NFC West: Dan McGwire
Best choice: Russell Wilson, QB, 2012 third round. Wilson went from springtime curiosity to surprise opening-day starter to Pro Bowl quarterback in eight months. Seattle has hit big on some other draft choices during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, but Wilson stands apart from the rest. No rookie in the 36-year history of the organization has impacted the team as dramatically as Wilson did in 2012. That is a bold statement, but one that required about 30 seconds of verification. Wilson is the first QB draft choice in Seahawks history to succeed with the team. None of the other 15 came close (Mike Teel, David Greene, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Kelly, Josh Booty, Brock Huard, Rick Mirer, Dan McGwire, John Gromos, Sammy Garza, David Norrie, John Conner, Sam Adkins, Steve Myer and Chris Rowland). The 26 touchdown passes Wilson threw during the regular season exceed the Seattle career totals for every one of those other 15 drafted QBs except Mirer, who had 41 touchdowns over four seasons with the team.
Worst choice: Aaron Curry, LB, 2009 first round. The Seahawks thought they were making the surest choice of the 2009 draft when they made Curry the fourth overall choice. Instead, a franchise that had used top-10 picks for defensive stars Cortez Kennedy and Kenny Easley got an all-time bust. Curry had 5.5 sacks, 12 passes defensed and four forced fumbles while starting 28 of 30 games for the Seahawks over two seasons. Something wasn't right, however, and by Curry's third season, the team had seen enough. Seattle essentially bought out Curry's expensive rookie contract to facilitate a trade to Oakland. Lawrence Jackson was a distant second for this distinction.
Verdict pending: James Carpenter, OL, 2011 first round. Wilson's selection in 2012 offsets lingering regrets from the Seahawks' decision to draft Carpenter over Andy Dalton a year earlier. Still, Seattle cannot feel good about how Carpenter's career has unfolded. Carpenter was struggling in pass protection at right tackle before a severe knee injury convinced Seattle that Carpenter's future would be at left guard, next to tackle Russell Okung. The conversion did not go well last season because the knee injury continued to limit Carpenter's mobility. The coming season appears pivotal for Carpenter.
Related: 2011 draft rewind.
Your Arizona Cardinals are that team.
John Skelton or Kevin Kolb? Coach Ken Whisenhunt figures to name his Week 1 starter before too much longer.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals will have to scale back their offense no matter which quarterback winds up taking the first-team snaps. His formula consists of running the ball, passing judiciously and playing tough on defense and special teams. Somers: "Now, this formula isn't going to produce exciting football. It's going to make for low-scoring, close games and a lot of disappointed fantasy-league owners who selected Cardinals offensive players. ... This formula isn't revolutionary. But it's the Cardinals' only way to climb out of this dark abyss and reach offensive solvency." Noted: Wait, which team is going into the season with a rookie starter?
Also from Somers: a look at the Cardinals' work week, which includes a date with Peyton Manning.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Wilson will be the third consecutive rookie quarterback to face the Cardinals in a regular-season opener. Urban: "In 2010, the Cards opened in St. Louis, when Sam Bradford had some trouble with Adrian Wilson in his first NFL game. In 2011, Cam Newton ended up setting an NFL rookie record for passing yards in his first game. In the Cards’ favor, they ended up winning both games."
Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com: Cardinals offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger is a funny guy.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists the rookie quarterbacks to start for Seattle. That list includes Rick Mirer, Dan McGwire, Kelly Stouffer and Jim Zorn. O'Neil: "Stouffer was drafted in 1987 by the Cardinals, but never signed with them. His first NFL season was 1988."
Peter King of Sports Illustrated calls Wilson's promotion "inevitable" while offering this commentary: "The naysayers said to just wait until Wilson had to play against someone's starting defense; that would expose him. Uh, not so much. Wilson started and had seven possessions in Kansas City Friday night. The drives: 41 yards and a field goal, 41 yards and a field goal, 37 yards and a field goal, 62 yards and a touchdown, 59 yards and a touchdown, 55 yards and a touchdown, 54 yards and a missed field goal. By the time Seattle inserted Tarvaris Jackson to replace Wilson, the Seahawks led 44-7."
Eric Karabell of ESPN.com analyzes Wilson's fantasy football value. Karabell: "It's not ticketing Wilson for the Hall of Fame to call him a reasonable backup quarterback for your fantasy team, a sheer upside play, assuming your starter is a rock-solid option like Tom Brady or Drew Brees. If it's Ben Roethlisberger, I would secure a safer, more reliable backup."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the details on an amazing offseason for Rams center Scott Wells. Wells and his wife adopted three children from Uganda, one reason Wells wasn't a full participant at training camp this offseason. Thomas: "A confidentiality agreement with the orphanage in Uganda prevented Wells from speaking publicly on the topic during the lengthy adoption process. And it was only after his wife returned home from Uganda a week ago with new daughter Caroline (age 5) and new sons R.J. (2) and Elijah (3) that Wells felt comfortable talking about the exhausting yet exhilarating experience."
Also from Thomas: an updated look at the Rams' offensive line.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers another look at Wells' offseason journey. The family initially did not intend to adopt three children. Wells: "They said, 'By the way, the 2-year-old, we found his sister. And kind of put it to us as what do you want to do? She's 5. So we felt that -- again, this was all God's plan -- that had we been paired with the boy and the girl initially, we would've said no because she's 5. We wanted under 3. And we just decided to keep the brother and sister together; keep the boy."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says 355-pound guard Leonard Davis enjoyed playing six consecutive snaps at tight end for the 49ers in their preseason game at Denver. Davis: "I've never been part of a game plan like that. It's fun. I'm just trying to get on the field. Not only that but be able to go out and play and execute like you're supposed to."
Also from Maiocco: Mike Martz's thoughts on Alex Smith. Martz: "There've been so many moving parts around Alex during his career that when things got stabilized, he was allowed to develop. When I say moving parts, just the changing of the coordinators, receiver groups, offensive line changes. They've stabilized all that now. ... "Alex, when I had him, he was just not right. ... I didn't say anything to him. And eventually he realized it, and that's when he had his (shoulder) surgery."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through the 49ers' performance at Denver, noting that the defense hasn't performed very well to this point. Also: "Colin Kaepernick had a strong game in going 4-4 for 80 yards and rushing twice for 11 yards. Kaepernick, who played the third quarter, connected with Kyle Williams for a 46-yard catch-and-run play, the 49ers' longest pass play of the preseason and a pass described by Harbaugh as 'a laser.' Kaepernick also had an impressive throw to tight end Konrad Reuland as he was rolling away from pressure to his left."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith and Manning wound up with the right teams. Kawakami: "Really, most of the time I watched the two QBs on TV today, I was thinking about what it would’ve been like if Peyton was Jim Harbaugh’s QB now. Easy conclusion: It would’ve been entertaining and possibly tremendous, but also probably too much of the Manic QB Ego thing all at once, with too much on the line for both men to ever back off. It could’ve been too much testosterone—not in the Melky Cabrera way, but you know what I’m saying."
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers went deep for the sake of it Sunday.
When in doubt, follow the money.
Signing Tarvaris Jackson to a contract averaging $4 million a year -- less than what the team is paying its left guard, tight end and backup quarterback -- revealed plenty about the Seahawks' plans for the position.
The move told us the Seahawks were serious about drafting a quarterback in 2012, whether it's Andrew Luck or another prospect likely to be chosen early. Saying so outright would have sent the wrong message to fans and the current team, of course, but a $4 million bet on Jackson wasn't much of a bet at all.
The related decision to part ways with Matt Hasselbeck, who commanded $9 million a year on the market, told us Seattle saw little point in squeezing a couple additional victories from a team that wasn't going to contend for a championship, anyway.
The Seahawks would almost certainly be better with Hasselbeck, provided their former long-time starter could have held up physically behind a young, inconsistent line. But how much better would they have been? Enough to finish 7-9 or 8-8 and out of the running for a top quarterback in the draft? What then?
Swapping Jackson for Hasselbeck fell short of a blatant "Suck for Luck" mantra, but not all that far short. Teams finishing 4-12 last season picked second through fourth. Teams with five victories were fifth and sixth. Teams with six victories picked seventh to 13th.
After watching the Seahawks fall to 2-6, it's looking like Seattle will have a shot at drafting a quarterback early, even if another team winds up with Luck.
Also from Urban: Cardinals staffer Rolando Cantu recently assisted at the scene of a car accident that left a young man with serious injuries.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits Chuck Knox's final season as head coach, explaining why Knox fell out of favor with ownership despite a successful run. Farnsworth: "Call it a clash of strong personalities between Knox -- who was old school, yet still cool -- and owner Ken Behring. After the Seahawks’ early success under Knox, the team never won more than nine games in his final five seasons. His philosophy had morphed into keeping games as close as possible and then trying to make a play to win them in the fourth quarter. Behring wanted more bang for his buck, not bang the drum slowly." That led Behring to push for selecting Dan McGwire in the first round of the 1991 draft, a move that never sat well with Knox.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy, who is putting on a football camp for kids in the Tacoma area. Williams: "Partnering with Sports International Football Camps, Milloy hosted his first camp in Parkland this week, with Seahawks teammates Deon Butler and Marshawn Lynch chipping in to make appearances in order to teach kids the ins and outs of the game. But Milloy didn’t just pop in to show his face and talk for five minutes. He spent quality time working with kids in individual drills." Butler and Lynch also helped out. Butler has recovered from his season-ending knee injury well enough to run routes and catch passes.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says quarterback Alex Smith is taking a stronger leadership role than ever as the San Francisco 49ers hold player-organized practices. Tight end Vernon Davis: "He's more of a leader than he's ever been at this point. I've never seen Alex like this, 'taking charge' is what I call it. It's Alex taking charge. He's in the classroom walking us through everything, talking about all the plays. He's taking all the snaps. And he's really being a leader out there. That's what Alex should've been doing. But it takes time for some guys to get to where you need to be." My thoughts.
The 49ers' website catches up with former player Gordy Soltau, a candidate for the team's Hall of Fame. Soltau: "I was excited when I got traded out here in 1950. I was with Cleveland at the time when Coach Paul Brown told me, 'You can stay here, but Buck Shaw wants you so badly. I’m going to let you go if you want to go.' Then he said, 'You know you probably won’t play much for us this year, but if you go to San Francisco, you can play right now.' So I said, 'I’ll go.' "
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers' practices.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says draft-day stories about Colin Kaepernick using Andrew Luck as a resource never really panned out.
Eric Branch of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with undrafted center Chase Beeler, who played for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Beeler: "I can tell them what my experience was at Stanford in terms of pairings of plays, particular packages that you might see -- a power paired with a particular pass or what have you. But still I have to assume the circumstances in which they’re implementing the playbook are a little different at the next level in the NFL. So there’s going to be some variance there. I’m sure a certain percentage of whatever I’m able to tell them is ultimately going to be useful, but I don’t know that I’m able to give them some kind of grand insight that’s going to bring the whole offense together."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says finding a center must be a priority for the 49ers after Eric Heitmann's neck surgery. Barrows: "David Baas, who played guard his first five seasons in the league, filled in last year at center and remains the team's top option at the position. Baas, an unrestricted free agent, attended one day of the 49ers' previous player-run minicamp -- a good indication he plans to re-sign with the team -- but has not attended the current camp. The 49ers, who have known since last year that Heitmann's status was uncertain, drafted accordingly. They selected Appalachian State's Daniel Kilgore in the fifth round and Montana State's Mike Person in the seventh round, and they plan to see what each can do at both center and guard."
VanRam of Turf Show Times notes that ESPN.com has made Steven Jackson the Rams' highest-ranked player for fantasy purposes. We've spent a fair amount of time this offseason discussing whether Jackson has lost a step and what he might offer for the future. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. put it this way earlier in the offseason: "He struggles to run away from tacklers and break long runs. And he just isn't as nifty as he once was. This sounds like I am a Jackson 'Hater,' which I am not. In fact, I think that the new offense being installed by Josh McDaniels could do Jackson a world of good, as could the maturation of Sam Bradford."
The first two decades of Seahawks history had more to do with what could have been than what actually became.
Imagine if Seattle had only firmed up its 1984 offer to Warren Moon, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Houston Oilers in part because the Seahawks weren't willing to guarantee as much of an otherwise similar deal.
Imagine, seven years later, if ownership hadn't forced then-coach Chuck Knox to draft quarterback Dan McGwire with the 16th overall choice when Knox preferred Brett Favre.
Such mistakes threatened to drive the Seahawks from Seattle altogether until Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen intervened by purchasing the team in 1997. That moment might stand above all others. Allen made so many other things possible -- landing Mike Holmgren from Green Bay, for starters. With Holmgren on the sideline, the Seahawks advanced further than ever before, defeating Carolina in the NFC Championship Game for a berth in Super Bowl XL.
These were among the moments that stood out to me when putting together this ballot. Quite a few others -- acquiring Steve Largent, hiring Knox, upsetting the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs at the Orange Bowl, getting Qwest Field built, hiring Holmgren, losing Steve Hutchinson -- also deserve consideration. You'll be the judge ultimately.
If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
"The Seahawks' minus-45.9 percent offensive DVOA sets a new FO record, surpassing the 2005 San Francisco 49ers (minus-42.0 percent) as the worst offense we've ever tracked," Football Outsiders reported. "It gets worse if you isolate the passing game from the running game."
The 2005 49ers' pass offense was the worst on record since 1993 at minus-57.9 percent. The 1992 Seahawks' pass offense came in at minus-71.0 percent. The chart breaks down passing stats for the quarterbacks on those teams' rosters. The seven players combined for 17 touchdowns, 44 interceptions and a 41.7 rating.
While justifiably ragging on Seattle's 1992 offense, Football Outsiders acknowledges the strength of its defense, which ranked third in DVOA that season thanks largely to AFC Defensive Player of the Year Cortez Kennedy. I'll have more on Kennedy as Hall of Fame voting approaches. I consider him to have been the best, most complete defensive tackle of the 1990s, when counting Reggie White as a defensive end.
One point Mel drove home hard: We tend to have unrealistic expectations for rookie quarterbacks.
The St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford was exceptional by rookie standards -- and he was the NFL's 25th-rated passer out of 31 qualifying quarterbacks.
Mel scoffed at evaluating whether a quarterback was "the guy" after the player's rookie season.
"If you evaluate them on one year, you will (usually) say they are not the right guy," Kiper said. "We need a reality check on how we evaluate quarterbacks."
With that in mind, I went through ProFootballReference.com's database looking at how first-round quarterbacks fared as rookies while playing for current NFC West teams. I went back to 1976, the Seattle Seahawks' inaugural season, so that the time frame would be equal for all four teams.
The chart helps set expectations for 2011 if the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers or Seahawks draft and then start a quarterback selected in the first round.
Chuck Knox's career as the Seattle Seahawks coach was at a crossroads heading into the 1991 draft.
The team had gone 9-7 a year earlier, but quarterback was becoming a concern. Dave Krieg finished the 1990 season with 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, giving him 40 picks over a two-season span. Krieg was 32.
Seattle wanted to draft a quarterback, but which one?
Ownership wanted Dan McGwire in the first round. Knox wondered if Brett Favre might be available later. Ownership prevailed. Knox was livid -- so livid, in fact, that he refused to meet with reporters after McGwire's selection was announced.
When McGwire took center stage for his introductory news conference at team headquarters, photos showed Knox standing off to the side, arms crossed, scowl across his face. He was out as head coach after McGwire's rookie season.
McGwire's career with Seattle spanned four seasons, 13 games and five starts. He completed 74 of 148 career passes for 745 yards, with two touchdowns, six interceptions and a 52.3 rating.
Eighteen years after Seattle ownership went with McGwire, Favre is coming off a Pro Bowl season. McGwire hasn't completed a pass since 1994. Seattle still has never drafted a productive starting quarterback.
Both teams met with Charlie Whitehurst and Derek Anderson.
Arizona landed Anderson, 26, with a two-year deal worth more than $7 million. Seattle landed Whitehurst, 27, with a two-year deal worth $10 million, plus the equivalent of 2010 draft choice late in the second round.
Anderson has one Pro Bowl season and, more recently, two mediocre seasons on his resume. Whitehurst has nothing on his resume. He might be great. He might be good. He might be average. He might be poor. He might be Dan McGwire.
The money and draft capital Seattle invested in Whitehurst makes him the logical starter for 2011, if not sooner. And if Whitehurst flops, this move will be one the Seahawks' new management team hears plenty about.
The Chargers must be thrilled to get significant value for a third-string quarterback with no credentials.
The Seahawks can still come out OK in the end, but the Cardinals and Chargers look better right now.
Also from Somers: The 49ers will not be taking Arizona lightly just because Kurt Warner retired.
More from Somers: The Cardinals did not use their franchise tag for kicker Neil Rackers or anyone else.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' roster is in far better shape now than it was three years ago, according to Whisenhunt.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are paying the price for conservative drafting under former general manager Tim Ruskell. O'Neil: "Five years of playing it safe kept Seattle from making any draft-day busts that would rival quarterback Dan McGwire, but it also resulted in a roster lacking the dynamic, game-changing talents that are nonnegotiable ingredients for contending in today's NFL. That reality is the backdrop this week as new coach Pete Carroll, new general manager John Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks' football-operations staff arrive in Indianapolis for the league's annual scouting combine to evaluate more than 300 of the top prospects for April's draft." That is an interesting proposition and one I'd like to study a little more. Off the top of my head, some of the higher-risk choices Seattle made before Ruskell arrived -- Koren Robinson, Jerramy Stevens -- blew up. Some of the more conservative choices -- Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson -- became stars.
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks need to find Walter Jones' replacement.
John Morgan of Field Gulls expects Lance Laury to sign with another team, get cut, bounce around and retire after a report suggested the Seahawks will not tender Laury as a restricted free agent. This would be the second time Seattle declined to tender Laury as an RFA.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams plan to extend RFA tenders to Oshiomogho Atogwe and Alex Barron, but not Mark Setterstrom. Also, the team's football leadership recently met prospective new owner Shahid Khan in St. Louis.
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams hope to re-sign James Hall and Leonard Little even though both are in their 30s.
Also from Balzer: Rams general manager Billy Devaney has good things to say following his meeting with Khan. Devaney: "It was a good meeting. You can tell he cares about the Rams. He seems like a real good guy."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says McCloughan reiterated his belief in drafting players with size because the NFL is a big man's game. Maiocco: "This is also why I have my doubts whether the 49ers would make a first-round investment in a smallish running back who might be a dynamo on special teams but might struggle in the future as an every-down back." I have also questioned whether the 49ers would use a first-round choice for Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, although I do not think McCloughan was making an across-the-board declaration that ruled out taking a smaller change-of-pace back. Most change-of-pace backs will be smaller than every-down backs.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary sounded more committed to Alex Smith as the team's quarterback for 2010.
Also from Barrows: The 49ers are sizing up offensive linemen at the combine.
The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript to general manager Scot McCloughan's combine news conference. McCloughan: "With the staffs that are in our division now, with the coaches and all that, it's going to get back to being tough one at some point. What we've got to do is take care of business week in and week out. I like the fact that we have been able to compete in our division and that's our first goal. But now we have to find a way to win the division and get in the playoffs."
The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript to coach Mike Singletary's combine news conference. Singletary: "I feel very good about saying that Alex Smith is our starter going into the next football season. The thing for me is I’m always going to use words like 'probably' and all those other things because I like competition. I like guys knowing that they’re always going to compete. But I feel very comfortable in saying Alex Smith is our starting quarterback going forward."
Let's follow up.
Mind of no mind: Sando, you just ruined my day. "Ownership's decision to select quarterback Dan McGwire with the 16th pick in 1991 looks even worse when one considers that coach Chuck Knox wanted Brett Favre instead." I never knew that. Now I'm going to pay it forward and ruin the day for every Seahawk fan I know by telling them.
Mike Sando: That's true. There's actually a photo showing Knox crossing his arms and flashing a Pennsylvania steel-country glare while looking away from McGwire at the news conference to introduce the quarterback. Knox thought the Seahawks could have snagged a quarterback in the second round that year and Favre was a guy in his sights. Knox did not want to select McGwire, but ownership really wanted him. The injuries McGwire suffered affected his career, but he obviously could have encountered better circumstances, too.
The differences between Knox and the team's leadership at that time might sound pretty familiar given what the Seahawks have gone through recently. I jokingly wondered whether there was some way to blame the McGwire pick on Tim Ruskell (I suppose we could blame Ruskell's Bucs for selecting Charles McRae seventh overall in 1991, leaving McGwire on the board for Seattle nine spots later).
Mind of no Mind: I've also heard that when Warren Moon first came to the NFL from the CFL that he wanted to come to the Seahawks, but they would not guarantee him $1 million a year, so he went to Houston. Do you know if this is true?
Mike Sando: The Seahawks were definitely in the mix for Moon at that time, but the Oilers' offer was better. I don't recall specifics off the top of my head (writing this from my gate in Chicago before catching connecting flight to Indianapolis for the combine).
CFraychineaud: Sando, not sure if there was a format used by all of the other divisions, but it seems like most of the other division writers were mostly talking about players selected since 2000. Would be cool to see your thoughts on the busts and gems from the more recent years.
Mike Sando: You weren't the only one who noticed. Turns out the assignment did ask us to focus on "recent" selections. I read over that part of it and was airborne en route to the combine by the time this item published. Maybe I can follow up with an item focusing more on, say, the last 10-15 years.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are 2-21 and the Lions are 1-21 since the start of the 2008 season. Thomas: "On this Halloween weekend, the scariest thought of all is what happens if the Rams run the table -- in reverse -- and finish 0-16. They would thus end the season with 26 consecutive losses, tying the all-time NFL futility record set by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976-77. With a loss to the Lions, 0-16 doesn't seem all that far-fetched. Not when you consider the Rams' remaining schedule."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders whether the Rams and Lions might cancel out one another's problems. Burwell: "I have a hunch that this is going to be one of those rare Sunday afternoons where weird karma collides and produces an honestly competitive and entertaining football game (Of course I say this now, but by halftime I might want to poke my eyes out with acupuncture needles to relieve the excruciating pain). The Lions have one of the worst secondaries in football (teams complete a stunning 74.2 percent of their passes against Detroit) and the Rams have one of the most unimposing group of receivers in the NFL (Can someone please get open? Please? Anyone?)."
Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts the Rams' struggles in perspective by looking at other bad teams in St. Louis sports history.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams are getting desperate to finally win a game. Quarterback Marc Bulger: "We need that first one. Even at the start of the season coach (Steve Spagnuolo) was talking about just the first win. Until we get that, we feel like we're in this rut we can't get out of. Once we get that first one, I think the guys will start believing more. It will make work a lot less stressful and more fun."
Delanie Walker of the 49ers reveals the team's strategy in the return game. Walker: "With our return game, we’re going to hit them in the mouth. We’re going to play power football, because they like to run around blocks. We’re going to try and send it straight up the gut."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney regarding Smith's first regular-season NFL start. Coach Mike Singletary: "Alex is a totally different guy than he was even six months ago. I think his mind-set is clear. The thing that speaks volumes to me was in the offseason he had a chance to move on and go to another team and make more money. But he decided to stay. He wanted to finish what he started."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Tarell Brown is taking over for Nate Clements because Brown matches up better against the Colts' receivers. I think there has to be more to this story. The strategy part of it simply doesn't make sense heading into a game against Peyton Manning.
Matt Barrows of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Shawntae Spencer spent more time than Clements matched up against Texans receiver Andre Johnson in Week 7. Spencer has been the 49ers' best cornerback this season, in my view.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sizes up the 49ers' chances against the Colts, outlining keys to previous Indianapolis defeats. Brown: "More than any other indicator, forcing Manning into turnovers is instrumental in beating him. The Colts are 0-11 in Manning's career when he throws three or more interceptions and a mere 13-21 when he throws at least two."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan has his players in place for Week 8. Kawakami: "So, yes, Mike Singletary leads, inspires and cajoles the 49ers' 53 players. The Yorks pay them. But, five seasons into his GM tenure, this is McCloughan's roster — and it's almost exactly how he always envisioned, starting with the quarterback. Finally."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Panthers and Cardinals are playing for the ninth time since 2001. Somers: "In some ways, the Cardinals' improvement over the past few years can be measured by their games against the Panthers. Until the playoff game in January, they had lost five in a row to the Panthers, including a regular-season game in 2008."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals experienced an enjoyable week coming off a big victory and without another road trip looming in Week 8. On another subject: "A couple fans have asked me about dropped passes and the Cards. The bottom line, there haven’t been many, not officially. The Cardinals have been charged with only 10 dropped passes out of 175 catchable balls, and their 5.7 percentage is sixth-best in the NFL (The Bears, at 3.5 percent, are first; the Browns, at 17.3 percent drops, are last). Fullback Dan Kreider has two of the drops; running back Tim Hightower three. Fitz has been charged with one drop in 63 passes targeted his way. Anquan Boldin has two in 51 targets, Steve Breaston none in 32 and Jerheme Urban none in 23."
Also from Urban: The Cardinals say they never came close to releasing Alan Branch, but they were certainly disappointed by his development -- until this season.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com sees a 34-17 Cowboys victory against the Seahawks. Johns: "Seattle's offensive line will have trouble keeping the Cowboys off Matt Hasselbeck. They can't create enough of a run game to provide any balance. The Seahawks' defensive backs will have trouble against the Cowboys' big receiving crew. Not to mention it's a 10 a.m. start on the road, a recipe for disaster as any half-awake Seahawks' fan knows. Maybe the extra hour of sleep from turning the clocks back will be the antidote, but don't count on it."
Also from Johns: Seahawks rookie Max Unger has become a mainstay on an ever-changing offensive line. Position coach Mike Solari: "He's coming along. Max is getting better each week. The key thing with him is experience, but he's really doing a nice job. It's very tough, but each week he's learning and building a nice foundation as a rookie. We're really happy to have Max."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have bad memories from their most recent trip to Dallas. There have been others. Dan McGwire, Trent Dilfer and Darrell Jackson all suffered serious injuries there.
William P. Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts outlines keys for the Seahawks against Dallas. Tomisser: "I'm looking for a hard fought game with the Seahawks giving as much as they get proving that injuries were the main cause of the team's inability to compete early in the season previous to the bye. I look for a team more closely oriented to the one we saw on opening day than the one we saw last game against the Cardinals to take the field against the Cowboys."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dan from parts unknown writes: I don't care how bad they played in their opener. you honestly believe the colts are the 10th-best team in NFL? If so, I am not sure I ever want to visit espn.com again because if you're experts, I'm the freakin queen of england!
Mike Sando: Thanks for writing, your majesty. I do care how poorly teams played in their openers. That likely explains our disagreement. The power rankings do not reflect which teams we think will be best in Week 17. They reflect which teams we think are best heading into Week 2. Sorry for any confusion.
Alex from San Francisco writes: When will the NFL step up and fix the situation with the 49ers? The team needs new ownership.
Mike Sando: Perhaps when the fans demand it, according to Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Matt from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Mike, I'm a 40 year Niner fan who tries to stay very objective on my team. Your article was the best, most objective assessment of Week 1 and thank you for covering the team as such. I read all the sites, articles and blogs and none are better than yours. Keep it up. I see a huge improvement in the Niner offense. If the D and Special Teams comes back around as they were last year, this team will compete week in and out. Matt
Mike Sando: Thanks, Matt. Another reader thought I was really "sugar-coating" it to suggest the 49ers' offense had made strides. But my comments were all relative to just how poorly the offense performed last season. With that in mind, the progress seemed undeniable to me. Glad you agreed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The ESPN.com fan rankings left Seattle at No. 20. A few readers weren't any too pleased, either. The relatively low ranking reflected in part local rules prohibiting tailgating at Qwest Field. But that just wasn't right, apparently.
Larry from Seattle writes: Sando, Sando, Sando! You lost serious credibility by hammering the Seahawks for the tailgate atmosphere. Next time you are at a game, go 2 blocks due west of the stadium (to just barely east of the viaduct and behind the set of warehouses that you will run into) and check out the tailgate party.
Other stadiums likely still have us beat, but it is pretty damn good. Just because there is no tailgating in the stadium parking lot does not mean that there is no tailgating. If you are going to evaluate the tailgate experience, I think you have an obligation to actually examine the issue a little more than peering out into the parking lot of Qwest and concluding that there is none.
If interested, shoot me an email and you can stop by my tailgate at your next game and see the experience firsthand. Despite my rant and your obviously limited knowledge of tailgating in Seattle, your blog is still the best thing going. Keep it up!
Mike Sando: You've got a deal, Larry. I would be honored to drop by your tailgate party one of these times. The only thing I ask is that you have something ready on the grill. And it better be good. The last thing you need is another negative review on ESPN.com.
John from California writes: Mike, What are your thoughts on the Seahawks opening game against the Bills? Hopefully our Defense will be awake and and ready to play.
Mike Sando: The Seahawks should win that game. I think they will win that game. But this team needs to prove itself in early games in the Eastern time zone.
Greg from Phoenix writes: Mike, I'm wondering what Alex Smith's chances are of starting over with another team and fulfilling his unrealized potential. It seems like there are so many high draft picks get only one shot and, despite the experience they get in those first years, in most cases if they don't succeed then they are labeled "busts" and don't get another. Why is this so and what are Smith's prospects for following this same path?
Mike Sando: I think a fresh start elsewhere is exactly what Alex Smith needs. I would think he'll enjoy success somewhere down the road. He's only 24 years old. A few players have enjoyed success after stumbling early. Vinny Testaverde comes to mind. Trent Dilfer, to a degree, and Kerry Collins. Tommy Maddox several years aback, and Jim Plunkett years ago.
But some quarterbacks never recover from a poor start. David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf, Jim Druckenmiller, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, David Klingler, Dan McGwire, Todd Marinovich, Andre Ware, Kelly Stouffer.
At a certain point we might conclude that these players weren't as good as advertised. A quarterback must possess so many traits to succeed. Some of these players possessed certain traits that caught scouts' eyes, but they lacked the total package or couldn't overcome severe deficiencies in other areas.