NFC West: Hank Fraley

A few thoughts on NFC West rosters after calculating age ranks for NFL teams based on the rosters I maintain:
  • The chart ranks teams from oldest to youngest, excluding special-teams players who can sometimes play into their 40s. The first column shows overall rank, counting offensive and defensive players. The third and fourth columns show where teams rank on each side of the ball. These are for starters and backups. In some cases, teams might plan to release older backups on the reduction to 53 players.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Earlier in the preseason, Kevin Kolb referred to the Cardinals as a young team. They do have young players, some of whom played extensively last season and should be better for it. But the Cardinals have the sixth-oldest roster in the league overall. Vonnie Holliday (35), Clark Haggans (34), Joey Porter (34), Paris Lenon (33), Floyd Womack (32), Adrian Wilson (31), Todd Heap (31) and Nick Eason (31) are some of them. The team has also favored veteran offensive linemen, including veteran backups.

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams got older on purpose, adding seasoning to their defense through players added on one-year deals. Al Harris (36) is the oldest non-specialist on the team. James Hall (34) and Fred Robbins (34) remain valuable contributors. Both start. Rookie Robert Quinn will likely replace Hall at some point. Drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 draft could make sense, too. Some of the Rams' additions could come at the expense of incumbent veterans such as Hank Fraley (34 next month) and Na'il Diggs (33).

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have gotten younger this offseason, particularly on defense. They subtracted Takeo Spikes (34), Aubrayo Franklin (31 this week), Travis LaBoy (30), Brian Westbrook, Nate Clements (31), Brian Westbrook (32 next month), William James (32), Barry Sims (36) and Demetric Evans (32 next month).. Fulback Moran Norris (33) is their oldest non-specialist. The team has only six non-specialists in their 30s, half as many as the Cardinals have.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been getting younger by design over the past two seasons. Like the 49ers, they have only six non-specialists in their 30s, with none older than 33 (Raheem Brock). They have subtracted Sean Locklear (30), Matt Hasselbeck (36 next month), Stacy Andrews (30), J.P. Losman (30), Brandon Stokley (35), Lawyer Milloy (37), Chester Pitts (32) and Craig Terrill (31). Most general managers want to make their teams younger when starting out. In Seattle, the head coach is also amendable to that approach. But a few players such as Brock (33), Junior Siavii (32), Colin Cole (31), Marcus Trufant (30) and Atari Bigby (30 next month) have kept the Seahawks defensive ranking from sinking further. Seattle is 16th oldest on that side of the ball.

I've sprouted a couple new gray hairs just typing in some of these names. Might be time to squeeze in an afternoon workout.

Age before beauty in the NFC West

March, 8, 2011
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The NFL draft provides teams an opportunity to get younger.

Invariably, older players wind up playing extensively when injuries strike and/or some of those youngsters prove not quite ready for the big leagues.

In Arizona last season, 36-year-old Bryan Robinson made 16 starts at nose tackle even though the Cardinals used a first-round choice for the position.

In San Francisco, 36-year-old tackle Barry Sims started at least seven games for a third consecutive season, proving valuable when a broken leg sidelined Joe Staley.

In St. Louis, James Hall, now 34, and Fred Robbins, who turns 34 this month, started every game and provided stellar play on the defensive front.

In Seattle, strong safety Lawyer Milloy, the oldest non-specialist in the division, collected four sacks while starting 16 games.

Teams will once again add fresh young talent this offseason. Some of the older players will fade away. Others will rise up and produce again.

A few thoughts on the chart, which lists the 20 oldest non-specialists in the NFC West:
  • Cardinals guard Alan Faneca is considering retirement. The team has veteran guards in relief, but leadership could be a concern.
  • Brandon Stokley immediately showed his value to Seattle as a slot receiver. He also suffered another in a long line of concussions. It's hard not to wince every time he takes a hit.
  • Raheem Brock had nine sacks for Seattle. His contract is expiring. The team could use his production and Brock has earned a raise, but to what extent did his performance reflect a contract-year spike? Rewarding an older player following one strong season can be tough for a rebuilding team.
  • Arizona's Clark Haggans has a $2.5 million salary and $500,000 roster bonus this season. I'd be tempted to bring him back.
  • Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt defended Joey Porter's play, suggesting the veteran pass-rusher played more snaps than anticipated, diminishing Porter's ability to contribute as consistently. That is fair, but Porter surely will not return under his current deal, which carries a $5.75 million salary.
  • Takeo Spikes has continued playing well at inside linebacker for the 49ers. Will the 49ers' new staff move on in an attempt to get younger? Seems like Spikes should have value to a new staff in a transition year.
  • Another veteran linebacker, Na'il Diggs of the Rams, was playing well last season until suffering a torn pectoral. Looks like the Rams need to make outside linebacker a priority in the draft.

And now, on with the chart ...

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
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Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
Tags:

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Post-camp roster analysis: Rams

September, 1, 2010
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The St. Louis Rams hold the No. 1 priority for waiver claims and they'll probably put that status to work following the mandatory reduction to 53 players Saturday.

With that in mind, let's take a position-by-position look at the Rams' roster heading into their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo (current roster counts listed in parentheses):

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley

Looking safe: Keith Null

On the bubble: Thaddeus Lewis

Comment: Lewis has played well enough to intrigue the Rams, but probably not well enough for another team to claim him off waivers. That makes Lewis a natural choice for the practice squad.

Running backs (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney

Looking safe: Kenneth Darby

Not sure what to think: Keith Toston, Chris Ogbonnaya

Comment: The Rams are carrying as many running backs as teams typically keep, but multiple spots could be up for grabs depending on which running backs become available via waivers. I'd rather list Toston, Ogbonnaya and Darby in one group until it becomes clear which backs -- and which types of backs -- hit the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya showed potential last season and looked good early in camp, but his performance hasn't carried over to exhibition games and that could cost him. Perhaps expectations were too high. Darby's toughness and special-teams contributions could help him. Toston runs hard and could land on the practice squad.

Wide receivers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton

On the bubble: Dominique Curry

Also: Brandon McRae, Jordan Kent, Danario Alexander

Comment: Curry stood out as an undrafted steal during camp. He has excellent size and has showed good ability on special teams. Burton's durability should remain a concern, but that's the case with Robinson and even Gibson at this point. Gibson's value rises with Donnie Avery on injured reserve.

Tight ends (6)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Billy Bajema, Mike Hoomanawanui

Looking safe: Fendi Onobun

Not sure what to think: Daniel Fells, Darcy Johnson

Also: Dennis Morris

Comment: But wait, Fells is the incumbent starter, right? Yes, but he hasn't been durable and there's so much to like about the rookies Onobun and Hoomanawanui. Bajema is an obvious keeper for his blocking and all-around game (he has caught the ball well on limited chances). Johnson has shown toughness and blocking ability, so he could be an option if the team wants to move on from Fells. Perhaps I'm over thinking things here, but the emergence of Onobun and Hoomanawanui during camp creates dilemmas.

Offensive linemen (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.3

Keepers: Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg, Hank Fraley

Looking safe: John Greco, Roger Allen III

Also: Eric Young, Drew Miller, Ryan McKee, Renardo Foster, Tim Mattran

Comment: It's tough finding nine keepers here, so the Rams could be active in the waiver-claim game. Greco's versatility works in his favor. Are the Rams still high on Allen's prospects? I know they liked him last season, but that was before reconstructive knee surgery. Trading Alex Barron made sense in the big picture, but the Rams would have better depth here if Barron were still around.

Defensive line (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.6

Keepers: Chris Long, Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, James Hall, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott

Looking safe: George Selvie

On the bubble: Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo

Also: Ernest Reid, Eugene Sims

Comment: Durability concerns could cost Ah You. Adeyanju also could be on the bubble depending on what options the Rams have beyond their own roster. Cudjo has made a positive impression during camp and preseason. Same goes for Selvie, although an injury sidelined him part of the time.

Linebackers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.3

Keepers: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain

Looking safe: Bobby Carpenter

On the bubble: David Vobora, Josh Hull

Also: Devin Bishop, Cardia Jackson

Comment: Carpenter has gotten some work at defensive end. Perhaps his presence in an emergency capacity at that position could allow the Rams to keep one fewer defensive lineman, at least early. Chamberlain is probably the best special-teams position player on the Rams, enhancing his value. Hull could provide depth behind Laurinaitis because he's a true middle linebacker, whereas Vobora can back up every position. That could be a close call.

Defensive backs (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.7

Keepers: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Justin King, Bradley Fletcher, James Butler, Kevin Payne, Craig Dahl, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery

Looking safe: Quincy Butler

On the bubble: Darian Stewart

Also: Brett Johnson, Marquis Johnson, Antoine Thompson

Comment: James Butler's knee injury probably makes keeping Payne a higher priority. Stewart could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.7

Keepers: Josh Brown, Donnie Jones, Chris Massey

Comment: Strong group here.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This NFL stuff is all new for Sam Bradford.

Looking through the St. Louis Rams' roster, however, I noticed a long list of teammates with experience breaking in highly drafted quarterbacks.

They offered insights into their experiences and shared their thoughts on Bradford, the first player chosen in the 2010 NFL draft.

A sampling:

[+] EnlargeVince Young 2006
Charles Small/US PresswireAccording to Jacob Bell, Vince Young's demeanor in the huddle is different than Sam Bradford's.
Jacob Bell, Rams guard

Played with: Vince Young and the 2006 Tennessee Titans

Background: Young started 13 games as a rookie. The team finished 8-8 overall. Young completed 51 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 66.7 rating

Bell's take: "We were 8-8 that year. We relied on just minimizing mistakes. Vince is a different type guy than Bradford, though. Vince has a lot of, I don't know how you would say it, potential to be this great quarterback. I think Bradford is more developed as far as knowing the game at the quarterback position. But Vince has a lot of things Bradford doesn't have. Bradford has things that he doesn't have.

"In the huddle, they are different. Vince would come in and be a little bit more nervous. He couldn't recite the plays as well. We would have to finish his sentences for him sometimes, whereas Bradford comes in and he's Joe Cool. He controls the huddle, real serious, real calm, knows the play verbatim. Vince might come in a little looser. He might be joking around, laughing. Two totally different guys.

"At the end of the day, they are both winners who came from winning programs. It's our job to keep him cool. You can tell when quarterbacks get hit and they get flustered, they are not the same guy. They are not cool, calm and collected. They are not joking around. They are just different people. That is a big thing for young quarterbacks, knowing they are protected, knowing that they don't have to carry the game, that we have a running back in Steven Jackson and in Tennessee we had Travis Henry, Chris Brown -- solid running backs and a good defense."


Billy Bajema, Rams tight end

Played with: Alex Smith and the 2005 San Francisco 49ers

Background: Smith started seven games as a rookie. The team finished 4-12 overall. Smith completed 50.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown, 11 interceptions and a 40.8 rating

Bajema's take: "Sometimes those things are so hard to put a finger on. Alex was smart and threw the ball well. I just think as an offense we struggled and it took us a while to get it going. To put a finger on why, it's tough to do. The most important thing is, as a team, rallying behind those guys, giving them the support. Every quarterback coming in faces a little bit of a learning curve. Some guys pick it up faster than others and are successful faster than others. Offensively, for the first couple years I was there, we were just kind of getting going.

"[Bradford] is going to be very good. Everybody is real excited about him. He puts it on the money, he is smart, he is a guy that everybody feels like is going to be a really good player. He's not a guy that is real loud and in people's faces, but he does a good job taking command when he is in the huddle, establishing who is in charge of the huddle. Everybody respects him and I think that is what is important, to just take command. He does a good job of that."


Jason Brown, Rams center

Played with: Joe Flacco and the 2008 Baltimore Ravens

[+] EnlargeJoey Flacco
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesGetting quality reps in the preseason helped Joe Flacco as a rookie quarterback.
Background: Flacco started all 16 games as a rookie. The team finished 11-5 overall. Flacco completed 60 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 80.3 rating

Brown's take: "When we were in Baltimore with Flacco, they kept the starters in every preseason game in 2008 for three quarters, even the last one, when you expect, 'Oh, yeah, the starters, you go out there for a series.' No. We were out there for three quarters to make sure that young quarterback gets the quality reps and the protection he deserves so he can develop. You cannot get enough quality reps because when the season comes, there is no slowing down. That season, opening kickoff, is going to be there before you know it. That is our main focus now, making sure we get Sam some quality reps, same thing we did in Baltimore.

"The main thing I see in Joe, the same thing I see in Sam, it's just the poise that they bring. Of course, there is the great expectations for these highly drafted young quarterbacks coming out. There is a lot of pressure on them to get in early and compete. But yet I have seen both of them handle it in stride. Sam is a very, very, very mature young man. Very mature. The only thing I had to get on Sam about, and I kind of didn't want to tell him about it because I knew he would eventually break it, the first time, earlier this summer, when we were getting under center, I knew that Sam was nervous. You couldn't see it on his face, but I knew he was nervous because when he got under center and put his hand underneath my rear end, his hand was shaking. It was quivering. It was shaking. And of course, I didn't say anything, but it's a very awkward feeling for me as well when someone has their hand shaking underneath your rear end. It's funny, I'm telling you this, but I still haven't told it to Sam. But of course that was just like some of the first day, welcome to the NFL jitters. He hasn't done that for quite some time. He's human. He definitely is human.

"And us as offensive linemen, teammates, friends, the only thing we can do, the best thing we can do is to do our jobs the best that we can to make sure that he is comfortable back in the pocket and allowing him to develop as a young quarterback properly. That is the same pressure we put on us in Baltimore."


James Hall, Rams defensive end

Played with: Joey Harrington and the 2002 Detroit Lions

Background: Harrington started 12 games as a rookie. The team finished 3-13 overall. Harrington completed 50.1 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 59.9 rating

Hall's take: "Relative to Harrington, I think Sam probably has better God-given tools than Joey. Joey is a great guy, very professional. Sam is a great guy, very professional. From what I've heard about Sam, he has a little bit of a killer instinct. He is a competitor. He has come along real well in training camp. The sky is the limit for him. He has an accurate arm and a strong arm and so far has been making smart decisions. The guy is very confident, especially for a young guy. He seems very poised, doesn't seem rattled by anything, shaken, and that is always a great sign."


Hank Fraley, Rams backup center

Played with: Brady Quinn and the 2007 Cleveland Browns

Background: Quinn started no games as a rookie. The team finished 10-6 overall. Quinn completed 3 of 8 passes for 45 yards and a 56.8 rating

Fraley's take: "Sam, I know he is doing everything right. He is preparing himself, studying, he is poised in the huddle, he is doing it the right way. That is all you can ask. He is making the right reads. I think he is going to be a very good quarterback for a long time in this league based on what I have seen.

"He just comes out and works hard, he gets in his playbook, he is doing the film study, he gets with A.J. [Feeley], he gets with his coaches. He may have a good day today, but he wants to make sure he proves it tomorrow. He wants to stay consistent and that is how you become a better player. Just working with him, being in there at center with him, looking at blitzes and stuff like that, he wants to understand why they are blitzing that way or why they are lined up like that and what they can do out of it. Those are things he has asked me."


Fred Robbins, Rams defensive tackle

Played with: Eli Manning and the 2004 New York Giants

Background: Manning started seven games as a rookie. The team finished 6-10 overall. Manning completed 48.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 55.4 rating

Robbins' take: "Sam is doing some good things, stepping right in, making good throws -- things you do not expect from a rookie. He’s got a lot of eyes on him, but he stepped in and did some good things. What surprised me was just how quick he is picking up to the NFL tempo, the NFL speed and everything that way. He’s stepping in and doing a good job and the things he does on the practice field make it seem like he is not a rookie. We have a veteran [in Feeley] and one of the best running backs in the game in Steven Jackson. That allows him to take a little pressure off himself. He has shown [in practice] he really can play. Once he gets that game speed against another team and gets that feel for it, he’s going to do just fine."

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 32

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The quivering hand pressed against Jason Brown's backside belonged to the first player chosen in the 2010 NFL draft.

Alas, the week before St. Louis Rams training camp was tough on quarterback Sam Bradford's nerves.

The No. 1 overall draft choice could not be sure when his agent and the team would reach a contract agreement, and by the time Bradford finally arrived, the other quarterbacks had a couple days' head start on him. All eyes were on the franchise savior from Oklahoma when Bradford lowered himself under center for the first time during camp.

Bradford might have appeared cool and in command from afar, but one veteran teammate had a better, uh, feel for the situation.

"You couldn't see it on his face, but I knew he was nervous because when he got under center and put his hand underneath my rear end, his hand was shaking -- it was quivering," Brown said. "And of course, I didn't say anything, but it's a very awkward feeling for me as well when someone has their hand shaking underneath your rear end."

Brown didn't say anything to Bradford because he figured the quarterback would settle down quickly. Bradford did, and he appears well on his way to earning the starting job heading into the regular season.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Scott Rovak/US PresswireSam Bradford's teammates appear to be confident the quarterback can hold his own as a rookie.
In fact, if anyone has reason to quiver at this point in camp, it's the defensive backs trying to defend passes they sometimes do not see coming -- as when Bradford laced one between Oshiomogho Atogwe and Craig Dahl before the safeties even turned around. It's not Bradford's accuracy or timing that have caught defensive backs' attention so much as the combination of those all-important quarterback traits. Early indications suggest the Rams could have the best quarterback in the division sooner rather than later.

"You see a lot of greatness in him -- what he brings, his skill set, very talented, very intelligent," Atogwe said.

Several of Bradford's teammates have experience breaking in first-round quarterbacks elsewhere. Brown (Joe Flacco), tight end Billy Bajema (Alex Smith), center Hank Fraley (Brady Quinn), defensive end James Hall (Joey Harrington), defensive tackle Fred Robbins (Eli Manning) and guard Jacob Bell (Vince Young) pointed to Bradford's maturity, intelligence, competitiveness, demeanor and accuracy.

The way they freely praised Bradford suggested genuine excitement, not the obligatory kind.

"I played with Steve McNair [in Tennessee] and with Ben Roethlisberger [at Miami (Ohio)]," Bell said, "and I thought, 'This guy, the way he throws the ball, man, I haven't seen anybody in person like that on the practice field, ever.' "

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. When will Bradford become the starter? It's an upset if Bradford isn't the No. 1 quarterback from the beginning of the regular season even though veteran A.J. Feeley remains the starter for now. Feeley and Bradford are sharing first- and second-team reps in practice. The team doesn't want to rush Bradford, but all signs point to the rookie grasping the offense quickly. The Rams think he's mature enough to handle what figures to be a rough rookie season. Why delay the inevitable if Bradford is looking good?

2. Can this team defend the pass? The Rams appeared to beef up the middle of their defense by adding Robbins, but the NFL is a passing league and the Rams could struggle to get pressure consistently. They have two pass-rushers -- Chris Long and Hall -- and their secondary has battled injuries throughout camp. Long should continue his improvement. Hall's sacks fell off to 4.5 last season as he transitioned from backup to starter. He is 33 years old. Kevin Dockery has exceeded expectations at cornerback, where rookie Jerome Murphy has also shown promise. But with Atogwe still rounding into form following injury, the secondary is a bit of a question mark.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Jerry Lai/US PresswireSteven Jackson's health remains instrumental in the Rams' success this season.
3. What happens if Steven Jackson gets hurt again? The Rams do not have a proven running threat behind Jackson, even though 2009 seventh-round draft pick Chris Ogbonnaya performed well against the Arizona Cardinals late last season. Ogbonnaya might be a good third-down back because he protects the passer well and can catch the ball, but the Rams could be in trouble if they needed a starter to replace Jackson for a few games. Jackson appears fully healthy so far, but he's coming off back surgery. Brian Westbrook's decision to sign with the 49ers hurt, but the Rams saw him mostly as a third-down back at this stage of his career, anyway. Expect the Rams to monitor the waiver wire for running backs as teams reduce to 53 players on Sept. 4.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Danny Amendola. There's enough uncertainty at receiver for this position to qualify under the "Hottest Questions" heading, but Amendola appears to have found a home as the slot receiver in the Rams' personnel groupings with more than two wideouts. Injuries forced Amendola to play multiple positions last season. Camp practices have convinced me -- and the Rams -- that Amendola's quickness can make him a threat. Said Feeley: "He has polished his game. Some of these guys discover themselves after a year of playing and realizing what they can do. The guy is a special player. The guy is going to make plays and have a lot of catches this year ... a poor man's Wes Welker trying to establish himself. He fits that mold right now. The guy is cat quick."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Offensive line continuity. The way the Rams' line struggled during the exhibition opener against Minnesota was deceiving. Rookie Rodger Saffold was making his first start at left tackle (against Jared Allen, no less). Right tackle Jason Smith had only recently returned from injury and the team knew he might wear down as the game progressed. Brown was filling in at right guard. These mitigating factors point to a broader problem: continuity. Only this week have the Rams gotten their projected starting five linemen on the field together. That must change as the Bradford era gets under way.

OBSERVATION DECK
[+] EnlargeFendi Onobun
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonTight end Fendi Onobun has made a positive impression in camp.

  • Multiple fights broke out during a recent Rams practice and that has to be a welcome sign for a team without enforcer types. The Rams have spent the past couple of years putting into place building-block players with apparently solid character. Long, Smith and James Laurinaitis qualify as "safe" draft choices along those lines. The team has now added some veteran seasoning -- think Robbins, Feeley, Na'il Diggs and Fraley -- but there's still something missing. The next step for St. Louis could be to add some players with a few rough edges. The best teams tend to have a few good players teammates fear. The Rams need more of them.
  • Jackson rehabbed from back surgery with a vengeance and he's looking strong as ever. Jackson also sounds happy. He clearly appreciates coach Steve Spagnuolo's evolving approach to training camp. Spagnuolo polled coaches and players anonymously for ideas after last season. Some complained that a tough 2009 training camp featuring live tackling left the team with weary legs heading into Week 1. Spagnuolo listened, putting limits on some of the contact and giving players more time between practices. Longer term, Spagnuolo wants to reach a point where young players know how to practice without the staff having to manufacture intensity.
  • Looks like the Rams might find a role in their offense for rookie tight end Fendi Onobun. Considered a project coming out of college, Onobun has shown he's further along than the Rams anticipated. The leaping end-zone grab he made in practice this week wasn't out of the ordinary for Onobun. Rookies often must contribute on special teams to earn spots on the 45-man game-day roster. Onobun made a positive impression as a gunner in the exhibition opener.
  • Rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard will bring needed swagger if his body holds up. Gilyard has his own style and doesn't seem to worry about what others think. He practices wearing abbreviated gym shorts over bicycle shorts for a distinctive 1980s look. Gilyard has stepped up his production in practice this week. An arm injury remains a potential concern.
  • Long appears more comfortable with himself and his status on the team. As a rookie and even last season, I sensed Long felt the pressure of being a No. 2 overall draft choice, to the point that he sometimes sounded apologetic about it while finding his way as a pro. Long showed obvious improvement late last season, however, and he appears to be asserting himself more readily. He played a prominent role in recent camp fights and called out Bajema for chipping him unexpectedly.
  • After last season, the Rams were thinking receiver Brandon Gibson might develop into an important part of their offense. They can't be so sure at this point because Gibson has missed an extended period with a hamstring injury. The Rams need Gibson to get on the field and produce during preseason. The team is cautiously optimistic about some of its prospects at receiver, but injuries were a concern last season. Donnie Avery, who bulked up this offseason to become more durable, took a hard shot in practice and came back strong the next play. Rookie free agent Dominique Curry has great size (6-foot-2, 224 pounds) and stood out at times. But I sense the Rams' fingers are crossed at this position. "If they play to their ability, we'll be OK," general manager Billy Devaney said.
  • Atogwe dropped multiple interception chances in practice, which is unusual for him. He's among the team's more conscientious players, though. Atogwe stayed after every practice I watched to work on catching passes. He was the last guy out there.
  • The Rams hoped to get something from linebacker Bobby Carpenter after acquiring him from Dallas in the Alex Barron trade. That's a tough sell at this point. Carpenter isn't working with the starters. The first time I noticed Carpenter in practice was when someone knocked him on his back.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Chris Long was still recovering from a couple of brawls at St. Louis Rams training camp when tight end Billy Bajema planted him on his backside.

Three words come to mind: to be continued.

"To be honest, that was bull----, so I can't wait to get my shot back on 'Baj'," Long said. "Tired as hell from two fights and then somebody wants to chip you. That's the way you're going to handle it? OK, we'll see."

Where's boxing promoter Don King when you need him? King visited the Rams early in camp when he was promoting a local card. He would have had great material Tuesday. It was that kind of morning as the Rams conducted a padded practice at team headquarters. Falling temperatures could not hold off rising tempers.

The Rams were downright ornery, and who could blame them? They're a couple weeks into training camp, they're coming off a rough game against the Minnesota Vikings and they're not the happiest team, anyway.

"You're in a bad mood -- you should be," Long said. "We were 1-15 last year. We're pissed off."

Long's main event with right tackle Jason Smith turned into an all-out melee when defensive tackle Gary Gibson, having already fought with veteran center Hank Fraley, got a little too aggressive for Steven Jackson's liking. Jackson, the Rams' Pro Bowl running back, went after Gibson with a vengeance and ripped off the 300-pounder's helmet.

Smith, meanwhile, had taken Long to the ground near the offensive sideline.

"He's a big, strong dude," Long said. "He like wrestles cows and stuff like that. He got me on the ground. For the record, though, I ended up on top. You just couldn't see it with all that white (jerseys worn by offensive players who rallied to Smith's cause). They surrounded us over there."

Long and Smith talked things through once the fight dispersed.

"Let's not fight any more," Smith said.

"Well, don't hold onto me after the play," Long said.

The two patted one another on the head and moved on.

"Jason and me are cool," Long said. "We're both trying to get better. We get along great and compete really well."

As with most camp brawls, these resulted from players enforcing unwritten rules. If a line is crossed, the victims must fight back to maintain order.

Some unfinished business lingered, however. Long was still catching his breath following the fights when Bajema caught him off-guard. Long went down hard.

"He was probably a little worn out and then I got a chip on him without him seeing it," Bajema said. "That's just one of those things. I think he was a little worn out and didn't like that too much, but I caught him at a good time."

It's probably fortunate the Rams aren't wearing pads for their practice Tuesday night.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Sunday that the St. Louis Rams' inability to pass protect effectively Saturday night stands as a "concern" -- and that protection issues will likely influence whether the team goes with A.J. Feeley or rookie Sam Bradford as its starter.

"Probably, yes," Spagnuolo said during a conference call. "Really, offense begins with the offensive line. I’ve been saying it since we got here. I know the offensive line understands that, and until we straighten out some of these things, it’s going to be tough for any quarterback. My guess is that the group of offensive linemen that we have, that they’ll take this challenge."

The more experienced Feeley might be more apt to start for the Rams early in the season if Spagnuolo still had concerns about protection.

The Rams experimented with a new combination up front Saturday. They moved center Jason Brown to guard because they thought his size would help against a 4-3 defense with massive tackles. Veteran Hank Fraley played center. Left guard Jacob Bell was injured and not available.

Spagnuolo said he expects second-year right tackle Jason Smith to improve as he gets more practice and game reps. Smith has missed time after suffering a broken toe during June camps. He struggled in protection against the Vikings. Rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold gave up a couple pressures to the inside, Spagnuolo said, but overall the Rams were happy with his performance under the circumstances (first preseason game, Jared Allen at defensive end for the Vikings).

Spagnuolo on Smith: "The comment I made this morning was, 'He just needs a thousand reps.' He's behind everybody else in that regard, and all of a sudden you put him out in a game and the speed of the game is completely different. So I think he’ll smooth that out. I don’t think there’s any concern there. He played well there over on the right side about four or five games in the middle of the season last year, so hopefully he can get back in that groove."

Valuing that veteran seasoning

August, 11, 2010
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Age can be a sensitive subject, even in the NFL. Especially in the NFL, where a couple down seasons past age 30 can leave even accomplished players on the outside.

Teams try to find the right mix of youth, players in their primes and older veterans.

The St. Louis Rams, one of the NFL's youngest teams last season, signed a few players well in their 30s this offseason as they tried to add seasoning. Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt pointed to veteran leadership as one of the things he likes about his roster.

I've gone through NFC West rosters to see how many players in their 30s each team employs. The numbers were about what I would have expected.
Arizona (13): punter Ben Graham 36, defensive tackle Bryan Robinson 36, kicker Jay Feely 34, snapper Mike Leach 33, guard Alan Faneca 33, linebacker Clark Haggans 33, linebacker Joey Porter 33, tight end Anthony Becht 33, linebacker Paris Lenon 32, linebacker Monty Beisel 31, safety Adrian Wilson 30, tackle Jeremy Bridges 30, center Ben Claxton 30.

San Francisco (13): kicker Joe Nedney 37, tackle Barry Sims 35, snapper Brian Jennings 33, linebacker Takeo Spikes 33, fullback Moran Norris 32, cornerback William James 31, quarterback David Carr 31, guard Tony Wragge 30, defensive end Demetric Evans 30, defensive end Justin Smith 30, cornerback Nate Clements 30, center Eric Heitmann 30, safety Michael Lewis 30.

Seattle (10): kicker Olindo Mare 37, safety Lawyer Milloy 36, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck 34, guard Ben Hamilton 32, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh 32, guard Chester Pitts 31, receiver Deion Branch 31, tight end Chris Baker 30, defensive tackle Craig Terrill 30, defensive tackle Colin Cole 30.

St. Louis (8): defensive end James Hall 33, defensive tackle Fred Robbins 33, quarterback A.J. Feeley 33, center Hank Fraley 32, linebacker Na'il Diggs 32, kicker Josh Brown 31, snapper Chris Massey 30 and punter Donnie Jones 30.

Several other players turn 30 this season: nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (49ers), guard Adam Goldberg (Rams), linebacker Gerald Hayes (Cardinals), kicker Shane Andrus (49ers), guard Reggie Wells (Cardinals) and cornerback Marcus Trufant (Seahawks).

Around the NFC West: Waiting games

July, 31, 2010
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Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sees no signs of protracted contract disputes involving the Seahawks' remaining unsigned draft choices. O'Neil: "In fact, just the opposite. Friday's slew of signings started with left tackle Trent Williams, who plays the same position as (Russell) Okung and was chosen two picks earlier. Eric Berry, the safety chosen fifth by Kansas City, one spot ahead of Okung, also signed. That gives the Seahawks and Okung's agent a good idea for establishing the ceiling for Okung's deal. Similarly, the player picked ahead of (Earl) Thomas in the draft -- defensive end Brandon Graham -- reached a five-year agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. Those deals will help set the parameters in negotiations between Seattle and its two remaining unsigned rookies."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com asks 10 questions heading into Seahawks training camp. Johns: "The Seahawks ranked 30th in the league in pass defense last year, largely because of the lack of rush (see No. 3 earlier), but also because of some injury woes. That's why two of the most critical players to watch this preseason are cornerback Marcus Trufant and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says during a chat he doesn't think Justin Forsett will reach 1,000 yards this season. Williams: "I don't think Forsett is going to get enough touches to rush for a 1,000. I expect Forsett and (Julius) Jones to split the carries down the middle, with a sprinkling of (Leon) Washington, who likely will contribute more on special teams. But we'll see. If Forsett can stay healthy and get 15-18 rushes a game, it's possible."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to sign first-round choice Dan Williams sooner rather than later. He also says the Cardinals placed inside linebacker Gerald Hayes on the physically unable to perform list. Rookie O'Brien Schofield landed on the non-football injury list. Also, the Cardinals signed a contract to keep their training camp at Northern Arizona University for the next three summers.

Also from Somers: a look at the Cardinals' roster heading into camp. Whisenhunt: "There's going to be a lot of interesting things going on this training camp. There are going to be battles for positions. There are going to be battles for playing time. We're going to get an opportunity to see if some of the young players are ready to step up."

More from Somers: The Cardinals' conditioning test holds special appeal this year. Somers: "Saturday morning's conditioning run usually holds little interest. But guard Deuce Lutui will be on center stage. If he completes the runs in the prescribed time, Deuce can tell everyone that he knew he had things under control at all times. If he doesn't, well, coach Ken Whisenhunt won't be happy. No word on what Deuce is weighing. He's under 396, which he weighed in mid-June, but more than the 340-or so he weighed in December."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the surgery Hayes underwent earlier this offseason was similar to the procedure Monty Beisel underwent a year ago.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams executive Kevin Demoff this way after the team signed rookie Sam Bradford: "I kept hearing during this process, especially early in the process, that maybe Sam didn't want to be here. But I've never heard Sam say anything but how excited he was to be in St. Louis, and how excited he is about the opportunity to help make this team successful again. I talked to Sam earlier tonight, and he's very excited. I'm excited that every fan will want to see the beginning of a new era with him and the Rams and our other new players."

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Donnie Avery showed up to Rams camp at 193 pounds, reflecting an effort to become stronger and more durable.

Also from Nelson: Rams tight end Fendi Onobun appealed to the team for his natural ability. He needs seasoning.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams guard Roger Allen III, who is back from knee surgery.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls colleagues for their thoughts on camp battles for the Rams. Thomas: "As of Thursday, it became clear that the left tackle position was up for grabs between last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Jason Smith, and this year’s second-round pick, Rodger Saffold. The coaching staff likes Saffold’s athleticism as a pass blocker, and Smith isn’t even practicing fully as he comes back from a June fractured toe. At right guard, versatile vet Adam Goldberg enters camp as the favorite, but Hank Fraley and John Greco are in the mix as well. And of course, the No. 1 question entering camp is when does Sam Bradford take the reins from A.J. Feeley at quarterback?" The Rams previously said Saffold projects at right tackle. The team subsequently said Saffold could wind up on the left side. I would think the basic plan remains in place, however. Smith projects as the left tackle unless Saffold appears better suited to the position -- in which case St. Louis used the second overall choice for a right tackle.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says it's only a matter of time before Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati crack the 49ers' starting lineup. Maiocco: "Although coach Mike Singletary said he expects the incumbents to continue to work with the first team at the outset of camp, the rookies will clearly be given their chances to prove themselves. And it's clear both Davis and Iupati have designs on earning their way into the starting lineup sooner than later."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee updates the 49ers' rookie signings and says Kyle Williams spent his offseason fielding punts from former NFL mainstay Tom Rouen, 42. Williams: "He's been in the league forever. He told me a lot about what punters are going to do. He's about 100 years old, but he can still do it."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why the 49ers' Taylor Mays waited before signing his rookie deal. Mays didn't want to sign until Jimmy Clausen's deal was done. Barber: "Me and Jimmy actually have the same agent, so it was kind of waiting for Jimmy to get his contract done (with Carolina), so it would kind of be based upon what Jimmy did. That was kind of a little bit of in-house stuff ... I know my agent Gary (Wichard) had to get Jimmy taken care of first."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says it's time to update the 49ers' roster to reflect the true form of a certain third-round pick's first name. Remember Navorro Bowman? Well, forget about him. Brown: "Bowman clarified that his first name is spelled with a capital V -- as in, NaVorro -- even though it's been written repeatedly in lowercase, including on the 49ers' roster."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers weren't sure whether franchise player Aubrayo Franklin would report to camp on time.
The St. Louis Rams' interest in Terrell Owens makes sense because the Rams lack proven talent at receiver, lack star quality and need to sell tickets.

But if the team does sign a player with the baggage Owens brings, it's tougher for general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo to say they're building a team the right way. It's easier to say they're desperate and feeling pressure amid a pending ownership change. And who could blame them?

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMITerrell Owens is familiar with the offense the Rams run.
Signing Owens was a desperation move when the Buffalo Bills added the former Pro Bowl receiver last offseason. The Bills were starving for talent and relevance. Signing Owens gave them instant gratification. Owens lasted one year in Buffalo and the organization gained nothing for the long term. The Bills' record worsened, they scored substantially fewer points and they fired their head coach during the season.

The Rams are an interesting study. They went young last season as they tried to establish Spagnuolo's program. They've added seasoning to their roster this offseason, picking up Hank Fraley, Fred Robbins and other veterans. They shipped out one of their five best offensive linemen, Alex Barron, ostensibly because Barron's frequent penalties, inconsistent play and questionable dedication didn't fit with what the Rams were attempting to build. They wanted to build with the right types of guys.

Owens wouldn't seem to fit the mold. He has at times spoken from frustration in ways disruptive to the team. Spagnuolo and Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur were with the Eagles when Philadelphia suspended Owens for conduct detrimental to the team. Owens had said he thought the Eagles would have been better off with Brett Favre at quarterback instead of Donovan McNabb, implying that Favre was tougher. Imagine what Owens might say about Sam Bradford after a few rookie mistakes.

Owens does work hard. He would instantly become the best receiver on the team even though his skills have eroded.

Signing Owens could work for the Rams on a few counts:

  • The lack of interest in Owens this offseason gives his next team more leverage to make sure Owens joins that team on the team's terms. Owens would not be getting a lucrative long-term deal. The Rams could release him if Owens didn't live up to their expectations.
  • The Rams might feel as though they have strong enough veteran leadership now to welcome a powerful personality to their locker room without jeopardizing the values they've sought to instill. Spagnuolo and Shurmur are already familiar with Owens from their days in Philadelphia. Fraley is also among current Rams familiar with Owens.
  • That familiarity works both ways. The Rams are running the offense Philadelphia ran when Owens played for the Eagles. He would know more about the offense than quite a few Rams players.

It's still quite possible Owens is using the Rams to leverage a better deal from another team. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that the Cincinnati Bengals are another option. If Owens preferred the Bengals to the Rams -- and that would make sense based on the Bengals' superior prospects for 2010 -- it would serve him if the Bengals thought the Rams were ramping up efforts to sign him.

"One source said the Rams have gotten very aggressive in their pursuit of Owens and it's possible that Owens will sign with the Rams or Bengals within the next 48 to 72 hours," Mortensen reported.

Owens is obviously desperate. The Rams should be desperate, too.

Adding Owens would make the Rams more interesting and more talented. I just don't see any reason for Owens to end his career with a rebuilding team -- unless it's the only job he can get.

The chart shows where Owens' 2009 stats ranked compared to NFC West receivers.




Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, mostly recovered from knee surgery this offseason, claimed a narrow victory over rookie Navorro Bowman in a footrace. Willis: "It's hard not being out there. Because it's what I do. Football right now is ... is me. Just to be able to be out there and see it is kind of like a tease. You see something you love and you can't have, and it almost kills you. Football to me is like an addiction. So maybe I get a little annoying and a little nagging."

Also from Barrows: 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has become more sophisticated in his approach to rushing the passer, according to teammate Joe Staley.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com recaps the 49ers' offseason. Maiocco: "Coach Mike Singletary said third QB Nate Davis is not coming along as quickly as the coaches would like. But the 49ers had to know this was going to be a process. From an outsider's view, Davis seems to be progressing about as well as one could expect. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said he expects Davis to compete with veteran David Carr for the backup job." Completely agree. It's usually a long shot for a late-round quarterback to become a factor in his first of couple seasons. In evaluating what Singletary says about Davis, we should remember that Singletary was speaking from the vantage point of a defensive-minded head coach.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Julius Jones continues to work with the first-team offense at running back, but coach Pete Carroll plans to play multiple players at the position.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Leroy Hill's next court hearing is July 23, with the Seattle linebacker's domestic-violence trial likely to being a week or so later. The Seahawks have asked Hill to stay away from team activities while the case shakes out. Seems to me they would want him around if they were convinced he would fit prominently into their defense for the long term.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sees some good things from Golden Tate even though it's unlikely the Seattle rookie will make a huge impact right away. Morgan: "Tate has time to get better. He's just 21. If I don't seem concerned about minor hitches in his route running, it's because he's already shown tremendous growth in a short amount of time and he's young. Route-running is the premier skill of playing wide receiver. It encompasses much of what makes a wide receiver successful: deception, cutting, footwork, concentration. But, as a skill, it's an expression of talent: agility, explosiveness and coordination. Tate is still learning his craft, but he has time and a deep well of raw talent to draw from."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com reports from the ceremony to retire Adrian Wilson's high school jersey. Urban: "The night wasn’t all serious. Former teacher Debbie Garvlee told a story about Wilson accidentally tripping a fire alarm and getting in trouble. Former basketball coach Frank Hairston recalled a time when Wilson, with his team down 30 to a school led by future NBA star Josh Howard, jacked up three bricks in a row and came to the sideline at an ensuing timeout to declare 'I'm feeling it.'"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals feel better about themselves now than they had reason to earlier this offseason. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We've gotten a lot more accomplished this off-season, I think, than any of us thought back on the first day of free agency, or especially after Kurt retired. Where we go from here as a team, that's going to be determined by training camp, but I'm very pleased with the effort, with the attention to detail and with the consistent attendance."

Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette says the Packers' Jermichael Finley will be among the receivers working out with the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald this offseason.

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says offensive lineman Hank Fraley sees in the Rams what he saw in his former Eagles teams. Fraley: "We had veteran guys like [cornerback] Troy Vincent, but we had a lot of young guys. Especially offensively, with Donovan McNabb at quarterback. I get the same sense here. We’re building this thing in the right direction. That’s the reason I signed here. I feel like we can change it around."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams feel better about their defense after having a full season in the system. Cornerback Ron Bartell: "It's pretty much night and day from last year. Guys are able to move around a lot faster because you know what you're doing. We've played together for a while. We have a core group of guys that have been here, been in the system. So I think it'll make a huge difference."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the Rams' efforts to add seasoning to their roster by signing veteran players this offseason. General manager Billy Devaney: "We had made a concerted effort to get younger. We just thought to have some guys blend in wasn't a bad idea, to get a couple of veterans in, as long as it was the right guy. We weren't going to just bring in older guys."
The earlier item quantifying NFL roster turnover since last season ranks the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals among the three teams with the most changes.

Some of the research used for that project shows up in the latest version of the anabolically enhanced rosters found here periodically. Specifically, the 26th and final column shows which players were starters, backups or on injured reserve for NFC West teams in Week 17 last season.

Download the rosters here.

The column showing player ages makes it easy to see how roster attrition affects older players. I'll list below the players currently 30 or older who have been released, traded, announced their retirements or were not re-signed as unrestricted free agents since last season:

Seattle Seahawks (9)

Patrick Kerney, Walter Jones, John Owens, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson, D.D. Lewis, Damion McIntosh

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Sean Morey, Ben Hamilton and Chris Baker.

Arizona Cardinals (9)

Kurt Warner, Chike Okeafor, Mike Gandy, Bertrand Berry, Neil Rackers, Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Ralph Brown, Dan Kreider,

Note: The team added 30-plus vets Jay Feely, Paris Lenon, Joey Porter and Alan Faneca.

San Francisco 49ers (6)

Shaun Hill, Arnaz Battle, Mark Roman, Walt Harris, Dre' Bly, Jeff Ulbrich

Note: The team added 30-plus vets David Carr and William James. In looking at the chart, note that receiver Isaac Bruce, 37, is still on the 49ers' roster for the time being.

St. Louis Rams (5)

Leonard Little, Marc Bulger, Lenon, Clinton Hart, Randy McMichael

Note: The team added 30-plus vets A.J. Feeley, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and Fred Robbins.
Travis from Portland writes: Patrick Willis can shut down Beanie Wells with one hand tied behind his back, so your article was really not the best player in the division, but the "easiest to claim I know is the best player because of accumulated numbers at the end of the season" award. Not a Niners homer, just a realist.

Mike Sando: Not so fast, Trevor. The item you're referencing listed Wells atop a list of five sleeper candidates for 2010 player of the year in the NFC West. Sleepers were defined as players who had never been to a Pro Bowl or had not been to one in recent years. The list included Wells, Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Michael Crabtree and Matt Leinart.

Larry Fitzgerald and Frank Gore were my top two candidates overall, with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. casting a vote for Willis.

You are right about Willis being a dominant player, but Wells carried 15 times for 79 yards -- an average of 5.3 yards per attempt -- with one touchdown at Candlestick Park last season. This included a 24-yard run on third-and-1, followed later in the drive by a 1-yard scoring run.

I'm pretty sure Willis had both arms available on these plays. He's a great player, but Wells is an ascending one and someone even the best linebackers need to take seriously in 2010.


Brent from Montana writes: Sando, I asked you on a chat who you would take, Matt Leinart or Alex Smith. You said you would take Peyton Manning. Totally understandable. If you could only choose from the two given upside, age and experience, who would you take?

Mike Sando: Alex Smith. No one has ever questioned Smith's commitment to the game. Smith also played reasonably well last season. Leinart didn't play nearly as much. There are simply fewer questions regarding Smith than Leinart right now. Leinart can still have the better career, but if I had to choose one of them right now, Smith would get the call.


Will from Cincinnati writes: Hey Mike, love the blog. Quick question, though. The Rams are in need of a true No. 2 running back and if Bryan Westbrook doesn't work out, what are the chances of them getting a deal with LenDale White? He's not really a change-of-pace back like some suggest they need, but he certainly would hold up in protection with his size and that could prove to be more useful given a possible rookie quarterback. What are your thoughts/insights? Thanks. I appreciate your time.

Mike Sando: Very few moves should come as a surprise to those who have a feel for what teams are thinking. White's situation in Seattle stands out as one nobody read right. I had the wrong feel for how the Seahawks were going to handle him. I was blinded by the fact that White's weight was under control. The Seahawks' decision to release White after only five weeks does two things. One, it sends a strong message through the Seattle roster that Pete Carroll isn't going to give preferential treatment to players from his USC past. Two, it forces us to reevaluate White.

I'd stay away from White if I were the Rams. The potential four-game suspension diminishes White's value to the team even more. He's not the best fit, anyway, because he would provide no change-of-pace qualities, as you mentioned, and it's pretty clear he's a high-maintenance player. Teams can tolerate high-maintenance players who are also productive. I don't think White would offer enough at this point for the Rams to put up with the little things that drove away Seattle. The Rams are still in the early stages of building their team and it's important for them to have the right types of veteran players. White would not fit into the Fred Robbins/A.J. Feeley/Hank Fraley/Na'il Diggs mold. Too much baggage.

If I were the Rams, I would rather give Chris Ogbonnaya a chance than waste my time with White. Ogbonnaya showed some good things late last season. If White couldn't fit in Seattle with Carroll, where can he fit?


Cliff from Edmonds, Wash., writes: Sando! With the release of White, what are the odds Seattle tries to make a play for beast mode a.k.a. Marshawn Lynch? Or do you think he'd have the same bad attitude as White presumably had and we wouldn't want to risk a 2011 draft pick/Leroy Hill for him? I'm not a huge fan of Juilus Jones, but I like Justin Forsett and I think Washington will help things out, too. Adding Beast Mode would make our running back situation pretty solid. What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear a piece from you about it. I feel the Bills' asking price was too high before the draft, but now I don't think they have a need for him and he obviously doesn't' want to be there. Thanks for reading.

Mike Sando: You're welcome. I would not rule out Lynch. The Seahawks have shown they're willing to throw players against the wall to see which ones stick. For example, Reggie Williams was busted for cocaine possession at one point and the Seahawks still gave him a tryout and signed him. Lynch is unhappy in Buffalo. No big deal by comparison.

I would not put White and Lynch in the same category. The book on White coming out of USC was that he had questionable work habits, wasn't a willing pass protector and didn't run tough enough for his size. The book on Lynch was that he was a very tough runner who would fight for extra yards, and that he caught the ball well enough to be a very good all-around back.

Seattle might be happy enough with its current backs to proceed without adding another veteran. Lynch would be intriguing, though, at least in part because he roomed with Forsett at California and Forsett, who shows a positive attitude while doing everything coaches ask of him, might help smooth Lynch's transition to the Northwest.
While every NFC West team can legitimately claim to having a successful offseason on some level, I can see why ESPN's John Clayton ranked the Seahawks' offseason as the NFL's fifth best to this point.

Seattle was dealt a strong offseason hand -- two of the top 14 picks in the 2010 draft -- and the team generally made the most of it.

My quick take on NFC West offseasons to this point:

Arizona Cardinals

What went right: Nose tackle Dan Williams fell to Arizona at No. 26 in the draft. ... Nine-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, a player the team had coveted, suddenly became available. The Cardinals were able to sign him at an affordable price. ... The team got value for receiver Anquan Boldin a year before Boldin likely would have left anyway. ... Darnell Dockett reported for the post-draft camp and participated, an indication he feels the team is closer to rewarding him with a long-term deal. ... The team extended contracts for coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves, buying continuity. The Cardinals also brought back highly valued strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott.

What went wrong: Kurt Warner retired. ... A poorly structured contract allowed safety Antrel Rolle to get away after the first Pro Bowl season of his career. ... Linebacker Karlos Dansby signed with the Dolphins even though the Cardinals' offer was competitive. ... The Rams released Marc Bulger late enough to make it tough for the Cardinals to consider adding a player they might have otherwise signed. ... Losing Warner and Boldin deprived the team of established leadership.

The bottom line: There wasn't much Arizona could do about Warner's retirement, but that subtraction -- followed by the departures of Rolle, Dansby and Boldin -- put the team in a tough situation. The Cardinals rebounded, adding safety Kerry Rhodes, outside linebacker Joey Porter, Faneca, guard Rex Hadnot and linebacker Paris Lenon in free agency. They felt great about landing Williams in the first round of the draft, and they had a fallback plan when talks with kicker Neil Rackers went nowhere. Those moves allowed Arizona to feel better about a tough offseason.

San Francisco 49ers

What went right: The 49ers addressed obvious issues on the offensive line through the draft. ... Mike Solari, the perfect line coach for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, suddenly became available when the Seahawks fired Jim Mora after only one season. Solari is among the best in the game and he worked with Raye previously. ... The team found a way to extend Patrick Willis' contract despite hurdles put in place by the NFL labor situation. ... The Dolphins' acquisition of Brandon Marshall made Ted Ginn Jr. expendable in Miami, furnishing the 49ers with an option for their return game and possibly at receiver. ... Director of player personnel Trent Baalke, thrust into a more prominent role shortly before the draft, appeared to be a good match for coach Mike Singletary. The two had developed a rapport over the years when Singletary was a position coach, and that paid off immediately.

What went wrong: General manager Scot McCloughan left the team for personal reasons only five weeks before the draft. ... Willis required knee surgery to remove a bursa sac. ... Depending on your view of Donovan McNabb, the 49ers arguably missed a chance to add a quarterback capable of putting the team over the top. ... Linebacker Manny Lawson stayed away from minicamps and offseason workouts because he wants a new contract.

The bottom line: The paragraph on what went right vastly outweighs the paragraph on what went wrong. The 49ers must have had a pretty good offseason, then. They stayed the course through McCloughan's departure. On the field, they made continuity a high priority. They re-signed Willis and stood by quarterback Alex Smith. The decision at quarterback will largely determine whether the 49ers truly enjoyed a successful offseason, but no matter what happens, their reasoning was understandable. Smith made strides last season and the team was finally in position to keep the same quarterback and offensive coordinator together in consecutive years.

Seattle Seahawks

What went right: The draft fell favorably for Seattle, allowing the team to land left tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas in the first round. Getting Golden Tate in the second round seemed like a bonus. ... New coach Pete Carroll and new general manager John Schneider have so far worked well together. Their rapport appears uncannily strong. ... Carroll was able to land highly regarded assistant coaches, including Alex Gibbs. ... The team added depth at running back without giving up much. Leon Washington has the potential to add a needed element to the offense ... First-round bust Mike Williams showed promise during minicamps. ... Cornerback Marcus Trufant appeared healthy again.

What went wrong: The team felt compelled to hire its third head coach in less than two years. ... Age and injuries forced Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney into retirement. ... It's too early to say whether Seattle erred in adding Charlie Whitehurst, but the team arguably overspent for an untested backup quarterback. The move later prevented the Seahawks from considering Jimmy Clausen in the second round. ... Linebacker Leroy Hill suffered additional off-field problems, reducing his value to the Seahawks or any team looking to add a linebacker via trade. ... Seattle struck out in its efforts to land Marshall from the Broncos. ... Receiver Deion Branch needed another knee surgery, albeit a minor one.

The bottom line: Seattle moved aggressively to shore up weaknesses from the front office to the playing field. That's what it takes to be perceived as having a successful offseason. We should remember, however, that the Seahawks spent quite a bit of the offseason subtracting from their roster. Teams that change coaches and GMs will have roster turnover, but are the Seahawks better in the immediate term without Nate Burleson, Deon Grant, Darryl Tapp, Cory Redding, Rob Sims and even Seneca Wallace? Change comes at a price.

St. Louis Rams

What went right: The Rams had to get a quarterback and they got one in Sam Bradford. ... Bradford's shoulder checked out well enough during the offseason for the Rams to consider drafting him. ... Minority owner Stan Kroenke, a man with deep pockets and a strong track record in sports team ownership, declared his intention to keep the team in St. Louis after exercising an option to buy the franchise. ... The Rams maintained continuity of the coaching staff on offense, defense and special teams after years of turnover. Continuity was needed. ... The Rams needed veteran seasoning and they got it by adding veterans familiar with their systems. Fred Robbins, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and A.J. Feeley should help even if they do not start.

What went wrong: The Rams' best player, Steven Jackson, underwent back surgery when rehabilitation alone wasn't enough to recover from a herniated disk. ... Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe's injury situation combined with two other factors -- a pending ownership change and new rules governing free agency -- to complicate the Rams' efforts to retain their former franchise player. Atogwe can become a free agent next month if the Rams do not increase their offer to him from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. ... Ownership uncertainty made it harder for the Rams to act decisively throughout the offseason. The Rams' offseason budget lacked the flexibility it would have otherwise had. Should the team have made a play for Marshall or another big-name free agent? The Rams' hands appeared somewhat tied.

The bottom line: The Rams put in place building blocks for their future, starting at quarterback. Their offseason will be judged almost entirely on whether Bradford becomes the player the Rams thought they were getting. Simple as that.

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