NFC West: DeShaun Foster

Setting expectations for Pead, James

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
10:47
PM ET
The St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers used second-round draft choices for running backs this year.

Both teams have established, older runners coming off productive seasons.

The Rams' Isaiah Pead got extensive reps Wednesday while veteran Steven Jackson received a day off. The 49ers' LaMichael James returned to practice after missing time with illness. Both young backs should get extensive work during the exhibition season, but what about when the games start counting?

Change-of-pace roles seem most likely. Jackson and the 49ers Frank Gore, while older, have remained productive lately. Both are good all-around players.

The Rams envision Jackson posting an eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season while Pead provides a few hundred yards. That was the model for Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer when he was running the New York Jets' offense.

For some perspective, I put together a list showing the 10 second-round draft choices with the most rushing yardage as rookies since 2000. Three of the 10 produced as rookies in tandem with 1,000-yard rushers:
I'm looking forward to seeing James in 49ers camp upon arriving there Sunday.

Beanie Wells' comments to The Fan AM 1060 suggest he understands the urgency he faces heading into his third NFL season.

Beanie Wells
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBeanie Wells was never able to get on track during the 2010 season.
Wells, generally promising as an Arizona Cardinals rookie in 2009, never got going after suffering a knee injury during the 2010 exhibition season. The team's decision to use a 2011 second-round choice for running back Ryan Williams turned up the pressure.

"This is my third year and three strikes, you're out," Wells told The Fan, "and I'm definitely not striking out this year. I'm ready to roll, I'm ready to tear it up this year."

What does Williams' addition mean for Wells? Much will depend on how the players perform during training camp and beyond. But in looking back through recent NFL drafts, it's clear the Cardinals have addressed the position more aggressively in the draft than other teams.

Wells was the 31st overall choice in his draft class. Williams was the 38th player chosen this year. Only three other teams since 2000 have used two picks among the top 40 overall selections for running backs within a four-year period. The Cardinals and Carolina Panthers were the only teams to do so within three years.

DeAngelo Williams (27th overall in 2006) and Jonathan Stewart (13th in 2008) have formed an effective rushing combination in Carolina over recent seasons. Drafting Stewart did not spell the end for Williams. In fact, Williams broke out with a 1,500-yard season months after Carolina drafted Stewart. Both players topped 1,000 yards the following year.

Williams had only 1,218 yards in two seasons before Stewart arrived. He had played in 29 games, with two starts, to that point of his career. Wells has 1,190 yards in his first two seasons. He also has 29 games and two starts.

The situation in Carolina was different. The Panthers weren't growing impatient with Williams when they drafted Stewart. Coach John Fox was content going with DeShaun Foster as the starter while Williams earned an opportunity. Foster had put in his time behind Stephen Davis. Williams took over when his time came, with Stewart joining him.

For Arizona, adding Williams puts pressure on Wells without necessarily forcing him out. Tim Hightower, a fifth-round choice in 2008, also faces an uncertain future. He lost five fumbles last season while posting a career-high 4.8-yard average on 153 carries.

The chart shows teams that drafted two running backs among the top 40 overall choices within a four-year span, all since 2000.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

While the Shaun Hill-Alex Smith debate rages elsewhere, here's a look at some of the other things I'll be watching in the second half of our NFC West doubleheader Friday night:

  • Jason Hill. Remember him? He was the promising young receiver making strides each season. He was one of the receivers people referenced when saying the 49ers enjoyed better depth at the position. Haven't heard much from him in camp thus far. With Michael Crabtree unsigned and Isaac Bruce getting the night off, perhaps Hill can remind people he's still on the roster.
  • Kentwan Balmer. The 49ers have had good things to say about their 2008 first-round draft choice this offseason. Let's watch what he does in live action. Defensive ends generally don't stand out playing in 3-4 schemes, but the Cardinals' Calais Campbell, a 2008 second-rounder, looked good at defensive end Thursday night.
  • Adam Snyder. The right tackle has enjoyed a strong camp, making him the early favorite to start, with Marvel Smith's health a key variable. Snyder doesn't need to do anything special. He's a right tackle, after all. But if the Broncos get all kinds of pressure on the quarterback against him, it's a bad sign.
  • Young pass rushers. Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson are the keys here.
  • Glen Coffee. The rookie running back gets the start while the 49ers wisely rest Frank Gore. The 49ers would find a strong preseason from Coffee to be reassuring evidence of an upgrade from 2008 backup DeShaun Foster.
  • Half the secondary. Free safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Dre Bly are the ones to watch. Any inclinations toward playmaking will be logged and set aside as evidence.
  • Vernon Davis. The tight end has caught the ball well during camp. Will the 49ers work him into the passing game more? And if they do, will they hold up adequately in pass protection? Might be tough to tell in an exhibition game, but it's all we've got at this point.
A reminder: The next NFC West chat begins at 4 p.m. ET right here.

Niners get their complementary back

April, 26, 2009
4/26/09
10:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers talked about adding a bigger running back to complement starter Frank Gore. Glen Coffee, the team's pick with the 74th overall choice, doesn't fit the size profile. He's listed at 209 pounds, about 15 pounds lighter than the specs general manager Scot McCloughan outlined when talking about what he sought in a complementary back.

Make no mistake, however: Coffee is a power back from a major program (Alabama). He's known for running hard, working hard and catching the ball well. He's extremely strong, having excelled as a power lifter in high school.

This pick fits the Mike Singletary/Jimmy Raye mold even though Coffee isn't as big as the back San Francisco probably anticipated adding. Coffee should represent an upgrade over DeShaun Foster in the No. 2 role.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Roster Category
ARI SF STL SEA
Active Players
68 60 65 64
Franchise Players
1 0 1 1
UFA Offense
2 2 6 4
UFA Defense
0
1 5 1
UFA Specialists
0 0 0 1
UFA Re-signed
7
2 3 2
UFA Added
2 4 4 3
UFA Lost 5 7 3 7
Traded Away
0 0 0 1
Acquired by Trade
0 0 1 1
Net Gain/Loss
+4
-1
+5 -2

Tight end Sean Ryan's signing with Kansas City leaves the 49ers with three unrestricted free agents: Quarterback Jamie Martin, pass rusher Roderick Green and running back DeShaun Foster.

Consider that list an indication of how irrelevant unrestricted free agency becomes as the draft approaches.

A quick look at unsigned UFAs from each NFC West team:

Arizona (2): Guard Scott Peters and tight end Jerame Tuman.

San Francisco (3): Martin, Green and
Foster.

St. Louis (11): Linebacker Gary Stills, receiver Dante' Hall, cornerback Ricky Manning, tackle Rob Petitti, running back Travis Minor, cornerback Jason Craft, cornerback Fakhir Brown, center Cory Withrow, tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Dane Looker, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.

Seattle (6): Linebacker Wesly Mallard, guard Chris Gray, quarterback Charlie Frye, receiver Koren Robinson, center Steve McKinney, snapper Jeff Robinson.

I do not see priority free agents on those lists. Former Rams cornerbacks Manning, Craft and Brown could have some value, while Glover is expected to retire. Former Seahawks Koren Robinson and Jeff Robinson could conceivably help in a pinch, as could former Cardinals tight end Tuman. Green, the former 49er, has occasionally shown promise. Foster might be able to help on a limited basis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.

I'll start with San Francisco.

Gone from the 49ers' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (13):

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  J.T. O'Sullivan is a former 49er.

Offense

Jamie Martin, QB

J.T. O'Sullivan, QB

Billy Bajema, TE

DeShaun Foster, RB

Sean Ryan, TE

Bryant Johnson, WR

Jonas Jennings, T

Damane Duckett, T

Defense

Keith Lewis, S

Donald Strickland, CB

Roderick Green, LB

Ronald Fields, DL

Tully Banta-Cain, LB

(Read full post)

San Francisco 49ers 2009 UFA Watch
Pos. Status
Allen Rossum
RET
Re-signed
Takeo Spikes
LB
Re-signed
Demetric Evans
DE
Added
Brandon Jones
WR
Added
Moran Norris
FB
Added
Damane Duckett
OL
UFA
Jamie Martin
QB
UFA
DeShaun Foster
RB
UFA
Donald Strickland
CB
UFA
Billy Bajema
TE
UFA
Roderick Green
LB
UFA
Sean Ryan
TE
UFA
Bryant Johnson
WR
Lions
J.T. O'Sullivan
QB
Bengals
Ronald Fields
DT
Broncos
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers have faced few difficult decisions since free agency opened Feb. 27 because most of their important players remained under contract.

Reworking Alex Smith's contract was probably their top offseason priority, but even that move lacked urgency.

Quite a few 49ers fans have expressed frustration over what they consider the team's undue indifference to the market. They see other teams making bold moves and wonder why the 49ers have decided to largely sit out this signing period.

Their frustration can be summed up in three questions. Brandon Jones? Demetric Evans? Moran Norris? Nothing against those guys, but when fans think about upgrading their team, they think about the Rams adding Jason Brown, the Seahawks adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh and other more significant moves. They think about making plays for Albert Haynesworth, Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler.

In retrospect, the 49ers were more aggressive in past offseasons because they were trying to compensate for the previous regime's draft shortcomings. Last offseason, they were also trying to save Mike Nolan's job. General manager Scot McCloughan has subsequently expressed a desire to build primarily through the draft.

Right or wrong, the feeling now is that the 49ers are going to benefit most from making better use of their existing personnel. We started to see the benefits (offense, defense) of this once Mike Singletary took over as head coach. The situation at quarterback will still factor heavily into whether the 49ers show improvement in the standings.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Tracking free-agent visits can become a part-time job during the initial rush of free agency. Now that things have settled, I've put together an unofficial list showing where NFC West free agents have visited and which players the division's teams have visited with.

These visits fall into four basic categories:

(Read full post)

49ers free-agency update: Week One

March, 6, 2009
3/06/09
1:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers 2009 UFA List Pos. Age
Jamie Martin
QB 39
Allen Rossum
KR 33
Takeo Spikes
LB 32
J.T. O'Sullivan QB 29
DeShaun Foster
RB 29
Sean Ryan
TE 28
Donald Strickland
CB 28
Damane Duckett
OL 28
Bryant Johnson
WR
27
Ronald Fields
DL 27
Roderick Green
LB 26
Billy Bajema
TE 26

The 49ers have generated more frenzy during the first week of free agency than their second-tier signings would warrant alone.

Their visit with Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner qualified as bold, puzzling and/or misguided, depending on your point of view.

General manager Scot McCloughan subsequently said the 49ers had not ruled out adding Terrell Owens, although the San Francisco Chronicle cited a source saying the 49ers would not bid for him.

None of the 49ers' remaining unrestricted free agents qualifies as critical to re-sign. Donald Strickland might head the list.

49ers UFA re-signed: Takeo Spikes, LB; Allen Rossum, return specialist.

49ers UFA lost: WR Bryant Johnson (Lions), DL Ronald Fields (Broncos) and QB J.T. O'Sullivan (Bengals).

49ers UFA added: Brandon Jones, WR, Titans; Demetric Evans, DL, Redskins; and Moran Norris, FB, Lions.

49ers restricted free agents: none.

Age before beauty: 49ers free agents

February, 26, 2009
2/26/09
10:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers 2009 UFA Candidates
Pos. Age
Jamie Martin
QB 39.0
Allen Rossum
KR 33.3
Takeo Spikes
LB 32.1
J.T. O'Sullivan QB 29.5
DeShaun Foster
RB 29.1
Sean Ryan
TE 28.9
Donald Strickland
CB 28.2
Damane Duckett
OL 28.0
Bryant Johnson
WR
27.9
Ronald Fields
DL 27.4
Roderick Green
LB 26.8
Billy Bajema
TE 26.3

The 49ers stand to get younger this offseason as they part with backup quarterbacks Jamie Martin and J.T. O'Sullivan.

Both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Neither is expected to return.

The chart ranks the 49ers' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth.

Only three of the 49ers' scheduld free agents are in their 30s, easily the lowest figure in the division. The Cardinals (nine), Rams (eight) and Seahawks (eight) each rank among the NFL's top five teams in 30-plus UFA candidates.

None of the 49ers' scheduled free agents appears to be critical for the team's future. Re-signing Takeo Spikes would make sense. Most of the others appear to qualify for the dreaded at-the-right-price distinction, meaning the 49ers will probably take their time in re-signing them, if they re-sign them at all.

What cap space means in NFC West

February, 6, 2009
2/06/09
1:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Marco from Las Cruces writes: I have seen it mentioned before, but do you have any numbers on the NFC West teams and their salary cap space going into next season?

Mike Sando: A month has passed since Marco dropped that question into the NFC West mailbag. The Cardinals' deeper-than-expected run through the NFL playoffs accounted for some of the delay in responding, but mostly I wanted to provide an answer with meaningful context. We are now in position to do that.

  NFLTA: Warner's future
  NFL.com Video
  Veteran QB Kurt Warner talks about whether he'll return to the Cards next season.

The first thing to understand is that an NFL team's salary-cap space usually doesn't reflect how much money the team has to spend in free agency. As counterintuitive as that sounds, it's true -- and that's why "cap space" is overrated in attempting to gauge a team's options.

Think of your personal finances. Having $5,000 in a checking account may or may not mean you can afford that $2,500 plasma television. You might have automatic deductions for a mortgage and car payments looming. You might have a paycheck on the way. You might have all of these transactions to consider, which makes that $5,000 balance meaningless on its own.

Back to the NFC West.

Let's start our salary-cap exercise with the Cardinals.

The latest internal NFL data shows Arizona with about $40 million in salary-cap space three weeks before free agency. That is the highest figure in the league.

But what does that mean?

In theory, the Cardinals could sign Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and their own free agents, including quarterback Kurt Warner, without using that much cap space.

We could deduce as much from considering the 2009 salary-cap charges associated with the highest-paid players at defensive end (Jared Allen, $11.45 million) and defensive tackle (Tommie Harris, $9.1 million) while assuming Warner's new deal might count about $10 million against the cap.

But the reality is much different.

The Cardinals have fewer than 40 players signed for 2009, meaning millions more will vanish when they fill out their roster. Some of that cap space will go toward signing draft choices.

Once the Cardinals account for other cap charges -- incentives from 2008, salary escalators for 2009 and future miscellaneous expenses relating to various reserve lists -- their functional cap space figures to stand between $20 million and $25 million heading into free agency.

Even that figure is a bit optimistic.

Re-signing their own free agents, notably Warner and linebacker Karlos Dansby, could require more than $15 million in cap space.

The Cardinals would still have enough left over to pursue a high-profile free agent, but an aggressive approach to the market could require trade-offs.

With that, we take a comprehensive look at where NFC West teams stand in relation to the salary cap:

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Shane from Tempe writes: My first Cardinals game was their last game of their first season in Arizona in 1988, when they lost to a 3-12 Packers team led by Don Majkowski. I was eight years old. The Cardinals started the season 7-4, but after Neil Lomax's career-ending injury, they lost their last five games to set the tone for 19 of the next 20 years.

I went to four games during Buddy Ryan's first season in Arizona in 1994. They made a playoff run that year but finished 8-8, including a brutal OT loss late in the season to a Bears team led by Steve Walsh.

I went to the Cards' second-to-last game of their 1998 playoff season, when Jake Plummer led the team on a last-minute drive vs. the Kerry Collins-led New Orleans Saints. Chris Jacke's field goal as time ran out gave Arizona the win and put them in position to beat the Chargers in similar fashion the following week to make the playoffs.

I've been to a few games since then, including a couple at UOP Stadium this season ... but I'm sure those won't compare to the game I'll be attending Sunday. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, I'm so excited for this freakin' game.

Mike Sando: You've got two playoff victories in the bank, so you're attending this game from a position of emotional strength. That's a good thing.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Scott Linehan and Rob Chudzinski should be the top two candidates for the 49ers' opening at offensive coordinator. Both are reportedly candidates to interview, although the team called such talk speculative.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the 49ers' running backs after Frank Gore. Is DeShaun Foster a solid No. 2?

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects pass-rusher Travis LaBoy to return from an ankle injury in the divisional round. Receiver Anquan Boldin's status remains uncertain. Boldin missed practice all week. The Cardinals won't have to make a decision until 90 minutes before kickoff Saturday. That means we might not know until 6:45 p.m. ET on game day. If Boldin plays, will he be able to contribute over the course of a full game? That seems unlikely.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the Seahawks plan to interview Raiders special-teams coach Brian Schneider. The Seahawks are also working on a short list of candidates at defensive coordinator. The Browns' Mel Tucker is on that short list. I do not expect Seattle to make a "name" hire at defensive coordinator. The Seahawks will look for a solid coach, but head coach Jim Mora will run the defense. Expect the arrangement to resemble how Mike Holmgren and Gil Haskell handled the offense in recent seasons. Meanwhile, former Lions coach Rod Marinelli remains a potential candidate as Seattle's defensive line coach, but he his visiting with the Texans and appears to be considering his options carefully. Also: Seattle re-signed receiver Billy McMullen to a future contract.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com looks at pros and cons associated with hiring Mike Martz as the Rams' offensive coordinator under Jim Haslett. Haslett wants to establish an identity in the running game. Martz is known for his creativity and aggressiveness in the passing game. Haven't we been down this road before? Retaining Haslett and bringing back Martz would hardly represent a clean break from the Rams' past. But Martz's addition might energize fans who miss his high-flying style of offense.

Around the NFC West: Boldin cautious

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
9:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic checks in with injured Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. As much as Boldin wants to play on a bad hamstring, the receiver also realizes he shouldn't risk further damage to the muscle.

The Arizona Republic says Phoenix-area officials have planned an airport sendoff for the Cardinals as the team heads to Carolina.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will join players in participating in the rally.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' defense knows it must stay focused and disciplined to contain the Panthers' running attack.

More from Urban: Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie knows the Panthers' Steve Smith is a big-play threat at all times.

David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the Bears should make a free-agent push to sign Kurt Warner this offseason. Warner visited the Bears as a free agent in 2005. When I think of cold-weather quarterbacks, Warner does not come to mind.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune catches up with Cardinals tight end Stephen Spach, whose unexpected contributions have helped Arizona this season.

Also from Tulumello: Boldin's tone of voice casts the receiver as a likely long shot to play against the Panthers.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Greg Knapp's version of the West Coast offense features fewer three- and four-receiver personnel groupings.

Nick Rousso of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says most mock drafts have the Seahawks taking receiver Michael Crabtree. Quarterback Matt Stafford and linebacker Aaron Curry also received mention.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times, following up a report from Scout.com, confirms that former Bears receiver Mike Hass signed with the Seahawks. Expect a steady stream of these "future" signings as teams move closer to the 80-man offseason roster limits. Fringe players are becoming available after practice-squad contracts expired this week.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Knapp's offenses have a history of success in the running game.

Also from Williams: Knapp's offense in Seattle might not be so run-oriented.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' coaching search is taking on more urgency after the Browns became the first team to hire a head coach from outside their organization this offseason. General manager Billy Devaney says he hopes to have the Rams' next coach in place by the end of next week.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with interim Rams coach Jim Haslett for a look at the remaining NFC playoff teams.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says new 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman inherits one top-flight rusher (Frank Gore) and a few question marks. Crumpacker: "Backup DeShaun Foster's contract is up and former practice squad member Thomas Clayton is untested. Furthermore, the only real fullback on the roster, Zak Keasey, spent the last nine games of the season on injured reserve."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat addresses perceptions about what Mike Singletary said when talking about building a staff. Singletary said he would let the next coordinator hire the quarterbacks coach. He said nothing of the sort about hiring the next running backs coach.

Also from Maiocco: Rathman is happy to rejoin the 49ers, noting that Singletary "has things headed in a positive direction."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers will wait until after the playoffs before hiring an offensive coordinator.

Also from Barrows: Rathman appears to be an "ideal" fit with the 49ers.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Rathman's interview with Singletary was very much to the point, according to Rathman.

Heitmann points to 49ers' line 'upgrade'

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
10:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Guards David Baas and Chilo Rachal have given the 49ers' offensive line a new look in recent weeks. Center Eric Heitmann feels the difference.

Heitmann to reporters: "I think that we've really jelled as a unit. We've done a lot to really upgrade our positions inside. We're playing better. We're keeping them off Shaun [Hill]. We're opening holes for Frank [Gore] and DeShaun [Foster]. We've got to continue to do that and keep building on what we've done, and keep getting better with these last few games approaching."

The 49ers ran the ball on four of their first six plays against the Dolphins in Week 15. They ran the ball four consecutive times to open their fifth possession. Foster ran for gains of 6, 5 and 6 yards on that drive's first three plays, with Michael Robinson adding a 3-yard run.

The 49ers could be set on the line for 2009 at every position but right tackle. Joe Staley is growing into the role at left tackle. Heitmann is a solid center. Baas seems pretty good at left guard. Rachal is young and should benefit from the experience he is getting.

A coaching change could affect plans, as could opportunities in free agency or the draft. But if the 49ers can find a right tackle, their line could be a strength next season.

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