NFC West: Dick Vermeil

Around the NFC West: Execs weigh in

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
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With a new stadium on the way and a division championship in their possession, the San Francisco 49ers' leadership has fresh opportunities to enjoy the sporting spotlight.

Those opportunities have not been missed this week.

Interviews with CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke have hit the news just as the NFL was announcing five prime-time games for the 49ers in 2012, tied for most in the NFL.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News gathers thoughts from Baalke on parallels between the 49ers and San Jose Sharks, drawing on the relationship between Baalke and the Sharks' leadership. Baalke on Sharks GM Doug Wilson: "Everyone has an individual style; some styles mesh closer with others. I think with Doug and I, there’s a strong mesh. I like how he conducts business. He keeps things very private. We like to keep things really private. He’s not a guy that wants to be the face of the organization, nor am I. We like to do things subtly and behind the scenes and I respect that out of him."

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News offers part three of his interview with York, who has this to say about the technological vision for the new stadium: "It's not putting something in there that's a hardware-driven stadium; you want to make sure it's a software-driven stadium. Smart phones in two years are going to be different than what they are today, the same with tablets. I'm not going to limit what HP, Apple, Google create. I just want to make sure that the experience is enhanced and you can use those devices to the fullest capability and beyond."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers thoughts on the 49ers' schedule, including this one about the Week 17 game against Arizona: "In two games against the 49ers last season, Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb attempted just one pass. He missed one game with an injury and he was knocked from the second game with a concussion after throwing his first pass. Like the 49ers, the Cardinals went after free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning. Failing in that bid, Kolb is back for his second season."

Also from Maiocco: a 49ers offseason scorecard.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee points to the 49ers' game against the New York Giants as a highlight. Barrows: "This could be the best game of the season. The 49ers and Giants are evenly matched and they meet for the third time in a year. Did the Giants target Kyle Williams in the NFC Championship because they knew he had previous concussions? Will the 49ers be avenging that still-painful loss? The fact that San Francisco has added two ex-Giants, including one, Brandon Jacobs, who wasn't always happy with his former team, only adds to the drama."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals should be "pleased" with their 2012 schedule. Somers: "They need to start fast and three of the first four games are at home. They play at New England on Sept. 16, so they won't get clobbered in the snow, as they were in 2008. The game in Green Bay is on Nov. 4, so it would take an unusually early dose of winter to impact the game."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' schedule should help them avoid another slow start. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "The first thing that jumps out at me is something that's been different for me, is a lot of home games at the front end of the schedule. We've talked about trying to carry the momentum we built at the end of last season into next season, and you'd like to think playing at home would give us a better chance to do that."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford for thoughts on the team's new offense. Bradford on having a position coach this year: "I'm glad that we have a quarterbacks coach now. Obviously, with Josh (McDaniels) trying to do both last year, I think it was just a lot for him to handle. Sometimes some of the little things such as drops, footwork, throwing mechanics kind of got put aside as opposed to putting reads and everything in front. ... I think it's going to be great for my development."

Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says defensive line coach Mike Waufle played a role in recruiting free agents to the Rams.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams coach Jeff Fisher as the team holds its minicamp. Burwell: "We've been through this a lot with the Rams, listening to the predictable comments of the players after another coaching change. Every time, it's the same stuff, as the team kept shifting leaders, kept shuffling the deck, kept hiring and firing, kept searching for the man with the magic touch. Fisher is the first one since Dick Vermeil to show up with a résumé that had some head-coaching heft behind it. And that matters to this group of players, who are sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers notes from Rams practice, including this one: "Jason Smith also was back on the field and he appears to be more chiseled and focused than ever. I’ll have more on Smith’s enthusiastic return to the team in a full story for the front page tomorrow but Smith wanted it known that he has used his battles with concussion to really zero in on the important things. To the point where he says the experience has been life changing."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times runs through the Seahawks' schedule, game by game. On the December game at Chicago: "This is the sixth time in seven seasons the Seahawks and Bears will play in the regular season. They've also met twice in the playoffs in that time. This is the third year in a row the Seahawks play at Chicago, Seattle winning there each of the previous two regular-season meetings."

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune says the NFL's schedule rollout stands as the latest example of the league's domination. McGrath: "During the first week in April, fans figured to be savoring a heavenly confluence of sporting events: The NCAA tournament championship game on a Monday, the domestic opening of the Major League Baseball season on a Wednesday, the first round of the Masters golf tournament on a Thursday. And in the Pacific Northwest, what was the most talked-about story that week? The unveiling of the new Seahawks uniforms on a Tuesday."

Jim Harbaugh joins NFC West short list

February, 7, 2012
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One of our blog regulars, joe_cool585, correctly points out an omission from the NFC West blog recently.

Jim Harbaugh's naming as the NFL's top coach, as declared by Associated Press voters, got insufficient play here during Pro Football Hall of Fame fallout Saturday night. Time for every coach's favorite, the makeup call.

Harbaugh becomes the first NFC West coach since realignment in 2002 to earn the AP honor. Harbaugh and former St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil are the only coaches for current NFC West teams to win the award in the last two decades.

Winning the award requires not only faring well, but also faring better than your peers in a given season, sometimes relative to expectations. The chart does not necessarily rank the best jobs head coaches have done for current NFC West franchises since the AP established the award in 1957. This wouldn't be a bad list to work from, however.

The chart's final column shows the difference between winning percentages from the previous season. For example, the 1999 Rams went 13-3, up from 4-12 the previous season. The difference between those winning percentages -- .813 minus .333, basically -- works out to plus .563.

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Chargers' moves should help the Rams

January, 3, 2012
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Coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are returning to the San Diego Chargers in 2012.

That is good for the St. Louis Rams as they pursue a head coach and GM.

San Diego, with a franchise quarterback in place and geography on its side, could have been an alluring alternative for candidates the Rams might be considering. One of those candidates, Jeff Fisher, reportedly has interest in teams with stability at quarterback.

Bernie Miklasz and I were just discussing the Rams and Fisher on 101ESPN St. Louis. Bernie asked what other candidates might appeal. An offensive-minded head coach would help insulate quarterback Sam Bradford from coordinator changes on that side of the ball. That would be one consideration from my standpoint.

And no, I wouldn't expect the Rams to consider former coach Mike Martz, now out as coordinator for the Chicago Bears. The Rams will presumably be looking toward the future, not the past, when making their next big hires (although Dick Vermeil and Marshall Faulk are part of the search process).

Fisher is the opposite of Martz: stable and consistent.

Around the NFC West: On keeping Spags

December, 30, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams have more games played than offensive touchdowns this season. Their record in recent seasons would easily justify sweeping changes to the team's leadership once the regular season ends Sunday.

Any case for staying the course must ignore a 10-37 record over the past three seasons.

It's admittedly a tough sell, but if Steve Spagnuolo is the right man for the job, or if the Rams cannot find anyone better, then they need to keep him — no matter the public fallout.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines a case for coaching continuity. Burwell: "Of all the attributes an NFL head coach should have, the single most important quality he must bring to the job is the ability to convince a room full of Type-A personality football players to follow him over the hill into battle despite the odds. That is a rare quality in the NFL coaching business and to anyone who actually bothers to investigate, Spagnuolo possesses that quality. An NFL locker room might be the most demanding room to work in American sports. In this testosterone-overloaded environment, lack of leadership is easily sniffed out." Noted: Burwell points to Dick Vermeil, who led the Rams to glory after posting 5-11 and 4-12 seasons. That is an interesting comparison. The case against Spagnuolo is simple. Just point to the record. Keeping him in spite of that record would require confident leadership from owner Stan Kroenke. Would it be the right move? That depends upon who Kroenke could get as a replacement.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says a decision on Spagnuolo could be complicated by a long list of mitigating factors.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stands up for Rams running back Steven Jackson.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects Rams receiver Brandon Lloyd to follow offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2012.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes along thoughts from the 49ers' Alex Smith regarding Sam Bradford. Smith: "No one understands that at the quarterback position you rely on so many people just to have a chance to do your job. Just from an outside perspective looking in, obviously he had a really big rookie year. I think he did a lot of good things and then the expectations just continue to rise and a new system, the lockout, all of the injuries the Rams have had this year especially on the offensive side of the ball at the receiver position and offensive line, things like that . . . No one wants to talk about that or hear that. A lot of times so many people just look at your stats and all of that stuff can be deceiving. So for him I still think just continue to work to get better every day. You’re going to get through this."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hopes to have linebacker Patrick Willis back in the lineup Sunday. Noted: Caution would seem advisable, but the message would be unmistakeable if the team did allow Willis to play for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the Rams nearly one month ago.

Also from Barrows: Smith was initially "shocked" to see Braylon Edwards released.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News lays out keys to the 49ers' turnaround this season. One of them: "Instead of using their first-round draft pick on a quarterback, they took Missouri pass-rusher Aldon Smith, whose 14 sacks are one away from a league record for rookies. Cornerback Chris Culliver, running back Kendall Hunter and fullback Bruce Miller all have made key contributions."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Brett Swain could be one of the 49ers' starting receivers Sunday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been at his best in fourth quarters this season. Urban: "In the fourth quarter this season overall, Fitzgerald has 27 catches for 578 yards -- the latter total second in the NFL to the 628 of the Giants’ Victor Cruz -- and no one has more receptions of more than 20 yards in the final quarter than Fitzgerald’s 12. Many of those catches have meant something. It helps that the Cardinals have played in an NFL-most 12 games this season decided by seven points or less, because fourth quarters have mostly been about more than just running out the clock." Noted: John Skelton's improved play in fourth quarters stands out as one obvious factor for Fitzgerald's late-game production. His production earlier in games would be better, in my view, if Skelton had played better in first quarters especially.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says a Week 17 victory would do the Cardinals good.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Beanie Wells proved his toughness by playing through a knee injury this season. Wells: "I missed a few runs and had I been a little bit healthier, I would have been out there full time. But one day, I tell you one day, I'm going to be healthy and I'm going to unleash hell on this league."

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona profiles Cardinals tackle Levi Brown. Morgan: "Brown earned a B.A. in Labor and Industrial Relations from Penn State in three and a half years, then earned a second degree in psychology because he only needed three more psych classes to complete the major, so he figured, 'Why leave it hanging out there when you can finish?' While the rest of the Cardinals were wondering about the future of the NFL this spring, Brown was balancing his workouts with plans for the future."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are prepared to keep Tarvaris Jackson, who remains under contract through the 2012 season. Coach Pete Carroll: "That's where we are. That doesn't mean that we're not going to look at the draft really hard and all of the opportunities. We'll always do that at every position. But (for) T-Jack, understanding what this season has been like for him is really important."

Also from O'Neil: The franchise tag could help the Seahawks get a deal done with Marshawn Lynch. Noted: This should be a relatively straightforward negotiation. The Seahawks need Lynch. Lynch is only 25 years old. The team is in position to pay him.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes that Seattle's Brandon Mebane is racking up the tackles this season.

Also from Farnsworth: Tom Cable's impact on the Seahawks' offensive line.
Ronnie Lott witnessed one of the greatest coaching jobs in NFL history during the Bill Walsh years in San Francisco three decades ago.

The Hall of Famer thinks the 49ers' current coach, Jim Harbaugh, might be doing something more spectacular in leading the team to an 8-1 record against all expectations.

"This might be the greatest coaching that I've ever seen in the history of the game of professional football," Lott told Sirius NFL Radio recently. "It's his first [season as an NFL head coach] and not only is he hitting it out of the park but, man, he's hitting all the notes. Everything that you can think of, he's done."

Lott pointed to the 49ers' ability to play well and win under a first-time NFL head coach following a lockout-shortened offseason. The turnaround from eight consecutive non-winning seasons has been striking. Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Information put together a Harbaugh-related packet with the following key points:
  • Stanford went from 1-11 the year before Harbaugh arrived as head coach to 4-8, 5-7, 8-5 and 12-1 over his four seasons at the university.
  • The 49ers brought back most key players, notably Alex Smith, from a team that went 6-10 last season. Their eight victories this season match the rest of the NFC West combined. The 49ers have a .889 winning percentage, compared to .296 for the rest of the division. They are plus-95 in points. The rest of the NFC West is minus-198. The 49ers have one more road win (four) than the rest of the division combined.
  • Smith is on pace for career bests in yards per attempt (7.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.7).
  • Harbaugh's seven-game winning streak is tied for second longest by a rookie head coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Ted Marchibroda's Colts won nine in a row in 1975. Bobby Ross' Chargers won seven straight in 1992. Chuck Knox's Rams (1973) and Nick Saban's Dolphins (2005) each enjoyed six-game streaks. Corrected info from Elias: Steve Mariucci won 11 in a row during the 1997 season, his first with the 49ers. And Jim Caldwell went 14-0 with the Colts in his first season. Those are the two longest streaks.

This is the best start for a rookie NFC West coach since Mariucci's 49ers opened the 1997 season with an 11-1 record. They finished 13-3.

Mike Martz's St. Louis Rams went 8-2 to open the 2000 season. Mike Holmgren's Seahawks opened the 1999 season with an 8-2 record.

I've put together a chart showing NFC West head coaches' first-year records since 1997, excluding interim coaches.
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Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects Ahmad Brooks to earn a starting job this season. Maiocco: "Brooks, who recorded 11 sacks in the past two seasons combined, has been lining up on the left side with the first-team defense. With his job apparently secure, that leaves competition on the right side between incumbent Parys Haralson and rookie Aldon Smith, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft." Claiming Brooks off waivers from Cincinnati in 2008 stands as one of the better recent waiver claims I can recall in the NFC West. Reports at the time suggested Brooks might back up Patrick Willis at inside linebacker. Brooks has instead become an effective outside pass-rusher. The 49ers were strongly considering taking Brooks in the 2006 supplemental draft, but the Bengals beat them to it.

Also from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers' quarterback situation has evolved.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh as pointing to the following players as having strong camps: Brooks, Willis, Justin Smith, Donte Whitner, Andy Lee, David Akers, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Joe Staley and Chilo Rachal.

Also from Barrows: Tramaine Brock has been the 49ers' most durable cornerback this summer.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat updates the rising and falling stock of various 49ers players.

Also from Cohn: The 49ers' starters will play about as much in the second week of preseason as they did in the first.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News updates Harbaugh's plans for the 49ers' wide receivers. Inman: "There remains an obvious emphasis on downfield blocks that could help spring mainstay running back Frank Gore. But the receivers are learning a new array of routes, including a bevy of slant patterns, once a trademark during the 49ers' days as a Super Bowl-winning dynasty."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the newly signed Josh McCown could get playing time for the 49ers against Oakland.

Also from Crumpacker: Rookie cornerback Chris Culliver has caught the 49ers' attention. Harbaugh: "He really showed good things right from the beginning. I thought he played well the first week [of training camp]. The third week, he has to push through some things to keep that upward trajectory going. The jumps don't get to be as big as they were the first week."

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals first-round draft choice Patrick Peterson faces a tough transition to the NFL as a cornerback, noting that Charles Woodson is the only defensive rookie of the year from the secondary over the past 18 seasons. Boivin: "It's been difficult to evaluate Peterson in this limited time at training camp, but he's certainly caught the team's eye as a returner. He was a standout punt and kick returner in college and showed flashes in the Cardinals' preseason victory against the Oakland Raiders. He returned a kick 29 yards." I expected Peterson to stand out more as a cornerback early in camp.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic contrasts the Cardinals and Packers heading into their preseason game Friday night. Somers: "Unlike the Packers, the Cardinals' two-deep is really a flow chart of the unknown. Their starting two outside linebackers, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, are 34. Starting nose tackle Dan Williams reported to camp in poor condition. The two starting cornerbacks, A.J. Jefferson and Greg Toler, are young and unproven. There is no premier pass rusher and strong safety Adrian Wilson is out with a torn biceps tendon."

Also from Somers: Five things to watch when the Cardinals and Packers play.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com won't be surprised if Jeff King gets a few starts over Todd Heap in single tight end groupings thanks to King's superior blocking.

Also from Urban: advancing the Cardinals-Packers game.

Jim Trotter of SI.com offers thoughts from Cardinals training camp. He expects Larry Fitzgerald to sign a contract extension by Sept. 4

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the Seahawks' secondary came up big on the final day of training camp. Farnsworth: "Wednesday, the defensive line set the tempo in practice. Today, it was the defensive backs. They got their hands on dozen passes -- including interceptions by strong safety Kam Chancellor, rookie cornerback Byron Maxwell and rookie safety Jeron Johnson. But the defensive play of practice was turned in rookie linebacker Malcolm Smith, who bowled over fullback Dorson Boyce on his way to plowing into running back Justin Forsett behind the line of scrimmage."

Also from Farnsworth: The Seahawks felt rushed during camp thanks to the lockout.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tyler Polumbus will start at left tackle for Seattle while Russell Okung continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Also from O'Neil: Zach Miller's prospects at tight end for the Seahawks. Miller has racked up receptions in recent seasons, but blocking duties prevent anyone from saying his hands are soft. Miller: "You have the lineman hands. "The swollen knuckles and the bloody fingers, peeled back nails."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers an injury update for Seattle: "Defensive back Walter Thurmond (ankle), defensive tackle Ryan Sims (knee), defensive end Chris Clemons (ankle), cornerback Kelly Jennings (head), defensive end Pierre Allen (unspecified) and tight end John Carlson (shoulder) did not practice Thursday and likely will not play."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Red Bryant excelled at practice Thursday.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former Rams coach Dick Vermeil for thoughts on the team. Also: "After resting his sore hip for a couple of days, running back Steven Jackson returned to practice today, albeit on a somewhat limited basis."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Donnie Avery made the most of his recent return to practice, leading some teammates to joke that he was back from the dead. Thomas: "Hey, teammates will be teammates. But Avery turned the jeers into cheers later in Wednesday's practice at Rams Park. After diving to the turf to corral a low throw, several teammates shouted encouragement."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along a few Rams-related injury updates. Mike Sims-Walker has a shot at playing Saturday.

Also from Wagoner: a look at increased expectations on defense for the Rams. Wagoner: "From the moment coach Steve Spagnuolo took over in 2009 and promptly named Ken Flajole defensive coordinator, the defense has enjoyed a stability that has included a grand total of zero coaching changes on that side of the staff and minimal turnover in terms of the starters. Now, entering the third year in the aggressive, attacking scheme that Flajole and Spagnuolo have cooked up, the sky would seem to be the limit for a group that made big strides in 2010 and is expecting even more in 2011."

Thoughts, observations from Rams camp

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts and observations on the St. Louis Rams following their training camp practice Thursday:

  • Preseason plan: The starters will play until halftime unless the Saturday night game against Tennessee features an unusually high number of snaps. Coach Steve Spagnuolo thinks the team needs extra work given restrictions on practice time and cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game against Chicago.
  • [+] EnlargeDonnie Avery
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDonnie Avery is expected to be in action for the Rams Saturday night.

  • Receiver alert: The team expects Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) to play against the Titans. Avery in particular has been sharp since returning to practice Wednesday. Quarterback Sam Bradford singled out Avery for making proper route adjustments and operating efficiently within the offense. Avery caught a deep ball down the middle in practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly pleased with Avery's attention to detail on an outside route. Danario Alexander missed a couple chances to make plays on the ball high in the air and well downfield. On one, he fell back and waited for the ball instead of leaping to catch it at a higher point. Something to work on. He's at his best letting his size work to his advantage. Brandon Gibson is enjoying a strong camp and continues to work exclusively with the starters.
  • Legend watch: Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil dropped by practice wearing a golf shirt with a "Vermeil Wines" logo. He mingled with fans watching practice and spoke with the team afterward. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is on the guest list for Friday. He's joining the team's television network.
  • Mikell's impact: Recently signed veteran safety Quintin Mikell has caught Bradford's attention with his quickness on blitzes and ability to disguise intentions in the secondary. The Rams expect both of their safeties to support the run near the line of scrimmage at times. Mikell appealed to the Rams for his toughness, particularly against the run.
  • Jackson's return: Running back Steven Jackson was back on the field after resting a hip injury this week. Bradford reiterated his expectation that Jackson will see his total for receptions increase this season given the nature of McDaniels' offense.
  • Afternoon free: Spagnuolo called off afternoon meetings with an eye toward getting players fresh for the game against Minnesota.
  • Weis payoff: Bradford said his two-day meeting with former McDaniels associate Charlie Weis during the lockout gave him a firmer grasp of the basics heading into camp. Bradford: "Talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like and what his offense was going to be based around really helped me grasp the very basics of it and what we were going to try to do at the beginning of camp."
  • Striking out: Receiver Mardy Gilyard and offensive line coach Steve Loney strung together six or seven strikes in a row during a recent team bowling event. Spagnuolo lamented his inability to beat Bradford. The coach wasn't particularly forthcoming about his score, either. Bradford: "He never really told me his score. I have a feeling I beat him pretty bad."
  • Stuffing the run: Justin Bannan has blown up a couple running plays in the practices I've watched. The free-agent addition from Baltimore has played the nose in 3-4 defenses, but he's not as massive as prototypical noseguards such as Vince Wilfork or the retired Ted Washington. He can swing between nose tackle and traditional 4-3 defensive tackle.
  • Linebacker shuffle: Bryan Kehl continues to work with the starters at weakside linebacker, but recently signed veteran Ben Leber is getting reps there, too. I would expect Leber to take over starting duties as the season progresses. Na'il Diggs continues to work with the starters on the strong side. Brady Poppinga could be a candidate to start there as well.

The Rams will be back on the field Friday for a walk-through session.
CANTON, Ohio -- When was the last time you heard the name Roland Williams?

What about Ernie Conwell or Ricky Proehl?

[+] EnlargeMarshall Faulk
AP Photo/Paul SakumaMarshall Faulk finished his career with more than 19,000 yards from scrimmage and 136 touchdowns.
Even Mike Martz, who is under fire in Chicago, got some love during Marshall Faulk's Hall of Fame speech Saturday night at Fawcette Stadium. Faulk credited many people and former teammates. But the Rams of the late-1990s and early-2000s mostly defined Faulk's career.

Spending most of his career under the tutelage Martz and Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, Faulk (19,154 yards) finished fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

Martz made Faulk into the secret weapon. Martz found ways to get Faulk the ball in the running game, out of the backfield and also lined up as a receiver. Faulk became the new gold standard for all-purpose backs.

"Before Aaron Rodgers threw the ball [39] times in the Super Bowl against a vaunted Steelers defense, and before his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger threw it [40 times]. ... we had Mike Martz," Faulk explained. "The 'Mad Scientist' is what they called him."

Faulk also thanked former Rams stars like Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce. They are among the cogs that made the "Greatest Show on Turf" great and well ahead of its time.

Today most offenses will throw 40 times in a game at some point during the season. But none of those teams have another Marshall Faulk.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Rams -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

Long before Kurt Warner was directing the Greatest Show on Turf, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin were connecting with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Tom Fears for the Los Angeles Rams of the 1950s. They won a championship, too.

The Rams' 1951 title team sustained an 11-year stretch without a losing season. The Rams would remain successful for years under Sid Gillman, George Allen, Chuck Knox and Ray Malavasi, but none of those teams would win a championship.

The biggest trade in franchise history also earned a spot on the ballot. This swap involved owners, not players. The Rams and Colts traded ownership in 1972. Carroll Rosenbloom's death in 1979 left the Rams to his wife, Georgia Frontiere, who would later move the franchise to her native St. Louis. Her passing in 2008 precipitated the team's latest ownership change.

The Rams' 16 seasons in St. Louis have been eventful. Hiring Dick Vermeil, drafting Orlando Pace, acquiring Marshall Faulk and turning to Warner could all earn spots on the ballot. These were among the defining moments as the Rams brought a championship to St. Louis.

The drama associated with quarterback Trent Green's 1999 preseason injury and Mike Jones' Super Bowl tackle conferred special status to those two events. Green's injury was supposed to doom the Rams' season, but Warner intervened. And when Jones brought down Tennessee Titans receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams were champions again.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
Former St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil spent a recent three-day stretch in California with one of his close friends, former assistant Mike White.

[+] EnlargeDick Vermeil
John Rieger/US PresswireFormer NFL coach Dick Vermeil, left, being congratulated by longtime assistant Mike White, says quality assistants impact the product fans see on Sundays.
The occasion: Vermeil's induction into the California Sports Hall of Fame.

"The whole essence of my acceptance was, I am a 'because of' guy," Vermeil said during a recent phone conversation. "Because I've had good coaches, because I've had good players, I'm now in three different state halls of fame. Because of Al Saunders, because of Mike Martz, because of Jim Hanifan, because of Mike White, because of Pete Giunta, because of John Bunting --"

Vermeil reeled off several more former assistants in rapid succession -- too many for me to write down all their names. All played a role in Vermeil's success with UCLA, the Philadelphia Eagles, Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. Some rank among his closest friends.

It is no surprise, then, that Vermeil is lending his name to the cause of assistants during an uncertain time for NFL employees at all levels. He envisions a day when assistants regain some of the ground they've lost even while salaries have risen in recent years.

"I hope somewhere down the road the owners do not create a problem they do not need to create," Vermeil said. "Right now, they are in deep negotiations with the Players Association. Those players are of very little value without coaches coaching them. If the coaches ever really solidified, there would be one more negotiation that they would have to go through to keep things running smoothly."

Right, I thought, but owners would have little trouble finding eager replacements. Hundreds of college coaches would jump at the chance to coach in the NFL, just as many current pro assistants did in years past. And they would likely accept whatever terms NFL teams offered, just as current assistants agreed to clauses that would reduce and/or suspend significant chunks of pay during a lockout.

Vermeil flatly rejected this line of thinking. The fire and intensity he brought to the sideline resonated in his response.

"Yeah, you know something?" he said. "You only have to lose a few good ones on your staff and you are losing your ass and you are still charging the same amount of money for the season ticket. You've got great coaches and some of those guys make a difference. They make a difference in winning and losing. A lot of people in the league have found out it's not easy to replace those guys."

Finding assistants is easy. Finding the best ones can be difficult. It's one reason teams replace them regularly. NFC West teams willfully replaced four coordinators this offseason alone. A fifth, Pat Shurmer, left the Rams to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Other assistants also came and went, as they always do.

Josh McDaniels (St. Louis), Ray Horton (Arizona), Vic Fangio (San Francisco), Tom Cable (Seattle) and Darrell Bevell (Seattle) stand out as the most significant hires to NFC West staffs this offseason.

"These guys to me are the guys that touch the product you put on the field -- more than the head coach, more than the owner, more than the president, more than the general manager, more than the personnel department, more than anybody else," Vermeil said. "I just have always felt the better frame of mind they are in, the better impression and the better communication and the better contact they make with the player that plays on Sunday. Therefore, the better the team plays."
Ethan from Chicago writes: Mike, I am a Rams fan living in Chicago and I am craving good football this year, but I just don't see it for the Lambs. This regime is clueless and will be out of a job after another disaster this year. Last year, Billy Devaney confessed in an interview that even his family members were questioning why there wasn't a viable backup to Steven Jackson. Well, he had all offseason to correct that problem and did NOTHING. Jason Smith may end up being a serviceable tackle, but the No. 2 pick in the draft? BUST! Finally, Ike Bruce coaching the Bears? One of the classiest Rams of all time (and a Hall of Famer) was cast aside by Devaney, Steve Spagnuolo, etc. And where are the playmakers and pass-rushers on this team? Thinking about this upcoming season already has me sick to my stomach.

Mike Sando: Whoa, Ethan, did you move to Chicago with Mike Martz? Are you guys roommates or something? Let's separate fair criticism from understandable (but possibly unfair) ranting. Devaney told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before training camp that the Rams still might add a veteran backup runner before the regular-season opener. They could add a player released from another team, or they could ramp up their pursuit of Brian Westbrook. Also, Steven Jackson is holding up very well so far in training camp, it appears, so the backup position might not be quite as urgent of a concern. Still, if the Rams fail to act and running back becomes a serious problem, your criticism will be fair.

On the Jason Smith front, let's not declare him a bust after one injury-affected season. Let's also evaluate his selection in the context of which other players the Rams could have drafted. Tyson Jackson and Aaron Curry were the next two players selected. Mark Sanchez was taken fifth, but the Rams already had millions in guaranteed money committed to Marc Bulger, so the timing was not ideal. And they wound up getting Sam Bradford the next year. Smith, Jackson, Curry ... they're all promising players still finding their way. None turned around the fortunes of his franchise in one year.

On the Isaac Bruce front, I think he's a better fit for Chicago because the Bears are running the offense he ran during his prime years (and even with the 49ers later). The Rams have reached out to Dick Vermeil. They've showed a willingness to hire prominent former players for the coaching staff when the fit was right (Nolan Cromwell, who has vast experience in West Coast offenses). They've even saluted past Rams teams by hanging banners throughout their facility. I'm not going to trash the Rams for not hiring Bruce as a coaching intern. They did re-sign him and let him retire as a Ram, after all.

You're justified in feeling queasy about the upcoming Rams season. I think it's going to be a rough one. But if Bradford looks the part and some of the younger players around him show meaningful progress, you can at least feel better about the future.


Colton from Friendsville, Pa., writes: Hey Mike, I've been hearing buzz about undrafted rookie Stephen Williams. Before camp, I had never heard his name. Can you tell me something about him?

Mike Sando: Yes, I noticed Williams at Cardinals camp. He's quite tall (6-foot-5) and very rangy (208 pounds). The Cardinals do like what he offers. I think Williams would be an ideal candidate for the practice squad unless he plays well enough as a receiver during the exhibition season to command a roster spot, or unless he shows outstanding talent on special teams.


Levin from parts unknown writes: Sando, I appreciate the great coverage of the NFC West and 49ers in particular. If I may make one request, it would be for some coverage on how the 49ers are doing in the running game. Obviously, Frank Gore is a great back, but what did the blocking look like? Was it much improved and holes actually created, unlike much of last season? Also how are Glen Coffee and Anthony Dixon looking? All the write-ups I see from you and everyone else who gets access to practices tend to concentrate solely on the passing game. That is understandable, since that is the unknown part of the offense and the key to the 49ers' season, but the run game should get some coverage (especially the blocking of the OL). Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Levin. Mike Iupati jumps out right away. He will upgrade their run blocking. Center Eric Heitmann has been missing practice after suffering a stinger injury. Right guard Chilo Rachal missed some time after suffering from dehydration. Anthony Davis is finding his way at right tackle. The running game is very much a work in progress in terms of that line coming together. I appreciate the reminder to focus on it and will take a longer look at Coffee and Dixon over the next couple days (I'll be at 49ers practices Friday and Saturday).


Julian from Oak Harbor, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, love what you've done so far for the Cards' posts over the course of training camp. I know Matt Leinart has question marks, but one thing I didn't see in your articles was anything definitively positive or negative. So I ask, is there anything specific that you noticed that had improved in Matt? Arm strength, accuracy, footwork, timing, field vision, etc.? Anything at all that grabbed your attention? As always Mike, thanks for the hard work and dedication you put into you posts.

Mike Sando: Astute observation, Julian. I came away from my time in Arizona thinking the same thing. Isn't there something more definitive to say about this guy. There was no "wow" factor to the way he ran the offense. Neither was there a feeling he couldn't handle the job. That's what I mean when I say there comes a time when Leinart must play well enough for people to take notice and say, "That's a guy the Cardinals need to lead their offense." We have not seen it yet.


Scott from Germantown, Md., writes: Hi Mike, lifelong Seahawks fan out on the East Coast. Any chance the Seahawks will jump to sign Aaron Schobel now that he's released? It would seem to me that he could work in Pete Carroll's hybrid defensive front as either defensive end, outside linebacker or the Leo position. Any chance of this happening? We're going to need some kind of pass-rush if we're going to win any games.

Mike Sando: The fit does appear perfect. He had 10 sacks for a really bad team last season. He would probably give the Seahawks what they wish they could still be getting from Patrick Kerney. The feeling early, though, is that Schobel might be more likely to land with the Houston Texans. He has a farm near Houston and his family is there. It's still early in the process. Stay tuned.
News of the St. Louis Rams bringing in former coach Dick Vermeil to watch practice and meet with the team stands as the latest example of the new regime opening its arms to significant figures from its past.

This was a touchy subject last season and even earlier this offseason. The Rams have tried to establish a new program with coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney. That means making a clean break from how things were done previously. It doesn't have to mean running away from the past, however, and it's good to see the Rams finding a balance.

Spagnuolo recently decorated the team's facility with banners celebrating various championships won by the team. The team also brought back former Pro Bowl safety Nolan Cromwell to coach their receivers, although that move had more to do with the right fit -- Cromwell has extensive NFL experience in a similar offense -- than paying tribute to the past.

Embracing Vermeil showed Spagnuolo was secure enough with himself -- despite the team's struggles -- to welcome a figure beloved in St. Louis.

"We had a real special team meeting last night," Spagnuolo told reporters at training camp Tuesday. "God bless coach Vermeil. He came in, he watched practice all day yesterday, and he hung around here, talked to people and he addressed the team at the team meeting, which was outstanding. He loved it. I think the players loved it. I loved it, so it worked out really good."

Around the NFC West: Kroenke's bid

August, 3, 2010
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom expects NFL owners to vote on Stan Kroenke's bid during an Aug. 25 meeting. Rosenbloom: "We're optimistic that the transaction will be supported by the owners and the league. Our relationship with Stan has been and continues to be excellent. We're finalizing documents and expect it to be voted on Aug. 25." All signs point to approval for Kroenke, the Rams' current minority owner.

Also from Thomas: Free-agent wide receiver Danario Alexander passed a physical exam with the Rams, but left without a contract. Alexander planned to meet with the Seahawks as well.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says hot conditions are affecting the Rams at training camp. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "I don't think you want to [practice in the heat] all the time. Then you get a weak team and a team coming out of training camp that's just beat up and burnt. We don't want to do that. But it's early right now, so the heat's good … to get the team acclimated to this particular environment. We're going to play some games in some warm weather, especially early in the season."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams camp is different with Sam Bradford onboard. Burwell: "That nothing bad or crazy or weird or goofy or tragic or just plain stupid cropped up at the 11th hour to keep Bradford from reporting on time might not seem like a miracle to anyone who doesn't follow the Rams closely. But to long-suffering Rams loyalists who have spent an eternity hoping for the best but always, always expecting the worst, this was a refreshing change of pace."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Bradford offers a start, but nothing more. Gordon: "Aside from Bradford, running back Steven Jackson and perhaps rookie wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, how many skill position Rams would interest other teams? Their most polished receiver, Laurent Robinson, has just 55 career receptions. He runs crisp routes but can’t stay healthy. Speedy Donnie Avery has 100 catches in two seasons, but he looks more like a No. 3 receiver than a true No. 1. The obscure supporting cast behind these two includes Keenan Burton, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, Brooks Foster and Jordan Kent."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat quotes former Rams coach Dick Vermeil this way on Bradford's new contract: "I wouldn't advise him to turn it down. I think if you give the money to the right kind of people, it doesn't change anything. It adds a sense of responsibility to meet that commitment that the organization has made to him. Obviously they would have invested that kind of money if they didn't feel he was mature enough to handle it, and keep it in the proper perspective. From what everybody says, he is the kind of guy who will want to prove he is worth every dollar.''

Also from Korte: Linebacker James Laurinaitis is more comfortable in his second NFL season.

Best Rams Team Ever: 1999

June, 24, 2010
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Notable players: QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk, WR Isaac Bruce, WR Torry Holt, LT Orlando Pace, WR/PR Az-Zahir Hakim, DE Kevin Carter, DE Grant Wistrom, DT D'Marco Farr, CB Todd Lyght.

[+] EnlargeWarner
Tom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesKurt Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns during the 1999 season.
Analysis: The 1999 St. Louis Rams were tied with the Tennessee Titans in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.

Conventional wisdom called for a clock-killing drive to the winning field goal, but convention didn't appeal to the 1999 Rams. They had shrugged off losing their starting quarterback during the preseason. They had knowingly backed Warner without much evidence to suggest he would succeed. They passed the ball first when tradition called for establishing the run. They pushed the ball downfield when West Coast schemes were favoring shorter timing throws.

And so with the 2-minute warning approaching in a 16-16 game, the Rams went deep to Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown. The aggressiveness came with a price when the Titans, armed with plenty of time, moved within a yard of the tying touchdown. But the Rams won their way -- defiantly and with an offense few teams in NFL history could challenge for pure multidimensional flair.

The only team in Rams history to win a Super Bowl gets my vote for best team in franchise history. The 1951 version also won an NFL title, but that team finished the regular season with an 8-4 record. It played only one postseason game. Chuck Knox's Rams of the early 1970s were very good. John Robinson had some solid Rams teams in the 1980s. The 2001 Rams had a chance to be the best in franchise history, but the 1999 team separated itself by becoming the only Rams team to win a Super Bowl.

Dick Vermeil was coach of the year. Warner was MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Faulk was offensive player of the year.

This was a team of signature players and also signature plays: Most impressive win: For years the Rams had watched the San Francisco 49ers dominate them and the NFC West. That's what made the Rams' Week 5 victory over the 49ers so meaningful that season. Bruce caught four touchdown passes during a 42-20 victory as the Rams improved to 4-0. Fans wanted to believe after a 38-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals a week earlier. The blowout against San Francisco provided validation (no one knew the 49ers would finish with a 4-12 record that season).

Return to sender: Offense wasn't the only way the 1999 Rams found the end zone. Hakim averaged 10.5 yards per punt return with one touchdown. Tony Horne averaged 29.7 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. The Rams scored seven touchdowns on interception returns and one more on a fumble return.

Honorable mention

2001: The Rams rebuilt their defense and made another run to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots kept St. Louis from winning another title and challenging for the title of best team in Rams history.

1973: First-year head coach Chuck Knox turned around the Rams quickly, leading them to a 12-2 record with No. 1 rankings in total offense and total defense. John Hadl tossed 22 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions in his only full season as the Rams' starter.

1951: The Rams won a championship for Los Angeles thanks to Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy Hirsch. Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Dan Towler averaged 6.8 yards per attempt.
A few thoughts on Matt Maiocco's note about the 49ers having to comply with the Rooney Rule before promoting Trent Baalke to general manager:
  • The league understands NFL teams' interests in maintaining continuity. If the 49ers had written into Baalke's contract a clause saying he would succeed Scot McCloughan as GM, Baalke could have moved into the top spot without waiting for the 49ers to consider minority candidates.
  • The 49ers had no reason to write such language into Baalke's deal because they couldn't be sure he would fit as GM if McCloughan stepped down.
  • The 49ers did not have to interview outside candidates when they promoted Mike Singletary as head coach because Singletary fulfilled the Rooney Rule.
  • Baalke seems to have stepped up in relief of McCloughan, making him a logical candidate for the GM job if the team decides to hire one. Now that the draft has passed, the 49ers will presumably reshape the personnel department to some degree (McCloughan's brother, David, is on his way out as college scouting director, Maiocco notes).
  • There's no reason the 49ers couldn't continue with the current arrangement. They haven't publicly committed to an organizational structure. David McCloughan's departure comes as no surprise given his brother's situation. Even if the 49ers do not name a GM, they would seemingly need someone to head up the college side of the personnel department.

On a side note, the Seahawks were able to promote Jim Mora from assistant coach to head coach without considering minority candidates because they had written Mora's eventual ascension into his contract. The Rams operated similarly when they named Mike Martz as Dick Vermeil's eventual successor.

"Look, we don't want anyone to do any end-run around the Rooney Rule," Rooney Rule architect Cyrus Mehri said in 2008, "but if you already had contractual succession planned, and that means in writing, then we don't have a problem with that."

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