NFC West: George Warhop

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

Around the NFC West: Goodbye to Holt

March, 14, 2009
3/14/09
11:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hails Torry Holt's professionalism after the Rams released the former Pro Bowl receiver. Holt often worked harder and more diligently than less established players.

The National Football Post says the Rams and Titans talked about a trade involving Holt, but the receiver wasn't interested in the suggested contract adjustment.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com, in addressing Torry Holt's release from the Rams, says there's no room for sentimentality in the NFL.

Also from Gordon: The Rams' recent moves suggest the team is getting back to the basics of blocking and tackling.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch considers it "strange" that the Rams haven't re-signed versatile backup offensive lineman Adam Goldberg, who visited the Browns.

Turf Show Times' Tackle Box thinks the Rams need upgrades at cornerback even after re-signing Ron Bartell. Getting more from Tye Hill would certainly help.

Niners general manager Scot McCloughan says drafting a quarterback 10th overall "sure is" an option for the 49ers even with Alex Smith still on the roster. Not that a GM would want to publicly rule out any options in the draft.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers might be more of a passing team than Mike Singletary's image suggests. I expect this to become a theme for the 49ers and the Seahawks at various points this offseason. Everyone assumes new Seattle coordinator Greg Knapp is going to run most of the time, but that will not always be true. Both teams want balance.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat breaks down the 49ers' scouting department while noting that the team relied on its area scout -- not McCloughan -- to monitor Andre Smith's recent workout.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee ponders a mock draft featuring Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers as the 49ers' potential choice at No. 10.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Jason Wright during the former Browns running back's visit to Cardinals headquarters. Wright would help on special teams in addition to providing depth at the position. Urban: "Again, if it happens, it's not a sexy signing. But sometimes the best signings are the ones no one notices."

Also from Urban: Tight end Stephen Spach says he expects to return from knee surgery at some point during training camp.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Browns fans weren't always high on Wright.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks wanted to re-sign Floyd Womack, but probably as a backup. Womack went to the Browns instead. The Browns' line coach, George Warhop, was with Mike Nolan in San Francisco, so he might be familiar with Womack from playing against the Seahawks.

Also from Farnsworth: He confirms reports that Julian Peterson refused a pay cut and could become a salary-cap casualty.

John Morgan of Field Gulls compares Matt Hasselbeck's numbers to Jon Kitna's numbers over the 2005 through 2008 seasons. They are similar.

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts says he wouldn't see much value in the Seahawks swinging a trade for Lions defensive lineman Cory Redding. I don't think teams can have enough starting-caliber defensive linemen.

Christensen has ties to 49ers' staff

January, 10, 2009
1/10/09
12:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clyde Christensen's candidacy as the 49ers' potential offensive coordinator makes sense if we consider his connections to current and former members of the organization.

Christensen, who interviewed for the job Friday, has served as an assistant under Tony Dungy since 1996, starting with the Bucs and continuing with the Colts. The 49ers hired another longtime Dungy assistant, Chris Foerster, to help with their offensive line heading into the 2008 season. And when the 49ers fired head coach Mike Nolan, they also fired Nolan's line coach, George Warhop, at which point Foerster took over the job.

Those two moves -- hiring Foerster to help with the line, then naming him to replace Warhop when Nolan was fired -- tell us plenty. Management clearly was not happy with the coaching of the line during Nolan's tenure. While the 49ers weren't going to force Nolan to fire Warhop, they were going to make a change the minute Nolan no longer worked for the team.

Foerster remains the offensive line coach. In searching for a coordinator, it's logical for the 49ers to consider candidates with ties to the current staff. Christensen and Foerster spent eight seasons together in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. Those are strong ties.

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Mailbag: Seahawks and a 3-4 defense

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
11:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Hannan from Hershey, Pa., writes: Hey Mike, I've been reading your blog and I had this wacky thought for next year. What if the Seahawks switched to a 3-4 scheme with Jim Mora Jr.? Think about it, we have Kerney on one end, Jackson/Tapp on the other. We can let R. Bernard walk in free agency, I think Mebane has earned a starting job. J. Peterson can be our pass rushing OLB, while Hill (he must be resigned), Tatupu, and another ILB to be named (possibly DD Lewis) can stop the run. It's a crazy and bold idea, but to me it makes sense.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks are looking at coordinator candidates with 3-4 backgrounds, but Jim Mora will run the defense. His background is with the 4-3.

This sets up the possibility of at least running hybrid-type schemes or having the flexibility to use some 3-4 fronts and packages. I see no advantage in making a full conversion to a 3-4, based on the personnel and based on Mora's background.

Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp aren't nearly as big or physical as the typical 3-4 defensive ends. Brandon Mebane might be able to play the nose, but the rest of it would be a stretch on a full-time conversion, in my view.

Running a hybrid defense sounds good in theory, though I would rather have a defense play one style effectively than two styles less effectively.


Rich from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Heya, Mr. Mike. About the Cards-Panthers game this weekend. Everyone is talking about how the Cardinals' defense will have to match its intensity and discipline and all from last week in order to have a chance this week. But is that really realistic? How much of last week's heroic defensive effort was due to intensity and discipline, and how much was due to them having a "tell" that let them anticipate the snap? Since they won't have that against Carolina, how much of a chance do they really have to match up?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' ability to get a jump off the snap helped but was not necessarily the difference in that game against the Falcons. More broadly, though, I do think it's unrealistic to expect the Arizona defense to have the same energy level for a full game, minus the home crowd. But we shall see.

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Around the NFC West: 49ers move on

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
9:38
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat spent 15 minutes on the phone with recently fired 49ers coach Mike Nolan. Nolan used the word "sad" to describe his post-firing conversation with running back Frank Gore.

Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers need to reassess their approach from top to bottom.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle explains the 49ers' stated reasoning for firing Nolan. GM Scot McCloughan pointed directly to losing a fourth-quarter lead at home.

Also from Crumpacker: George Warhop's firing as coach of the offensive line came as no surprise.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee puts Mike Singletary's latest job in perspective by mentioning his former ones, from motivational speaker to Hall of Fame linebacker.

Also from Barrows: He thinks the 49ers' front office leaked word of Nolan's impending dismissal.

Gary Peterson of the Bay Area News Group says Singletary hasn't failed at anything of significance, but this job is tougher than the others.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary plans to bring fire to the job, something ownership said the team needs.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thought McCloughan should have shown less empathy for Nolan during the news conference to introduce Singletary.

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News wasn't impressed by what she saw when the 49ers announced their coaching change: "There was Scot 'Trigger Man' McCloughan looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. There was Jed York looking like a teenager play-acting as an NFL owner. There was Mike Singletary, sounding exactly like a newly minted, untested head coach."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News describes the upcoming offseason as a pivotal one for the 49ers.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Cardinals center Al Johnson plans to file a grievance against the team, as expected, following his release from injured reserve.

Also from Somers: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt spent his bye-week Sunday watching football with his wife at a sports bar. The story addresses the thought of expanding the season to 18 games.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' defensive line is playing to expectations.

Bill Coats of Around the Horns says the Rams' Steven Jackson is the NFC's player of the week after rushing for 160 yards against Dallas.

Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star looks at Jim Haslett's contributions in two games as the Rams' head coach.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' quarterback situation remains in flux.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times looks at Seneca Wallace's career and wonders if the Seahawks could have made better use of the backup quarterback.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks at Mike Holmgren's future and the likelihood of the Seattle coach landing with the 49ers.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says frustrations boiled over on the Seahawks' sideline Sunday night as running back Julius Jones lashed out. Holmgren sounded unconcerned.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Lofa Tatupu expects to be fine following the concussion he suffered in Week 7.

Why the Singletary move could make sense

October, 21, 2008
10/21/08
6:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Mike Singletary may or may not become a quality NFL head coach. The 49ers' decision to hire him on an interim basis became logical in one respect because it didn't weaken the most critical positions on the staff.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky might have been more qualified than Singletary in the traditional sense; Singletary has never been an NFL coordinator. But hiring Martz or Manusky as head coach might have prevented either man from dedicating as much time to his current job.

The situation in St. Louis was different because Jim Haslett had extensive experience as a head coach, making him the most logical choice for the job once Scott Linehan was fired. The Rams could promote Haslett from defensive coordinator to head coach without as much worry because linebackers coach Rick Venturi, since promoted to defensive coordinator, had coordinating experience dating to the 1980s.

Niners general manager Scot McCloughan borrowed his philosophy on coaches from his former boss, Ron Wolf. The thinking goes like this: If your head coach has a defensive background, offensive coordinator becomes the next most important hire. McCloughan, like Wolf, also places high value on the offensive line coach. That explains why the 49ers brought in Chris Foerster to assist George Warhop as line coach this season. The 49ers fired Warhop, a Nolan hire, and promoted Foerster once the team fired Nolan.

NFC West stock watch: falling

October, 21, 2008
10/21/08
6:27
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

1. Mike Nolan, former head coach, 49ers. Fired after three-plus seasons.

2. George Warhop, former OL coach, 49ers. Nolan added Chris Foerster to assist Warhop with the line after last season. General manager Scot McCloughan fired Warhop after Nolan's dismissal, putting Foerster in charge of the line.

3. J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers. Two interception and a lost fumble against the Giants give him 12 turnovers in the last four games.

4. Mike Martz, offensive coordinator, 49ers. The 49ers passed over him when looking to replace Nolan.

5. Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, 49ers. The 49ers passed over Manusky as well.

6. Seneca Wallace, QB, Seahawks. Matt Hasselbeck's backup was unable to rescue a passing game that appears beyond saving.

7. Chris Spencer, C, Seahawks. A premature snap wasn't his only problem. Spencer's blocking wasn't up to expectations for a first-round pick.

8. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers. Eleven yards on 11 carries against the Giants.

9. Kelly Jennings, CB, Seahawks. He had no chance on that early deep ball against the Bucs. Seattle wanted a call for offensive interference, but officials disagreed.

10. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, Seahawks. A concussion knocked him from the game against the Bucs. Like most of the Seahawks, Tatupu hasn't played to expectations.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat isn't reading too much into Larry Allen's potential interest in returning to the 49ers. Allen, 36, appeared headed for retirement before telling line coach George Warhop he might want to return. The 49ers have moved on without him. As Maiocco notes, Adam Snyder might be better suited for the 49ers' pass-blocking scheme under new coordinator Mike Martz. Allen has long been one of the NFL's toughest and most feared offensive linemen, but his prime years are well behind him.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says Allen's agent, Marvin Demoff, indicated last month that Allen was working out and in touch with teams. FitzGerald also quotes general manager Scot McCloughan on free-agent linebacker Takeo Spikes. "He is somebody we talk about," McCloughan said. Spikes recently visited the Lions. He started 14 games for the Eagles last season, but they cut him after his lone season in Philadelphia. Spikes, 31, is coming off shoulder surgery.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests the Rams won't rush left tackle Orlando Pace back into full-contact work after two injury-shortened seasons. "Orlando is in great shape," coach Scott Linehan said. "He has really worked and has got himself in a good spot. It's a matter of what the docs say. I think they just want to see if he's ready to take that next step as far as contact. Not to be overly cautious, but he's had two bad-luck injuries two years in a row." Keeping Pace healthy should be the Rams' top priority at training camp. The Rams can field a playoff-caliber offense with Pace in the lineup. The job becomes much harder without him.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News asks five questions for the 49ers heading into training camp. Brown focuses on Martz's potential impact, defensive upgrades, whether Vernon Davis can become one of the few tight ends to flourish under Martz, Patrick Willis and the offensive line. My top 49ers-related question: Can Martz save Alex Smith?

Darrin Beene of the Tacoma News Tribune identifies six potential problem areas for the Seahawks heading into camp. He touches on the offensive line, running backs, receivers, kickers, defensive line and coaching staff. Let me add a seventh: Have the Seahawks finally found a capable all-around tight end in rookie John Carlson? At their best, the Seahawks had enough going for them in other areas -- up front and in the backfield -- to overcome flawed play at the position. The offense isn't what it was in those areas. Mike Holmgren needs a tight end he can trust in all situations.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have made little apparent progress in contract talks with several veterans, including Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett and Kurt Warner. That might be partially because the team is focused on signing its draft picks.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com provides context for the signing of second-round choice Calais Campbell. "Campbell, a 6-foot-8, 282-pounder out of Miami, dropped in the draft after a disappointing junior season. But the Cardinals see the potential as a good fit in their 3-4 defensive looks and an ability to make a difference at the left end spot in which Darnell Dockett turned in a Pro Bowl season a season ago." Defensive depth was a significant liability for the Cardinals last season.

Mike Kahn of seahawks.com offers a look inside the Seahawks' new facility. The team officially moves in Aug. 18. The new headquarters, located on the shores of Lake Washington in suburban Renton, will provide a dramatic upgrade for the Seahawks. Money talks in free agency, but state-of-the-art facilities can help break ties. The Seahawks outgrew their current facility in Kirkland years ago.

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