NFC West: Kevin Hobbs
Catch us if you can.
That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.
It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.
By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.
It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?
The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.
Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.
The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.
The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?
Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.
Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.
Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.
Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.
The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?
Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.
Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.
Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.
@TerryBlountESPN The Cards and Rams are pretty good. They'll be fighting for 2nd place behind the Seahawks.- Danny ®" (@Dah_knee) March 26, 2014
Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?
Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.
Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.
Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.
Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.
If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?
Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.
Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.
Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.
Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.
@BWilliamsonESPN Wilson. Controls the game & makes all the plays. Kaeps athletic advantage will fade overtime as Wilson's mental edge grows.- HTB (@HoldenTyler) March 25, 2014
Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.
"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."
Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.
Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.
John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.
For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.
Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.
Update: The Burleson signing did have a retaliatory aspect, as ZippyWasBanned noted in the comments section. Seattle signed him to an offer sheet featuring "poison pills" similar to the ones that helped the Vikings land Hutchinson.
The latest move between the teams is particularly chuckle-worthy (surely there must be some reason these teams keep hooking up, but I can't find any hard ties). The Lions recently won a waiver-claim battle with Seattle over former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus. The Lions held Polumbus for a few days, then traded him to the Seahawks, presumably for something of minimal or even conditional value. Polumbus and Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates were with the Broncos in 2008.
The Seahawks and Lions have made multiple trades and shared multiple players spanning multiple coaching staffs and front offices in recent years.
Among the players to spend time on both rosters: Polumbus, Nate Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Jon Kitna (OK, not recently in Seattle), Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Ike Charlton (again, not recently in Seattle), Etric Pruitt, Mike Williams and probably a few others.
Art Thiel of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks proved there is such a thing as a bad win in the NFL. Thiel: "After a wretched 38-17 loss in Dallas was followed by [Jim] Mora's fiery threat that all jobs were in jeopardy -- backed up by canning the roster's three least-relevant players -- the Seahawks were figured ready to unleash the dragons. Instead ... chihuahuas."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times charts David Hawthorne's progress as the Seahawks' middle linebacker without Lofa Tatupu. Brewer: "Since that breakout game against Chicago, Hawthorne has been a consistent force, Tatupu has fallen victim to a season-ending injury, and the Seahawks have managed to get by without their most valuable defensive player. Hawthorne continued his fine play Sunday with a nine-tackle, two-interception performance in the Seahawks' nerve-wracking 32-20 comeback victory over Detroit."
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks needed everything Matt Hasselbeck could muster to beat the Lions. A bad win, indeed.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Matthew Stafford had thrown 11 interceptions in six games before tossing five against Seattle.
John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hawthorne has emerged as "one of the few pleasant surprises" during a down season for the Seahawks.
Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck's anger fueled his comeback from a poor start.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Mora's failed fourth-and-1 gamble might have provided a spark for Seattle.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune couldn't recall hearing louder boos for the home team since Qwest Field opened as Seahawks Stadium in 2002. Boling: "Considering how grotesque it looked in the first period, when the Seahawks were behind 17-0, when it appeared that they deserved to relinquish their league membership, this was an important comeback. At least in the short run. Considering the very possible alternative."
John Morgan of Field Gulls says remaking the Seattle offense will be a struggle. Morgan: "Hasselbeck played like the aging game manager I think he now is. Seattle won around him, but mostly because of Stafford's five interceptions. ... It didn't win because of him. Hasselbeck dinked and dunked against the 30th ranked pass defense. He stared at his wide receivers like there wasn't a throw he could make. Hasselbeck checked down like he was facing a gifted young secondary. He was facing Kevin Hobbs. Today wasn't fun but it was a win. Remaking this offense will be a struggle, but it can't be pushed back anymore. The defense is starting to click. The Seahawks are branching two directions. The team is getting better as a whole, but worse at critical positions."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The tough decisions teams face in reducing their rosters to 53 players sometimes aren't so tough.
They were arguably tougher for the Seahawks than for other teams in the division.
Three of the players Seattle released on its initial cutdown to 53 players have joined active rosters elsewhere in the league. Aaron Francisco, cut by the Cardinals, and Phil Trautwein, cut by the Rams, are the only other initial NFC West castoffs to join active rosters for other teams.
Seattle's Brian Russell (Jaguars), Marquis Floyd (Browns) and Kevin Hobbs (Lions) currently reside on active rosters. The Seahawks re-signed to their practice squad running back Devin Moore, safety Jamar Adams, receiver Mike Hass and receiver Logan Payne.
The apparent drama at receiver left Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor on the outside. Kent reached an injury settlement following his release. Taylor remains available. Neither player has eligibility for the practice squad.
Defensive lineman Baraka Atkins and kicker Brandon Coutu appeared close to earning roster spots. The Seahawks once thought Coutu might have trade value. That wasn't the case in the end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Waiver claims tend to fly left and right after the 53-man roster reductions. Among the implications for NFC West teams now that the initial 24-hour waiver period has ended:
- The Seahawks released Kyle Williams after claiming another tackle, Brandon Frye, off waivers from the Dolphins. Frye, 26, was active for seven games last season. This is probably just a case of Seattle attempting to upgrade depth on the fringes of the roster.
- Former Seahawks cornerback Kevin Hobbs landed in Detroit after the Lions claimed him. The Browns claimed another Seahawks castoff, cornerback Marquis Floyd.
- The Browns also claimed former Rams offensive lineman Phil Trautwein.
- The Jets filed claims for two tight ends, including 49ers draft choice Bear Pascoe. They had a higher priority claim for former Titans tight end Matthew Mulligan, however. Pascoe became a free agent once the claim for Mulligan succeeded.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Biggest surprise: Starting free safety Brian Russell, signed in 2007 after the Seahawks grew tired of assignment errors in the secondary, seemed to fend off a challenge from versatile backup Jordan Babineaux. That made Russell's release a surprise even though coach Jim Mora had said Babineaux would compete for the job in camp. The team went with Ben Obomanu as its fifth and final receiver, releasing Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent. Rookie defensive linemen Nick Reed and Michael Bennett joined preseason surprise Derek Walker among 11 defensive linemen, prevailing at Baraka Atkins' expense -- a big surprise. Rookie seventh-rounder Cameron Morrah beat out Joe Newton as the third tight end. Veteran kicker Olindo Mare beat out second-year pro and 2008 draft choice Brandon Coutu in a close battle. The team cleared another spot by placing starting corner Marcus Trufant on the physically unable to perform list, helping corner Travis Fisher earn a spot among the initial roster. Keeping 11 defensive linemen meant keeping only six linebacker, costing versatile veteran D.D. Lewis a job.
No-brainers: The Seahawks also released safety Jamar Adams, guard Brian De La Puente, cornerback Marquis Floyd, tackle Na'Shan Goddard, safety Courtney Greene, receiver Mike Hass, cornerback Kevin Hobbs, fullback David Kirtman, running back Devin Moore, cornerback Nate Ness, tight end Joe Newton, receiver Logan Payne, linebacker Dave Philistin, tackle Andre Ramsey, tackle William Robinson, quarterback Jeff Rowe.
What's next: The Seahawks reduced to 52 players with these moves, but the team was expected to add veteran safety Lawyer Milloy for depth and experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers denied Deion Sanders' claim that two teams reached out to the 49ers about possibly acquiring Michael Crabtree. "Those conversations never took place," a team spokesman said. Sanders said the 49ers "desperately" need Crabtree, and apparently he was serious. The 49ers are installing a power running game. They weren't counting on big things from Crabtree as a rookie anyway, realizing he would need time to get acclimated after rehabbing a foot injury for several months this offseason. Maiocco: "The deadline to trade an unsigned draft pick has passed for the league year. Even if Crabtree were to sign with the 49ers, the club would be unable to trade him until March 1. The 49ers would retain his rights up to the 2010 NFL draft."
Also from Maiocco: 49ers receiver Jason Hill wanted more chances during the exhibition season. Hill said he thinks there's a "strong possibility" the 49ers will release him. Hill: "Maybe the coaches don't like me or something. I don't know. I just haven't been getting enough reps. When I get reps, I make plays. I showed it last year when I get reps. When I get in a game, I make plays. I'm proving it on the field every time." One thing about wide receivers: It always seems to be about them.
More from Maiocco: Have the 49ers improved?
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary is "very thankful" the exhibition season has ended.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' starters finished the exhibition season with one sack, a "dubious" one collected when JaMarcus Russell fell down.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers coach Mike Singletary wasn't interested in addressing Sanders' claims.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at what the Rams learned about themselves during the exhibition season. The defense did a good job forcing turnovers, but stopping the run appeared to remain a problem.
Also from Thomas: Adam Carriker's injured shoulder is not the same one he hurt previously. Thomas: "According to unofficial press box stats, Carriker had no tackles against the Chiefs in his preseason debut. Interestingly, Carriker wasn't re-inserted with the starting unit when he returned to practice in late August. (Gary) Gibson has continued starting in Carriker's spot at defensive tackle, and Carriker played with the second unit Thursday against KC."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Samkon Gado's uncertain injury status clouds the Rams' decisions at running back.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could tweak their roster in the coming days. Somers: "(Leonard) Pope, due to make $1 million this season, fell out of favor with the coaching staff because he was not a strong blocker, and he had trouble grasping the nuances of the offense."
Also from Somers: Alan Branch fared well enough in spot duty at defensive end to stick on the roster.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com runs through the team's roster moves as the 53-man limit approached.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals were willing to keep only six defensive linemen because Branch gave them versatility.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune previews the Seahawks' cutdown decisions. Williams: "The team may decide to keep a fourth cornerback if Marcus Trufant (back) starts the season on the physically unable to perform list, which means he can’t return until the seventh game. If that’s the case, the Seahawks likely will make a decision between Kevin Hobbs and Travis Fisher."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with rookie running back Devin Moore. Farnsworth: "When given his most extensive stint of the preseason, the undersized Moore (5 feet 9, 191 pounds) came up big. He carried 22 times for 75 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run, in the Seahawks’ 31-21 romp over the Oakland Raiders."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers details on Steve Spagnuolo's approach to fixing the Rams. Spagnuolo: "If you stay healthy, all things being equal, to me the difference in winning and losing would be the details. It's not a cliché. I'm not trying to make anything up; I just firmly believe that. Because you put two equal teams out there, it's going to be the team that's detailed, focused, doesn't make any mistakes, etc., etc., etc., that's going to win the game."
Also from Thomas: The Rams are committed to the run, no question.
More from Thomas: He predicts a 6-10 record and a Week 4 victory over the 49ers.
Still more from Thomas: breaking down the Rams' offense.
More yet from Thomas: breaking down the Rams' defense.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have a new style under their new coach. Burwell: "The change in personality is going to be a stark transformation in style and substance from the one that characterized the rise and fall of this franchise. In the past, very few football wise guys ever associated toughness with the Rams. That didn't matter much during the height of the Greatest Show on Turf days when the Rams dazzled you with all that fast-twitch athleticism dashing up and down the field."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo appears pleased with the Rams' progress to this point.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic wonders how the Cardinals will respond after a poor showing against the Packers in the third exhibition game. Quarterback Kurt Warner: "You get to the point where there really needs to be a sense of urgency moving forward. Everyone has got to feel it, and everybody has to understand, and everybody has to take it upon themselves not to let it happen again."
Also from Somers: a look at the Cardinals' lesser-known receivers.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Darnell Dockett as saying not everyone came to play for the Cardinals against Green Bay. Urban: "No one was immune to criticism Friday. Whisenhunt made sure to say the issues began with the coaching, but the problems permeated almost everywhere. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis wants to focus on accountability, but even the players weren't feeling good about that progress Friday night."
More from Urban: "Scary" is the word he uses to describe the effort on defense.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' offense appears conservative -- very conservative -- under coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Crumpacker: "With time winding down in the fourth quarter, the 49ers faced 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 9-yard line. It has almost become standard protocol in these practice games for a coach to go for it in the late going to avoid the dreadful possibility of overtime. But no, Alex Romero booted a 24-yard field goal for the 49ers with 3:55 to play, creating a 13-13 tie."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers thoughts on how various players performed for the 49ers. Manny Lawson had a rough game. Bear Pascoe did not play much. Maiocco on Nate Davis: "Prior to this evening's game, I thought the 49ers could stash him on their practice squad. Now, I say there is absolutely no reason to take that chance. Sure, it was just an exhibition game against the Cowboys' backups, but the kid showed a lot. He looks smooth. He showed poise. He looks like a player. The 49ers drafted him in the fifth round because they want him. They must not take any chance of losing him."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' backups fared well.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee probably won't be drafting a 49ers receiver in his fantasy league. Also, the 49ers had no sacks.
Also from Barrows: Shaun Hill hasn't developed a rapport with his receivers. Barrows: "The 49ers' first five plays either were runs or short tosses to the running backs. Hill didn't complete a pass to a wideout -- Arnaz Battle -- until 1:29 remained in the first half. The starting wide receivers were Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan. Four passes were thrown in their direction; none connected."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have much work to do. Brown: "Hill completed 9 of 19 passes for 79 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His first three drives ended in punts before he led the team to Joe Nedney's field goal near the end of the first half. Unlike last week, the running game didn't offer much help. Neither Frank Gore nor Glen Coffee registered a run longer than 7 yards before halftime."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation thinks there's no way the 49ers can risk subjecting Davis to waivers.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com offers thoughts on the Seahawks' performance against the Chiefs. Johns: "Lawrence Jackson, where are you? Rookie Nick Reed was neutralized for the much of his time on the field, but landed his obligatory sack in the closing minutes and didn't hurt his ongoing campaign to land a roster spot."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times also offers Seahawks-rela
ted thoughts, noting that Kevin Hobbs appeared to give up a long completion to Ashley Lelie.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Seahawks safety Deon Grant as saying the defense played well against Kansas City. Grant: "At the end of the day it's about how many points they put up. ... We bowed up when we needed to bow up, so I feel like we did a good job."
Also from Williams: The Seattle ground game showed signs of life.
Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts liked what he saw from the team's offensive line.
John Morgan of Field Gulls points to winners and losers among Seattle players Saturday night. He liked Ray Willis in pass protection. Both tackles seemed to play pretty well, and the play calling also seemed to help them.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the Seahawks' first-team units finished strong against the Chiefs. As for that battle between kickers Olindo Mare and Brandon Coutu? Stay tuned.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks have a few tough decisions to make before reducing their roster to 53 players in less than three weeks.
The final spot or two at receiver remain unsettled. I see at least 10 defensive linemen worth keeping, but perhaps no more than eight offensive linemen. The final spots at all three general positions on defense -- line, linebackers and secondary -- could spur debate.
The Seahawks aren't even certain which kicker will earn a roster spot, opening possible trade scenarios for teams with needs at the position.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the Seahawks might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Rams.
Here's a quick look at which Seahawks players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis welcomes the opportunity to wear the radio headset in his helmet after resisting the technology last season. Willis: "It verifies that this is my show to run."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Willis suffered his ankle injury during a nutcracker drill Aug. 3. Offensive lineman David Baas also suffered an injury during the drill. On another front, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky sounded more optimistic than coach Mike Singletary on the 49ers' pass rush against Denver in the exhibition opener.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says Brit Miller and Reggie Smith appear to be making successful position changes.Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News previews the 49ers' upcoming practices with the Raiders in Napa. Raiders coaches are presumably looking forward to fighting with assistants wearing different uniforms.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't want to hear whispers about his team running a soft camp. Whisenhunt: "This system has worked pretty good for the last seven, eight years I've been around. We've been to two Super Bowls -- won one, lost one -- been to three or four [conference] championship games."
Also from Somers: Whisenhunt expects Michael Ray Garvin to miss only a week or two even though the receiver might need surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
More from Somers: Jerheme Urban might be the MVP of training camp for the Cardinals.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with the Cardinals' offensive line. Guard Reggie Wells: "There aren't many offensive lines called upon to do what we do week in and week out, not just from the scheme aspect but also protecting as many times as we do and not have guys mentioned for Pro Bowl and things like that. It underestimates the abilities of guys on that line."
Also from Urban: Antrel Rolle points to an abundance of Cherry Blossom Lotion on his arms as the reason for a fumble. Seriously.
Gregg Bell of the Associated Press describes Walter Jones' latest apparent back trouble this way: "The 35-year-old linchpin to Seattle's offensive line for the past decade was practicing for the third time since training camp began July 31. He took part in one series with the starting offense, then left the field in pain. He stood and kneeled next to a trainer while wincing and holding his back for a few moments. He eventually summoned the trainer to escort him into team headquarters."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks cornerback Kevin Hobbs wasn't to blame for a deep pass he appeared to allow in the exhibition opener. Overall, though, coach Jim Mora wasn't very happy with the secondary.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks rookie Deon Butler wasn't returning punts in practice Monday, likely a reflection of his struggles in that area Saturday.
Also from O'Neil: Mora downplays Jones' exit from practice.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up Aaron Curry's debut performance for Seattle. Mora might have put it best when he said Curry "didn't stand out negatively."
Also from Williams: None of the Seahawks' young receivers stood out from the others Saturday night.
John Morgan of Field Gulls wonders whether Deion Branch fits in the Seahawks' new offense. Morgan on a play from the Seahawks-Chargers game: "Eric Weddle discarded a blocking Deion Branch on Julius Jones two yard rush. If Branch is traded, it might not be his injuries but his fit within this offense that instigates the move."
Also from Morgan: Brandon Mebane is the key to Seattle's defense. So far, so good.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Kyle Boller, the Rams' starting quarterback while Marc Bulger recovers from a finger injury. Boller: "It's not my first rodeo. I've been a starter. I've been out there. So I'm just going to go out there and be myself. Be a leader, and lead this team to hopefully a lot of scoring drives."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steve Spagnuolo appears to have the "it" factor as the Rams' head coach. Burwell: "On Monday afternoon, as he met with reporters to discuss the news that starting quarterback Marc Bulger would miss at least the next two weeks with a broken finger on his throwing hand, Spags was totally unfazed by the sort of development that might freak out most neophyte NFL coaches."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' Adam Goldberg is helping his eventual replacement on the offensive line, Jason Smith. Goldberg: "I take that as part of my role. But I'll tell you what, [Smith] doesn't need too many tips. He's going to be a really good football player."
Turf Show Times' VanRam wonders what happened to Kenneth Darby.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune saw good things from Seahawks offensive lineman Max Unger against the Chargers. Boling: "First-round pick Aaron Curry, who missed eight days of training camp while holding out, showed that he's not entirely up to speed with his responsibilities when he got lost in coverage on a crossing route in the first period. Second-round pick Max Unger had a much more impressive outing. At right guard in the first half, Unger looked solid enough for a first appearance in both run and pass situations. He seemed to know where to go and was able to get the job done once he got there."
John Morgan of Field Gulls singles out winners and losers from the Seahawks' exhibition opener. That would be Nick Reed among the winners.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers notes and observations from the Seahawks' first exhibition game. Williams: "The pass defense is still in a work in progress. The Seahawks finished last in the league in pass defense last season, and gave up a league-leading 59 plays of 20-yards or more. That disturbing trend continued on Saturday, with the Seahawks giving up four plays of 20-yards or more through the air. Cornerback Kevin Hobbs was twice victimized, and Kelly Jennings also was beat deep, although he did manage an interception."
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says Matt Hasselbeck's scramble against the Chargers suggests the quarterback has moved past a back injury.
Doug Farrar of Scout.com sees significant changes to the Seahawks' offensive and defensive schemes under new coach Jim Mora.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times profiles Curry, exploring the linebacker's sensitive side.
Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts offers first-half notes from the Seahawks' opener. Cole: "The defensive line, especially the first unit, has looked quite good. I was most impressed by Colin Cole, who I did not expect a whole lot from him."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary singled out right tackle Adam Snyder for playing well against the Broncos. Singletary also liked what he saw from rookie running back Glen Coffee. Singletary: "I'm really excited about what I saw of him. He's really a tough guy. I thought he did a decent job in pass protection. Glen is going to be a good addition to our team."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Singletary lauded Shaun Hill's game management. Singletary: "He's great at managing the game. You know he can manage a game, but he can also throw the ball downfield. ... How consistent, and on what basis? That's something we still have to look at, but we pretty much know what's there."Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers running back Thomas Clayton suffered "major" ligament damage in his knee against the Broncos. Singletary withheld a formal announcement pending MRI results.
Also from Maiocco: The following players "showed nothing" against the Broncos: "Manny Lawson, Marques Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Demetric Evans, Pannel Egboh, Ricky Jean-Francois."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says results from Steve Breaston's MRI remained a mystery. Also from Somers: "QB Brian St. Pierre didn't play well, obviously, but he didn't have much help, as coach Ken Whisenhunt noted. Oliver Ross moved from right tackle to left because of the injury to Elliot Vallejo. Ross was beaten a time or two. There appeared to be some miscommunication in protection on other occasions."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers notes from the Cardinals-Steelers game. Urban: "You've got to love the potential as a return guy of Michael Ray Garvin, but it just seems like he's a long shot given his limited abilities beyond the return game (unless he can become a gunner on punt coverage). He seems like more of a practice-squad candidate, although if he sparkles the rest of the preseason, maybe he'll sneak in. We'll see if Antrel Rolle keeps getting a try as a punt returner; he just doesn't look as comfortable as I would have thought."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Samkon Gado's stock with the Rams is rising after his 77-yard touchdown run against the Jets. Thomas: "[Steven] Jackson took note of the fact Gado's big run came after spending most of the first half playing fullback in place of Mike Karney, who dressed but didn't play because of an ankle injury."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates Rams injuries. Coats: "Quarterback Brock Berlin and guard Jacob Bell will be day-to-day this week after being knocked out of the game with injuries. Spagnuolo reported that Berlin suffered a sprained knee and Bell a mild concussion. Also, MRI exams were scheduled for wide receivers Tim Carter (groin) and Brooks Foster (ankle). Defensive end Adam Carriker (ankle) will be out again this week."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo pointed to pass protection as one of the areas needing improvement.
Turf Show Times' CoachConnors sees room for improvement from Rams cornerback Justin King.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
RENTON, Wash. -- Emptying the notebook after watching the Seahawks practice on a bright, sunny day at their lakefront facility:
- Tight end John Carlson stands out right away. Defensive backs are bouncing off him after he catches the ball and turns upfield. Carlson makes overhead catches appear routine even with a defender trailing him closely. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said the staff is using Carlson extensively across multiple packages, including on third down. There were times last season when Carlson inexplicably -- to me, anyway -- came off the field in those situations.
- Aaron Curry covers Carlson better than anyone, but coach Jim Mora singled out the rookie linebacker's pass-rush skills as a pleasant surprise so far this offseason. Mora issued the usual disclaimer about how it's tough to fully evaluate when players aren't wearing pads. But he said the pass-rush aspect was something they did not see from him in college because Wake Forest didn't ask him to do it much.
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh doesn't dazzle in practice. I suspect he's a master of maximizing situations during games to get open and make contested catches.
- Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent watched practice. His son, Jordan, faces increased competition for a roster spot at receiver. Jordan appears stronger than in past seasons, but he'll need to produce in exhibition games to earn a roster spot if Seattle remains reasonably healthy at the position.
- Receiver Deion Branch and defensive lineman Cory Redding returned to practice after rehabbing injuries. Branch said he has no pain in his surgically repaired knee.
- Seneca Wallace still throws a better deep ball than anyone on the team. He found Mike Hass for a long touchdown up the left sideline against Marquis Floyd. Wallace also found Deon Butler for a long gain despite tight coverage from Josh Wilson.
- Logan Payne is practicing at full speed and without a knee brace. The receiver suffered a serious knee injury early last season.
- Who is the backup tight end again? Carlson looks terrific, but I'm not sure the Seahawks can run their passing game as intended if something happens to him.
- Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and Baraka Atkins have impressed coaches this offseason. Mora said he has seen "flashes" from each player and it's time for them to step up their games. I mentioned Jackson and Tapp when asking the question. Mora answered quickly and added Atkins' name to his answer.
- Kevin Hobbs makes aggressive plays on the ball. He broke up a high pass to Houshmandzadeh early in practice, leaving the veteran receiver with obvious discomfort in his left hand. Houshmandzadeh kept practicing. Later, Hobbs picked off a pass from Wallace over the middle. Wallace took responsibility for the turnover.
- Hasselbeck explained one big difference in practices since Mora replaced Mike Holmgren. The change to a defensive coach has led to much more emphasis on playing hard to the whistle and trying to force turnovers. Holmgren put more emphasis on the offense playing with precision and never letting the football hit the ground.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
RENTON, Wash. -- Ten things I saw during the Seahawks' first minicamp practice since the draft:
- Third-round choice Deon Butler diving to catch a 50-yard touchdown pass after outrunning cornerback Kevin Hobbs. Butler definitely has speed. Bonus note on receivers: Nate Burleson, who underwent reconstructive knee surgery last season, is practicing.
- Tight end John Carlson controlling defensive end Lawrence Jackson off the line, then turning Jackson and driving him to the ground.
- Former Seahawks owner John Nordstrom chatting with current CEO Tod Leiweke while watching practice as a guest of the team.
- Receiver Deion Branch and newly signed fullback Justin Griffith hopping up a hill while rehabbing injuries. Branch recently underwent a cleanup operation on his knee.
- Newly signed cornerback Ken Lucas picking off a pass in his first practice with the Seahawks since the 2004 season. Lucas appears very trim, as usual, but he said he wasn't in practice shape just yet. OK, a confession: I did not see the Lucas pick. But coach Jim Mora credited him with one, and it's possible I was watching another portion of practice when it happened. I did see Marquis Floyd pick off a pass.
- Undrafted free agent Michael Bennett lifting and tossing tackle William Robinson, easily the most impressive feat of the always entertaining pass-rush drills.
- Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threading a ball over the middle in rhythm to receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Expect to see that combination a few more times.
- Seventh-round draft choice Nick Reed, at 247 pounds, hustling around the field, but still looking too small to play defensive end in the NFL.
- Linebacker Leroy Hill harboring no apparent animosity after the Seahawks withdrew the franchise-player designation from him.
- Brian Russell running with the first team at safety, same as last season. Some Seattle fans have asked whether Jamar Adams might be a candidate to take Russell's job.
That was 10 things. One more: According to Hasselbeck, Butler also held up well when offensive coordinator Greg Knapp called on the rookie repeatedly during meetings. Also according to Hasselbeck, former Seahawks teammate Bobby Engram and Engram's wife put in a good word for Butler. Engram and Butler both played at Penn State, although years apart.
Finally: First-round choice Aaron Curry worked with the starters, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. He definitely looks the part, but it's early.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The premise: 'Tis the season when disappointed NFL fans call for their teams to take a longer look at young talent on the roster.
The Seahawks: After looking at the 49ers' youngest players, we take a quick look at the 20 youngest players on the Seahawks' roster. Each is listed by name, position and current age, starting with the youngest.
- Brandon Miller, DE, 22: Recently claimed off waivers from the Falcons.
- Justin Forsett, RB, 23: Returned two punts and one kickoff against Dallas in Week 13.
- Lawrence Jackson, DE, 23: Starting at right defensive end.
- Josh Wilson, CB, 23: Starting at right cornerback.
- Owen Schmitt, FB, 23: Started at fullback until Leonard Weaver returned from injury. Key contributor on special teams.
- David Hawthorne, LB, 23: Played enough on special teams at Dallas to draw a penalty.
- Brandon Mebane, DT, 23: Starting at defensive tackle. Best player on the defensive line.
- Coutu, K, 24: General manager Tim Ruskell is carrying Coutu on the roster while coach Mike Holmgren is sticking with veteran Olindo Mare.
- Wrotto, OL, 24: Next in line for playing time if injuries sideline guards Floyd Womack or Ray Willis.
- Darryl Tapp, DE, 24: Starting at defensive end.
- Baraka Atkins, DE, 24: Playing extensively as part of the line rotation. Has shown signs of progress lately.
- Jordan Kent, WR, 24: Struggled when injuries forced him into the lineup.
- John Carlson, TE, 24: Starting tight end leads the team in receiving.
- C.J. Wallace, S, 24: Special-teams contributor not factoring into rotation in secondary.
- Red Bryant, DT, 24: Injuries have prevented him from playing as much as expected.
- Courtney Taylor, WR, 24: Played his way out of a starting role even when Seattle was desperate at the position.
- Kyle Williams, OL, 24: Signed to help the Seahawks get through practice amid diminished numbers on the line.
- Steve Vallos, C, 24: Started at center against the Cowboys after 2005 first-round choice Chris Spencer suffered an injury.
- Will Herring, LB, 25: Battled illness for much of the season before passing a physical and contributing on special teams.
- Kevin Hobbs, CB, 25: Singled out for progress during offseason workouts, but not part of the rotation in the secondary.