NFC West: Denver Broncos
When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis TV: CBS
At 3-6, the Rams appear headed toward their 11th consecutive year without a winning record. The 7-2 Broncos again look poised for a Super Bowl run. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff have a long history with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning dating to their days in the AFC.
ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the chances of the Rams pulling off the upset.
Wagoner: Obviously, the Broncos are a top Super Bowl contender and they're all in on trying to get it done this year. More than halfway through the season, what are some reasons you think this team might be better equipped to finish the job this year and what are some things that might give you a little bit of pause?
Legwold: This time around they bring a far better defense into the mix. When John Elway dove into the offseason, he felt like the Broncos who were returning from injured reserve -- starters like Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe -- could be supplemented with free-agency additions, and the Broncos used cap space they had been holding back to sign DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. The result is an across-the-board athleticism they did not have last season. And Miller has returned to his form of 2012 when he had 18.5 sacks. The Broncos also replaced Eric Decker with the more versatile Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver and Peyton Manning has plenty of options. So much so that Manning is on pace to be the first guy to have back-to-back 50-touchdown seasons -- 55 in 2013 and currently on pace for 51 this year. All that said, their biggest question mark at the moment is the offensive line, where they have already made four changes that weren't injury related, including three for this past Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. Manning will always be the biggest reason the offense limits sacks, but three of the nine the Broncos have surrendered this year have come on three-man rushes. And they have had 36 rushing attempts this year for no gain or negative yardage combined. It's a fairly glaring issue at this point, but the Broncos' offense as a whole is historically explosive and they always seem to find a work-around to repair the issue week to week.
This past offseason there were plenty of folks in the league, probably among the Rams' decision-makers as well, who believed this team could put itself into the playoff discussion this year. What's happened?
Wagoner: Indeed, the Rams had been pointing to this, the third year of the Fisher regime, as the season they break through into playoff contention. But it hasn't come to light for plenty of reasons. It started with the season-ending knee injury to quarterback Sam Bradford, which spiraled into more injuries to key players over the first half of the season. But the other, perhaps bigger piece of the puzzle is a lack of development in many of the team's young players. The Rams are the youngest team in the league again this year and were banking on many of those young players who have already been playing to take a major step forward. While some have flashed promise, there haven't been enough taking the leap the Rams had hoped. The defense is finally starting to come around under new coordinator Gregg Williams but that took nearly half the season and the offense has regressed back to bottom-of-the-league levels as the quality of opponent has improved.
I've heard from a number of fans who are excited for this week just because they think it might be Manning's last visit to St. Louis (for reasons beyond just the possibility of him retiring before the Broncos would be back). He seems like he's as good as ever though. The Seahawks were able to beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl by generating consistent pass rush, especially from the front four. The Rams' pass rush is finally starting to live up to the hype. Do you see this as a matchup that could possibly be similar given Manning and the offense's relative issues, or will this be just another day at the office for him?
Legwold: The Broncos offense is a perfect storm at the moment between Manning's arrival, coordinator Adam Gase's ability to construct an offense around Manning that suits the 38-year-old quarterback, Gase's risk-taking in play calling and the personnel the team has. Throw in a pass-friendly rulebook and you have the pile of touchdowns Manning has put up with Denver. In 41 regular-season games with the Broncos, Manning has now thrown 121 touchdown passes and been sacked just 48 times. He has 15 consecutive games and counting with at least two touchdown passes and his current streak of 48 consecutive games with a touchdown pass is third all time. In the end, teams that have success against him in the rush get the pressure in the middle of the field. Manning tends to identify the edge rushers quickly, even if defensive coordinators try to disguise them, and the ball is usually gone before the edge guys can win the one-on-ones. So the teams that have affected him the most made him pull the ball down, the ones that get push between the guards into the A gaps. Manning can also see those guys coming, so a defense has to get there or the price is high. But overall, the Broncos are dialed in, they find the matchups in the secondary to exploit and have enough impact players. They consistently get one-on-ones their guys can win. Even when Manning said he "stunk" after the loss in New England, he had thrown for 438 yards.
Sticking with the quarterbacks, what's the long-term plan there? Do they believe Bradford comes back with potential to still be the long-term starter, so the Rams commit to another contract? Or are they looking at what is, at least in the early going, considered a thin class at quarterback in the 2015 draft beyond the top tier?
Wagoner: At this point, I think they're still figuring out the best option moving forward but there's a sense that it's possible Bradford could be back. The Rams have budgeted for his $16 million-plus cap number and could theoretically bring him back at that level, but it seems more likely that they won't. The question then becomes whether he'd come back at a reduced rate with incentives built in and a rookie quarterback to compete with or if he'd want to explore other options. Austin Davis has done enough to earn a role as a backup but probably not more than that. And Shaun Hill is now the starter but he's only on a one-year deal and he's 34. One way or another, the Rams have to prioritize quarterback in next year's draft. It should be in the first round but Fisher's knack for getting teams to mediocrity might take the top options out of play, which could in turn force the Rams to move up to get their guy. That would be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow for a team that has been flush with premium picks the past few years after trading the chance at Robert Griffin III to Washington.
The offseason additions to the defense seem to be paying off just fine. How much better is that group and what can Davis expect from that unit in terms of scheme and approach?
Legwold: When things are going well the Broncos have a rhythm on defense. They pound opposing run games out of their base look on early downs and this year have consistently forced teams into long second- and third-down situations. At that point defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes to go to their specialty packages in the nickel and dime when Del Rio loads the formation with speed. They give a variety of defensive fronts at that point; move Miller and Ware all over the formation and Del Rio will bring pressure from a variety of places. The Broncos have been successful this season in doing that because they have the lead so often and force teams to chase them and they have the No. 1 run defense in the league. They haven't surrendered over 67 yards rushing in a game since Week 3 in Seattle and over the last six games they've only faced more than 20 rushing attempts by an opposing offense one time -- 25 by New England, which ran for 66 yards.
On defense, there may be no collection of coaches who have faced Manning more than Fisher, Dave McGinnis, Williams and Chuck Cecil. How do you think they go about it and have they finally found some rhythm in their pass rush after a slow start?
Wagoner: I would think that the Rams took plenty of notes from how Seattle handled the Broncos in the Super Bowl and in their game earlier this season. The pass rush has been much better over the past four weeks, in part with improved play by the front four and even more so by better timed and executed blitzes. The Rams are first in the NFL in blitz percentage, which is no surprise given that Williams is running the show. Manning is probably the best ever at diagnosing blitzes pre-snap and getting the ball out quickly and accurately. I have to think that would give the Rams a little bit of pause in dialing it up as much as normal but I also tend to doubt they'll stop being who they are completely. The best bet is for the Rams to lean on the front four to do most of the heavy lifting, which is what they had hoped they'd be able to do at the beginning of the season. But for that to work, they'll need to have their best performance of the season.
By his own admission, St. Louis Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree struggled to gain traction in his first two preseason appearances. Missed tackles, blown assignments and poor reads plagued Ogletree in those first two games, and again Saturday night in the first quarter against Denver.
But when Ogletree stripped Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman, scooped up the fumble and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown, the light seemed to go on.
Ogletree went on to breakup two passes and come up with an interception in the process of showing why Rams coach Jeff Fisher wanted him so much in the first round of April’s NFL draft.
By no means is Ogletree a finished product, and he did have those hiccups in the first quarter, but the Rams have been looking for progress and got plenty of it against the Broncos.
Other observations from the Rams' 27-26 loss:
- Before the game, Fisher made it clear he wanted to get a look at rookie Tavon Austin returning punts. He got two glimpses and had to like what he saw. Austin had two returns for 104 yards, including an 81-yarder to set up the team’s first touchdown.
- Austin probably should have scored on the return but ran into Ogletree and slowed down a bit. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as the Rams got to work their red-zone offense again. Quarterback Sam Bradford hit tight end Jared Cook for a 3-yard touchdown on the first play.
- The first-team offense attempted just five running plays against a loaded run box and didn’t go anywhere with those tries. The Rams have seen loaded run boxes two weeks in a row and have generated almost no running threat to speak of. They’ll need to be better in that regard come the regular season but if the preseason is an indication, teams are going to make the Rams prove they can beat them in the pass game before they back off.
- The Rams were the league’s leader in penalties last season, and already look to be in midseason form in that regard. They continue to struggle with pre-snap infractions and racked up 11 penalties for 74 yards against the Broncos.
- Both teams played the first half at a breakneck pace, especially the Broncos. Denver ran 49 plays in the opening 30 minutes, picking up 290 yards. Because the Rams forced two turnovers, Denver managed just 10 points. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning attempted 34 passes.
- Bradford had his worst outing of the preseason but still looked sharp. He finished 9-of-16 for 110 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 98.4. Bradford continues to look comfortable in his second year in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.
- Tackling was much improved for the Rams’ first-team defense after a series of whiffs in their two previous preseason outings. There was only one glaring missed tackle from that group. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was particularly active, posting eight tackles in unofficial press-box statistics.
- It was a strong night for the Rams' top unit on special teams as they got Austin’s two punt returns, a blocked field goal from safety T.J. McDonald, a pair of field goals (including a 58-yarder) from Greg Zuerlein and outstanding punting from Johnny Hekker. Noticeable, universal improvement for a group that surrendered a long punt return for a touchdown in the opener against Cleveland.
- Undrafted rookie linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong showed up again, coming up with a sack and a pair of tackles in relief work. He’s put together a strong preseason and has positioned himself to make the 53-man roster.
- Perhaps most important, the Rams made it out of the game relatively injury-free. Tight end Cory Harkey limped off in the second half and guard Ryan Lee was shaken up, but, at least at first glance, the Rams made it out of another one without any serious injuries of note.
The third preseason game is generally considered the closest thing to a regular-season game as you’ll find on the exhibition slate. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said this week that his starters would continue to get more snaps this week against the Broncos.
That could depend on how the starters fare, though. In last year’s third preseason game against Dallas, Fisher had said the starters wouldn’t play much more than they did the previous week against Kansas City. The Rams changed course when both starting units struggled mightily against the Cowboys and played well into the second quarter.
Because the starters are likely to play a bit longer, here are five things to keep an eye on as the Rams visit the Broncos:
- Safety first: Presumptive starting safety Darian Stewart’s hold on that spot is growing more tenuous with each day he misses because of a hamstring injury. He played nine plays last week against Green Bay before departing, and did not practice all week. That clears the path for Rodney McLeod, who replaced Stewart last week against the Packers and handled all the first-team repetitions this week in practice. McLeod has been solid in limited opportunities, but tonight’s game could provide him a chance to win the job outright.
- Saffold’s return?: Right tackle Rodger Saffold returned to practice this week on a limited basis, and has spent part of the week lobbying for the chance to play against the Broncos. That proposition seemed like a bit of a longshot, but might have turned in Saffold’s favor in the past 24 hours. Joe Barksdale, who has served as Saffold’s replacement while Saffold recovered from a dislocated left shoulder, did not make the trip to Denver because of an infected cut on his hand.Saffold was likely a game-time decision before Barksdale’s situation popped up, but now I’m told there is a good chance he’ll be in the lineup tonight. The game reps are much needed for Saffold, who has only two live plays under his belt at his new position.
- Rookie test: The Rams' defense has repeatedly struggled defending tight ends and the middle of the field in the first two weeks of the preseason. A big part of that struggle has been the continued adjustment to the NFL of rookie starters Alec Ogletree (linebacker) and T.J. McDonald (safety). Ogletree and McDonald have had their issues with identifying and handling their assignments in the first two preseason games. That makes the opportunity to play against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and Co. an important potential learning experience for the rookie duo.The Rams would like to see the pair take a step forward in terms of reading keys and handling assignments after a couple of rough weeks.
- Finding a finish: The Rams' first-team offense has moved the ball pretty well in the first two preseason games, but has mostly come up empty in the points department. In fact, that group has posted only a lone touchdown in what amounts to nearly three quarters of play. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been sharp in posting a rating of 125.0 on his 20 pass attempts, but missed a wide open Tavon Austin for a touchdown and followed by a fumble at the goal line last week.The Rams would like to get in the habit of finishing drives with touchdowns sooner than later.
- Behind Bradford: Bradford will likely play the entire first half and maybe a series or two into the third quarter. When he departs, the backup quarterback situation is worth monitoring once again.The battle for the backup job between Kellen Clemens and Austin Davis is about as clear as mud through the first two preseason games. Neither has done anything to separate despite each getting a chance to work with the second team in practice and the games.Tonight is Davis’ second chance to come in first after Bradford. One of the two needs to put together a strong performance, or the Rams might soon have to start looking at potential outside options for the job.
Unless, of course, that trio of consecutive games didn’t count. Such is the case for the Rams, who will play the second of those preseason games Saturday night in Denver against Manning & Co.
Because that murderer’s row is on the exhibition slate rather than the regular-season schedule, the Rams actually view the opportunity to play teams widely considered Super Bowl favorites as a net gain.
The Rams opened the preseason in Cleveland against a team that seemed to plan for the game a bit more than most do for an exhibition opener. Last week, the Rams hosted Rodgers and the Packers, and although Green Bay didn’t have many of its top players active, it didn’t hesitate to throw in some wrinkles that the Rams would see more of in the preseason.
Rodgers’ ability to use play-action was particularly effective and useful for the Rams' defense. Projected rookie starters Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald got an important lesson on discipline and maintaining assignments at linebacker and safety, respectively.
Tight ends have been an early headache for the Rams' defense, in no small part because linebackers and safeties have been out of position or blown assignments. Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron had a 30-yard catch in the opener, and last week Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley posted four catches for 78 yards in less than a half.
It won’t get any easier this week against Manning and the Broncos. The third preseason game is generally viewed as the one bearing the most striking resemblance to a regular-season game. That means Manning and his group could play into the third quarter and will likely have some offensive game plan in place.
“Yeah, that’s a huge challenge,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “The guy is brilliant. He’s a machine. He studies the game extremely hard. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s one of those guys you have to hold your look because if you tell him what you’re in, he’s going to figure it out and get that ball out before you can touch him.”
Laurinaitis recalled playing Manning during his rookie season in 2009, when Manning was still with Indianapolis, and marveling at how quick the quarterback would get rid of the ball.
“He got that ball out so fast it was frustrating,” Laurinaitis said. “He doesn’t like to get hit very often and he’s so smart that you can blitz him coming free, and if someone touches him he’s getting the ball out. It will be a great test for our young guys and old guys alike, everybody. It’s a good test to be facing a future Hall of Famer.”
The Rams' offense should be challenged plenty as well. Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn’t hesitate to blitz regularly in the first preseason game and the Packers did the same, oftentimes with a loaded run box to force the Rams to max protect.
Denver linebacker Von Miller is still eligible to play and could view playing the Rams as an opportunity to take out some frustration for his six-game suspension. How much Miller plays is unknown, though his first-team repetitions decreased on the heels of the suspension.
The Rams will get an additional conditioning test in Denver as they adjust to the altitude.
Earlier this week, Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated his starters would play into the third quarter. After disappointing performances in the first two games, the Rams won’t stray too far from their simplistic preseason approach, but they will look to have a bit more success than they did against Cleveland and Green Bay.
Regardless, playing Manning and the Broncos on the road should provide another strong preseason test.
“I think it’s great,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Obviously, you want to face the best each week. You want to face someone that’s going to make you better. I feel like all of the defenses that we’ve seen have made us better, and we’re just looking to improve each week, to go out and play a clean game, execute what’s in the game plan and really try to limit the penalties.”
Saffold suffered a dislocated left shoulder two plays into the preseason opener in Cleveland, a game which doubled as his debut at right tackle after spending his first three seasons on the left side. He returned to practice on a limited basis this week but he's well aware that any playing time between now and the start of the regular season is essential in getting fully adjusted to his new position.
Saffold's status for Saturday night remains to be seen despite his pleas to play. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesdsay that Saffold was "much better" and there were "expectations that he would play." What Fisher didn't say was how soon Saffold's return would occur.
In practice this week, Saffold slowly eased back into the mix. He didn't participate Monday and then did some light individual work Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday, he started to work his way back into team drills though he'd still be considered limited if regular-season designations were being used.
Wearing a brace on his shoulder underneath the pads, Saffold said he feels like the shoulder is stable and he can do normal things like reach and punch without pain. That's a step in the positive direction after an injury that initially looked like it could keep him out much longer.
Entering his fourth season, Saffold has consistently battled the injury bug. He missed six games in 2012 with a knee injury and seven contests in 2011 because of concussion, ankle and pectoral ailments. The shoulder injury set off a wave of concern for an offensive line with plenty of veteran talent but also a recent history of injury issues.
Saffold's injury happened on a simple pass protection against the Browns on Aug. 8. Cleveland pass-rusher Paul Kruger attempted to bend the right edge against Saffold. Kruger tried to slap Saffold's arms away as Saffold pushed through the arm slap, but as he attempted to work Kruger's arm to push him away he flipped over and crashed to the ground. He instantly knew the shoulder had popped out backward.
Asked if his adjustment to the right side might have led to the injury as he still tries to refine his fundamentals, Saffold acknowledged the possibility.
"When you're in a game, the adrenaline is rushing," Saffold said. "So you've got to be more patient sometimes than you are on the practice field. That's something you need to get a hold of so I don't end up putting myself in bad positions, leaning and stuff like that."
Joe Barksdale replaced Saffold against Green Bay and fared well in his stead. If Saffold can't play against the Broncos, Barksdale figures to get the call again. The ultimate decision will come down to Fisher and head athletic trainer Reggie Scott, regardless of Saffold's request.
"I always feel like I'm ready to go," Saffold said. "We've got to think about this smart, but I'm really confident. I think me telling them how confident I feel, they could give me a chance to go."
Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the 49ers in 2012:
Dream scenario (14-2): The 49ers pick up where they left off last season. They continue to force turnovers and protect the football while dictating field position with their dominant special teams. This time, however, the offense has more firepower.
Receiver Michael Crabtree backs up coach Jim Harbaugh's comments suggesting Crabtree has all-time-great hands. A rejuvenated Randy Moss strikes fear into secondaries. Quarterback Alex Smith, armed with sufficient weapons, strikes for explosive plays more frequently. The offensive line, stabilized by Alex Boone's emergence as a top young guard, sustains drives on third downs and finishes them in the red zone.
Rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins hits stride in December as the 49ers clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs heading into Week 17. Colin Kaepernick throws for 350 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale as San Francisco eliminates division-rival Arizona from playoff contention. Sufficiently rested, the 49ers score a dominating victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, delivering San Francisco its first Super Bowl title since the 1994 season.
Nightmare scenario (6-10): The odds catch up to Smith when the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh delivers a controversial hit at the knees in Week 2. Kaepernick isn't ready, Moss loses interest and the offense can't score enough points. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning has the Denver Broncos looking like contenders.
The 49ers realize they were fortunate to have Smith start 18 games the previous season despite taking 51 sacks. They realize how risky it was going into the season without a proven right guard. How hard would it have been to pay one of the veteran options the team considered in free agency? That's a question reporters keep asking, even though none of them said much before the season. The question stings now that Smith is done for the season and Kaepernick is running for his life.
Tough defense and special teams keep the 49ers reasonably competitive. The coaching staff does its best to stabilize the situation. The 49ers compete and steal victories from other teams with quarterback issues. In the end, however, they become the latest team to suffer a hard fall after posting a glittering record the previous season. Rock bottom arrives when Sando notes, again, that the 13 teams finishing 13-3 from 2004 to 2010 averaged 8.3 victories the following season.
We know Peyton Manning visited the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals over the weekend.
We do not know what he will do next. NFL teams do not know. Manning might not know.
Billionaire NFL owners accustomed to getting their way appear utterly helpless as they wait for answers. Imagine the pressure team executives must feel as they report to ownership on their failure to secure even a visit from Manning. These owners cannot even know whether Manning's surgically repaired neck will allow the quarterback to play again, but they would happily gamble millions on the prospect that Manning will be OK.
The latest report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter quotes sources as saying the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs are "no longer considered contenders" for Manning. The quarterback himself has said nothing publicly.
Public declarations from Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams seem aimed at appeasing fans hoping the team will bring back Manning to the state where he played his college ball.
"He is the man I want, period," Adams said. "And the people that work for me understand that. They know who I want. I want Mr. Manning with the Titans and I will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen."
Does anyone really think Manning will respond favorably to an owner essentially popping off? As with so much of this story, no one seems to know for sure.
Manning's meticulous preparation as a player suggests he'll make a well-informed decision. It's an upset if he rushes into anything.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals first-round draft choice Beanie Wells has dropped from 247 to 229 pounds since beginning workouts under acclaimed strength and conditioning coach John Lott. That has to be a good sign for the injury-slowed running back from Ohio State (Wells, not Lott). Lott: "I think this kid has a chance to do something. He's got the tools. ... He could be a beast."
Also from Urban: Lott pushes players during a hike up Camelback Mountain.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com previews Jim Mora's climb with Roger Goodell on Mount Rainier. Farnsworth: "A crew from NFL Films is on hand to capture the climb and also produce national and local TV spots for the alliance between the league and United Way. KING-TV's Paul Silvi was planning to take part in the climb and Sam Farmer, the NFL writer from the Los Angeles Times, was planning to make the first leg to Camp Muir with the group."
Gregg Bell of the Associated Press describes Goodell as an avid skier accustomed to 11,000-foot elevations in Colorado.
Josh Bean of the Mobile Press-Register says Shaun Alexander has speaking engagements in Alabama this week through Fellowship of Christain Athletes.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks fullback Owen Schmitt pleaded not guilty to a DUI charge.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks must improve on third down. Williams: "The Seahawks ranked last in the league in time of possession. Controlling the clock is key because it keeps the other team's offense off the field and allows your offense to get into scoring position."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' exhibition opener against Denver carries additional meaning because the team will be looking to settle its quarterback competition. Would Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan go out of his way to fluster Alex Smith? Maiocco: "When the 49ers played the Packers early in the exhibition season last year, there was some talk around the league that the 49ers did more defensive game-planning than what's usually expected in one of those games. The conspiracy theorists reasoned that Nolan and the 49ers wanted to go to great lengths to ensure Rodgers did not come to Candlestick and have a good day as the Packers' starter."
Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle says a local politician is trying to exempt the 49ers from seeking competitive bids in building a stadium. Said a spokesman for the politician: "We don't want to take the chance of losing the 49ers."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation takes a shot at predicting the 49ers' 53-man roster heading into the 2009 season. He gives them six receivers and three quarterbacks, with Nate Davis beating out Damon Huard. Keeping Huard on the opening-day roster would guarantee his 2009 salary.
3k of Turf Show Times isn't opposed to the Rams giving players second chances. 3k: "This is the difference between Fakhir Brown and Claude Wroten, people who have made mistakes and people who have made mistakes part of their lifestyles. ... People who make mistakes deserve a second chance, deserve a shot at redemption. People who squander those second chances ... don't deserve the same breaks as those have yet to receive them."
Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman says the NFL's scare tactics at its rookie symposium didn't affect Rams rookie Jason Smith as much as a speech from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Smith: "When a person like him is speaking about a place I'm trying to go [winning a Super Bowl], I take it very personally and if he tells me to jump, I'm going to jump."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
RENTON, Wash. -- Hmmm. The Seahawks just shipped the 37th overall choice in the draft to the Broncos for Denver's first-round choice in 2010.
Adding a first-round choice next year is terrific. But to bail on a second-round choice in a draft perceived to have great value in that round? Seattle landed tight end John Carlson in the second round a year ago. It's tough to pass on a player of that caliber.
We'll find out from Seahawks president Tim Ruskell what Seattle was thinking and what the risks and rewards might have been.
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Jay Cutler is out of Denver, but the trade that sent the quarterback to Chicago will help shape the Broncos' roster.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Bill Williamson
Jay Cutler's divorce from Denver is final. Now the Broncos, armed with the picks they acquired from Chicago for the Pro Bowl quarterback, must determine how to proceed in the draft.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and his NFC West counterpart, Mike Sando, debate the options while exploring how the Seahawks and 49ers could affect the Broncos' future at quarterback.
Mike Sando: Quarterbacks are a high-risk proposition at the top of the draft, but that's also where teams tend to find the great ones. Nine quarterbacks drafted since 1965 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Seven of them were first-round picks, including a guy named Elway. If the experts are right in saying Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the franchise quarterbacks in this draft, shouldn't the Broncos consider trading up to get one? They certainly have the firepower.
Bill Williamson: There's no way the Broncos should trade up that high if it means giving up both the 12th and 18th overall picks. Sure, Denver could get a top-five pick in return, but I don't think it's worth the risk -- even for a quarterback.
The picks acquired for Cutler are too valuable to risk on Stafford, Sanchez or a player along the lines of Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
The idea is to get a lot of quality players here. If Denver is going to survive the Cutler trade, it will need to maximize those picks. Trading up and drafting Raji or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would be great for a needy defense, but the Broncos need to address multiple areas, not just one. The Cutler trade does allow the Broncos to address several areas in the draft instead of rolling the dice on just one.
Mike Sando: More than a few 49ers fans watched with interest while the Broncos figured out where Cutler would wind up. His destination wasn't San Francisco, but the 49ers and their NFC West rivals could still shape the Broncos' quarterback situation beyond the Cutler era.
The Rams probably have too many needs and too much money invested in Marc Bulger to consider a quarterback at No. 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers could draft one. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought the 49ers would be crazy to pass on Sanchez at No. 10 if the USC quarterback remained available at that point. The NFC West could foul up Denver's plans if the Broncos are hoping to find a quarterback in the first round.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rudy from Chicago writes: Sando! For each of the 4 divisional teams, which little-known players do you think are poised to have big seasons? We all have ideas as to how the big stars will play, but what about the up-and-comers? Thanks Sando, great blog.
Mike Sando: Thanks. Good question. I'm not sure each of the teams will have a little-known player enjoy the sort of season Steve Breaston put together in 2008. I'll be some of our regular contributors can step up with suggestions. I'll take a stab here.
Does John Greco become a productive starting offensive lineman for the Rams? Not if the team drafts a starting left tackle, as expected. Keenan Burton might be a candidate at receiver. Someone beyond Donnie Avery has to catch the passes. I would exclude Avery from the discussion because he played extensively as a rookie. His numbers could spike by default if the Rams do not find other starting-caliber receivers.
Cornerback Tarell Brown could get a chance in San Francisco. Free safety Dashon Goldson will get a chance. Jason Hill and/or Josh Morgan could take the next step as receivers. And a healthy Brandon Jones could take the next step.
In Seattle, does Will Herring get a shot at linebacker and make the most of it? Does Josh Wilson take the next step at cornerback? Red Bryant could improve if he can avoid injuries. Lawrence Jackson could improve, though he was a first-round pick, so not a lesser-known guy.
In Arizona, defensive end Calais Campbell will get more playing time, as could Kenny Iwebema. Early Doucet could emerge if given a chance at receiver. I'm not sure he'll get that chance given the people ahead of him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Now we know why the 49ers weren't knee deep in the trade talk for Jay Cutler. They apparently wanted to experience meaningful participation in the next two drafts.
Quarterbacks are important, no question, and the 49ers haven't had a dynamic one for too long. But the price Chicago paid for Cutler -- 2009 first- and third-round choices, plus a 2010 first-round choice and quarterback Kyle Orton -- carries serious sticker shock. The Bears also picked up the 2009 fifth-round choice Seattle had sent to Denver in the Keary Colbert trade, but that qualifies as a minor throw-in.
Assuming the 49ers had the option, would they have been wise to pay that kind of ransom for Cutler? The Broncos acquired the 18th and 84th overall choices in the 2009 draft as part of the deal. Joe Flacco was the 18th player chosen in 2008. Art Monk was the 18th overall choice in 1980. Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell was the 84th player chosen -- in 1958.
Most of the players chosen in those spots don't jump out as perennial Pro Bowl types. The Bears also went into the deal with an edge. They had picked up a third-round compensatory selection, 99th overall, so they felt better about trading No. 84.
The 49ers hold the 10th, 43rd and 74th choices in the first three rounds this year. Those choices are considerably more valuable than the ones Chicago had to offer.
NFC West teams enter the 2009 draft with every one of their original selections except the fifth-round choice Seattle sent to Denver for Keary Colbert.
No teams in the division are holding choices from another team.
The draft order for the first three rounds is set. The order for the fourth through seventh rounds will change once the NFL awards compensatory choices during its annual spring meetings, which begin the week of March 22.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Broncos are expected to visit with Cardinals free agent J.J. Arrington as they look to upgrade their situation at running back.
That was the word from John Clayton on "SportsCenter" a few minutes ago. The Broncos also have interest in Correll Buckhalter.
Arrington can be an effective change-of-pace back and kickoff returner. The Cardinals used him extensively in their four-receiver packages.