NFC West: Deon Grant

Good afternoon. NFC West blog headquarters will be relocating from the Northwest to Indianapolis for Super Bowl week.

The plane I'm riding in, a Boeing 757, is traveling 565 mph at 35,637 feet, according to tracking software. I'll be connecting through Atlanta, so this will be a full travel day.

Once situated in Indy, I'll be helping with our Super Bowl coverage, with an eye toward this division. Josh McDaniels, David Baas, Bear Pascoe, David Carr, Rocky Bernard, Jimmy Kennedy, Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle, Isaiah Stanback, Deion Branch, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Andre Carter are among the NFC West alumni currently with the Super Bowl participants.

Quite a few current NFC West players will be filtering through Indianapolis for various events during the week. I'll be catching up with some of them.

The week will conclude with Hall of Fame voting, followed by the Super Bowl itself. I don't have a strong feeling as to which team will win the game. Both should like their chances. I did pick New England to win it all before the season -- one of the few predictions that remains on track -- so I'll likely stick with the Patriots when ESPN solicits staffers' predictions later in the week.

Here's hoping this Sunday treats you well.

Update: Yes, I made it to Indy. Grabbed a sandwich tonight with AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley. Will be heading over to ESPN's Super Bowl headquarters downtown on Monday morning.

Real insults over fake injury allegations

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
8:04
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You can't fake this stuff up.

The St. Louis Rams' Bryan Kehl has called out New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell personally for coaching players to fake injuries.

Deon Grant, Giants safety, has responded by calling Kehl, briefly his teammate with New York last season, a lying coward.

Fewell, meanwhile, is skirting the issue with the flair of a slippery politician.

The Rams have not complained to the league formally, according to an NFL spokesman. No investigation is planned.

Back in a bit. Need to get this injury checked out.

2011 Rams Week 2: Five observations

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
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Five things I noticed while watching the St. Louis Rams during their 28-16 defeat to the New York Giants in Week 2:
  • The fake injuries looked worse on TV. Replays showing the Giants' Deon Grant and Jacquian Williams falling down to stop the Rams' no-huddle offense were comical. Neither player was touched. A Vlade Divac flop would have been more convincing. No wonder the league threatened to issues fines for future shenanigans.
  • Sam Bradford threw to the covered guy. Receiver Brandon Gibson was wide open on a second-and-2 pick play from the Giants' 7-yard line. Bradford had time to throw even though the Giants rushed seven against six blockers. He threw outside to Mike Sims-Walker, who was covered, while Gibson skated free toward the left hash on the same side of the field. Gibson would have scored easily, it appeared. By design or through an oversight, Bradford never seemed to notice him.
  • Three tight ends weren't a charm. The Rams ran four snaps with three tight ends. Those plays produced two incomplete passes, a 1-yard loss on a running play and a 15-yard sack when the Giants stayed home to cut off the bootleg, something they did well.
  • Robert Quinn and James Hall played together. Both are right defensive ends. Hall starts and Quinn comes off the bench. Because Hall is stout for an end, yet still a strong pass-rusher, he's well-suited to rush from the inside on passing downs. That's what he did in this game, lining up at right defensive tackle. Quinn, making his regular-season debut, was at right end. Hall beat Giants left guard David Diehl to the inside for a sack on third-and-7, getting through before center David Baas could help. Will Beatty, the Giants' left tackle, blatantly held Quinn on the play, gripping the rookie around the shoulders to restrain him. There was no flag.
  • Quinn's first career sack was a freebie. They all count the same on the stat sheet, but the Rams' rookie defensive end will not get many opportunities like this one. The Giants did not block him. Quarterback Eli Manning did not account for him. Quinn raced around the left tackle, who was blocking safety Darian Stewart. Manning was alone in the backfield from a shotgun formation. Quinn took five steps directly to the quarterback.

Generally I'll get these files done earlier in the week. The Monday night game pushed back the usual schedule. Still playing catchup.

About those allegedly fake Giants injuries

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
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Complaints about the New York Giants using injuries to slow the St. Louis Rams' no-huddle offense Monday night appeared valid -- and irrelevant.

[+] EnlargeDeon Grant
AP Photo/Julio CortezDeon Grant was accused of feigning an injury in order to help the Giants' defense.
Faking injuries has long allowed NFL players to buy time without using timeouts. The Giants' Deon Grant appeared to fake one just as the Rams' offense was moving into scoring position. Grant got up and jogged off the field. The Giants' defense regrouped and limited the Rams to a field goal, just as they had on a previous St. Louis possession inside the Giants' 10-yard line.

The fact that the Rams complained about the Giants' tactics to the league office is not a big deal. Teams regularly complain to the league about matters related to officiating, sometimes as a matter of record more than out of any expectation the NFL will do anything about it. Update: Well, well. The league is now threatening to do something about it. We'll see about that. Sounds unenforceable.

In this case, the Rams' offense has struggled badly in the red zone throughout this young season. For all anyone knows, Grant's allegedly fake injury simply delayed another disappointing end to a Rams possession. The team has acknowledged its difficulties executing in the red zone and elsewhere. But in raising the issue with the league and making concerns public, the Rams raise awareness, possibly discouraging future opponents from using the tactic as obviously.

"They couldn't get subbed, they couldn't line up," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford told reporters. "Someone said, 'Someone go down, someone go down,' so someone just went down and grabbed a cramp."

That might have been the case, but little can be done about it.

"The Competition Committee deprecates feigning injuries, with subsequent withdrawal, to obtain a timeout without penalty," the rulebook states. "Coaches are urged to cooperate in discouraging this practice."

Rules require players to leave the game for one snap following an injury timeout, except when a regular timeout is called, the quarter ends, the two-minute warning arrives or in cases when the injury resulted from a personal foul by the opponent.

The rulebook instructs game officials to make no judgments about whether an injury is legitimate or not.

"If an official determines a player to be injured, or if attendants from the bench come on the field to assist an injured player, an injury timeout will be called by the referee," the rules state.

The rules outline a hypothetical situation as follows: "Runner A1 is tackled and appears injured since he does not move. ... Official should call timeout for injured player. Official should not try to determine if player is injured."

Rules change in the final two minutes of a half. Teams with timeouts remaining lose one unless their player's injury is caused by an opponent's foul or occurs when there is a turnover or field-goal attempt, or when the opponent calls timeout. Teams with no timeouts remaining are allowed one injury timeout in the final two minutes, but the referee can implement a 10-second clock runoff at the defensive team's discretion if an offensive player is injured . Subsequent injuries under these circumstances will carry five-yard penalties for delay, with the same stipulations for 10-second clock runoffs.

The injury timeout for Grant occurred with 4:04 remaining in the first quarter. By that time, the Rams had already failed to score a touchdown on an earlier possession despite having first-and-goal from the 1. They might be well served adding fake field goals to combat future fake injuries.

Leading Questions: NFC West

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
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With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC West team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

What happens to the offensive line?

We've been asking, answering and asking some more questions about the Cardinals' quarterback situation for months. Let's tap a few brain cells to discuss the guys up front.

Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui are without contracts for 2011. Left guard Alan Faneca might retire. Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off hamstring and knee injuries that shortened his first season as a starter. The Cardinals do not have fresh talent in reserve. They have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first four rounds since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. Twenty-seven teams have drafted more. As much as the team trusts assistant head coach Russ Grimm to get the most from its offensive line, Arizona could use fresh young talent for him to groom.

The Cardinals went through the 2010 season with the NFL's oldest offensive linemen, counting backups. That wouldn't matter so much if left tackle Levi Brown were meeting the Pro Bowl expectations that came with his status as a top-five overall selection in the 2007 draft. Brown was underwhelming at right tackle to begin his career and a liability at left tackle last season. His salary balloons in 2012, so this could be his last season in Arizona.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Can the defense take the next step?

The Rams allowed 328 points last season, tied for the third-lowest total since the team moved from Los Angeles for the 1995 season. They allowed seven rushing touchdowns, their lowest total since 1999 and down from 50 combined over the previous two seasons. But with starting defensive linemen James Hall and Fred Robbins turning 34 this offseason, and with questions at linebacker, the Rams' defense will not automatically go from competitive toward dominant.

Hall will be looking to become the 14th player since 1982 (when the NFL began tracking sacks as an official stat) to collect 10 sacks in a season at age 34 or older. The others: Trace Armstrong, Chris Doleman, William Fuller, Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tony McGee, Steve McMichael, John Randle, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan and Reggie White.

Robbins is coming off one of his finest seasons. He joined Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina and Ray Agnew among defensive tackles to set career highs for sacks at age 32 or older in the free-agency era (since 1993).

Getting similar production and continued good health from two older players is no given. The Rams also need to find help at outside linebacker after losing 32-year-old Na'il Diggs to a torn pectoral muscle 12 games into the 2010 season. The Rams are set at middle linebacker with James Laurinaitis, but they could stand to upgrade around him.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

How well can Jim Harbaugh coach up a quarterback?

When the 49ers' new coach needed a quarterback at Stanford, he recruited one. Andrew Luck set records and led the Cardinal to national prominence. Recruiting isn't a significant part of the equation in the NFL, so Harbaugh will have to settle for the best quarterback he can draft or otherwise acquire. He might even have to give Alex Smith a shot.

The 49ers will need Harbaugh to do what his recent predecessors could not: get good production from limited or flawed talent at the most important position.

Rich Gannon was well-established as an NFL quarterback when Harbaugh arrived as his position coach in Oakland for the 2002 season. The pairing reflected well on all parties. Gannon set career highs for completed passes, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. Gannon was already a good quarterback and the Raiders were already a good team, so it's tough to measure Harbaugh's impact.

Gannon is long since retired. Harbaugh is back in the NFL for the first time since the two were together on the Raiders in 2003. The 49ers don't have a legitimate starting quarterback under contract. Harbaugh has been meeting with Smith and keeping open his options. The stakes are high in the short term because the 49ers have enough talent elsewhere on their roster to compete for a playoff spot.

Outside expectations for Smith are so low that Harbaugh could appear heroic if he could get even a 9-7 record out of the 49ers with Smith in the lineup.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

How much more roster turnover lies ahead?

The Seahawks were fearless in overhauling their roster during their first year under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

The team added Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Chris Clemons, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, Robert Henderson and LenDale White, though Seattle parted with Vickerson, Henderson, White and 2009 regulars Deion Branch, Julius Jones, Owen Schmitt, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson, Lawrence Jackson, Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant and Seneca Wallace. The Seahawks watched a couple other starters, Nate Burleson and Cory Redding, leave in free agency.

If those were the moves the Seahawks felt comfortable making right away, I figured there would be quite a few to come after the team's new leadership watched players for a full season. And there still could be, but similar wheeling and dealing could be impractical or even impossible if the current labor standoff continues deep into the offseason.

Teams cannot make trades without a new labor agreement. They cannot know for sure whether or not a salary cap will come into play as part of any new deal. It's just tough to act as decisively as Seattle acted last offseason without knowing the rules. That's a disadvantage for Seattle and other teams with much work to do this offseason.
Jackie MacMullan's piece on Deion Branch for ESPNBoston.com includes some items of potential interest for Seattle Seahawks fans.

Branch caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in his first game back with New England. He added three catches for 133 yards and two scores in his most recent game for the Patriots.

These were the sorts of performances Seattle expected from Branch upon acquiring him from the Patriots in 2006. The Seahawks sent him back to New England after four games this season, thrilled to recoup even a fourth-round choice in return.

Branch told MacMullan the Seahawks were never quite sure how to use him, and that the game plans were hit-and-miss in terms of quality.

Trading Branch back to New England was a deal that worked well for both teams. Branch was more valuable to New England than he was to Seattle. The Seahawks' Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu are enjoying strong seasons.

A quick look at how some other Seattle castoffs are faring:
  • Rob Sims, Lions guard. Sims has played well enough with Detroit for the Lions to sign him to a four-year extension.
  • Nate Burleson, Lions WR. Detroit paid a relatively high price in free agency. Burleson has 40 receptions, four for touchdowns.
  • Lawrence Jackson, Lions DE. Has 2.5 sacks in his last two games. A concussion sidelined him last week.
  • Josh Wilson, Ravens CB. Has started the last three games. Was on the wrong end of a no-call when the Falcons' Roddy White ran over him.
  • Owen Schmitt, Eagles FB. The latest ex-Seahawk to start at fullback for Philadelphia.
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Ravens WR. Has made a couple of key catches, including one game-winner, but hasn't factored much into the offense overall.
  • Mansfield Wrotto, Bills RT. Wrotto has started the Bills' last three games. The team won two of them and came within a dropped pass of winning the other.
  • Deon Grant, Giants S. Has three interceptions, one sack and four starts for the NFL's second-ranked defense.
  • Darryl Tapp, Eagles DE. Has two sacks in nine games, with no starts. Seattle has gotten 7.5 sacks and 11 starts from Chris Clemons, acquired from the Eagles in the Tapp trade.
  • Seneca Wallace, Browns QB. Has four touchdowns, two interceptions, an 88.5 rating and 1-3 starting record with Cleveland.
  • Julius Jones, Saints RB. A 54-yard run against Carolina has helped Jones average 4.6 yards per attempt on 37 rushes with New Orleans.
  • Cory Redding, Ravens DE. Has six starts for the NFL's eighth-ranked defense.

Some on the list weren't going to play prominent roles in Seattle. The team's new leadership wanted to turn over the roster, which is typical. A few castoffs invariably find success elsewhere. Of the group, Sims is the one Seattle could use the most.

Tough to recognize Seahawks, Cardinals

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
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Counting ways the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have changed since their most recent meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium one year ago (Nov. 15, 2009):
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin had 100-yard receiving games that day. They are now teammates in Baltimore.
  • Jim Mora's role as Seahawks coach last season required him to meet with Dick Stockton, Charles Davis and the rest of the Fox broadcast team assigned to the Seahawks-Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mora now works in the same Fox booth featuring Stockton and Davis.
  • Patrick Kerney, Lawrence Jackson, Leroy Hill, Josh Wilson, Deon Grant, Colin Cole and Jordan Babineaux started on defense for the Seahawks that day. None will start Sunday. Cole and Hill are the only injury scratches, although it's not clear whether Hill would have remained a starter if healthy.
  • The Cardinals and Seahawks each amassed more than 460 yards last time. Neither has exceeded 396 in a game this season. They have combined for 11 games with no more than 271 yards.
  • Kurt Warner passed for 340 yards with a 120.5 rating last time. Arizona has failed to finish with 340 net yards -- overall, not just through the air -- in six of its eight games since Warner retired.
  • Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby and Bryant McFadden were the Cardinals' leading tacklers last time. All play elsewhere.

Not that the NFL landscape changes much in a calendar year.

Sifting through the NFC West rubble

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
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Charlie WhitehurstOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDespite getting crushed by the Giants Sunday, Charlie Whitehurst and the Seahawks are still very much in the NFC West race.
SEATTLE -- The NFC West can't even get a good quarterback controversy going.

Derek Anderson or Max Hall in Arizona?

Troy Smith or Alex Smith in San Francisco?

Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle?

"It don't matter who was in there," NFC West alumnus Antrel Rolle said Sunday after his New York Giants hung a 41-7 humiliation on Whitehurst and the division-leading Seahawks at Qwest Field.

Rolle spoke without a hint of braggadocio. He could have been reading aloud from the box score.

Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks. Forty-six yards and a touchdown. Thirty first downs for the Giants, eight for the Seahawks. Giants with 487 yards, Seahawks with 162. Time of possession, 42:34 to 17:26.

"It could have been Hasselbeck, it could have been whoever," Rolle said. "It was going to be the same outcome."

Care to argue?

Rolle won back-to-back NFC West titles with the Arizona Cardinals before getting out of the division as the roof was caving. He refused to predict which team would emerge from the current NFC West rubble. One of his Giants teammates, ex-Seahawk Deon Grant, offered some insight on the San Francisco 49ers' thinking. They're still alive at 2-6, relatively speaking.

"I got a couple friends over in San Fran and they are talking like they're still going to win it, so I guess don't count them boys out," Grant said.

The 49ers, largely written off at 1-6, can move within one game of first place in the NFC West by beating the division co-leading St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10, provided Arizona beats Seattle.

"That's how they're looking at it, too," Grant said. "I talked to one of my buddies, Takeo Spikes, and that is exactly what the way they are looking at it, like they're still in it."

They are still in it.

Every team in the division is still in it.

The Cardinals have lost three in a row, but they've beaten the Rams in St. Louis and they'll probably beat Seattle at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Unlike the Rams and 49ers, the Seahawks and Cardinals can get to 8-8 by winning their remaining games at home.

"Is there hope? Of course there is," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We have leadership in that [locker] room. It breaks your heart, all of us, to have to look at that [blowout defeat], but these guys will respond."

It's not happening for Seattle unless the team gets healthier and recaptures its shattered confidence.

Carroll has gone from USC god to NCAA target to Pacific Northwest curiosity to Seahawks savior to getting outscored 74-10 in his last two games as head coach.

Always compete? Carroll's mantra has taken a few hits recently.

"I don't think we ever gave up," veteran safety Lawyer Milloy said. "I think that's what he's talking about."

I asked Carroll flatly whether he had the talent to rebound.

"We'll find out," the Seahawks' first-year coach said. "We'll get better up front [on offense when left tackle Russell Okung returns]. We have to get our QB back and get Matt back going again and put things back in order and see if we can start to make some progress."

Seattle was naturally more competitive before losing three-fourths of its defensive line, the left side of its offensive line, its only experienced quarterback and several others. Every other team in the division is healthier.

"It's amazing how we've seen the whole spectrum in half a year," Carroll said.

My updated team-by-team look at what should happen next in the NFC West, subject to change hourly:

Arizona Cardinals

Current record: 3-5

My projected record: 8-8, first place

Why they should win the division: Three consecutive defeats have exposed the Cardinals' shortcomings at quarterback and on defense. They still have five home games on the schedule, however, and none of those five teams has a winning record through Week 9. The Cardinals' Week 1 victory at St. Louis could prove pivotal unless the Rams can win at Arizona. The Cardinals have allowed more than 900 yards in their last two games. Somehow, the Seahawks have allowed more.

St. Louis Rams

Current record: 4-4

My projected record: 7-9

My reasoning: The Rams claimed a share of first place in the division when the Seahawks lost to the Giants. Their second-half schedule appears tough. The Rams play four of their next five on the road and they haven't won away from the Edward Jones Dome all season. This is a tough, resilient team, however, and better luck with injuries could improve the Rams' chances quite a bit. This is the steadiest team in the division. The Rams can become my favorite if they can break through on the road. A trip to San Francisco could be telling.

Seattle Seahawks

Current record: 4-4

My projected record: 6-10

My reasoning: The challenge here is making sure the last two games don't unduly influence long-term thinking. The Seahawks had a good thing going until their injury situation spiraled out of control. Seattle has suddenly become the team I expected to see coming out of training camp. Its depth is shot. Arizona is much healthier and facing a more navigable schedule. Carroll is right when he says Okung's return could restore the offensive line. Seattle does have four home games remaining. Two of those home games are against Kansas City and Atlanta. Seattle must improve along both lines and get some breaks.

San Francisco 49ers

Current record: 2-6

My projected record: 6-10

My reasoning: The 49ers are such a difficult team to trust. Their head coach, Mike Singletary, hasn't had the answers. Their quarterback situation remains unsettled. My opinion will change some if the 49ers beat the Rams and Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park over the next two weeks. That could happen, but the 49ers' opponents will have the better quarterbacks in both games. I'm thinking a split appears more likely, and from there the 49ers play four of their final six games on the road, including games against Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers.

Not that anyone can accurately predict the NFL standings, or even whether, say, the New England Patriots can stay within two touchdowns of the Cleveland Browns. If your favorite team plays in the NFC West, your favorite team has a shot at hosting a playoff game this season.

"Our division is still up in the air," Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons said. "Even though we are leading right now, we still don't have a clear-cut division leader."

No guarantees for NFL team captains

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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September can be an exciting, gratifying time for those NFL players deemed significant enough to earn "captain" status, usually by vote of their peers.

Enjoy it while you can, gentlemen.

Take a look at the St. Louis Rams' captains from 2008: Marc Bulger, Tory Holt, Will Witherspoon, Corey Chavous and Todd Johnson.

Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

The Arizona Cardinals' captains two seasons ago? Kurt Warner, Reggie Wells, Karlos Dansby, Sean Morey and Aaron Francisco. Gone, all of them.

The Seattle Seahawks (Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu) and San Francisco 49ers (Patrick Willis, Eric Heitmann) each still employ two of their captains from 2008. But Seattle has parted with four others: Walter Jones, Deon Grant, D.D. Lewis and Lance Laury. The 49ers have waved goodbye to 2008 captains Michael Robinson (now a Seahawk) and Walt Harris.

How many of the 2010 team captains, listed below, will remain with their teams in two seasons?

Arizona Cardinals

Offense: Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein

Defense: Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett

Special teams: Ben Graham, Jason Wright

St. Louis Rams

Offense: Steven Jackson

Defense: Oshiomogho Atogwe

Week 1 at-large: Chris Massey, James Hall

San Francisco 49ers

Offense: Eric Heitmann, Vernon Davis, Alex Smith

Defense: Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Justin Smith

Note: Coach Mike Singletary names captains for the 49ers. He added Alex Smith to the list this year and said the quarterback had earned the distinction.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have not yet voted on captains.

Update: Matt Hasselbeck (offense), Lofa Tatupu (defense) and Roy Lewis (special teams) are 2010 captains for Seattle.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
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San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Battling perceptions in the NFC West

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
12:06
PM ET
KTAR radio's Doug Franz and Ron Wolfley just finished grilling me medium rare over the far-flung (to them) notion that the San Francisco 49ers should be favored in the NFC West this season.

They think the 49ers face at least as many questions as the Arizona Cardinals, from Alex Smith's abilities as a starting quarterback to the effects of playing two rookies on the offensive line.

Our conversation pointed to something I wrestle with all the time: perception vs. reality.

Sometimes those perceptions get out of hand. It could be happening in the NFC West right now. A few things to consider along those lines heading into the regular season:
  • The Seattle Seahawks are taking flak for dumping T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson and others (Rob Sims and Nate Burleson come to mind) during an ongoing roster overhaul. It's fair to ask whether all the changes were necessary. It's fair to question whether Seattle might fall off some in the immediate term while less experienced players take over. But why pretend as though the Seahawks needed only some fine-tuning? They needed an overhaul and they're getting one. Sometimes a team gets a little worse before it gets better. But if you honestly assess each roster change, you might find more upgrades than downgrades. How much will this really team miss Ken Lucas, Cory Redding, Justin Griffith, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh, Owen Schmitt, Mansfield Wrotto, Lawrence Jackson, John Owens, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant, Lance Laury and the others? It's tough to argue that those players were part of the solution.
  • The Cardinals are worse off without Kurt Warner. That much is a given. But should recent instability at quarterback significantly lower those already reduced expectations for the upcoming season? It's probably better to rule out Matt Leinart now than to do so four or five games into the regular season. Quarterback was already a concern. It's still a concern. But let's not pretend the 49ers are dramatically better off with Smith under center. I'm favoring the 49ers in the division because they're the safest bet following an offseason without much roster turnover. They appear slightly better than the team that went 8-8 in 2009. But it's no shock if the Cardinals win this division. I'd call it only a mild surprise.
  • The Rams are easy to write off with a rookie quarterback under center and only six wins over the last three seasons. It's not the upset of the century, however, if they find a way to prevail in Week 1. They trailed the Cardinals 21-3 at halftime in the Edward Jones Dome last season. A concussion prevented Warner from returning. Final score: 21-13. If you're the Rams and you know Warner won't be there Sunday, and you know Marc Bulger posted a 57.8 rating as your quarterback in that 21-13 defeat, you're thinking you've got a chance this time around, right? Right.
  • About those 49ers. Let's not get carried away with the 12-4 predictions, OK? One step at a time. The 49ers were 5-1 in the division last season. Are they really going to match that record or improve upon it and then add three more victories outside the NFC West? It's possible with AFC West teams on the schedule, but the 49ers have only seven true home games this season. Two of those are against New Orleans and Philadelphia. They play road games against Atlanta, Green Bay and San Diego. Find a dozen sure victories on that schedule and I'm guessing you're a 49ers fan.

To be continued in the comments section, and beyond.

Around the NFC West: Jackson's backup

August, 12, 2010
8/12/10
9:51
AM ET
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch finds one guy who thinks the Rams don't necessarily need to add a veteran running back. Steven Jackson: "Having a veteran at this point of the game now, I don't know if it's as big a concern as everyone is making it to be. I feel great physically. The younger guys are coming along just fine. And if we continue to stay healthy, I don't think it'll be a concern." Jackson has bounced back strong from back surgery, but injuries have affected him in recent seasons. Chris Ogbonnaya did show promise late last season.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams linebacker Larry Grant likes moving to the weak side, away from opposing tight ends. Coats: "Another potential bump in Grant's journey popped up in May, when the Rams acquired linebacker Bobby Carpenter from Dallas for tackle Alex Barron. Carpenter spent the spring with the starters at weakside linebacker. During training camp, though, Grant has supplanted Carpenter at the 'will' position, with James Laurinaitis in the middle and free-agent pickup Na'il Diggs at strongside linebacker, or 'sam.' All three are ex-Buckeyes."

Also from Coats: Steve Spagnuolo took the Rams to a movie.

More from the Post-Dispatch: Oshiomogho Atogwe wants back on the field for the Rams.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Leon Washington keeps making progress toward a successful return from a broken leg. Farnsworth: "If you didn’t know he was coming off a serious injury, you wouldn’t know it by watching him practice."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits Matt Hasselbeck's 2009 season and agrees with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who says the quarterback tried too hard last season. Hasselbeck tried too hard because the team around him wasn't very good. Improve the team and Hasselbeck won't feel the pressure to make plays.

Also from O'Neil: highlights from Seahawks practice Wednesday.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com checks in with Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who says David Hawthorne is a "rising star" at linebacker. Hear that, Leroy Hill?

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune seeks clarification from former Seahawks safety Deon Grant regarding comments about the team's 2009 training camp wearing out players. I do remember players saying they wore down some during camp. That's not a concern this summer.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers observations from Seahawks camp. Boling: "I haven’t been to every practice, but I haven’t seen a great deal out of Lawrence Jackson to cause me to jot down notes. What do you think the odds would have been, on the day of the 2008 draft, that fourth-rounder Red Bryant might be starting ahead of first-rounder Jackson?"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are making Beanie Wells work to earn the starting job from Tim Hightower. There's plenty of time and also nothing stopping Wells from getting more carries, even if Hightower is the starter. I'd expect Wells to start more games this season if healthy, however. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Tim is versatile, he's tough, and he runs well with the ball," Whisenhunt said. "And we have a lot more information about Tim in different situations than we do with Beanie. The way we've set things up with our team, Beanie's got to earn that. Beanie's working hard to try to do that. That's what you want."

Also from Somers: Darnell Dockett expects to get a new contract sooner rather than later.

More from Somers: Matt Leinart looked good during the afternoon practice Wednesday. Big deal? Hey, it beats the alternative.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Dockett wants to leave a legacy of hard work.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says receiver Dominique Zeigler continues to impress at 49ers camp. I did see him make impressive catches last week.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' reputation for holding tough practices in pads can be misleading sometimes. No question about it. I didn't see anything unusual by NFL standards. Even the nutcracker drills were modified to emphasize technique more strongly, and linemen were not participating.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Michael Crabtree has a sore neck after landing hard in practice.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers are running out of patience with defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the team is preparing for the Indianapolis Colts.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Balmer as saying he plans to return and his absence is overblown. Balmer: "People are making a big deal about nothing. I feel like the 49ers could do a better job of saying that, but it's not my place to say."

Also from Brown: Tony Wragge's thoughts on playing center after Eric Heitmann's injury. Wragge: "I’m ready to go. It is a process of getting reps in practice. Eric was out early in training camp with another injury and David (Baas) was obviously sidelined also. So I got a lot of reps in the first week of double-day, full-pad twice a day. I felt like I took advantage of them and I’m still looking forward to taking an advantage of the opportunities that I get."
Joel from Atwater writes: I love your pieces on the NFC West. I'm a huge 49er fan. I was wondering if you ever thought of putting a piece together on Vernon Davis and his blocking. I've been a huge fan of his since he entered the NFL.

Everyone takes for granted how good of a blocker he is. I recall a few games where he completely shut down an opponent's best pass rusher, i.e. Jared Allen, and it would have been Joey Porter also if it were not for the last play where Porter sacked Shaun Hill.

It's just something that I have been trying to see film on and I just cant find any. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mike. Keep up the great work.

Mike Sando: I'm with you on Davis' blocking. It jumped out at me right away when I started watching every play of every 49ers game. The first time I broke it down was following a 2008 game against the Saints. Davis was absolutely dominant, even against defensive ends.

As I wrote then, "Watching this game made me think Davis was one of the best pass protectors on the team. He regularly blocked (Will) Smith and fellow defensive end Charles Grant, tough duty for any tight end. Davis was effective as a run blocker. During the third quarter, he blocked Smith twice and Grant twice on runs that gained 9, 9, 6 and 7 yards."

The 49ers did not ask Davis to block nearly as much in pass protection last season. That is the main reason his receiving numbers took off. Davis is an every-down player, so he's in there on running plays and he's a willing blocker. It's a great sign with a talented pass-receiving tight end is a willing and effective blocker. It means he loves the game and isn't just going after stats.


Ryan from Dallas writes: Hey Mike, got a Rams question for you. I was reading an article you posted a link to that said the Rams only rushed four players 65 percent of the time last year which was most in the league. I was a bit shocked to find this out because I really thought Spags would put together craftier schemes than just a soft four-man rush that often.

Two years ago, the Rams were blitzing like crazy and the claim was that they had to out of necessity due to lack of playmakers. So what do you think would be the better route? Or is there a happy medium to be found in here? Thanks as always. Keep it up.

Mike Sando: I could not find that blog post, but I did write one discussing blitz percentages.

The knock on the Rams previously was that their schemes weren't all that sound. I had heard that from opposing players. ESPN Stats & Analysis tracked blitz numbers last season and the Rams rushed four or fewer players 71 percent of the time. The league average was 65.2 percent. The Titans, Panthers and Bucs -- all teams with defensive coaches -- all rushed four or fewer at least 76 percent of the time.

The Rams were pretty inventive with some of their blitzes, according to coaches for other teams. For example, then-Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp counted 12 unscouted blitzes the Rams used in the regular-season opener. That was a high number. By unscouted blitzes, I mean blitzes the Seahawks hadn't seen from Spagnuolo on video.

It's tough to blitz without having players who are good at it, particularly when you're running a 4-3 scheme without good coverage players. I think the Rams should be OK from a scheme standpoint with Spagnuolo influencing the defense.


Rick from Boise writes: We all know there is a point value for each draft pick that teams use to determine vaule in trading picks. My question is, in any given draft, are picks for future years valued differently from current-year picks?

Mike Sando: Yes, they are valued differently. A pick next year generally loses about one round's value. For example, a 2011 third-rounder would be worth a 2010 fourth-rounder (update: I initially had the rounds transposed).


Jeremy from Vallejo, Calif., writes: Are the 49ers' training camp practices free to the public? How do I get info on times?

Mike Sando: Tickets are sold out, according to the 49ers. Sorry about that, Jeremy.


Trevor from Kelowna, B.C. writes: Assuming the Seahawks have no pass rush (probable), what's the solution? Don't see any free agents out there. Maybe a trade? Whadya think.

Mike Sando: I think the Seahawks are stuck. They do not have outstanding pass-rushers and they aren't going to land one before the season.


Chris from San Diego writes: Do you see the 49ers' Navorro Bowman playing this year and where, inside or outside?

Mike Sando: Bowman projects as an inside linebacker even though he's not the biggest guy. Look for Takeo Spikes to start this season, but Bowman could get in there, particularly if Spikes wears down. The 49ers think Bowman is an instinctive player. Instinctive linebackers tend to get on the field sooner than guys who lack that feel for the game. Lofa Tatupu in Seattle is one example. He became an immediate starter and Pro Bowl player as a rookie drafted outside the first round.


Andrew from Fort Worth writes: What really stands out about the "Fortunate 50" list is the fact that the list is flooded with big name-stars -- that is, until you come across recent high NFL draft picks such as Matthew Stafford, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson and Mark Sanchez. All together, these second-year players will be collecting $103,487,280 in salary next year with none proving to be elite players or achieving any outstanding accomplishments (Sanchez did lead his team to the AFC title game).

This again highlights the NFL's issue with rookie salary structures and should be a major focus in the next CBA. While I have no sympathy for NFL owners, as they are by far the most powerful owners in professional sport, this is clearly a problem that deserves attention. Given that players can be cut at any moment and lose out on non-guaranteed portions of their contracts, is it somewhat surprising that you don't see more players hold out once they've outperformed their current contracts?

Mike Sando: Those NFL players are on the list largely because their rookie deals were structured to have massive payouts in the second year. Those players likely will not rank as high next year. I don't have a huge problem with player salaries in the NFL. These guys submit their bodies to brutal beatings. Their life expectancies shrink. They deal with life-long health issues.

NFL players generally do not hold out because teams hold the cards. Teams simply aren't beholden to a single player in the vast majority of cases. Football is such a team sport. Very few players are important enough to their teams for those teams to buckle when a player holds out.


Mitch from Austin, Texas writes: Sando, can you explain how the cap works? I'm lost. In your post about the uncapped year helping the Seahawks, it says that the 'Hawks basically would have had to eat Deon Grant's salary in a capped year, correct? I don't understand why a team is punished for cutting a player and therefore not paying his salary. In theory, if you cut a player, then you don't have to pay him, so why does it count against the cap?

Mike Sando: The base salary doesn't count against the cap after a team releases a player. Other aspects of the contract count against the cap (when there is a cap, obviously). Teams account for some bonus money over multiple years, not all at once. But when a player is released with time left on his deal, that money can accelerate against the current cap. In Grant's case, his base salary was about the same as the bonus money that accelerated upon his release.


Q from Victoria, B.C., writes: Hey Mike, do we give Louis Rankin any shot of making the team in Seattle?

Mike Sando: Yeah, he has a chance. I'm not sure whether the Seahawks will keep a traditional blocking fullback. If they do, it's tougher for Rankin.


Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: I saw article on NFL.com about the league pushing players to wear more padding this season and that something may be mandated for the 2011 season. The NFL anticipates a lot of resistance to this. I understand players want to maximize speed, but they need to compromise to protect their investment (themselves).

I was wondering if you could give some insight into how this would affect the CBA negotiations and if this gives the owners something to use ( i.e. wear more padding or we will pay you less). Thanks.

Mike Sando: This issue gives the owners an opportunity to show interest in player safety. I do think it's a valid issue, though. Even some linemen play without basic padding. I don't see this issue being a big one in CBA negotiations. Having padding built into pants is intriguing.


Jesper from Denmark writes: Hi Mike. I think you have already talked about this in an earlier chat, but I would like to hear your oppinion on Kevin Payne. As far as I have understood, he played strong safety in his second year with the Bears and was a really really good player. They then moved him to free safety, which did not work out so well. Now the Rams have moved him back to strong safety. Shouldnt that make him the starter over James Butler, who is solid at best?

Mike Sando: The book on Payne does say he was better at strong safety. I'm intrigued by his addition and wondering whether he'll take the starting job. Teams generally do not give away starting-caliber players, though, so we shouldn't assume Payne will win the job. He should be in the mix. It's one of the issues I'm interested in pursuing.


Scott from Boise writes: I don't understand why Seattle isn't hosting Pittsburgh next year. They only meet once every four years and last time around was in Pittsburgh. What's the justification for making it 12 years since the last time they were in Seattle?

Mike Sando: I don't understand the issue well enough to explain it as simply as I would like.

The NFL has made a couple alterations to its scheduling formula. One tweak spares teams from making two long trips to face West Coast teams. Also, the league reset the scheduling formula so that 2011 mirrored 2002 (instead of picking up where 2009 left off). The league wasn't able to make the home-and-home swaps match up evenly.

Let me try to get a better explanation for you. I know some readers of this blog follow scheduling stuff more closely than I do, and they might be able to explain it more concisely and definitively.


Keith from Seattle writes: Regarding your column, 'Much fantasy love for Gore, 49ers', where did you get those numbers for top TD scorers in 2009? I didn't even see Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew listed and they easily had over 10 TDs a piece!

Mike Sando: The chart showed NFC leaders but I did not make that clear. I've updated the item with clear labeling. Sorry about that.


Kyle from Tempe writes: Hey, Mike. I'm sure you record every nfc west game during the season and watch them when you return home. Is that how you plan on handling shark week being in the middle of training camp?

Mike Sando: I do record all the regular-season games and chart them. As for shark week, I'm sure my sons would like to watch that one with me. I wind up watching Top Chef with my wife. We also try to catch Pawn Stars and some true-crime shows.


Dave from Covington, Wash., writes: My question is regarding Earl Thomas. I just haven't heard many things on how he has done it organized team activities, and what we are to expect out of him this season and how close we are to signing both of our first-rounders. Thanks for your time and all the great insight you have for the blog.

Mike Sando: Hey, thanks for that. Earl Thomas looks like a cornerback out there. His ball-hawking ability shined through a few times at OTAs. He did not immediately dominate to the point where it was clear he would be an instant star. But I think he generally looked like a good coverage safety. As for signing statuses, I don't worry about them for early draft choices until training camps are nearly upon us. If they aren't signed when camp starts, we can evaluate the issue then. Right now, it's a non-issue.


Mastermind from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, the 49er glory days were characterized by some great minds in the front office, coaching staffs and on on the field. Who are today's masterminds in the 49ers' organization in those three categories, and how to they compare to past greats? One of my nagging worries regarding the Niners is this aspect of what it takes to be a great franchise. I'm just not sure they have many great minds throughout their organization, even if they have much more talent than recent years. Even our best player, Patrick Willis, was noted for avoiding playcalling duties on the field and seemed to want to play mostly with his intincts. Thanks!

Mike Sando: If you're looking for Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren types, keep looking. They don't exist in San Francisco or in most franchises. The people that made the 49ers great during the 1980s and beyond were exceptional people. They were exceptions. It's unrealistic to expect an organization to have those sorts of people forever.

The 49ers do have some sharp people. I think Paraag Marathe is very bright and he has shown himself to be capable in handling the team's contracts. That is one area where the 49ers are far ahead of where they were during the years that led to their salary-cap issues.


Fritz from Auburn, Calif., writes: Hi Mike. Interesting post on divisional age. Is there any correlation between division age and win/loss percentages? It would be interesting if divisional youth were a leading indicator for increased winning in a year or two. I don't have the raw data or I'd check myself. Thanks!

Mike Sando: I do not think we could safely make such a connection. Teams can be young for different reasons. For example, the Indianapolis Colts are among the very youngest teams year after year. It's the nature of how they build their team around a few big-time veteran stars. Other young teams tend to be rebuilding teams (the Rams last season, the Carolina Panthers this season). Going young is the easy part. Building that young team into a winner requires skill and good fortune.


Shane from Los Angeles writes: Sand-O, Can you believe Kurt Warner didnt even make an honorable mention on this list? As big as he has played in big games, I am shocked ESPN did not have him on here. Please comment on it in your mailbag or in your blog. Thanks!

Mike Sando: There have been quite a few great quarterback performances over the years. Which of Warner's games would you single out? I know he's had games with a perfect passer rating. Another time, he completed 20 of 23 passes for 323 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (against the 49ers in 1999). His playoff performance against the Packers has to go down as one of the great efforts. The list you cited covered regular season only, however.


Constantine from San Francisco writes: Mike, following up on your latest entries regarding the best lines in the NFC West, which team has the best linebacking corps? Receiving corps? One other question: I'm a bit confused as to why so many people are high on Josh Morgan, why is he considered an up-and-comer? His play has struck me more as a "split tight end" -- catching a few balls and being valued as a blocker. Is he really a legitimate second receiver? Thanks for the thoughts.

Mike Sando: The 49ers probably have the best linebackers in terms of how they've played recently. The Seahawks have the potential to have the best group, but it would help if they stayed on the field past Week 1. When you talk about receivers, do you mean wide receivers? The Cardinals probably have the best ones, even without Anquan Boldin. If you include tight ends, I could see giving the 49ers stronger consideration. On Morgan, I think he's viewed in the context of where the 49ers drafted him -- in the sixth round. That sets the bar lower for him. I think he can be a good No. 2 receiver.
Former Washington Redskins executive J.I. Halsell has been a must-read on NFL salary issues ever since his blog debuted in January 2009.

His association with Football Outsiders has brought his work to ESPN Insider subscribers, most recently with this piece on salary dynamics Insider in the NFC West.

The Insider piece shows Seattle with more than $16 million in dead money -- the most in the division. The figure represents salary-cap charges the Seahawks would have incurred this season for players no longer on their roster. The absence of a salary cap affirms my feeling that Seattle had lots to gain from an uncapped year.

Deon Grant's contract would have counted nearly $6 million against a salary cap once the Seahawks released him, for example. That's about the same amount his contract would have counted if the team had kept him on its roster and paid his $4 million salary.
The earlier item quantifying NFL roster turnover since last season ranks the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals among the three teams with the most changes.

Some of the research used for that project shows up in the latest version of the anabolically enhanced rosters found here periodically. Specifically, the 26th and final column shows which players were starters, backups or on injured reserve for NFC West teams in Week 17 last season.

Download the rosters here.

The column showing player ages makes it easy to see how roster attrition affects older players. I'll list below the players currently 30 or older who have been released, traded, announced their retirements or were not re-signed as unrestricted free agents since last season:

Seattle Seahawks (9)

Patrick Kerney, Walter Jones, John Owens, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Sean Morey, Ben Hamilton and Chris Baker.

Arizona Cardinals (9)

Kurt Warner, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Bertrand Berry, Neil Rackers, Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Ralph Brown, Dan Kreider,

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Jay Feely, Paris Lenon, Joey Porter and Alan Faneca.

San Francisco 49ers (6)

Shaun Hill, Arnaz Battle, Mark Roman, Walt Harris, Dre' Bly, Jeff Ulbrich

Note: The team added 30-plus vets David Carr and William James. In looking at the chart, note that receiver Isaac Bruce, 37, is still on the 49ers' roster for the time being.

St. Louis Rams (5)

Leonard Little, Marc Bulger, Lenon, Clinton Hart, Randy McMichael

Note: The team added 30-plus vets A.J. Feeley, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and Fred Robbins.

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