NFC West: Dick Curl
With that in mind, would it be wise for the 49ers to draft a second-tier quarterback -- Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, etc. -- in a middle round instead of a first-round guy, and then take a first-round guy next year if it looks like it's not working out?
Mike Sando: I do not think the 49ers, or any team, can make draft decisions based on what might be available to them a year later. The 49ers cannot know how early they will draft in 2012, and they cannot know whether they will like any of the quarterbacks available to them at that time. Jake Locker's shifting stock comes to mind.
Until the 49ers have a legitimate long-term starter, they should draft a quarterback in the first round every time they value one as a first-round selection.
NFL teams tend to draft quarterbacks in the first round more frequently than they take them in the second or third rounds. That helps explain why so many more good ones -- and not-so-good ones -- were first-round choices.
Teams have drafted 143 quarterbacks since 2000. They drafted 28 in the first round, 12 in the second round, 14 in the third round, 12 in the fourth round and 77 in the final three rounds.
Sixteen of the 143 have earned Pro Bowl honors. This includes nine of the 28 first-round choices, but only three of the 38 quarterbacks drafted in the second, third or fourth rounds. None of the 23 fifth-round choices has earned a Pro Bowl berth. Three of 30 sixth-rounders and one of 24 seventh-rounders have earned the honors.
Alex from Spokane writes: Hey Mike, love the blog. I just read an article saying Logan Mankins may become a free agent. If that's the case what do you think the chances are of the Seahawks making a play for him?
Mike Sando: Seahawks general manager John Schneider comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson has never valued guards as much as other teams have valued guards. Thompson has also proven relatively averse to free agency.
That doesn't exclude Seattle from pursuing a player such as Mankins. Schneider has described himself as more apt than Thompson to use free agency. We have already seen Schneider and coach Pete Carroll move aggressively to remake the roster. We have also seen the Seahawks struggle to field a sturdy offensive line. Adding Mankins would finally fill the void left when Steve Hutchinson departed following the 2006 season.
So, in the end, I'm saying there's a chance until we learn otherwise.
Travis from Cave Creek, Ariz., writes: I have been a Rams fan all of my life I am a football freak. Ever since that Week 17 loss to Seattle, I have been pondering the best possible offseason for the Rams.
It starts in free agency by signing Nnamdi Asomugha to help out a Rams secondary that has been allowing way too many big plays. Then we could go sign a big-time wide reciever to help out Sam Bradford. I'm thinking Vincent Jackson or Santonio Holmes, if they indeed become free agents.
Lastly, in the draft, the Rams need to help out Steven Jackson, and I cannot think of a better way to do that than drafting Mark Ingram at No. 14. Mel Kiper has him going to the Dolphins at No. 15, so there is a great chance of him falling to 14.
How plausible is all of this? And if indeed most or all of these things happened, where do you think the Rams would be going into next year?
Mike Sando: The Rams would firm up their status as NFC West favorites if those things fell into place. And that is one thing I love about the offseason; it dares us to dream.
I think it's questionable as to whether one of those things will happen, let alone all three. Oakland showed a willingness to pay huge money to Asomugha a couple years ago. Why wouldn't the Raiders do it again? Al Davis loves cornerbacks. His team has made strides. Asomugha is a terrific player and team-oriented guy. I would think the Raiders would be the favorites to keep Asomugha.
On the receiver front, yes, I could see the Rams making an aggressive play to acquire one of the better free agents at the position. Going that route before the draft would take off the pressure to find a top-tier talent from the college ranks -- always a risky proposition, especially at receiver after first few overall choices.
At running back, I just do not think the Rams will have an easy time justifying using a first-round selection for the position. They have too many needs at other positions. Jackson should be able to get them through the next couple seasons. The team would not, ideally, use a first-round pick for a running back right now.
Howie from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: The Jaguars reportedly denied the Rams permission to interview offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. This struck me as odd. How often does one team deny access to another team's coaches? Isn't that slap in the face to the requesting team? Why would the Jaguars do this? How does Koetter feel about being blocked for possible advancement with another team?
Mike Sando: Teams must allow coaches to interview for head coaching vacancies. In this case, Koetter was already an offensive coordinator. Why should the Jaguars let him interview for a lateral move at the potential expense of their own organization?
My feel from speaking to assistant coaches over the years is that teams regularly deny permission, and that we do not know about it most of the time.
Randy from Peoria, Ariz., writes: Hello Mike. Arizona needs a quality quarterback to assist for the near term (two years), quality on-field personnel at various positions, a quality defensive coordinator, quality offensive coordinators, good draft choices for future development, players who will not demand inordinate income, fans who will not abandon the team while it searches for a way back to the win column, a moneyed partner for a Bidwill family business, new uniforms (my son designed one I'd like to promote) and the need to suspend reality while we hope the previous nine point will be addressed.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals fans I encounter seem relatively unmoved by the success the team enjoyed during its first three seasons under Ken Whisenhunt. They often seem pessimistic, as if conditioned over the years to expect bad fortune to be lurking right behind success. Getting the right quarterback would make some of those other perceived needs seem a lot easier to overcome.
Buddy from Highland, Ill., writes: Hey Mike, I'm just gonna ask a question that's been rollin' through my mind since the Rams announced Josh McDaniels' hiring as offensive coordinator and Dick Curl's retirement as quarterbacks coach. How big of a possibility is it that Kurt Warner can return to St. Louis to replace Curl?
I know it depends on what the coaches want and what's going on in Warner's life, but I think this could be a great hire for the team, and not to mention how much the fans would love it.
Mike Sando: No chance, in my view. Warner doesn't want to trade his new lifestyle for the grind and pressure associated with coaching. McDaniels would have no incentive to hire someone with no coaching experience, no experience in his offense and a profile large enough to overshadow the rest of the staff. Mainly, though, I do not think Warner would want to take his life in that direction, at all.
Also from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt's thoughts on the Cardinals' search for a defensive coordinator. Somers: "Whisenhunt confirmed that he had several conversations with former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim Mora, and an interview was scheduled for this week. Mora, however, pulled out of consideration, telling Whisenhunt he did not want to coach in 2011. Mora is still being paid by the Seahawks. Mora also pulled out of consideration for the coordinator's position with Cleveland and Philadelphia. Whisenhunt has asked for permission to interview assistants from other teams and expects those discussions to take place next week in Mobile, Ala., between Senior Bowl practices."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along this thought from Whisenhunt on possibly losing quarterbacks coach Chris Miller: "He’s an energetic coach who has had a very good career as a player, good career as a high school coach and has done a good job with us coaching the quarterbacks. He has a unique perspective. I admire his desire to have something where he can have an impact on young man’s lives. I don’t want to lose him but I wish him success."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com names Chris Clemons the team's best defensive player for 2010 while passing out awards across multiple categories. Farnsworth: "No one was quite sure what to expect from Clemons after he was acquired in a March trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, because he never had been a full-time player in his previous five NFL seasons -- with three other teams. But Clemons exceeded expectations by delivering a career-high 12 sacks, a team-high 22 QB hits and also finishing first among the D-linemen in tackles (48). Honorable mention to David Hawthorne, who moved to weak-side linebacker and led the team in tackles (105) for the second consecutive season."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has this to say about new Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: "Bevell has more of a Holmgren pedigree, though he never worked for the man. Bevell came to Green Bay in 2000 under Mike Sherman, a Holmgren protégé. In 2006, Bevell went to work in Minnesota under Brad Childress, who coached under Andy Reid — another of Holmgren's direct coaching descendants."
John Morgan of Field Gulls expects big changes for the Seahawks' offense with Bevell and Tom Cable on staff. Morgan: "Which makes the marriage of Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable make a lot of sense. Both want to run the ball, running the ball will be the foundation of the offense, and the pass will work from that. Maybe we should call Bevell a passing game coordinator. Whatever you want to call it, expect Seattle to invest resources into improving the run game and judge its offensive success in 2011 by the performance of that run game."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examines whether Sam Bradford might regress some while learning a new system. Miklasz: "If Bradford can settle into the McDaniels offense for two or three seasons (at least), then he should be able to settle in without calamity. I also think we have to acknowledge another obvious thing: Bradford is a smart guy. He learns quickly. He'd never run the West Coast offense before, and knew nothing about it. But after being expertly prepped by Pat Shurmur and QBs coach Dick Curl, Bradford made a swift acclimation, passing for 3,512 yards, completing 60 percent, and throwing 18 TDs with 15 interceptions. And Bradford achieved this without the benefit of elite receivers."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams are turning heads with the new ways they are operating. Brian Baldinger: "The Rams are in the league now. They were a second-class citizen for a long time. Nobody took them seriously, nobody, and the players knew it. It was really frustrating to be a pro, to be an O.J. Atogwe. You can see this team has life, it has direction."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says this about the 49ers potential hiring of Brad Seely as special-teams coach: "If that's the case, Jim Harbaugh has reeled in one of the top special teams coordinators in the league and one with 22 years of NFL coaching experience. Seely and the Browns won the Morning News' award for the 2009 season, one in which Cleveland finished with the worst offense in the league and the 31st-ranked defense. The special teams unit, led by return man Josh Cribbs, was outstanding and was a big factor in three of the team's five wins that season. Gosselin's rankings for 2010 have not been released."
The 49ers' website offers thoughts from linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Gibson: "Not playing, it kind of reminded me of my redshirt year at Ohio State in the sense that I was sitting back and trying to learn as much as I could. I’ve just worked out hard, stayed in the film room, learned as much as I could from the guys who have been doing it for years, and every day I just tried to get better as the season went on. I think I’m a much better football player now than I was a year ago."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider expects 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to emphasize the running game even though Harbaugh played quarterback in the NFL. Lynch: "Harbaugh, along with new offensive coordinator Greg Roman will also be completely run orientated based on Roman's background and Stanford's recent history. Roman's background has been varied, including a two-year stint in Houston as a quarterbacks coach. Under Roman in 2004, David Carr had his best season, throwing for 3,531 yards and compiling a 83.1 passer rating."
PokerRay (NinerNation): Mike, Jed York was interviewed about 30 minutes ago on our local sports radio station in the Bay Area. "I don't think we've made up our mind on that," York said of the possibility of Alex Smith returning. Basically, the Niners haven't officially cut the cord with Alex Smith. What do you think of Alex Smith coming back under Harbaugh?
Mike Sando: I think teams have nothing to gain from limiting their options. What do the 49ers gain from saying categorically that Alex Smith will not return? What do the Seahawks have to gain by signing Matt Hasselbeck right now as opposed to later? Smart teams keep open their options. I think it's likely the 49ers and Alex Smith will part ways this offseason, but it's premature to say it will happen for sure. Jim Harbaugh is only now settling into the job, evaluating the talent, figuring out what options the team might have and plotting strategy for a potential lockout. I know fans and some reporters want hard-and-fast answers right now, but I see no reason for teams to provide those types of answers when they are still considering their options.
Chris (Broadview Heights, OH): How do you see Arizona addressing their glaring QB need in the offseason? My belief is they need to add a proven veteran AND draft a prospect in the first two rounds as their future QB prospect. But it's Arizona and the Bidwills, so I was wondering what you think will happen.
Mike Sando: They have to sign a veteran. I think that is a given. Write it in stone. They will not go into the 2011 season with John Skelton, Max Hall and another rookie as their quarterbacks. Once they sign a veteran, we'll know how badly they need to draft a player. Signing or acquiring a legitimate veteran starter (or someone they view as such) could make it easier for the Cardinals to avoid drafting a quarterback early. If they draft a quarterback fifth overall, they win the press conference that day because everyone will say they addressed their primary need, but it will not matter long term unless they drafted that quarterback for the right reasons. I do not think it's a slam dunk at all for Arizona to draft one in the first two rounds.
Jae (St. Louis, MO): Do you think there is conflict already with the Rams coaching staff and new hire Josh McDaniels? The QB coach retired a day after McDaniels signed. Is this a coincidence?
Mike Sando: Conflict? No, I would not read it that way. Pat Shurmur took the lead with Sam Bradford. Dick Curl, the quarterbacks coach, was someone Bradford could lean on at times. There would be no place for Curl on a Josh McDaniels staff. I think Curl saw the writing on the wall and decided this was the time to step away. Beats getting let go. Curl is at retirement age anyway.
Nathan (Coralville, IA): Carroll said yesterday that re-signing Hasselbeck would be the team's number one priority in the off season. Do you think that this is the absolute truth, and if so, is it a wise move?
Mike Sando: No, it is not the absolute truth. We should not hold Pete Carroll to the letter of his words when he is answering questions for which there cannot yet be absolute answers. It's an exercise in futility. I think Carroll likes Hasselbeck, and vice versa. The Seahawks would like to have Hasselbeck back next season. But in what capacity? What other options are out there?
By the way, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was holding court Thursday. Kent Somers and Darren Urban have the details. One note from Somers: "Assistant coaches not under contract for 2011 can interview with whomever they want on the second Tuesday after their team's season ends. In the week prior, their current team has to grant permission. It's possible some teams might not grant such permission in order to give themselves a time of exclusivity in negotiations."
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks expect middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu to practice this week after suffering a concussion Saturday.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Matt Hasselbeck, who says Lance Briggs' absence from Seattle's Week 6 victory at Soldier Field was a big deal. Hasselbeck: "He’s huge. He’s arguably one of the best defensive players in the game. I think he’s a great player. Going into that game, we fully expected him to play. He didn’t play, and that was a big deal. So for us to sit back and say, ‘Oh hey, we beat them at their place. We can do it again,’ that would be a dangerous way to feel. Because Lance Briggs did not play in that game. He is a big, big-time difference-maker and a great football player."
Also from Farnsworth: Hasselbeck "abhorred" missing the Week 17 game against St. Louis.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck rescued his Seattle legacy with a four-touchdown performance against the Saints.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' return trip to Chicago carries different circumstances.
Also from Williams: He passes along Brian McIntyre's weekly Seahawks personnel report.
Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest looks at how Pete Carroll has changed since his last stint as an NFL head coach.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals might have no shot at hiring the Steelers' Keith Butler as their defensive coordinator. Somers: "After the 2009 season, Butler turned down an offer to become the Dolphins' defensive coordinator. According to the Post-Gazette, Butler and the Steelers agreed then to contract language that identifies Butler as 'the coordinator in waiting' for when Dick LeBeau decides to retire." The 49ers' Greg Manusky could be a candidate, but he might have options elsewhere, including at San Diego if Ron Rivera leaves, or at Dallas.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Cardinals have not asked for permission to speak with Butler.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com updates the Cardinals' search for a defensive coordinator. Urban: "(Ken) Whisenhunt has not said whether a coach’s background on scheme impacts the hire, although the Steelers do run a 3-4 look like the Cardinals. It also seems unlikely to make a significant scheme change in an offseason that could be drastically shortened or even lost because of labor problems and a lockout."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sees no likely in-house candidates to replace Pat Shurmur if the Rams' offensive coordinator becomes head coach of the Browns. Thomas: "Should Shurmur end up with the Cleveland job, the Rams don't appear to have any logical replacements for the coordinator's job in-house. Assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl hasn't been a coordinator since 1997 with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe. Wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell was an offensive coordinator on the college level, but for just two seasons at Texas A&M. He does, however, have a background in the West Coast system, having been wide receivers coach for Holmgren both in Seattle and Green Bay. Running backs coach Sylvester Croom was offensive coordinator for Detroit, but that was 10 years ago-plus (1997-2000)."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates the 49ers' efforts to hire a coaching staff. Manusky has permission to pursue other jobs. Vic Fangio could have opportunities elsewhere, including at Stanford. Maiocco: "Fangio served as an NFL defensive coordinator for 11 seasons. But Fangio might also be a candidate to replace Harbaugh as Stanford head coach after top candidate Chris Petersen announced he will remain at Boise State." ESPN's John Clayton has mentioned former 49ers assistant Marc Trestman as a person Harbaugh has contacted about possibly becoming offensive coordinator.
Also from Maiocco: a look at how a lockout could affect player personnel for the 49ers. Maiocco: "The only contracts that can be signed before March 3 are extensions. That is, a team can sign a player on its current roster to a new deal. So, the 49ers are allowed to work out contracts with their own scheduled free agents, such as David Baas, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson and others. (Remember, there was no NFL salary cap in 2010, and there are no indications that one will come back in the future.)"
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says it's likely the 49ers would want to retain offensive line coach Mike Solari, running backs coach Tom Rathman and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
The 49ers' website passes along an interview transcript featuring linebacker Keaton Kristick.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat previews a potential national broadcast featuring Harbaugh against his brother.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News links to bios for Harbaugh's coaches at Stanford.
Also from Miklasz: five key areas for the Rams.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jason Smith's concussion symptoms dissipated quickly.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams rank eighth on run defense after finishing no higher than 20th since 2002. Defensive end James Hall on facing Frank Gore: "When you hit him, you feel him. He's a one-cut guy, and he's downhill. He can hurt you. I've got a lot of respect for the guy playing him over the years."
Also from Thomas: Hall and Chris Long have combined to give the Rams a strong pass rush so far.
Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis passes along this quote from Smith regarding Bradford: ""I really have fun with Bradford being our quarterback. He's serious, but he cracks jokes and he knows when to do it. Sometimes everybody gets a little tight, tensed up but he knows when to smile and get us settled down. He's one of those -- it seems like he's been around this thing for a long time. I'm just happy he's on my team. I see why we could never beat OU when he was playing for them because the guy is so poised, so confident. He's a leader. He's standing back there with the ball in his hand directing traffic and leading the offense, which in turn soon one day he'll be leading the team. I'm sure you can ask any older guy, the vets--he doesn't seem like a rookie. He's real, he's just a complete guy."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says players have voted Leon Washington as the Ed Block Courage Award winner for 2010. The award, named for the former longtime trainer of the Baltimore Colts, honors players for their sportsmanship and courage. From edblock.org: "The Ed Block Courage Award recipient symbolizes professionalism, great strength and dedication. He is also a community role model. With this honor, he enters into an association which contrasts his fierce profession by becoming a major component of the Courage House National Support Network for Kids. He becomes an Ambassador of Courage for victims of abuse, violence and neglect." Washington's return from a career-threatening leg injury would have been remarkable even if the running back had merely become a modest contributor. Washington leads the NFL in kickoff return average.
Also from Farnsworth: The Seahawks are happy to welcome back Brandon Mebane.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the NFC West has not had two teams finish above .500 since 2003.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along Brian McIntyre's defensive personnel notes for the Seahawks through eight games. Aaron Curry has played about 68 percent of the defensive snaps.
Also from Williams: Mebane has made a few changes while recovering from a calf injury. Williams: "Mebane said along with rehabilitating his injury, he changed his diet and is drinking more water as a preventive measure to keep him healthy. And although it has been a struggle having to watch from the sideline, Mebane said he looks forward to getting back on the field on Sunday."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up the Seahawks halfway through the season. Coach Pete Carroll: "The feeling is we’re getting some guys back we’ve been waiting for. ... It feels better than it has. There’s a good feeling in the [locker room] that guys are coming back. We’re starting off again; it’s really like we’re starting all over again."
Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle links to Mebane audio.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Beanie Wells thinks he could play more this week even if he misses practice time. Ken Whisenhunt's record says less practice time means less playing time.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals have already given up more sacks than they allowed last season. Kurt Warner's departure explains some of the difference. Warner could get rid of the ball just in time. Whisenhunt: "Teams are playing us with a lot more eight-in-the-box, bringing pressure. I don't think it's as much our linemen getting beat ... that's the way it's characterized. We've made quite a few mental mistakes with our backs in protection and completely missed guys. There was one guy a couple games ago where we had three sacks that were all on the backs -- poor decisions and missing blocks."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks at the Cardinals' knack for scoring on return touchdowns.
Also from Urban: Derek Anderson talks about getting comfortable with the offense. Wells defends himself from criticism.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Bradford and 49ers safety Reggie Smith were college teammates and high school rivals. Bradford admitted that Smith picked him off a couple times in high school.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary was OK with quarterback Troy Smith heading home to Ohio during the team's bye week. Singletary: "Troy Smith was here enough to get what he needed to get. And he's a guy that really works his tail off. He was here last night really late. But that's all of his personal business. But I have no issues with him leaving and going home and taking care of his family and doing the things that he needed to do."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the team has allowed only seven sacks in its past five games, with the offensive line generally doing a good job springing Gore.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith sounded very doubtful for Sunday when reporters spoke with the 49ers quarterback.
Also from Branch: Reggie Smith will play more as the 49ers try to defend deep passes more effectively.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith hasn't won enough games, regardless of whether Smith has good leadership skills.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' quarterback situation this year resembles the Raiders' situation last season. Kawakami: "If Troy Smith plays decently on Sunday -- and by all appearances, he will be the 49ers’ quarterback against St. Louis -- Singletary should get directly to the point: Troy Smith represents more of what Singletary wants in a QB and leader than Alex Smith ever could, so Singletary should just commit to Troy Smith for the rest of the season."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Troy Smith stands as one of the shorter starting quarterbacks in 49ers history. Brown: "According to the team historian Donn Sinn, no one shorter than Smith has started at quarterback for the 49ers since 1969, when George Mira (5-11) was under center — way under center. There have been only a handful of 6-footers over the years, including Billy Kilmer, Jeff Kemp, Tim Rattay -- and now Troy Smith."
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers need to do a better job of defending against the deep pass.
Also from O'Neil: says defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and center tackle Chris Spencer returned to practice for the Seahawks. Mebane has not played in more than a month.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Hasselbeck wasn't the only Seahawks player missing from practice Thursday. Johns: "Their short-handed offense practiced without receivers Mike Williams and Golden Tate and tackles Russell Okung and Tyler Polumbus once again. Additionally, fullback Michael Robinson remained sidelined by a sore hamstring and defensive tackle Colin Cole has already been ruled out this week by coach Pete Carroll with an ankle sprain, though Brandon Mebane did return at least in a limited role Thursday after sitting out three straight weeks with a calf strain."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says it's a good thing for the Seahawks that Hasselbeck won't be subjected to what awaits Seattle's quarterback against the Giants in Week 9. Boling: "The Giants’ destructive defense has knocked five quarterbacks out of games this season. They’ve recorded 24 sacks. Coming out of an Oakland game in which he was sacked eight times and knocked loopy, Hasselbeck does not need to be subjected to the Giants. At this point, the 4-3 Seahawks are in the NFC West Division race, which few would have envisioned at the start of the season. As such, next week’s divisional game against Arizona is more important than Sunday’s game against the Giants."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says right guard Stacy Andrews won't have much time to see his brother, Shawn Andrews, when their teams play one another Sunday at Qwest Field.
Also from Farnsworth: Whitehurst prepares for his first NFL start. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates: "Charlie threw the ball well (in the preseason). He was able to get out of the pocket, do some keepers. I thought he had a successful preseason. He threw a couple picks that you wanted to take back. But he needs experience, and this is a good opportunity to really get in and see what he can do in a regular-season game."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic isn't sure whether Beanie Wells will play for Arizona against the Vikings. According to coach Ken Whisenhunt, Wells suffered an extremely rare allergic reaction to an injection for the running back's surgically repaired knee. Whisenhunt: "Very, very seldom do you have a reaction like he did. So there is really nothing wrong with his knee. It's just about getting the swelling out."
Also from Somers: Clark Haggans appears likely to miss another game for the Cardinals.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Steve Breaston's knee responded favorably to the injection that led to Wells' allergic reaction. Urban: "Whisenhunt himself has used (the drug) to ease knee discomfort. It’s just that Wells’ knee reacted badly. He plans to practice Friday. Whisenhunt said Wells definitely needs some work Friday in order to play Sunday."
Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald's trip back to Minnesota is for business, not pleasure.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examines the relationship between 22-year-old Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and 70-year-old position coach Dick Curl. Curl: "He wants to learn, so he's very willing to listen. This is important to Sam; he's a proud individual. And because of that he spends the time and does what's necessary in order to, down the road, become the player that he wants to be."
The Sports Xchange midseason report on the Rams offers this quote from coach Steve Spagnuolo: "I told the team that they ought to feel good about where they're at, 4-4, especially after being 3-4. We got a long way to go. We got a tough road ahead. We all realize that, and the main focus will be getting some things reassessed, re-evaluated during the bye week. The coaches will do that. We'll do some improvement things on Wednesday, and then the whole focus will be on San Francisco."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com ranks the 49ers 27th in his weekly power rankings.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a 49ers midseason review. White: "Want to find the genesis of a promising season gone terribly wrong? Go back to the offseason, when Mike Singletary crowned the unproven Smith as his one and only option at quarterback -- then watched his unbending decision backfire in a flurry of interceptions, sack-fumbles and game-losing decisions. Only now, with Smith tabled by a dislocated shoulder, is Singletary willing to try a Plan B after refusing all offseason to devise a credible backup plan at the quarterback position." Lending full support to Smith made sense once the team identified him as its starter, but the 49ers' decision to replace Shaun Hill with David Carr was a head-scratcher. Their decision against pursuing another quarterback also appears sketchy.
Ray McDonald of the 49ers reflects on the team's first eight games. McDonald on Justin Smith: "Justin is ballin’ right now. He’s a great player, a Pro Bowl-player, and you know he is going to continue to play well in the second half of the season." Smith has stepped up his game recently, at least from what I've seen.
What's the hardest part of the job?
Two seconds passed.
Two more seconds passed.
"I don't know."
Two more seconds.
Two more seconds.
"I don't know."
Bradford was thinking. Six more seconds passed before I finally said it's probably a good thing when a rookie quarterback can't immediately come up with any significant difficulties associated with the job.
"I mean, it's an awesome job, to be honest," Bradford said. "I don't know how many people are blessed to come to work every day and love what they do."
Bradford finally found the answer. It was worth the wait.
"I think still the hardest thing for me right now is just getting to the point where I am as comfortable with this offense as I was with the offense in college," Bradford said. "It seems like we put in stuff every week that is new that I haven't ran, whereas my last year of college, even the new stuff, I had ran the previous year so I had at least repped it."
Bradford recalled one such play from the Rams' 20-3 victory over Seattle on Sunday. He wouldn't say which one it was, but he said the play turned out poorly (and it wasn't the interception Bradford threw in the end zone, either).
"I am having to really understand what it is to study something and understand what you are doing without running it and then be able to translate that and execute it if that play does get called Sunday," Bradford said.
The Rams made available Bradford for an informal session with a handful of reporters and it was as comfortable as I'd seen him. He wore a red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap, white "Island Surf" T-shirt from Coronado, Calif., silver baggy gym shorts and some Quiksilver flip-flops.
A small band-aid on one knee and a pea-sized scab on his right wrist were the only apparent signs of wear after four regular-season games. Bradford said he's put on 10 to 12 pounds since college and the extra weight is serving him well (although coach Steve Spagnuolo said he cringed when Bradford took a high-low shot during the Oakland game).
Bradford has played so well to this point that when he uncharacteristically missed a few throws Sunday, coaches caught themselves wondering what was wrong when reviewing the game on video Monday. Spagnuolo said he turned to quarterbacks coach Dick Curl when it dawned on them that Bradford was only four games into his rookie season. They were picking nits as though Bradford were a seasoned veteran.
Stats available on ESPN.com from Elias Sports Bureau show Bradford with a 118.1 rating in third-and-long situations. Bradford acknowledged that the offense has benefited from playing three of its first four games at home. He also credited the Rams' defense, which has held the first four opponents to 17 points or fewer.
The overall impression from Bradford is that the NFL in general and game situations in particular aren't too big for him. As Rams guard Adam Goldberg said Sunday, the team thinks of Bradford as its quarterback, not its rookie quarterback.
Bradford thinks of himself that way, too. One example: The NFL's eight-week mandatory program for rookies focused on stress management Monday. The program is well-intended and surely benefits at-risk rookies.
"It's awful," Bradford said, drawing immediate laughter.
Hey, who needs stress management when the hardest part of the job is, um, what was it again?
Jesper: Marc Bulger is better than A.J. Feeley. Sam Bradford is a rookie who has not been described as very pro ready. Verdict: worse.
Jesper: Steven Jackson had more than 350 touches last season. He is coming off back surgery. It's hard to imagine him producing the same numbers, and there has been no attempt to get a decent backup. Verdict: At best the same/possibly worse.
Sando: I see this position as a downgrade for sure simply because it's unrealistic to expect the same production from Jackson following back surgery. This position could turn into a big problem for the Rams if Jackson breaks down physically. However, there's a good chance Jackson will be a productive player this season, based on my conversations with ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell.
Jesper: Laurent Robinson is back from injury, but can we really judge him from seeing him play 2.5 games last year? Can he even stay healthy? Avery's receptions and yardage went down in his second season and he has in no way lived up to his status as the first receiver drafted in 2008. Then you've got a bunch of no-names, and Mardy Gilyard, a rookie (how often do rookie receivers produce?). Verdict: same.
Sando: This group could improve through better health. I agree that some of the guys appear prone to injuries. Brandon Gibson was a player you might have mentioned. Overall, though, it's not a stretch to say this group appears similar to last season. I would expect some improvement, though.
Chris Fiegler (Latham, NY): How do you think that Sam Bradford will do as the quarterback for the St. Louis Rams?
Mike Sando: Bradford seems to have the right overall makeup to weather the storm that awaits. He's going to get beaten up this year and he's going to struggle some. I think he'll hold up mentally. We'll see how well he holds up physically. The key for Bradford is having a strong organization around him. He needs continuity on the staff. He needs the right staff. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took the unusual step of calling for the team to reassign quarterbacks coach Dick Curl. I tend to agree based on what I've heard from a couple NFL quarterbacks who have played under him. The odd thing is that Curl succeeded Terry Shea in Kansas City (indirectly) and St. Louis (directly), yet Shea was the guy Bradford and other quarterbacks have hired to get ready for the draft.
Willie (South Bend): From what I've been reading from the reports from minicamps and OTAs, it seems to me that we are going to have a two new starters at wide receiver. I think Mike Williams will start at flanker and Golden Tate will be the split end. I say this because Mike Williams has the physical size that both Carroll and Jeremy Bates like at flanker, and Golden has the speed to stretch the field. I know it's early, but Mike Williams has been running with the first unit and Golden won't be a real threat if he's only on the field as a situational player. What's your thoughts on this? PS: No, I don't think much of T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Deion Branch and I don't think the coaches do, either.
Mike Sando: Reading about minicamps and OTAs is essential for anyone following teams closely, but the important thing is to read only so much into what you read. Otherwise you might emerge from this offseason thinking Alex Smith is Johnny Unitas, the 49ers will never field a punt successfully, the Cardinals will never attempt another pass and Steven Jackson will be unable to take more than one or two hits. Let's see what Mike Williams and Golden Tate do in August before anointing anyone just yet. Few rookie receivers step in right away and do what Michael Crabtree was able to do last season, or what Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were able to do in Arizona. I do think Seattle will covet size at receiver, and I do think the new leadership will want to go young. I also think Williams and Tate will contribute this season. But I also need to see more.
Brian Staley (Frederick MD): Thanks Mike for the Chats and Blogs. In your opinion what team in the NFC West do you feel has the strongest coaching staff? Some teams made some small changes, while others have cleaned house. Thanks mike.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals get the edge in this category because Ken Whisenhunt has proven it. The Rams' staff has the most to prove: Pat Shurmur, Ken Flajole, even Steve Spagnuolo. For the 49ers, Mike Singletary still has to prove himself over time, and we need to see more from Jimmy Raye too. Pete Carroll has questions to answer. I think Carroll did a nice job putting together a strong staff featuring Alex Gibbs, Ken Norton Jr., Jerry Gray and the potentially up-and-coming Jeremy Bates. I still come back to Arizona with Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, at least for now.
Tully (Irvine, CA): Mike, great blog. I am a longtime 49ers fan. I have heard that Nate Clements is doing some personal training in Arizona. Can you explain what exactly is going on and why he is doing this. He was signed from the Bills a few years backc as an "elite corner" but things haven't panned out that way for him. Thanks.
Mike Sando: Players routinely train in Arizona or elsewhere during the offseason. Teams have put more emphasis on attendance rates at their offseason conditioning programs. I think teams just like keeping close tabs on their players. That's why we have all these minicamps and OTAs spread out through the offseason. Some vets aren't going to play that game. They'll get ready on their own terms. You worry as an organization if that player hasn't been a self-starter. Deuce Lutui's situation in Arizona comes to mind. But with a Nate Clements, you know he's going to report in shape.
He sent along a link to this song parody from joesportsfan.com (also hosted by KFNS radio in St. Louis).
My favorite lyric: "Six years of 'memories' that make you want to hurl. Do we believe in 'Spags' and QB coach Dick Curl?"
There's also a nice reference to Richie Incognito later in the video.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic lists nose tackle and inside linebacker as the Cardinals' top needs heading into the draft. Somers, looking ahead: "Depending upon the outcome of labor negotiations, the Cardinals could have a number of starters become unrestricted free agents after the season, including guards Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui, center Lyle Sendlein, receiver Steve Breaston and cornerback Bryant McFadden."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals generally do not value offensive linemen in the early rounds, making Levi Brown an exception. General manager Rod Graves: "Personally, I’d rather stay away from drafting offensive linemen in the first round … [unless] you have an exceptional guy you do, like left tackles, who are rare. Beyond that, you can look across the league and find starters who are middle- to-late round types. If you have an excellent offensive line coach, which we have, a good system, which we have, and if you’ve got kids who are tough and smart and decent athletic ability, you have a chance to mold those guys."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times profiles Tacoma high school teacher Rob Rang, better known to NFL fans in general and Seahawks fans in particular for the work he does as a draft analyst. O'Neil: "Of the first 32 players picked last year, Rang accurately predicted 28 of them would be chosen in the first round. That doesn't mean he forecast exactly where they would be picked, but it shows how accurate he is in gauging talent."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks will take an offensive tackle and a safety in the first two rounds. Johns: "That's why I see Seattle snapping up Tennessee standout Eric Berry if he's still available at the No. 6 position Thursday, given he's not only regarded as one of the best players available, he fills a huge need. But as every Seahawks fan knows all too well, offensive tackle is also a gaping trouble-spot. Ray Willis, who started at right tackle last year, was working at left tackle in minicamp as the new regime flip-flopped Sean Locklear to the right side. But Willis clearly is more of a placeholder than a long-term solution there."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Rang for defensive backs who could fit with Seattle. Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett gets mention as a candidate in the second round.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams sent offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl to watch Sam Bradford's latest workout. Bradford: "It was a little bit different. They come in and obviously they want to go through some of their reads, and some of the footwork’s a little bit different. Some of this stuff is similar but some of the things I’ve never done before. But I felt like it went good. I felt like I adjusted fairly quickly and picked up some of the things they were wanting me to do."
Also from Thomas: The Rams are not concerned about having the first overall choice signed before the draft. Executive vice president Kevin Demoff: "I don't think it's important to have the first pick signed before the draft. That doesn't mean it's not worth trying. And it doesn't mean we haven't talked to people -- all four candidates -- about the numbers they would want as the first pick. But it's not a priority for us to have the deal done before the draft. There's still three months essentially before the start of training camp to get a person under contract. We want to make sure we spend our time, and make the right deal for the Rams and a fair deal for the player."
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams' experiences in the 2006 draft show why teams should value character in prospects. That was the year St. Louis drafted Claude Wroten with the 68th overall choice despite known issues with marijuana.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee gives nose tackle Dan Williams and guard Mike Iupati to the 49ers in his latest mock draft. Barrows on Williams: "He may only be a backup this year, but the 49ers find someone who can protect their prized possession, Patrick Willis, over the long haul." The 49ers liked Aubrayo Franklin enough to name him their franchise player, but would they sign him for the long term? Not if his performance tailed off this season, and probably not if they drafted Williams to fill the role.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are hoping to land at least four eventual starters in the draft. Maiocco: "Because this is considered a deep draft, Baalke said there might be an opportunity for the 49ers to select a player in the fourth round that the club has valued as a second- or third-round pick."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News expects the 49ers to draft Jimmy Clausen if the Notre Dame quarterback remains available at No. 13.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says most trade rumors involving the Rams have been off-base. Thomas: "Of all the (mostly) ridiculous trade rumors involving the Rams this offseason, the only one that I haven't heard (general manager Billy) Devaney deny was the (Adam) Carriker-to-Washington rumor. But I don't think Carriker would fetch much in a trade -- after all, he didn't play at all last season and is coming off shoulder surgery. As for the second-round pick, I think the Rams will get some calls on the pick, since teams will have an entire day to think about it and readjust their boards."
Also from Thomas: Leonard Little doesn't have much going; no surprise with the draft so near. Also, the Rams' long-anticipated signing of Na'il Diggs is all but done.
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says it's unclear whether Diggs will play weak or strong side.
John Niyo of the Detroit News quotes former Seahawks guard Rob Sims as saying Detroit is more of a football town than Seattle. Sims, who played at Ohio State: "This is a football town. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit. I mean, that's football. Football and cars. This is more of what I'm accustomed to. Out there (in Seattle), the stars are Bill Gates and Paul Allen and the people that run Boeing. This here is what being in the NFL is supposed to be about, (standing) up here at the mic talking to reporters and stuff. In Seattle, it's not like that. It's drinking coffee, sittin' down and chit-chatting. This is a change, but it's a change that I've been looking forward to." Sims surely felt unwanted in Seattle and it had to mystify him. His comments were probably made out of frustration. The comment about the NFL being about standing at microphones and talking to reporters? Hmmmm. We already knew Seattle's line coach, Alex Gibbs, didn't think Sims fit into his zone-blocking scheme. Gibbs is also media-averse, and his linemen in Denver were known for refusing to speak with reporters.
Brian McIntyre of scout.com says the Seahawks want their tight ends to threaten defenses in the passing game, one reason John Owens' release should not come as a surprise.
John Morgan of Field Gulls takes inventory at receiver for Seattle, concluding the position is one of significant need.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with new Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who reported for work Monday. Somers: "Feely's contract with the Cardinals is worth $3.5 million, including a $500,000 roster bonus and a $1 million salary this year. In 2011, he is due to make $1.75 million with a $250,000 bonus for attending off-season workouts." Also: Matt Ware's re-signing is official.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says cornerback Michael Adams is helping teammates get acclimated to the offseason program, a role former teammate Ralph Brown often played. Adams: "Ralph always would explain why were doing it. If I can learn something from Ralph, someone can learn something from me, that person can teach someone else, it’s an ongoing cycle and we keep getting pretty good players."
Also from Urban: New Cardinals linebacker Paris Lenon comes from a line of Paris Lenons. His grandfather, father and son share the name. Urban: "The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder fit best when he played his first four seasons in Green Bay (his past four seasons were with the Lions for three before going to the Rams in 2009)."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers will select Anthony Davis at No. 13 if the offensive tackle remains available. Also: "As for (Donovan) McNabb, many writers and NFL observers wondered why the 49ers never entered the No. 5 sweepstakes. I think the overarching reason is that the Alex Smith experiment is five years in the making and, by golly, they're going to see it to the end. To state right now that they made a colossal mistake would be folly. But with Smith entering the final year of his contract, we ought to know the answer by January."
Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to build a stadium in Santa Clara. One of the affected parties could renew concerns.
Separating substance from smoke can be impossible this time of year as teams try to mask their intentions and build trade markets. But these possibilities are worth analyzing.
The Rams had more needs than draft choices a year ago. That remains the case in 2010. The more picks they can amass, the better off they could be, unless picking first overall puts them in position to select a player dramatically more valuable than the one St. Louis might find a bit later.
Either way, the Rams probably need to sign a veteran quarterback. Marc Bulger's salary jumps to $8.5 million and his time in St. Louis appears about finished.
Acquiring Michael Vick from the Eagles via trade could be one option. Recent reports have suggested the Eagles might hold onto Vick until the exhibition season because this could maximize his value. I think Vick would be much more valuable to the Rams if they could get him into their offseason program as soon as possible.
Chad Pennington could be another attractive option. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The Rams' quarterbacks coach, Dick Curl, spent a few seasons with Pennington when both were with the Jets. I'm not sure how many other teams will pursue Pennington this offseason, but the Rams might be able to offer him something he could have a harder time finding elsewhere: a starting job.
It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.
In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.
I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.
The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).
The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams sound pleased with Marc Bulger's work through the first several days of training camp. A coach can easily speak in generalities to avoid answering a question directly. Steve Spagnuolo latched onto specifics when reporters in St. Louis asked him about Bulger's accuracy.
Spagnuolo: Steady. You hit the nail on the head. Accuracy. He is a very accurate quarterback. A couple throws the other day, I'm not sure how many other quarterbacks could have made those throws. If he keeps doing that and stays steady and [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] and [assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach] Dick [Curl] keep working with him, he'll be OK.
I think that's true if the protection is also there. The Bulger debate is a hot one among Rams fans, and I see both sides. Bulger doesn't always effectively convey the idea that he's the man, he's in charge and he's leading the team or offense. Those things are hard to convey when an organization -- and the offensive line -- is crumbling around you, as the case has been in recent seasons.
Kurt Warner took a beating late in his Rams career, and he was able to rebound. The reality for Bulger is that he might have only this season to show he's the right man for the position in St. Louis.