NFC West: James Hall

Former St. Louis Rams receiver Steve Smith announced his retirement through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday.

The story by itself shouldn't mean much to Rams fans.

Smith, after all, started only two games in 2012 while trying to overcome serious knee injuries. He was never a player the Rams were counting on for significant contributions.

Smith's retirement is notable in another context, however. His name tops what should be a relatively short list of players to disappear from the game in 2013 after making at least one start for the Rams last season.

Last season, 16 players made zero regular-season appearances in an NFL game after starting at least once for the Rams in 2011. One such player, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, probably would have played with New Orleans had he not suffered a knee injury. Many of the others languished for lack of interest.

A quick look at the list of 15 players beyond Chamberlain: Adam Goldberg, James Hall, Fred Robbins, Tony Wragge, Jason Brown, Cadillac Williams, Rod Hood, Al Harris, C.J. Ah You, Mark Levoir, Ben Leber, Nick Miller, A.J. Feeley, Mike Sims-Walker and Mark Clayton.

Hall, Robbins, Goldberg, Wragge and Brown started at least half the games in 2011. Some others found opportunities because the Rams suffered from an unusual number of injuries that season.

Still, as the Rams improve and build around younger players, including quite a few drafted in the first two rounds, they should have less room on their roster for stopgap veterans. At receiver, for example, none of the Rams' players is even 26 years old. Players such as Smith, Sims-Walker and Clayton wouldn't fit.

Heading over to see the new-look Rams

October, 21, 2012
ST. LOUIS -- Good morning and welcome to Week 7.

Half of the NFC West is sitting out this Sunday after San Francisco defeated Seattle in the Thursday night game.

We've got the Arizona Cardinals visiting the Minnesota Vikings, and the St. Louis Rams playing at home against the Green Bay Packers, both at 1 p.m. ET.

I'm in St. Louis and will be heading over to the Edward Jones Dome early.

The Rams are 3-3 after going 2-14 last season. Their entire starting defense is healthy heading into the game. That's a big change from last season, when the Rams went into their seventh game without either starting corner and a long list of others, including quarterback Sam Bradford.

Seven of the Rams' starters from their seventh game last season aren't on 53-man rosters at present. That's an indication how much roster work was needed, and how much injuries set back the 2011 team.

James Hall, Fred Robbins, Al Harris, Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg and A.J. Feeley started in that seventh game last season, a surprise 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints following six defeats to open the season.

Harris retired. The others were released and are not under contract. Bell also retired.

Much has changed for the Rams. A victory over the Packers would give them four victories through Week 7 for the first time since 2006.

Around the NFC West: Needing two QBs

August, 23, 2012
The Arizona Cardinals' quarterback competition will take a dramatic step toward its conclusion Thursday night.

John Skelton gets the start and Kevin Kolb will come off the bench in the team's fourth of five exhibition games, this one against Tennessee.

The reality, of course, is that the Cardinals are likely to need both players this season. They haven't head one quarterback start every game since Kurt Warner did it in 2008, the Cardinals' Super Bowl season.

Darren Urban of says this opportunity Thursday night is mostly about Skelton. Urban: "The spotlight of the NFL has honed in on the Cardinals, given they are one of only a couple of teams left to name their starting quarterback for the regular season. If last week’s game ended up with a storyline of what Kevin Kolb did or did not do -- with circumstances leaving Skelton with only five snaps, including a kneel-down -- this week will be about Skelton’s performance."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says there's some historical significance to the occasion. Somers: "Aug. 23 is not a huge day in Cardinals history, but it's an intriguing one in the team's efforts to replace (Kurt) Warner. On Aug. 23, 2010, Matt Leinart was Warner's heir apparent and started a preseason game here against the Titans. It was Leinart's last start with the Cardinals. He was benched a few days later and cut before the regular season started. Thursday, exactly two years later, the Cardinals again play the Titans in the preseason. And as was the case two years ago, they are seeking someone to replace Warner."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Sidney Rice's return to live action felt official when the Seahawks' receiver absorbed a hit in practice. O'Neil: "He plays a pivotal role in Seattle's offense. He's the guy the Seahawks paid to be the No. 1 receiver they had been searching for since Carroll's arrival in 2010. That search started with a visit from free-agent Brandon Marshall two years ago, continued with inquires about Vincent Jackson when he was with the Chargers, but Rice was the one they signed to a five-year deal in 2012, guaranteeing him a reported $18 million." Noted: I had expected Rice to sit out the exhibition season as a precaution following two shoulder surgeries and the concussion problems he suffered last season. He's been getting practice reps. The Seahawks need to keep Rice healthy for the season.

Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why the Rams signed defensive end Vernon Gholston. O'Neill: "Defensive end Eugene Sims has been hobbled and did not practice on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Trevor Laws has missed numerous practices. If Sims' injury is substantial, the Rams need depth on the defensive line. ... Gholston slips into a roster spot vacated by Josh Gordy. The veteran cornerback was traded to Indianapolis on Tuesday night, as the Rams received an undisclosed pick in the 2014 draft in return." Noted: The odds of Gholston sticking on the roster heading into the season seem extremely slim. They have so far shown no inclination toward re-signing veteran James Hall, who started last season.

Matt Maiocco of expects big things from the 49ers' Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati this season. Maiocco: "For the first time, they were able to work on a daily basis with 49ers offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno -- as well as offensive coordinator Greg Roman -- for a two-month period before reporting to training camp four weeks ago. It was a luxury they did not enjoy last year as the NFL offseason was non-existent due to the lockout."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at Jim Harbaugh's motivational tactics. Alex Smith: "I don't want to speak for the other guys, but it's nice to have a coach who isn't going to publicly throw you under the bus. There are a lot of things that happen on the practice field and in games that people don't always see or get credit for. And I love the fact that he let's that be known."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle passes along Greg Roman's thoughts on Smith and the team's interest in Peyton Manning. Roman uses the term "savant-like" to describe Smith's smarts.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With fans streaming into the St. Louis Rams' facilities for the start of training camp, the team confirmed reports that defensive lineman Chris Long had reached an agreement on a four-year extension.

Long, who led the Rams with a career-high 13 sacks last season, had been scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 season. His deal now runs through 2016. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported the news.

The Rams had repeatedly said they hoped to have a new contract for Long. Getting this deal done seemed more like a matter of when, not if.

Long, 27, has improved his sack totals in every season. He's been a tenacious player and one the Rams envisioned building around when they made him the second player chosen in the 2008 draft.

The Rams are looking for Long to assume a larger leadership role now that veterans Fred Robbins and James Hall are no longer on the team. Long, though still young in the bigger picture, is the oldest defensive lineman on a Rams roster that is the NFL's youngest by average age.

The Rams are scheduled to begin their first camp practice at 3:30 p.m. CT. I'll be heading out to the fields shortly.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With a nudge from @Amazing_Jagman, I've updated rosters to produce age rankings for every team in the NFL. I'll begin with a look at where NFC West teams rank by position and overall.
  • QB: All four teams rank in the youngest third or so. The San Francisco 49ers have the most experienced starter in the division, but also the youngest group overall.
  • RB: I was a little surprised to see Seattle (third-oldest) and San Francisco (fifth-oldest) rank among the five oldest at this position, with St. Louis considerably younger on average. The Seahawks' Leon Washington turns 30 next month. Teammate Michael Robinson turns 30 in February. The 49ers added 32-year-old veteran special-teamer Rock Cartwright, who counts as a fullback, and veteran halfback Brandon Jacobs, 30. Frank Gore turned 29 in May. The St. Louis Rams, despite Steven Jackson (29) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (32), have quite a few young players at the position.
  • WR: Randy Moss, 35, contributed to the 49ers fielding the 10th-oldest group of receivers on average as training camps were beginning. For Seattle, the newly signed Antonio Bryant, 31, contributed to a No 13 ranking. The Rams have youth, youth and more youth at the position.
  • TE: Arizona ranks seventh-oldest at the position thanks to the presence of veterans such as Todd Heap, 32, and Jeff King, 29. But the team is most excited about second-year tight end Rob Housler. Seven of the Rams' eight tight ends are between 22 and 25 years old, helping St. Louis rank 30th in average age at the position.
  • OL: The Cardinals have previously ranked No. 1 in average age at this position. They've dropped to seventh after addressing the position in the draft at the expense of a few veterans. Adding 34-year-old veteran Russ Hochstein upped the average, however.
  • DL: The Cardinals have the oldest defensive linemen by average age. Darnell Dockett turned 31 this offseason. Vonnie Holliday is 36. Nick Eason is 32. Arizona has promising younger players at the position, notably nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Calais Campbell. But the group could use a youth infusion in the not-too-distant future. The Rams, meanwhile, got much younger by parting with James Hall, Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan. Chris Long, 27, is now the oldest defensive lineman on the team.
  • LB: The Cardinals' Clark Haggans, 35, and Paris Lenon, 34, help give Arizona the ninth-oldest linebackers in the NFL. The Rams' No. 14 ranking reflects their decision to add veterans on the outside. The team needs to address that position in upcoming drafts, it appears.
  • DB: The division features ample young talent in its secondaries. The Cardinals, despite fielding the oldest secondary in the division, have one of the most promising young cornerbacks in the NFL, Patrick Peterson. Seattle has the youngest secondary in the division. Three of four starters achieved Pro Bowl status last season. That's a great combination. The fourth starter, Richard Sherman, was arguably deserving of Pro Bowl honors as a rookie.
  • ST: The Cardinals continue to field the oldest specialists in the NFL on average. The Rams field the youngest group after parting with Donnie Jones and Josh Brown. I'm interested in seeing how the Rams' decision plays out.
  • Total: The Cardinals have some exciting young players, but their roster is third-oldest in the NFL. The team cannot realistically cite youth for any shortcomings this season. The Rams remain the youngest team -- slightly younger than Carolina -- despite adding Mughelli on Saturday. Seattle ranked among the youngest teams last season. Re-signing cornerback Marcus Trufant and adding Bryant, both 31, upped the Seahawks' average age. Unrestricted free-agent additions Deuce Lutui and Barrett Ruud are 29. The team now ranks 20th oldest in the NFL.

I'll pass along updated rosters once I've finished updating a few other categories. The chart shows age rankings by position group and overall for NFC West teams.

Rams Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The offensive line will remain a work in progress. The Rams feel good about new line coach Paul T. Boudreau. They think he can help tackle Jason Smith and other young linemen realize more of their potential. Adding Pro Bowl center Scott Wells in free agency also should help.

This group will need time together on the field, however, and personnel-related question marks persist. Can Rodger Saffold rebound from a rough, injury-shortened season at left tackle? Does the team have a viable left guard? Is Smith the answer at right tackle? A realistic best-case scenario would not produce the preferred answers overnight. Expect a few bumps in the road, at least.

One thing that might happen: Defensive end Chris Long taking more of a leadership role. Long has become more productive in each of his first four NFL seasons. He collected 13 sacks in 2011 even though the Rams rarely faced favorable pass-rushing situations (they held fourth-quarter leads in only three games). Long, only 27, became the oldest defensive lineman on the team once the Rams parted with veterans Fred Robbins, James Hall and Justin Bannan.

Those personnel changes and Long's on-field credentials enhance his profile. The Rams now have three relatively recent first-round draft choices projected as starters on their defensive line. Robert Quinn (14th overall choice in 2011) and Michael Brockers (14th this year) would do well to follow Long's lead.

One thing we won't see: Gregg Williams. The Rams aren't listing Williams among their defensive coaches while the would-be defensive coordinator serves an indefinite NFL suspension. They have not named a coordinator in Williams' place.

Williams' suspension has faded from prominence among NFL storylines in recent months. That figures to change some once the Rams and their coaching staff are on the field for practices. Seeing how the staff operates will provide a better feel for how the Rams plan to proceed this season. Coach Jeff Fisher probably becomes more directly accountable.
The San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith and the St. Louis Rams' James Hall scored two-point plays last season with sacks resulting in safeties.

The sacks these and other players collected outside the end zone affected point totals in less direct ways. As Brian Burke explained in 2008, one sack could represent a two-point change in expected scoring (the difference was 1.7 points without resulting fumbles).

A sack's value changed relative to field position and down-and-distance.

"Knowing that a first-and-10 in another first down 67 percent of the time, a sack that forces a 2nd-and-15 changes the chance to 38 percent," Burke wrote. "A sack on second-and-5 that forces a third-and-10 changes the chance of a first down from 75 percent to 35 percent. Generally, a sack drops an offense's chances of converting a first down by roughly 30 percentage points."

Which helps to explain why the NFL values pass-rushers so highly.

The chart below reflects a continuation of the item that Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley inspired Monday. Bradley said he's hoping Seattle can improve its sack totals on early downs in particular.

First-down sacks were particularly scarce for Seattle and St. Louis. Those teams had eight apiece, which ranked tied for 25th in the NFL last season. Arizona led the league with 18 first-down sacks. The Cardinals' Sam Acho had four of his seven sacks on first down.

Bradley told 710ESPN Seattle that his team might have an easier time unleashing additional blitz packages on early downs this season, in part because there's additional preparation time this offseason.

The eventual move away from veteran defensive end James Hall to 2011 first-round draft choice Robert Quinn was inevitable for the St. Louis Rams.

At least one prominent figure in the NFC West won't miss Hall, whose release earlier this offseason helped make the Rams' roster younger on average than any in the NFL.

"I wish him the best," Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl left tackle, said during the team's recent minicamp. "He's a good guy, but he's been a pain in my ass for years. God, I hated going against him."

Hall's power and use of leverage could be problematic. Quinn, who appears to have great pass-rush potential, will have to prove himself as an every-down player. He had five sacks, all on second or third down, while playing about 48 percent of the snaps last season. Hall, 35, had six sacks while playing about two-thirds of the snaps. He had 10.5 sacks in 2010.

Rick Venturi of 101ESPN St. Louis says Quinn's development will be pivotal for the line. Venturi: "Quinn has ability -- he can burst, he can cut the corner to the quarterback, and he can stretch his body to extremely long lengths, which was evident in his ability to block kicks. Can Waffle get him to be forceful at the point of attack, though? The North Carolina product showed no interest or aptitude to play in the 'briar patch' in 2011, and other than 'chase' plays was a total liability in the running game. If he can overcome his liabilities, the Rams will have something. To me, this will make or break the front four."

Matt Maiocco of examines the 49ers' depth at running back. Maiocco: "Frank Gore appears to have lost a step of explosion -- hey, that's only to be expected -- but he is still clearly the team's best option and most well-rounded running back. Obviously, with no contact allowed during the offseason program, it's difficult to fully evaluate the running backs on the 90-man roster. Roster spots will be won and lost in training camp . Perhaps, 265-pound Brandon Jacobs is the best-suited to fill in as the first- and second-down back if/when Gore needs a breather. Jacobs and Gore entered the NFL in the same year, but Jacobs has a thousand fewer touches." Noted: Gore slowed last season after absorbing a violent hit from the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul.

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News updates the fight between Santa Clara and the 49ers for at least $30 million in funding previously earmarked for the team's stadium project. Rosenberg: "While the money is a tiny fraction of what's needed for the $1.2 billion stadium, it served as the initial building block to fund the rest of the project, similar to a down payment on a home mortgage. The tax funds were used to secure up to $950 million in bank loans, which capped the team's decade-long saga to finance a new home field. If the loans disappear or shrink, it could delay the project -- or worse -- just months after a festive groundbreaking in April. But officials first are preparing their legal strategy, starting with an appeal to the state and negotiations with the county."

Clare Farnsworth of profiles undrafted rookie defensive end Cordarro Law, who has impressed teammates on the field (and on the basketball court). Receiver Sidney Rice: "He actually surprised me. He can shoot it. (Rookie wide receiver Phil) Bates, terrible jump-shooter. (Cornerback Byron) Maxwell, terrible jump-shooter. (First-round draft choice) Bruce Irvin, terrible jump-shooter. But Law actually impressed me."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has studied former Pro Bowl choice Lofa Tatupu to get a feel for the position in Seattle's defense. Also, Brock Huard and Mike Salk discuss one key to coordinating a defense.

Steven Cuce of offers transcripts from Larry Fitzgerald's recent interview with Arizona Sports 620. Fitzgerald has no plans to analyze the Cardinals' quarterback competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Fitzgerald: "I really just try to stay out of it as much as I possibly can. Just try to make my plays and do what I am coached to do and be responsible for that. The cream rises to the top. I know by Week 1 when we go out there we’ll have our guy. We'll be supportive of that person."
St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn finished his rookie season with five sacks.

Two other NFC West teams had a rookie with more (Aldon Smith 14, Sam Acho seven).

It's not that Quinn disappointed as a first-round choice, but the Rams expect much more from him now that Quinn is the starter.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Quinn must improve his play against the run. Thomas: "With Jeff Fisher now on board as head coach, James Hall no longer on the team and a new defensive scheme in place, there will be no easing Quinn into action in 2012. He is the team's starting right end, and a full-time player. To say expectations are sky-high for him at Rams Park almost is an understatement."

Also from Thomas: The Rams are expected to sign former Washington Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh. Noted: Linebacker was a position the Rams didn't significantly address through the draft. They had too many needs to address them all.

More from Thomas: a closer look at Rams rookie running back Isaiah Pead.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steven Jackson put the pressure on rookie receiver Brian Quick. Burwell: "When someone with Jackson's stature calls you out like that, it's not intended to be an insult. It's actually a compliment. It was his way of providing a sense of urgency to the kid who certainly looks the part of a stud wideout the minute you lay eyes on him on the football field. Quick looks even bigger than 6 feet 3 when he walks onto the field and plays even bigger, too. He goes up in the air like a basketball small forward and snatches the football out of the air like a power forward and he can glide down the sidelines like a long-striding sprinter."

Clare Farnsworth of contrasts the excitement over Brian Banks' minicamp tryout with long odds before the linebacker. Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr.: "This is the NFL -- the best of the best -- so it’s going to be really tough for him. Just the fact that he came out here and gave it a shot and didn’t shy away from it, you’ve got to give him a plus for that. But again, this is the best of the best, the highest level of athlete, and he’s been out of it for 10 years. So it’s going to be really, really tough. … Right now, he has a chance. But it’s going to be really, really tough."

Also from Farnsworth: high expectations for Seattle's defense.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice, a player the Seahawks are counting on. O'Neil: "The Seahawks didn't add any front-line receivers. Oh, they'll give Antonio Bryant a kick of the tires and test-drive a few undrafted rookies, but a year after signing Rice to headline their wide-receiving corps, this offseason amounted to a vote of confidence that the Seahawks believe they have the ingredients for an effective passing attack with Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Mike Williams." Noted: I'd put Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette in that group, possibly at the expense of Williams, depending upon how training camp goes.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Matt Flynn enjoyed a strong day Wednesday at Seahawks camp.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says promising rookie running back Robert Turbin overcame quite a bit to reach the NFL. Turbin: "I think everybody is going to have things they have to go through in life. I think that people who have the hardest time are those who don’t have a goal, who don’t know what they want to do or what they want to be. For me, regardless what might be going on in my life, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be: a great football player."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic calls the Cardinals' FanFest a big success, on and off the field. Ryan Williams' return was a huge plus. Somers: "Coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was a significant step for Williams. The coach also lauded Michael Floyd, the first round pick, for catching a long pass. The quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, each had their good and bad moments. It's hard to judge them based on these practices because players aren't wearing pads and there is no contact."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals could use some offensive leadership beyond Larry Fitzgerald. Somers: "To coach Ken Whisenhunt, however, there isn't a dearth of leadership on offense. He's confident that some already have emerged behind the scenes -- tight end Jeff King, center Lyle Sendlein, guard Daryn Colledge and tackle Levi Brown, for example -- and that others, like whoever starts at quarterback, have the character traits to do so."

Darren Urban of offers notes from FanFest, including this Whisenhunt quote regarding Williams: "He looked good. You forget his quickness, his vision. There is always a little trepidation on your first action like that. It was good to get it out of the way. Now it’s out of his head."

Also from Urban: Rookie corner Jamell Fleming is looking good.

Matt Maiocco of asks whether becoming an every-down player will lead to more sacks for outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Noted: Smith should be able to find a rhythm easier while playing additional downs. He'll have an opportunity to set up opponents a little more.

Also from Maiocco: notes from 49ers practice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at which 49ers are impressing during camp. Barrows: "The group of 49ers who have consistently made plays this spring includes Vernon Davis on offense and cornerback Perrish Cox on defense. Cox, however, had scare today when he collided with safety C.J. Spillman while breaking up an end-zone pass to Crabtree. He was slow to get to his feet but eventually re-joined the practice."

Also from Barrows: notes on the defense, from coordinator Vic Fangio.
Three-day NFL minicamps featuring no permissible contact aren't going to settle position battles. They're unlikely to set the tone for a season still three months away. They won't reveal where teams figure to stand in December.

I'm en route to the San Francisco 49ers' mandatory camp for veterans Tuesday in search of a better feel for the team five months after its appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Trips to the Arizona Cardinals (Wednesday), Seattle Seahawks (Thursday) and St. Louis Rams (extended training camp visit) await.

Once teams assemble on their practice fields, the focus invariably falls on those players present. These camps are also notable for the familiar faces, suddenly absent, that will soon fade from memory. For some longtime NFL vets, these camps are the beginning of the end. George Koonce's message about the difficult transition into retirement should resonate for them.

Some older free agents will surely catch on elsewhere. Some might re-sign with their most recent teams. Here's a quick look at four older 2011 contributors who remain unsigned as their former NFC West teams assemble this week:
  • 49ers: fullback Moran Norris (33). Norris suffered a broken fibula in Week 2 and did not return until a Week 14 game at Baltimore, when a concussion sidelined his replacement, Bruce Miller. Norris started two games and played in five, logging 10 percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps. Miller played three times as much and was also a key contributor on special teams. The 49ers are trying several non-fullbacks at the position this offseason. Norris became a free agent after the season.
  • Rams: defensive end James Hall (35). Hall had six sacks in 15 games, all starts, while playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps last season. The team plans for 2011 first-round choice Robert Quinn to take over as the starter in Hall's spot on the right side. The Rams have become the youngest team in the NFL this offseason. They released Hall and former starting defensive tackle Fred Robbins as well.
  • Seahawks: defensive end Raheem Brock (34). Brock's playing time held steady at about 50 percent last season, but his sack production fell from nine to three. The Seahawks used their first-round choice, No. 15 overall, for defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin is expected to fill Brock's role this season. Brock became a free agent after the season.
  • Cardinals: outside linebacker Joey Porter (35). Porter collected one sack in six starts before knee problems forced him to the sideline. Rookie Sam Acho took over as the starter and showed considerable promise, finishing the season with seven sacks. The Cardinals placed Porter on injured reserve late in December. Porter became a free agent after the season.

My flight is landing shortly. More from 49ers camp as the day progresses. The team will not be off the practice field until around 5:30 p.m. PT.

Highlights and interpretations from the recently concluded hour-long "SportsCenter" Special focusing on the NFC West:
  • ESPN's Tedy Bruschi played for Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in New England years ago and seemed to have a strong feel -- and respect -- for Carroll's current team. He picked Seattle as an upset division winner in 2012. He pointed to Earl Thomas as the heir to Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. He picked Marshawn Lynch as the division's MVP for the upcoming season. Bruschi was high on Seattle all the way around. He also defended Carroll's handling of the quarterback situation, noting that it's only May -- too early to worry about having a starter in place. Bruschi also thought Matt Flynn would become the signing of the year in the division.
  • Fellow analyst Tim Hasselbeck picked the San Francisco 49ers to defend their division title. He and Bruschi both picked the Arizona Cardinals third and the St. Louis Rams fourth. Hasselbeck thought Seattle would challenge the 49ers and finish as close as one game behind them. But he also thought Carroll needed to settle on Flynn as the starter sooner rather than later. Quarterbacks like clarity at the position. Hasselbeck went with Flynn as his breakout player from the division and Patrick Willis as the MVP.
  • The quarterback-related analysis from Hasselbeck stood out. He pointed out Sam Bradford's struggles locating open receivers after turning his back to the defense for play-action fakes last season. He thought the Rams needed to treat Bradford as a young quarterback only two years removed from a spread system at Oklahoma, not as a third-year pro. He pointed to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's voluminous playbook as something the Rams might want to streamline for now.
  • Hasselbeck, who played for Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, suggested Kevin Kolb hasn't shown himself to be the leader Whisenhunt wants at the position. He thought Kolb needed to win over the team this offseason. Bruschi encouraged the team to go with John Skelton instead if Kolb doesn't step forward and distinguish himself as a team leader. Sound familiar? It should, at least to anyone familiar with Matt Leinart's time under Whisenhunt. Is Kolb the next Leinart, a highly paid player unable to win over the team? That was the comparison drawn during this special.
  • Fantasy analyst Eric Karabell singled out Arizona's Ryan Williams, St. Louis' Danny Amendola and Seattle's Flynn as breakout fantasy players from the division. He thought Flynn would rank among the 20 best fantasy quarterbacks.
  • Defensive end Chris Long noted the Rams' relative youth on the defensive line. This line is Long's to lead. Long has the capacity to take that role, I think. He might have deferred some to Fred Robbins and James Hall in the past. Both were valued veterans. They're gone now. Long had 13 sacks last season. His time is now.

Anyone else catch this special? I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Aldon Smith's 14-sack rookie season and Bruce Irvin's recent first-round selection have obscured another young NFC West pass-rusher with great potential.

Not for long, perhaps.

The St. Louis Rams' Robert Quinn, chosen 14th overall in 2011, showed up Monday among 12 second-year players to watch in 2012, according to Mel Kiper Jr. Insider

"I fully expected Quinn to have a so-so rookie season after sitting out his entire final season at North Carolina," Kiper wrote. "But now comfortable, he could easily double the 5.0 sacks he notched last year. Too much talent to keep down."

Kiper's list features only players coming off less noteworthy rookie seasons.

Quinn had five sacks while playing 52 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps last season. He'll move from a situational role to the starting lineup, a transition signaled by James Hall's release from the team.

Quinn made more of an impact as his rookie season progressed, including on special teams, where his athleticism made Quinn a threat to block punts. Quinn was once the special-teams player of the week in the NFC and later the Rams' special-teams player of the year. He also ranked second on the team with 14 quarterback hits.

Quinn was the only NFC West player to make Kiper's short list. I've put together a few candidates from the rest of the division:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Second-round choice Ryan Williams is the choice for now, with third-rounder Rob Housler also in the conversation. Both appear positioned to make significant strides. Williams, if healthy, will have additional chances to handle the ball. The Cardinals thought Williams was going to be a breakout player last season. A torn patella tendon ended his season. The team figured Housler would need a year of seasoning after making the transition from Florida Atlantic without the benefit of a regular NFL offseason.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Receiver Kris Durham is one obvious candidate after missing all but three games last season with a torn labrum. He'll have a chance to earn a spot in the rotation this season. Four other 2011 picks became starters for Seattle (James Carpenter, John Moffitt, K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman). I removed them from consideration. That left Durham, Byron Maxwell, Pep Levingston and Malcolm Smith among choices still with the team.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Daniel Kilgore's path to the starting job at right guard appeared clearer before tackle Alex Boone became a candidate for the spot. Kilgore, a fifth-round choice from Appalachian State, still might be the best candidate for a breakout season among the 49ers' choices (to the extent a guard can break out, that is). Second-round choice Colin Kaepernick would be a bolder projection. He likely will not play much unless Alex Smith struggles or suffers an injury. This assumes Chris Culliver, a regular contributor as a third-round choice, remains the third corner.

Enjoy your Monday night.
NFL rosters undergo massive changes each offseason. That has been particularly true in 2012 as limits increased from 80 to 90 players.

As much as I'd like to comply with requests to publish specific roster breakdowns for age and other factors, the changes require quite a bit of time to process.

A few trends are coming into focus regarding the NFC West already:
Enjoy your Friday. Hope to see you at the rescheduled NFC West chat. I'll publish a reminder later Friday.
Twenty-one NFL players since 2008 have at least six penalties for roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness or unspecified personal fouls.

The leader on that list, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, signed with the St. Louis Rams early in the free-agent signing period. Another player on the list, defensive end William Hayes, reached agreement with the Rams on Friday.

Finnegan has 11 such penalties since 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Hayes has six, including one for a 2011 hit on Matt Ryan that drew a $15,000 fine from the NFL.

This would normally be where the Rams could take a bow for adding players fitting defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' profile of aggressive, unapologetic defensive play. Fisher's teams in Tennessee regularly ranked among the league leaders in such penalties over the years, including when Williams was his coordinator there.

But with Williams serving an indefinite suspension for bounty-related transgressions committed with New Orleans, the Rams would be better off emphasizing their new defensive players' familiarity with Fisher's scheme.

Hayes, 26, started 11 games under Fisher in 2009. He played 45 percent of the defensive snaps for the Titans last season, starting one game and playing in 10. He has eight sacks in four NFL seasons, half of them during his rookie year.

Chris Long returns as the Rams' starting left end, with 2011 first-round choice Robert Quinn expected to start on the right side after the Rams released veteran James Hall. Hayes provides rotational depth, at least, and a direct connection to Fisher.

"Hayes is undersized with good initial quickness and acceleration off the edge," the Scouts Inc. profile Insider reads, in part. "He needs to work on developing more counter moves and improving his strength to take on and shed blockers."
The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams take two of the NFL's youngest rosters into the free-agent signing period Tuesday.

The first chart shows where teams in the division rank after subtracting from rosters those players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. ET. I also eliminated from consideration kickers, punters and long-snappers because age variations matter less at those positions.

Levi Brown, Justin Bannan, Jason Brown, Fred Robbins, James Hall and Ron Bartell were among the players I removed from rosters based on reports indicating their releases were imminent.

A relatively small difference in average across 50 or 60 players can give us a general feel for a roster. NFL careers can be short. Every year counts. That is why general managers and salary-cap analysts pay attention to where their teams stand in these areas.

The Rams have the youngest offensive players in the league. The Seahawks have the youngest defensive players by a wide margin. The 49ers have the oldest specialists, and their overall team age increased after adding 35-year-old receiver Randy Moss.

Last offseason, the Rams patched their roster with veterans signed to one-year deals. In retrospect, that reflected a team with less young depth than would have been ideal.

The Cardinals have the second-oldest offensive linemen in the NFL. That is not always bad. The New York Giants have the oldest offensive linemen on average; they just won a Super Bowl. AFC champion New England has the fourth-oldest players at the position.

Having an older line is tolerable and even preferable if that line has strong talent and has played together for years. But the combination of advanced age and below-average talent signals an inability to improve over time.

The Cardinals will presumably add younger linemen through the draft and possibly free agency.

The 49ers, though strong along the defensive line, have the fourth-oldest players at that position when we count Aldon Smith as an outside linebacker. That is one area the team could address for the future. Justin Smith, arguably the NFL's best defensive lineman, turns 33 before the season and has started 171 consecutive games, 92 more than any active defensive lineman in the NFL.

The chart below shows age ranks for teams by position and overall, counting specialists.