in some different systems now and being around some really good coaches, the ones that simplify it are the ones that really grasp it," Kolb said. "He's really good at that."

What Kolb can become

The Cardinals went 3-6 when Kolb started, but Skelton was the primary quarterback for the Dec. 12 game against San Francisco, the one in which Kolb suffered the concussion.

The burden of proof lies with Kolb after Skelton, who is receiving less than $500,000 per year, played a role in five game-winning drives last season. There is no way around that reality, not with Whisenhunt insisting on an honest competition.

Still, the Cardinals invested $12 million a year in Kolb because they liked his potential, not just because they needed a quarterback and that was the price.

"He's an athletic guy who is very smart," McNulty said. "He's a football guy. He's really done a lot of work to master the system in the last few months, and if he can get the ball out quickly, he's got a whip arm, he's accurate with it when he's working in rhythm. He can present problems as a guy who can move enough to get out of the way if he needs to, but he's capable of taking the snap and getting the ball out quickly and accurately and really diminishing what the rush can do to him."

Less than 11 months have passed since Arizona acquired Kolb. The vision McNulty described is still there for Kolb to salvage.

Just as Kolb must learn to avoid the rush, there's risk for his team if it rushes to judgment.

"I've really got a good hunch, a good instinct about this year," Kolb said. "I really think things are going to go well. That helps. When I have that feeling, that helps relax me and play better ball."
A look at three potentially significant under-the-radar offseason moves for each NFC West team, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals:

1. Cornerback shuffle. Former Pittsburgh Steelers corner William Gay is working with the starting unit during organized team activities. Arizona signed him to a modest deal after losing Richard Marshall in free agency. Gay played for Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton previously. He should fit the defense. Third-round corner Jamell Fleming has been the Cardinals' best rookie during organized team activities. Arizona could wind up cutting a cornerback who once projected as a starter. Patrick Peterson, Gay and Fleming have job security. A.J. Jefferson, Greg Toler and Michael Adams could be competing for two spots. Jefferson and Toler have been starters. Adams knows how to win a roster spot as an underdog. He's a good special-teams player and sound tackler.

2. Naming John McNulty as QB coach. The stakes are sky-high for the Cardinals at quarterback this season. Former QB coach Chris Miller made his coaching debut in 2009 and, as a former player, was probably an ideal sounding board for then-starter Kurt Warner. The landscape has changed dramatically since then. McNulty brings college coordinating experience, organizational skills and an emphasis on mechanics to the role. He's a professional coach, not a former pro player making the transition to coaching. The Cardinals are banking on McNulty to challenge Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. They are asking him to help develop rookie Ryan Lindley for the future. McNulty coached the Cardinals' receivers previously. Coach Ken Whisenhunt considered him to be a rising talent, one reason the Cardinals blocked Tampa Bay from interviewing McNulty for its opening at offensive coordinator.

3. Re-signing Levi Brown. There are some parallels between this move and the San Francisco 49ers' decision to bring back Alex Smith a year ago. Both players were disappointing as high first-round draft choices. Both cited unfinished business when deciding to return. Both players' teams easily could have moved in another direction. But Arizona, like San Francisco, might have been worse off in the short term. Brown, like Smith a year ago, re-signed after finishing the previous season relatively strong. Arizona had a tough enough time trying to replace its right tackle this offseason. Replacing both of them probably would have set the team back.
SeattleAztec from San Diego asks whether Matt Flynn might be the "most developed" quarterback in the NFC West after learning from Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.

"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"

Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.

"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."

That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
  • Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
  • Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
  • Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.

Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.

Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.

I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
Among the subjects Dan Bickley, Mike Jurecki and I discussed during our weekly spot on XTRA Sports 910 AM in Phoenix:
  • 49ers vs. Giants: Just how hot are the New York Giants right now, and what does it mean for the San Francisco 49ers? Having already gone on record picking the 49ers to win, I'm not sure that's the most important question. New Orleans was the hottest team last week, right? The Giants and 49ers reached this game by playing well in the divisional round. They're both hot right now. Both have reason to like their chances. I tend to think a New York team's exploits get amplified. The 49ers remind me of the 2008 Cardinals and the 2005 Seahawks -- not in composition, but more as good teams running under the radar while the NFL establishment gets to know them.
  • Rams and London: Rams fans in St. Louis were losers when the NFL announced the team would play one home game overseas in each of the next three seasons. Bernie Miklasz's take for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lines up closely with the way I see things. This looks like owner Stan Kroenke currying favor with the league and putting pressure on St. Louis to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome by stirring fears the team will relocate once its lease ends.
  • Cardinals and Haley: Bickley's column suggesting the Cardinals should make a push for Todd Haley with less regard for short-term staff dynamics made compelling points, I thought. That's not to say Arizona should push for Haley at all costs. I just thought Bickley raised a valid point in saying the Cardinals' offense hasn't been good enough lately to justify staying the course just because it's the comfortable thing to do. To be fair, though, the team did fire quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, so it's not like the team is standing pat entirely.
  • Seahawks: What, no Seahawks this time? That's actually a good thing in some ways. It means the team has made it through most of January without other teams raiding Pete Carroll's coaching staff. Keeping Tom Cable in place to oversee the offensive line and the running game has to be a top priority this offseason. So far, so good for Seattle.

All or now. I'm heading out to San Francisco on Saturday. Thanks to those who've asked about the power situation here in the Northwest. We've been without power since Thursday but are otherwise fine.

Around the NFC West: Kroenke on hold

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
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Just a hunch, but I'm guessing billionaire NFL owners such as the St. Louis Rams' Stan Kroenke don't enjoy spending a week on hold, listening to the same song over and over.

Surely Kroenke and the Rams will not wait much longer for Jeff Fisher to decide which team he'll coach next. Will they?

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Kroenke has played these games before and shouldn't lose for reasons of economics. Burwell: "This is a game Kroenke is quite familiar to playing. If winning the Jeff Fisher Sweepstakes comes down to who is willing to dig the deepest into his substantially deep pockets -- and Fisher isn't looking to become the first NFL head coach to pull down sick, franchise quarterback money -- Kroenke can win this game, because he's played it before. The renowned manager of Kroenke's professional soccer team in England, Arsene Wenger, earns a staggering $7 million a year to work the sidelines for Arsenal."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need better players if they expect to succeed under any head coach, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams continue to consider candidates beyond Fisher. Thomas: "League sources have confirmed that the Rams plan to interview New Orleans assistant coach Aaron Kromer as well as Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski."

Terry McCormick of National Football Post reflects on whether Fisher might be leaning toward the Dolphins. McCormick: "Fisher, according to what sources indicate to NFP, could be in line to make upwards of $8 million a year on a contract for five years from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. There have been reports that while Fisher was previously leaning toward the Rams, the possibility of the team going back to Los Angeles is something he wants no part of, having been coach of the Houston Oilers during their transition to becoming the Tennessee Titans." Noted: If that is indeed a concern for Fisher, any decision he makes to join a team other than the Rams will make it appear as though the Rams could not assure him the team would remain in St. Louis.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck thinks the Seahawks would be wise to pursue Matt Flynn or Brian Hoyer this offseason. Hasselbeck: "I think that the only backup quarterback that played better than Matt Flynn in the preseason was Brian Hoyer. I think Brian Hoyer, without question, can be a very good starting quarterback in the NFL."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune likes the budding rivalries in the NFC West. Boling: "One might cheer for New Orleans, hoping the Saints cause San Francisco to suffer grievous humiliation in Saturday’s playoff match because, as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But deferred gratification might come if the 49ers went on a streak and won the Super Bowl, knowing they’d then be forced to pick last on draft day, and also might be more vulnerable to a let-down and laxity next season. Either way, it is relevant now that there is reason for fans around here to care about the fate of their rivals -- because they finally have rivals."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates the Todd Haley situation in relation to the Cardinals. Haley is scheduled to interview with the Jets. Somers: "Cardinals officials are believed to have spoken with Haley at least twice about returning to Arizona, where he was offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. Mike Miller is currently the offensive coordinator, but the recent firing of Chris Miller created an opening as quarterbacks coach. Offensive-line coach Russ Grimm and tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens have been offered new contracts but have yet to sign them. Coaches have been on vacation this week."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are benefiting from quarterback Alex Smith's study habits. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman: "He's extremely sharp, but it comes down to the way he prepares, his will to succeed, his commitment to winning, commitment to the team. In Alex's case, he's going to be in the office with us at night, nailing things down. I told him next year or in the future, he might be able to get home and get to bed a little earlier. If we ever get an offseason, we can get together and iron some of these things out. Really, he's on the details. We're thankful for that."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says clogging inside passing lanes is a top priority for the 49ers, according to Justin Smith.

Alex Espinoza of 49ers.com says going against Justin Smith in practice is a great learning experience, but also a painful one, for young offensive linemen such as Daniel Kilgore.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Vernon Davis is feeling much more comfortable with the 49ers' offense in recent weeks.
A few quick thoughts on Adam Schefter's note about former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, a potential candidate to rejoin the Arizona Cardinals, first considering an opportunity with the New York Jets:
  • Does Haley feel as though the Arizona opportunity will be there for him no matter what? He's obviously considering other opportunities first. The Cardinals cleared a spot on their staff by firing quarterbacks coach Chris Miller. The Jets job would include the title of assistant head coach, according to Schefter. Russ Grimm holds that title in Arizona.
  • Looks like Haley isn't sprinting back to the Cardinals to affix his name to an offense featuring Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as the primary quarterbacks. Then again, where are the Jets headed with Mark Sanchez?
  • If Haley takes a job other than coordinator with the Jets -- Schefter says the job would be assistant head coach, with Tony Sparano as coordinator -- would he essentially become passing game coordinator? And what job could he have gotten in Arizona?

Should be an interesting day on the coaching front. Seems like we should learn more on Haley and, separately, Jeff Fisher.
The St. Louis Rams' owner, Stan Kroenke, has served the league on its Los Angeles Stadium Working Group.

The Rams' top executive, Kevin Demoff, grew up in Los Angeles. So did their top candidate to become head coach, Jeff Fisher. The team itself spent nearly 50 years in Southern California before moving to St. Louis for the 1995 season.

Can anyone fault the locals for wondering whether or not Kroenke might move the team West once the Rams' stadium lease likely voids following the 2014 season? The league wants another team in the L.A. market, after all.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch seeks to calm the masses without guaranteeing the Rams will remain put for the long term. Miklasz: "The Rams aren't acting like a franchise that is planning to cut and run. They've been aggressive and dedicated in expanding and deepening their community-wide roots; Rams-related charitable activities and reach-out efforts to fans have have increased. Perfect? Heck, no. But the franchise is much more in touch with the STL community and fans. Another example: with Kroenke's go-ahead, Demoff has taken whatever measures necessary to ensure that home games wouldn't be blacked out locally. And in some instances it meant that Kroenke bought up tickets to keep a home game on free TV." Noted: Fisher reportedly would resist a franchise move based on what he experienced when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans, but the organization is bigger than any one person below the ownership level.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a coach and general manager. Denver's Dennis Allen and Philadelphia's Ryan Grigson are both 39 years old.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com quotes Demoff on various coaching-search matters. Demoff: "I think it’s probably fair to say that if he were excited about coming here, we'd be excited to have him. Obviously, there are a lot of things to work through on both sides. You never know how these things are going to turn out, but he's obviously an impressive coach with an impressive résumé and we are excited about what we've heard so far." Noted: The Rams are acting like a team that feels good about its chances. Failing to land Fisher at this point would stand as a bitter disappointment. Does the team have a viable alternative?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have no immediate plans to place Delanie Walker on their injured reserve list. They hope Walker could return if the team advanced in the playoffs. Noted: The Super Bowl is still nearly four weeks away. If the 49ers do not need the roster spot, there's no advantage in placing Walker on injured reserve. Keeping him on the 53-man roster also shows respect for a player the team has valued greatly.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers for thoughts on Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Rogers played for Williams in Washington. Rogers: "We can rush with our front four and get pressure on the guy, so we don't have to blitz a lot. Their front four is -- they're good -- but that's his (Williams') mentality. Your quarterback is going to get that ball out of your hands and they're going to make him throw it quick. If not, they're going to try to hurt him, take him out of the game."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' decision to fire quarterbacks coach Chris Miller: "The easy way to fill the job is to hire Todd Haley as a coordinator. Haley has coached quarterbacks before, too. The Cardinals also could shift Mike Miller, the current offensive coordinator, to quarterbacks coach and/or possibly passing game coordinator. But it sounds as if Miller was going to be let go independent of Haley's potential hiring. The Cardinals would like to speak in depth with Haley about returning to the run the offense, but that hasn't happened yet."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along a comment from coach Ken Whisenhunt regarding Miller's dismissal. Whisenhunt: "In the analysis of where we are and the progress that’s been made, we felt a change at that position was what we needed."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks at the team's slow start and strong finish in the running game. Farnsworth: "It was just before they were preparing to play the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens in back-to-back games that Tom Cable put it on the line and his backs. Against a Cowboys run defense that ranked fourth in the league, allowing an average of 93.9 rushing yards, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks had 135 and 162, respectively. The following week, against a Ravens defense that ranked third in the league against the run, allowing an average of 86.8 rushing yards, Lynch and the Seahawks went for 109 and 119."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle shares thoughts from Joe Theismann on how the Seahawks should proceed with the 11th or 12th choice in the 2012 draft. Theismann: "I think you make a huge mistake when you go and roll the dice and go after an inexperienced rookie quarterback who's going to have to grow. Don't expect an Andy Dalton-type performance next year." Noted: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recently said he's changed his philosophy on young quarterbacks. He thinks more of them can succeed right away. Carroll hasn't been afraid to play youngsters, but neither has he drafted a quarterback since coming to Seattle.
Kevin Kolb did not meet expectations during his first season with the Arizona Cardinals.

Looks like quarterbacks coach Chris Miller will pay the price.

The bigger question is whether or not Miller's firing Monday clears the way for Todd Haley's rehiring three years after Haley left the Cardinals to become head coach in Kansas City. Firing Miller makes less sense on the surface unless the team has other plans for its staff.

Haley could have opportunities outside Arizona. It's also not clear whether or not Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to shuffle his staff beyond firing Miller. The team promoted Mike Miller to offensive coordinator a year ago. Haley presumably would not take a job as a position coach. He would need to be coordinator. That would affect Mike Miller.

Wedging in the sometimes brash Haley at the expense of two assistants would affect broader staff dynamics as well.

Miller, 46, became the Cardinals' quarterbacks coach in 2009, Kurt Warner's final season with the team. He was a finalist to become head coach at Southern Oregon University a year ago. Miller played extensively in the NFL, but he did not have coaching experience in the league until the Cardinals hired him as a coaching intern in 2007.

Chris Miller obviously wasn't solely to blame for the Cardinals' issues at quarterback or for their offensive decline.

Warner retired and the team parted with receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Derek Anderson and Max Hall were not necessarily viable quarterback alternatives in 2010. The team went into 2011 with the unproven Kolb and John Skelton atop its QB depth chart. A lockout prevented Kolb from working with the team much before the season.

The Cardinals have done little to improve their offensive line through the draft. Injuries affected Kolb and both top running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
Good morning. Lots of coaching considerations to address on the first Sunday following the 2011 regular season. Let's take a spin around the division.
  • Jeff Fisher and the Rams: ESPN's Adam Schefter notes that New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is in the final year of his contract and could leave the team for a chance to rejoin Fisher's staff in St. Louis or Miami. I have heard the same rumblings. Williams and Fisher were together back when Tennessee came within about a yard of tying the Rams late in Super Bowl XXXIV. A Fisher-Williams pairing would have to excite the Rams. I wonder who Fisher would land for his offensive coordinator, however. The late Mike Heimerdinger was his coordinator in Tennessee.
  • Josh McDaniels and the Patriots: The Rams let McDaniels out of his contract as offensive coordinator, clearing the way for McDaniels to rejoin New England. In fact, McDaniels will begin helping the Patriots right away -- during the playoffs. That means McDaniels will coach in the divisional round against either his former team, Denver, or a Pittsburgh team he faced with the Rams in Week 16. This seems strange. The Rams' willingness to let McDaniels walk suggests they know McDaniels would not fit well with their next head coach. It makes me wonder whether the Rams already know Fisher will become their next coach. In that case, all parties would be stalling while the Rams followed protocol regarding the Rooney Rule. Otherwise, what would the Rams have to gain by parting with McDaniels at this time?
  • Todd Haley and the Cardinals: Not much new here. The big question is how bringing back Haley would impact the rest of the offensive staff in Arizona. Haley would presumably not return as anything less than offensive coordinator. But as Kent Somers notes, coach Ken Whisenhunt likes current coordinator Mike Miller. Mike Jurecki has pointed to quarterbacks coach Chris Miller as the likely casualty. I've heard the same thing. Someone would seemingly have to go.
  • Steve Spagnuolo's thinking: The former Rams coach opened up some to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Brian Burwell. Spagnuolo: "I am not bitter at all. I understand the business. I do. I get it." Burwell asked Spagnuolo about complaints from unnamed players regarding the Rams' coaching staff lacking experience.

The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will happily stand on the sideline during the staff shuffling this offseason. Both organizations have experienced plenty of turnover in recent seasons. Seattle's Tom Cable and San Francisco's Vic Fangio are the two coaches each team needs to keep the most.

XTRA910 audio: Coaching changes, etc.

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
6:57
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Passing along: an audio link from my Friday conversation with Dan Bickley and Mike Jurecki of XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix.

Among the subjects we discussed:
  • Ray Horton and the Rams: The Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator did interview for the Rams' head coaching job Friday. The Rams confirmed it to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My money would be on Jeff Fisher taking the job next week. It's unlikely, in my view, that the Rams would hire a first-year, first-time coordinator to replace Steve Spagnuolo.
  • Divisional competition: San Francisco ran away with the NFC West this season, but contentious late-season games between the 49ers, Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks made the division feel highly competitive. The division produced two 1,200-yard rushers and two others with at least 1,000 yards. There were two top-10 defenses (measured by yards and points allowed). Hard-hitting safeties made their mark.
  • Josh McDaniels' future. The Rams' in-limbo offensive coordinator would appear much smarter and adept as a play caller if he landed with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. One thing we did not discuss was Sam Bradford's affinity for McDaniels' system. And if the Rams do hire Fisher, a defensive-minded head coach, they would become vulnerable to continuity issues if their offensive coordinator fared well enough to land a head coaching job elsewhere. That was never a big problem for Fisher in Tennessee, however. Les Steckel, Mike Heimerdinger (twice) and Norm Chow were his coordinators. Bradford was fired up about working with McDaniels. How might he feel about running an offense similar in philosophy to the ones Fisher's teams ran in Tennessee?
  • Todd Haley's status: The Cardinals' former offensive coordinator could return to the role after three seasons coaching the Kansas City Chiefs. The direct, sometimes highly charged connection Haley achieved with some players on the team, notably Larry Fitzgerald, distinguished his Arizona tenure. Adding Haley could come at the expense of quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, according to Jurecki. Miller had little to work with in 2010. Kevin Kolb's struggles in 2011 stood as a disappointment.
  • Larry Fitzgerald's greatness: It was tough to envision any receiver living up to the contract Fitzgerald signed in August. I think Fitzgerald is pulling it off, not just through his production but by what he represents on the field.

Enjoy your Friday. I'm home this weekend before heading to San Francisco to spend much of next week with the 49ers.

Five points on Cardinals' coaching move

February, 16, 2011
2/16/11
6:55
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Five notes regarding the Arizona Cardinals' offense after coach Ken Whisenhunt met with reporters to discuss Mike Miller's promotion to coordinator:

  • This was part of a progression. Miller, who previously oversaw the passing game, has been on Whisenhunt's staff from the beginning in Arizona. The two worked together with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2001-03. That made Miller a natural choice for a position that had been vacant since former coordinator Todd Haley left following the 2008 season. If the move takes some pressure off Whisenhunt, that is a good thing. He can perhaps focus on the team more broadly during what figures to be another transition year (new staff, likely new quarterback, etc.).
  • [+] EnlargeRuss Grimm
    AP Photo/Paul ConnorsCardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm will continue to coach the offensive line next season.
  • Russ Grimm's value remains high. Grimm, the Cardinals' assistant head coach/offensive line, had coordinated the running game. Whisenhunt said he considered Grimm for the job Miller landed, but the move would have made it tough for Grimm to coach the offensive line. Grimm is most valuable coaching the line. It would have been impractical, in my view, for him to call plays and coach the line during games.
  • This was not a setback for Grimm. Whisenhunt: "Russ and I talked about it, but Russ is not interested in it. I shouldn’t say Russ is not interested in it, but Russ does a number of things for us and is a very good football coach. At this point, it was not time for Russ do to it. Could Russ do it? Absolutely. I don’t think there is any question in my mind that Russ could do it, but coaching the offensive line is a full-time job."
  • Miller may or may not call plays. "I've decided that I am going to call the good plays," Whisenhunt joked. "Since Mike's now the coordinator, he is going to be responsible for all the ones that don't work." Whisenhunt, like quite a few head coaches, loves calling plays. He'll be involved. Miller called plays at times last season, and his role presumably will grow now that he is coordinator. But I'm guessing there will be times when Miller does the dirty work during the week, only to have the head coach have the fun on game days.
  • The Cardinals' staff appears set. Miller and Ray Horton are the coordinators. Horton made a few changes to the defensive staff. Quarterbacks coach Chris Miller is staying put after becoming a finalist to become head coach at Southern Oregon University.
Earlier: This move makes Mike Miller more accountable, for better and worse.

Cardinals could lose quarterbacks coach

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
11:50
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The Arizona Cardinals' highest-ranking assistant coach, Russ Grimm, has drawn interest at times for head-coaching jobs in the NFL.

At the moment, losing Grimm isn't the primary threat to coach Ken Whisenhunt's offensive staff.

As Darren Urban of azcardinals.com pointed out, quarterbacks coach Chris Miller could be leaving to become head coach at Southern Oregon University.

Miller replaced Jeff Rutledge, who was fired, not quite two years ago. He emphasized the little things, notably mechanics, when working with Kurt Warner.

Mechanics became a bigger point of emphasis when Derek Anderson took over as the starter in 2010. Anderson's mechanics led to accuracy problems that lingered throughout the season.

Players tend to revert to bad habits under pressure and it's tough for even skilled quarterbacks coaches to fix significant problems with mechanics.

Around the NFC West: Playoff blinders

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
9:33
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo remains determined to focus only on the next game -- despite all the possible scenarios for the postseason. Spagnuolo: "I just know that until they tell us that we cannot make it to the playoffs, that's what we're still shooting for. They haven't said we're out of it yet, and right now we have to win this next game, and that's all I'm focused on. I'm not trying to avoid any questions. That's just how I am, and to me, that's where you have to put it for your football team to move forward. Can't do scenarios, can't worry about who they scheduled. You've got to go out and win a football game."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' third-down offense has deteriorated over the last several games. Miklasz: "I'm not suggesting that the Rams should go full-time with the no-huddle attack. But I'm astounded that they don't utilize it more frequently. The Rams had some success mixing in a few no-huddle plays early against KC. Then the offense really bogged down; the energy drain was obvious during one of the most frustrating stretches after the season. After taking a 6-0 lead with field goals on their first two possessions, the Rams went to sleep for eight consecutive series. (I'm not counting the one-play series at the end of the first half.)"

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are closer to getting tight end Mike Hoomanawanui back from injury. Coats: "Should Hoomanawanui be cleared for game action, he could solve another problem for Spagnuolo and his staff. Brit Miller, a key special-teams contributor, had taken over the fullback duties from Mike Karney, who was among the team's inactives the last four Sundays. But Miller tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's 27-13 loss to Kansas City and will have surgery in about a month. Before Hoomanawanui was hurt, he was lining up at times at fullback, giving the Rams increased options with their play-calling."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams' most recent performance has raised several questions.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along a few Rams notes, including this one: "Sam Bradford completed 21-of-43 passes for 181 yards to give him 3,065 on the season. Bradford is just the third rookie in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and he now has the third most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only Peyton Manning (3,739) and Matt Ryan (3,440)."

Also from Wagoner: The Rams feel as though they are in a must-win situation.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis offers a Rams injury update. Chris Long has a thigh bruise.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers his player-by-player review on the 49ers from their game against San Diego. On Travis LaBoy: "Entered at right outside linebacker on the Chargers' second drive. He got pressure on Rivers to disrupt play, resulting in pass to Hester for 8-yard loss. . . . Got past Chargers tight end Kory Sperry to stop Tolbert for no gain. But Sperry rolled up on LaBoy from behind on the play. . . . LaBoy sustained a left knee sprain that will not require surgery. But because the 49ers determined the ligament tear will take 6 to 8 weeks to recover, the 49ers placed him on injured reserve, thus ending his season."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers think Troy Smith would be less effective without Frank Gore providing a threat in the running game. I agree completely. Smith's success came when opponents loaded up to stop Gore. Once teams paid more attention to Smith, the quarterback's production diminished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on the 49ers' playoff prospects. Barrows: "The 49ers have finished the last two seasons with a 3-1 record, which they would achieve again should they win their remaining games. They went 5-1 in the division last year with their lone loss coming in Seattle. They also would duplicate that feat by winning out. To win the division, however, the 49ers also would have to break two ugly trends -- losing on the road and dropping games that begin before noon on the West Coast. The team has just one win away from home -- Nov. 29 against Arizona -- and they've lost four of their five 10 a.m. (PST) starts. Their only a.m. victory came in London, a game in which the team had six days to acclimate to the new time zone."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says there's no game bigger for the 49ers than their matchup with St. Louis.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News expects the 49ers to stick with Alex Smith at quarterback. Also: "If the 49ers get to 7-9 and win the West, they’d get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, possibly against the defending champion New Orleans Saints, who very well could be 12-4 at that point and are currently Sagarin’s No. 8 team. This eventuality does not seem fair, as you probably have heard on TV, radio and in bar rooms across the nation. There may be rules changes on this in the future–maybe to erase the automatic home-field edge to division winners. But this season, it’s locked in. It will be strange, but whoever wins the NFC West will host a playoff game against a very good wild-card team."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sizes up the 49ers' playoff prospects.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle updates where the 49ers stand heading into Week 16. On the team's game against San Diego: "The 49ers dropped to 0-7 against teams with winning records, which is the main reason they won't finish as one of those teams with winning records this season. This time, they got whacked in San Diego, 34-7, lowlighted by a failed 4th-and-goal from the 6-inch line."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Mike Singletary's struggles as a head coach are overshadowing his great playing career. Branch relates a story about the time Singletary kept playing despite losing part of a finger. Branch: "On Dec. 11, 1983, Singletary lost the tip of the middle finger on his left hand, had it stitched back on and demanded to return to Chicago’s game at Minnesota. Adding to the legend, a half-crazed Singletary returned with a wrapped-up hand and began screaming at Vikings offensive lineman Dave Huffman, telling him the Vikings wouldn’t score. Minnesota didn’t score. The Bears won, 19-13."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says special-teams captain Roy Lewis is headed for injured reserve with a knee injury. Also, Chester Pitts and Mike Gibson will remain the starting guards.

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle is sticking with Matt Hasselbeck even after the quarterback committed eight turnovers leading to 37 points for the team's last two opponents.

More from Farnsworth: a look at the Seahawks' opening drive to a touchdown against Atlanta.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on Hasselbeck's recent struggles. O'Neil: "For eight years Hasselbeck played for one coach in Seattle, and he knew Mike Holmgren's offense as well as any quarterback ever has. Now, he's using his second different playbook in two seasons. He was intercepted 17 times last season, the most of any year in his career. He has been picked off 17 times this season, making it he simply doesn't have that governor that kept him from going overboard in terms of his risks. It's unrealistic to expect offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and Hasselbeck to have the relationship Holmgren forged with the quarterback over eight years, but something has got to change." The biggest change, I think, is the obvious deterioration in the supporting cast around Hasselbeck. He's no longer working behind an offensive line featuring Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray. He's no longer watching Shaun Alexander run behind fullback Mack Strong and that line.

Also from O'Neil: A Seahawks fan is suing Jets player Shaun Ellis for allegedly throwing a piece of ice into the Qwest Field stands two seasons ago.

More from O'Neil: Coach Pete Carroll is asking Hasselbeck to change his ways, but not his role.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along Brian McIntyre's personnel breakdown from Seattle's game against Atlanta. Aaron Curry played more than 93 percent of the defensive snaps. Seattle was in its base defense nearly 70 percent of the time.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers pros and cons behind the Seahawks' decision to stick with Hasselbeck. Boling: "Hasselbeck said after the game that he’s learning some lessons. We might note that he’s 35, and has started here most of the last 10 seasons, which generally is not considered learning-curve territory. Carroll and Hasselbeck both theorized that he presses too hard and makes shaky decisions when the team is behind. But the team has lost 31 games in the last three seasons, so he should have experience in these matters."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest looks at Michael Robinson's varied roles on the Seahawks.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could be without Joey Porter, Early Doucet and LaRod Stephens-Howling after all three suffered injuries Sunday. Porter might have suffered a serious triceps injury.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on the Cardinals' performance against Carolina. Somers: "Most of the offensive problems Sunday (and this season) can be traced to poor quarterback play. Rookie John Skelton, making his second start, made poor decisions, bad reads and missed open receivers. When the offense struggles, people first want to blame the play-calling. But that's hard to justify when receivers are running open without getting the ball, or dropping it when they do get it."

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt has ceded some of the offensive play-calling duties, something he has done periodically over the years.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Skelton will remain the Cardinals' starting quarterback. Also, Whisenhunt saw some mitigating factors regarding Tim Hightower's latest fumble. Whisenhunt: "That was a tough play. He was scrambling to get something and it was a big hit … it wasn’t a strip, the helmet hit the ball and it came out and fortunately Steve (Breaston) was there to pick it up. There wasn’t much you could say about it."

Also from Urban: Whisenhunt uses the word "painful" to describe the Cardinals' season.

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