NFC West: Herman Johnson

Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.

Aaron Curry and that 2009 draft class

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
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Aaron Curry, apparently headed for Oakland, has plenty of company among 2009 NFL draft choices failing to meet expectations with their original teams.

The player Seattle's previous leadership drafted fourth overall was part of a draft featuring quite a few underwhelming players near the top.

Thirteen NFC West choices from the 2009 draft remain with their teams: Max Unger, Deon Butler and Cameron Morrah in Seattle; Beanie Wells, Rashad Johnson, Greg Toler and LaRod Stephens-Howling in Arizona; Jason Smith, James Laurinaitis, Bradley Fletcher and Darell Scott in St. Louis; and two players in San Francisco, Michael Crabtree and Ricky-Jean Francois.

Let's sift through the rubble ...

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The San Francisco 49ers have gone for quality over quantity in trying to build a big, powerful offensive line.

The team has drafted seven offensive linemen since 2005, one below the NFL average. But the 49ers selected a league-high three of the seven in the first round and a league-high five of them in the first two rounds.

That jumped out right away when sizing up NFC West offensive linemen from the 2005-2010 draft classes for the latest "adventures in drafting" installment.

The Arizona Cardinals have taken a different approach, using a division-low one first-round selection for the offensive line since 2005. Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Oakland, San Diego, Tennessee, Dallas, Minnesota and the New York Giants have selected no first-round offensive linemen during that span.

The charts break out NFC West selections by general draft position, with a column showing how many starts each has made for his original team. I am using the term "not active" loosely to describe players who haven't been on rosters during the regular season recently.

Italics reveal what teams might have been thinking as they entered various stages of the draft.

We should find 10-year starters with Pro Bowl potential, most often at tackle ...

Every offensive lineman selected among the top 50 or so choices should contribute and hopefully start ...

The most athletic prospects are gone by now, but tough guys still have value ...

These guys have question marks, obvious limitations or both, but we'll still get some starts from them ...

Anyone seen the Seahawks or 49ers lately?

What are our numbers on the line again? Let's get another one here.
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle explains why he thinks Ryan Mallett would be a poor fit for the Seahawks. Huard: "You don't have to be a sprinter, you don't have to be Michael Vick, but 5.47 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] is a sitting duck target. With the West Coast system and the play-action passing game, I don't think he's an ideal fit here in Seattle." There remains some mystery as to how much the Seahawks' offense will evolve with Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable in charge, but coach Pete Carroll has indicated the team will still emphasize quarterback mobility.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times continues his look at Golden Tate's rookie season. O'Neil: "It's not unprecedented for a receiver to take a huge jump in his second season. (Chad) Johnson and (Steve) Smith (of the Giants) are proof of that. In fact, of the 45 receivers chosen in the second round from 2000 to 2009, 11 of them increased their receptions by 20 or more catches in their second season. But that upward progression is hardly a sure thing. Just look at the above list for proof that for some second-round picks, a mediocre rookie season foreshadows an unremarkable sophomore season, too."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with former pass-rusher Jacob Green, who landed on the franchise's 35th anniversary team. Joe Nash: "The guy was just amazing. The one thing that stands out the most about Jake in my mind is how he took Henry Lawrence back in one of those playoffs games and just dominated him with his great athleticism."

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout has the Rams selecting Alabama receiver Julio Jones in his latest mock draft. Rang: "The Rams have their young franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and a workhorse runner in All-Pro Steven Jackson, but desperately need help outside. Jones isn't as fast on the field as he was at the Combine, but his size, strength and three years of consistent standout play in the ultra-competitive SEC make him an ideal candidate to make an immediate impact." Rang has Arizona taking Robert Quinn, San Francisco taking Patrick Peterson and Seattle taking Corey Liuget.

Eric Davis tells Niner Insider he'll be able to speak his mind as the 49ers' new color commentator for radio. Davis: "I said flat out, 'If I say something negative, will I go to the principal's office?' They said, 'We want you to say what you want.'" Davis says he hasn't spoken with Gary Plummer, his former teammate and the man he'll replace in the booth.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at potential quarterback candidates for the 49ers. On Matt Hasselbeck: "No other QB on the market is more familiar with the intricacies of the West Coast offense than Hasselbeck, 35, a free agent who has played in a West Coast system since 2001." Hasselbeck's experience in a West Coast system goes back even farther, to his practice-squad days with Green Bay in 1998.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was there when Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi worked out for NFL teams. Barrows: "He's got a quick release and makes good decisions having thrown 25 touchdowns against six interceptions last season. However, he does not have the athleticism -- something Harbaugh covets -- or the arm strength of other prospects. It should be noted that Harbaugh and Stanzi are represented by the same agent, Jack Bechta. (In fact, Harbaugh had two agents when he was hired by the 49ers in January, Bechta and David Dunn, who also represents Jake Locker)."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com ranks the 49ers' 18th in terms of draft classes over the past five years. Maiocco: "The 49ers accumulated more than half of their starters through the draft in the past five years, but that has not reflected improvement on the field. The main reason is because the 49ers did not acquire standouts at impact positions, such as quarterback, cornerback and pass-rusher."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals cannot forget about their offensive line even though quarterback and pass-rusher are positions of more immediate need. Urban: "The Cards aren’t going to go offensive lineman with their first pick, but after that, I could see it at any point. Finding someone to begin grooming – a la Keith – now that Herman Johnson has left seems crucial. There seems to be some line depth in the draft, especially at tackle, again with the knowledge decent interior guys can often be found later or undrafted."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic had this to say during a Cardinals chat: "If all reports are true, Von Miller would be a wise choice in the first round. In second round, I'd look hard at the next tier of quarterbacks. I like Andy Dalton." Somers thinks Marc Bulger is the favorite to start at quarterback for Arizona in 2011, and that the team will not draft a quarterback in the first round.

Inactives: Bears, Seahawks healthy

January, 16, 2011
1/16/11
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CHICAGO -- The Seattle Seahawks offered no surprises on their list of inactive players Sunday.

They are relatively healthy.

Lofa Tatupu starts at middle linebacker one week after suffering a concussion. Coach Pete Carroll said all week he expected Tatupu to play.

Inactive for Seattle: cornerback Josh Pinkard, cornerback Marcus Brown, linebacker Joe Pawelek, guard Lemuel Jeanpierre, guard Paul Fanaika, tackle Breno Giacomini and defensive tackle Amon Gordon. J.P. Losman is the third quarterback.

The Bears' inactive list features safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Joshua Moore, running back Kahlil Bell, guard Herman Johnson, guard/center Edwin Williams, tight end Desmond Clark and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. Caleb Hanie is the third quarterback.

Clark, who started seven games last season, has faded from prominence over the second half of the season. He was active against Seattle in Week 6, then inactive until Week 17.

Around the NFC West: Cards' QB options

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
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Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals had interest in signing Marc Bulger even after landing Derek Anderson and while Matt Leinart was still on the roster. Somers: "There was interest in Marc Bulger, but the Rams didn't release him until April, and the Cardinals couldn't afford to wait that long if they wanted to sign a veteran. Even then, the team had interest in Bulger, but ownership balked at paying for three veterans: Leinart, Anderson and Bulger. By demoting and then releasing Leinart, (coach Ken) Whisenhunt gambled that he could turn Anderson into something he had never been: an accurate passer. Whisenhunt lost that wager. Whisenhunt also knew he was taking a chance by having two rookies, Max Hall and John Skelton, as backups in the event Anderson was hurt or played poorly. Now the Cardinals are lost in dark waters with no competent quarterback to guide them to safety." Bulger signed a one-year, $4.3 million deal with Baltimore. Perhaps he winds up in Arizona next season.

Also from Somers: The Chicago Bears have signed offensive lineman Herman Johnson from the Cardinals' practice squad. Somers: "Johnson is the third of eight 2009 draft picks to leave the team. Outside linebacker Cody Brown, the second-round pick, was cut in training camp. Guard Trevor Canfield was gone last year. The production from most of the other members of the 2009 class has not been great. Running back Beanie Wells, the first-round pick, has not produced consistently. Rashad Johnson, the third round pick, plays in sub packages and on special teams. Cornerback Greg Toler, the fourth round pick, is the only player from the class starting. Outside linebacker Will Davis is on injured reserve with a broken leg."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Skelton might start Sunday even if doctors clear Anderson.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Kelly Jennings will remain the starting right cornerback for Seattle, but rookie Walter Thurmond will continue to get playing time. Also: "Leon Washington’s kickoff return average has dipped to 27.0, which ranks fifth in the league. But his punt return average has spiked to 20.9 after his 84-yarder against the Panthers. But he does not have enough attempts (10) to qualify as the league leader -- although he’s well ahead of the league-leading average (16.0) that belongs to the Titans’ Marc Mariani."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Seattle players for a look at what happens during loose-ball pileups in the NFL. Linebacker Will Herring says someone tried to rip his lip and mouth by hooking it with a finger. Herring: "You ever been bass fishing? The bass will jump and just kind of shake their head? I just gave it the old shake-loose." Of course!

Also from O'Neil: a chat transcript noting that Seattle will start the same five offensive linemen for the third game in a row, something that hasn't happened previously this season.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune previews the Seahawks' game at San Francisco. Boling: "Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck used an interesting term when he noted that the Hawks now are, after several seasons as afterthoughts, once again 'relevant.' Perfect terminology. Relevant doesn’t necessarily mean good, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about consistency. But they truly are relevant to the discussion, and even that feels like an improvement. This time two years ago, the Seahawks had just two wins in Mike Holmgren’s final season as coach. His 10 seasons coaching the team to a Super Bowl and six playoff appearances soon would be celebrated by his getting pelted with snowballs during his final lap of Qwest Field."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald asks whether the Seahawks' victory over Carolina ends their midseason slump.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are looking to become the third team in franchise history to win road games in three consecutive weeks. All they'll have to do is knock off Drew Brees and friends in the Superdome. Thomas: "The Rams have had some successful road teams, most notably the 2001 NFC championship squad that went 8-0 on the road that season. But that team never played away games in three successive weeks. The best they did was back-to-back road victories twice. The current league policy, according to Rams executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff, is to have teams play as many as three consecutive road games only about once every eight years."

Also from Thomas: The Rams signed linebacker David Nixon from their practice squad.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript with thoughts on what happened to rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard. Thomas: "Gilyard was doing a good job as a gunner, running down punts and kickoffs. But once he got passes by Danario Alexander as the No. 4 wide receiver, his role became extremely limited. Except for that one kickoff return attempt which he bungled against San Francisoo a few weeks ago, Gilyard hasn't returned kickoffs for weeks. So is this season a disappointment? Sure. But do you write him off? Certainly not. Unless he breaks into the top four WRs or regains his kickoff return job, he may not factor in over these final four games." That's a significant disappointment, I think, given that the Rams are not exactly loaded at wideout this season.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues for thoughts on how to beat the Saints. Jeff Gordon: "One, keep Brees off the field by actually running the football with some consistency and sustaining a ball-control offense. Two, take away the Saints running game – which won’t be easy with Na’il Diggs out for the year and the Rams lacking strong OLB play. Three, generate a consistent pass rush in the base defense to lessen the reliance on the blitz. Brees has seen it all, so the Rams will have to mix up their defenses. They won’t be able to blitz the Saints into submission liked they blitzed the Cardinals into submission."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says secondary coach Johnny Lynn no longer works for the 49ers. The team cited personal reasons. Mark this down as the latest in a long line of unusual events to define this 2010 season for the 49ers under Mike Singletary.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the 49ers' decision to replace Troy Smith with Alex Smith at quarterback: "The 49ers' coaches feel that Alex Smith gives them more options. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said last month that Troy Smith is a much better play-action quarterback than he is a shotgun quarterback. Well, the 49ers' best weapon as far as play-action passing – running back Frank Gore – has a broken hip and is done for the season. The two guys who replace him, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon, hail from more wide-open offenses. Westbrook, of course, played in a West Coast offense in Philadelphia. Dixon was in a spread attack at Mississippi State last season. These are guys who are accustomed to taking handoffs out of the shotgun and who are used to playing a big part in the passing game. In other words, it's a calculated gamble on the part of Singletary (and Johnson, whom I have to believe heavily influenced this move). If the 49ers incorporate more spread ideas, Alex Smith certainly would be more comfortable than Troy Smith. I agree that Troy Smith's swagger and confidence were good for the 49ers offense. But on the other hand, this move may signal that the 49ers -- finally -- may be moving away from their cram-it-up-the-gut style of offense."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the switch back to Alex Smith. Kawakami: "I didn’t 100% disagree with Mike Singletary’s decision to go with ASmith as the starter this season. But I wholeheartedly objected to the team’s total commitment to him–and disregarding of other upgrade options -- to the point that they purposely brought in a bad back-up (David Carr) to make sure ASmith didn’t feel threatened. Backwards, defensive, scaredy-cat thinking. Which has reigned for more than 6 years in the 49ers HQ, of course."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says it's fitting for Alex Smith to start a do-or-die game for the 49ers.

2009 NFL draft revisited: Cardinals

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
12:00
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A quick look at the Arizona Cardinals' 2009 draft class ...

Best pick so far: Seventh-round choice LaRod Stephens-Howling has become a Pro Bowl-caliber player on special teams, both as a returner and in coverage. He has increasingly found a home in the Cardinals' offense. Arizona can line him up as a running back or wide receiver. For his career, Stephens-Howling has three touchdowns on kickoff returns, one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown.

Second-guessing: The Cardinals could badly use young talent at outside linebacker. Second-round choice Cody Brown missed his rookie season after suffering a wrist injury. The Cardinals cut him heading into this season after Brown showed little during camp. With Brown out of the picture, veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans remain the team's best options at outside linebacker.

Key variable: Beanie Wells has shown he can be a difference-maker. His 43-yard reception up the right sideline Monday night validated coach Ken Whisenhunt's contention that Wells has good receiving skills. Wells has also occasionally added a physical presence to the offense through his running style. Injuries and inconsistency have prevented Wells from meeting expectations, however. His latest setback came Monday night when Wells failed to widen his arms enough while accepting a handoff, leading to a tone-setting lost fumble on the Cardinals' first offensive play.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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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

NFC West practice squad eligibility

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
10:56
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NFL teams can begin signing eight or fewer players to their practice squads once the players clear waivers Sunday.

Players on practice squads earn $5,200 per week for the 2010 season. The collective bargaining agreement sets the following parameters for eligibility:
  • Players without an accrued season of NFL experience;
  • Free-agent players who were on the 45-man active list for fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season;
  • Players who have not served more than two previous seasons on a practice squad.

According to the CBA, "A player shall be deemed to have served on a practice squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and been a member of the club's practice squad for at least three regular-season or postseason games during his first two practice squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third practice squad season."

What about bye weeks? More CBA: "A bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular-season or postseason weekend in question."

The first chart shows eligible players released by the Arizona Cardinals. Chris Johnson, Alfonso Smith and Mark Washington were waived/injured. Dean Muhtadi was released from injured reserve.


The second chart shows eligible players released by the Rams.


The third chart shows eligible players released by the 49ers (Brandon Long was released with an injury settlement).


The fourth chart shows eligible players released by the Seahawks (Jonathan Lewis was released with an injury settlement).

Arizona Cardinals cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2010
9/03/10
6:20
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Biggest surprise: The Cardinals parted with tight end Anthony Becht even though rookie Jim Dray didn't seem to show a great deal through most of camp. Becht became a valuable blocker in the Cardinals' two-tight end sets last season. Stephen Spach's improved health this offseason lets him step into the role. Dray's ability to contribute on special teams also gave him an edge over Becht. Releasing outside linebacker Cody Brown stands as a surprise only because Brown was a second-round choice in 2009. Every other second-round choice from last season was still with his original team as of Friday morning. The move was less surprising based on Brown's contributions. I once thought Herman Johnson might develop into a starting offensive lineman, but he reported to camp overweight and the Cardinals let him go. Their depth on the line gave Johnson less margin for error.

No-brainers: Veteran insider linebacker Monty Beisel had started during part of preseason and the Cardinals are lean at the position after placing Gerald Hayes on reserve/physically unable to perform. But Beisel wasn't the answer at the position and keeping him on the roster for Week 1 would have guaranteed his salary. Rookie Daryl Washington looks like he'll be starting at linebacker sooner rather than later. The Cardinals have also been pleased with veteran Paris Lenon. Reggie Walker also survived the first wave of cuts.

What’s next: The Cardinals still must release three players to conform with the 53-man limit. Matt Leinart's future remains in limbo. Coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Friday that he wasn't prepared to make a decision on that front just yet. The Cardinals have four quarterbacks on their roster: Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton and Leinart. That situation should shake out in the coming days. Whisenhunt said he needs to figure out whether Leinart could fit as a backup if the team decided to name Anderson its starter. "It's not so much a question of Matt and his ability to play football as it his how he fits with our team," Whisenhunt said. Update: Here's my take on Leinart, who was released Saturday.

Cardinals players cut:
QB Matt Leinart
LB Stevie Baggs
TE Anthony Becht
LB Monty Beisel
LB Cody Brown
DE Jeremy Clark
DE John Fletcher
CB Trevor Ford
WR Ed Gant
OL Herman Johnson
WR Mike Jones
WR Onrea Jones
CB Justin Miller
OL Jonathan Palmer
OL Tom Pestock
FB Charles Scott
WR Isaiah Williams

Post-camp roster analysis: Cardinals

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
5:50
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Matt Leinart apparently has no idea where he stands with the Arizona Cardinals. That makes it tough for the rest of us to predict exactly what might happen.

Will Leinart start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Week 1? Will he serve as the backup? Will the Cardinals release him? Might they trade him?

The next week to 10 days should provide answers. NFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 53-man limits, with the 75-man deadline passing Tuesday.

After looking at the Seahawks' roster earlier Monday, here's a quick run through the Cardinals:

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Derek Anderson

Looking safe: Max Hall

On the bubble: Leinart, John Skelton

Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt's handling of Leinart suggests there's more than tough love at work here. It's fair to question whether Leinart fits into the team's plans at all this season. The smart move, it seems, would be to keep Anderson, Leinart and the winner of the Hall-Skelton competition. But it's clear Whisenhunt isn't convinced Leinart has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.

Running backs (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright

On the bubble: Reagan Maui'a, Charles Scott

Also: Alfonso Smith, Nehemiah Broughton

Comment: Scott arrived via trade this week after Broughton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Maui'a could be the choice heading into the regular season. Scott provides depth for the final exhibition game, but it's unlikely he would be refined enough as a blocker to factor into the offense in a meaningful way. Smith's speed caught my attention early in camp.

Wide receivers (11)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.1

Keepers: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet

Looking safe: Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams

On the bubble: Onrea Jones, Max Komar

Also: Isaiah Williams, Darren Mougey, Mike Jones, Ed Gant

Comment: Gant serves a suspension to open the season. Roberts will make the team as a third-round pick. Williams pretty much wrapped up a spot with his latest strong performance (at Chicago). Jones and Komar could be competing for a sixth and final spot at the position.

Tight ends (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Keepers: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach

Also: Jim Dray

Comment: The team released Dominique Byrd on Monday. The top three appear set. Not much drama here. Dray looks like practice-squad material.

Offensive linemen (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Lyle Sendlein, Alan Faneca, Brandon Keith, Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges

Looking safe: Herman Johnson

Also: Ben Claxton, Tom Pestock, Jonathan Palmer

Comment: Lutui could be trending toward a spot back in the starting lineup despite reporting to camp overweight. Johnson also reported overweight. He isn't a starter, and that's why I listed him separately from the keepers (even though it's an upset, most likely, if Johnson does not stick).

Defensive line (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.4

Keepers: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson

Looking safe: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema

Also: John Fletcher, Jeremy Clark

Comment: This position appears pretty much set. I would expect seven to earn roster spots.

Linebackers (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.1

Keepers: Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington

Looking safe: Will Davis, Cody Brown

Bubble: Monty Beisel, Reggie Walker

Also: O'Brien Schofield, Steve Baggs, Mark Washington, Chris Johnson, Pago Togafau

Comment: Hayes and Schofield could open the season on reserve/physically unable to perform, opening two roster spots. Beisel and Walker could be competing for the final spot at this position.

Defensive backs (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Matt Ware

Looking safe: Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Rashad Johnson

On the bubble: Marshay Green

Also: A.J. Jefferson, Trevor Ford, Justin Miller

Comment: Toler could be passing McBride on the depth chart as the starting right cornerback, fulfilling expectations. Johnson appeared more physical early in camp. Haven't heard much about him lately, though.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Jay Feely, Ben Graham, Mike Leach

Comment: Arizona has three on the roster and that's how many the team will keep. Simple enough.

Around the NFC West: Warner content

August, 17, 2010
8/17/10
8:09
AM ET
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic checks in with former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who says he's happy in retirement. Warner on the exhibition opener: "It wasn't difficult watching at all, because I didn't feel like I was supposed to be there. While I still feel attached to it to some degree, it didn't feel like I was missing out on something."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't happy with his team following its exhibition opener. Sounds familiar. Seems like there's a point each summer when Whisenhunt expresses frustration following an exhibition game.

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt was happy with his interior offensive linemen. Arizona is deep in that area.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says a car accident sidelined defensive back Aaron Rouse.

Also from Urban: Deuce Lutui wasn't the only Cardinals offensive lineman with weight trouble this offseason. Herman Johnson reported at 380 pounds and Whisenhunt was furious. There's no excuse for professional athletes to report out of shape. It's not like they have to find time to work out. Staying in shape is their job and they're well compensated.

More from Urban: Whisenhunt wants to address mental errors.

49ers.com provides a transcript to Mike Singletary's latest interview. Singletary holds quarterback Alex Smith responsible for the miscommunication on a missed pass to a wide-open Vernon Davis in the exhibition opener. Singletary: "I feel very good about Alex. There was one pass yesterday to Vernon, that pass there, he’ll do better at. He’ll do a better job. But I felt very good about some of the other passes that he had, the three that he did complete. A couple were dropped or defended well against, but I felt good about him."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle has this to say about new 49ers running back Brian Westbrook: "He runs around the edges. He catches out of the backfield. He scores all over the place. Not bad, as far as mid-August transactions go."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Westbrook breaks the mold for running backs the team favored when Scot McCloughan was general manager.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers save about $800,000 in future guarantees by shipping Kentwan Balmer to Seattle.

Also from Maiocco: He didn't think the 49ers would add Westbrook and he says the team already has a good third-down back in Frank Gore.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Reggie Smith is making a positive impression this summer. Barber: "Smith has really stood out at camp, where he gets reps with the second-team defense at safety, and with the No. 1s (subbing for Michael Lewis) when the 49ers' go to a nickel subpackage. Because NFL teams run so many three-wide-receiver sets these days, Smith could see the field a lot in 2010."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are not likely to sign another return specialist in the short term while Kyle Williams recovers from a toe injury.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Lofa Tatupu was back at Seahawks practice and cornerback Walter Thurmond was back to impressing Seattle.

Also from Johns: Ray Willis' chronic knee problems are leading to a surgical procedure that will sideline the Seattle offensive lineman heading into the season.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says quarterback Charlie Whitehurst made an impressive play in practice Monday, continuing a recent upcharge for the backup to Matt Hasselbeck. O'Neil: "Whitehurst faked a handoff to Justin Forsett, who was running off left tackle. Whitehurst then bootlegged to his right, throwing on the run, arcing his pass just over the outstretched hand of defensive end Chris Clemons, completing it to rookie Golden Tate. It was an important play because those types of moving-pocket plays are going to be used consistently in Seattle's offense under Jeremy Bates."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune has this to say about Whitehurst during a chat: "I don't think he will start ahead of Hasselbeck. But I do think he'll get some reps with the first unit. Whitehurst had been playing better heading into Saturday's game, but I was surprised with how well he played. He threw the ball much more accurately than we have seen during practice. And he played with poise. A nice start for him."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's no excuse for the Rams' recent struggles on their offensive line. Miklasz: "The play of the Rams' offensive line in Saturday's flogging by the Minnesota Vikings was an embarrassment to all concerned. I don't care that it was the first preseason game. I don't care that little injuries and bumps and bruises have interrupted the O-line's continuity in training camp. There's no justification for what we saw Saturday."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he thinks Sam Bradford is "well on his way" to proving he's the best option to start in Week 1.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are already Bradford's team. Burwell: "Bradford is going to be the starter sooner rather than later, and everyone here knows it. He is getting more reps in practice and asserting himself on and off the field to justify his quiet but confident urging for more work with the first unit."
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Arizona Cardinals relocate their Sunday practice indoors to avoid rains at Northern Arizona University:

  • Offensive line coach Russ Grimm's selection to the Hall of Fame raises his profile among Cardinals players who might have known he played without knowing he was one of the great guards. Grimm and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Darnell Dockett spoke for about 15 minutes at one point during practice. Grimm was sharing pointers based on his knowledge of the game and personal experiences. The two shook hands about 10 minutes into the conversation as if they were finished, only to quickly reconvene and continue. I'll have more on this subject another time.
  • [+] EnlargeCardinals
    AP Photo/Matt YorkRain forced the Cardinals and their defensive line to practice indoors on Sunday.
    Defensive tackle Alan Branch, facing a make-or-break season is obviously lighter. He even led teammates in sideline-to-sideline runs before practice. I caught him stopping about 5 yards short of the sideline on one of the runs, though.
  • It's tough for the offense to function sometimes with Dockett blowing up plays. He drove right guard Reggie Wells into the backfield on one play, sending Wells flying into quarterback Matt Leinart, who hit the FieldTurf surface at the 16,000-seat Walkup Skydome. Dockett expanded his offseason training regimen to include pushing his Cadillac for 30 to 40 feet at a time, with 2-minute breaks between sets (former Seattle Seahawks tackle Walter Jones used to push around a pickup truck as part of his training). Dockett said it's "no sweat" matching up against 340-pound offensive linemen after pushing around a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds.
  • Second-year safety Rashad Johnson might be making a conscious effort to become more physical, something he must do to challenge for playing time. The Cardinals practiced in pads and Johnson took advantage of the opportunity to hit. He tagged receiver Onrea Jones on one play when both met at the ball. Johnson also scuffled with tight end Stephen Spach.
  • Speaking of Spach, he made a one-handed grab to beat new Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes for a 35-yard touchdown up the left seam.
  • Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is not yet full strength following knee surgery, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. It was obvious between plays because Rodgers-Cromartie sometimes moved with a limp. But he was very active and ran well when plays were live. Learning to play through injuries and at less than full strength can be difficult for some young players. I thought that was a challenge for Rodgers-Cromartie late last season.
  • The first-team offensive line, from left to right: Levi Brown, Alan Faneca, Lyle Sendlein, Wells, Brandon Keith.
  • The second-team offensive line, left to right: Jeremy Bridges, Rex Hadnot, Ben Claxton, Deuce Lutui, Herman Johnson.
  • Lutui weighs about 360. I would have guessed 345 to 350. He's a big guy and he can hide weight. He did not appear sloppy to me. The Cardinals would like him to play in the low 340s.
  • Keith looks the part at right tackle. He appears strong. I didn't see the Cardinals hold full-speed pass-rush drills, however. The offensive and defensive lines took a break lasting perhaps 15 minutes at one point during practice.
  • A long-term extension for Dockett remains a possibility this season, Whisenhunt said. The Cardinals want to reward him.
  • The Cardinals think Faneca still has something left even though the Jets ate millions in salary to remove Faneca from their roster. Dockett and Whisenhunt both said they've seen good things from Faneca. "Very athletic," Dockett said.
  • For a minute, I thought the Cardinals had an elite new prospect at safety, but Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson was wearing No. 9 instead of his usual No. 24. He wore No. 9 in high school and recently returned to have his jersey retired.
  • Beanie Wells, Steve Breaston and Charles Ali were among the players I saw drop passes. Breaston couldn't make the grab on what would have been a long touchdown pass.
  • Rookie receiver Max Komar made the best catch of the day, snatching a pass while lying on his back.

I'm looking forward to spending the next few days at Cardinals camp. I'll have more observations Monday.
The question in the headline seems misplaced given popular perceptions about the team that subtracted Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and others.

But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.

It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.

Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.

Quarterback

Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.

Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.

Running back

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
Fernando Medina/US PresswireBeanie Wells should have a larger role in the offense this season.
Barrett: In a pass-oriented offense, Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower combined to rush for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns, but they also fumbled the ball nine times and lost six of those. Both backs are looking to get even more carries this season, with Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling perhaps having an increased opportunity to get touches over last season (combined nine attempts for 32 yards last season). Verdict: same.

Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.

Wide receiver

Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.

Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.

Tight end

Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.

Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.

Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets released Alan Faneca this offseason after just two seasons in New York.
Barrett: With the free-agent additions of Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot, starting quality and depth are already improved on a unit that has seen more postseason action in the past two seasons than any other offensive line in the NFL. This lessens any blow the line might take if an overweight Deuce Lutui does not return. There's also a second-year man by the name of Herman Johnson who just might be big enough to take over his spot. Verdict: better.

Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).

Offense overall

Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.

Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.

Defensive line

Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.

Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.

Outside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJoey Porter
Kim Klement/US PresswireJoey Porter has 92 career sacks.
Branden: There has been talk about the age of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Both are 33. While they will start, expect to see plenty of others in special situations -- including Will Davis, who played well last year as a rookie until suffering a knee injury. Cody Brown is practically a rookie and needs to contribute to help this position. Others at the position include Mark Washington and CFL star Stevie "Shakespeare" Baggs. Are they better as a unit than last year? Questionable. Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor performed average last year, and I'm not sure how much Porter has left. Verdict: same, but young guys need to step up.

Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.

Inside linebacker

Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.

Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.

Cornerback

Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.

Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Wilson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAdrian Wilson is a three-time Pro Bowler.
Safety

Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.

Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.

Defense overall

Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...

Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.

Special teams

Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.

Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.

Coaching

Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.

Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.

Schedule

Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.

Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.

Final thoughts

Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.

Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.
Ten NFC West draft choices combined for 76 starts as rookies last season. Five of the 10 played for the rebuilding St. Louis Rams. An eleventh, Beanie Wells, made significant contributions despite never cracking the lineup.

The 2010 draft class will command more immediate attention when teams open training camps, but the 2009 class figures to contribute more after a year of seasoning.

Here's my look at the NFC West's 2009 choices heading into their second season:

Crabtree
Best choice

Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers. The Cardinals' Wells and the Rams' James Laurinaitis made more immediate impacts. They reported to camp on time. But Crabtree commanded a starting job right away once he finally signed, and he immediately justified his starting status. Crabtree was surprisingly consistent and polished. Given a chance to select any other 2009 NFC West draft choices, I think the 49ers would stick with Crabtree.

Best immediate contributor

Laurinaitis, MLB, Rams. Laurinaitis became an immediate starter and didn't seem to fall off the way No. 4 overall choice Aaron Curry did in Seattle. Laurinaitis wasn't a star, but he stepped into a position requiring knowledge of the defense. Laurinaitis finished the season with 2.0 sacks, five passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He and Seahawks second-rounder Max Unger were the only 2009 NFC West draft choices to start 16 games last season.

Stephens-Howling
Best value

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Cardinals. The Cardinals found one of the best special-teams players in the division with the 240th overall choice. Stephens-Howling was outstanding on coverage teams. He provided a threat in the return game, too, scoring a critical touchdown at Tennessee. The Cardinals also found ways to work Stephens-Howling into the offense. He caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, though he didn't provide much as a rushing threat.

Most to prove

Jason Smith, LT, Rams. Curry finished a close second in this category. Smith started only five games and did not stand out when he was on the field (not that offensive linemen always have to stand out). A serious concussion and subsequent toe injury have raised questions about Smith's durability. The Rams will be investing heavily in No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford and they'll need Smith to protect him. Smith works hard and the Rams have surrounded him with veteran mentors.

A team-by-team look at the 2009 class:

Arizona Cardinals
2009 picks: 8

Total 2009 starts: 2

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State; fourth-rounder Greg Toler, CB, St. Paul's.

Other potential starters (1): Wells could have wound up here, but I'll stick with my projection that he'll start this season.

On the hot seat: Cody Brown, OLB, Connecticut. The Cardinals could use one of their young pass-rushers to emerge. A serious wrist injury prevented Brown from contributing last season. He was a second-round choice, though, so expectations are relatively high. Arizona needs him.

No longer with team (1): seventh-rounder Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati (Detroit Lions)

Keep an eye out for: sixth-rounder Will Davis. He showed promise last season and was improving until a knee injury sidelined him.

Forgotten man: We've seen little evidence suggesting third-round choice Rashad Johnson will become a factor anytime soon, if at all.
San Francisco 49ers
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 13

Projected 2010 starters (1): Crabtree

Other potential starters (0): None.

On the hot seat: Scott McKillop, LB, Pitt. The 49ers hoped McKillop might develop into a successor to inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. It could still happen, but coaches quickly replaced McKillop with veteran Matt Wilhelm when Spikes was out.

No longer with team (1): sixth-rounder Bear Pascoe, TE, Fresno State (New York Giants)

Keep an eye out for: seventh-rounder Ricky Jean-Francois, NT, LSU. Jean-Francois worked at nose tackle during minicamps and organized team activities while franchise player Aubrayo Franklin remained unsigned. Franklin will likely sign and he'll become the starter again when he does.

Forgotten man: Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama. Frank Gore's return to health means Coffee will not be needed much, if at all. The 49ers used a sixth-round choice for Anthony Dixon, a running back from Mississippi State. The buzz on Coffee went away when he struggled to gain yardage running behind a struggling line early last season.
Seattle Seahawks
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 28

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Curry, LB, Wake Forest; second-rounder Unger, G, Oregon.

Other potential starters (0): None.

On the hot seat: Curry. His rookie season went from promising to disappointing after the Seahawks lost their defensive quarterback, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, to season-ending injury. Curry said he tried to do too much from that point forward. The Seahawks hope Curry can become an effective pass-rusher in nickel situations. To fulfill his potential, though, Curry must become a good strongside linebacker, too.

No longer with team (2): sixth-rounder Mike Teel, QB, Rutgers (Chicago Bears); seventh-rounder Courtney Greene, S, Rutgers (Jacksonville Jaguars).

Keep an eye out for: third-rounder Deon Butler, WR, Penn St. Butler has good straight-line speed, but he lacks the size Seattle wants in its receivers. Coach Pete Carroll called Butler one of the team's most improved players this offseason, but it's unclear whether the team will find a role for him.
St. Louis Rams
2009 picks: 7

Total 2009 starts: 33

Projected 2010 starters (2): first-rounder Smith, LT, Baylor; second-rounder Laurinaitis, MLB, Ohio St.

Other potential starters (2): third-rounder Bradley Fletcher, CB, Iowa; fourth-rounder Darell Scott, DT, Clemson.

On the hot seat: fifth-rounder Brooks Foster, WR, North Carolina. The Rams like other young receivers, including rookie free agents Dominique Curry and Brandon McRae. They also used a fourth-round choice for Mardy Gilyard. Brandon Gibson should play a role. There's pressure on Foster to make a strong comeback from the ankle injury that ended his rookie season.

No longer with team (0): All seven choices remain on the roster.

Keep an eye out for: Fletcher, the third-round corner from Iowa. Torn knee ligaments ended Fletcher's rookie season in October after the promising rookie started three games. The Rams hope Fletcher can come back to win the starting job.
Earlier: Winners, losers from 2008 class.

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