NFC West: Kenny Iwebema

Quick thoughts on three developments in the NFC West, plus info on roster moves in Arizona:
  • Curry reworks contract: The Seahawks' current leadership did not make Aaron Curry the fourth player chosen in the 2009 draft. That is now better reflected in Curry's contract. My take after confirming Pro Football Talk's report that Curry's deal now ends after the 2012 season, two years earlier that it would have previously: Seattle's leadership gets out of a deal it did not make. Curry gets a shot at free agency earlier and he also becomes easier to trade. The fit hasn't been great in Seattle for either side. Curry has strong incentive to play well this season. Curry had been scheduled to earn $34 million in guarantees over the first four years of the deal. He now gets $29 million guaranteed over four years, with free agency waiting for him on the other side.
  • Rams release snapper: Chris Massey's release from the St. Louis Rams is not without precedent. The team released him once before, then re-signed him at a lower rate. This move feels more permanent. Jake McQuaide has been been competing with Massey in camp. McQuaide's deal counts less against the salary cap. The Rams drafted Massey in 2002. With his departure, 2004 first-round choice Steven Jackson becomes the earliest Rams draft choice on the roster. Ron Bartell (2005) is the only other pre-2008 Rams draft choice on the roster.
  • Seahawks sign Vobora: The Seahawks have been looking for lower-priced veteran depth at linebacker. They considered Ben Leber, but Leber signed with the Rams. Once the Rams had Leber, they released Vobora, who started 10 games for the team in 2009 and five last season. Vobora no longer fit into the Rams' plans as the team sought to upgrade with veteran depth. Seattle has gone younger at the position. Leroy Hill, who turns 29 next month, is the oldest linebacker on the team. Vobora is 25 and two days younger than Curry.
NFC West teams have drafted 22 defensive ends since 2002, a number smaller than I would have anticipated.

An even smaller number -- two! -- start for the teams that drafted them.

One, Antonio Smith, starts for another team.

A few notes relating to this latest item in a series examining various positions:
  • Kentwan Balmer appears as a defensive end because the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to play that position. Balmer played defensive tackle in college.
  • Darnell Dockett does not appear as a defensive end because the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play defensive tackle. Yes, Dockett plays defensive end in the Cardinals' current scheme, but the NFL lists him as a tackle for Pro Bowl voting and he is not a typical defensive end even by 3-4 standards.
  • Of the 22, only Chris Long and Calais Campbell are starting for their original teams. Smith is starting for the Houston Texans.
  • Six of the eight most highly drafted ends since 2002 came from teams most recently affiliated with the ACC.
  • Long was the only player on the list drafted before the 28th overall choice.
  • Will Davis and Parys Haralson were listed as defensive ends coming out of college, but both projected as outside linebackers. That is why they do not appear below. Cody Brown also projects at linebacker.
  • I've used the term "not active" loosely in the charts to describe players who weren't on active rosters during the regular season recently.

Now, on to the charts. I've broken them up with italicized comments representing what NFL teams might have been thinking at corresponding stages of these drafts.

Playing it safe and hoping those NFL bloodlines pay off ...

Defensive linemen are at a premium, and we might find out why ...

The pure pass-rushers are gone by now ...

If these guys don't pan out, it'll be a while before we take another third-round end ...

It's an upset if we find a starter at this point ...

Time to fill out the practice squad, but you never know ...

Around the NFC West: Singletary on QB

November, 10, 2010
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along thoughts from 49ers coach Mike Singletary regarding perceptions Singletary slammed Alex Smith's leadership recently. Branch: "Singletary suggests his lack-of-offensive-leadership comment was misconstrued. Last week, he was asked about his lack-of-leadership comment and didn't say it was misconstrued. ... Last week, in other words, he was more direct in implying that Alex Smith wasn't the type of take-charge, in-your-face leader he preferred. This week, on the heels of Alex Smith's pointed response, he is saying the exact same thing but couching it much more politely. After some verbal bouquets, he says Alex Smith's 'idea of leadership' is to lead by example. He won't order his teammates around, but will invite them to watch film. In contrast, Troy Smith's idea of leadership is to take charge and get in the faces of Mr. Crabtree and Mr. Davis if they start squawking too much in the huddle. In your face. Or inviting the whole gang to study film. Which sounds more like Singletary?" Production is what matters. Alex Smith can have whatever leadership style he wants if he's a good quarterback. He hasn't been good enough to this point in the season.

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers think Thaddeus Gibson has long-term potential.

Also from Maiocco: thoughts on why Dashon Goldson hasn't had a great season so far.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says he found it strange for Troy Smith to spend the bye week at home in Ohio instead of studying at 49ers headquarters. I had the same thought. Shouldn't a new quarterback be doing everything possible to maximize a rare opportunity?

More from Barrows: The Miami Dolphins signed offensive lineman Matt Kopa from the 49ers' practice squad.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News reviews Singletary's role in a series of coaching videos released this week. I've seen the videos advertised on TV. They were obviously in production before the 49ers lost six of their first eight games.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary has good things to say about Alex Smith, but the coach would not name him his starting quarterback.

Also from White: a look ahead to the 49ers' game against the Rams. White: "Remember all that Niners talk about how quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall need two seasons in the same system to flourish? Umm, never mind. Rookie Sam Bradford is 4-4 with a Rams team that lost 24 of 25 before he arrived." Having two high draft choices at tackle and millions invested in the guard and center positions helps, too.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a chat transcript featuring these thoughts on the Rams' mindset under coach Steve Spagnuolo: "I think Spags doesn't mind the team being aware of the big picture. After all, their goal has always been to win the West. But I don't think he wants them to dwell too much on that. He wants them to focus on the task at hand, which is San Francisco. One practice, one day, one week at a time. That's the Spags way, and it's really not much different than most football coaches. After all, it's impossible to get to, say, nine victories until you get to five victories first. This is the team's most important game since at least the '06 season, maybe even earlier than that. Fitting isn't it, that it's against the Rams' old West Coast rivals, the 49ers."

Also from Thomas: Eric Dickerson offers favorable reviews for Steven Jackson. The Hall of Famer does expect Jackson to pay off a longstanding bet, however.

More from Thomas: Tight end Eric Schouman paid a free-agent visit to Rams Park.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on every NFC West team.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders whether the Rams will run the ball effectively against the 49ers. San Francisco has occasionally been vulnerable to runners with the quickness to stretch the perimeter. The Rams have more of a power running game.

Clare Farnsworth of says Lawyer Milloy remains productive as his 37th birthday approaches Sunday. Coach Pete Carroll: "He’s a joy to coach. He loves the game so much. He’s so tough. And he’s adding to the fire of what we’re all about, but he’s adding to it scheme-wise, too."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has this to say about Charlie Whitehurst during a Seahawks chat: "His accuracy is a problem, though. That combined with the fact that he was the 3rd-string quarterback for four seasons in San Diego is enough to make me think that it's premature to turn over the offense to him and say, 'Well, let's see what we got.' Especially if the team is 4-4 like the Seahawks are and tied for first place in the NFC West."

Also from O'Neil: priorities for the Seahawks heading into the second half of the season.

Gerry Spratt of links to a Wall Street Journal piece describing the NFC West as the worst division in sports.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune posts Brian McIntyre's offensive personnel stats for the Seahawks through the first half of the season. Center Chris Spencer was the only offensive player to play every snap. That makes Spencer the most durable offensive lineman on the roster.

Also from Williams: a C-minus grade for Seattle's quarterbacks to this point in the season.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says the Seahawks have done "very little" on offense to this point in the season.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says a weak NFC West gives the Cardinals a good opportunity. Bickley: "The nauseating loss at Minnesota cancels out the gift from Sebastian Janikowski and the Raiders. The standings paint an accurate picture. The Cardinals deserve to be 3-5. They have an inferior quarterback, a puzzling defense and an enigmatic running game. And yet someone in this awful division is going to host a playoff game."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has more nice things to say about the NFC West: "Through the first half of the season, the NFC West has been the NFL's equivalent of a YMCA youth league in which scores and records aren't kept. All four teams finished feeling pretty darn optimistic about the future. All that was missing were the postgame treats of Capri Sun and Rice Krispies squares." Whose mom is bringing the snacks again this week?

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals placed defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema of injured reserve, a blow to Arizona on special teams.

Also from McManaman: a conversation with Cardinals underdog receiver Max Komar.

Darren Urban of goes out on a limb by saying an argument could be made that NFC West play qualifies as "less than stellar" to this point in the season.

Around the NFC West: First-place Rams

November, 9, 2010
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the NFC West is ripe for the Rams' taking. He says the Rams have the best quarterback and best defense in the division. Miklasz: "This will be a very important game Sunday when the Rams travel to San Francisco. The Rams have to earn some credibility by proving they can win on the road. Even in this weak division, some road wins are mandatory. And the 49ers have to win this one. They'll be a desperate team. If they lose, the Niners will be 2-7 and will find it hard to get back up. If they win, the 49ers will be 3-6, and have some positive momentum going -- and they can use that to pull off an extended run and steal the division. I have to think that for the Rams, this is their most important game against the 49ers since the 1999 season. The Rams had better buckle up; they're going to see a lot of Frank Gore running at them Sunday."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams woke up Monday sharing first place in the NFC West. All they had to do was watch the Giants beat the Seahawks. Linebacker James Laurinaitis: "It is what it is. We have eight games to go. No one in here is celebrating."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with coach Steve Spagnuolo and Rams players following their bye week. Also: "If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Rams would be NFC West champs because they hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 20-3 victory over the Seahawks on Oct. 3. Of course, the playoffs don't start tomorrow, something Spagnuolo is very aware of -- and made sure his players were aware of on Monday."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are breaking in Bryan Kehl at linebacker after Larry Grant started the first seven games on the weak side. Coats: "The start was Kehl's fourth in three NFL seasons. A fourth-round draft pick in 2008, Kehl (pronounced keel) spent two years in New York -- his first under Steve Spagnuolo, then the Giants' defensive coordinator -- before being released after Week 1 this season."

Also from Coats: Danario Alexander is recovering quickly.

Rogers Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Rams can win the NFC West. Thomas: "It’s certainly there for the taking. But the Rams have to show they can win a couple, three games on the road. And with five of their final eight away from the friendly confines, that’s a tall task. Keep an eye on Arizona at 3-5. The Big Red have five of their final eight at home, and have the easiest remaining schedule of any of the NFC West teams. Winning on the road will be the key. So far Seattle is the only NFC West team to win on the road against a non-division opponent."

Nick Wagoner of provides Rams-related notes, including one about tackle Jason Smith remaining limited in practice as he works his way back from a concussion.

Clare Farnsworth of expects the team to get injured players back for its game against Arizona in Week 10. Farnsworth: "After playing without eight injured starters in Sunday’s 41-7 loss to the New York Giants at Qwest Field, the Seahawks could get quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (concussion), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (strained calf) and left tackle Russell Okung (sprained ankle) back for this week’s game against the Cardinals."

Also from Farnsworth: Pete Carroll has lost two games in a row for the first time since 2001. Welcome back to the NFL.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks will likely wait until Wednesday before clearing Hasselbeck to return from the concussion he suffered at Oakland.

Also from O'Neil: a look at what he learned from the Seahawks' 41-7 defeat to the Giants. O'Neil: "After five games, the Seahawks had the No. 2-ranked rush defense. Now, they're ranked No. 19, allowing 112.6 yards per game as the Seahawks have lost first Brandon Mebane, then Red Bryant for the year and finally Colin Cole. Seattle isn't going to rediscover that formidability all at once, but it needs to start improving." Seattle built its run defense around Bryant and Cole in particular. Bryant isn't returning this season. Cole could miss an extended period. That'll make improvement difficult.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks can focus on sharing first place in the NFC West, which beats focusing on getting outscored 74-10 over the past two games.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle links to audio from Carroll's news conference Monday.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says close defeats leave Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt with a sick feeling in his stomach, whereas blowing losses lead to bitterness. Also, safety Adrian Wilson cut off an interview by saying the Cardinals aren't on the same page right now, whatever that means.

Also from McManaman: The Cardinals could be without backup defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema for the remainder of the season. Iwebema has been one of the more violent special-teams players in the division. He's fun to watch and the Cardinals will miss him, but their overall health remains relatively strong.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic shares what he learned from the Cardinals' 27-24 overtime defeat at Minnesota. Somers: "It's startling that what counts for progress this season is not turning the ball over and mixing in a touchdown. But that's where the Cardinals are. Quarterback Derek Anderson might have played his best game this season. He made wise decisions, including throwing the ball away on 3rd and goal. But the Cardinals offense scored only 10 points."

Darren Urban of says only one of the Cardinals' remaining opponents has a winning record (Kansas City).

Matt Maiocco of says Alex Smith intends to help Troy Smith prepare for Week 10 even though Troy Smith could take Alex Smith's job. Maiocco: "All indications point toward Troy Smith getting at least another start for the 49ers -- with the door wide open for him to take over as the 49ers' permanent starting quarterback for the second half of the season."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up remaining NFC West team schedules while making sense of the division race. On the 49ers: "The league's schedule makers didn't cut the 49ers a lot of slack this season. The second half isn't as demanding as the first half, which included an 11-day road trip and a 12,000-mile round-trip, but it's no walk in Hyde Park, either. One stretch has them playing Monday night in Arizona and then going on the road to Green Bay, a six-day desert-to-tundra turnaround. Remember, the 49ers were terrible in Kansas City following a Monday night game to New Orleans earlier this year. Another tricky spot - they'll only have a couple of days to prepare for a Thursday night game against San Diego. As always with Norv Turner's team, it appears it was better to draw San Diego early in the season than late."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith and coach Mike Singletary have different views on leadership. Smith: "I think being a middle linebacker on defense and a leader is very different than being a quarterback. Executing on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball are very different things. It's a very different mindset, in my opinion."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the Raiders are leading the 49ers as the Bay Area's best NFL team even though San Francisco won a recent game between the teams.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reads Alex Smith's comments as another bad sign in the relationship between head coach and quarterback. Singletary lauded Smith's leadership when naming him a team captain before the season, then lamented a lack of leadership on offense more recently. Alex Smith obviously isn't a rah-rah leader in the Singletary mold. The 49ers are also very young on offense. The team might need stronger and more outward leadership from its quarterback as a result.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News also looks at the leadership issue.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary wants his quarterback to bring the offense together through tough times. Quarterbacks have credibility when they play well.

Post-camp roster analysis: Cardinals

August, 30, 2010

Matt Leinart apparently has no idea where he stands with the Arizona Cardinals. That makes it tough for the rest of us to predict exactly what might happen.

Will Leinart start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Week 1? Will he serve as the backup? Will the Cardinals release him? Might they trade him?

The next week to 10 days should provide answers. NFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 53-man limits, with the 75-man deadline passing Tuesday.

After looking at the Seahawks' roster earlier Monday, here's a quick run through the Cardinals:

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Derek Anderson

Looking safe: Max Hall

On the bubble: Leinart, John Skelton

Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt's handling of Leinart suggests there's more than tough love at work here. It's fair to question whether Leinart fits into the team's plans at all this season. The smart move, it seems, would be to keep Anderson, Leinart and the winner of the Hall-Skelton competition. But it's clear Whisenhunt isn't convinced Leinart has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.

Running backs (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright

On the bubble: Reagan Maui'a, Charles Scott

Also: Alfonso Smith, Nehemiah Broughton

Comment: Scott arrived via trade this week after Broughton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Maui'a could be the choice heading into the regular season. Scott provides depth for the final exhibition game, but it's unlikely he would be refined enough as a blocker to factor into the offense in a meaningful way. Smith's speed caught my attention early in camp.

Wide receivers (11)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.1

Keepers: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet

Looking safe: Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams

On the bubble: Onrea Jones, Max Komar

Also: Isaiah Williams, Darren Mougey, Mike Jones, Ed Gant

Comment: Gant serves a suspension to open the season. Roberts will make the team as a third-round pick. Williams pretty much wrapped up a spot with his latest strong performance (at Chicago). Jones and Komar could be competing for a sixth and final spot at the position.

Tight ends (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.1

Keepers: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach

Also: Jim Dray

Comment: The team released Dominique Byrd on Monday. The top three appear set. Not much drama here. Dray looks like practice-squad material.

Offensive linemen (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Lyle Sendlein, Alan Faneca, Brandon Keith, Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges

Looking safe: Herman Johnson

Also: Ben Claxton, Tom Pestock, Jonathan Palmer

Comment: Lutui could be trending toward a spot back in the starting lineup despite reporting to camp overweight. Johnson also reported overweight. He isn't a starter, and that's why I listed him separately from the keepers (even though it's an upset, most likely, if Johnson does not stick).

Defensive line (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.4

Keepers: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson

Looking safe: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema

Also: John Fletcher, Jeremy Clark

Comment: This position appears pretty much set. I would expect seven to earn roster spots.

Linebackers (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.1

Keepers: Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington

Looking safe: Will Davis, Cody Brown

Bubble: Monty Beisel, Reggie Walker

Also: O'Brien Schofield, Steve Baggs, Mark Washington, Chris Johnson, Pago Togafau

Comment: Hayes and Schofield could open the season on reserve/physically unable to perform, opening two roster spots. Beisel and Walker could be competing for the final spot at this position.

Defensive backs (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.9

Keepers: Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Matt Ware

Looking safe: Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Rashad Johnson

On the bubble: Marshay Green

Also: A.J. Jefferson, Trevor Ford, Justin Miller

Comment: Toler could be passing McBride on the depth chart as the starting right cornerback, fulfilling expectations. Johnson appeared more physical early in camp. Haven't heard much about him lately, though.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Jay Feely, Ben Graham, Mike Leach

Comment: Arizona has three on the roster and that's how many the team will keep. Simple enough.
My weekend featured lots of family time and, when no one was looking, an opportunity to review a couple of 2009 NFC West games I'd been meaning to revisit.

One of those games -- St. Louis at Arizona in Week 16 -- featured a forgotten performance that could help explain why the Rams haven't been particularly aggressive in seeking a backup running back this offseason. This was the only game Jackson missed, so there were lots of chances to evaluate his backups.

[+] EnlargeOgbonnaya
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesRunning back Chris Ogbonnaya might have set himself up for more touches in 2010.
Chris Ogbonnaya, a seventh-round draft choice in 2009, played extensively and showed good versatility.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch touched on the Rams' options, including Ogbonnaya, in a piece published Monday. Here are a few things I noticed about Ogbonnaya from that Arizona game:

  • The Rams left him in the game across personnel groups and situations. Some rookies have a hard time in protection. Ogbonnaya did not. The Rams left Ogbonnaya alone in the backfield 24 times by my count, including 11 times from four-receiver personnel. Ogbonnaya stood up to Cardinals defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema on one third-down play. He was not a liability in protection.
  • Ogbonnaya broke Gerald Hayes' tackle on his first NFL carry, gaining 4 yards on first-and-10 from the St. Louis 8.
  • Ogbonnaya falls forward with the ball, maximizing yardage.
  • Ogbonnaya outperformed veteran players such as tackle Alex Barron and tight end Randy McMichael. Barron allowed a sack to Bertrand Berry on the third-down play when Ogbonnaya picked up Iwebema. McMichael dropped two passes.
  • Ogbonnaya powered through initial contact for an 8-yard gain on a third-and-1 run with two tight ends and two backs on the field for St. Louis, but he also showed good quickness and elusiveness in this game. He made defenders miss while picking up 19 yards on a reception from three-receiver personnel. He also beat the Cardinals for an 18-yard gain on a draw play from four-receiver personnel.

One performance can only reveal so much, but I didn't see obvious limitations when Ogbonnaya was in the game. He carried nine times for 45 yards and caught one pass for 19 yards. The Rams had many problems in this game, from rookie quarterback Keith Null's inexperience to injuries on the offensive line. Ogbonnaya appeared to be a bright spot.

The chart shows every play in the Rams-Cardinals game when Ogbonnaya carried the ball or was targeted in the passing game. These 11 plays gained 56 yards.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Regular contributors Antrel Rolle, Ben Patrick, Sean Morey, Dan Kreider and Bertrand Berry are inactive for Arizona against Green Bay in Week 17.

Some could have played if needed, but with the Vikings blowing out the Giants, Arizona no longer has a realistic shot at the second seed in the NFC.

Also inactive for the Cardinals: Herman Johnson and Kenny Iwebema. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.

Ruskell vs. the NFC West on draft day

December, 4, 2009
Outgoing Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell made a strong statement defending his draft record with the team.

"I really would hold our record in terms of our drafts and how they’ve gone, and how many of those players are still here, up against anyone in the league," he said Thursday.

Ruskell joined the Seahawks before the 2005 season. He inherited a team that was already pretty good. He helped that team get over the top in the short term. The subsequent fall has been dramatic.

By my count, the 49ers have drafted more current starters since 2005 than any team in the league. That reflects some good drafting. It also reflects the pitiful state of the 49ers before the 2005 draft.

It's fair to say the 49ers are more talented than the Seahawks at this point. We can explore that further in another post.

Since 2005, though, the 49ers have drafted current starters Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Patrick Willis, Chilo Rachal, David Baas, Adam Snyder, Vernon Davis, Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson. I listed Walker among the group because the 49ers are using so many personnel groups with Davis and Walker as the tight ends.

Crabtree, Gore, Willis, Staley and Davis look like front-line players.

Current Seattle starters drafted since 2005 include Josh Wilson, Leroy Hill, Aaron Curry, Max Unger, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Ray Willis, John Carlson, Brandon Mebane and Lawrence Jackson. Lofa Tatupu is on injured reserve.

Hill, Carlson, Mebane and Tatupu arguably look like front-line players. Wilson is on the rise. Curry and Unger could join the list.

The Cardinals are the best team in the division thanks largely to their 2004 draft class featuring Larry Fiztgerald, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett (Antonio Smith, now with the Texans, was also part of that group).

Arizona has also added key players more recently.

Since 2005, the Cardinals have drafted a group featuring Matt Leinart, Steve Breaston, Antrel Rolle, Beanie Wells, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Will Davis, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Alan Branch, Early Doucet, Ben Patrick, Kenny Iwebema, Calais Campbell and Gabe Watson.

It's important to remember draft position as part of the equation. Ruskell was often drafting later than the other teams in the division. The players he added also joined a more talented roster for some of those years, making it harder for them to crack the starting lineup.

All things to consider as we weigh Ruskell's claim.

Iwebema among inactive Cardinals

November, 1, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' inactive list for Week 8 featured no surprises.

Safety Rashad Johnson, tackle Herman Johnson, guard Brandon Keith, receiver Early Doucet, tight end Stephen Spach, tight end Dominique Byrd and defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema are inactive.

A knee injury has bothered Iwebema recently. When healthy, he gives the Cardinals additional depth on their line.

Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.

Posted by's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Bryant McFadden's ankle injury will not keep him from playing for the Cardinals against the Texans.

Arizona downgraded McFadden to questionable Saturday, but McFadden is active for the game. The Cardinals need him against the Texans' passing attack.

Inactive for Arizona: Reggie Walker, Herman Johnson, Jeremy Bridges, Early Doucet, Dominique Byrd, Kenny Iwebema and Keilen Dykes. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers coach Mike Singletary as saying the team will not ask more from Shaun Hill just because Frank Gore is out. Singletary: "We are going to run our offense."

Taylor Price of says coach Mike Singletary doesn't mind the "conservative" label as long as his team is winning.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers advice to 49ers fans regarding Michael Crabtree. Maiocco: "My advice to you is take the Mike Singletary approach. Don't worry about it. If it happens, it happens. It still might take a while. But -- as I've written before -- I just don't see how Crabtree benefits from not signing the deal the 49ers have on the table. The only way, I suppose, is if there really has been some blatant tampering with guarantees from another team (or teams) that they'd be willing to pay him more. And I can't see that happening. Players at the top of the first round are overpaid as it is. Crabtree would be overpaid at $16 million guaranteed -- because of the system. I can't believe there's a team willing to overpay him even more."

Also from Maiocco: Safety Mark Roman laments the Vikings' last-ditch touchdown pass to beat the 49ers. Roman: "The coverage just broke down and I ended up being the free guy trying to help out. I had a small chance to make a play and I didn't do it. Football's a game of inches and they won by that much."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee explains why the 49ers might not sign running back Kory Sheets from their practice squad to the 53-man roster. The undrafted rookie's pass protection would be a concern.

Also from Barrows: Singletary says Glen Coffee will play a role similar to the one Gore played in the first two games.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have shown initial interest in Monty Beisel. Also, Anqun Boldin's hamstring injury is improving.

Also from Somers: Russ Grimm laments the inconsistency of the Cardinals' offensive line.

More from Somers: updating the Cardinals' injury situation during the bye week. Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Kenny Iwebema, Steve Breaston and Kurt Warner are among those recovering from various ailments.

Darren Urban of says Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald plans to finish his college degree, fulfilling his late mother's wishes. Fitzgerald: "There is no telling when my career is going to end and I want to make sure I have something to fall back on. (A degree) is a good security blanket and something I promised my mother a long time ago that I would do. The longer it gets away (from my college days), it's going to get harder and harder to finish, so I want to start taking some classes and get some of the credits down."

Greg Johns of says Brandon Frye's resourcefulness has served him well in the past, and now. Johns: "His first college start at Virginia Tech came when a teammate got hurt in one of the final practices before the 2006 Gator Bowl, so Frye was thrust in against All-America defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who'd won the Lombardi and Nagurski awards for Louisville. Frye held Dumervil to two tackles in a 35-24 victory for the Hokies."

Also from Johns: an injury update and information on roster moves. The Seahawks re-signed to their practice squad offensive linemen Brian de la Puente and Na'Shan Goddard.

More from Johns: The Seahawks aren't sure whether Walter Jones will return from a knee injury.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with second-year Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who is so far enjoying a breakout season.

Clare Farnsworth of provides an overview from practice Wednesday, with an emphasis on Josh Wilson's surprising return from a serious ankle sprain.

Kevin Calabro of 710ESPN Seattle joined Clare Farnsworth and me to discuss perceptions of Seahawks receiver Deion Branch.

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks' coaches need to find ways for David Hawthorne to contribute at linebacker after Lofa Tatupu returns from injury. Hawthorne is one of the Seahawks' most improved players, not only from 2008 to this season but also from Week 2 to Week 3.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says cornerback Marcus Trufant is progressing well enough in his recovery from a back injury to rejoin the team on schedule.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Seahawks coach Jim Mora faces a dilemma: be his combustible self or tone it down?

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' already thin receiving corps has become thinner yet, raising questions about the team's ability to function in the passing game. Thomas: "Three games into the season, the Rams rank 29th in the league in passing offense. They have only four completions of 20 yards or more, compared to 12 for the opposition. That's got to change if the Rams are going to end their 13-game losing streak."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's an outside chance Marc Bulger could play against the 49ers in Week 4, an encouraging development after initial fears Bulger might miss the remainder of the season. Also, John Greco got most of the work at left tackle while Alex Barron rested an injury.

Nick Wagoner of says Kyle Boller is preparing to start against the 49ers. The veteran does not plan to alter his hard-charging style after throwing blocks and inviting punishment while scrambling against the Packers in Week 3. Wagoner: "Boller will never second guess himself when it comes to doing whatever it takes to help his team win on Sundays. But that doesn’t mean a sixth-round rookie signal caller with no NFL playing experience can’t inquire about why exactly Boller would so fearlessly throw himself into the fray only moments after the starting quarterback had been lost for the game with a shoulder injury."

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Cardinals have gotten dramatically younger at running back this offseason. Edgerrin James and Terrelle Smith are gone, leaving Tim Hightower and Dan Kreider as the only current Cardinals running backs with starting experience.

The team kept three halfbacks and two fullbacks on its Week 1 roster last season. Nine other teams also kept more than one fullback for the opener.

Hightower, Chris Wells, Jason Wright, Kreider and Tim Castille entered camp as the likely choices for those spots, should the team keep five. LaRod Stephens-Howling would have to significantly liven up the return game to earn a spot, most likely.

Arizona Cardinals Week 1 Roster Counts since 2003 QB RB WR TE OL DL LB DB ST
Fewest 2
4 5 2 8 5 6 7 2
Most 4 7 7 4 10 9 8 10 3
Average 3.0 5.3 6.0 3.2 8.8 7.7 7.0 8.8 2.8
Currently on roster
8 10 5 15 10 11 14 3

The chart provides a framework for how many players the Cardinals might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the 49ers.

Here's a quick look at which Cardinals players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:

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Posted by's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' first exhibition game of the 2009 season, against the Steelers on Thursday night:

  • Calais Campbell made a very positive first impression as he moved into the starting lineup at right defensive end, replacing Antonio Smith, who signed with Houston. Campbell made an aggressive play against the run early. He tossed aside Steelers tackle Max Starks to pressure Ben Roethlisberger near the goal line. Campbell also pressured Charlie Batch on a third-and-3 play. This seemed to be exactly what the Cardinals wanted to see from Campbell.
  • The Cardinals spread the field and then ran the ball on third-and-2, something they did only three times all last season by my count, converting none. Tim Hightower picked up the first down this time. It's premature to read anything into the decision as Ken Whisenhunt takes back play-calling duties. But it stood out to me as something the Cardinals should do more frequently. Hightower looked good.
  • The Cardinals' starting offensive tackles had some problems in pass protection, just as they did against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Levi Brown is a powerful run-blocker, though. He cleared out the Steelers' Aaron Smith, helping Hightower gain 9 yards on a first-and-10 play. Brown sometimes seems miscast for the Cardinals' pass-oriented offense. I can see why Russ Grimm liked him coming out of college, though.
  • No one will be writing about how Brian St. Pierre turned up the pressure on Matt Leinart for the No. 2 job at quarterback. Leinart overcame a shaky start to play well. He took a brutal hit early in the game. It's tougher to envision the Cardinals handing the No. 2 job to St. Pierre after this game.
  • The Cardinals do not want LaRod Stephens-Howling standing there as the last line of defense in blitz pickup. That happened a couple times against the Steelers and it wasn't pretty. Stephens-Howling is 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Herman Johnson held up effectively in pass protection, a very good sign for the 380-pounder. Johnson projected as a guard coming out of LSU, but the Cardinals are trying him at backup right tackle. They had to like what they saw from him in this game. His protection helped set up an intermediate completion to Sean Morey. Jason Wright found running room behind Johnson on another play. Later, Johnson pushed the Steelers' Keyaron Fox 10 yards downfield while Wright picked up 6 or 7 yards. Johnson even caught and tackled Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison during an interception return. Nice work, big fella.
  • Defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema showed he's coming back strong following surgery to remove a tumor from his chest. Iwebema lifted and pancaked Steelers right tackle Jason Capizzi on one play. He was a force against the run on another.
I'm filing this with about 5 minutes left in the game. Figured I could follow up with anything else that jumped out the rest of the way, such as Tyler Palko stealing the show late.

Posted by's Mike Sando

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Pass-rush drills are always a highlight at NFL training camps, not for the poor guys participating, but certainly for those watching.

One offensive lineman and one defensive lineman get into their stances across from one another. Four other offensive linemen stand in formation, awaiting their turns. The offensive line coach stands behind the defensive player so he can relay the snap count to his offensive lineman without the defensive player seeing his hand signals. The line then coach barks out signals, testing both players' discipline, before the center snaps the ball on the appropriate count.

All hell breaks loose, with pride on the line and offensive linemen at a disadvantage without the double-team blocks they use in games. The offensive linemen awaiting their turns congratulate or console their linemates, depending on the outcome. Same for the onlooking defensive linemen. Sometimes a desperate player will resort to borderline dirty tactics -- a slap to the head or a blatant hold of the facemask -- adding tension when the combatants line up against one another later in the drill. Smack talk between onlooking offensive and defensive linemen sometimes enlivens the experience.

If you are an offensive lineman at Cardinals camp, Darnell Dockett is one of the last people you want to see lining up across from you. He is 290 pounds of attitude, with ample quickness and strength to embarrass the best interior offensive linemen. Dockett did meet his match in the Saturday drills. Right guard Deuce Lutui engulfed and controlled him both times they faced one another, impressive work for Lutui.

The Cardinals' offensive linemen generally held up well. Perhaps that says something about the state of the pass rush in addition to the protection. There were exceptions. Nose tackle Gabe Watson repeatedly steamrolled Ben Claxton with such force that I felt bad for the backup center, particularly with so many fans watching. This was a matchup he could not win.

"You gonna take that?" one fan yelled after a particularly lopsided encounter between the two. Part of me wanted offensive line coach Russ Grimm to drag the heckler from the stands by his collar and force him to line up against the 6-foot-4, 329-pound Watson. "You try it, sir."

A few other notes and observations from the Cardinals' pass-rush drills Saturday:

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Posted by's Mike Sando

NFL rookies rarely change the course of a season for their new teams.

The Dolphins' Jake Long and the Titans' Chris Johnson were the only 2008 draft choices named to the Pro Bowl last season.

With teams scrambling to sign their 2009 selections, I'll revisit the NFC West's 2008 class heading into its second season.


Best choice

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Cardinals. Arizona found an impact player at a premium position. Rodgers-Cromartie, chosen 16th overall, started 11 games in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. Picked off six passes during a nine-game stretch beginning in Week 16.

Best immediate contributor

John Carlson, TE, Seahawks. Carlson was the Seahawks' top tight end from the beginning, setting a franchise record for receptions by a tight end (55). The position he plays isn't a premium one, explaining why Rodgers-Cromartie emerged as the best selection, albeit narrowly. Carlson also has star potential.


Best value

Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers. Cardinals fifth-rounder Tim Hightower had better production as a rookie, scoring 10 touchdowns, but Morgan's career might be on a higher trajectory after Arizona benched Hightower and used a 2009 first-round choice on running back Beanie Wells. Morgan looks like a potential long-term starter for the 49ers. On that basis, I'll tentatively give him the edge over Hightower. The Cardinals and 49ers both hope to better establish their ground games. That could ultimately favor Hightower, although it's tough to envision him starting for long with Wells on the roster.

Most to prove

Kentwan Balmer, DE, 49ers. Using a first-round choice on a 3-4 defensive end was hardly a flashy move. The position doesn't lend itself to obvious production. Balmer didn't seriously threaten for a starting job as a rookie. He has expressed determination to make the jump this season. The Seahawks' Lawrence Jackson was the other top candidate for this designation. While Jackson also has much to prove, he did start 14 games as a rookie.

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