NFC West: Dane Looker
Looker, 35, has announced intentions to seek state office as a representative from Washington 25th district, which includes areas near Tacoma. Looker, whose wife is a teacher, was previously running for a school board seat. He identified decreased funding and larger class sizes as problems to target.
"As a school board member, I could help address the symptoms of these cuts," Looker said in making his announcement, "but as a state legislator, I can help solve the core problem."
Rams fans might remember Looker's 19-yard touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of a 2003 game against the San Francisco 49ers. The touchdown helped the Rams force overtime. They won, 27-24. Looker scored three of his five career receiving touchdowns during a five-week span that season, all from Marc Bulger and all in Rams victories.
Looker last played for the Rams in 2008. He was a walk-on at the University of Washington after beginning his college career as a basketball player at Western Washington University. The Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2000.
The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.
I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.
The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.
They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.
The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.
The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.
This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.
Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?
Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.
With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.
Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.
The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.
I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams might be able to get receiver Donnie Avery back from a foot injury in time for the regular season. Here's a quick look at available veteran receivers, with potential concerns listed for each player:
- Matt Jones: substance-abuse arrests.
- Plaxico Burress: facing jail time on weapons charge.
- Marvin Harrison: knee trouble; his gun linked to shooting.
- Koren Robinson: knee trouble; alcohol-related arrests.
- Reggie Williams: substance-abuse arrest.
- Ashley Lelie: 21 receptions over last two seasons.
- Travis Taylor: one reception over last two seasons.
- Ike Hilliard: caught 47 passes last season, but is 33 years old.
- Jerry Porter: missed 18 games over last three seasons.
- Billy McMullen: played for Rams' coordinator Pat Shurmur; has knee issues.
- Joe Jurevicius: staph infection derailed career.
- Darrell Jackson: 12 receptions last season and has had knee issues.
- Keary Colbert: career in decline since 2004 rookie season.
- Dane Looker: Rams cut him this year.
- Dante Hall: Rams cut him this year.
I'd be stunned if the Rams considered any receivers with significant off-field issues. Looking at the list, Hilliard might be the most logical consideration, if healthy.
Travel note: I wrote this item Sunday night and scheduled it to appear Monday while I was traveling to St. Louis for Rams camp. I'll revisit this item at some point Monday if the Rams sign a veteran replacement for Avery.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.
Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.
Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?|
Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?
The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.
Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.
Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.
Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?
Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.
While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?|
Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.
The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.
On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.
The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.
Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.
On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.
That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.
Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.|
Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)
Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.
Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.
Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.
Camp will be a downer if ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization.
Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.
Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.
Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.
Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.
St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)|
|Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?|
Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.
Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.
None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.
Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.
The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has not cut back on two-a-day practices despite an apparent league-wide trend in that direction. We'll see if the heat and humidity at Rams Park leads to any concessions. Spagnuolo wants to toughen up the Rams without wearing them out.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams will open 32 practices at training camp. Wagoner: "Two a days for the entire team will begin on Aug. 1 with the first practice from 8:15-10:30 a.m. and the second from 2:45-4:25. For most of the rest of camp, the team will follow that format for the majority practices."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation considers the best quarterbacks in 49ers history. Joe Montana and Steve Young weren't the only ones. John Brodie and Y.A. Tittle weren't bad, either.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Michael Crabtree could receive roughly $15 million in guaranteed money as part of his rookie contract.
Scott Kegley of 49ers.com passes along a few jersey number updates. Reggie Smith gets No. 30, Terrail Lambert gets No. 41 and Dre Bly gets No. 31.
John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Jordan Babineaux's 2008 season for the Seahawks. Morgan: "Babineaux has carved out a nice little career for himself despite few tangible skills. He's fiery, versatile, a playmaker and I once referred to him as a 'gamer.' As a dime defender, Babineaux finally punched his weight as a cornerback, but Seattle doesn't need to spend $1 million annually to shut down Dexter Jackson, Dane Looker, James Thrash and Brad Smith."
Also from Morgan: A look at the injury situation at defensive tackle for Seattle. Red Bryant and Cory Redding are coming off injuries.
More from Morgan: Which Seahawks player will create the most buzz during preseason? The next Justin Forsett, in other words.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times cedes the floor to Doug Farrar for analysis on the injuries the Seahawks suffered last season. The key issue is to what degree some of those injuries might linger or recur.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks should find ways to use Seneca Wallace even if Matt Hasselbeck is healthy. That seems very likely given the apparently flexibility of the new staff.
Brian Baldinger of NFL Network checks in with the Seahawks' receivers for a video spot on the "art" of playing the position.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks have expanded their partnership with the Washington State Lottery by developing a scratch game. Williams: "The Seahawks already had a business partnership with the state lottery in place, allowing the state agency to advertise at venues like Qwest Field, so the deal is seen as the next step in the partnership between the two sides, said league spokesperson Brian McCarthy."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Levi Jones' agent as saying the former Bengals tackle wants more money from Arizona than the Cardinals have offered. Somers: "The Cardinals are one of about a dozen teams to express interest in Jones, [agent Kenny] Zuckerman said. But Jones likely won't sign with a club until after the start of camp. If tackles are lost to injury, Zuckerman is convinced Jones' value will increase."
Also from Somers: Arizona has not signed its top two draft choices, and it's not a big deal.Azcardinals.com has the Cardinals' media guide online and available for download.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers rookie Alex Boone has pledged to keep a low profile socially, to better avoid the type of drunken mayhem that affected his draft stock. Boone: "I'm 22 years old. All you want to do after practice is go out and have fun and relax and stuff like that. But the truth is, I am really just not into it anymore. ... This is a job for me right now and I have to do what's best. I like to go home, lay down, watch some TV and go to bed. That's my daily plan. That's easy."
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the relationship between 49ers running backs Frank Gore and Moran Norris. "He's like a brother to me," Norris says.
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the 49ers' stadium plan by saying the $79 million in proposed public financing doesn't include $35 million from a proposed hotel tax. I thought the $114 million figure was well known.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers rookie Kory Sheets is still adjusting to the complexities of an NFL playbook.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Ben Patrick's four-game suspension hurts his chances for building on the Cardinals' appearance in Super Bowl XLIII. Somers: "He caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl and looked good in off-season workouts. Under the policy, he will be able to participate in training camp but the suspension will start the day the regular 53-man roster is set. The Cardinals have five other tight ends on the roster, signing Anthony Becht and Dominique Byrd this off-season. Leonard Pope has starting experiences, as does Stephen Spach, who is coming off ACL surgery. Alex Shor spent most of last year on the practice squad."
Also from Somers: contract details for some of the Cardinals' rookies.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up Patrick's suspension this way: "It's the latest hit for Patrick, the 2007 seventh-round pick who had been hoping to use his touchdown catch in the Super Bowl as a jumping-off point to win the starting job for the Cards' nebulous tight end situation. Patrick's 2008 season was tumultuous because of various nagging injuries."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at how Colin Cole's addition to the Seahawks' defensive line affects Brandon Mebane. Coach Jim Mora says Mebane should be more effective as a three-technique tackle. Mora explains why: "His explosiveness off the ball, his first step. His ability to get up the field in the run game. He's got some pass-rush ability. He'll spend less time on double teams at that position. He can be more disruptive. They call him a dancing bear. He's got initial quickness, he's got quick feet and that's what you're looking for at that position."
Peter King of SI.com checks in with Mora and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. King: "I asked Mora for a couple of defensive players who'd stood out in the offseason, and he said Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson. Both defensive ends. Both former high picks. So maybe there will be less pressure on [Aaron] Curry to be a 12-sack guy if these bookend ends emerge and if Patrick Kerney can stay healthy and give Seattle the production he's used to giving." Twelve sacks for Curry sounds like a two- or three-year total.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the team is expected to hold its first practice of training camp July 31.
John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Owen Schmitt's rookie season in Seattle. Morgan: "He has a couple troubling snags. His blitz awareness is weak. He's a bit stiff, especially at or near full speed. I don't think he'll develop into a great receiver. The most important of those three, his blitz awareness, should develop, and though I'm not fond of punting receiving ability at any skill position, [Greg] Knapp doesn't pass to his fullbacks, and Knapp is the man calling plays." An assistant coach for another team told me he questioned whether Schmitt had the lateral movement required to pick up blitzes from various angles.
VanRam of Turf Show Times sees few options for the Rams among the lists of available free agents. Quite a few of those available players were with the Rams last season. Among them: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Ricky Manning, Rob Petitti, Travis Minor, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Anthony Davis, Dane Looker and the presumably retiring La'Roi Glover.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says some Cardinals players supported Anquan Boldin's decision to change agents. Karlos Dansby said Boldin's reputation had taken a hit. Kurt Warner: "We understand public perception is a huge part of our business. But oftentimes, that public perception is wrong. You can't go out and dispute it all the time, but just thinking about a guy like 'Q,' the guy does everything right. He busts his butt, he's here every day, he's a great leader for us, and he just wants to be compensated fairly for what he's accomplished and what he brings to the table. None of us fault him for that. There's no way in our book that he should ever have a bad reputation because of that."
Alex Marvez of foxsports.com says he expects Boldin to hire agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra to replace Drew Rosenhaus. That is also my expectation, based on what other agents are saying, but expectations change quickly in the agent game. Boldin cannot hire another agent before Thursday. Nothing can become official before then.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain interested in re-signing cornerback Jason Craft. Other notes from his chat: The team does not appear likely to re-sign receiver Dane Looker; re-signing Oshiomogho Atogwe before the season is a priority; James Laurinaitis was the choice over Rey Maualuga in part because they saw the latter as a two-down player; and cornerback Tye Hill has looked better during organized team activities.
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com looks for and finds signs of progress from Marc Bulger. Klutsarits: "I don't believe we will see Bulger with his shoulders slumped on the sidelines this year. I don't believe we will see Bulger roll his eyes at the head coach on the sidelines this season. I do believe we are starting to see signs that the real Marc Bulger is going to stand up and be counted in 2009."
VanRam of Turf Show Times takes a quick look at the Rams' situation at receiver.
John Morgan of Field Gulls renews criticism of Seahwaks safety Brian Russell and how the team has used him. This is a two-parter. Second part here. Signing Russell was in direct response to the long touchdown passes Seattle allowed routinely before his arrival. Morgan: "He's neither a sure enough tackler nor fast enough to break on the pass to limit long completions. He can at best limit very long completions. He won't contribute stopping the run the way a Tampa 2 safety must. I don't see why, even with the built-in cushion, teams would not challenge him deep. He's not fast, he's not a hard hitter and he hasn't shown an ability to get the jump ball. He's the right profile but the wrong talent for a scheme that probably won't work."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation sizes up the 49ers' situation at receiver. He gives Arnaz Battle or Dominique Zeigler a chance at earning a roster spot if the 49ers keep six this season. Here's how many receivers the 49ers have kept on their opening-day rosters over the previous six seasons: five in 2008, six in 2007, five in 2006, seven in 2005, six in 2004 and six in 2003. Injuries tend to shape decisions at this position. That was certainly the case in the NFC West last summer. Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) missed time at 49ers camp last season, affecting their futures with the team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Thursday item about potential NFC West receiving leaders for 2009 sent me back through league-wide stats for last season.
A few tidbits for those seeking ammo for future discussions:
- The Rams' Donnie Avery gained at least 40 yards on four of his 53 receptions, or 7.5 percent of them. Only six receivers with at least 50 receptions gained at least 40 yards on a higher percentage of their receptions: Vincent Jackson (11.9), Greg Jennings (10.0), Calvin Johnson (9.0), Terrell Owens (8.7), Donald Driver (8.1) and Steve Smith (7.7).
- The 49ers' Isaac Bruce gained at least 20 yards on 14 of his 61 receptions, or 23 percent of them, 10th-best in the league among receivers with at least 50 catches. Terrell Owens (21.7) and the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald (20.8) were 11th and 12th on the list. Smith led the way with 23 of 78, or 29.5 percent.
- Seattle's T.J. Houshmandzadeh had 92 receptions and zero fumbles for the Bengals last season. Only Tony Gonzalez had more receptions (96) without fumbling. The Cardinals' Steve Breaston was seventh on the list with 77 receptions and no fumbles. The Rams' Torry Holt was ninth (64 receptions, no fumbles). Bruce was 11th (61 receptions, no fumbles). Seattle's John Carlson was 18th (55 receptions, no fumbles).
- Houshmandzadeh, Breaston, Holt, Bruce and Carlson combined for 349 receptions without a fumble. Anquan Boldin had three fumbles on 89 receptions. Only the Cowboys' Marion Barber had more fumbles (four on 52 receptions). The Rams' Dane Looker had two fumbles on 23 receptions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams weren't an 8-8 team seeking a few tweaks to regain their footing. They needed a franchise overhaul after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.
That overhaul has continued with Brian Leonard's trade to the Bengals on Thursday and Pisa Tinoisamoa's release Friday.
Changing over a roster means adding new players in key positions. Adding new players means losing existing ones, and the Rams have parted with quite a few this offseason.
The chart shows notable Rams players to leave the roster since general manager Billy Devaney spearheaded Steve Spagnuolo's hiring as head coach.
Some of the changes were difficult to miss. The releases of Torry Holt and Orlando Pace come to mind. Other changes have come via attrition. In this case, the Rams have decided against re-signing numerous unrestricted free agents. It's significant to note that quite a few of them remain unsigned.
The Rams could always re-sign a free agent or two as they set their roster for training camp. In most cases, however, the team appears eager to move on without them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams kicker Josh Brown joined an increasingly exclusive club when he turned 30 years old Wednesday.
The Rams have released or not re-signed 14 players in their 30s since last season: Gary Stills, Dante Hall, Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, Cory Withrow, Dane Looker, La'Roi Glover, Brandon Gorin, Torry Holt, Anthony Becht, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green and Corey Chavous. The team parted with Dan Kreider and Eddie Kennison, also in their 30s, during the 2008 season.
The teams with the most players in their 30s: Saints 20, Patriots 17, Broncos 15, Browns 15, Redskins 15, Steelers 14 and Lions 14. The Cardinals have 13, the 49ers 12 and the Seahawks 10. The league average is 10.5.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Consider that list an indication of how irrelevant unrestricted free agency becomes as the draft approaches.
A quick look at unsigned UFAs from each NFC West team:
San Francisco (3): Martin, Green and
St. Louis (11): Linebacker Gary Stills, receiver Dante' Hall, cornerback Ricky Manning, tackle Rob Petitti, running back Travis Minor, cornerback Jason Craft, cornerback Fakhir Brown, center Cory Withrow, tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Dane Looker, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
I do not see priority free agents on those lists. Former Rams cornerbacks Manning, Craft and Brown could have some value, while Glover is expected to retire. Former Seahawks Koren Robinson and Jeff Robinson could conceivably help in a pinch, as could former Cardinals tight end Tuman. Green, the former 49er, has occasionally shown promise. Foster might be able to help on a limited basis.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Karlos Dansby as saying his former agent wasn't close to reaching agreement with the Cardinals before Dansby fired him. Dansby also said he hasn't chosen a new agent. His former agent will receive commission off the $9.678 million franchise tender unless Dansby signs a new deal before the season. I don't know terms of Dansby's agreement with former agent Kirk Wood, but a three percent commission would work out to more than $290,000. Dansby suggested he might play out the one-year deal.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for a look at the 49ers' needs and how the team might proceed in the draft. Rang likes Mark Sanchez, but not enough for the 49ers to draft him with the 10th pick. He doesn't like the 49ers chances if they look for a quarterback in the middle rounds. Rang: "This is such an ugly draft that way. The seniors are so bad. ... The one I like that I think is kind of a hidden gem is Stephen McGee from Texas A&M."
VanRam of Turf Show Times says the Rams' Keenan Burton stands to be most affected if Laurent Robinson earns playing time this season. He thinks the Rams are less likely to draft a quarterback after the first round after acquiring Robinson from the Falcons. I think it depends on value. The Rams still need help at receiver. They are simply less desperate now. Bringing back Dane Looker could be an option, perhaps after the draft.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com was there when Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck elaborated on recent comments about Seattle possibly drafting a quarterback early. Hasselbeck: "It's always been a joke for me, like I don't feel good about first-rounders. When [Trent] Dilfer was here and I played [in Green Bay] with Rick Mirer, [I always said] because I was a sixth-round pick, I don't watch the draft on Saturday, I watch the draft on Sunday. What's his name, Mel Kiper? When I was picked at 187, his exact words were something like, 'That's a waste of a pick.' At 187! So, whatever."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Chris from parts unknown writes: Sando, Wassup man. I wanted to know, will the rams pick up a free agent WR heading towards the draft or do you think they will draft a WR? If so, who do you think they will pick up??
Mike Sando: Adding a veteran receiver sounds like a good idea until you take a closer look at the 14 unrestricted free agents at the position:
Amani Toomer, age 35
Dane Looker, 33
Dante' Hall, 31
Darrell Jackson, 30
Justin McCareins, 30
Ashley Lelie, 29
Koren Robinson, 29
Edell Shepherd, 29
Shaun McDonald, 28
Drew Carter, 28
Tab Perry, 27
Keary Colbert, 27
Reggie Williams, 26
Plaxico Burress and Torry Holt are probably the best available receivers among those released by their teams (released players do not qualify as unrestricted free agents). Given that the Rams have said they will not pursue college prospects with known off-field issues, I would not expect them to consider Burress, whose legal troubles are significant. And Holt's time in St. Louis has passed.
Toomer would make sense for the Rams if they were desperate for a mentor. His Giants career overlapped with Steve Spagnuolo's time there. So far, however, the Rams have appeared more determined to get younger than to add aging veterans. That type of move would probably wait until after the draft.
I see no sure-fire way to fix this position in one offseason. The Rams probably would have drafted Jake Long if given the opportunity last year. I would expect them to draft a tackle with the second overall choice this year. The team might then need to help its defense. Under that scenario, it becomes harder to find a likely starter at receiver in the draft. And I do think the Rams need a starter to pair with Donnie Avery, even if the coaches like Keenan Burton's potential.
Bottom line: As much as the Rams need help at receiver, I'm not sure they can afford to address the position aggressively at the expense of other needs. The value would have to be strong -- a possibility at the top of the second round -- or they would have to surprise us by selecting Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin early. Perhaps we'll see them looking for a veteran stopgap after the draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.
I'll continue with St. Louis.
Gone from the Rams' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (18):
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Orlando Pace was drafted by the Rams in 1997.|
Orlando Pace, T
Torry Holt, WR
Dante' Hall, WR
Drew Bennett, WR
Dane Looker, WR
Travis Minor, RB
Anthony Becht, TE
Cory Withrow, C
Nick Leckey, C
Brandon Gorin, OL
Rob Petitti, OL
Corey Chavous, SS
Jason Craft, CB
Fakhir Brown, CB
La'Roi Glover, DT
Gary Stills, LB