NFC West: Joe Perry

Around the NFC West: 49ers hail Gore

January, 22, 2013
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Frank Gore, already the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader, is headed to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

His head coach and one prominent teammate have suggested another destination for Gore: the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick mentioned Gore in that vein during separate interviews three days apart.

Kaepernick on Jan. 18: "He's going to be a Hall of Fame running back."

That was before Gore rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers' 28-24 victory over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.

Harbaugh made a similar mention Sunday, shortly after beating the Falcons.

"I really believe he’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday," Harbaugh said.

Gore has 8,839 yards rushing since entering the NFL as a third-round draft choice in 2005. Two players, Steven Jackson (9,462) and Adrian Peterson (8,849), have more rushing yards over that span.

Hall of Famer Joe Perry had most of his 9,723 career rushing yards with the 49ers. The running back most recently enshrined, Curtis Martin, had 14,101 yards and 90 rushing touchdowns.

How Gore runs -- low to the ground and with much more power than his size suggests he should possess -- distinguishes him beyond the statistics. He and Steven Jackson are linked in my mind as running backs with the determination to play hard always regardless of game or season circumstances. It's good to see players such as them get a shot at the Super Bowl.
Hall of Famer Barry Sanders will forever be known as an all-time great running back driven into premature retirement by his team's losing culture.

Sanders should get no sympathy from Steven Jackson.

Sanders' Lions reached the playoffs in five of his 10 seasons, posting between nine and 12 victories each time. They never won fewer than five games in a season.

Jackson's St. Louis Rams have never won more than eight games in a season. His teams have fared so poorly, in fact, that Jackson ranks last on a list of 87 top running backs ranked by team winning percentages. Chase Stuart, best known for his work at Pro Football Reference, published the list at his new site, Football Perspective.

Sanders ranked 68th.

The list considers runners with at least 5,000 yards rushing and 7,500 yards from scrimmage. The winning percentages were weighted to favor runners' most productive seasons.

"For example, if a player gained 10 percent of his [career] yards from scrimmage in 1999 and the team went 15-1 that season, then 10 percent of the running back’s weighted winning percentage would be 0.9375," Stuart explains. "This is designed to align a running back's best seasons with his team's records in those years.

"For example, Emmitt Smith played two of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. But since he gained only 6.5 percent of his career yards from scrimmage in Arizona, the Cardinals' records those years count for only 6.5 percent -- and not 13.3 percent -- of his career weighted winning percentage."

The methodology is a little confusing at first glance, but the results make sense.

Jackson has played eight seasons, fighting off injuries and the malaise perpetual losing cultivates. He has played eight seasons without flinching. His bruising style naturally raises questions about how long Jackson might hold up physically. But it's also fair to wonder how much losing such a passionate player can withstand before deciding he's had enough.

The backs listed atop Stuart's list faced no such issues.

Former Los Angeles Rams great Lawrence McCutcheon, named to five consecutive Pro Bowls under coach Chuck Knox, tops the list with a .741 weighted winning percentage. Roger Craig, named to four Pro Bowls with San Francisco, ranks third at .723.

NFC West alums Garrison Hearst (20th), Shaun Alexander (22th), Ricky Watters (23rd) and Wendell Tyler (24th) are all at .585 and higher. But four of the six players at the bottom of the list also spent some of their careers with franchises currently aligned in the division. That includes Hall of Famers Ollie Matson and O.J. Simpson.

Pressure point: 49ers

May, 15, 2012
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NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the San Francisco 49ers and why.

Frank Gore ranked sixth among NFL rushers with 1,211 yards last season, at one point rushing for at least 100 yards in five consecutive games. He earned Pro Bowl honors for his work in the regular season before adding 29 carries for 163 yards (5.6 per attempt) over two playoff games. Gore, with 7,625 yards for his career, passed Hall of Famer Joe Perry for the most in franchise history. He's been the 49ers' best and most consistent offensive player for years.

The challenge will be to remain productive and fend off challengers in an increasingly competitive backfield.

Gore's 29th birthday was Tuesday. Running backs generally slow considerably by that age. Injuries have slowed Gore at various points in recent seasons, including when he missed the final five games of the 2010 season. The good news for Gore is that his average for yards per attempt has remained strong, never dipping below 4.2 during any of his seven seasons. He's an exceedingly tough player. And although Gore is plenty physical, he runs low to the ground, making it tougher for opponents to deliver the most damaging blows.

It's possible Gore will defy the odds for older backs, putting together another robust season. He'll continue to benefit from playing within one of the NFL's best running schemes. The 49ers have bought insurance. They used a 2011 fourth-round pick for Kendall Hunter and a 2012 second-rounder for LaMichael James. They signed Brandon Jacobs in free agency. Gore remains the clear favorite to start and lead the team in rushing, but an already difficult job will become even more challenging at this stage of his career.

Alexander and beyond: Considering RBs

February, 7, 2012
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Statistics can vault a running back into consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They are not everything in every case, of course, but if you're the the NFL's all-time rushing leader at this point in league history, the case for consideration might not require going much deeper.

As promised, I've broken out where Shaun Alexander and other notable backs from current NFC West franchises stand in relation to 2012 finalists Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis.

Martin was one of the five players selected for enshrinement. Bettis did not make it this time; he could in the future. It's tempting to evaluate each Hall class as though it reflects a definitive assessment of which players do or do not belong in Canton. But with only five spots for 15 annual modern-era finalists, the process actually plays out over many years.

The best usually candidates get enshrined, and when they do not, they qualify for special consideration by the seniors committee.

Back to the backs. How a runner runs also counts for something. Earl Campbell, one of the most punishing runners in NFL history, earned enshrinement with stats virtually identical to those for Alexander. I was not yet a Hall selector when Campbell was enshrined, but his running style and how it affected his longevity presumably worked in his favor.

Alexander becomes eligible for consideration in 2014.

The chart ranks backs by where they rank on the all-time rushing yardage list. I've also included information for receptions and, in the final column, the number of Pro Bowls and first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections, available on Pro Football Reference. Other factors -- impact as a receiver, postseason success, etc. -- also come into play.

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Rapid Reaction: 49ers 26, Rams 0

December, 4, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams following the 49ers' 26-0 victory at Candlestick Park in Week 13:

What it means: The 49ers clinched their first NFC West title since the 2002 season, ensuring a return to the postseason. They paid a high price when Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis suffered a hamstring injury that prevented him from continuing. Despite the lopsided final score, the 49ers have been sloppier over their past three games than they had been previously. They spent much of Sunday looking like a team that has plateaued and needs a spark despite a 10-2 record. The Rams' utter ineptitude was the 49ers' greatest ally. St. Louis played without quarterback Sam Bradford, both starting tackles, all their relevant cornerbacks and a long list of others. Their defense showed improvement against the run, but the team went backward overall -- not good for coach Steve Spagnuolo.

What I liked: The 49ers sought to attack down the field in the passing game. They were able to get receivers and tight ends open consistently, including when Alex Smith found Michael Crabtree for a 52-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Receiver Kyle Williams showed good hands catching a high third-down pass. Williams also delivered a violent stiff-arm against Rams safety Quintin Mikell following a 25-yard gain on a running play. Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-best NFL passer rating of 142.3. For the Rams, Chris Long collected at least one sack for a sixth consecutive game. The Rams' defensive tackles were active against the run, forcing the 49ers away from their running game.

What I didn't like: The 49ers continued to struggle in the red zone. Vernon Davis dropped a pass in the end zone. Davis also fumbled. Mindless penalties hurt the 49ers more than once, none worse than the one Dashon Goldson incurred for excessive celebration following an interception. Penalties for delay of game and false starts stunted drives when the game was still close in the first half. Smith, despite strong overall numbers, missed a wide-open Ted Ginn Jr. open on a deep route up the left sideline. The 49ers were flagged for holding on the play, anyway. Crabtree dropped a third-down pass early in the game. For the Rams, receiver Austin Pettis set an ominous tone by dropping a third-down pass to kill the team's opening drive. Danario Alexander could not hold onto a deep pass near the goal line, squandering a rare scoring opportunity for St. Louis.

Akers gets the record: David Akers set a 49ers franchise record for most made field-goal tries in a season. That was good for Akers, but also a reflection of the 49ers' continuing inefficiency in the red zone.

Gore assumes top spot: Frank Gore needed only 22 yards to pass Joe Perry as the 49ers' career rushing leader, not counting Perry's yardage gained in the All-America Football Conference. Gore assumed the top spot in the first half even though the Rams generally did a good job keeping him under control. He finished with 21 carries for 73 yards.

Streak continues: The 49ers still have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.

What's next: The Rams visit the Seattle Seahawks for a Monday night game in Week 14. The 49ers visit the Arizona Cardinals.

Around the NFC West: On the Rams' future

November, 9, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams have gone from NFC West favorites to 1-7 in less than two months.

That makes them one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL along with Philadelphia and a few others. Nothing short of a complete reversal over the remaining eight games will invite obvious questions about the team's overall direction. Even a strong finish might not justify staying the course, depending on one's viewpoint.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch touches on these and other issues during his weekly Rams chat Tuesday. He was "dumbfounded" by the team's decision to cover Larry Fitzgerald with a linebacker on a key play Sunday. He thinks Sam Bradford has regressed. And he finds it tough to defend Steve Spagnuolo's 9-31 record as head coach over the last two-plus seasons. Noted: It'll be extremely difficult to justify staying the course if the Rams' record does not improve significantly, and if the feeling after the season is that Bradford has regressed. I don't think Bradford had sufficient support early in the season. The Week 1 injury to Steven Jackson negatively affected the offense and Bradford in particular. The situation at receiver became a mess, and when the team finally did something about it, Bradford wasn't healthy enough to benefit. One so-so game back from injury isn't enough to evaluate Bradford. How the quarterback performs over the second half of the season will largely influence whether the team's current leadership gets another chance, I would think.

Also from Thomas: a look at the Rams' situation at receiver and how Mark Clayton's activation from the physically unable to perform list could change the dynamics. Thomas: "Clayton played flanker, also known as the 'Z' position, most of the time last year before his Game 5 knee injury in Detroit. But he played the slot his first two seasons in the league for Baltimore, so he could pick up some of the slack there following Greg Salas' injury."

More from Thomas: The Rams need help at linebacker and are checking out the possibilities.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about Alex Smith during a player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense from Week 9: "He started at quarterback and played very well. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 109.7. He also was sacked twice, including a devastating blind-side hit from Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan but still managed to hold onto the ball. Took big hit on first-drive sack because he tried to extend the play. Kerrigan's sack occurred 5.5 second after the snap. Smith did well just to keep from fumbling. ... There were a couple dropped passes that could've added another 40-plus yards to his numbers."

Also from Maiocco: a defensive player-by-player review. On free safety Dashon Goldson: "Started at free safety and had an interception in his second game in a row. He also had five tackles and a quarterback hurry. Came up fast from his spot to drop Helu for 2-yard gain on short pass. ... Had tremendous break on pass intended for tight end Fred Davis to make diving interception late in the first quarter near midifield."

More from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' defense. Maiocco on the defensive MVP: "Middle linebacker Patrick Willis. Again, Willis is the team's best defensive player. And as the 49ers open the second half of the season with a 7-1 record, Willis must be considered on the short list of players in serious contention for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Willis and NaVorro Bowman have formed a sideline-to-sideline tackling duo unmatched in the NFL. Willis was outstanding in pass coverage, too. He also forced three fumbles and recovered two in the first eight games."

More yet from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' offense. Looking ahead: "The focus of the offense will always be Gore and the run game. But the 49ers must also find a way to get big-chunk plays in the passing game from Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. The 49ers do not have to open up the offense and change their philosophy in the second half of the season. But they need to take advantage of their big-play chances while also being more consistent on third downs. The 49ers rank 26th in the league, converting just 31.1 percent their third-down chances."

One more from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' special teams.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about 49ers rookie Aldon Smith during a defensive player-by-player report: "Smith should be listed as a defensive end as that has been his primary position this year. He enters the game in third-down packages and has rarely been inserted at outside linebacker. In today's NFL, a players who goes in solely on passing downs sometimes ends up playing more than the starter, especially when the 49ers get out to leads in games. Smith has made the most of his snaps. He leads the team with 6.5 sacks and is candidate for defensive rookie of the year. Sunday's game was the first since Week 4 that Smith did not have a sack. 13 tackles, 6.5 sacks.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News explains why Gore is so close to passing Joe Perry on the 49ers' career rushing list.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com hands out midseason awards and honors Chris Clemons as Seattle's best player. The best addition in free agency? Farnsworth: "Alan Branch. The big signings after the lockout-eliminated offseason were Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, left guard Robert Gallery and QB Tarvaris Jackson. But the best of this class has been Branch, the former Arizona Cardinal who has settled in and exceled at the three-technique tackle spot in the Seahawks’ 13th-ranked run defense. How good has Branch been? Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the best D-tackle in the league."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on Deon Butler's activation from the PUP list. O'Neil: "Butler's lower right leg was broken in two places last December in San Francisco. The injury, similar to the one suffered by running back Leon Washington, was serious enough that doctors questioned if Butler could resume his NFL career. Butler's recovery has proceeded in a way that's fitting for someone with his speed: He's returned faster than many expected."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune gives the Seahawks a weak 'C' grade through the first half of the season. Williams on the running game: "Year 3 of Seattle establishing a dominant run game has been much like the first two years -- a disappointment. The Seahawks have 406 rushing yards on first down -- 24th overall in the league. And they’ve run the ball a league-low 175 total rushes. So even with the renewed emphasis with renowned zone blocking guru offensive line coach Tom Cable on the staff, the Seahawks have not run the ball enough. But Seattle did show a marked improvement running the ball last week at Dallas, with Marshawn Lynch rushing for 135 yards on 22 carries – the first time he’s carried the ball more than 20 times this season. Lynch’s and Justin Forsett’s contracts are up the end of the season, while Leon Washington is in the first of a four-year deal, so Seattle could see some personnel changes with this group in 2012." Noted: Former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would have to laugh at the league-low number of rushing attempts, given that his allegedly pass-happy approach wasn't what the team wanted on offense. Falling behind in games has its consequences, however.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at where the Cardinals need to improve, notably at quarterback and on the offensive line. Somers on Kevin Kolb: "At least the Cardinals hope whatever is wrong with Kolb can be fixed. Kolb has made plays that provide hope; the 73-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald against the Redskins comes to mind. But Kolb has played poorly over the past month, and now he's dealing with a right-foot injury that includes turf toe. The Cardinals need to find a way to bring out Kolb's best, and maybe that will take a whole season and full off-season."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kolb is "touch-and-go" on a potential return to practice this week. Urban: "Reports on both ESPN and NFL Network both said he was unlikely to play against the Eagles. Kolb, at least publicly, is expressing slightly more optimism."

Also from Urban: Thoughts on Kolb's background in Philadelphia, and on his upcoming return. Urban: "As if he was cleaning up for his high school reunion, Kolb got his hair cut late last week, removing his curly locks and looking much more like a businessman. Perhaps that’s fitting, since -- given the struggles both himself and his current team have had -- this meeting with his former team is less reunion and 'more of a business trip.'"
Dwight Chapin and Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle put Joe Perry's career in perspective following the 49ers great's passing Monday. Perry remains the 49ers' all-time rushing king. Said Y.A. Tittle: "He was the fastest player off the ball in the history of the world. You'd take the ball from center and turn, and he was already gone through the hole. ... He was a wonderful, big-hearted guy. He was a super team player, one of the greatest players I've ever been around." Check out Perry's Hall of Fame Bio here. NFL.com has video highlights.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along thoughts on Perry. Maiocco: "Perry came to the 49ers after team owner Tony Morabito personally scouted him as a player for the Alameda Naval Air Station. Perry and Morabito developed a close bond. ... Perry also received comfort from Morabito, as he went through some difficult times early in his career." Perry recounted his experiences in 2005: "I was one of the few black players in the league, so I'd get the hell kicked out of me. Wherever you went, it was the same thing. It didn't matter whether it was Los Angeles, San Francisco or anywhere. You got the N-word and all of that stuff. I'd just say, 'Bring it on.' That's what I got from Tony. He'd tell me, 'Whenever they hit you hard, just hit back harder.'"

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sits down with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for thoughts on how to find quarterbacks. Harbaugh: "Watching their athletic instincts, watching them play basketball, watching them play football. Being around them. Being around them, seeing if they're fiercely competitive guys, courageous guys when they play. A lot of qualities -- just being around them -- they've got it. The ability to light up a room and people really want to follow them, a lot of qualities like that."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are leaning heavily on Harbaugh to identify their next quarterback.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle checks in with Seahawks receiver Mike Williams for thoughts on whether players will show up at team headquarters following the ruling to end the lockout. Williams is in Florida and will not show up Tuesday. He thinks players will have time to report and collect workout bonuses should the league open for business in the coming days. Williams: "The offseason has been long enough. I think players across the league are ready to get back to the facilities and get back to building their teams and putting on shows for the fans on Sundays. We hope this thing gets figured out. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the sunshine in either Florida and L.A. and I'll get to Seattle as soon as this is ready to go. If the lockout was over today, I would be totally fine with coming up there tomorrow and weighing in and making my money on the bonus, showing these guys that this first year wasn't really a fluke and I'm ready to come back this year and do even better."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com runs through six first-round projections for Seattle, including his own: Baylor guard Danny Watkins.

Also from Farnsworth: a look inside Paul Allen's new book as it relates to his ownership of the Seahawks. Allen says his love for basketball pulled him toward purchasing the Portland Trail Blazers, while a sense of civic duty was the driving force behind his decision to purchase the Seahawks. Allen: "Football is much more than a civic chore for me now. I’ve gotten hooked on the weeklong buildup to Sunday, to the point where I can’t tell you which I enjoy more, the Seahawks or the Blazers."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on which running backs could make sense for Seattle by round (the team has no third-round selection). The list: Mark Ingram, Jon Baldwin, Tandon Doss, Jeremy Kerley, Anthony Allen and Kealoha Pilares.

Also from Williams: The Seahawks' troubles begin on the offensive line.

More from Williams: a chat transcript featuring Rang's thoughts on the draft. Rang: "I understand the perception that Andy Dalton is flying up the board, but I spoke to NFL scouts back in February that anticipated his dramatic ascension. I didn't grade him as a first-round pick then -- and still don't -- but he is considerably more pro-ready than some of the other options and teams are desperate for QB help."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explores how acquiring Charlie Whitehurst has muddied the situation at quarterback for Seattle. Boling: "If Whitehurst had been better last season, he might have taken over from Matt Hasselbeck and proven himself as the man for the future. And if he’d been worse, he wouldn’t have been effective enough to lead the Hawks to the win over St. Louis, an effort that got the Hawks in the playoffs, but also cost them more than a dozen spots in the draft -- and probably took them out of the range of landing one of the few elite prospects."

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks should do Jake Locker a favor by not drafting him.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals need an outside pass-rusher such as Von Miller. Somers: "The Cardinals haven't had an elite outside pass-rusher since end Bertrand Berry had 14.5 sacks in 2004. That's the most-recent time the Cardinals had a player with double-digit sacks. Since then, the pass rush has been performed by committee. Ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have some skills, and safety Adrian Wilson is a dangerous blitzer. But the Cardinals haven't had that one player who keeps offensive tackles and coordinators awake at night."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with scout Malik Boyd for thoughts on finding lesser-known prospects such as Michael Adams and Brandon Keith. Boyd: "Scouting, I wouldn’t call it a science. It’s very subjective. You may have seen two or three of his best days, and I may have seen him at his worst. We’ve got to try and be realistic, give him his best day in court so to speak. What can he bring to the team?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch does not expect the Rams to find a receiver in the first round of the draft. That might be fine, too, based on what former 49ers scout Dave Razzano said: "Back in the glory days with the Niners, I always pointed out that we completely de-emphasized the position, because we believed in quarterback and defense. Our first Super Bowl [with San Francisco], we had two free agents at receiver: Dwight Clark and Mike Wilson. It's proven over and over again that you don't need [first-round] receivers. Look at the Steelers and the Packers. They have a bunch of second-, third-, fourth-round-type guys."

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams should draft for need this year. Farr: "There are some positions on this team that are so talent depleted and under-skilled that trying to compete another season with the same players would be folly. The needs of this team should far outweigh the allure of drafting purely based on talent alone."

Silver linings: 49ers vs. Saints

September, 21, 2010
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The facts: The 49ers fell to 0-2 with a 25-22 home defeat to the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Quarterback Alex Smith led a fourth-quarter comeback to tie the game. Smith completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 275 yards. His interceptions came on tipped passes. This was the best Smith has looked during critical moments against a playoff-caliber team.
  • The 49ers' young offensive line came together with a strong performance, helping Frank Gore rush for 112 yards. The offense amassed 417 yards overall.
  • The defense held Drew Brees and the Saints below 300 total yards, the second time that has happened since Week 2 of the 2008 season (the other time was Week 17 last season, when the Saints had clinched playoff positioning).
  • Gore's 21st game with at least 100 yards rushing broke the franchise record he shared with Joe Perry.
  • Rookie Anthony Dixon scored a touchdown on his first NFL carry.
  • Ahmad Brooks collected a sack in his first game back from a lacerated kidney.
  • The 49ers converted a higher percentage of their third-down chances -- 55.6 percent -- than in any game since the 2007 season.
Looking ahead: The 49ers visit the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likes the championship banners coach Steve Spagnuolo has displayed in honor of the Rams' past, but he also thinks it's time for the team to show significant improvement in the present. Burwell: "I believe that while this isn't necessarily the breakthrough year for the Rams, it has to be the year when we see strong evidence that this is finally an ascending team. They have a new franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) to groom, two potential young offensive tackles (Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold) to transform into reliable anchors, a superstar running back on the mend (Steven Jackson) and a stable of unproven young wide receivers who will be given every opportunity to confirm the unsubstantiated support they've been given by the coaches and front office."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams still have interest in Brian Westbrook and the team is "hopeful" it can sign him. Adding Westbrook would help lots on paper. The Rams would have addressed an area that needed addressing. Westbrook could be a good fit in a backup role because he would be less prone to injury. It's just tough to expect much from 30-year-old running backs. Westbrook turns 31 in September.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams expect Jackson to practice Saturday for the first time since back surgery. Also, the Rams are holding evening practices during this training camp in an effort to beat the heat and allow more fans to attend.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams never made an offer to Terrell Owens.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers highlights from the 49ers' annual "State of the Franchise" gathering. Coach Mike Singletary called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "one of the finest coaches anywhere in America." Singletary also said the 49ers were as talented as any team.

Also from Barber: Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Montana, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox and Steve Young are expected to attend Jerry Rice's Hall of Fame induction.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers expect to have their draft choices signed in time for camp.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers plan to sell seat licenses that never expire and can be transferred once the team's new stadium is finished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers 49ers-related notes, noting that first-round choice Anthony Davis has been working out at the facility since organized team activities ended in June. Also, the 49ers think their new stadium will empty 50 percent faster than Candlestick Park following games.

Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' situation at safety and a reminder that Reggie Smith could be in the mix eventually. Barrows: "Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties -- starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward -- the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although (Curtis) Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says improving the offensive line was the 49ers' top priority this offseason.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says there was less bluster from the 49ers at their annual gathering this year.

Scott Allen of Raising Zona checks in with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, who has this to say: "I do believe I have a great chance at being the number 3 or 4. I just need to learn my plays and gain the confidence of the quarterback and I believe I’ll be right there in the hunt."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals' Gerald Hayes and O'Brien Schofield to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals released tackle Devin Tyler to make room on the roster for the newly signed Schofield.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com raises 10 questions heading into the Cardinals' training camp. The fourth question -- where will the pass rush come from? -- is one the Seahawks and Rams also might be asking. Urban: "The Cardinals piled up 42 sacks last season, their highest total in years and they did it by committee. Defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven. The idea in signing linebacker Joey Porter, who had 9.0 sacks for Miami, is that he can provide more of a dynamic pass rush than what the Cards were getting last season from Bertrand Berry or Chike Okeafor. Campbell, at end in a 3-4 look, should increase his total, and Dockett comes across like a man on a mission (and in search of a new contract). Even if Porter doesn’t revert to his stellar 2008 (17 sacks), he needs to be a difference-maker. The Cards also need help from some unknown factor, whether it is Cody Brown, Will Davis, Mark Washington or Stevie Baggs." It's reasonable to expect more from Porter than the Cardinals got from Berry and Okeafor last season.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals receiver Onrea Jones. Jones on what it takes to earn a roster spot: "Well I know one thing -- it's special teams -- to find the right spot on special teams. Mike Adams was big as a gunner last year on special teams. I kind of look up to him for that. Because he's been in the Super Bowl and he knows what he's doing. And that's one thing I've learned from Sean Morey also. I'm really concentrated on special teams, gunner, trying to get a spot on the kick off team, kick off return, any special teams I can get on, that's my ticket. Obviously you have to make plays as a wide receiver. I'm battling for a number 4 and 5 between me and Andre. Whoever gets that spot, he has to have a big role on special teams. As long as I can produce on special teams, I know I'll be alright."

Pro Football Weekly's NFC West preview singles out Laurent Robinson, Alex Smith, Justin Forsett and Ben Patrick as potential fantasy sleepers in 2010. On Forsett: "Although he is expected to battle Jones for touches in every game, Forsett has the kind of big-play ability (5.4 yards per carry in '09) as a runner, receiver and returner to develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy force. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was out with injuries last season and could be increasingly effective both running and catching passes out of the backfield behind what figures to be a more stable offensive line." It's just tough to know how much playing time each Seattle running back will get this season. Leon Washington's status is one key variable.

Best of the rest: Undrafted stars

March, 17, 2010
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The Rams haven't always drafted well, as noted, but few teams have un-drafted better.

Former Rams Kurt Warner and Dick "Night Train" Lane took the top two spots in Gil Brandt's ranking of the 75 best undrafted players in NFL history.

The chart breaks out the 12 players on Brandt's list from current NFC West teams (showing only players discovered by those teams; Jim Zorn, for instance, made the list but was initially with Dallas). I've added a comment for each player.

Anyone else deserving?
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Michael Crabtree has defied critics by producing consistently since reporting to the 49ers following a contract dispute. Crumpacker: "Extrapolated for 15 games, Crabtree would have some 67 receptions for 850 yards, which would put him atop an excellent crop of rookie wide receivers around the league. As it is, only Austin Collie of the Colts (59-661), Percy Harvin of the Vikings (53-731), Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles (52-715) and Hakeem Nicks of the Giants (46-795) have more catches than Crabtree to this point. Johnny Knox of the Bears also has 45 receptions (for 527 yards)." There's no question Crabtree has produced more consistently than could have been expected after missing minicamps, training camp and the rest of the season.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat profiles 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Cohn: "He is a man who sees his life as a moral life -- as a moral tale, and he is the protagonist of that tale. He wears that large cross (he laughingly disputes that it’s large) as a reminder of whom he serves and what kind of man he was called on to be. He represents an approach to life, and the cross is a symbol of that approach."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says several 49ers players could be playing their final game with the team. Beyond Isaac Bruce, "other 49ers who will enter the offseason not knowing if they'll be back include cornerbacks Dre' Bly and Walt Harris, safety Mark Roman and offensive tackles Barry Sims and Tony Pashos."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are forcing more turnovers. They have more athleticism on the field now that Ahmad Brooks and Dashon Goldson are getting significant playing time.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation says several 49ers players are nearing statistical milestones. On Frank Gore: "Gore needs one more 100-yard game to tie Joe Perry for the most in 49ers history (19). He's also 82 yards from passing Garrison Hearst for fourth on the 49ers all-time rushing list. We've seen his solid receiving skills in play over the years, and he continues climbing the ranks. He's currently 29th in receiving yards and 15th in receptions. I doubt he'll match Roger Craig's career receiving numbers, but he's certainly doing well for himself."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals think they are in rhythm offensively and close to hitting on all cylinders. That could make their game against Green Bay even less important, particularly if the Vikings beat the Giants. Somers: "It's questionable how much of their offensive skills the Cardinals (10-5) and Packers (10-5) will choose to display Sunday. The teams probably will meet in the first round of the playoffs next weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium, so much of their game-planning this week has been geared toward that game. The season finale means little to the Packers, who are going to be the fifth or sixth seed. It will be significant for the Cardinals only if the Giants beat the Vikings earlier in the day. That would give the Cardinals a shot at the No. 2 seed and a bye, provided the Cowboys beat the Eagles, a game that will start at 2:15, the same time as the Cardinals and Packers contest."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are getting to the quarterback by committee. Twelve players have sacks this season.

More from Somers: Antrel Rolle will not play for the Cardinals if the No. 2 seed is not within reach.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times wonders what's at stake for the Seahawks in their final game of a lost season. Brewer: "This is a team full of people with uncertain futures. With the Seahawks searching for a new general manager, coach Jim Mora doesn't want to end his first season with four straight losses and a perception that he lost this team. After throwing eight interceptions in the past two weeks, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck doesn't want to end this season with even more question marks. With an expected roster overhaul looming, the reality is a lot of Seahawks are auditioning for their next jobs."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' ground game has shown signs of life in recent weeks. Williams: "After twice setting franchise-worst records for rushing yards in a game this season, Seattle has averaged 121.5 yards a contest and 4.58 yards a carry in the past, two games. However, most of those yards were accumulated in first halves, with Seattle having to abandon the run because of falling behind and needing to score quickly to get back into the games."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether the Seahawks' poor season should have been expected. Situations involving Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Marcus Trufant, T.J. Duckett, Edgerrin James, Aaron Curry and a new offensive playbook might have foreshadowed problems.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is focused on preventing Chris Johnson from topping 2,000 yards rushing for the season.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have reached a crossroads with their fans. Executive Kevin Demoff: "This organization for too long has taken fans for granted, has not paid enough attention to sponsors in the community and to making sure that people were invested in the club. If people are invested in the club, winning will help. But I think it's easy to throw your hands up and say, 'Well, if the club was winning, people would go.' It's our challenge to make sure that people want to go, win or lose. They may have a better time if we win."

Also from Thomas: New starting Rams guard Roger Allen III lines up against a strong 49ers defensive front.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bruce's return to the Edward Jones Dome recalls the Rams' glory days. Burwell: "Bruce will be on the field before the game as an honorary captain. Of course, there will be cheers. Probably polite and passionate, long enough to recognize that the 45,000 diehards who braved the frigid weather to watch an otherwise uneventful game still remember how good it used to be, and how big a deal Bruce was in his heyday here. The sad thing is, it just won't be the same."

B.J. Rains of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat checks in with Allen before the rookie's first NFL start. Rains: "The rookie, who said he likely would have gone to either Illinois, Kansas or Missouri out of high school had his ACT scores been higher, graduated as the best lineman ever to play at Missouri Western. He started all 12 games as a freshman at offensive guard and became the first -- and only -- offensive lineman to be named Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Freshman of the Year."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams need to beat the 49ers to avoid the worst record in franchise history. Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole sees a 49ers team that has improved since beating the Rams 35-0 earlier in the season. Flajole: "It is for three reasons -- the back [Gore] being back and healthy. The wide receiver [Crabtree] gives them another added dimension, and the quarterback is playing good, too. They are little bit different, so we’ve got our hands full. They have gotten better."

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