NFC West: David Kirtman
Also from Thomas: Troy Aikman speaks from experience when he says the Rams need to upgrade Sam Bradford's supporting cast. Aikman: "You know, Sam, he's going to get hit. That's a (Rams) team that hasn't been very good. They've got to get better players around him. You want to protect him. You don't want to see him get banged up. But yet if he goes through this experience with a team that isn't very good, then he can take at least some consolation in knowing that, 'OK, I'm learning. I'm figuring this thing out. And I'm not holding back a team that has high expectations.' I think that's a positive. But I think you've got to kind of monitor that thing as a coach and make sure that you're not losing this kid because it can happen if he's not having some successes along the way."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to be ready for the regular-season opener after both participated in practice at full speed Tuesday following injury rehabs.
Also from Maiocco: 49ers quarterback Alex Smith feels empowered by the fact that he has earned his place in the starting lineup. Maiocco: "His body language has been different this offseason. He is much more assertive."
More from Maiocco: He would be surprised if the 49ers released Nate Davis. I would put Davis on the bubble given how strongly coach Mike Singletary criticized Davis' work ethic, particularly if the 49ers can find another player more likely to contribute in 2010.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary is more comfortable with Smith than with his backups. Singletary: "I feel good about Alex Smith. I feel very good about where he's at. I think we have to do a great job of protecting our starting quarterback. When it comes to David Carr, I think David Carr is a guy that I could grow to feel comfortable with. I think he's a guy that has a good command of the offense. I think he understands, I just think that he's still thinking a lot and he's still having to get the rhythm and all the other things, but I think David Carr, I could grow to feel comfortable with him."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith showed anger during a recent practice, another indication the quarterback is more comfortable. Smith: "When I was young and kind of thrown out there, I felt like I still had to earn it," Smith said. "Even though I was the starting quarterback, I still felt like I had to earn my place. There's no hesitation for me now. I've gone through a lot. This is the opportunity I've been waiting for and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' coaches have high praise for rookie linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Lynch: "Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said the Penn State grad can correct a mistake almost instantly, and Bowman, with his resonate voice and strong demeanor, seems to possess a wisdom well beyond his years."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says former Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson is happy to be heading home to Maryland as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Wilson: "I was shocked. It’s a business decision. But for me, it’s the best business decision I could have gotten."
Also from Farnsworth: notes from Seahawks practice, including one about veteran safety Lawyer Milloy singing "Kumbaya" on the sideline after an on-field fight.
Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from the team's recent trip to Minnesota, including one of Matt Hasselbeck and Brett Favre catching up before the game.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Leroy Hill's paycut with Seattle represented a best-case scenario for the linebacker because the team would have released him pending additional league sanction for off-field troubles.
Also from O'Neil: Roy Lewis could be the big winner for Seattle after the team traded Wilson.
Percy Allen of the Seattle Times passes along comments from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider regarding the team's recent moves. They said the Wilson trade came down to the Ravens' need for a cornerback and the Seahawks' belief in some of their young corners, notably Walter Thurmond. Schneider also pointed to the fact that Wilson has the potential to leave as a free agent after the 2010 season. Left unsaid: why the Seahawks weren't interested in paying Wilson beyond 2010, and why they were willing to part with a starter for nothing in return this season. Looks like Leon Washington could be returning kicks.
John Morgan of Field Gulls sees no upside to the Wilson trade. Morgan: "Seattle just turned what every team hopes a second-round pick can become into a fifth-round pick. The Seahawks secondary is young and deep. The recovery of Walter Thurmond and emergence of Roy Lewis means Seattle is dealing from a position of strength. That, Wilson's looming contract, and a narrow commitment to 'building through the draft' is the justification for this move. A realistic evaluation of Wilson's talent and the true value of a fifth-round pick is the damning reality. Seattle is worse today than it was yesterday. Much worse. And for what? Another Owen Schmitt, Will Herring, David Kirtman or Jeb Huckeba?" I also have trouble seeing how the Seahawks improved by subtracting one of their better corners.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says 2009 second-round draft choice Cody Brown has much to prove heading into the Cardinals' final exhibition game of 2010. Somers: "One high draft pick who need to show something is outside linebacker Cody Brown, a second-round pick in 2009. Brown missed his rookie year with a dislocated wrist and hasn't made an impact this preseason."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says undrafted free agent Stephen Williams is looking like a potential steal for the Cardinals. McManaman: "The Cardinals had him rated as a potential third-round pick, but they didn't draft him, either. Instead, they were the one team that reached out and offered him a free-agent contract with a chance to make the team. And it appears he has done that."
Also from McManaman: Derek Anderson will start at quarterback for the Cardinals on Thursday night, leaving Matt Leinart as the backup again. Also: "Tight end Ben Patrick practiced for a second consecutive day and did well in his return from a dislocated kneecap suffered early in training camp. (Coach Ken) Whisenhunt said Patrick will get limited playing time Thursday but he's encouraged by what he's seen from Patrick."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals are making Greg Toler work for the starting job at right cornerback. Toler: "They just don’t want you to be complacent. They don’t want you just thinking you’re going to come in and slide into the position because then you might just slide back on what you do."
Also from Urban: Whisenhunt has long wanted an indoor practice facility, but for now he'll have to settle for holding occasional practices at Arizona State University.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The tough decisions teams face in reducing their rosters to 53 players sometimes aren't so tough.
They were arguably tougher for the Seahawks than for other teams in the division.
Three of the players Seattle released on its initial cutdown to 53 players have joined active rosters elsewhere in the league. Aaron Francisco, cut by the Cardinals, and Phil Trautwein, cut by the Rams, are the only other initial NFC West castoffs to join active rosters for other teams.
Seattle's Brian Russell (Jaguars), Marquis Floyd (Browns) and Kevin Hobbs (Lions) currently reside on active rosters. The Seahawks re-signed to their practice squad running back Devin Moore, safety Jamar Adams, receiver Mike Hass and receiver Logan Payne.
The apparent drama at receiver left Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor on the outside. Kent reached an injury settlement following his release. Taylor remains available. Neither player has eligibility for the practice squad.
Defensive lineman Baraka Atkins and kicker Brandon Coutu appeared close to earning roster spots. The Seahawks once thought Coutu might have trade value. That wasn't the case in the end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Biggest surprise: Starting free safety Brian Russell, signed in 2007 after the Seahawks grew tired of assignment errors in the secondary, seemed to fend off a challenge from versatile backup Jordan Babineaux. That made Russell's release a surprise even though coach Jim Mora had said Babineaux would compete for the job in camp. The team went with Ben Obomanu as its fifth and final receiver, releasing Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent. Rookie defensive linemen Nick Reed and Michael Bennett joined preseason surprise Derek Walker among 11 defensive linemen, prevailing at Baraka Atkins' expense -- a big surprise. Rookie seventh-rounder Cameron Morrah beat out Joe Newton as the third tight end. Veteran kicker Olindo Mare beat out second-year pro and 2008 draft choice Brandon Coutu in a close battle. The team cleared another spot by placing starting corner Marcus Trufant on the physically unable to perform list, helping corner Travis Fisher earn a spot among the initial roster. Keeping 11 defensive linemen meant keeping only six linebacker, costing versatile veteran D.D. Lewis a job.
No-brainers: The Seahawks also released safety Jamar Adams, guard Brian De La Puente, cornerback Marquis Floyd, tackle Na'Shan Goddard, safety Courtney Greene, receiver Mike Hass, cornerback Kevin Hobbs, fullback David Kirtman, running back Devin Moore, cornerback Nate Ness, tight end Joe Newton, receiver Logan Payne, linebacker Dave Philistin, tackle Andre Ramsey, tackle William Robinson, quarterback Jeff Rowe.
What's next: The Seahawks reduced to 52 players with these moves, but the team was expected to add veteran safety Lawyer Milloy for depth and experience.
The Seahawks' decision to sign 31-year-old Edgerrin James and confer upon him "complementary" status behind "workhorse" Julius Jones showed what the team thought about its quality depth at running back: not a great deal.
The move upgraded the position, in my view, because James is better suited than was T.J. Duckett to step into the lineup on a full-time basis if needed.
But the Seahawks still might be chasing the rest of the NFC West at the position.
James' signing provides an opportunity to size up the position across the division.
I ranked each team's situation at running back in my mind before calling Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to talk through each situation. He felt more strongly than I did about ranking the Rams' situation No. 1, ahead of the 49ers' situation. We agreed on ranking the Cardinals' running backs third, ahead of the Seahawks' backs.
Rankings and explanations follow:
1. St. Louis Rams
Current backs: Steven Jackson, Samkon Gado, Antonio Pittman, Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Mike Karney (FB), Jerome Johnson (FB)
Williamson's take: "Adrian Peterson is the best back in the league and I would probably give the No. 2 honor to DeAngelo Williams right now, but then Steven Jackson is right there -- if healthy, of course. I think he'll get a ton of touches there. They are installing more of an Eagles-type offense. He'll be a bigger, badder version of Brian Westbrook and catch a lot of balls. He will also be the focus of every defense and there could be a greater chance of injury. Karney is a little more athletic than some of the pure straight-ahead hammer blockers. He has had injury problems, too."
My take: The 49ers' overall depth at running back appeals, but Jackson is unquestionably a special player athletically, more so than any back in the division. Special traits always appeal to the scout, which might explain why Williamson was quick to rank the Rams' running backs ahead of those in San Francisco. From my perspective, the Rams' situation at running back might be best in the division while it lasts. I question whether Jackson can hold up for a full season. The drop-off from Jackson to the next guy -- whoever it might be -- will be more dramatic than elsewhere in the division. That's another reason I'm a little nervous about ranking the Rams' running backs No. 1.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Current backs: Frank Gore, Glen Coffee, Michael Robinson, Kory Sheets, Moran Norris (FB), Bill Rentmeester (FB), Brit Miller (FB)
Williamson's take: "I like Gore as well. I would say he is more of the fifth- to 10th-best back in the league. I do not think his skills are as impressive as Jackson's skills. He is also going to be a jack-of-all-trades and get a ton of touches, but his job will be a little easier because I think their passing game will be more respectable than St. Louis' passing game. Of the fullbacks, I like Norris probably the best in the division. He will help Gore's cause. I don't think that is a determining factor one way or another, though."
My take: Gore has shown signs of wearing down late in seasons. He could be at additional risk as the team commits more fully to a run-oriented power scheme. But his toughness and running style earn him high marks. He's enjoying a sensational summer and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has said Gore will matter more than the quarterback. All signs point to Gore revisiting the production level he enjoyed during the 2006 season. And with Coffee breaking out in the preseason, the 49ers appear better protected than the Rams if their starter gets hurt.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Current backs: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, Jason Wright, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Chris Vincent, Dan Kreider (FB), Tim Castille (FB), Reagan Maui'a (FB)
Williamson's take: "James is more proven than Hightower, but Hightower is cheaper. I don't think he is a special player at all. He has had a better preseason than I expected, but he does not bring any special quality to the table. He is not an extremely powerful player, he is not going to wear down defense, his pass-catching skills are ordinary, he is not a make-you-miss guy and he is not a speed player. Wells has the most talent of any back in Arizona or Seattle."
My take: Cutting James and adding Wells is like moving money from a savings account into something riskier. James was never going to pay off big at this stage of his career. Wells has the talent to complete an already productive offense, but it's tough to believe he'll be healthier in the NFL than he was in college. I know he didn't miss many games at Ohio State, but he's already missed a bunch of training camp. The burden of proof is on Wells at this point. Hightower has been more productive in the preseason because he has taken the opportunity seriously. He looks leaner and quicker than he was last season. The Cardinals can get more from this position by resisting the temptation to throw so frequently.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Current backs: Julius Jones, Edgerrin James, Justin Forsett, Devin Moore, Owen Schmitt (FB), Justin Griffith (FB), Dan Curran (FB), David Kirtman (FB)
Williamson's take: "I don't trust Jones to carry the load. I probably like him better than Hightower, though. I don't like him as a No. 1, but I don't know if either team has a No. 1 right now. Wells has the best chance. Jones is a complementary player, a gets-what-is-there kind of back. I don't think he is a great receiver or anything. He is not tremendously powerful or elusive. Justin Forsett is probably the most intriguing back between Arizona and Seattle. With Edgerrin James, I don't have a lot of faith in him. One thing people don't understand about his game, though, is that he is a great pass-protection back. He will be used more out of the backfield than he was the last couple years, especially with Seattle's offensive line being shaky. He can grind out some yards and could be good in the red zone."
My take: The Seahawks haven't targeted the position early in the draft recently and it shows. Paying Shaun Alexander all that money a few years ago set back the position. The team wasn't going to immediately invest as much in a replacement. Jones and James are both very good in pass protection, though, and I think that will help the offense more than the running stats will show. This looks like a pass-first team on paper. We'll find out whether the zone blocking scheme can manufacture production. Having the same five offensive linemen for more than a week or two would certainly help. Forsett has been the Seahawks' most impressive back this summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks have a few tough decisions to make before reducing their roster to 53 players in less than three weeks.
The final spot or two at receiver remain unsettled. I see at least 10 defensive linemen worth keeping, but perhaps no more than eight offensive linemen. The final spots at all three general positions on defense -- line, linebackers and secondary -- could spur debate.
The Seahawks aren't even certain which kicker will earn a roster spot, opening possible trade scenarios for teams with needs at the position.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the Seahawks might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Rams.
Here's a quick look at which Seahawks players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals have re-signed offensive tackle Oliver Ross. The Seahawks have re-signed fullback David Kirtman. I would consider it an upset if either player earned a 53-man roster spot or contributed in 2009, but both will have a chance to compete.
The Cardinals now have 16 offensive linemen: Levi Brown, Duece Lutui, Lyle Sendlein, Reggie Wells, Mike Gandy and backups Brandon Keith, Elliot Vallejo, Elton Brown, Herman Johnson, Carlton Medder, Brandon Pearce, Khalil El-Amin, Ben Claxton, Trevor Canfield, Donovan Raiola and Ross. Nine is the likely maximum for the regular season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Ikee from Philadelphia writes: Ok Mike, I asked you a question before asking if Nolan was fired do you think Alex Smith might come back to San Francisco for a pay cut or if he still had a chance to be the No. 1 QB.
|Michael Zagaris/Getty Images|
|Could Mike Holmgren make a return to the 49ers?|
I would still like to know if Smith may be back next year, but I also would like your thoughts on the future of the franchise. Do you think Mike Singletary will remain the head coach and what about Mike Holmgren? Everyone knows he wants to join the 49ers in some way in the future. Could that be as a head coach or a GM and if so how soon?
Mike Sando: Mike Holmgren told his family he would take the 2009 season off. I expect Holmgren to honor that promise. He'll have other opportunities, perhaps even in San Francisco. But unless his family urges him to dive back in right away, Holmgren will probably sit out next season. I have wondered, however, if his thinking could change based on what happens this season. If the Seahawks finish with a horrible record, would it make Holmgren need the year off even more, or would he be itching to bounce back sooner?
Whatever timeline Holmgren follows, I'm sure he will do his homework about an organization before taking a job, for reasons explained in this 2005 Holmgren profile I wrote from the NFL meetings in Hawaii. In short, Holmgren clashed with then-Seahawks president Bob Whitsitt. As Holmgren put it then:
"I really came to Seattle thinking it was something else. I'm not throwing anybody under the bus, but I thought it was going to be something, and it wasn't that, and then you kind of live with it. Then at some point you say, 'Man, what was I told when I first came here? This is not even close.' But you know what? Having said that, I don't regret my decision at all."
You can count on Holmgren taking precautions to ward off a repeat in his next job. He'll get things in writing to make sure the organization is set up the way he wants it set up.
As for Mike Singletary, I think he'll have to grow into the role in a hurry and win games to keep the job. Nolan was learning how to be a head coach while being a head coach. He wasn't very presidential in his dealings with people. The head coach should be able to handle people more effectively. And by people, I mean people beyond the players. Holmgren does that very well. Singletary must prove he can do that better than Nolan. He has to win games and this is not going to be a consistent team with a first-year starting quarterback.
It's too early to make a call on Alex Smith's future with the 49ers past this season. Having Nolan leave doesn't hurt the odds, that's for sure. But we still do not know who will be coaching the team in 2009. That's the key.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
We've had a few lineup changes this week as NFC West teams prepare for Week 7. Most of those are reflected in the latest downloadable roided-out rosters featuring 25 columns of information for each player and various summary information for each team.
I've moved tight end Delanie Walker into the lineup for the 49ers after fullback Zak Keasey went on injured reserve. The actual starter could vary by which personnel group opens the game. The team did sign fullback David Kirtman to fill Keasey's spot on the roster, but it's probably a stretch to think Kirtman is going to contribute on offense during games.
I've listed quarterback Seneca Wallace, receiver Koren Robinson and defensive end Darryl Tapp as starters for Seattle. We'll keep an eye on Sean Locklear at right tackle now that Ray Willis is getting some reps in practice.
Note: Roster updated as of Saturday morning here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dane Looker will continue his Rams career despite a rare brain condition that could increase the likelihood of stroke.
Also from Coats: Rams rookie receiver Keenan Burton is anxious to get back on the field after watching Donnie Avery make big plays against the Redskins.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says newly re-signed cornerback Fakhir Brown was shocked when the team released him last month.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers tackle Joe Staley as saying he learned much from "getting beasted" by Michael Strahan last season.
Also from Crumpacker: Takeo Spikes is the first linebacker in 49ers history to pick off a pass in three consecutive games.
Also from Maiocco: J.T. O'Sullivan is the NFL's 37th-ranked passer in fourth quarters. Only Tyler Thigpen and Matt Hasselbeck rank lower.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Staley while noting David Kirtman's signing to the 53-man roster. Kirtman, the Seattle draft choice, takes the roster spot that opened when Zak Keasey went on injured reserve.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are staring at a fourth consecutive defeat, at least on paper.
Also from Brown: That would be Niners coach Mike Nolan on the hot seat.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Edgerrin James and Rod Hood missed the only practice of the bye week for Arizona. Both were excused for personal reasons.
Also from Urban: Sean Morey is one of the few players able to hold a roster spot solely on the strength of his special-teams play.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic also looks at the staying power of special-teams contributors. Even high-profile rookies Tim Hightower and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie say they love their roles on special teams.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' quarterback situation remains as stable as the stock market.
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer profiles Seahawks tight end John Carlson, a history major with backgrounds in tennis and basketball.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says right tackle Ray Willis split time in practice with Sean Locklear, who struggled against the Packers.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Bucs have a high-priced babysitter -- quarterback Jeff Garcia -- driving troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens to work every day. Stevens and Koren Robinson will be on the same field Sunday.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seneca Wallace made it through practice without complications.
Also from Williams: Look for Darryl Tapp to retake his starting job from Lawrence Jackson at right defensive end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Teams have filled all but a handful of spots on their practice squads, with one potentially confusing change this season. You've probably heard about "international" practice-squad players. The league has compelled teams to carry international players as part of efforts to expand its scope beyond traditional borders, but every practice-squad player is not the same.
Each team can sign eight players to its practice squad. International players do not count against these limits because teams cannot sign them to their active rosters. Non-international practice-squad players are relevant because teams can sign them to their 53-man rosters and make them active on game days.
For example, the 49ers signed fullback Zak Keasey from their practice squad to the active roster in September last season. The Cardinals signed tight end Ben Patrick from their practice squad to the active roster in October. The Seahawks signed David Kirtman from their practice squad to their active roster in November. The Rams signed practice-squad quarterback Todd Bouman to their active roster in December. Etc.
International practice-squad players simply practice without any shot at joining active rosters or playing in games this season. One such player, Rolando Cantu of Mexico, played in an NFL game following a season in the international program. He was on the field for one special-teams snap with Arizona.
The league assigned 16 international players to teams in the AFC North, AFC West, NFC South and NFC West this season.
Note: The international program is not new, but the league has expanded it to include 16 players on 16 teams this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks filled all but one of their practice-squad spots today, but fullback David Kirtman wasn't part of the group. Kirtman, a fifth-round choice from USC in 2006, signed with the Chargers' practice squad.
Seattle's backfield is crowded. The team carried six running backs on the initial 53-man roster. None of the seven practice-squad players was a running back.
Rookie seventh-round choices Justin Forsett and Brandon Coutu earned spots on the 53-man roster, but one could become a viable candidate for the practice squad if the team decided it couldn't afford to carry six running backs or two kickers.
The chart shows every Seahawks player with practice-squad eligibility. Safety Jamar Adams and receiver Michael Bumpus probably came closest to earning spots on the 53-man roster.
In the end, the Seahawks couldn't justify keeping a ninth defensive back. Kyle Williams, a tackle from USC, also showed promise working with new line coaches Mike Solari and Mike DeBord.
Unusual circumstances have left the Seahawks' roster in flux. Receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram remain sidelined, but both are counting against the roster limit. Jordan Babineaux and Rocky Bernard are healthy, but neither counts against the limit while serving a one-game suspension to open the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rosters spots are serious business for NFL players lacking job security. For some, the next 30 hours or so will determine whether they'll earn $17,352.94 per week or whatever the real world pays.
The minimum NFL salary is $295,000. Players get paid in 17 installments, one for every week they spend as a paid member of the organization.
NFL teams must trim rosters from 75 players to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. Teams can establish eight-man practice squads beginning Sunday. Practice-squad players earn a minimum of $5,200 per week during the regular season and playoffs.
Once a player signs with a practice squad, he can practice with the team. He becomes eligible to play in games only if a team signs him to its 53-man roster. Practice-squad players are free to sign with any team's active roster at any time during the season.
The chart shows each of the Seahawks' players with practice-squad eligibility, according to the team (I'll hit all the teams in the division as the day continues).
I was surprised to see Ray Willis' name on Seattle's list, but practice-squad rules can be confusing, and exceptions sometimes apply to relatively experienced players. In this case, Willis is a lock to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
To be clear: Players need nine games on the 45-man (active) roster to burn their practice-squad eligibility, even if they have multiple accrued seasons, as Willis does.
I've categorized each player based on his perceived likelihood of earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Those are rough characterizations. Teams still have not made decisions. It's conceivable that a player listed as a "keeper" could face his release.