NFC West: Courtney taylor

Larry Fitzgerald's arrival with the Arizona Cardinals via the 2004 NFL draft serves as the starting point for the latest item looking at recent NFC West choices.

Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions, far more than any other NFC West receiver over the last seven seasons.

In fact, the wide receivers with the most receptions for the Cardinals' division rivals during the same time period -- Torry Holt (St. Louis), Bobby Engram (Seattle) and Arnaz Battle (San Francisco) -- have long since moved on. I ran across Engram in the 49ers' main lobby Wednesday; he's a quality control coach with the team.

History tells us receivers carry more risk than some other positions. For every Fitzgerald, there seems to be a Koren Robinson, David Terrell or Troy Williamson -- high picks that never came close to realizing their potential. Mike Williams' revival with Seattle last season was an exception.

The charts break down every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2004. Will the St. Louis Rams add Julio Jones to their list of drafted wideouts?

As in the past, I'll preface each chart with thoughts from the teams' perspectives.

Immediate needs don't matter so much when front-line talent is available ...

Time to start finding replacements for veterans who might not fit into our plans (Terrell Owens for the 49ers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for the Rams) ...

These guys might not start, but every team needs secondary options in the passing game ...

We're getting late enough in the draft to consider grabbing a receiver while a few with decent potential remain on the board ...

Time to fill out the roster and hope we find depth for special teams ...
Of all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.US PresswireOf all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.
JaMarcus Russell's demise as an NFL player is back in the news, shining light upon the perils of investing millions in unproven prospects.

The 2007 NFL draft was about more than Russell, of course.

That draft also produced Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and Lawrence Timmons among the top 15 choices.

For as much criticism as the Arizona Cardinals have taken for selecting tackle Levi Brown fifth overall, Brown has started 59 regular-season games, second only to Willis (63) among NFC West draft choices that year. He has also started six playoff games, including a Super Bowl, and coach Ken Whisenhunt expects good things from him.

I've put together a couple charts showing what NFC West teams have gotten from their draft choices that year. More on those in a bit.

First, I've taken a team-by-team look at the players selected, whether they remain with their original teams and how many games each has started for his drafted team.

The 49ers had the best draft among NFC West teams. They also had the most draft capital to work with, selecting twice in the first round. The Seattle Seahawks had no first-rounder that year thanks to the Deion Branch trade, so expectations were lower.

Arizona Cardinals

Total picks: five

Still with team (4): Brown (59), Steve Breaston (26), Ben Patrick (20), Alan Branch (3)

No longer with team (1): Buster Davis (0)

Comment: The Cardinals had fewer total selections than any team in the division. Hitting on Breaston in the fifth round was outstanding, but the Cardinals haven't gotten enough from their top three selections that year. Branch never panned out as a second-rounder. Davis, the third-rounder, didn't make it out of camp. Whisenhunt takes pride in making roster decisions with less regard for draft status. He wasn't going to give Davis or anyone a free pass. That's admirable, but in the bigger picture, Arizona still came up short in this draft.

San Francisco 49ers

Total picks: nine

Still with team (5): Willis (63), Joe Staley (50), Ray McDonald (9), Dashon Goldson (34), Tarell Brown (5)

No longer with team (4): Jason Hill (2), Jay Moore (0), Joe Cohen (0), Thomas Clayton (0)

Comment: Former general manager Scot McCloughan gets credit for selling former coach Mike Singletary on Willis as an elite prospect. That seems odd given Singletary's background as a Hall of Fame linebacker, but the 49ers got the right guy, so the "how" part matters less. That one selection makes this draft the best in the division for 2007. Staley is the starting left tackle. McDonald has been a solid rotation player. Goldson became a starter. All in all, this was a strong draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Total picks: eight

Still with team (2): Brandon Mebane (53), Will Herring (7)

No longer with team (6): Josh Wilson (24), Steve Vallos (8), Mansfield Wrotto (5), Courtney Taylor (4), Jordan Kent (1), Baraka Atkins (0)

Comment: Not having a first-round selection severely hurt this class' overall potential. Wilson seemed like a solid selection in the second round given the playmaking value he offered, but multiple changes in organizational leadership left him on the outside in terms of fit. Mebane was a solid choice in the third round. Vallos and Wrotto remain in the league elsewhere.

St. Louis Rams

Total picks: eight

Still with team (1): Clifton Ryan (27)

No longer with team (7): Adam Carriker (25), Brian Leonard (7), Jonathan Wade (6), Dustin Fry (0), Ken Shackleford (0), Keith Jackson (0), Derek Stanley (0)

Comment: This draft was a disaster for the Rams and made worse by massive organizational changes. On the bright side, the Rams might not have been in position to select Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 without selecting so many non-contributors in 2007.

Now, on to the charts. The first one takes a round-by-round look at the number of starts each team has gotten from its 2007 selections. I have used dashes instead of zeroes to show when teams did not have a selection in a specific round.

The second chart divides the number of starts by the values of the selections each team held, using the draft-value chart.

For example, the value chart said the Seahawks' picks that year were worth 669.2 points, far less than the picks for other NFC West teams were worth. Using this measure, Seattle got more bang for its buck if we valued all starts equally (and we should not value them all equally, but we can still use this as a general guide).

Some of the choices were compensatory and could not be traded, so the chart would not have valued them for trading purposes. I assigned values to them for this exercise, however, because we were not considering the picks for trading purposes.

Some people probably owe apologies to former Seahawks receive Courtney Taylor. It wasn't entirely his fault when he went from promising wideout on the verge of breaking out to underachiever.

Taylor, released by Seattle before last season, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year earlier. The diagnosis wasn't publicized. Taylor's struggles appeared a bit puzzling after people inside and outside the organization singled him out as a player with a bright future.
"The first sign was an eye twitch, which made it hard to track the ball, which made it hard to catch the ball, and if you know Taylor, you know catching the ball had never been a problem for him," Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News recently wrote.

Scarbinsky suggested Taylor struggled while adjusting to medication, the implication being that Taylor was again ready to resume his career. No one has signed Taylor, who had a tryout with the Patriots in September, and it's possible teams won't want to take a chance on a player with his condition. Taylor does make monthly trips to the University of Washington for treatment, Scarbinsky notes. But Taylor said doctors caught the condition early enough for Taylor to enjoy a mostly normal life.

I was traveling when Taylor went public with his condition, but it was something I wanted to revisit. Perhaps he'll get another chance. He is still only 25 years old.

Assessing Rams' situation at receiver

November, 16, 2009
The Rams placed starting receiver Keenan Burton on injured reserve Monday, ending his season. The position has been hit incredibly hard by injuries this season, recalling what Seattle went through in 2008.

The Rams were already rebuilding at the position after releasing Torry Holt as part of a youth movement and salary-cap adjustment. General manager Billy Devaney made a solid move in acquiring Laurent Robinson from the Falcons before the season. Robinson was the Rams' best receiver through the first two games, but a season-ending injury landed him on injured reserve. Starter Donnie Avery has hit stride recently after battling injuries most of the season. Brandon Gibson, a rookie acquired from Philadelphia in the Will Witherspoon trade, made strong contributions Sunday.

Burton had shown significant improvement in recent weeks. He ranks second to Avery in receptions among St. Louis' wide receivers. Running back Steven Jackson leads the team overall.

The Rams have had nine receivers on their 53-man roster this season: Gibson, Avery, Burton, Robinson, Danny Amendola, Ruvell Martin, Tim Carter, Nate Jones and Derek Stanley. Fifth-round choice Brooks Foster landed on injured reserve before the season. Ronald Curry was with the team in camp.

Avery, Gibson, Amendola and Martin remain. Sean Walker is on the practice squad. Chris Davis, Skyler Green, David Tyree, Larry Beavers, Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne and Jordan Kent have had tryouts with the team over the last two months.

Keeping Avery healthy is critical. Gibson will continue getting significant reps after catching seven passes for 93 yards against the Saints in Week 10.

NFC West: Final Word

October, 16, 2009

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by's Mike Sando

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Seattle has narrowed the gap at wide receiver. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald combined for 23 receptions and 337 yards during the Cardinals' 26-20 victory at Seattle last season. Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Koren Robinson and Courtney Taylor were Seattle's receivers for that game. Branch is the only holdover, and he's an afterthought who doesn't even take all the reps in the three-receiver offense. Starters Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are averaging a combined 11.4 receptions per game this season, slightly more than what Fitzgerald and Boldin are averaging (11.3). Burleson and Houshmandzadeh also have five touchdown receptions, same as Fitzgerald and Boldin. The Cardinals still have the better receivers overall -- no one should forget about Steve Breaston -- but the talent isn't nearly so mismatched.

McFadden, Lucas need to earn their money. The Cardinals beefed up their secondary during the offseason by signing former Steelers corner Bryant McFadden, valued for his physical style. The Seahawks, reeling from two futile performances against the Cardinals' receivers last season, signed 6-foot corner Ken Lucas to close some of the size disparity. Lucas has missed practice all week while tending to his family following the unexpected death of his father. He'll start Sunday, but the Seahawks remain without top corner Marcus Trufant, eligible to return from the physically unable to perform list in Week 7. Lucas faced the Cardinals twice while with Carolina last season. Fitzgerald had 15 receptions for 281 yards in those games, matching exactly his totals in two games against Seattle.

Aaron Curry and Adrian Wilson are the 'X' factors. Curry transforms the Seattle defense with his physical, borderline dirty play. Wilson does the same for Arizona. Both players have incurred numerous fines for their violent styles even though Curry has played only five regular-season games. These are the players quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck must take into account before every snap. Their health is at stake. I'm expecting one of these players to make a game-changing play as a pass rusher or with a big hit on a wide receiver. Even though the Seahawks could use an offensive tackle, I think they were wise to draft Curry over Eugene Monroe, who visited Qwest Field with Jacksonville last week. Curry looks like a dynamic player with strong pass-rush ability and uncommon ability for his size (nearly 260 pounds).

Steven Jackson is due to find the end zone. The Rams are also due to win a game, but that's another story (and not an impossibility given the Jaguars' overall flightiness). Back to Jackson. He's still on pace for more than 1,400 yards, but that end zone is a place he needs to visit before long. I think this could be the week. Jackson's motivation should be off the charts after he lost a fumble at the Minnesota 2 on a first-and-goal play. The Rams have enough problems without having their best player hurt them. Jackson has shown he's a leader by example. Expect him to set the right one Sunday even though the Jaguars are allowing only 3.8 yards per carry.

Chris Long is due to find the quarterback. The second-year Rams defensive end should have chances for sacks against former Virginia teammate Monroe, a rookie still finding his way. Long has played well enough to set up teammates, but it's time for him to realize results as well. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has taken 11 sacks in five games, so he can be accessible. Perhaps Long can find him.

No need to get excited over most young WRs

September, 16, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' performance in Week 1 and subsequent decision to release receiver Lance Long should be instructive, particularly within the NFC West.

Each summer, young receivers flash their potential, leaving hopeful fans to fret about which one of these future stars the team might not be able to keep. Except the receivers rarely become future contributors, let alone stars. For every Jerheme Urban, there are multiple Courtney Taylors and Jordan Kents and Dominique Zeiglers and Lance Longs.

Teams get into trouble offensively when injuries force them to rely too heavily upon fringe receivers. The Seahawks demonstrated this spectacularly last season. Their promising young receivers weren't so promising when they had to play extended snaps in real games.

Long played extensively as the fourth receiver in the Cardinals' offense Sunday. Quarterback Kurt Warner did not appear comfortable with the arrangement.

These players tend to be suited for very limited roles. Long became the latest one to clear waivers, meaning none of the other 31 NFL teams immediately had a place for him on its 53-man roster. Taylor, Kent and Zeigler also cleared waivers. That doesn't mean these were bad players without futures in the NFL. It does mean we shouldn't equate training-camp promise with regular-season production, particularly for receivers.

Update: The Chiefs signed Long to their practice squad.

Around the NFC West: Rams' Smith shows

September, 4, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch liked what he saw from Rams rookie tackle Jason Smith. Burwell: "What I liked the most about what Smith did against the Chiefs was how quickly he learned from his mistakes. When he was over on the right side in the first quarter, the Chiefs stacked the linebacker and defensive end together and ran a looping stunt, with the end swooping around the blitzing linebacker to the inside. A few games ago, Smith had issues with these types of games that the defensive rushers played against the inexperienced rookie. Thursday night, it wasn't Smith who got fooled on the stunt. He stuffed his man at the line of scrimmage, but his tag-team partner, Adam Goldberg, reacted a hair late to the delayed inside rush."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says both teams were "offensively challenged" when the Rams and Chiefs played Thursday night. Thomas: "Bubble defensive ends Eric Moore and C.J. Ah You both had their moments rushing the passer. At running back, none of the backups made a definitive statement. In the battle for the No. 3 quarterback job, Brock Berlin got the better of it over Keith Null, although Berlin did throw a costly second-quarter interception and their final numbers Thursday ended up being very similar."

Also from Thomas: Donnie Avery got some work for the Rams, suggesting he'll be ready for the regular-season opener after recovering from a broken foot.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the race between quarterbacks Berlin and Null for the No. 3 job in St. Louis is too close to call.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat points to turnovers as a key for the Rams during the exhibition season. They forced 12 of them.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' cornerbacks stood out against the Rams. Stull: "Jonathan Wade had sack, Justin King had an interception and Bradley Fletcher was in on several plays."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says some Cardinals players are concerned after the team failed to impress -- again -- in finishing the exhibition season with an 0-4 record. Also: "The Cardinals could well make most of their cuts on Friday, a day ahead of the deadline for teams to get to the 53-man maximum. After Thursday's game, I'd say cornerback Michael Adams is going to stick. He's competitive and plays well on special teams. I don't like the chances of tight end Leonard Pope or receiver Lance Long. Pope was the last tight end used on Thursday, I believe. I think the Cardinals will take their chances at releasing Long and re-signing him to the practice squad."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' first-team offense scored one touchdown during the exhibition season.

More from Somers: Coach Ken Whisenhunt says the Cardinals' rookie defensive backs have a ways to go before they're ready. I thought Greg Toler showed promise.

Tim Klutsarits of liked what he saw from the Rams' Victor Adeyanju. Klutsarits: "Adeyanju was all over the field against the Chiefs and while his production is going to be mostly against the run it looks like he might be a contributor rushing the quarterback this year as well."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie Michael Crabtree wouldn't be able to contribute much in Week 1 even if he signed in the near future. Maiocco: "The 49ers have just three more significant practices before the start of the regular season. That's not a lot of time for a rookie wide receiver to get up to speed on what he missed while absent from training camp."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee makes the tough calls in projecting the 49ers' initial 53-man roster. He keeps Micheal Spurlock over Jason Hill and Bear Pascoe over J.J. Finley.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says cornerback Eric Green and others are fighting for roster spots with the 49ers.

Greg Johns of recaps the Seahawks' performance against Oakland.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Seahawks coach Jim Mora as saying Ben Obomanu "showed up" on special teams against the Raiders. Obomanu also caught two passes for 58 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown grab.

Also from O'Neil: Olindo Mare might have won the kicking battle against Brandon Coutu. Also, Max Unger will open the regular season at right guard.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Seahawks rookie Aaron Curry was on his game Thursday night.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists Seahawks injuries this way: "Receivers Jordan Kent (ankle) and Courtney Taylor (eye), safety Courtney Greene (knee), tackle Andre Ramsey (leg) and defensive end Derek Walker (hamstring) suffered injuries during the game."

John Morgan of Field Gulls credits Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn for developing and using young talent.
Posted by's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations through most of the Seahawks' final exhibition game of the 2009 season:
  • Defensive line battle. Rookie end Nick Reed and rookie defensive tackle Michael Bennett have both made strong cases for consideration on the 53-man roster. Both have fumble recoveries. Both are pressuring the Raiders' quarterbacks. This game is affirming what the Seahawks have already seen from them, perhaps not making the decision much easier. Finding a way to keep 10 defensive linemen would seem desirable.
  • Obomanu steps up. The Seahawks figure to keep five or six receivers. Ben Obomanu appears to be affirming his status as the likely fifth wideout, followed by Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent. Obomanu played 20 snaps in the first half, catching two passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He looks dependable, though not very flashy. Taylor played 19 snaps in the first half and did not catch a pass, but he looked good and nearly made a spectacular touchdown catch in the third quarter, laying out for the ball in the end zone. Kent played six snaps in the first half and failed to make two catches he conceivably could have made, and he limped off the field early in the third quarter. Update: Kent suffered an ankle injury and will not return.
  • Morrah or Newton? I thought seventh-round tight end Cameron Morrah might make a strong run through camp, but Joe Newton might be better prepared to be the third tight end. The race could be close. The Seahawks took a long look at Morrah in the first half, giving him 18 snaps. Newton, who played more a week ago, took one first-half snap. Starter John Carlson played five. Newton appears better than Morrah in run blocking, in my view. Both are eligible for the practice squad and one of them figures to land there.
  • Curry having fun. Rookie first-round choice Aaron Curry appeared to be having more fun than at any point since signing with the Seahawks. He was the lone defensive starter to play and he stood out with four tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. He played with attitude.
  • Domino effect. Louis Rankin's 45-yard touchdown run for the Raiders went down this way: Tight end Tony Stewart somehow cleared out massive Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant, and towering tackle Erik Pears then pancaked linebacker Will Herring, who inadvertently took out safety Jamar Adams. Bryant and Herring both appeared to be standing a bit too upright, sacrificing leverage.

Those are a few things I've noticed. As noted previously, I'll watch the Cardinals' game next, followed by the Rams game in the morning. Looking forward to them all.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Among the things I'll be watching to see when the Seahawks close their 2009 exhibition schedule Thursday night against the Raiders at Qwest Field:
  • Edgerrin James. The veteran running back might not play. If he does, it won't be for long, but something is better than nothing -- particularly in Week 4 of the preseason.
  • All-out battle at receiver. The Seahawks might keep only five. Strong showings by Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu and Jordan Kent could convince them to keep six. Which ones? Check back after the game. Also watch to see how they fare on special teams (Taylor could return kicks).
  • Cameron Morrah. The rookie seventh-round tight end would have to beat out Joe Newton to earn a roster spot at tight end behind John Carlson and John Owens.
  • Michael Bennett. The Seahawks already have defensive ends with the ability to play tackle on passing downs. That could complicate Bennett's efforts to earn a spot among the initial 53, but he has impressed enough to stick on the practice squad if there isn't a spot for him on the roster. Defensive end Nick Reed appears in strong position to earn a spot. Update: Draft analyst Rob Rang explains why he thinks Bennett has more NFL upside and potentially more value. Audio via KJR950 Seattle here.
  • Brandon Coutu. The second-year kicker has been very accurate on field goals. Veteran Olindo Mare's depth advantage on kickoffs helps his cause, but touchbacks could carry less value if the new NFL ban on three-man wedges shortens kickoff returns.

NFL Network is showing this game live at 10 p.m. ET.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals backup quarterback Matt Leinart suffered a shoulder injury against the Packers while throwing for 360 yards in the second half.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says analysts aren't buying into the Cardinals this season, although ESPN's Chris Berman likes Arizona on simple grounds. Berman: "When you can score 30 points a game against most teams, that's a nice thing to have in your hip pocket."

Darren Urban of makes a 53-man roster projection for the Cardinals. He puts tackle Oliver Ross on the bubble. My overall impression of Ross was favorable when he subbed for Mike Gandy at left tackle against the Packers.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind wonders if there's still a small chance Beanie Wells could challenge Tim Hightower for the starting job at halfback in Arizona.

Kris Anderson of profiles pass-rusher Parys Haralson.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider checks in with cornerback Shawntae Spencer, a veteran surprise for the 49ers this summer.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat still thinks Michael Crabtree will sign with the 49ers before the regular-season opener, though he's less sure than before.

Also from Maiocco: Cornerback Nate Clements explains recent preseason struggles by saying he's working on weaknesses in his game. Also, coach Mike Singletary challenged players following a poor practice session.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the evidence points to Dre Bly starting at right corner even though defensive coordinator Greg Manusky says Spencer and Tarell Brown are still competing.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News hasn't seen enough from Shaun Hill, Crabtree or Manny Lawson to think the 49ers have solved their problems.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News said during a chat that 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan isn't impressed by the crop of veteran free-agent tackles. The 49ers want to see which tackles teams release on the reduction to 53 players.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation makes another 53-man roster projection. He wonders what Maiocco meant when he suggested the 49ers would add a fullback not currently on the roster. Translation: The 49ers will probably sign a veteran fullback from the pool of players available following the reduction to 53 players. There simply weren't many fullbacks available when the 49ers decided to give linebacker Brit Miller a try at the position. They added Bill Rentmeester when he came available, but they'll consider other options.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times points to the Seahawks' depth at defensive end to explain why the team moved Michael Bennett to defensive tackle.

Also from O'Neil: a look at position battles still undecided heading into the Seahawks' final exhibition game. Defensive line tops the list.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the race between Seahawks kickers Brandon Coutu and Olindo Mare.

Also from Williams: a look at Bennett's conversion to defensive tackle. Williams: "Bennett has stepped up his game in his first year as a pro. He’s recorded two sacks and four tackles for loss in three preseason games for Seattle, and is solidly in the conversation" for a spot on the initial 53-man roster.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sees Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor competing to be the Seahawks' fifth receiver.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams must clear 21 roster spots by Saturday. Running back Samkon Gado: "I was talking to my roommate [Phil Trautwein], who is a rookie. And I just told him if you're going to play in this league, you've got to be prepared to be cut. I've been cut I think six or seven times in five years. It's just the nature of the beast. You do the best that you can. And a lot of times, it's not really up to you. It's not really how well you played or how poorly you played. It's just there's not a need for you. So I think the best thing to do is just continue working hard. There's going to be someone out there who has a need for you, and I think I'm a wonderful example of that."

Also from Thomas: Five things to watch in the Rams' final exhibition game of the 2009 season. Thomas: "Teams traditionally keep four defensive tackles. The Rams have five bona fide roster candidates in Adam Carriker, Gary Gibson, Clifton Ryan, Darell Scott and Hollis Thomas. Who's the odd man out? And should 2007 first-round pick Carriker, who's on the second-team defense coming off an ankle injury, be worried?"

Turf Show Times' VanRam wonders if Eagles receiver Reggie Brown could be in the Rams' plans.

Tim Klutsarits of outlines five things to watch when the Rams face the Chiefs in their final exhibition game. Cornerback play tops the list after St. Louis traded Tye Hill.

Around the NFC West: QB beauty contest

September, 2, 2009

Posted by's Mike Sando

Reed Albergotti of the Wall Street Journal
says Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Hill and Kurt Warner rank among the 10 most handsome quarterbacks in the NFL, based on research showing a relationship between facial symmetry and perceived attractiveness. Albergotti: "Scientific research overwhelmingly points to facial symmetry as an indicator of success. Studies show infants with more symmetrical faces are given more attention. Symmetrical workers also tend to earn more. Football is supposed to be egalitarian, of course. The players with the strongest and most accurate throwing arms should become the quarterbacks while the biggest, most powerful players should be linemen. Somewhere along the way, it seems, good-looking kids are steered toward the glamour position."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic
says the Cardinals want second-year cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to become more disciplined in adhering to his assignments. The Packers had fun at Rodgers-Cromartie's expense in the Cardinals' most recent exhibition game. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I would say he's a young player that at times is undisciplined, and it's our job, and it's our defensive leaders' job, to get him on the same page. I think he was disappointed in the way he played, embarrassed, and he worked in practice a lot harder. Hopefully, that will translate to a better game. I still like the young man as a football player. He's got tremendous talent and we're going to continue to work with him to see if we can establish more consistency."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic
says Whisenhunt's anger over his team's performance against the Packers has subsided. Expect the Cardinals' starters to get limited work in the final exhibition game.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind
tackles competition for spots on the Cardinals' roster.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers cornerback Nate Clements took notice upon seeing Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald posing shirtless on a magazine cover (left). "I thought you had to have abs for that," Clements joked. Brown: "Clements might want to be careful with his quips, considering he’s going to have to cover the coverboy in the 49ers’ regular-season opener in Arizona on Sept. 13. Fitzgerald is coming off a dazzling postseason and a trip to the Super Bowl; Clements is in his ninth season and still searching for his first postseason appearance. Moreover, Clements has endured some rough patches during the preseason games, including allowing a few big gainers against Dallas on Saturday."

Also from Brown
: 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye would like to run the ball 60 percent of the time. More on that in a bit.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
projects the 53-man roster for the 49ers. He keeps J.J. Finley at Bear Pascoe's expense and expects the 49ers to pick up a free-agent fullback, which makes sense after the team lost Zak Keasey to injury.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
says the 49ers' starting offensive line worked together for the first time since left guard David Baas suffered a torn plantar fascia Aug. 4.

Also from Barrows
: Nate Davis needs more reps to better grasp the 49ers' offense.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma
News Tribune forecasts the Seahawks' initial 53-man roster for the 2009 season. He puts Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu on the team at receiver, releasing Jordan Kent. Joe Newton is the choice over Cameron Morrah as the third tight end. Kyle Williams makes it at tackle.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times
says Michael Bumpus' release from the Seahawks shows how much more depth Seattle has at the position this season. Injuries forced Bumpus into the starting lineup for a game last season.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
doesn't hesitate to affix blame for the Rams' roster predicament. Miklasz: "These drafts were conducted by head coach coach Scott Linehan and GM Jay Zygmunt. Both are gone from Rams Park. Horrible personnel decisions were a substantial part of their demise, and the impact is still reverberating. The new regime of GM Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo inherited a stripped-down roster and will need plenty of time to clean up the mess caused by Linehan and Zygmunt."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo asked players to support the team's personnel decisions after St. Louis traded 2006 first-round choice Tye Hill to the Falcons for a 2010 seventh-round pick. Accepting so little in return for Hill suggests the Rams might have released him anyway. Spagnuolo stopped short of endorsing Jonathan Wade as a likely starter now that Hill is gone. Spagnuolo: "Wade's play has improved this preseason, but he's the first to admit he needs further improvement across the board. When asked what he liked about Wade, Spagnuolo sidestepped the question, perhaps another indication he's keeping his options open."

Also from Thomas
: Joe Klopfenstein's excellent measurable skills never translated to production on the field.

More from Thomas
: a chat transcript featuring questions about the Rams' depth at cornerback after the team traded Hill. Thomas: "I do question the depth behind Hill. Like the draft picks and free agents he has brought here, Devaney will be judged over time."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
backs the Rams as the new football leadership parts with high-profile players from the past, including Hill. Burwell: "The people whose fingerprints are on the crime of this century are long gone, and here was all the stark evidence why."

Jeff Gordon of
translates the message Rams management sent through its recent moves. Gordon: "Everybody has to earn their job here. Hill’s first-round draft status didn’t help him whatsoever."

Posted by's Mike Sando

Seahawks Offensive Player vs. KC
Pos. 1st Qtr. Snaps 2nd Qtr. Snaps Total
Matt Hasselbeck
QB 11 23
Sean Locklear
LT 11
Rob Sims
LG 11
Steve Vallos
C 11
Max Unger
RG 11
Ray Willis RT 11 23 34
Nate Burleson
WR 11 22
John Carlson
TE 9 21
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
WR 11 19 30
Julius Jones
RB 11 17 28
Deion Branch
12 16
John Owens
TE 4 8 12
Justin Griffith
FB 1 8 9
Justin Forsett
RB 0 6 6
Owen Schmitt
FB 3 0 3
Deon Butler
WR 1 1 2
Courtney Taylor WR 0 1 1

So much for featuring Deion Branch in the passing game.

The Seahawks went with heavier personnel early in their exhibition game against the Chiefs, giving as many first-quarter snaps to John Owens, the second tight end, as they gave to Branch.

What does it mean? Not necessarily much. As Dave Wyman noted via Seahawks play-by-play man Steve Raible, Branch is expected to be part of the 53-man roster.

The snaps at fullback seemed telling. Owen Schmitt has been listed as the starter, but veteran Justin Griffith drew three times as many snaps in the first half (9 to 3). That included an 8-0 snaps advantage in the second quarter.

I thought the running game was better with Griffith, although three snaps for Schmitt was hardly enough for definitive analysis.

Also worth noting: Courtney Taylor, not Ben Obomanu, was one of five receivers to work with the starters in the first half. Fourth receiver Deon Butler played only two first-half snaps, a reflection of the Seahawks' run-oriented personnel groupings. That is also how the second tight end, Owens, pulled only four fewer snaps than the third receiver.

Mike Holmgren is no longer running the offense, in other words. This is Greg Knapp's show.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Among the things I'll be watching when the Seahawks face the Broncos in their second exhibition game Saturday night:

  • Sean Locklear at left tackle. The Seahawks hope Walter Jones can return from knee surgery in time to play a full season at left tackle. Locklear will work there in the meantime. The team's usual right tackle can earn an additional $600,000 in 2010 compensation if he plays half the snaps at left tackle in half the Seahawks' regular-season games this season. That price would be a bargain if Locklear plays well.
  • Depth at receiver. Jordan Kent, Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne, Mike Hass and Michael Bumpus are battling for one or two roster spots behind receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Deon Butler. Kent, Obomanu and Taylor do not have practice-squad eligibility. They need to produce now.
  • Nick Reed, Michael Bennett and Baraka Atkins. At least one of these players could be affected if the Seahawks keep fewer than 10 defensive linemen. Another impressive showing from Reed, who had two sacks and an interception in his exhibition debut, could make it tougher for Seattle to sneak him onto the practice squad.
  • Matt Hasselbeck. The quarterback has yet to take a hit since last season. The Broncos pressured the 49ers' quarterbacks last week by exploiting fullback Zak Keasey in blitz pickup. Seattle fullback Owen Schmitt needs to prove he can play consistently well in that area. One lapse could expose Hasselbeck to punishment.
  • The kickers. Brandon Coutu needs to get more depth on his kickoffs. He and Olindo Mare are competing for one roster spot. The team will not keep two kickers this season.
  • Cameron Morrah. Seattle will likely choose between Morrah, a seventh-round rookie, and Joe Newton as the third tight end. It's the sort of competition you'll probably appreciate if you've lasted this deep into a blog entry about things to watch during a game few will remember one month from now.
NFL Network is carrying this game live at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Seahawks have a few tough decisions to make before reducing their roster to 53 players in less than three weeks.

The final spot or two at receiver remain unsettled. I see at least 10 defensive linemen worth keeping, but perhaps no more than eight offensive linemen. The final spots at all three general positions on defense -- line, linebackers and secondary -- could spur debate.

The Seahawks aren't even certain which kicker will earn a roster spot, opening possible trade scenarios for teams with needs at the position.

Seattle Seahawks
Week 1 Roster
Counts since 2003
Fewest 2 5 4
3 8 8 6 7 3
Most 3 6 7 4 9 10 8 8 4
Average 2.8 5.3 5.3 3.2 8.8 9.3 7.0 7.8 3.2
Currently on roster
8 10 5 14 13 9 13 4

The chart provides a framework for how many players the Seahawks might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Rams.

Here's a quick look at which Seahawks players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:

(Read full post)

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals, 49ers and Rams have played their exhibition openers, leaving only the Seahawks among NFC West teams on the Saturday night viewing schedule.

A few things I'll be watching for once their game against the Chargers kicks off at 10 p.m. ET on NFL Network:

  • Zone blocking: The Seahawks' have overhauled their blocking scheme. Let's see how well each player seems to fit in a zone scheme. Does the line produce cut-back lanes for Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett? How well does the scheme seem to fit those backs? Speaking of backs, is Owen Schmitt going to remain the starting fullback?
  • Quarterback health: Matt Hasselbeck hasn't taken punishment in a game since his back imploded last season. The Chargers have the potential to pressure him, particularly against a Seahawks line without Walter Jones. How will Hasselbeck hold up?
  • Aaron Curry: The fourth overall choice in the draft will start at strongside linebacker. The Seahawks also plan to try him at defensive end as they figure out how well he rushes the passer. One game won't necessarily tell us much, but the Seahawks are obviously very much interested in finding out what Curry can do.
  • Young receivers. Teams tend to like their depth until that depth has to play. That was the case when the Seahawks ran out of receivers last season. They liked Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor as role players, not front-line contributors. Seattle's top four at the position appear set heading into 2009 (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Deon Butler). Ben Obomanu seems likely to stick for what might be one of the final two spots. What about Taylor, Kent, Logan Payne, etc.?
  • Brandon Mebane. The Seahawks think he can be effective as an up-the-field defensive tackle. The team has been very excited about this move. Let's see if Mebane shows early signs of making it work. He's a good player. Is this the position for him?
  • The safeties. Jordan Babineaux needs to play well in the preseason to seriously challenge veteran Brian Russell as the starting free safety. I didn't see evidence in camp that Babineaux was making a strong run. Can Babineaux live up to his "Big Play Babs" reputation as a free safety, or only as a role player off the bench?
I'll also be interested to see how much Patrick Kerney and Cory Redding will play. Both are hugely important players for Seattle. Both have also rested some during camp as they try to avoid injuries and prepare themselves for the regular season. How they play in an exhibition opener might not mean much.