NFC West: John Lott

Never once can I recall an NFL head coach lamenting poor attendance for an offseason conditioning program.

Perhaps it has happened and I simply missed it. More often, coaches rave about high attendance rates, the implication being that a team is especially committed and could benefit during the upcoming season.

Months later, it's impossible to verify whether offseason conditioning programs played a significant role in a team's success, failure and ability to stay healthy. For example, the Arizona Cardinals for years credited acclaimed strength and conditioning coach John Lott for helping the team avoid injuries. Lott was still doing the same fine work, presumably, when the Cardinals suffered from a long list of injuries last season.

Of course, high attendance rates are still good. They can only be beneficial. But as most offseason conditioning programs opened Monday and the positive vibes began to reverberate, as usual, some perspective seemed warranted.
A few thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals announced Bruce Arians' initial coaching staff for the 2013 season:


  • More resources: Former head coach Ken Whisenhunt had 16 assistants last season, three or four fewer than the NFC West norm. The number wasn't alarmingly low; New England has had the same number at various points. Arians has 20 assistants, counting four holdovers whose names I've bolded in the chart below.
  • OL committee: The Cardinals do not have an offensive line coach by title. With Arians calling offensive plays, coordinator Harold Goodwin will take the lead with the line. Larry Zierlein, the Pittsburgh Steelers' line coach for three seasons ending in 2009, is the assistant O-line coach.
  • Familiar name: Former Cardinals running back and return specialist Stump Mitchell will coach running backs. He spent nearly a decade on Mike Holmgren's staff in Seattle before following Jim Zorn to the Washington Redskins. He was then head coach at Southern University. Mitchell still holds the Cardinals franchise record for all-purpose yards (11,988).
  • Experience rules: Arians is a first-time NFL head coach, but his staff has veteran seasoning. Tom Moore, Tom Pratt, Zierlein, Rick Christophel and Nick Rapone each have more than 30 years of NFL and/or college coaching experience.

The chart compares the Cardinals' final staff under Whisenhunt to their current one under Arians.
We interrupt our steady diet of San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl coverage to check out where the Arizona Cardinals stand in filling vacancies on their coaching staff.

The chart lists the team's coaches from last season and those the team announced as having joined Bruce Arians' new staff. Reports have listed other coaches expected to join the staff, but sometimes plans change. Those hires are not yet official. Mike Caldwell (linebackers) and Amos Jones (special teams) are two potential candidates.

Bold lettering in the chart shows which 2012 Cardinals assistants remain with the team until further notice. Some could remain as part of Arians' staff. None has been released from his contract.

General manager Steve Keim has said he expects the new staff to place heavy emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. I'll be watching to see whether the Cardinals give Arians additional resources. Arizona had fewer assistants than other NFC West teams employed last season.

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

April, 10, 2012
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A few notes on NFC West coaching staffs after the St. Louis Rams announced theirs for 2012 in a news release Tuesday:
  • The Rams are not listing suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on their staff. They did not mention him in the news release. They did not list a defensive coordinator. Coach Jeff Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis will presumably take the lead. Secondary coach Chuck Cecil has also been a coordinator.
  • Williams' son, Blake, coaches the Rams' linebackers.
  • The Cardinals have 3-4 fewer assistants than the other teams in the division. I've noticed that to be the case in recent seasons. Staff sizes can vary. Arizona has one more than the NFL listed for New England heading into the most recent Super Bowl.
  • Every team in the division has an assistant head coach. Two serve as offensive line coaches. Another coaches special teams. Assistant head coaches might earn more money than they otherwise would, but the title does not distinguish them from other assistants in relation to hiring protocol. The title affords no additional protections against losing an assistant to another team, in other words.
  • Paul Boudreau is the Rams' offensive line coach. His son, also named Paul, is assistant special teams coach. They are not Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., however. It's not yet clear how the Rams intend to differentiate between the two. Middle initials?
  • Niners offensive assistant Michael Christianson is also coordinator of football technology.

The chart lists full-time assistants, not interns or administrative assistants. Strength-and-conditioning coaches aren't involved in football strategy, but I have listed them.
Turns out there's plenty to like -- and some things to dislike -- about those allegedly underestimated Arizona Cardinals.

Some are obvious. Others could use elaboration.

Let's get right to 'em.

What to like

Best WR in the game: Larry Fitzgerald changes games, no matter the stage. Even casual fans should remember his 64-yard, go-ahead touchdown against Pittsburgh with 2:37 left in the Super Bowl. Fewer saw Fitzgerald take over the game and will the Cardinals to victory with little on the line against Seattle in Week 17 this past season. He is the best, in my view.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona is hoping that Patrick Peterson is ready to develop into one of the league's top cornerbacks.
Multi-level defensive talent: The Cardinals have outstanding talent at all three levels of their defense, as RogueCardinal notes. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are bookends up front. Daryl Washington is 25 years old and coming off a season with five sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and 16 tackles for loss. He can become a Pro Bowl-caliber player this year. Adrian Wilson borders on elite at safety. Patrick Peterson progressed at cornerback and should be ready to take a step forward in his second season.

Resiliency. How else to explain the Cardinals' ability to go from 1-6 to 8-8 last season? Their 7-2 record over the final nine games matched the San Francisco 49ers' record over the same period, as PaybackTony noted.

Dynamic returner. Peterson tied an NFL record with four touchdowns on punt returns last season. He's a threat every time he touches the ball and should affect games this coming season as well. Peterson is the only player in NFL history with four touchdowns on punt returns of at least 80 yards in the same season.

Two young pass-rushers. Sam Acho (seven sacks) and O'Brien Schofield (4.5) helped the Cardinals finish tied with the 49ers for most sacks in the NFC West. Neither is even 25 years old. Both should see their playing time increase, which should lead to increased production. Throw in Campbell, who has 21 sacks in 42 starts, and the pass-rush has strong potential.

Two young running backs. Beanie Wells became the first player in Cardinals history with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season. Getting 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams back from injury gives the Cardinals a welcome alternative. The staff was over-the-top excited about Williams before the injury and that excitement has returned now that Williams is getting healthy.

Time on their side. Quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley seemed to suffer more than most from the lockout last season. Both faced significant adjustments from Philadelphia to Arizona. Both struggled to adapt. A full offseason will benefit both. Ray Horton, a first-year defensive coordinator in 2011, also gets the time he needs to prepare for a season. Horton will benefit from knowing his personnel, having game-day coordinating experience and working with players already familiar with his system. Finding ways to use Bradley's versatility figures to be one point of emphasis.

The Lott factor. John Lott, the Cardinals' acclaimed strength coach, gets a full offseason to work with young players, including one in particular -- nose tackle Dan Williams. Williams reported to camp overweight following the lockout. He was rounding into shape when a broken arm ended his season. Lott should have Williams in much better condition and ready to contribute at a higher level earlier in the season, a big key for the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme.

Depth at cornerback. The schedule serves up quite a few top quarterbacks this season. The Cardinals love their depth in the secondary even after losing Richard Marshall in free agency. They see Peterson, Greg Toler, William Gay and A.J. Jefferson as four corners with starting ability. Michael Adams has considerable nickel experience as well. Horton's background is in the secondary. He knows exactly what he wants from a personnel standpoint and should have the players to execute his scheme.

What not to like

QB question marks. The Cardinals didn't see enough from Kolb last season to inspire confidence in their decision to acquire him. Some fans point to John Skelton's 5-2 record as a starter, plus a victory over the 49ers after a first-quarter injury sidelined Kolb. But as powellofnazareth put it, there was an unsustainable, even "Tebowish" feel to some of those victories. Kolb heads into his second season with the team facing serious questions about his ability and durability.

The offensive line. Center Lyle Sendlein and left guard Daryn Colledge form a capable combination inside. The Cardinals are banking on tackle Levi Brown to continue the progress he showed late last season. They still need another tackle. Pass protection will remain a concern even if the Cardinals draft a tackle early. Their quarterbacks haven't shown the pocket awareness to avoid pressure.

No dominant pass-rusher. The Cardinals accumulated good sack numbers last season, but they lacked one player they could count on for pressure in critical situations. They're dependent upon Acho and Schofield continuing to develop. Drafting a pass-rusher in the first round and then letting him develop as a situational player -- think Aldon Smith in San Francisco last season -- would take this defense to another level.

Depth beyond Fitzgerald. Arizona lacks a defined No. 2 receiver. It's possible improved quarterback play would allow Andre Roberts to grow into that role. It's also possible Roberts and the other receivers do not have the ability to produce consistently. The burden of proof is on Roberts heading into this season.

Injury concerns in the backfield. Kolb, Wells and Williams had injury problems last season.

Footnote

Thanks, as always, for your contributions to the discussion. Ringlaterra, writing in the comments section of the item linked in the opening paragraph above, might have set a record with an 1,154-word dispatch. Love the passion.
The NFC West teams with head coaches have done a pretty fair job in hiring them.

The Arizona Cardinals have a Super Bowl appearance and only one losing record in five seasons under Ken Whisenhunt. They had posted losing records 20 times in the 22 seasons before hiring him.

The San Francisco 49ers went 13-3 and ended a decade-long playoff drought in their first season under Jim Harbaugh.

Seattle won a playoff game and has gone 7-9 twice under Pete Carroll after going 5-11 and 4-12 in the two seasons before Carroll arrived.

The St. Louis Rams are on the clock now. Owner Stan Kroenke's pursuit of Jeff Fisher is commanding our attention. Adding Fisher to a division featuring Whisenhunt, Harbaugh and Carroll would complete the NFC West's transformation into a rough-and-tumble division, in my view. Fisher's teams were known for their hard-nosed play during his years in Tennessee.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sifts through various reports on the Rams' pursuit of Fisher. Miklasz: "Fisher would be a good choice for the Rams. Kroenke prefers a confident and experienced coach, much like he has in two of his personal favorites: George Karl and Arsene Wenger. Karl is the coach of Kroenke's NBA Denver Nuggets. Wenger is the acclaimed manager of Kroenke's Arsenal soccer club in the English Premier League. Fisher is an established leader and the star of the available coaches. Some in St. Louis are busy nitpicking his overall record (142-120) with the Tennessee Titans. I find that hilarious given that the Rams have had four winning seasons since 1990, and are 15-65 since 2007. And Fisher isn't worthy of the Rams' job? Please."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests the Rams could interview Miami Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles for their coaching vacancy.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers owner Jed York has done a good job letting football people make the football decisions, including when the team was hiring Harbaugh. Barrows: "It was one year ago that 49ers owner Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke and then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh met at the home of a mutual friend and retired into the pool room. It was about noon. Sandwiches were waiting for them.York introduced himself to Harbaugh, said a few words about his vision for the 49ers -- he wanted a coach who knew how to handle quarterbacks -- then sat back and let Harbaugh and Baalke talk football until the sun went down. And that, said York's uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., during a Wednesday phone call, is the most brilliant maneuver any owner can make."

Also from Barrows: Kyle Williams is cleared to practice.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are focusing mostly on New Orleans because the percentages favor the Saints advancing to the divisional round.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with current and former 49ers, plus others, for a piece on what goes on under pileups while players fight for possession of the ball.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Baalke is riding high while other GM types flounder.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle names Justin Smith the 49ers' MVP this season.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle noticed some of the "extra stuff" Seahawks coach Pete Carroll referenced regarding the Cardinals' treatment of running back Marshawn Lynch in Week 17. Henderson: "One came in the first quarter after Lynch dragged a pile of defenders for several seconds. Darnell Dockett, one of two Cardinals to finally bring Lynch down, put his knee into his facemask while getting up. During the end of a tackle in the second quarter, Adrian Wilson pulled Lynch's helmet off and pushed it away from the pile. Lynch was visibly miffed while talking with Carroll on the sideline following that play."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle breaks down Leon Washington's 48-yard run against Arizona.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team felt improved from 2010 despite having the same record. Farnsworth: "They upset the playoff-bound New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, and also had two-point losses to the NFC West Champion San Francisco 49ers and playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons. They even had victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears that helped derail their postseason aspirations. In 2010, they beat only one team that even came close to making the playoffs -- the Bears -- and were repeatedly abused while going 2-6 on the road."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals players know they're in for a rough offseason workout program after the lockout prevented strength coach John Lott from working with them last offseason. McManaman: "If you don't know anything about Lott, let's just say when it comes to training the Cardinals, especially during the offseason, he's a cross between a demented drill sergeant and the male version of Cinderella's wicked stepmother. And considering that the NFL lockout prevented him from getting his clutches on Cardinals players this past offseason, he might even be worse on them this year. That figures to be especially true when it comes to the bevy of young players on the roster, including those who just wrapped up their rookie seasons like (Patrick) Peterson. Those players didn't have an offseason with Lott after being drafted last April. And oh, are they about to pay for it."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rallying from a 1-6 start, as the Cardinals did in 2011, hasn't ensured success the following season for previous teams. A couple fared well, however. Urban: "The 1981 Redskins -- featuring current Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm on the offensive line -- are going to be the team to point to for any team with a strong finishing kick. They went 1-6, got to 8-8, and then in 1982 (despite a strike-ravaged schedule) Washington rolled to an 8-1 regular-season record and won all four postseason games to capture a Super Bowl championship."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers center Eric Heitmann suffered his career-threatening neck injury while competing in the "nutcracker" drills former coach Mike Singletary preferred. Barrows: "Despite the controversy around the drill, Singletary revised what he insisted was a safer version last year. Still, at least two players, linebacker Derek Walker and Heitmann, were injured in it. At the time, the 49ers referred to Heitmann's injury as a 'stinger' -- a nerve injury caused by trauma to the head, neck or shoulder. Shortly thereafter Heitmann suffered a broken leg. He recovered from the fracture but could not shake the neck problems and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 2. Singletary insisted on the nutcracker because he said it taught players the importance of leverage, and it was iconic drill of the coach's tough-guy approach. In 2009 Singletary said he didn't think the drill would cause injuries because the two players facing off didn't take running starts."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Singletary refused to comment on the nutcracker story. Singletary: "I have no response to that. I don't really know what Eric's prior situation was, so I'm not going to respond to that." Singletary and the 49ers should have known about "prior situations" regarding injuries. Heitmann had been with the team for years. If he were susceptible to such an injury, why expose him to the obvious heightened risks associated with such drills? A question worth asking if, as Singletary suggests, he did not know Heitmann's prior injury situation.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' skill players have shown up in strong numbers for the most recent player-organized workouts.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Michael Crabtree didn't make time for interviews Thursday. Lynch: "The only mystery surrounding him is how hurt he is. Tight end Vernon Davis, in Crabtree's absence, answered the question saying the foot injury [Crabtree] sustained June 9 in Camp Alex No. 1 is far more than just a case of a sore foot brought on by the pinch of new cleats. However, Davis said he should be ready should training camp start on time."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' offense is tight end-friendly, according to Davis. Davis: "This offense is going to be pretty good for the tight end. We don’t just have one way to go. That’s good. We’ve never had that since I’ve been here." Was Davis alluding to the use of more option routes? That appears to be the case. Davis followed up by saying he'll have the flexibility to run through zones instead of simply settling into them.

Ellen Sherberg of the St. Louis Business Journal updates the business dealings of former Rams tackle Orlando Pace. Sherberg: "Mr. Pace has partnered with GO Marketing LLC, formed by [KFNS radio owner] Dave Greene and James Oelklaus, founders of Grand Slam Sports that includes KFNS among other holdings, to launch TheTicketBlock.com, a new ticket brokerage."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis expects Sam Bradford to take a significant step forward in 2011. Softli: "The NFL lockout is the only thing delaying the progress of this young quarterback with a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. When I looked back at the 2010 Rams season, Bradford set the stage for the immediate future and sent a message to all the NFL that the young gun from St. Louis is for real and won't take any prisoners along the way. It's about winning the division, the NFC conference and eventually lifting the Lombardi Trophy."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says first-round draft choice Patrick Peterson spent about 30 minutes speaking with strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott when teams were allowed contact with players during the draft. That meeting could help explain why Peterson decided to drop about 10 pounds. Urban: "Lott famously tells most players when he first gets them in Arizona they should drop a few pounds. Everyone has done it, from Larry Fitzgerald to Kurt Warner to Beanie Wells (pretty much every incoming rookie gets the speech). Peterson figured to be no different." Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie might be one exception to the drop-a-few-pounds mantra. He didn't have any extra weight to lose.

Cecilia Chan of the Arizona Republic says Glendale is supporting efforts to bring another Super Bowl to University of Phoenix Stadium. Chan: "In return for the prestige of hosting the National Football League game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale must guarantee services such as public safety and sanitation for free and exempt game-day tickets from sales tax for the NFL. When Glendale hosted its first Super Bowl in 2008, it saw $1.2 million boost in sales-tax revenue. But a city-commissioned study showed it cost the city $2.6 million in services. The City Council on a 5-2 vote Tuesday approved the resolution." Good for business, bad for city budgets?

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Johnathan Joseph could be an attractive free-agent addition for the Seahawks. Henderson: "Clayton thinks the Seahawks could get Joseph for around $8 million a season, which makes him a much cheaper alternative to Nnamdi Asomugha."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits Steve Largent's final game with the team. An elbow injury suffered on the notorious playing surface in Philadelphia that season left Largent feeling frustrated. Largent: "Dave [Krieg] threw me a post route that I should have been able to catch up to. But I had to dive for that ball. I dove where second base would have been. They had it covered with turf, but there was still a little mound there. I fell and it busted my elbow. That’s what I remember about my last year."

Best of NFL: NFC West coaches

June, 29, 2011
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:

Best hair story, Ray Horton: Seventy-five of 76 coaches in the division sport shortly cropped hair or none at all in their most recently posted mug shots. Horton's braids make him a conspicuous exception. No big deal, right? Easy for us to say. Horton, a former NFL cornerback and longtime secondary coach, worried that his unconventional look might hurt his chances for advancement through the tradition-rich coaching ranks. He thought about cutting off his braids before interviewing with the Cardinals this offseason. But as Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic outlined in April, team president Michael Bidwill encouraged Horton to keep his locks the way they were.

[+] EnlargeJim Tomsula
AP Photo/Paul SakumaJim Tomsula is known for having a good relationship with his players.
Best players' coach, Jim Tomsula. There might not be a position coach in the division more beloved than the leader of the San Francisco 49ers' defensive line. Two head coaches, Mike Singletary and Jim Harbaugh, thought highly enough of Tomsula to keep him around. Ownership thought highly enough of Tomsula to name him interim coach for Week 17 last season. Players thought highly enough of Tomsula to win for him that week. Tomsula has brought together and usually gotten good results from a diverse group of linemen featuring Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin and Ray McDonald, among others. Tomsula's everyman persona gives him a disarming presence. When the 49ers named him interim coach, Tomsula showed up for his introductory news conference wearing the short-sleeved shirt he had worn the previous day. He had been grinding away at the facility all night and hadn't gotten a chance to change. Tomsula apologized to ownership for his appearance, but it wasn't necessary. As Tomsula told reporters that day, "I'm Jim Nobody from Nowhere."

Best ambassador, Pete Carroll: The Seahawks' second-year head coach has led five coaching philosophy clinics over the past three months, meeting with coaches from various levels in Los Angeles, Seattle and at two universities, TCU and Stanford. "If we don't change you one bit, that's OK," Carroll told attendees in the first of two sessions in Los Angeles, "but if we make you think, if we challenge you to look at what you are doing and what your world is all about in your coaching, and if you decide to accept what we're all about, that's cool, too." Carroll speaks from experience, having questioned and ultimately reinvented his approach after the New England Patriots fired him in 2000. Carroll doesn't need whatever benefits flow his way from these clinics. His passion and eagerness to share is admirable.

Best cult following, John Lott: Cardinals players have sworn by -- and probably sworn at, from time to time -- their super-charged strength and conditioning coach. "He may have saved my career," Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald once said. Lott played a significant role in helping head coach Ken Whisenhunt change the Cardinals' culture a few years ago. He pushed ownership to upgrade weight-room facilities in a manner that showed players Lott had pull within the organization. He convinced Fitzgerald and others to cut weight in an effort to improve their quickness, speed and durability. He has held players accountable and gotten them to do the same with teammates. It was significant news in Arizona when the Cardinals re-signed Lott following the 2009 season. Whisenhunt knew the Cardinals couldn't afford to let Lott get away. I don't recall another strength coach in the league generating the same level of public support. Key players have bought in completely. Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson pointed to missed time with Lott as one of the costs of the lockout, suggesting rookies faced a difficult adjustment.

Best sideline stance, Steve Spagnuolo. There might not be a more intense stance in the game. Spagnuolo leans forward with hands on bent knees, his chin up and eyes focused on the action with palpable intensity. Every coach is tuned into every play of every game, of course, but Spagnuolo's sideline manner sets him apart. He looks like a guy who arrives for work at 3:30 or 4 in the morning (he does) and cannot prepare hard enough. But that forward-leaning stance also says something about Spagnuolo's mindset. The players I've spoken with over the past couple seasons have said Spagnuolo rarely, if ever, revisits something negative from the past. He turns the page faster and more completely than other coaches. I think that mindset helped the Rams get through their 1-15 season in 2009 without cracking. I think that mindset helps explain how they beat the Washington Redskins last season after two particularly tough defeats to open the season. I think it helps explain how they put together a mostly impressive performance in victory against San Diego after a dismal 44-6 defeat at Detroit that could have rocked them.
A few highlights from Arizona Cardinals' strong safety Adrian Wilson's conversation with Mike Jurecki on XTRA910 radio in Phoenix:
  • Wilson met with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, early in the offseason. He said he "got all the tape" at that time, has a playbook and knows the defense well.
  • The scheme will be "very different" in that it will emphasize the team concept without relying so much on star players performing at their best. In the past, the Cardinals needed Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play well for any chance at success, Wilson said. Every defense needs players to play well, of course, but the Cardinals are hoping Horton can establish the defensive culture Dick LeBeau brought to Pittsburgh.
  • Rookie outside linebacker Sam Acho has been working out with Wilson all offseason. Wilson: "I have been with him ever since he got drafted. He is going to be a good prospect for us, very smart. He knows the playbook."
  • Wilson has also been in touch with and met with cornerback Patrick Peterson, the team's first-round draft choice. Wilson called Peterson a "very smooth kid, very well-rounded."
  • The Cardinals will miss working out with strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott. Wilson laughed but was not entirely joking when predicting that some new players could have a hard time adjusting to Lott's hard-charging approach, predicting that there could be some clashes. Wilson thinks players can remain strong through their own training, but the mental side will not be the same without Lott.
  • Wilson said the abductor injury he suffered last season hurt him beginning sometime in October. He took responsibility for deciding to play through the injury and failing to meet his standards for play. He said doubters are fueling him. Wilson: "I am a star in this league, period. There is no question about what I can do."
  • Wilson expects the Cardinals to be very aggressive in pursuing a quarterback in part because coach Ken Whisenhunt will not tolerate another season like the one Arizona suffered through in 2010. Wilson: "You have to have the quarterback in this league to win, period." Arizona has much riding on the first few days of free agency.

Wilson also confirmed his new Twitter account.
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat breaks down Oshiomogho Atogwe's new contract with the Rams. The deal pays $4.1 million in guaranteed money to Atogwe in 2010, with no promises thereafter. That sounds about right. The team had refused to pay the $6.976 million Atogwe would have commanded if the team would have assigned a high tender to him as a restricted free agent. Atogwe had refused to sign the $1.226 million offer the Rams extended. Add $6.976 million to $1.226 million, divide by two and the total is $4.101 million -- what Atogwe will get under his new deal. Atogwe could earn more than $30 million if the Rams honored the full contract, but this appears to be a one-year deal dressed in fancy clothes. Expect the Rams to re-evaluate Atogwe's situation after the 2010 season. Atogwe needs to stay healthy and resume the ball hawking ways that made him a franchise player previously.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks receiver Ben Obomanu. Williams: "At 6-foot, 206 pounds Obomanu has decent size. He’s not a burner, but possesses enough speed to get deep and create separation against man defense. He’s got great hands, and is a good blocker in the run game. He’s a smart receiver who can read defenses and find a soft spot in a zone. Essentially, Obomanu is a good, all-around receiver who does not do one thing particularly well." Obomanu, a seventh-round choice in 2006, hopes to pattern himself after teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who also entered the NFL as a seventh-rounder.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com profiles Seattle defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. Farnsworth: "Gray not only was a two-time All-American and Southwest Conference defensive player of the year for the Longhorns, he set the school record with 28 career interceptions and was named to the school’s all-time team as well as Texas’ All-Decade team for the 1980s. Gray took only two recruiting trips -- to Colorado and Texas. Austin already had a recruiting boot in the door, because Gray had competed there for three years at the state track and field championships while attending Estacado High School."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times suggests the Seahawks probably offered Kevin Ellison a split contract designed to protect the team in case of injury.

Jon Kraczynski of the Associated Press reports from Larry Fitzgerald's training sessions in Minneapolis. Kraczynski: "What started as a group of about five or six players a few years ago has swelled to about 40 athletes, all working on an efficient and demanding routine that lasts for three weeks. Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall and Sidney Rice have participated in the past. On Tuesday, Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley, Seattle rookie Golden Tate, New Orleans defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis and Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson were among those in the group, which changes from week to week." It's a good sign when young players take the initiative to put in the extra work. Working with Fitzgerald has to help Tate in particular. Training in a competitive setting is a plus.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookie Dan Williams continues to push himself on the conditioning front. Nose tackles aren't always symbols of fitness, so this is a welcome development from the Cardinals' perspective and another indication strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott is getting his message across. Urban: "Williams has taken Lott’s preaching to heart, including the idea that, if Williams sheds a few more pounds it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Regardless, Williams has proven himself a steady worker. Anxious to play football with pads again and also to prove himself to the coaching staff, football has been constant since the end of the college season but that’s OK too."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com takes a look at 49ers players possibly in line for contract extensions. Maiocco on Vernon Davis: "Nothing changed in Davis' game last year -- only the perception of his game. The major difference was that offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye used him as a route-runner, not a blocker, in the passing game. As a result, Davis posted exceptional numbers: 78 catches, 965 yards, 13 TDs. Davis is seeking to become the highest-paid tight end in the league at $8 million per season, NFL sources say. It's doubtful the 49ers will go that high."
When not providing regular updates about his own workouts or lauding a teammate for his, the Arizona Cardinals' Darnell Dockett was putting pressure on globetrotting teammate Kerry Rhodes.

Rhodes
Dockett
Dockett made reference to the trips Rhodes has tweeted about, including one to the Bahamas, before delivering this jab: "I hope u getting ready to play some FOOTBALL cuz antrell rolle would be ready."

Dockett isn't the only one wondering whether the switch from Antrel Rolle to Rhodes will represent a drop not only in production but overall approach to the game.

As Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. put it earlier this offseason, "I liked Rolle a lot because everything was in front of him still. He has only been a free safety for a couple years now. He spends offseasons with Ed Reed and is very conscientious about becoming a great player. Rhodes is a finesse player and still an above-average starting safety who at times can look better than he is, but is not a banger, not an elite cover guy and it's going to be a little tougher to do things you want to do with Adrian Wilson. I would rather have Rolle."

The part about Rolle spending his offseasons chasing greatness with Reed came to mind after reading Dockett's comments. It's ridiculous to assume Rhodes isn't preparing sufficiently just because he mentioned a couple offseason trips. Plenty of conscientious NFL players take trips even during regular-season work weeks. There's nothing wrong with a player getting some rest and relaxation in the Bahamas before training camp.

It's also clear, however, that the Cardinals' strength-and-conditioning coach, John Lott, has established quite a culture in Arizona. Some of the team's best and most outspoken players, including Dockett, have embraced that culture. It's important for newcomers to embrace that culture and it's clear from Dockett's comments that Rhodes hasn't made an immediate positive impression along those lines.

Now we'll see what, if anything, Rhodes offers in return.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are happy to have Clark Haggans in part because the veteran outside linebacker has the right attitude and approach. Somers: "In 2000, no one would have believed Haggans would have lasted this long. A fifth-round pick by the Steelers out of Colorado State, he converted from defensive end to linebacker. Haggans didn't become a starter until 2004 and missed just seven games over the next four seasons for the Steelers. An unrestricted free agent, he signed a three-year deal with the Cardinals before the 2008 season but missed the Super Bowl run because of a serious foot injury." That injury could have been a career-ender given Haggans' age. Strength coach John Lott: "Clark is a breath of fresh air in today's world," Lott says. "He's somebody who has an old-school approach to a new-school way of playing."

Cecilia Chan of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want to rezone 129 acres near University of Phoenix Stadium.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com explains why he values former NFL scout Dave Razzano's take on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Maiocco: "Razzano knows a lot more about scouting than I ever will. Therefore, I thought his opinion was very relevant. Does it mean I agree with what Razzano had to say? Yes and no. I agree, in retrospect, with Razzano that Smith should not have been a top pick. I also agree that if Smith were a third- or fourth-round pick, he would not be with the 49ers any longer. But I believe Smith will show dramatic improvement over last season. I also think he is good enough to steer the 49ers to the NFC West title." Earlier: Razzano says he likes Nate Davis more than Smith. Razzano on Smith: "I think he's exactly what I thought he'd be -- maybe a little worse. I thought he'd be a decent backup. But I watch him now, he just doesn't have the winning mentality. But he's a good kid and a smart kid and he probably looks good in practice. He misses simple 7-yard outs. He's just not accurate and he doesn't have the moxie." Those things might be true, but I still think Smith is the 49ers' best starting option entering the 2010 season.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers coach Mike Singletary will make an advance trip to London promoting the team's regular-season game there.

Around the NFC West: Bulger overlooked

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
9:47
AM ET
Arizona Cardinals

Climbing Camelback Mountain is part of the Cardinals' offseason training program conducted by John Lott.

According to a report from Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910 AM in Phoenix, Deuce Lutui has tipped the scales at 396 pounds.

San Francisco 49ers

Former 49ers cornerback Walt Harris has agreed to terms on a contract with the Baltimore Ravens.

Matt Barrows offers an assessment of some of the 49ers' rookies now that offseason workouts are complete.

Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll is excited about the position change that has moved Red Bryant to defensive end.

Danny O'Neil examines all of the changes that have taken place in the organization over the past six months.

St. Louis Rams

Bryan Burwell says quarterback Marc Bulger never got the credit he deserved while he was with the Rams.

Now that his new contract is in place, Oshiomogho Atogwe proclaimed himself "very healthy."
Revisiting top NFC West storylines this offseason:

Mass retirements

Walter Jones, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Patrick Kerney and Bertrand Berry combined for 20 Pro Bowls during their NFL careers. Each retired this offseason.

[+] EnlargeWarner
John David Mercer/US PresswireKurt Warner's retirement may tip the competitive balance heading into the 2010 season.
Warner's departure from the Arizona Cardinals was by far the most significant based on how well he probably would have played had he returned in 2010. No other move this offseason will affect the 2010 standings as much. The San Francisco 49ers' chances improved significantly when Warner walked away.

Quarterback turnover

Every team in the division changed its No. 2 quarterback. Sam Bradford, Charlie Whitehurst, Derek Anderson, A.J. Feeley, David Carr and J.P. Losman are new to the NFC West this season. Predicting the division is tougher with so many changes and potential changes at the position. The door is open for Matt Hasselbeck to re-emerge as the top quarterback in the division. The big question, I think, is whether we're underestimating Matt Leinart in Arizona. He's not getting much credit at all.

49ers stadium vote

The team moved closer to having a new stadium in Santa Clara for the 2014 season. Getting Measure J passed doesn't guarantee anything, but the 49ers' ability to clear this hurdle suggests the team's ownership and front office have made progress. That's a welcome development for 49ers fans -- even those not wanting to see game days relocated from San Francisco.

Ownership uncertainty

The St. Louis Rams appeared less flexible than they would have liked this offseason during an ownership change that remains in progress. All signs point to Stan Kroenke finding a way to become full owner of the team. Rams fans should welcome the development because Kroenke has resources and an established record as an effective sports franchise owner.

In Seattle, meanwhile, the Seahawks continued to operate as usual while owner Paul Allen underwent cancer treatments. The long-term prognosis for Allen remains unclear.

Stability in Arizona

The Cardinals endured lots of changes this offseason, but they signed coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to contract extensions through the 2013 season. They also re-signed strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott, whose addition and retention Whisenhunt had made a priority.

Failing to re-sign Whisenhunt and/or Lott in particular would have raised questions about the Cardinals' direction and stability. Those are non-issues at this point.

[+] EnlargeCarroll
Juliann Tallin/US PresswirePete Carroll took over as the Seahawks' head coach.
Drama, intrigue in Seattle

The Seahawks' strange and ultimately futile dance with Mike Holmgren -- followed by Jim Mora's abrupt firing and Pete Carroll's quick hiring -- marked the most dramatic offseason in Seattle since Holmgren stepped down as general manager in late 2002.

This was an organization in turmoil for a while. The Seahawks regained their footing and put together a unified front office.

Surviving change atop 49ers

Losing general manager Scot McCloughan five weeks before the draft qualified as a potentially ominous development.

The 49ers held together their front office and smartly promoted from within. Adding a GM from the outside might have undercut coach Mike Singletary, quarterback Alex Smith and others just as the 49ers finally appeared in position to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

This offseason was about continuity for the 49ers and they managed to achieve it even though McCloughan left them. Re-signing Patrick Willis, sticking with Smith when Donovan McNabb was available and getting the stadium measure passed added to the sense of stability and direction for the franchise.

Line dances

The 49ers lucked into offensive line coach Mike Solari when the Seahawks decided to hire Alex Gibbs to coach their offensive line.

The team of Solari and assistant line coach Ray Brown looks like a significant upgrade at a critical time for the 49ers. Solari's familiarity with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye -- they worked together in Kansas City -- was a bonus.

Gibbs is the right hire for Seattle as the team more fully adopts the blocking scheme for which Gibbs is best known. Hiring him at Solari's expense strengthened a division rival, however.

Cardinals exodus

Warner, Berry, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, Bryant McFadden, Mike Gandy and Chike Okeafor combined to start 107 games for the Cardinals last season. All are gone -- some by design, some against the Cardinals' wishes.

Arizona fans should be excited to see how the Cardinals develop some of their younger players. The organization has done a good job plugging holes with youth in the recent past. This roster has turned over to a degree generally not seen among playoff teams, however.

At least the Cardinals recovered to some degree. Adding Kerry Rhodes, Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, Rex Hadnot and Jay Feely helped.

Steven Jackson
Jeff Curry/US PresswireKeeping running back Steven Jackson healthy will be very important for the Rams.
Back surgery for Steven Jackson

The Rams' best player and only Pro Bowl representative wore down last season. Surgery to repair a herniated disk should give him a chance to bounce back in time for training camp and the regular season.

Still, it's fair to wonder if the Rams overused Jackson following his injury last season, and whether they've done enough to shore up their depth in case Jackson wears down again in 2010.

RFA unrest

This was a league-wide phenomenon with special application in the NFC West stemming from Oshiomogho Atogwe's unusual transition from franchise player to minimally tendered restricted free agent to street free agent.

Atogwe might wind up re-signing with the Rams anyway. If that happens, the RFA storyline becomes much ado about not so much -- particularly with the Cardinals' unhappy RFA, Deuce Lutui, re-signing this week.

Fellow NFC West RFAs Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp and Alex Barron found new addresses via trade.

Divisional smack talk

The jaw-jacking between Arizona's Darnell Dockett and San Francisco's Vernon Davis provided cheap entertainment for a while this offseason.

At one point, Dockett asked Davis how he spent Week 18 last season.

"Oh, that's right," Dockett tweeted. "He was home watching the cardinals in tha playoffs!"

[+] EnlargeVernon Davis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWe'll see if the verbal sparring between Vernon Davis (pictured) and Darnell Dockett carries over into the regular season.
To be continued.

Brandon Marshall non-acquisition

For a while, the Seahawks were the only team showing serious interest in the Denver Broncos' most productive receiver.

Marshall wound up landing in Miami, a relief to the rest of the NFC West.

The Seahawks might have a cheap alternative in Mike Williams, the surprise of the offseason for Seattle. The next trade-related question for the Seahawks is whether they'll add Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills.

Jerry Rice, Russ Grimm to the Hall

Four recent Hall of Fame enshrinees played at least briefly with NFC West teams. Another, Grimm, coaches in the division.

Rice's election headlined the 2010 class.

Another former NFC West star, Cortez Kennedy, made the list of 10 finalists.

Farewell to a legend

Merlin Olsen's death from cancer saddened those who knew him and those who appreciated the warmth and dignity he projected.

Even opponents liked him.

Not even Rice could match Olsen's career total of 14 Pro Bowls.

Farewell to a non-legend

LenDale White's sudden and quick release from the Seahawks came as an unexpected jolt.

Carroll proved he wouldn't give a free pass to his former players at USC.

Your turn: Any major issues we're missing here? Fire away.
While every NFC West team can legitimately claim to having a successful offseason on some level, I can see why ESPN's John Clayton ranked the Seahawks' offseason as the NFL's fifth best to this point.

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

My quick take on NFC West offseasons to this point:

Arizona Cardinals

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

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

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

San Francisco 49ers

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

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

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

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

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

St. Louis Rams

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

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

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

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