NFC West: Fred Dean
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- Aldon Smith's sack gave him 17.5 for the season, tying Fred Dean's franchise single-season record for the sack era (since 1982). Smith also broke Reggie White's NFL record for most sacks over a player's first two seasons.
- Justin Smith's sack gave him 32.0 with the 49ers, tied for sixth-most in team history (again, since 1982, when sacks became an NFL stat).
- Frank Gore scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season. He has 49 for his career, moving him in position to tie Joe Perry and Roger Craig for most in team history. Perry and Craig had 50 apiece.
- Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard run helped him finish the game with 84 yards rushing, most for a 49ers quarterback in more than two decades. Steve Young had 102 yards against New Orleans in 1990.
- The 49ers' defense allowed only seven points. San Francisco allowed only 3.1 yards per rushing attempt.
- Receiver Michael Crabtree had the fifth 100-yard game of his career.
- The 49ers downed four of Andy Lee's six punts inside the 20.
- This was the 49ers' first defeat in 49 days.
- The 49ers converted 8 of 19 chances on third down, compared to 3 of 16 for the Rams. Kaepernick ran for 7 yards on a third-and-6. He completed passes for 7-yard gains on third-and-3 and third-and-4. He also completed passes for 30 yards (third-and-8) and 14 yards (third-and-11).
Catching up with St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford had been the goal, and I was quite pleased to find him at ESPN's Super Bowl headquarters.
The NFC West happiness meter shot past "quite pleased" and into "beyond ecstatic" range upon learning that a couple of other guys with roots in the division -- Joe Montana and Jerry Rice -- would also be dropping by Thursday morning.
Bradford shed light on his plans for the offseason and said he would try to organize informal practices in the case of a lockout. He also reflected on the Rams' season, specifically their play-calling against Seattle in Week 17.
Rice, promoting his work with the NFL's "Take it to the House" program, discussed whether Aaron Rodgers was about to pull a Steve Young with a breakout Super Bowl performance after replacing a legend. We also discussed the current 49ers, something I'll expand upon later Thursday.
Montana offered a few thoughts on former teammate Charles Haley, a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He held up Haley and Fred Dean as the best pure pass-rushers he played with on the 49ers.
I'll break out a separate item on Bradford. Rice's comments will play into a piece on the state of the 49ers. I spoke less formally with Montana.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams still have interest in Brian Westbrook and the team is "hopeful" it can sign him. Adding Westbrook would help lots on paper. The Rams would have addressed an area that needed addressing. Westbrook could be a good fit in a backup role because he would be less prone to injury. It's just tough to expect much from 30-year-old running backs. Westbrook turns 31 in September.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams expect Jackson to practice Saturday for the first time since back surgery. Also, the Rams are holding evening practices during this training camp in an effort to beat the heat and allow more fans to attend.
Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams never made an offer to Terrell Owens.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers highlights from the 49ers' annual "State of the Franchise" gathering. Coach Mike Singletary called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "one of the finest coaches anywhere in America." Singletary also said the 49ers were as talented as any team.
Also from Barber: Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Montana, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox and Steve Young are expected to attend Jerry Rice's Hall of Fame induction.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers expect to have their draft choices signed in time for camp.
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers plan to sell seat licenses that never expire and can be transferred once the team's new stadium is finished.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers 49ers-related notes, noting that first-round choice Anthony Davis has been working out at the facility since organized team activities ended in June. Also, the 49ers think their new stadium will empty 50 percent faster than Candlestick Park following games.
Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' situation at safety and a reminder that Reggie Smith could be in the mix eventually. Barrows: "Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties -- starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward -- the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although (Curtis) Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says improving the offensive line was the 49ers' top priority this offseason.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says there was less bluster from the 49ers at their annual gathering this year.
Scott Allen of Raising Zona checks in with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, who has this to say: "I do believe I have a great chance at being the number 3 or 4. I just need to learn my plays and gain the confidence of the quarterback and I believe I’ll be right there in the hunt."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals' Gerald Hayes and O'Brien Schofield to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals released tackle Devin Tyler to make room on the roster for the newly signed Schofield.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com raises 10 questions heading into the Cardinals' training camp. The fourth question -- where will the pass rush come from? -- is one the Seahawks and Rams also might be asking. Urban: "The Cardinals piled up 42 sacks last season, their highest total in years and they did it by committee. Defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven. The idea in signing linebacker Joey Porter, who had 9.0 sacks for Miami, is that he can provide more of a dynamic pass rush than what the Cards were getting last season from Bertrand Berry or Chike Okeafor. Campbell, at end in a 3-4 look, should increase his total, and Dockett comes across like a man on a mission (and in search of a new contract). Even if Porter doesn’t revert to his stellar 2008 (17 sacks), he needs to be a difference-maker. The Cards also need help from some unknown factor, whether it is Cody Brown, Will Davis, Mark Washington or Stevie Baggs." It's reasonable to expect more from Porter than the Cardinals got from Berry and Okeafor last season.
Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals receiver Onrea Jones. Jones on what it takes to earn a roster spot: "Well I know one thing -- it's special teams -- to find the right spot on special teams. Mike Adams was big as a gunner last year on special teams. I kind of look up to him for that. Because he's been in the Super Bowl and he knows what he's doing. And that's one thing I've learned from Sean Morey also. I'm really concentrated on special teams, gunner, trying to get a spot on the kick off team, kick off return, any special teams I can get on, that's my ticket. Obviously you have to make plays as a wide receiver. I'm battling for a number 4 and 5 between me and Andre. Whoever gets that spot, he has to have a big role on special teams. As long as I can produce on special teams, I know I'll be alright."
Pro Football Weekly's NFC West preview singles out Laurent Robinson, Alex Smith, Justin Forsett and Ben Patrick as potential fantasy sleepers in 2010. On Forsett: "Although he is expected to battle Jones for touches in every game, Forsett has the kind of big-play ability (5.4 yards per carry in '09) as a runner, receiver and returner to develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy force. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was out with injuries last season and could be increasingly effective both running and catching passes out of the backfield behind what figures to be a more stable offensive line." It's just tough to know how much playing time each Seattle running back will get this season. Leon Washington's status is one key variable.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Pass-rushers are increasing in value as college and pro offenses send more receivers into routes and often become more efficient throwing the ball.
The 49ers' success this season depends in part on whether Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson can get to the quarterback. The Seahawks are banking on improved health from Patrick Kerney. The Rams need more from Leonard Little and Chris Long. The Cardinals drafted Cody Brown while hoping to get continued pass-rush production from Chike Okeafor, Bertrand Berry, Darnell Dockett and others.
Think a guy like Fred Dean might come in handy for the 49ers this season? Questions in the secondary would seem less important with a dominant pass-rusher in the lineup. Dean had 17.5 sacks for the 49ers in 1983. That is more than the Bengals, Browns or Chiefs managed last season (the 49ers had 30, tied with the Rams, Colts and Lions for 16th in the league).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have yet to dispel negative perceptions despite a 7-5 record and imminent division title.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals made their punting change with East Coast weather in mind. Field position could be key when the Cardinals visit the Patriots in Week 16 or if they face a road game in the playoffs.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals are trying not to focus on the big picture.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic would rather see the Cardinals claim a division title by beating the Rams than by having the 49ers lose.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals are hoping to jump-start their pass rush against the Rams, who allowed zero sacks in Week 13.
Also from Tulumello: Neil Rackers adjusts to a new holder on field goals and extra points.
John Morgan of Field Gulls thought Seahawks rookie Lawrence Jackson showed signs of improvement against the Cowboys. I would love to know how many times Jackson maintains run containment to his side. Seems like not enough.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times counters perceptions about Patriots coach Bill Belichick. I've always thought Belichick needed better questions more than he needed better answers.
Also from O'Neil: Mike Holmgren says the Seahawks' decision to name Jim Mora the next head coach hasn't affected performance on the field, even though Holmgren would have preferred the arrangement to have remained a private matter.
Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider disputes Deon Grant's contention that reporters took the Seattle safety's postgame comments out of context. Grant seemingly criticized defensive coordinator John Marshall after the 34-9 defeat at Dallas.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the NFL's 30th-ranked defense "got defensive" about what Grant meant by his comments.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says Seahawks center Chris Spencer lost feeling in his toes thanks to a herniated disk.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers safety Mark Roman is looking for his first interception in two years.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says 49ers coach Mike Singletary has improved his approach since a rough first week on the job.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says Frank Gore deserves better than what the 49ers have to offer.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle polled 49ers players on gun ownership. Ten said they owned guns. Six declined to answer. Twenty-seven said they did not own a firearm.
Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers plan to honor Fred Dean at halftime Sunday.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers cornerback Nate Clements is playing with a broken thumb. The injury could limit Clements' availability as a return specialist while complicating efforts to play press coverage.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Cardinals can clinch a home playoff game for the first time since the Truman Administration. Thomas: "For many St. Louis football fans over the age of 35, this could be a tough day. Our old team, with our old quarterback, winning our division."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls Rams running back Steven Jackson "235 pounds of paradox" while saying there isn't a more complex athlete in St. Louis. Since Jackson became a starter, the Rams are 21-33 when he plays and 1-10 when he does not play. They average an additional 59 yards rushing per game when Jackson plays.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams hope to move veteran Chris Draft into the starting lineup at middle linebacker. Usual starter Will Witherspoon is hurting. Rookie David Vobora got the start in Week 13. Also, coach Jim Haslett says he has never owned guns, but cornerback Ron Bartell does pack a firearm.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Count Hall of Famer Deacon Jones among those who think current NFL players would have a hard time functioning under rules as they existed -- or often did not exist -- back in his day.
As Jones told Alan Grant in this Old School column:
"The game today is played from the neck to the waist. But we could hit you from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. And the quarterback was a wide open situation. I get so pissed off every time I hear Brett Favre say he's played 279 games in a row. I would rather slap my mama than allow a quarterback to play 279 games in a row. Somebody supposed to put him on the ground!"
I've always been a defender of the old-school athletes. Friends I grew up around thought Mike Tyson was the greatest boxer in history. I always thought Muhammad Ali would have embarrassed him. And I knew George Foreman would have knocked him out. I even thought a 40-year-old Foreman would have knocked Tyson out.
But some of these old-school declarations seem to go overboard. I was watching Super Bowl VII late last night, because that's the sort of thing I enjoy, and I really admired the way those guys played. But I also thought Albert Haynesworth or Justin Tuck might have sacked Billy Kilmer every other time Kilmer dropped back to pass.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News addresses a Pro Football Prospectus report casting doubt on Nate Clements' contributions to the 49ers' secondary. The report shows Clements allowing more touchdowns and first downs, more yards in coverage and more yards after the catch than other cornerbacks. But there's no mention of the most important variable: playing time. New Orleans' Jason David is also ranked high on these lists, but I did some digging and found out that might not mean much. Clements played more than 1,100 snaps last season. David played about 750 snaps last season. Big difference.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune has an interesting note about the coach-to-player headsets being made available for the defense. Seattle's Lofa Tatupu and Brian Russell are logical candidates to wear them, but neither wants to use the devices. That could leave Deon Grant as the Seahawks' defensive communicator.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seattle's Jordan Kent, one of several young receivers trying to make an impact in the Seahawks' scrimmage at Qwest Field today. Kent, an accomplished track athlete with the height to play basketball, has broken the habit of leaving his feet every time he catches the ball.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals need more from nose tackle Alan Branch, a second-round choice in 2007. "In the coaches' estimation, Branch needs to lose weight and practice at a high level more consistently." That's not what you want to hear. Worse, 34-year-old Bryan Robinson is working with the starters while No. 1 nose tackle Gabe Watson recovers from a knee injury.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat says the Rams' Brett Romberg and Richie Incognito remain great friends even as they compete to be the starting center. Incognito could end up playing right guard if Romberg wins the center battle. Incognito: "I don't want to be jumping around, where the last second I'm playing guard. If they want me to play center, leave me at center." Not necessarily how it works.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides context for the Rams' scrimmage, scheduled for 10:50 a.m. ET this morning at Concordia University. I'm looking forward to watching Chris Long today, but apparently we shouldn't be surprised if a brawl breaks out and team president Jay Zygmunt tries to break it up.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former Steelers fullback Dan Kreider, who is trying to earn a roster spot with the Rams. The best Kreider quote from the story begins this way: "Running routes isn't one of my great abilities." The Rams did not sign Kreider to fully explore Al Saunders' route tree, in other words. Also from Coats: Rams receiver Torry Holt still isn't happy about losing Isaac Bruce, but he is moving on.
The San Francisco Chronicle's QB update chart is worth a look today. And you thought the 49ers' quarterback race was down to Alex Smith and Shaun Hill. The more we hear from 49ers camp, the more we should consider J.T. Sullivan as a viable option. O'Sullivan knows the Mike Martz system, and it's clear the organization isn't going out of its way to push Smith.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle assesses Dashon Goldson's performance in 49ers camp. My impression after visiting 49ers camp: Goldson will become the starter at some point this season, even if Mark Roman holds onto the job in the short term. Also from Fitzgerald: Tight end Delanie Walker isn't happy about changes to the forceout rule.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu might not play in the Seahawks' scrimmage today. That would be a loss for fans, who haven't been able to watch practices while the Seahawks wait to begin using their new facility Aug. 18. The old facility isn't big enough to accommodate fans. Scrimmages are for backups. Coaches don't want to take risks with banged-up starters. Also from Romero: He singles out Matt Hasselbeck's red-zone touchdown pass to Leonard Weaver as one of the Seahawks' offensive plays of the day. Weaver's strong camp is exactly what the Seahawks needed to see from him. Seattle relies more heavily on a traditional fullback than most teams.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat recalls Fred Dean's incredible impact on the 49ers in 1981. Dean, set to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, sacked Cowboys quarterback Danny White three times in Dean's first game with the 49ers. The team won a Super Bowl for the first time later that season. Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith doesn't have much to say about O'Sullivan's increased reps in practice.
ESPN.com's Chris Conetzkey writes about Dean through the eyes of former teammate Dwaine Board and former opponent Mike Kenn. Kenn offers high praise: "He had this move where he could get a guy moving upfield with an inside one-arm rip on the edge, and he was basically able to reach back around and convert it into a club and basically throw people off the field. Reggie White developed the same type of move to rush from the left side, but Fred Dean was the first to utilize it. Those are the only two players that I saw that actually had the ability to make that work."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart as saying he had "no clue" a year ago. Leinart says he's much more confident this summer. More than a couple of coaches and personnel people I've spoken with around the league think Leinart will develop into a good quarterback. I can see why some fans want Kurt Warner, but I think the organization owes it to itself to figure out whether Leinart can lead the offense effectively without
being as careless with the football as Warner tends to be.