NFC West: Ed Donatell
There's a comfortable feel to Arians even with a large photo of a serious looking Bear Bryant perched over Arians' shoulder all the while. A former player's father gave the photo to Arians years ago. Arians worked on Bryant's staff at Alabama during the 1981 and 1982 seasons.
"The one thing Coach Bryant left me with when I went away to be a head coach at 30 was [to] coach them hard and hug them later," Arians says on the video. "I've never forgotten that. We like to be up-tempo at practice, coach them extremely hard and then [have] a great relationship. We want the players to want to be around the coaches, and vice versa. That is something that is extremely important to me."
Arians provides a quick overview of his new coaching staff, pointing out connections among them. His offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, came to the Cardinals after the Indianapolis Colts allowed Goodwin out of his contract. Teams regularly block such moves.
Last offseason, the Cardinals prevented their quarterbacks coach at the time, John McNulty, from interviewing to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator. That was bad for McNulty, who remained saddled with a rough quarterback situation in Arizona -- one that would get worse through injuries. McNulty is now the Bucs' quarterbacks coach.
More recently, the San Francisco 49ers reportedly prevented secondary coach Ed Donatell from interviewing with the New Orleans Saints (Donatell has defended the system that prevented him from seeking a promotion).
Back to the Cardinals. Arians seems to have secured the coaching staff he wanted to assemble, for the most part. That can be tough to accomplish for a coach hired relatively late in the process. At the very least, Arians has put together a staff featuring coaches he knows well from working with many of them in the past.
1. Signing Perrish Cox. The 25-year-old corner had not played since 2010, his rookie season with Denver. The 49ers' secondary coach, Ed Donatell, was with the Broncos at that time. His feel for Cox smoothed the way for San Francisco to add the cornerback this offseason. Cox competed well enough during minicamps to serve notice that he could be a factor in the secondary. That has continued during training camp. Cox has contributed on special teams as well. This storyline remains alive.
2. Moving Boone to right guard. Initial expectations were for Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore to compete for the vacant starting job at right guard. Well, Boone appears to have won the competition decisively. Kilgore projects as a backup center now. Leonard Davis, signed this summer, provides veteran insurance for Boone. So far, though, the 49ers appear happy with what Boone is offering them. Boone is taller than the typical guard. He's working on staying low. Boone's tenacious demeanor seems to mesh well with tackle Anthony Davis on the right side.
3. Positional shuffling. Will Tukuafu, Michael Wilhoite, Cory Nelms, Ben Hannula and Demarcus Dobbs were among those singled out in the previous item for their ability to play more than one position. The 49ers were seeking the kind of roster flexibility teams covet. Dobbs stands out as the big success story to this point. He's playing defensive line and tight end, with encouraging results. As coach Jim Harbaugh said recently, "We still don't know what that ceiling is yet. So, I don’t think that ceiling is in site for Demarcus." It looks like Dobbs could emerge as the third tight end, especially with an injury removing Nate Byham from the equation.
The San Francisco 49ers hope they won't need McBath that much in 2012, but with starting safety Dashon Goldson unsigned and training camp approaching, adding McBath for insurance made sense Monday.
The 49ers announced McBath's signing. McBath's familiarity with Donatell, the 49ers' second-year secondary coach, enhanced the potential for a quick assimilation.
The 26-year-old McBath, a second-round choice in 2009 and a former cornerback at Texas Tech, appeared in one game for Jacksonville last season, participating in one defensive snap. He played extensively on special teams as a rookie and showed promise on defense, only to suffer a broken arm against Indianapolis (after picking off off Peyton Manning).
Goldson has every reason to report in time for the regular season and probably sooner. Rules for franchise players prevent him from signing anything other than the one-year, $6.2 million offer San Francisco made to him to retain his rights. In the meantime, McBath gives the 49ers more manpower for practice and someone familiar to Donatell.
McBath might not stick around long, in other words.
The signing does appear to carry at least some potential. McBath was a second-round choice, so he obviously has some talent. The injury he suffered with Denver set him back (an arm injury sidelined McBath in college as well, back in 2005). Turmoil in Denver surely worked against him as well. That combination -- injury and franchise instability -- can be difficult even for veterans to overcome.
An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:
Quarterback: Kevin Kolb versus John Skelton.
The Cardinals have grown accustomed to quarterback competitions. This one has no clear leader heading toward training camp.
The pressure is squarely on Kolb to justify the Cardinals' investment in him. He's had time to get healthy and learn the offense. Kolb should be more confident and relaxed as a result. But he has yet to take charge of the team and command the respect that only comes through performance. He'll have an extended opportunity this summer thanks to an exhibition schedule featuring five games, one more than usual.
Kolb now has 16 career starts. Skelton has 11. Neither has been consistent, but the team won more frequently with Skelton last season.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Left guard: Rokevious Watkins versus Bryan Mattison.
The Rams are counting on offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to coach up the position at right tackle and left guard in particular.
Watkins is a rookie fifth-round choice with college experience at both guard and both tackle spots. He's listed at 338 pounds and has weighed considerably more, but the scouting reports question his strength. Mattison started four games for the Rams last season after two seasons in Baltimore as a backup. I've wondered whether Quinn Ojinnaka might project as the starter here, but he's more apt to play tackle. Barry Richardson could be a consideration, as well.
Whatever the case, the Rams will likely be counting on an inexperienced left guard to help protect Sam Bradford and clear running lanes for Steven Jackson. It's important someone rises to the occasion.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Nickel corner: Chris Culliver versus Perrish Cox.
The 49ers easily could have handed the job to Culliver after the 2011 third-round choice played better than 40 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Adding Cox creates competition and improves depth at a position that has become increasingly important as offenses more use additional wide receivers.
Cox started nine games for Denver in 2010 as a rookie fifth-round pick from Oklahoma State. He missed last season amid sexual-assault accusations, then signed with the 49ers following his acquittal this offseason. Cox played for 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell in Denver, so the 49ers should have a good idea what he can offer.
Culliver seemed to fade some late in the season, no surprise for a rookie making a significant jump without the benefit of a regular offseason. He figures into the 49ers' plans no matter what, but will Cox siphon off some of his playing time?
Quarterback: Tarvaris Jackson versus Matt Flynn versus Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks face a dilemma. Flynn, Wilson and Josh Portis are the quarterbacks they would ideally keep for the long term, but Jackson is the only one with meaningful experience. Jackson is the only one they know for sure they could trust to keep the team competitive right now.
Flynn and Wilson will earn roster spots. Jackson could win one, too. He could even start, but so could Flynn or Wilson. Wilson made a spectacular first impression during organized team activities and minicamp practices. His natural leadership ability and drive showed up repeatedly in how he commanded the huddle and the way he kept pressing coaches for additional information on the offense.
While it's natural to assume Flynn will emerge as the starter based on his salary and Wilson's inexperience, the Seahawks' excitement for Wilson has been palpable at every turn. This should be a fascinating battle once training camp begins.
1. Signing Perrish Cox. The 49ers have been looking to upgrade their depth at cornerback. Cox became available on the relative cheap -- for about $1 million over two years -- after his acquittal on sexual assault charges. Cox, a fifth-round choice for Denver in 2010, played for current 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell when both were with the Broncos. Coach Jim Harbaugh praised Cox's performance in offseason workouts, suggesting the 25-year-old defensive back would help on special teams and in the secondary. Cox started nine games in 2010. His legal problems kept him off the field in 2011.
2. Moving Boone to right guard. The 49ers were weak at right guard last season, bouncing from Chilo Rachal to Adam Snyder. They passed on options available to them in free agency. It's now looking like tackle Alex Boone projects as the starter for Week 1. Boone is arguably one of the five best offensive linemen on the team. Finding a way to get him on the field would make sense in that context. And with Boone at guard, the team can more easily groom Daniel Kilgore to eventually succeed Jonathan Goodwin at center. Kilgore previously projected more at right guard. Moving Boone also buys time for fourth-round choice Joe Looney to recover from foot surgery. Looney appears similar to O'Brien Schofield (Arizona) and Walter Thurmond (Seattle). Injuries made all three available later in the draft.
3. Positional shuffling. The 49ers will again be looking to keep some position players almost exclusively for special teams. Rock Cartwright is one candidate after the team lost Blake Costanzo in free agency. Tavares Gooden and Colin Jones were others last season. Making room for such players can require roster flexibility. Partially to that end, the 49ers are trying multiple players at more than one position. Defensive lineman Will Tukuafu and linebacker Michael Wilhoite have worked at fullback. Cornerback Cory Nelms and safety Ben Hannula have worked at receiver. Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs has played tight end.
- The Rams are not listing suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on their staff. They did not mention him in the news release. They did not list a defensive coordinator. Coach Jeff Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis will presumably take the lead. Secondary coach Chuck Cecil has also been a coordinator.
- Williams' son, Blake, coaches the Rams' linebackers.
- The Cardinals have 3-4 fewer assistants than the other teams in the division. I've noticed that to be the case in recent seasons. Staff sizes can vary. Arizona has one more than the NFL listed for New England heading into the most recent Super Bowl.
- Every team in the division has an assistant head coach. Two serve as offensive line coaches. Another coaches special teams. Assistant head coaches might earn more money than they otherwise would, but the title does not distinguish them from other assistants in relation to hiring protocol. The title affords no additional protections against losing an assistant to another team, in other words.
- Paul Boudreau is the Rams' offensive line coach. His son, also named Paul, is assistant special teams coach. They are not Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., however. It's not yet clear how the Rams intend to differentiate between the two. Middle initials?
- Niners offensive assistant Michael Christianson is also coordinator of football technology.
The chart lists full-time assistants, not interns or administrative assistants. Strength-and-conditioning coaches aren't involved in football strategy, but I have listed them.
Perrish Cox, recently acquitted in a sexual assault case, played for 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell in Denver. Cox started nine games for the Broncos as a rookie in 2010. He missed the 2011 season while the court case played out.
The 49ers, who announced Cox's signing to a two-year deal, can use young depth in their secondary with Carlos Rogers about to hit free agency.
Donatell's connection gives them first-hand knowledge of Cox and the character concerns associated with him dating to Cox's career at Oklahoma State. Signing Cox to a modest two-year contract gives the 49ers an opportunity to evaluate him without financial risk. And if Cox runs into trouble again, the team can release him.
The details of the sexual assault case reflect negatively on Cox even in the absence of a conviction. Cox said he emerged from the experience with humility.
"I don't blame nobody but myself," he said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. "I take full responsibility for my actions."
The attorney for Cox's accuser maintained after the trial that Cox was guilty and lied about his actions. Cox, speaking Tuesday, said he "just wants everyone involved in it to go on with their lives."
Cox also said he would avoid putting himself in compromising positions.
"From here on out, I will show it," he said.
Back in 2010, when Cox was entering the draft, Scouts Inc. analysts Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl noted that Cox's stock had suffered following a curfew-related suspension. Their report specifically raised concerns about Cox and tackle Anthony Davis, a player the 49ers coincidentally drafted in the first round that year.
Cox was a fifth-round pick in Denver.
The 49ers' announced Tim Ryan's addition to their preseason TV broadcast team. Ryan has worked 12 of the 49ers' last 48 regular-season games for Fox. He grew up in San Jose, lives there currently and played with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when both were with the Chicago Bears. Ryan: "I grew up loving the 49ers."
Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a primer on new 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Ostler: "Kaepernick is adopted. First Rick and Teresa had a son, Kyle, now 33. They had two more sons who died in early infancy because of heart defects. Doctors told the Kaepernicks, 'No more.' Too late; Teresa was pregnant and had a healthy daughter, Devon, now 29. But there was a void left by the two sons who died, so six years later, the Kaepernicks adopted Colin."
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Kaepernick could play as a rookie even though he's unlikely to start.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Packers receiver Greg Jennings joined Cardinals players at the workouts Larry Fitzgerald has organized. Meanwhile, Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein laments the absence of organized team activities this offseason. Sendlein: "No matter what, the team is different every year. Minicamps and OTAs (organized team activities) are when you really build together as a team. Thankfully, some of us are still out here, building on that."
Also from Somers: Thoughts on Alan Faneca's retirement following one season with the Cardinals. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "He summed it up exactly right when he said going into camp that he wasn't going to be the player he was six years ago, but he was good enough. He played at a level that we thought was still very good. ... He was a powerful man, a big man for a guard. But the thing that was most impressive was his ability to think on the move and make assessments in a situation where it happens so fast. He had such a great feel for the game."
More from Somers: Faneca's retirement was no surprise, but the Cardinals do not have young players on the roster to replace him.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Faneca's leadership and toughness set him apart. Urban: "For the time being, veteran Rex Hadnot would figure to plug into Faneca’s left guard spot, although with so much left to be sorted in the offseason, depth charts don’t mean much right now. Fellow 2010 interior starters, center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui, also have contracts that are expiring."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Pete Carroll and Mike Holmgren are the only Seahawks coaches to win a division title in their first season with the team. Holmgren and Chuck Knox were the only ones with winning records during their first seasons.
Also from Farnsworth: a look back at Carroll's first season with Seattle.
More from Farnsworth: Carroll's recent speech to Associated Press Sports Editors.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there was "no malice" intended when Chester Pitts and Raheem Brock put together a video mocking commissioner Roger Goodell. I'm sure players would feel the same way if Goodell put together a video mocking them.
Also from O'Neil: a more expansive look at the video from Pitts and Brock. Pitts' impersonation of Barack Obama was spot-on, by the way.
Michael Lombardi of NFL.com suggests Darren Sproles as a possible free-agent target for the Rams as the team searches for a backup running back. Lombardi: "Sproles would be to the Rams what Danny Woodhead has been to the Patriots. He would allow Sam Bradford to have an effective check-down option, is a great screen runner, and his talents would force teams to defend the middle of the field, thus taking pressure off the outside receivers. Think of St. Louis being like the 2010 New England offense. With new Rams tight end Lance Kendricks being like Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, Danny Amendola being similar and as effective as Wes Welker, and Sproles being Woodhead, the Rams would be explosive. One third-down back, and the Rams are on their way to being a top-five scoring offense."
David Kvidahl of stlhighschoolsports.com says former Rams assistant strength and conditioning coach Chuck Faucette has taken a job as head coach at the high school level.
That should give the 49ers a better feel for McDaniels' scheme and play calling when they face the Rams in 2011.
Donatell, 53, was previously defensive coordinator for the University of Washington (2008), Atlanta Falcons (2004-2006) and Green Bay Packers (2000-2003). He was a defensive assistant with the New York Jets in 2007.
Donatell was the Jets' secondary coach when Seattle's Pete Carroll was defensive coordinator (1990-1993) and head coach (1994). He coached at the University of Idaho in the late 1980s when Tom Cable, the Seahawks' new offensive line coach, was a graduate assistant there.
The 49ers also announced Geep Chryst's hiring as quarterbacks coach, Jim Leavitt's hiring as linebackers coach and Mark Uyeyama's promotion to head coach for strength and conditioning.
Chryst was quarterbacks coach for San Diego when new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was finishing his career there a decade ago. Chryst spent the last five seasons coaching tight ends and serving as offensive quality control coach under John Fox in Carolina.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch passes along comments from McDaniels regarding Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. McDaniels on Bradford: "I'm looking forward certainly to working with everybody there. Sam's an extremely talented player. He's a very accurate guy. Does a lot of things in the pocket well. Does things out of the pocket well. We'll hope to take the things that he did well this year and try to build on 'em as he goes into his second year."
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Jeremy Bates' firing as offensive coordinator kicked off what figures to be an offseason filled with surprises for the Seahawks. Kelley: "There is a disconnect between Pete Carroll's unvarnished postgame optimism following Sunday's smack-in-the-face at Chicago, and his actions the next day. Words won't fix the Seahawks. This building project Carroll inherited is going to take even more time than he thought. This offseason begins without an offensive coordinator, without a quarterback and with questions about players like right tackle Sean Locklear and center Chris Spencer."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on why Bates was let go. Williams, after covering on-field struggles: "A more likely scenario for Bates moving on is his gruff personality not jibing with the culture Carroll wants to create in Seattle. Carroll is looking for a fresh perspective and a coach more willing to champion his offensive philosophy of balance and a physical run game." Williams also notes that former Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable found a "soft landing" in Seattle as the team's offensive line coach. Cable grew up in the Northwest and went to Snohomish High School.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat outlines complaints from Raiders owner Al Davis regarding the Seahawks' new offensive line coach. According to Davis, two women raised abuse allegations against Cable during the 2009 season. According to Davis, Cable would fly in women to be with him on the road before games. Cohn: "I’d like to pause here and let out a rip-roaring, 'Yippee!!!!!!!!!!' I drove to Alameda for the usual boring new coach intro and now I was into hotel sex -- I certainly don’t approve of the alleged abuse -- and I was into a steamy secret girlfriend hiding in the room and Cable flagrantly breaking the Raiders’ co-habitation clause. I also was into scandal. I mean, sportswriting never gets any better than this. Never." Davis makes harsh accusations, delivered with obvious malice. Cable will surely face additional questions about the matters.
John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks Green Bay's Joe Philbin and Houston's Rick Dennison could make sense as replacements for Bates given their coaching backgrounds. Hiring Cable as offensive line coach before hiring a coordinator makes it more important, in theory, for the team to find a coordinator with specific philosophical traits.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates 49ers coaching moves. Maiocco: "Ed Donatell, who spent last season as Denver Broncos secondary coach, will coach 49ers defensive backs, new Raiders coach Hue Jackson confirmed at his press conference Tuesday. Also, USC passing game coordinator and receivers coach John Morton has left USC to join Jim Harbaugh's coaching staff, said USC coach Lane Kiffin." Harbaugh is adding some experienced coaches to the defensive side. Vic Fangio and Donatell have been defensive coordinators in the NFL.
Also from Maiocco: a review of the 2010 49ers, beginning with a look at the defensive line. Maiocco: "In a 3-4 scheme, these guys do the dirty work. The 49ers ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The opposition averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers were better."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for a look at quarterbacks the 49ers might consider in the middle rounds. Rang on Florida State's Christian Ponder: "He's smart and he played in a demanding offensive system for the Seminoles. He doesn't have the arm strength of Ryan Mallett or the athleticism of Cam Newton, but he has just enough of each. He also has a long injury history and suffered a concussion that knocked him out of FSU's bowl game."
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat updates 49ers coaching hires, noting that former coach Mike Singletary has officially become linebackers coach for the Vikings.
The Phoenix Business Journal says the Cardinals plan to send out renewal notices for season tickets next month, before a potential lockout. The story notes: "The Cards kept most season ticket prices the same for the 2010 season and cut some prices. Cards season tickets ran $25 to $112.50 this season for non-club seats. That excluded a $5.25 per game ticket charge by University of Phoenix Stadium. While demand for ticket may be diminished by a possible lockout, the Cardinals do have home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. Those teams all have transplant fans in the Valley and region which will help demand."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks are moving closer to filling out Jim Mora's staff, starting with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The team has advised several existing assistant coaches to look for jobs, an indication that Seattle expects its new coordinators to make staff changes.
Given that new head coaches often hire former associates, I wanted to provide a list of the assistants Mora worked with during his tenure as the Falcons' head coach from 2004 through the 2006 season.
I'll break down his former assistants by how many years each assistant spent with Mora in Atlanta. The list will provide context for names that could arise in the coming days and weeks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Martin from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Mike, I have been a diehard 49ers fan since I was a very young. I have enjoyed some great times and as of late, I have suffered with my team's ineptitude. It appears with the hiring of Mike Singletary (couldn't be happier) that we are on the right path. With Singletary taking the reins for good, it appears that Martz is on his way out. Which means another year with another offensive coordinator. Do you think this is a good idea? You need consistency, and if we change OC every year, how can we achieve success?
As the past 49er teams achieve success with a short passing game in place of a power running game, which is the opposite of Singletary's philosophy. My question is, do you think a marriage of the two philosophies much like the Washington Redskins offense with the West Coast passing and a power running game work with the Niners? Who do you see as possible candidates for offensive coordinator and will they stay longer than one year?
Mike Sando: All things being equal, the 49ers probably would have hired an offensive head coach who called the plays. That would have provided protection against the coordinator instability that has hurt the franchise in recent seasons.
All things were not equal, however, after Singletary led the 49ers to four victories in their final five games. Singletary's strong leadership, backed by the 49ers' on-field improvement, made him the only choice the 49ers considered for the job.
If Singletary determines Martz isn't a good fit for his offense, he needs to make the change now. Yes, such a move would come at the expense of continuity, but these are the breaks. Singletary might get only one chance to set up his staff the right way. Now is the time to get that done. Singletary needs in place an offensive staff he trusts, one that shares his philosophy. Singletary and Martz made things work over the second half of this season, but their philosophical differences might be harder to reconcile over the long haul.
The fact that the 49ers were willing to risk continued instability at offensive coordinator speaks to a couple of things.
One, 49ers management wasn't onboard when former coach Mike Nolan hired Martz (we know this because general manager Scot McCloughan said as much before Nolan made the hire).
Two, Singletary proved enough over the second half of the season to make his hiring worth [in the 49ers' eyes] whatever staff fallout might ensue.
Singletary's rise is a great story at this point. Things were not looking good for him after his memorable debut game against the Seahawks. My criticisms of Singletary then related to his unstable behavior during and after that game. Singletary later acknowledged that he needed to project himself differently. He did that, and it worked. He deserves credit for that.
Unlike Nolan, who never seemed to admit an error, Singletary worked to get better. Had he continued in the vein he displayed in that first game, I would still be questioning that behavior and the 49ers would probably be looking for that offensive-minded head coach.
As for coordinator candidates, I don't have a firm list. I would think former Rams coach Scott Linehan might be a good fit. If the team goes for an unproven coordinator, that would seem like quite a risk. It's not like the head coach could take over the offense in a pinch.