NFC West: Jim Hostler
Alex Smith famously played with coordinators Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson and Greg Roman while with the San Francisco 49ers from 2005 through last season.
Sam Bradford has bounced from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels to Brian Schottenheimer during three seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
The dynamic works both ways. Some coordinators have bounced from one quarterback to another, preventing them from getting the best feel for their players. Playcallers and quarterbacks are most comfortable -- and presumably most effective -- when they've had time to figure out one another. Coordinators get a better feel for players' strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Quarterbacks more fully understand how their coordinators are approaching specific situations.
That line of thinking came to mind this week while watching Schottenheimer coach Bradford during the Rams' organized team activities. Schottenheimer has worked for only two teams since 2006 and he was offensive coordinator both times. But he has run through five primary quarterbacks during that time: Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez before joining Bradford in St. Louis.
"The things we are able to do starting this offseason, we are 1,000 years ahead of where we were last year," Schottenheimer said following a recent practice. "It's been fun to push Sam and have Sam push me, too, in terms of, 'Hey, I can take more.' We're both enjoying having some stability."
The chart associates current NFC West offensive playcallers with their primary quarterbacks since 2006, the first year any of the four was a coordinator. I've listed Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians instead of coordinator Harold Goodwin because Arians plans to call the plays. Arians has also called plays continuously since 2007.
Quarterbacks are the most important pieces for any team, but I thought it would be interesting to view these situations from the playcallers' perspectives. Every NFC West team but Arizona returns the same coordinator-quarterback combination from the end of last season.
These many associations would seem to increase exponentially the number of likely landing spots for Smith as a free agent or trade candidate this offseason.
A closer look suggests that might not be the case.
Smith's connections with former head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary would actually deter reunions. Neither would be in position to push for landing Smith, anyway. Nolan's Atlanta Falcons don't need a quarterback.
Former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner could potentially need a quarterback in Cleveland. The team's other former Smith-era coordinators wouldn't be in position to help. Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers are obviously set at the position. Mike Martz is a color commentator for Fox. Hostler coaches wide receivers for the Joe Flacco-led Baltimore Ravens. Jimmy Raye worked last season as a senior offensive assistant with Tampa Bay. Michael Johnson was out of the NFL.
Hostler and Johnson were also among the Smith-era quarterbacks coaches in San Francisco. Another, Frank Cignetti, coaches the position for the Sam Bradford-led St. Louis Rams. Another, Ted Tollner, is no longer coaching. Another, Jason Michael, coaches tight ends for the Philip Rivers-led San Diego Chargers. Hamilton, meanwhile, is offensive coordinator for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts.
Even a run through former position coaches for the 49ers' receivers, tight ends and offensive line turns up more dead ends than fresh leads. Former tight ends coach Pete Hoener coaches the position for the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Former line coach Chris Foerster coaches the position for the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins. Another former line coach, George Warhop, is with Turner in Cleveland.
The 49ers' longtime former receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, coaches the same position for Jacksonville. New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would be familiar with Smith from his days coordinating the Seattle Seahawks' defense. But Jacksonville would make much greater sense as a landing spot for Smith if the 49ers' current offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, had become the Jaguars' head coach. That had been the expectation until the 49ers' deep playoff run complicated efforts to hire Roman.
There still could be a market for Smith, of course. But in a league built on connections and relationships, it's tough to find many likely to influence where Smith winds up next season. That is partly because the 49ers have kept together their current staff under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The coaches most closely associated with Smith's recent revival remain under contract to the team. That was great for Smith when he was starting, but it won't help him find his next job.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith enters Week 10 as a four-coordinator favorite over St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
Each man has run plays under three coordinators over the two-plus seasons since Bradford entered the NFL in 2010. Smith worked with four others previously.
Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz and Jimmy Raye had already coordinated offenses featuring Smith when Bradford joined Rams in 2010. Smith, who worked with Mike Johnson following Raye's firing three games into the 2010 season, has found coordinator bliss under Greg Roman over the past two seasons.
Bradford appears to be adjusting well to Brian Schottenheimer's offense after playing for Josh McDaniels (2011) and Pat Shurmur (2010). But Smith is much deeper into his playbook with Roman. Their pairing has gone so well, in fact, that Roman could emerge as a head coaching candidate after the season.
"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"
Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.
"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."
That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
- Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
- Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
- Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.
Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.
Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.
I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
That was back when Mike Holmgren was running Seattle's offense and Jim Hostler had taken over for Norv Turner as the 49ers' offensive coordinator.
Dave Wyman, Bob Stelton and I did not discuss that game during our weekly conversation Wednesday on 710ESPN Seattle. I did mention that Seattle's home game against the St. Louis Rams on Monday night would mark the third consecutive week with a prime-time game for an NFC West team.
We discussed that and more, including Kevin Kolb's improved play Sunday. Audio here.
The team has gone from Mike McCarthy to Norv Turner to Jim Hostler to Mike Martz to Jimmy Raye to Michael Johnson to Greg Roman since January 2006.
The St. Louis Rams almost certainly will not go through as many changes while bringing along their franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford. Still, the change from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels after one season has raised concerns for the short term, particularly with McDaniels looking to re-emerge as a head-coaching candidate -- as was the case with Smith's second coordinator, Turner.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo isn't buying the idea that a transition from Shurmur to McDaniels during an NFL lockout will significantly hinder Bradford in 2011.
"This may be some na´ve thinking, but I coached two years in NFL Europe and we would go down to Florida with 60 guys, and in three-and-a-half weeks, you cut down to 35 and you play a 10-game season," Spagnuolo said from the NFL owners meeting last week. "That part of it, I have been through it. I certainly don't think that is going to happen. There is a confidence on that side of the ball in our building that if you are smart about how you implement it, go at the pace the players absorb it, I think we'll be fine. It still comes back to throwing it, catching it, running it, tackling."
The Rams' confidence in Bradford lets them feel that way. The coordinator change and ongoing lockout would affect a lesser quarterback to a greater degree.
Injuries prevented Bradford from working extensively with some of his receivers last season. The Rams can feel good about how quickly Bradford developed a rapport with Mark Clayton, even though Bradford was a rookie and Clayton had not run the Rams' offense.
The 49ers' Smith, despite not meeting expectations, improved dramatically in his second season following a coordinator change. He went from tossing one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions as a rookie to finishing his second season with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Bradford finished his rookie season with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 3,512 yards.
- If that happens, the Rams will want to have quarterback Sam Bradford's best interests in mind as they consider a successor for Shurmur;
- Keeping Bradford in the same system for a long time should be the goal;
- Name the best quarterbacks in the league and you'll find that just about all of them own multiple years in the same system;
- Bradford has only one year in Shurmur's offense, so a scheme change at this point would not require throwing out years of accumulated knowledge, and it's possible Shurmur's offense isn't the best fit for Bradford anyway;
- Hiring former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress to succeed Shurmur would allow for basic scheme carryover;
- Childress has never been known as a master play-caller, a reminder that the Rams should not hire for the sake of continuity alone;
- Hiring former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as coordinator could send the Rams down a path of coordinator instability similar to the one San Francisco followed (against its will) after drafting Alex Smith first overall in 2005;
- Bradford is better than Smith, so let's not get carried away with comparisons if the Rams do change systems early in Bradford's career;
- Bradford might play well enough in 2011 to launch his next coordinator -- whether Shurmur or a McDaniels type -- into consideration for a head-coaching job;
- The Rams need a better succession plan than they one they brought into this season;
- Hiring a quarterbacks coach who projects as a future coordinator could protect the Rams from instability issues in the future, even if it requires promising the job to him should the coordinator depart;
- McDaniels' offense might fit Bradford quite well; picture Tom Brady working from the shotgun with three-plus wideouts at his disposal;
- Agent Bob LaMonte represents Shurmur, McDaniels, Childress, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and Browns president Mike Holmgren, among others; taking away Shurmur from Spagnuolo makes more sense for LaMonte, in theory, if he can deliver a high-profile coordinator to Spagnuolo in return.
I've put together a chart showing the 49ers' coordinators since 2005.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Davis has become a face of the franchise. Barrows: "Davis, it seems, has become the 49ers' go-to player not only when they need a touchdown on the field but when they need to sell the team and the league off of it. And why not? He's confidant (just ask him), he's good-looking (just ask him), he's eager to please and he has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. Patrick Willis may have received a whopping contract extension through 2016 that makes him the face of the franchise this offseason. But it's Davis, whose contract expires after the 2010 season, who has been showing his face around the globe this year. He's not only an offensive MVP, he's a PR MVP."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says Tom Rathman and Joe Staley are among those offering expertise to youth football campers.
Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to build a new stadium in Santa Clara.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along a chat transcript featuring these thoughts on whether Seattle overpaid for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst: "Actually, this particular dead horse called me personally last week to request -- politely of course -- that the beatings stop. I can understand your point, Chuck, and particularly when you compare it to what Philadelphia got McNabb, I certainly agree that there's a compelling case to be made the Seahawks overpaid. But the package didn't come out of left field, either. It was similar to the packages that Green Bay got in trading backups who were seen as potential starters. Guys like Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks and this Hasselbeck character, too. Ultimately, the measure of whether it was worth it is Whitehurst's performance on the field. Is he capable of being an NFL starting quarterback? If the answer turns out to be no, then, yes, Seattle gave up too much."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com profiles special-teams coach Brian Schneider. Farnsworth: "No matter what positions he coached, Schneider always has been involved with special teams. It happened at USC last season. It has happened again with the Seahawks. It's a strange twist for the former linebacker from Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo., and Colorado State, because he had not played special teams since his freshman year in college."
John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks' interest in 3-4 defensive personnel comes amid great demand for such players across the league, making it harder to find good ones. Also from Morgan: "Long story short, I think Seattle will allow a lot of passing yards. If the formula works, Seattle will counter that weakness with a strong run defense and a rapacious secondary. The linebackers will neutralize the underneath passing game and the safeties will keep big plays in check. The Seahawks will attempt a bend but don't break defense, and this time next year, have hopefully reloaded at pass rusher."
John Hageman of the Minnesota Daily reports from Larry Fitzgerald's camp through the eyes of former University of Minnesota receiver Eric Decker. Hageman: "The camp is modeled on Cris Carter’s FAST program, which was co-founded by Fitzgerald’s trainer Bill Welle and has been held on the Minnesota campus for two years. In addition to the immense amount of conditioning involved in the camp, Decker said he has been learning some of the technical aspects of being a receiver."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com provides a link to download the Cardinals' 2010 media guide.
Also from Urban: Four Cardinals players were born the year the team moved to Arizona from St. Louis. John Skelton, A.J. Jefferson, Andre Roberts and Beanie Wells couldn't tell Roy Green from Neil Lomax. Urban: "The Cardinals have been around since 1898 and are charter members of the NFL that emerged 22 years later. But these days, for these four players, the history is a little more shallow than that. For Wells, his first thoughts of the franchise are Emmitt Smith’s arrival in 2003. Same with Skelton, who grew up in New Mexico, where the Cardinals are geographically the closest team but where everyone was a Cowboys’ fan. Lomax? No. Roy Green? Nah. Roberts does know about former Cardinals’ running back Stump Mitchell, but even that is sort of cheating -- Roberts attended The Citadel, from where Mitchell is the highest-profile NFL product."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com offers a chat transcript featuring some Rams-related thoughts. Gordon: "Chris Long made nice strides last season, but I believe the Rams could really maximize his production by moving him around with different looks up front this year. Perhaps they can find a pure speed rusher in the pile of DE prospects they are bringing to camp."
Turf Show Times' VanRam provides a transcript from an interview with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford: "I feel very good with where I'm at right now. I feel like I made a lot of progress during OTAs and minicamp. I feel like I've become a lot more comfortable in the huddle calling plays from the line of scrimmage, going through my reads. But I think it's just like anything else -- the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. I expect that as training camp comes, and as we get into two-a-days, the more reps I get, the more comfortable I'll become. So I look forward to getting to training camp and getting those reps."
49ers tight end Vernon Davis surely sends his condolences.
Davis faced lots of questions in 2009 about what he was doing differently. Davis was pretty consistent in his responses. The difference, basically, was that Davis was getting chances as a receiver. He had spent the 2008 season as a pass protector -- and a very good one -- while Martz tried to buy time for his downfield passing game.
Martz left and suddenly Davis reemerged as a receiving threat. He improved in that aspect, without question, but the increased opportunities were key. Let's throw out Davis' 2006 production because he was a rookie learning an NFL system for the first time, and he started only eight games. Davis caught 52 passes as a full-time starter in 2007, when Jim Hostler was coordinator. The figure fell to 31 with Martz before bouncing back last season.
The chart shows Davis' production by receptions by season and coordinator.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Senior Bowl week is giving the 49ers fertile ground to interview various NFL assistant coaches for their opening at offensive coordinator.
We can add Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson to the list, according to Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Jackson worked with Joe Flacco this past season. He also worked with former 49ers coordinator and preferred scapegoat Jim Hostler, the Ravens' receivers coach.
Jackson was with the Falcons and Bengals before joining the Ravens. As offensive coordinator for the Redskins in 2003, Jackson called plays under Steve Spurrier. He was previously offensive coordinator at USC from 1997 to 2000.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers have confirmed Mike Martz's dismissal as offensive coordinator after one season with the team. The changes coach Mike Singletary forced upon the offense after taking over for Mike Nolan after the seventh game of the season made this move seem likely.
The 49ers' belief in Singletary trumped their hope to develop continuity on offense. Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler and Martz have come and gone as 49ers offensive coordinators since the 2005 season.
Expect the next coordinator to install an offense consistent with Singletary's traditional, run-oriented values. Such an offense will help the 49ers get the most from their offensive personnel. The choice Singletary makes in replacing Martz could become the key variable in whether Singletary succeeds as a head coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoNancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle doesn't see 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan holding up physically if he keeps taking sacks. The Saints sacked him six times.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News saw the ghosts of Alex Smith and Jim Hostler haunting the 49ers in Week 4. The statute of limitations on Jim Druckenmiller references has apparently expired (except for here).
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers play-by-play commentary of the 49ers' defeat at New Orleans. He sniffs out the Saints' game plan when the 49ers make substitutions on defense.
Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers says safety Mark Roman was nearly speechless after suffering through a rough day in his hometown.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Nolan saw very little positive in the team's performance. Asked about an O'Sullivan interception, Nolan shot back with, "I saw what you saw."
Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers couldn't touch Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a master at getting rid of the football quickly and accurately.
More from Crumpacker: He refers to the 49ers' quarterback as Uh-O'Sullivan. Ouch.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Nolan as saying O'Sullivan "obviously" didn't play well, and neither did his teammates. Nolan isn't afraid to criticize his quarterbacks.
Also from Brown: Vernon Davis makes a catch, then ticks off his own coaches by yelling toward them on the sideline. Davis is a fine talent, but not very mature.
An editor asked me recently whether I'd like to schedule mailbag columns for a certain day each week. My thought: Why limit them to a single day? Interacting with passionate NFL fans is one of the highlights of blogging for me. I've been in your shoes. I've been a die-hard fan thirsting for information and insight from people lucky enough to enjoy access.
I grew up following the Rams in the 1970s before getting hooked on the Raiders through the 1980s and well into the 1990s. I've been a season-ticket holder who flew to games from two states away to watch his team get pummeled in the pouring rain. Walking out of that stadium a loser hurts, but you keep coming back because it's what real fans do.
Covering sports for a living takes the fan out of you, no question. I have great memories of the players I enjoyed watching years ago, but the loyalties to any one team are long gone. The loyalty I feel now is to all the fans who can't get enough. With that in mind, let's dive into our first NFC West mailbag, dominated by 49ers fans sick of watching their team wallow in sub-mediocrity.