NFC West: Curtis Taylor

Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.
Brock Huard, Danny O'Neil and I got together over the phone Tuesday to discuss 2013 draft needs for the Seattle Seahawks on 710ESPN Seattle.

The conversation got me thinking about real and perceived needs for NFC West teams.

Most of the perceived needs are also real ones, but sometimes we focus disproportionately on a few areas while overlooking others.

A quick look at one position to reemphasize for NFC West teams:

Arizona Cardinals: With a disproportionate focus on the offensive line and heavy focus on potential additions to the pass rush, we should note that the Cardinals parted with both veteran starting strong safeties this offseason. They could proceed with Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell as the starters. However, Johnson remains unproven as a full-time starter. Bell is 35 years old, so he projects as a short-term solution. Jonathan Amaya, Justin Bethel and Curtis Taylor are the backup safeties.

St. Louis Rams: So many mock drafts project wide receiver and safety to the Rams in the first round. The offensive line is another position where the Rams could help themselves early in the draft. Yes, they added Jake Long in free agency. But with no established starter at left guard and more questions at tackle than we might initially realize from afar, the line could use reinforcements. Shelley Smith, Harvey Dahl, Rok Watkins, Chris Williams and Brandon Washington are the guards. Long and projected right tackle Rodger Saffold have missed games to injury recently. Saffold is entering the final year of his deal. Joe Barksdale is the third tackle right now, it appears.

San Francisco 49ers: Safety, defensive line and tight end are three positions heavily emphasized already. Looking ahead, the team has only two cornerbacks and three wide receivers under contract for 2014. Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver are the corners. Michael Crabtree, A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette are the receivers. These could be positions for the 49ers to emphasize earlier than anticipated, depending upon how the draft falls at positions of greater perceived need.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive tackle, outside linebacker and tight end are three areas I've thought about quite a bit. The offensive line should be set for years to come after Seattle used early picks for Russell Okung, Max Unger, James Carpenter and John Moffitt in recent seasons. However, the long-range picture at guard remains unsettled. Seattle could also use a backup tackle with the ability to push Breno Giacomini for the job on the right side in the future. Here's a supporting note from ESPN Stats & Information: "Including postseason, Seahawks quarterbacks were sacked or put under duress on 29.7 percent of their total drop-backs last season and 26.8 percent of their drop-backs against four or fewer pass-rushers, both worst in the NFL."

NFC West links: Is Mike Iupati next man up?

April, 10, 2013
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Arizona Cardinals

Count Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson among those players who think commissioner Roger Goodell is "changing the game for the good."

New Cardinals Curtis Taylor and Bryan McCann discuss what it's like as a lesser-known free agent trying to land a job.

St. Louis Rams

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "No, Rodger Saffold isn’t happy about his impending switch to right tackle for the Rams. But those close to Saffold insist he won’t be a malcontent and won’t be a holdout."

Nick Wagoner of the team's website previews the specialists heading into this month's NFL draft.

San Francisco 49ers

Could 49ers left guard Mike Iupati be the next in line for a contract extension?

Several 49ers coaches recently took a tour of the new stadium. “I think it’s real exciting in the sense of seeing it going up and the impact it’ll have on the economy here,” offensive line coach Mike Solari said of the tour. “It’s going to be a beautiful facility.”

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks on Tuesday announced they have signed quarterback Brady Quinn to back up Russell Wilson.

Seattle offensive tackle Breno Giacomini watched his Louisville Cardinals win the national championship Monday night.

NFC West links: Asomugha has 'hunger'

April, 4, 2013
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Arizona Cardinals

Daryl Washington's four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy is going to hurt the linebacker's image and his wallet, writes Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. Somers: "[Washington] will miss four of 17 checks this fall. So that’s $565,000 of his $2.4 million salary. The Cardinals also could seek to recoup a portion of Washington’s $2.5 million signing bonus."

The team signed former 49ers safety Curtis Taylor, reports Darren Urban.

Azcentral sports NFL insider Bob McManaman has a new mock draft and a new pick for the Cardinals at No. 7 overall: Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher.

St. Louis Rams

Baylor's Terrance Williams is scheduled to make a pre-draft visit to Rams Park Thursday, reports Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Williams is the fourth confirmed Rams visit by a wide receiver, joining California’s Keenan Allen, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, and Tennessee’s Justin Hunter.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Rams selecting Tavon Austin with their first first-round pick in this month's draft, and in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Kiper spoke about what Austin could bring to the Rams offense. Kiper: "I think Austin would be perfect because he fits that mold of being somebody who can come right in and play. This guy has played football forever. I saw him in high school at Dunbar here in Baltimore, he’s been unbelievable. The kid is a touchdown maker. He’s a scoreboard changer in a variety of ways. You can get him the ball in terms of the running game, you can get him the ball on reverses, wide receiver screens, get him in space, the return game. He is dynamic.”

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers made a bigger financial commitment this week to cornerback Carlos Rogers than to newly signed Nnamdi Asomugha, reports CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco. By being on the roster on April 1, $1.25 million of Rogers' scheduled $5.85 million pay for the 2013 season became fully guaranteed.

What kind of player are the 49ers getting in Asomugha, whom the 49ers are paying a base salary of $1.35 million, asks Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com. Lynch: "At that price, the 49ers are really getting Asomugha for an extended try out. If Asomugha is anywhere near the player he was in Oakland, the 49ers are getting a good player at a great price. He’s also the type of player who could excel in the 49ers’ defensive scheme, that relies heavily on man coverage."

Asomaugha is out to prove himself after two forgettable seasons in Philadelphia, writes Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times. "There's a drive, there's a hunger inside of me that says, 'I know what I can do and I'm going to get it done,'" Asomugha said. "So, regardless of what others are saying or how others are feeling, I'm just going to make it happen."

Seattle Seahawks

The Percy Harvin trade cost the Seahawks this year's first- and seventh-round picks as well as a third-rounder in 2014. That's a steep price, but it made more sense than trying to trade up in the first round, according to GM John Schneider. "We really looked at where we were with the 25th pick and just thought that for us to get a difference-maker like this we were going to have to move [up] at least five to 10 spots ... in order to acquire a player that may have a chance to be a Percy Harvin," Schneider said via Brady Henderson of mynorthwest.com.

Harvin was among ESPN Insider Matt Bowen's top 5 impact acquisitions this offseason. Bowen: "Creative ability is what you get from the former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks took a big risk when they made the trade to acquire Harvin and rewarded him with a new contract that paid out $25.5 million guaranteed. That's big money for a slot receiver who isn't going to consistently align outside of the numbers. However, Harvin gives the Seahawks multiple options from a play-calling and formation perspective, along with the value he brings to the return game. He's an explosive player in the open field who can produce after the catch from a variety of alignments."

Aaron Curry and that 2009 draft class

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Aaron Curry, apparently headed for Oakland, has plenty of company among 2009 NFL draft choices failing to meet expectations with their original teams.

The player Seattle's previous leadership drafted fourth overall was part of a draft featuring quite a few underwhelming players near the top.

Thirteen NFC West choices from the 2009 draft remain with their teams: Max Unger, Deon Butler and Cameron Morrah in Seattle; Beanie Wells, Rashad Johnson, Greg Toler and LaRod Stephens-Howling in Arizona; Jason Smith, James Laurinaitis, Bradley Fletcher and Darell Scott in St. Louis; and two players in San Francisco, Michael Crabtree and Ricky-Jean Francois.

Let's sift through the rubble ...

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The following recently released and waived/injured NFC West players are eligible for practice squads if they clear waivers:
Arizona Cardinals

Jared Campbell, Marshay Green, Sean Jeffcoat, Ricky Lumpkin, Jeremy Navarre, Aaron Nichols, Bryant Nnabuife, Kris O'Dowd, Tom Pestock, William Powell, Steve Skelton, Kendall Smith, Thad Turner, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Young.

St. Louis Rams

Damario Ambrose, Tim Atchison, DeMarco Cosby, Tae Evans, Marlon Favorite, Pete Fleps, Cody Habben, John Henderson, Kevin Hughes, Randall Hunt, Thaddeus Lewis, Greg Mathews, Jeremy McGee, Ryan McKee, Jonathan Nelson, Fendi Onobun, Chase Reynolds, Van Stumon.

San Francisco 49ers

Chase Beeler, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Brian Bulcke, Jack Corcoran, Phillip Davis, Derek Hall, Joe Hastings, Chris Hogan, Ronald Johnson, Alex Joseph, Chris Maragos, Cory Nelms, Xavier Omon, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Sealver Siliga, Monte Simmons, Curtis Taylor, Kenny Wiggins.

Seattle Seahawks

Pierre Allen, Dorson Boyce, Chris Carter, Paul Fanaika, Maurice Fountain, David Howard, Michael Johnson, Jameson Konz, Mark LeGree, Ricardo Lockette, Michael Morgan, Josh Pinkard, William Robinson, Owen Spencer, Vai Taua, Patrick Williams.

A few younger players are not eligible, including former St. Louis Rams receiver Mardy Gilyard, who spent 11 games on the game-day roster last season. Players with no accrued seasons or fewer than nine appearances on game-day rosters in their only accrued season are among those eligible. Players can spend a third season on a team's practice squad as long as their team keeps its 53-man roster full at all times.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The sights and sounds of the typical NFL training camp aren't quite the same with Jim Harbaugh running things for the San Francisco 49ers.

The digital timers commonly used to break practices into periods do not exist there. The air horns NFL teams traditionally fire to signal transitions between periods never sound. Staffers generally responsible for managing such things can focus their attention elsewhere.

Harbaugh tracks it all himself, keeping the time in his head, sometimes without even consulting a watch. The only whistle at practice belongs to him. Harbaugh blows it when he's ready for a new period to begin. If there's a bad snap or miscue, too bad. It's on to the next play. Corrections can wait until the end of practice.

The devices teams have traditionally used to ensure practices move along on schedule would actually make it tougher for Harbaugh to push the tempo to his liking. In interviews right after practice, Harbaugh sometimes comes off as distracted, as though his mind is racing through the two-minute scenarios that helped him earn the nickname "Captain Comeback" as a player. Practice ended 12 minutes early Wednesday.

"There is no wasted time," said left tackle Joe Staley, a first-round draft choice in 2007. "I think that is carrying over to the mindset. This isn't just fun. This is our job."

Players accustomed to two-hour camp breaks at midday under other coaches now scarcely have any down time at all. They're in the building by 6:30 each morning and out by 9:30 each night. They do not leave the premises in the interim.

There's no more whining to a wife or girlfriend over lunch about the rigors of camp. Cupcaking, as Harbaugh calls it.

"You are always thinking football," said tight end Delanie Walker, who has been with the team since 2006. "That is what we needed. We needed to think football because we have a young team and they don't understand that this league is tough and if you lose focus on what we have to accomplish, that can hurt you."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh and Alex Smith
AP Photo/Paul SakumaCoach Jim Harbaugh elected to bring Alex Smith back as the starting QB despite his less-than-stellar track record.
1. Can Harbaugh fix Alex Smith? It's a tantalizing question for those still hopeful Smith might develop into a viable starter. There's no doubt Harbaugh brings more offensive expertise to the job than his recent predecessors did. Smith has embraced learning from a coach with Harbaugh's understanding of the position. One veteran player said Smith never lost the locker room, in part because teammates knew the deck was stacked against him. "It's hard to describe what it's been like in the past as far as schematics go and how difficult it is to deal with, the situations we're put in as players," the player said. "I think with this new coaching staff, they want to put you in position to be successful. It's not just, 'We're going to run power because we're physical and we don't care if they have nine guys in the box.' Look at all the weapons we have, put them with our coaching staff and I think he's going to be productive." As always, though, it comes down to whether Smith can get it done during games. He's usually said the right things and taken the right approach during the offseason.

2. Why so many changes on defense? The 49ers absorbed criticism early in free agency as players departed and the organization took a measured approach to lining up replacements. Defensive starters Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson and Nate Clements did not return. Another defensive starter, Dashon Goldson, lingered on the market before taking a one-year deal to return. Where was the urgency? It's helpful to remember the team's general manager, Trent Baalke, experienced firsthand the risks associated with aggressive free-agent spending while working for the Washington Redskins from 2001-04. And with a new defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio, priorities changed. Franklin was a pure two-gapping nose tackle. His replacement, Isaac Sopoaga, might be better suited for Fangio's slanting 3-4 scheme featuring fire-zone tactics in doses. The 49ers see the middle of their defense as even stronger following free agency. They love their depth at safety and are expecting a breakout year from NaVorro Bowman at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis.

3. Can the 49ers 'buy in' yet again? The 49ers are on their third head coach and seventh offensive coordinator since 2005. Most recent seasons have begun with fresh promise, followed by disappointment and even disillusionment. Here comes Harbaugh, full of energy, pumping up hopes once again. I wondered whether players would be too jaded to invest fully from the beginning. "It's not about Harbaugh getting me to buy in again," Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis said. "It's not about him. It's about the team wanting to win games. ... There is nothing anybody can do to get me to be involved. I am going to be involved whether they like it or not, because that is what I do. You go through adversity, but you have to keep believing."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeDashon Golson
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDashon Golson re-signed with the 49ers for a one-year deal after testing the free-agency waters.
Dashon Goldson's return. The 49ers suddenly have options at safety after Goldson, a 2010 starter, returned on a one-year deal for $2 million. The situation played out perfectly for the team. San Francisco signed Donte Whitner and Madieu Williams in free agency while Goldson tested a soft market. Reggie Smith was having a good camp before suffering a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a couple of weeks. The team still has Taylor Mays as well, at least for now. Whitner (strong) and Goldson (free) project as the likely starters unless Reggie Smith can get healthy enough to make another run at the job before the season. Goldson has plenty of motivation entering a contract year. Whitner started quickly and wore down with Buffalo last season. The 49ers' offense can help him out by sustaining drives and giving the defense some rest.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Michael Crabtree's injury. This marks the third lost offseason in three years for the player San Francisco drafted 10th overall in 2009. Crabtree missed camp and the first six regular-season weeks of his rookie season during a contract dispute. A neck injury prevented him from playing in a single exhibition game last summer. A foot injury has prevented Crabtree from practicing even once at camp this season. The 49ers protected themselves by signing Braylon Edwards to a one-year deal, but they need more in return from their investment in Crabtree.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • As much as the 49ers valued Spikes, they were ready to go with Bowman next to Willis on the inside. Bowman came on strong late last season, particularly in a Week 17 game against Arizona. The 49ers hope he can become a Jon Beason type. If that happens, they'll have one of the best inside linebacker combinations in the league.
  • Right guard Chilo Rachal has been inconsistent to this point in his career. His weight is down from the 330 range to about 310 and has dipped closer to 300 after practices. Has Rachal matured and become more serious about his craft? It's too early to say, but at least he reported to camp at a promising weight.
  • Increasing roster limits from 80 to 90 players has helped Harbaugh transition from college, where programs can bring 105 players to camp. It's common for Harbaugh to send the starting offense against the No. 2 defense on one field, with the backup offense and starting defense on another. That would be unusual in the NFL in the age of 80-man rosters.
  • In retrospect, it's pretty clear the 49ers were never serious about adding Nnamdi Asomugha, Chad Ochocinco or other big names in free agency. They've given great weight to dynamics within the locker room when deciding which players to pay handsomely.
  • Running back Frank Gore's brief holdout quickly became a non-story when the team promised to revisit his deal in good faith as the season progresses. Gore appeared in terrific spirits during my visit to camp. At one point during practice, Gore spotted ESPN analyst and former 49ers teammate Trent Dilfer standing near the sideline. He came over to greet Dilfer and then noticed Baalke, the GM, standing nearby. After embracing Dilfer, Gore turned to Baalke and extended a hand. They shook hands and shared a few laughs before Gore returned to his teammates. Gore, upon hearing adoring cries from a fan attending the same practice, broke away to hug her.
  • The 49ers are banking on a strong relationship between Harbaugh and Baalke. The two became close during the lockout. They are also competitors on the racquetball court, where Harbaugh's competitive edge comes through. Harbaugh has come back from 13-0 and 18-7 deficits to beat his GM. The coach typically begins his comebacks by dropping subtle comments designed to unnerve his opponent. He then changes up his approach, becoming less predictable. Consider it a metaphor for his coaching style. Gone are the days when lining up in a certain formation precipitated running a certain play.
  • The 49ers are fortunate Harbaugh agreed to retain defensive line coach Jim Tomsula from the previous staff. The bond between Tomsula and players at the position is uncommonly strong. Defensive end Ray McDonald re-signed without even testing free agency. The team made bringing back McDonald a priority, given the premium teams place on defensive linemen in the draft. Losing McDonald might have forced the team to more strongly consider drafting one early.
  • Edwards' addition at receiver gives the team needed size at the position while Crabtree is unavailable. "The first time I saw him work out here, I thought he was a tight end," safety Curtis Taylor said.
  • Rookie second-round choice Colin Kaepernick is getting high marks from Harbaugh to this point in camp. Kaepernick's mobility and arm strength stand out during practices. He also has a longer delivery, as advertised. I watched closely to see whether the delivery allowed defensive backs to jump pass routes more ably. That did not appear to be the case in practice. Kaepernick's lean frame made me wonder about his ability to take a hit to the legs. At Harbaugh's direction, quarterbacks are wearing braces on their left knees, which tend to be most vulnerable when right-handed quarterbacks deliver the ball.
  • Kaepernick will likely get on the field one way or another even if Smith remains the starter. There are no indications Kaepernick will start in Week 1, but Harbaugh isn't making any public declarations.
  • Fangio has been pushing first-round pick Aldon Smith hard in practice even though Smith flashed plenty of ability early in camp. Smith is grinding a bit while absorbing the defense. He seems to be taking Fangio's criticism in stride.
  • Harbaugh strongly emphasizes practicing within the context of situations, more so than I would have expected during the early stages of installing the playbook. Some fans attending a recent practice laughed when they saw punter Andy Lee take a snap from center and spike the ball to stop the clock. Count Harbaugh as one of the coaches, Bill Belichick among them, who favor sending on the punt team following third-down plays during two-minute situations when it's not clear whether the offense got a first down. If the offense gets a new set of downs, the punter spikes the ball. If not, the regular punt call remains.
  • It's not unusual for the 49ers' first-team offense to execute four or more two-minute drills in one day, up from one in the past. Harbaugh frames most practice reps within down, distance and time. Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith: "Things are a lot more detailed. Every coach at their position is pretty well near the top. Everything we've heard from them has been right on point."
  • The quote of camp so far came from another Smith, Alex, when asked about changes on offense: "Obviously, what we were doing wasn't working -- all of us, me included. That is the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Dashon Goldson's one-year contract agreement with the San Francisco 49ers shines more light on the safety position as training camp continues.

Goldson, Donte Whitner, Madieu Williams and Reggie Smith give the team veteran depth at the position. All started games last season, as did Taylor Mays, whose future with the 49ers remains clouded as the team solicits trade offers for him. Curtis Taylor, C.J. Spillman, Chris Maragos and Colin Jones are also safeties on the roster for San Francisco.

Why so many safeties? The 49ers needed to improve their pass defense this offseason. They've rounded up a long list of safeties, creating a competitive situation as the exhibition season approaches. Options are better than no options.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. foreshadowed the 49ers' experience with Goldson this offseason, writing in June: "You might tell him, 'See what you can get, let us know,' and if he can get a big number he goes, but if he comes back, you get him back at your price and everyone is happy."

That is exactly what happened for the 49ers, a big win for the team. Goldson should return supremely motivated and possibly humbled. The team hasn't committed to him unnecessarily. The sides can revisit the situation one year from now. If Goldson plays well, the 49ers will be in better position to work out a long-term deal during the season, with Goldson having learned free agency isn't always such a fun experience.

Note: The flight I caught to San Jose early Monday was boarding just as news of Goldson's $2 million agreement was circulating.

2009 NFL draft revisited: 49ers

December, 4, 2010
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A quick look at the San Francisco 49ers' 2009 draft class ...

Best pick so far: Receiver Michael Crabtree has three touchdown receptions in his last four games. He played and produced like a veteran immediately upon reporting to the team last season. The production hasn't been as consistent this season. Crabtree occasionally has lapses, as when a slightly off-target pass bounced off his hands for an interception Monday night. I sense Crabtree mostly needs improved quarterback play to take the next step and become a top receiver.

Second-guessing: Coach Mike Singletary has placed high value on adding players with a passion for the game. That makes Glen Coffee's retirement after one season all the more puzzling. What did the 49ers see in him? Coffee showed little during his time with the 49ers. The blocking wasn't always great, of course, but the team could certainly use a third-round talent at the position now that Frank Gore is out for the season.

Key variable: Quarterback Nate Davis has shown a strong arm and some play-making ability during the exhibition season. Singletary questioned the quarterback's preparation, however. Davis went from the 53-man roster to the practice squad and nearly out of the picture at quarterback altogether. The 49ers aren't really counting on him, but if Davis gets serious about his craft and emerges as a viable candidate in the future, he could salvage a draft class that isn't looking very promising overall. On a side note, Ricky Jean-Francois filled in nicely for Aubrayo Franklin during camp. Might he develop?

NFC West injury picture favors Arizona

November, 3, 2010
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Injury trends are following a familiar pattern in the NFC West.

Whether by luck or superior training or whatever the reason might be, the Arizona Cardinals continue to suffer fewer season-ending injuries than other NFC West teams.

Arizona finished the 2008 season with three players on IR. The number was four last season. The team has a division-low two players on IR heading into Week 9 this season. That's nine players in two-plus seasons.

The Seattle Seahawks have eight already this season, including three offensive linemen. The number is seven for the St. Louis Rams, including three wide receivers.

Seattle placed defensive end Red Bryant and left guard Ben Hamilton, both starters, on IR this week.

The first chart shows NFC West IR counts after the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and heading into Week 9 this season. The 2008 totals reflect numbers heading into the divisional playoffs following that season. The 2009 totals reflect numbers when the regular season ended. Teams sometimes remove players from IR through injury settlements and other means.

The second chart breaks down 2010 IR counts by position heading into Week 9.


The third chart takes a team-by-team, player-by-player look at NFC West IR lists heading into Week 9. Asterisks identify projected, potential or actual starters.

49ers' 2009 draft class minus Coffee

August, 13, 2010
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Glen Coffee's surprise retirement announcement after only one NFL season sent me back for a look at the San Francisco 49ers' 2009 draft class.

The class has taken a couple hits lately with Coffee saying he'll retire and key special-teamer Scott McKillop suffering a serious knee injury.

The chart breaks 'em down.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likes the championship banners coach Steve Spagnuolo has displayed in honor of the Rams' past, but he also thinks it's time for the team to show significant improvement in the present. Burwell: "I believe that while this isn't necessarily the breakthrough year for the Rams, it has to be the year when we see strong evidence that this is finally an ascending team. They have a new franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) to groom, two potential young offensive tackles (Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold) to transform into reliable anchors, a superstar running back on the mend (Steven Jackson) and a stable of unproven young wide receivers who will be given every opportunity to confirm the unsubstantiated support they've been given by the coaches and front office."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams still have interest in Brian Westbrook and the team is "hopeful" it can sign him. Adding Westbrook would help lots on paper. The Rams would have addressed an area that needed addressing. Westbrook could be a good fit in a backup role because he would be less prone to injury. It's just tough to expect much from 30-year-old running backs. Westbrook turns 31 in September.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams expect Jackson to practice Saturday for the first time since back surgery. Also, the Rams are holding evening practices during this training camp in an effort to beat the heat and allow more fans to attend.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams never made an offer to Terrell Owens.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers highlights from the 49ers' annual "State of the Franchise" gathering. Coach Mike Singletary called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "one of the finest coaches anywhere in America." Singletary also said the 49ers were as talented as any team.

Also from Barber: Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Montana, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox and Steve Young are expected to attend Jerry Rice's Hall of Fame induction.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers expect to have their draft choices signed in time for camp.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers plan to sell seat licenses that never expire and can be transferred once the team's new stadium is finished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers 49ers-related notes, noting that first-round choice Anthony Davis has been working out at the facility since organized team activities ended in June. Also, the 49ers think their new stadium will empty 50 percent faster than Candlestick Park following games.

Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' situation at safety and a reminder that Reggie Smith could be in the mix eventually. Barrows: "Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties -- starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward -- the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although (Curtis) Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says improving the offensive line was the 49ers' top priority this offseason.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says there was less bluster from the 49ers at their annual gathering this year.

Scott Allen of Raising Zona checks in with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, who has this to say: "I do believe I have a great chance at being the number 3 or 4. I just need to learn my plays and gain the confidence of the quarterback and I believe I’ll be right there in the hunt."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals' Gerald Hayes and O'Brien Schofield to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals released tackle Devin Tyler to make room on the roster for the newly signed Schofield.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com raises 10 questions heading into the Cardinals' training camp. The fourth question -- where will the pass rush come from? -- is one the Seahawks and Rams also might be asking. Urban: "The Cardinals piled up 42 sacks last season, their highest total in years and they did it by committee. Defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven. The idea in signing linebacker Joey Porter, who had 9.0 sacks for Miami, is that he can provide more of a dynamic pass rush than what the Cards were getting last season from Bertrand Berry or Chike Okeafor. Campbell, at end in a 3-4 look, should increase his total, and Dockett comes across like a man on a mission (and in search of a new contract). Even if Porter doesn’t revert to his stellar 2008 (17 sacks), he needs to be a difference-maker. The Cards also need help from some unknown factor, whether it is Cody Brown, Will Davis, Mark Washington or Stevie Baggs." It's reasonable to expect more from Porter than the Cardinals got from Berry and Okeafor last season.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals receiver Onrea Jones. Jones on what it takes to earn a roster spot: "Well I know one thing -- it's special teams -- to find the right spot on special teams. Mike Adams was big as a gunner last year on special teams. I kind of look up to him for that. Because he's been in the Super Bowl and he knows what he's doing. And that's one thing I've learned from Sean Morey also. I'm really concentrated on special teams, gunner, trying to get a spot on the kick off team, kick off return, any special teams I can get on, that's my ticket. Obviously you have to make plays as a wide receiver. I'm battling for a number 4 and 5 between me and Andre. Whoever gets that spot, he has to have a big role on special teams. As long as I can produce on special teams, I know I'll be alright."

Pro Football Weekly's NFC West preview singles out Laurent Robinson, Alex Smith, Justin Forsett and Ben Patrick as potential fantasy sleepers in 2010. On Forsett: "Although he is expected to battle Jones for touches in every game, Forsett has the kind of big-play ability (5.4 yards per carry in '09) as a runner, receiver and returner to develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy force. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was out with injuries last season and could be increasingly effective both running and catching passes out of the backfield behind what figures to be a more stable offensive line." It's just tough to know how much playing time each Seattle running back will get this season. Leon Washington's status is one key variable.

What PUP designations mean

July, 27, 2010
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NFL teams are starting to declare players "physically unable to perform" as they convene for training camps.

Wes Welker of the New England Patriots recently became a high-profile addition to a PUP list. We'll see NFC West teams take advantage of PUP lists as well, making this a good time to lay out exactly what PUP status means for players.

Players who do not pass physical examinations before training camp cannot practice. Teams place these players on their PUP lists. The players remain on the active roster and count against 80-man limits. They can come off the PUP list and begin practicing as soon as they pass physical examinations.

Players remaining on PUP lists at the Sept. 4 mandatory reduction to 53 players are not eligible to play until after the first six games. They continue to receive their salaries in full.

The chart shows current NFC West players who finished the 2009 season on NFC West injured reserve lists. Some could be candidates for PUP lists as camps open. Their ages are rounded down to the nearest tenth, making it easy to see, for example, that Rams long snapper Chris Massey is much closer to 31 than he is to 30.

Some players not shown in the chart could be candidates for PUP lists.

The Arizona Cardinals Gerald Hayes is one obvious candidate. The St. Louis Rams have said they expect Steven Jackson to be recovered from back surgery in time for camp. The Seattle Seahawks' T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Leon Washington have missed time recovering from surgeries this offseason.

There's not necessarily reason for panic when a team places a high-profile player on its PUP list to open camp. Sometimes the player misses only a short time.

Ten NFC West draft choices combined for 76 starts as rookies last season. Five of the 10 played for the rebuilding St. Louis Rams. An eleventh, Beanie Wells, made significant contributions despite never cracking the lineup.

The 2010 draft class will command more immediate attention when teams open training camps, but the 2009 class figures to contribute more after a year of seasoning.

Here's my look at the NFC West's 2009 choices heading into their second season:

Crabtree
Best choice

Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers. The Cardinals' Wells and the Rams' James Laurinaitis made more immediate impacts. They reported to camp on time. But Crabtree commanded a starting job right away once he finally signed, and he immediately justified his starting status. Crabtree was surprisingly consistent and polished. Given a chance to select any other 2009 NFC West draft choices, I think the 49ers would stick with Crabtree.

Best immediate contributor

Laurinaitis, MLB, Rams. Laurinaitis became an immediate starter and didn't seem to fall off the way No. 4 overall choice Aaron Curry did in Seattle. Laurinaitis wasn't a star, but he stepped into a position requiring knowledge of the defense. Laurinaitis finished the season with 2.0 sacks, five passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He and Seahawks second-rounder Max Unger were the only 2009 NFC West draft choices to start 16 games last season.

Stephens-Howling
Best value

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Cardinals. The Cardinals found one of the best special-teams players in the division with the 240th overall choice. Stephens-Howling was outstanding on coverage teams. He provided a threat in the return game, too, scoring a critical touchdown at Tennessee. The Cardinals also found ways to work Stephens-Howling into the offense. He caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, though he didn't provide much as a rushing threat.

Most to prove

Jason Smith, LT, Rams. Curry finished a close second in this category. Smith started only five games and did not stand out when he was on the field (not that offensive linemen always have to stand out). A serious concussion and subsequent toe injury have raised questions about Smith's durability. The Rams will be investing heavily in No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford and they'll need Smith to protect him. Smith works hard and the Rams have surrounded him with veteran mentors.

A team-by-team look at the 2009 class:

Arizona Cardinals
2009 picks: 8

Total 2009 starts: 2

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State; fourth-rounder Greg Toler, CB, St. Paul's.

Other potential starters (1): Wells could have wound up here, but I'll stick with my projection that he'll start this season.

On the hot seat: Cody Brown, OLB, Connecticut. The Cardinals could use one of their young pass-rushers to emerge. A serious wrist injury prevented Brown from contributing last season. He was a second-round choice, though, so expectations are relatively high. Arizona needs him.

No longer with team (1): seventh-rounder Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati (Detroit Lions)

Keep an eye out for: sixth-rounder Will Davis. He showed promise last season and was improving until a knee injury sidelined him.

Forgotten man: We've seen little evidence suggesting third-round choice Rashad Johnson will become a factor anytime soon, if at all.
San Francisco 49ers
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 13

Projected 2010 starters (1): Crabtree

Other potential starters (0): None.

On the hot seat: Scott McKillop, LB, Pitt. The 49ers hoped McKillop might develop into a successor to inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. It could still happen, but coaches quickly replaced McKillop with veteran Matt Wilhelm when Spikes was out.

No longer with team (1): sixth-rounder Bear Pascoe, TE, Fresno State (New York Giants)

Keep an eye out for: seventh-rounder Ricky Jean-Francois, NT, LSU. Jean-Francois worked at nose tackle during minicamps and organized team activities while franchise player Aubrayo Franklin remained unsigned. Franklin will likely sign and he'll become the starter again when he does.

Forgotten man: Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama. Frank Gore's return to health means Coffee will not be needed much, if at all. The 49ers used a sixth-round choice for Anthony Dixon, a running back from Mississippi State. The buzz on Coffee went away when he struggled to gain yardage running behind a struggling line early last season.
Seattle Seahawks
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 28

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Curry, LB, Wake Forest; second-rounder Unger, G, Oregon.

Other potential starters (0): None.

On the hot seat: Curry. His rookie season went from promising to disappointing after the Seahawks lost their defensive quarterback, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, to season-ending injury. Curry said he tried to do too much from that point forward. The Seahawks hope Curry can become an effective pass-rusher in nickel situations. To fulfill his potential, though, Curry must become a good strongside linebacker, too.

No longer with team (2): sixth-rounder Mike Teel, QB, Rutgers (Chicago Bears); seventh-rounder Courtney Greene, S, Rutgers (Jacksonville Jaguars).

Keep an eye out for: third-rounder Deon Butler, WR, Penn St. Butler has good straight-line speed, but he lacks the size Seattle wants in its receivers. Coach Pete Carroll called Butler one of the team's most improved players this offseason, but it's unclear whether the team will find a role for him.
St. Louis Rams
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 33

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Smith, LT, Baylor; second-rounder Laurinaitis, MLB, Ohio St.

Other potential starters (2): third-rounder Bradley Fletcher, CB, Iowa; fourth-rounder Darell Scott, DT, Clemson.

On the hot seat: fifth-rounder Brooks Foster, WR, North Carolina. The Rams like other young receivers, including rookie free agents Dominique Curry and Brandon McRae. They also used a fourth-round choice for Mardy Gilyard. Brandon Gibson should play a role. There's pressure on Foster to make a strong comeback from the ankle injury that ended his rookie season.

No longer with team (0): All seven choices remain on the roster.

Keep an eye out for: Fletcher, the third-round corner from Iowa. Torn knee ligaments ended Fletcher's rookie season in October after the promising rookie started three games. The Rams hope Fletcher can come back to win the starting job.
Earlier: Winners, losers from 2008 class.

On the radar: Surprise injuries

June, 24, 2010
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

A sore hip bothered Kurt Warner at Arizona Cardinals camp last summer. It wasn't a big deal.

[+] EnlargePatrick WIllis
Brett Davis/US PresswirePatrick Willis has already practiced after his offseason knee surgery and will seemingly be ready for training camp.
Two summers ago, the Seattle Seahawks downplayed Matt Hasselbeck's bad back because they didn't know the full extent of the problem. That one turned out to be more serious than expected.

Having the right feel for each injury situation can be tough. I'm sure a surprise injury or two will become a story after NFC West teams report for training camps in late July.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (knee), St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (back), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (pectoral) are among the high-profile NFC West players coming off surgery rehabs. Their situations will bear monitoring.

The following players ended last season on injured reserve (some are no longer with NFC West teams):

Arizona Cardinals

Matt Ware, Mike Gandy, Justin Green, Cody Brown

San Francisco 49ers

Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt, Thomas Clayton, Jeff Ulbrich, Walt Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Curtis Taylor

Seattle Seahawks

Tyler Roehl, Walter Jones, Kevin Houser, Brandon Frye, Tatupu, Mike Hass

St. Louis Rams

Marc Bulger, Adam Carriker, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Eric Bassey, C.J. Ah You, Brooks Foster, Gary Gibson, Jacob Bell, Daniel Fells, Chris Massey, Bradley Fletcher, Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton

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