NFC West: Dave Wilcox

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says there's a market for the lifestyle Kurt and Brenda Warner promote in their new book. Recent events have created what she calls an uneasy juxtaposition: "On the same day police declared that a former NFL quarterback died at the hands of his mistress, I am staring at an active NFL quarterback luring hundreds to a book signing that celebrates his relationship with his wife and seven children."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com, in response to SI.com's Don Banks, thinks it's no big deal if Matt Leinart spends another year on the bench. The team just paid big bucks to Kurt Warner. There's no way Leinart should get on the field if Warner is able to play.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up the Cardinals' linebackers and how they fit into a 3-4 defense. He mentions nine other 3-4 teams. I would add the Broncos and Chiefs to the list.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says kicker Joe Nedney expressed concerns for former teammate Steve McNair's family following the retired quarterback's murder. Nedney: "I'm still trying to wrap my mind about the whole situation. But ultimately my heart goes out to his family, especially to his wife Mechelle, and his four sons. I hope they can get through this whole thing, too."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News runs the 49ers' practice schedule for training camp. Only four practices open to the public this year.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation solicits votes for the best outside linebackers in team history. Dave Wilcos was a seven-time Pro Bowl choice and five-time All-Pro during the 1960s and 1970s. He had prototypical size (6-foot-3 and 240 pounds) and missed only one game to injury.

Turf Show Times' VanRam projects the Rams' 53-man roster. I love these exercises and will do them for each team periodically as the season approaches. VanRam gives the Rams four running backs, six wide receivers and 10 offensive linemen. I think keeping 10 offensive linemen would be a luxury. All but five NFL teams kept nine or fewer on the initial cutdown to 53 players last summer. Every NFC West team kept nine. But we shall see.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com checks in with tight ends coach Frank Leonard as part of his continuing series on the Rams' assistants. Leonard is one of the louder assistant coaches I've heard as far as how he projects himself during practices.

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com breaks down some of the best players in Rams history by various positions.

John Zenor of the Associated Press says former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander is traveling the country on a Christian mission trip while hoping an NFL team requests his services as a player. Alexander says he has received no offers yet.

Art Thiel of seattlepi.com reports in detail from Mount Rainier following the recent climb featuring Roger Goodell and Jim Mora. Thiel: "Breaking through, Goodell and the rope teams continued at a measured pace onto the summit, arriving not long after sunrise. It was 9 degrees. The wind was picking up, clouds were back to re-sock the mountain, uncharacteristic for July. The celebration was brief in order to make safely the long slog down by mid-afternoon."

Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly says early signs suggest Max Unger could start for the Seahawks as a rookie. I've felt this way since draft day. Unger's versatility allows him to play any of the three interior positions, where the incumbent starters are coming off injury-shortened seasons.

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts is excited about the possibility of Unger becoming a starter.

John Morgan of Field Gulls reflects on Patrick Kerney's lost 2008 season while trying to project the Seattle defensive end's future. Morgan: "Kerney's got about as bad a bunch of injuries as a defensive lineman can have without losing his back or knees. I don't expect a precipitous drop, though it's happened to better ends than Kerney, but anything approaching his 2007 is far fetched."

Old-school arguments always in style

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Count Hall of Famer Deacon Jones among those who think current NFL players would have a hard time functioning under rules as they existed -- or often did not exist -- back in his day.

As Jones told Alan Grant in this Old School column:

"The game today is played from the neck to the waist. But we could hit you from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. And the quarterback was a wide open situation. I get so pissed off every time I hear Brett Favre say he's played 279 games in a row. I would rather slap my mama than allow a quarterback to play 279 games in a row. Somebody supposed to put him on the ground!"

I've always been a defender of the old-school athletes. Friends I grew up around thought Mike Tyson was the greatest boxer in history. I always thought Muhammad Ali would have embarrassed him. And I knew George Foreman would have knocked him out. I even thought a 40-year-old Foreman would have knocked Tyson out.

But some of these old-school declarations seem to go overboard. I was watching Super Bowl VII late last night, because that's the sort of thing I enjoy, and I really admired the way those guys played. But I also thought Albert Haynesworth or Justin Tuck might have sacked Billy Kilmer every other time Kilmer dropped back to pass.

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Mailbag: The case for Deacon Jones

September, 4, 2008
9/04/08
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill from Pearl River writes: It is inconcievable to think that Deacon Jones did not get the best ever all-time Ram player ever! I'm a lifetime 48 yr old Ram fan from NY and I loved Faulk(played half with Colts) but there is nobody even close to the Daec! when and who voted for this? Was it the typical 22 yr old uneducated ESPN junkie? or was it the equally uneducated media?

Mike Sando: My unofficial exit polling showed 44 percent of ESPN.com poll respondents owned advanced degrees in engineering or biological sciences. Another 32 percent were published NFL historians. Seriously, though, what about Merlin Olsen?


Will from Salem, Mass., writes: Mike, thanks for the insights all summer on the NFC West teams and specifically the Rams. Regarding predicting their '08 record, I think you're close. I see them as 7-9. Game-by-game is hard to predict, but I see 3-3 vs. the NFC West, 1-3 vs. the NFC East, 1-3 vs. the AFC East, and 2-0 vs. Chicago and Atlanta. 6 and 8 wins are both possible, but either one depends on if the Rams are healthier or more injured than average.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Will. I actually picked the Rams as a wild-card team last season. I was looking for a team that would break through somewhat unexpectedly. I narrowed my choices to the Packers and Rams. We all know how that one turned out. The Rams wound up using 18 combinations on their offensive line. As a result, I might be a little gun-shy on the Rams this season. Their depth isn't very good, it appears, and the schedule seems to stack up unfavorably early in the season.


John from Bremerton writes: do you think the seahawks will unload T.J. Duckett before the second or third game? He seems like a player who will be the odd man out since between Leonard Weaver and Omar Schmitt they seem to have three short yardage go to guys

Mike Sando: That would surprise me. The Seahawks clearly signed Duckett with more than one season in mind. That's why they gave him guarantees in 2009. Maurice Morris' contract is up after this season. Duckett gives them another potential guy to share carries with Julius Jones.

(Read full post)

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