NFC West: Kenneth Darby

Steven Jackson's streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons could be in jeopardy for reasons beneficial to the St. Louis Rams.

One reason, actually.

Daryl Richardson, the Rams' rookie seventh-round draft choice, has given the offense a jolt with his speed and breakaway ability. He has 53- and 44-yard runs this season. Those are two of the Rams' three longest rushes since the start of the 2010 season. Jackson's 47-yard scoring run in the 2011 opener was the other.

Richardson has 246 yards and a 5.2-yard average through six games. If we watched the Rams play without knowing anything about the legacy Jackson has built in St. Louis, would we conclude through performance alone that Jackson was the Rams' best option?

We might, but it wouldn't be automatic.

Both backs are going to play, but this dynamic is a new one for the Rams. The team has not had a viable alternative to Jackson since Marshall Faul played his final down in 2005, Jackson's second season. The No. 2 back in St. Louis hasn't commanded many carries before this season.

Cadillac Williams, Kenneth Darby, Antonio Pittman, Brian Leonard and Stephen Davis have finished second to Jackson in rushing yards for the Rams since Faulk retired. They had between 152 and 361 yards rushing in a given season. Richardson is on pace to surpass 361 yards in the next three games and possibly sooner if Week 6 was an indicator. Richardson had 11 carries for 76 yards against the Miami Dolphins last week.

In the past, Jackson knew he would get enough carries over the course of 16 games to get his 1,000 yards. He has rightfully taken pride in the streak. There could be enough production to go around for Jackson to keep alive the streak even with Richardson playing a significant role in the offense. Both players were productive as the Rams amassed 462 yards against the Dolphins.

Through six games, Jackson is on pace for 861 yards. Richardson is on pace for 656. Jackson was on a slower pace at this point last season, but he caught up with at least 128 yards in three consecutive games beginning in Week 8. No other Rams running back got more than three carries in any of those games.

The chart shows production by down for Richardson and Jackson. The final column shows percentage of rushes resulting in first downs. The percentage is much higher for Jackson on third down because he has five carries on third-and-1, plus two others with fewer than four yards needed for a first down. Richardson's third-down carries have come with 7, 12, 13, 17 and 24 yards needed for a first down, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Note: Rams coach Jeff Fisher addressed the one-two combination in his conversation with reporters Thursday.

"It's been working and we'll continue it," Fisher said. "I'd still like to see 'Jack' get at least about two-thirds of the carries because he’s got the experience, and Jack is one of those that he almost needs to get rolling. He needs to get going, so we’ll continue to work with that, but we were pleased with the results last weekend."

Related: Rick Venturi's film review on the Rams' running backs at Miami begin at the five-minute mark of this clip.
The Arizona Cardinals think rookie running back Ryan Williams tore a patella tendon in his right knee.

That was the preliminary word from coach Ken Whisenhunt following the Cardinals' 28-20 preseason defeat at Green Bay on Friday night. Williams would miss the 2011 season if that were the case. He would then face a grueling rehabilitation.

St. Louis Rams running back Cadillac Williams has had torn patella injuries, one to each knee, while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He returned the next season in each case and hasn't missed a game over the past two seasons.

This would be a costly injury for the Cardinals because their other primary back, Beanie Wells, remains unproven. Wells has also missed time with injuries during his two seasons in the NFL.

The Cardinals used a second-round draft choice on Williams this offseason. Whisenhunt said they had him rated as one of the 15 best players available. Williams did not disappoint during training camp, either. He showed an ability to change directions without sacrificing much speed. I thought he had a chance to supplant Wells in the starting lineup at some point during this season.

This injury could lead to more playing time for LaRod Stephens-Howling. The Cardinals have used Stephens-Howling increasingly over the past couple seasons, sometimes with three wide receivers and another running back.

Arizona has stocked up on tight ends this offseason, giving the team additional flexibility with its personnel groups. But just about every grouping includes at least one running back. Wells hasn't been consistent in pass protection and he missed a block against Green Bay.

Among the running backs available: Laurence Maroney, Kenneth Darby, Julius Jones and Brian Westbrook.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says this wouldn't be the first time Matt Hasselbeck's contract talks with the Seahawks went down to the wire. O'Neil: "The first time also resulted in a last-minute agreement when Hasselbeck signed a six-year, $49.6 million contract in February 2005, the deal announced the very day the team may have been forced to use the franchise tag on Hasselbeck without a long-term deal. Six years later, Hasselbeck and the Seahawks are nearing another deadline, only this time there are national implications. Without a new deal, the future becomes very uncertain. That statement is true for the league in general and for the Seahawks and Hasselbeck in particular. That means everyone will be watching what happens before the close of business Thursday."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune has this to say about Hasselbeck's status: "Seahawk management has conceded that the quarterback issue is absolutely fundamental to the franchise’s future. If there were conviction that Hasselbeck’s being retained is the best option, it seems that a deal would have been struck by now. But without a labor deal in place, no one will have a clue where the Hawks stand relative to the most important position on the field. At least for a while."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says during a video clip that "anything can happen" regarding Hasselbeck -- including a new deal before the labor situation ends -- and that the quarterback will ultimately decide whether he wants to stay in Seattle or not.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Matt Leinart's fate with the Cardinals took a hit when the microphone a teammate was wearing captured the quarterbacks' rant against the team. Bickley: "During the last game of the preseason, the then-Cardinals quarterback was wandering the sideline when he approached a teammate who was wired to capture the sounds of an NFL game. The teammate asked Leinart about his future in Arizona, and according to whispers, Leinart let loose on the organization and the head coach. One problem: Leinart had no idea his teammate was wearing a hidden microphone. Did the audio outburst reach Ken Whisenhunt? Did it hasten or trigger Leinart's departure? The Cardinals say no, but clearly, it couldn't have helped."

Darren Urban of passes along a 2006 photo showing Prince Amukamara, then in high school, posing with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald at the Cardinals' facility. Urban: "Amukamara has come a long way since then, going to the University of Nebraska, getting switched to cornerback and, obviously, filling out physically. Now he’s a first-round NFL draft pick-to-be, impressing a lot of people at the just-completed Scouting combine. He’s regarded as the second-best cornerback behind LSU’s Patrick Peterson."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams tendered contracts to their potential restricted free agents. Thomas: "Tight end Daniel Fells, defensive tackle Gary Gibson and offensive tackle Renardo Foster were tendered at a right of first refusal level. None of the three players were drafted, so the Rams have matching rights on any outside offers. But they would not get draft pick compensation if the players received a contract offer from another club and the Rams decided not to match that offer. Meanwhile, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, offensive guard John Greco, cornerback Justin King, wide receiver Laurent Robinson and linebacker David Vobora were tendered at their original draft position level." Fells, Gibson and Robinson would generally qualify as unrestricted free agents using previously established parameters. Quincy Butler, Kenneth Darby and Curtis Johnson did not receive tenders.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers appear uninterested in bringing back quarterback Troy Smith. Also from Barrows: "Many of you have asked via Twitter and other means whether the team will cut ties with cornerback Nate Clements before the league year ends as the Packers did today with linebacker A.J. Hawk. In Hawk's case, he was set to earn a $10.5 million bonus on the first day of the new league year. Clements also is scheduled for a huge salary in 2011, but unlike Hawk there is no trigger point -- aside from the start of the season -- that would prompt an early release."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh values accuracy in his quarterbacks, one reason Troy Smith probably isn't in the team's plans. Alex Smith isn't particularly accurate by starting quarterback standards, but he has completed a higher percentage of passes than Troy Smith.

Around the NFC West: Rams play to script

December, 13, 2010
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' game at New Orleans played out as expected during a 31-13 defeat in the Superdome. Miklasz: "The Rams (6-7) completed a three-game road stretch Sunday and went 2-1 in their travels. I'd imagine that most of us would've gladly accepted a 2-1 record at the outset of this expedition. And we already know that the NFC West is a big pile of steaming mediocrity, and that the Rams have flaws. We know that they're not ready to duke it out with the big boys, having been knocked down by Atlanta (11-2) and New Orleans (10-3) in recent weeks. That's all been established. But in terms of what it means for this season and a potential happy ending for the Rams, Sunday's loss didn't change a thing. The Rams are still in position to not only make the playoffs, but to host a playoff game. And -- believe it or not -- this same New Orleans Saints might have to come to St. Louis for the postseason, and a rematch." I think that's the right take. The Rams should have expected a little more from Sam Bradford and even Steven Jackson; both players suffered key turnovers. Overall, however, this game went to script.

Also from Miklasz, with Bryan Burwell: quick thoughts following the game.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a Rams report card with a C-minus grade for Bradford. I thought Bradford might fare a little better against the Saints after watching Matt Hasselbeck pick apart their defense a few weeks ago. The interception Bradford threw in the red zone proved crushing. The Saints returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. The potential 14-point swing prevented the Rams from keeping the game close.

Also from Coats: a long list of defensive injuries put the Rams at an even greater disadvantage Sunday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jackson expressed pride but mixed emotions after reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth season in a row. Thomas: "And on the play in which Jackson actually went over 1,000 yards for the season -- a 20-yard gain in the first quarter -- he fumbled for the first time this season. New Orleans recovered at its 39 and marched 61 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead."

Also from Thomas: The Saints made the pivotal plays Sunday.

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams appeared to avoid serious injuries against the Saints. Also: "The Rams clearly missed RB Kenneth Darby on third downs, where he is helpful in blitz pickup. He missed the game with a rib injury. ... Something has to give for the offense in the red zone. They have really struggled in recent weeks to punch it in for touchdowns and have been settling for a lot of field goal attempts. To win this division, that must improve."

Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune checks in with Bradford and the Saints for thoughts on how the Rams' rookie quarterback played Sunday. Bradford on the interception returned for a touchdown: "To be honest, I thought I had it, but I just wasn't able to put enough on the ball." Saints coach Sean Payton: "He is having a very good season as a young player. He shows you all the things you want and hope for as an organization with your first-round pick."

James Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune says Bradford's ability to chase down Saints safety Roman Harper stood out as a memorable play Sunday even though the play wound up not counting.

Personnel report: Sam Bradford's riddle

November, 8, 2010
Sam Bradford has it backwards.

The St. Louis Rams' rookie quarterback should be struggling in critical situations and padding his stats when circumstances are more favorable.

Instead, Bradford has no touchdowns, five interceptions and a 47.1 on first down, when running back Steven Jackson provides the greatest threat. Bradford has six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 102.6 rating on third down, flourishing even in third-and-long situations.

The stats exclude clock-stopping spike plays. What's going on? Bradford appeared to get a little careless on some first-down plays early in the season, especially when the Rams were playing from behind. Evidence suggests he has corrected the problem.

The first chart shows Bradford's numbers by down, not counting spike plays.

The second chart singles out Bradford's five first-down interceptions. I've included information on personnel groups -- "21" indicates two backs and one tight end, for example -- to more clearly define situations. The three fourth-quarter picks came as the Rams were playing from behind in their pass-oriented 11 personnel grouping.

There's been only one first-down interception since Week 3 and that came during the fourth quarter of a blowout defeat at Detroit, suggesting Bradford has improved in these situations.

The second chart singles out Bradford's six third-down touchdown passes. This chart and the previous one show how widely Bradford has distributed the football. The 11 plays featured in the two charts targeted nine different Rams players.

The final chart breaks down Bradford's passing numbers by down for every personnel group the Rams have used this season, based on my charting.

Bradford has completed all seven attempts from the run-oriented 22 personnel group. With teams guarding against the run, Bradford can become more dangerous on bootlegs and conventional pass plays.

The third-down numbers are generally terrific except for when the Rams go with two backs and no tight ends. Bradford has zero completions on these throws. Pass-rush concerns have sometimes affected these plays. The sample size is relatively small, however.

The second-down passing numbers from 21 personnel (base offense) appear quite strong. Teams must respect the run when the Rams line up with a fullback. Second down is also when offensive play callers have quite a bit of flexibility. Bradford could be using these situations to his advantage. Just a thought.

The numbers from 12 personnel should improve as the Rams get healthier at tight end. Again, "20" personnel reflects two backs and no tight ends, etc.

Steven Jackson neglected near goal line?

October, 29, 2010
Bobby from St. Louis asked during the most recent NFC West chat whether the Rams were neglecting Steven Jackson once their offense reached the opponents' 10-yard line.

"It seems like every game they have a drive stall in there because we run play-action rollouts or quick drops," Bobby wrote. "The Earl Thomas pick in end zone vs. Seattle, back-to-back sacks vs. San Diego and a couple near-picks vs. Tampa this weekend come to mind. Why not let the workhorse back (among the best in the league) pound the ball four times and test the defense's will?"

I've had time to break down the Rams' personnel use through the Tampa Bay game, allowing me to isolate 36 plays at the 10 or closer. Jackson ran the ball on 10 of these plays. He lost yardage once, gained a single yard five times, had a 3-yard run from the 9 and a 7-yard touchdown run on a second-and-goal play against the Chargers. He averaged 1.3 yards per carry on these 10 rushes.

The Rams tried and failed to run Keith Toston into the end zone from the 1 on two occasions against the Washington Redskins, both from power formations with three tight ends. Jackson had left that game with an injury, however, so it's tough to hold that one against the Rams' coaches. Kenneth Darby had a 7-yard run to the 2 against the Bucs on a three-receiver play featuring Darby and Jackson in a split backfield.

One sequence against the Chargers stood out as supporting your premise.

The Rams had suffered a 6-yard sack on first-and-goal from the 4. Jackson was not in the game for this play. Jackson came into the game on second-and-goal from the 10, but the Rams fooled no one with weak play-action featuring Jackson releasing horizontally into the right flat area. Bradford took another sack.

A penalty against the Chargers on third down produced first-and-goal from the 1. The Rams lined up with three tight ends as if to run, only to have Bradford pass. He took another sack. Only then did the Rams hand off to Jackson, who scored from the 7 on a trap play from three-receiver personnel.

It's clear the Rams trust quarterback Sam Bradford. They like the way he throws with accuracy on the move. They know defenses are keying on Jackson. They want to use this to their advantage by having Bradford run rollouts and bootlegs. It's a good strategy, but a playcaller can sometimes outsmart himself. I wouldn't argue with a few more carries for Jackson when the Rams reach the 10.

The chart shows Jackson's stats by field position, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Their field-position numbers break down rushes inside the 10. I included plays beginning at the 10. The rushing stats match because Jackson has not carried from the 10 this season. Note, also, that the chart includes some duplicating information. Carries inside the 10 show up in two categories.
Clare Farnsworth of says Matt Hasselbeck played coy before revealing the truth about his pregame routine. Hasselbeck: "OK, typically what I do is I’ll have noise-cancellation headphones on. But it’s not plugged into anything. I just don’t want to hear people, or their music. I just need silence; focus. Otherwise people want to talk to you. So I wear headphones with no music. Just leave me alone. ... I just tuck (the cord) into my shorts or my pocket." Sort of like pretending you're on the phone to avoid having to speak with someone. Not that I've done anything along those lines.

Also from Farnsworth: Russell Okung worked at left tackle for Seattle again, with Tyler Polumbus moving to the right side while Sean Locklear rested a sore knee. I could see Polumbus staying at right tackle because Locklear is not yet established there in the Seahawks' eyes (the team already reduced his salary and wiped out remaining years on his deal).

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits Leon Washington's high school days and finds out the Seattle kick returner once scored a 99-yard touchdown as a punter, not as a returner. Not bad.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks added pass-rusher Chris Clemons to their injury report.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at LaRod Stephens-Howling and the impact kickoff returns for touchdowns can have on a game. A stat Stephens-Howling will not want to discuss come contract time: "According to, teams that returned a kickoff for a touchdown were only 33-43 from 2005 through 2009."

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals' 2-1 record is helping receiver Larry Fitzgerald work through some personal frustrations. Fitzgerald's numbers through two games were similar to or better than the ones he posted through two games last season, but a two-catch outing against Oakland in Week 3 did not go over well. Fitzgerald: "I just want to double my catch performance from Sunday and I’ll be a happy man. If I can just get four, I’ll be … We are 2-1 and that’s what it is all about. If we were 0-3, I might pull my hair out but I’m good right now."

Also from Urban: He breaks down Stephens-Howling's kickoff return for a touchdown against Oakland.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams running back Steven Jackson. Kenneth Darby would likely get most of the carries if Jackson's groin injury prevents him from playing. Keith Toston would get some carries, too.

Also from Thomas: Migraines continue to sideline Clifton Ryan. I spoke with Ryan in the Rams' locker room one day after the team's Week 1 game against Arizona. He seemed fine. The migraines became a problem later in the week and Ryan has not played since the opener.

More from Thomas: The Rams hope corporate sponsors can help them avoid a local television blackout Sunday.

More yet from Thomas: Safety Craig Dahl should be able to return Sunday. He suffered a concussion at Oakland during a violent collision that rocked his head. I saw the collision clearly from the pressbox and knew immediately Dahl would be hurting. His head rocked as though hit by a punch he never saw coming.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have not joined the list of teams leaning on more than one running back when all are healthy. That is because they have an elite back. Teams with elite backs have no incentive to put someone else in the game. The 49ers have faced similar circumstances with Frank Gore. When's a good time to take your best player off the field? Rams general manager Billy Devaney: "We've got one of the best backs, if not the best back, in the NFL ... that loves staying on the field. It's hard to get the guy off the field. When he's playing, he wants the ball. ... That's not a knock on Darby or Toston, either. We don't view it as that, that we have one back and we don't have any other back on the roster."

Nick Wagoner of says Darby is ready to carry more of the load. The Rams had surprising success running the ball after Jackson left the game against Washington. They stuck with the run and it worked.

Also from Wagoner: The Rams brace for the Seahawks' improved return units.

Matt Maiocco of says 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson has been called upon in relief previously. He took over play calling under Wade Phillips with the Falcons after the team fired Dan Reeves. Johnson: "He asked me to call the plays for the last two weeks. I had go in there on Monday and come together with staff and go into Tampa and play against a very good defense. We had Michael Vick at quarterback, and the one stipulation I had was, 'Don't run him.' So go play a football game with Michael Vick and don't let him run."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Vick finished with his highest passer ratings of the season when Johnson took over. Johnson on the perception that Alex Smith has missed high: "Maybe one high pass, but a couple of tipped balls have been situations where we've got a guy rushing and he's backed off and batted a ball and things like that. But I think for a quarterback, you have to find throwing lanes. That's why Doug Flutie could be 5-9 and be an effective passer. Because you don't throw over defensive linemen. You throw through throwing lanes. And that's where we do our fundamental football drills and we slide and we reset and we do certain things that we get him to the proper throwing lanes so the balls don't get tipped ... But I don't think the tipped balls or balls sailing on him have been problems."

Also from Barrows: Eric Heitmann's return would give the 49ers additional options on the offensive line.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at Smith's passer ratings when throwing to various targets. The number for Michael Crabtree: 6.6. That will obviously improve over the course of the season.

Also from Branch: The 49ers will adjust how they get the ball to Vernon Davis after opponents have taken away the seam route. Little-known fact: Davis is on pace for a career-high 80 receptions. He hasn't found the end zone yet, however.

More from Branch: Johnson wasn't sure whether he would call plays from the sideline or the coaches' booth.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers will not make wholesale changes on offense.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle takes a closer look at Johnson. White: "Take one look at Johnson's life story, and this task may be the easiest of his career. He played quarterback for three colleges and three pro leagues. When none of that stuck, (Mike) Riley made an Oregon State assistant coach out of his former quarterback in 1997. Riley brought him to his Chargers staff in 2000, knowing Johnson would get further coaching than he ever did playing."

Around the NFC West: Rams can celebrate

September, 27, 2010
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes a boisterous scene in the Rams' locker room following their first home victory since a 2008 game against Dallas. Thomas: "In the locker room afterward, there were smiles and shouts. Owner Stan Kroenke worked the room, congratulating his victorious team. Center Jason Brown presented coach Steve Spagnuolo with a game ball." Losing Steven Jackson to injury? The Rams can worry about that another day (come to think of it, Jackson suffered an injury during that 2008 game against Dallas, too). The Rams badly needed validation for their efforts. The coaching staff is in its second year and it's time to start seeing results. For the first time since six games into the 2008 season, the Rams are not the last-place team in the NFC West. That's a start.

Also from Thomas: Jackson hopes for good news on his groin injury. Thomas: "League sources Sunday night told the Post-Dispatch that the Rams have been in contact with running back Larry Johnson and plan to have further discussions this morning. Johnson, the former Pro Bowler with Kansas City, opened this season with Washington but was cut last week. Team medical officials believe Jackson's injury is a pulled muscle, as opposed to a tear, but Jackson will have an MRI exam just to be sure."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams celebrated appropriately on the field following their 30-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. Center Jason Brown: "This has to be the first of many. You can't just go out there and shoot out a golden egg this week, then next week shoot out a dud and then everyone says ‘What is going on?'"

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post Dispatch offers a postgame report card in which he says Sam Bradford played his best game of the season against Washington. Also: "Coach Steve Spagnuolo showed some confidence in his offense by going for it on 4th and 1 at the 'Skins 43 in the fourth quarter. The Rams got the first down and finished the drive with a field goal that gave them a two-possession cushion."

Also from Coats: Thanks largely to Kenneth Darby, the Rams gained 79 of their season-high 133 yards rushing with Jackson on the bench.

Nick Wagoner of offers injury updates from the Rams' game. Rookie receiver Dominique Curry suffered a season-ending knee injury. Also, Chris Long was a regular in the Redskins' backfield.

Also from Wagoner: An emotional Darby explains why his touchdown run meant a great deal to him. Darby: "The first thing I could think of was to just holler. Just let it all out, the frustrations through the years in a good holler."

More from Wagoner: Spagnuolo says the Rams did not panic after falling behind in the second half. Bradford: "I think it was huge for us offensively to come out and start the second half the way we did, especially after the past two weeks where we struggled to get going after halftime. To come out and march down and score, I think that really gave a boost to the entire team."

Wrap-up: Rams 30, Redskins 16

September, 26, 2010
What it means: The St. Louis Rams aren't the last-place team in the NFC West -- a first since they were 2-4 and the Seattle Seahawks were 1-5 during the 2008 season. Losing Steven Jackson to a groin injury hurts, but this victory is bigger than one player (as long as Sam Bradford wasn't the one injured). The Rams now have tangible evidence that they can win a game against someone other than the Detroit Lions. They have reason to live, not just try to survive. This was big for the organization.

Big Revelation: The Rams could win a game after losing Jackson to injury. Kenneth Darby's 12-yard touchdown run gave St. Louis the lead for good. Darby is not the answer if Jackson misses an extended period, but he was good enough Sunday and coach Steve Spagnuolo loves his toughness.

Hindsight: The Rams should have done more to sign a capable backup running back. They knew Jackson had question marks on the injury front. This was going to be an easy criticism to make if something happened to Jackson. Easy doesn't mean incorrect. For the record, the Rams tried to land Brian Westbrook, but they did not view him as an every-down replacement if something happened to Jackson.

Missed opportunities: The Rams netted only 10 points from drives spanning 11, 12 and 17 yards, with kicker Josh Brown suffering his second blocked field-goal try in three games. The Rams controlled the ball in this game. Once Bradford gains more experience and the Rams gain some confidence -- plus some talent -- they'll capitalize more fully on their opportunities.

What's next: The Rams face the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 4.

Post-camp roster analysis: Rams

September, 1, 2010
The St. Louis Rams hold the No. 1 priority for waiver claims and they'll probably put that status to work following the mandatory reduction to 53 players Saturday.

With that in mind, let's take a position-by-position look at the Rams' roster heading into their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo (current roster counts listed in parentheses):

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley

Looking safe: Keith Null

On the bubble: Thaddeus Lewis

Comment: Lewis has played well enough to intrigue the Rams, but probably not well enough for another team to claim him off waivers. That makes Lewis a natural choice for the practice squad.

Running backs (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney

Looking safe: Kenneth Darby

Not sure what to think: Keith Toston, Chris Ogbonnaya

Comment: The Rams are carrying as many running backs as teams typically keep, but multiple spots could be up for grabs depending on which running backs become available via waivers. I'd rather list Toston, Ogbonnaya and Darby in one group until it becomes clear which backs -- and which types of backs -- hit the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya showed potential last season and looked good early in camp, but his performance hasn't carried over to exhibition games and that could cost him. Perhaps expectations were too high. Darby's toughness and special-teams contributions could help him. Toston runs hard and could land on the practice squad.

Wide receivers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton

On the bubble: Dominique Curry

Also: Brandon McRae, Jordan Kent, Danario Alexander

Comment: Curry stood out as an undrafted steal during camp. He has excellent size and has showed good ability on special teams. Burton's durability should remain a concern, but that's the case with Robinson and even Gibson at this point. Gibson's value rises with Donnie Avery on injured reserve.

Tight ends (6)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Billy Bajema, Mike Hoomanawanui

Looking safe: Fendi Onobun

Not sure what to think: Daniel Fells, Darcy Johnson

Also: Dennis Morris

Comment: But wait, Fells is the incumbent starter, right? Yes, but he hasn't been durable and there's so much to like about the rookies Onobun and Hoomanawanui. Bajema is an obvious keeper for his blocking and all-around game (he has caught the ball well on limited chances). Johnson has shown toughness and blocking ability, so he could be an option if the team wants to move on from Fells. Perhaps I'm over thinking things here, but the emergence of Onobun and Hoomanawanui during camp creates dilemmas.

Offensive linemen (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.3

Keepers: Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg, Hank Fraley

Looking safe: John Greco, Roger Allen III

Also: Eric Young, Drew Miller, Ryan McKee, Renardo Foster, Tim Mattran

Comment: It's tough finding nine keepers here, so the Rams could be active in the waiver-claim game. Greco's versatility works in his favor. Are the Rams still high on Allen's prospects? I know they liked him last season, but that was before reconstructive knee surgery. Trading Alex Barron made sense in the big picture, but the Rams would have better depth here if Barron were still around.

Defensive line (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.6

Keepers: Chris Long, Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, James Hall, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott

Looking safe: George Selvie

On the bubble: Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo

Also: Ernest Reid, Eugene Sims

Comment: Durability concerns could cost Ah You. Adeyanju also could be on the bubble depending on what options the Rams have beyond their own roster. Cudjo has made a positive impression during camp and preseason. Same goes for Selvie, although an injury sidelined him part of the time.

Linebackers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.3

Keepers: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain

Looking safe: Bobby Carpenter

On the bubble: David Vobora, Josh Hull

Also: Devin Bishop, Cardia Jackson

Comment: Carpenter has gotten some work at defensive end. Perhaps his presence in an emergency capacity at that position could allow the Rams to keep one fewer defensive lineman, at least early. Chamberlain is probably the best special-teams position player on the Rams, enhancing his value. Hull could provide depth behind Laurinaitis because he's a true middle linebacker, whereas Vobora can back up every position. That could be a close call.

Defensive backs (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.7

Keepers: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Justin King, Bradley Fletcher, James Butler, Kevin Payne, Craig Dahl, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery

Looking safe: Quincy Butler

On the bubble: Darian Stewart

Also: Brett Johnson, Marquis Johnson, Antoine Thompson

Comment: James Butler's knee injury probably makes keeping Payne a higher priority. Stewart could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.7

Keepers: Josh Brown, Donnie Jones, Chris Massey

Comment: Strong group here.

Around the NFC West: Fitz vs. DRC

August, 23, 2010
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic examines the relationship between receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Fitzgerald: "I don't think there's a cornerback in the NFL as athletically gifted as he is. He's the best athlete I've gone against since I've played in the NFL. It's hands down, not even close." Both players enter the 2010 season coming off knee injuries. Rodgers-Cromartie has bounced back better than I might have expected. Fitzgerald expects to return for the regular-season opener.

Also from McManaman: The Cardinals head to Tennessee, site of their memorable 2009 regular-season defeat. McManaman: "And then there's Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who remembers every last morbid detail of the Titans' stunning 20-17 come-from-behind victory in Week 12 last season. It was so gut-wrenching for Davis, he still has nightmares about it. And the Tennessee game doesn't even haunt him as much as Arizona's playoff performances in a narrow victory over the Green Bay Packers and a loss to eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints." It's a big season for Davis and the Cardinals' defense. The offense probably will not score as many points. The margin for error could shrink on defense.

Darren Urban of pays tribute to former Cardinals (and Rams) receiver Johnny Bailey, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 43. Little-known fact from the Cardinals' media guide: Steve Breaston's punt-return touchdown against the Steelers in 2007 was the team's first since 1993, when Bailey returned Reggie Roby's punt 58 yards for a score against the Redskins.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals brace for three games in 11 days.

Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group offers 10 observations from the 49ers' game against the Vikings on Sunday night. Inman: "Rookie tailback Anthony Dixon continues to impress. And not just by scoring the 49ers' lone first-half touchdown. On the sideline, Dixon looked at full attention as (Frank) Gore and running backs coach Tom Rathman mentored him."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers were not happy with their running game against the Vikings. Not having Gore or even Brian Westbrook was a big factor.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at 10 players who were "on the bubble" heading into the 49ers' exhibition game Sunday night. On Travis LaBoy, who enjoyed a strong game against the Vikings: "Based on the first three weeks of training camp, it's hard to see LaBoy making the team. The fourth OLB must be rugged enough to contribute on special teams. LaBoy missed the most of the team's practices with a concussion. The 49ers also are wary of a foot injury that cost LaBoy the 2009 season. However, he still has three preseason games to make an impression."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith was sharp for the 49ers. Barber: "Smith's performance was a big step up from the first game. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 88 yards, for a solid passer rating of 88. And the fact that he did it without Crabtree, (Vernon) Davis and Gore says something of his ability to improvise."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Smith needs to be a little less nice, or maybe a lot less nice. True, Smith might be better off if his personality had a sharper edge. The most important thing, however, is for Smith to be himself. Faking an edge isn't going to work.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with Patrick Willis following the linebacker's big hit on Brett Favre. Willis: "He's a wise old vet. I guess he was like, 'This is a little too much for me right now just coming back.' I guess a lot of people thought he shouldn't have played. I was happy to be out there myself."

Clare Farnsworth of says Leon Washington could get the start for Seattle at running back in the team's third exhibition game. Julius Jones and Justin Forsett have each started on game to this point. Coach Pete Carroll: "We decided that somewhere months ago about how we were going to do this in the first couple of games. Just give these guys a chance to compete, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s a good chance that Leon will start next week, and we’ll see how he does in that role. That’s what our plan was, to give these guys a chance to go with the first group and show us what they’ve got."

Brian McIntyre of calls T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Golden Tate and Deon Butler "locks" to earn roster spots at receiver for Seattle.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' first-team offense looks better with Mike Williams as part of the group. O'Neil: "In the exhibition opener against Tennessee, Seattle used T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and tight end John Carlson in the slot in a three-receiver formation. That lineup that didn't threaten the defense outside. Williams changed the dynamic of that group. He caught four passes against Green Bay in the first half, as did Houshmandzadeh, and Seattle scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up Seahawks rookie Dexter Davis, who has made an impact as a pass-rusher.

John Morgan of Field Gulls lists Matt Hasselbeck, Jon Ryan, Marcus Trufant and Mike Williams among "big winners" in the second week of the Seahawks' exhibition season. Aaron Curry? Not so much. Perhaps Curry really does need Lofa Tatupu by his side.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford will start for the Rams on Thursday night if A.J. Feeley's injured thumb remains a problem. Bradford on his performance against the Browns: "Obviously, I'd like to have had a couple more completions out there. I felt like we struggled a little bit early. I felt like once I settled down, I made some smart decisions. I felt like for the most part, I was in the right place with the ball."

Also from Thomas: The Rams signed former Missouri receiver Danario Alexander, releasing 2009 fifth-round choice Brooks Foster. Thomas: "Rams general manager Billy Devaney said the team is realistic about what to expect right away. Today marks Alexander's first practice since January, when he suffered his most recent knee injury in a Senior Bowl practice. So he'll be playing catch-up."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' poor tackling against the Browns stood out to coach Steve Spagnuolo. Coats: "After watching the game film, Spagnuolo put together a clip of five or six tackles that he said were executed perfectly. He plans to highlight those when he meets with his defense today."

Also from Coats: The Rams need more from their backup running backs. Kenneth Darby was probably most impressive among them Saturday night.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch saw improvement from the Rams' offensive line Saturday night.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo wasn't happy after the Rams scored only six points off five Cleveland turnovers.

Sizing up NFC West running backs

May, 17, 2010
The Rams' running backs outweigh the Seahawks' running backs by more than 17 pounds on average, not counting fullbacks.

That was among the revelations after Matt Barrows' note about Frank Gore led me to take a closer look at NFC West runners.

Average weights by team: Rams 227, 49ers 220.5, Cardinals 211.2 and Seahawks 209.8. The Cardinals' average reflects returner LaRod Stephens-Howling, listed at 185 pounds. Seattle's average would be higher if LenDale White weren't in shape.

Using multiple backs in rotation should allow teams to carry runners of various styles and sizes. Carrying smaller backs also becomes easier when teams use several instead of relying disproportionately on one.

The chart breaks out the runners individually using listed weights. Jason Wright has played fullback for the Cardinals, but he's more of a utility back than full-time blocker.

No NFL running back has more carries in fewer games than Steven Jackson since the St. Louis Rams' running back broke out with 346 carries and 1,528 yards in 2006.

Count Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. among those who think the Rams erred in leaning too heavily on Jackson last season. I don't fault the Rams' coaches as much as I would fault the Rams' roster, which has lacked -- and continues to lack -- a strong alternative at the position.

The chart ranks NFL running backs by most regular-season carries since 2006. Jackson and the 49ers' Frank Gore rank among the top four. Jackson also ranks third since 2005.

The Rams' options beyond Jackson include Chris Ogbonnaya, Kenneth Darby, Keith Totson and DeMaundray Woolridge.

The latest NFC West chat transcript is available. Highlights below:
Dennis (San Jose): Mike, Do you think that Eddie DeBartolo's influence with Jed York is part of Scott McCloughan's possibly stepping down as 49er GM? Eddie was pretty demanding even of Bill Walsh in his quest for a constant winner, and Scott, even though he is a pretty good evaluator of talent in the early rounds, has not been that dynamic and forcefull in his handling of the QB situation and being active in trade situations.

Mike Sando: Highly doubtful. It just strikes me has highly unlikely that an NFL team would force out its general manager over philosophical differences a month before the draft. Seems more likely there would be some sort of personal reasons that could include anything from a family crisis to who knows what. Parting with a GM for any other reason would be too disruptive.

Ben (Portland): Sando, love the blog. I've got a couple of questions about the Whitehurst deal. Is the sky falling? Do you think we signed Zoltar because we didn't expect Bradford/Clausen at No. 6 or didn't want them? Is there any question that "The Hair" has better tools and mechanics than anybody we could have selected after the first round?

Mike Sando: My theory goes like this. The Seahawks saw Charlie Whitehurst and Kevin Kolb as the only veteran backups worth pursuing as potential starters via trade. They saw Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen as the only potential franchise quarterbacks in this draft. They weren't sure Bradford or Clausen would be there when they picked sixth overall. They probably thought Whitehurst had more "upside" than Derek Anderson. The Cardinals were also interested in Whitehurst over Anderson. Seattle wound up paying a premium for protection at the QB position.

Nick (San Diego): Hey Mike, I always enjoy your column. What do you think about the new FA vets added to the Rams? Any more on the Willie Parker acquisition? In your eyes, are the Rams a team (young) built for the future?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. Hank Fraley should provide better depth inside on the line. Same for Fred Robbins on defense. I agree that the Rams needed to add some seasoning. Neither one of those guys is going to be an impact player. Same for A.J. Feeley. These are veteran role players. Every team needs them, but the Rams need front-line talent. I like some of the things they've done to address their offensive line. Emerging from this draft with a franchise quarterback would signal more clearly that the Rams are set up for the future. They remain in the early stages elsewhere on the roster. As for Willie Parker, he is visiting the Rams and the team does need a backup running back. I'm not sure what he has left. Injuries have been a problem. The move would not be particularly exciting, but Parker is probably a better option than the Samkon Gados and Kenneth Darbys of the world.

SprungOnSports (Long Island): Any word on where Joey Porter will end up? Arizona could really use him.

Mike Sando: I don't think the Cardinals are sweating this one too much, and neither is the rest of the league. Someone recently reached out to me and ripped the Cardinals for failing to pay Porter. I noted that 31 other teams had also failed to pay him. Porter has to know his role for his signing to make sense. His salary is going to define that role. I don't blame Arizona and the other NFL teams for proceeding with some caution. All the peripheral things with Porter are easier to handle if he's an elite player. The consensus right now, obviously, is that Porter is no longer an elite player even though he had 9.0 sacks last season.

Stay tuned on the 49ers front. The team would seemingly have to comment at some point.

Rams complete RFA tenders

March, 4, 2010
The Rams have tendered their restricted free agents as follows:
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, right of first refusal. The team must upgrade its $1.226 million offer to nearly $7 million guaranteed in June if Atogwe is unsigned and the Rams want to retain his rights.
  • Clifton Ryan, DE, second round.
  • Alex Barron, OT, second round.
  • Victor Adeyanju, DE, original round (fourth).
  • Craig Dahl, S, right of first refusal.

The Rams can match any offers these players receive. All but Atogwe and Dahl would return a draft choice as compensation if the Rams decided against matching.

Eight players will become unrestricted free agents after the Rams declined to make RFA offers: safety Eric Bassey, long snapper Ryan Neill, cornerback Jonathan Wade, running back Samkon Gado, wide receiver Ruvell Martin, guard Mark Setterstrom, tight end Daniel Fells and defensive tackle Gary Gibson.

The minimum RFA offers exceed $1 million. Some of those eight players could conceivably return for less.

The team also retained rights to defensive end C.J. Ah You, cornerback Quincy Butler, running back Kenneth Darby, linebacker Larry Grant, wide receiver Jordan Kent, tackle Ryan McKee, safety David Roach and linebacker David Vobora.