NFC West: Kory Sheets
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers have lost one player from their practice squad -- running back Kory Sheets, signed by the Dolphins -- while adding a familiar one.
Offensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, who went to camp with the 49ers, re-signed to San Francisco's practice squad.
Sheets enjoyed a strong exhibition season, but the 49ers did not sign him to their active roster after losing starter Frank Gore to injury. With Gore returning after the bye, the 49ers should be fine at running back, even if they had hoped to keep Sheets on their practice squad.
Contracts are not permanent in the NFL, of course. We've seen promising young running backs leave NFC West practice squads for 53-man roster spots elsewhere, only to return. It happened to the Seahawks with Justin Forsett last season.
Posted by ESPN.com'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 49ers.com 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 azcardinals.com 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 seattlepi.com 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 seahawks.com 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 stlouisrams.com 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."
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Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says David Vobora could sue the manufacturer of a supplement containing the banned ingredient behind the linebacker's four-game suspension. Stull: "In fact, the NFLPA had appealed the initial result of the test -- and the source states Vobora had properly called the 'hot line' for players to check supplements and the product was cleared as not having any banned substance in its listed contents. A different source close to the situation shares there will likely be legal action taken on Vobora's behalf against the manufacturer -- as toxicology testing revealed the supplement did contain the banned substance, despite it not being included on the product label."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says during a chat that he thought the Rams would blitz more under coach Steve Spagnuolo. Thomas: "The most surprising thing to me so far, is the lack of blitzing. I realize there haven't always been ideal situations. The Rams haven't played with the lead much at all -- they've led for only 12 1/2 minutes (out of a possible 180!!) in the three games this season. They haven't had the opposition in a ton of predictable throwing situations -- third and long, etc. Still, I expected a more aggressive approach." Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sometimes proved dangerous when the Rams blitzed. Will Witherspoon got immediate pressure on Rodgers midway through the first quarter. Rodgers recognized the situation and threw immediately to Donald Driver for a first down at the St. Louis 26. A few plays like that can serve as a strong deterrent.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says a potential uncapped year could give Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis incentive to bide their time before seeking long-term contract extensions. Davis' improvement stands as one of the 49ers' most important developments of the season, should he continue to improve.
Also from Maiocco: Frank Gore's injury gives the 49ers reason to lean more heavily on quarterback Shaun Hill. Coach Mike Singletary did acknowledge that Hill "took a step" with his latest performance. I still think the 49ers will remain resolute in their commitment to the run.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, whose father played receiver at Florida in the mid-1980s. That revelation makes me feel ancient.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have no immediate plans to sign Kory Sheets from the practice squad, even with Gore sidelined. The thought of trusting a rookie in pass protection probably does not appeal.
Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to secure funding for a new stadium in Santa Clara. Research for an environmental impact study is complete.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers reasons for Cardinals fans to have optimism -- and pessimism -- about the team following a 1-2 start. Somers: "The Cardinals haven't shown yet that they learned much from last season's playoff run. Through the first few weeks, players alluded to poor practices as part of the reason for losing the opener. Defensively, the Cardinals' attention to detail seems to come and go like the wind."
Also from Somers: Rookie Beanie Wells did not play much Sunday night because he isn't yet ready to handle all the duties associated with playing in the three- and four-receiver offense.
Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 says Wells needs to spend the bye week learning his assignments. Jurecki: "Hopefully Beanie Wells will use the bye week and some down time to get up to speed on learning his assignments on pass protection, otherwise it’s going to be tough for the coaching staff to trust him on game day. All the time he missed in Flagstaff is hurting him now."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team could be interested in re-signing Monty Beisel, released by the Chiefs.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks need to target T.J. Houshmandzadeh more frequently in the passing game. Tight end John Carlson was also open several times against the Bears without getting the ball. There's a reason NFL teams prefer their quarterbacks to be taller than Seneca Wallace. Sometimes it seems as though Wallace doesn't see the field as well as a taller quarterback might. His accuracy suffered when he tried to throw over pressure up the middle.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team signed running back Louis Rankin to its practice squad, releasing running back Devin Moore and linebacker William Thomas.
John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks are a better team this season even though they have the same record through three games as in 2008. I agree. The current coaching staff has done a very good job preparing backups to perform at decent levels. David Hawthorne was dramatically better and more decisive against the Bears than he was against the 49ers, one reason the run defense didn't allow huge gains. The offensive line has weathered injuries much more effectively than when starters were sidelined in past seasons.
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says injuries are taking a heavy toll on the Rams, leaving coach Steve Spagnuolo to take solace in that fact that the sun came up Monday. Thomas on quarterback Marc Bulger: "Had he suffered a torn rotator cuff, that might have ended his season. Nonetheless, sources said he couldn't lift his throwing arm Monday. And just to make sure there's no tear, he may seek a second opinion from James Andrews, the nationally known orthopedic surgeon who has offices in Birmingham, Ala., and Gulf Breeze, Fla."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with new Rams quarterback Kyle Boller. Burwell: "So now he gets his chance to show us whether he's still the same Kyle Boller the Ravens deemed unworthy, or if he's the second coming of Jim Plunkett, who resurrected his NFL life in Oakland after a disappointing start in New England. The clock is ticking on this opportunity, which might be Boller's last best shot at altering his NFL profile."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Craig Dahl has been up to the challenge as a backup safety for the Rams. Spagnuolo: "It was nice to know that you could put a guy in there with limited reps. He made some plays for us."
Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls Thomas and others as to what Boller's ascension to the lineup could mean for the Rams. Thomas: "Because of his arm strength, the Rams could take more deep shots and/or try more deep shots with Boller at quarterback. And because of his foot speed, you could see more rollouts or passes with him on the move. But where he goes with the ball may be influenced just as much by who’s out there at wide receiver, particularly if Laurent Robinson misses a couple of weeks with his ankle injury."
Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch appreciates Steven Jackson as one of the NFL's elite players.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams receiver Donnie Avery should be able to play against the 49ers despite injured ribs. X-rays were negative.
The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript from Mike Singletary's news conference Monday. On the final play against Minnesota: "The bottom line is no, we were not in a prevent defense. We were in a defense where we were going after the quarterback. We did not get the quarterback down, he threw the ball [and] they made a play. Simple as that."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in three of their last 14 games. The team has yet to win one of those games. Also: "Greg Lewis' touchdown catch came on his first reception as a Viking, and on his fourth play of the game."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says ankle problems keep forcing Frank Gore to miss games. Barrows: "Rookie Glen Coffee will start in Gore's place, and there's a chance that another rookie, Kory Sheets, will be elevated from the practice squad."
Also from Barrows: Coffee's extensive work during the exhibition season could help him, quarterback Shaun Hill theorizes. Barrows: "The 49ers' strategy this year is to attack defenses with their rushing attack early in the hope that it will wear down the opposition in the second half of games. That plan appeared to be working early in the third quarter Sunday when Coffee broke consecutive runs of 12 and 13 yards on a drive that led to a 37-yard Joe Nedney field goal. But Singletary noted that any momentum gained on that series was dashed when Vikings rookie Percy Harvin took the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals will practice Wednesday and Thursday during their bye week as coach Ken Whisenhunt tries to figure out the best way to get his team going. Somers: "The Cardinals are 0-2 at home, after losing only four games there in the previous two seasons. Three of the next four games are on the road, and home games against the Vikings and Packers remain."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders whether the Cardinals can overcome serious offensive mistakes. Urban: "We all know how badly the (Tim) Hightower fumble at the Colts’ 5 hurt, but on the drive before -- which ended on a Neil Rackers field goal and a 3-0 Cards’ lead -- the Cardinals were at the Indianapolis 20 with a third-and-1. (Kurt) Warner tried to go down the field to (Larry) Fitzgerald. Anquan Boldin was wide open on the left side of the play (he was demonstrably angry right after the incompletion, and was lucky he didn’t get a penalty when he ripped off his helmet on the field) about two yards past the first-down marker. The two drives combined maybe should have turned into two touchdowns. But when they didn’t, maybe it takes something away from the defense."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com updates the Seahawks' injury situation. The team doesn't know when Matt Hasselbeck will return.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits the shaky replay reversal that went against the Seahawks in Week 3. The referee overturned a Bears fumble deep in Seahawks territory. Coach Jim Mora: "The ruling on the field was fumble. Every replay that I've seen in my eyes is inconclusive and the rule states that if it's inconclusive, then the ruling on the field stands, but I have not had all the views that the official making the call had. So he saw it differently than I did. He saw it differently. It was a big play in the game."
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks' decision to have Deion Branch run the ball on third-and-1 surprised everyone but the Bears.
More from O'Neil: Mora says he overreacted when he blasted kicker Olindo Mare, who remains with the team after missing two field goals during a 25-19 defeat to the Bears.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Mora discussed his overreaction during a team meeting. Mora: "His kickoffs were fabulous. Would I have liked for him to make those two kicks? Yeah. But I wouldn’t like him to make them anymore than he’d like to make them."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says it's unfair to expect Mora to handle postgame news conferences as well as Mike Holmgren handled them. Boling: "I doubt there’ll be any significant damage done to the psyche of Mare (a veteran), or the team’s respect for Mora. Remember San Francisco coach Mike Singletary last year, dropping his pants at halftime to get his team’s attention, and then singling out tight end Vernon Davis? The result in Singletary’s case was that the team responded, and Davis is a more productive player."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is bracing for Peyton Manning in Week 4. Mora used to attend Manning's games when Manning was in high school. Mora: "He was just big. He was fast. He was smarter. He had a whip for an arm. Made great decisions. It was a joke watching him play against these guys."
Also from Farnsworth: a point-by-point review of the Seahawks' defeat to the Bears. On Julius Jones: "So this is how the one-step-and-go running style is supposed to work in the new zone-blocking scheme. Jones averaged 5.2 yards on 19 carries to finish with 98 rushing yards. He also scored the Seahawks’ only touchdown, by taking a short pass from (Seneca) Wallace and running through an attempted tackle on his 39-yard score. Jones ran with determination (he was stopped for negative yards only once), and he also made good decisions (he had runs of 20, 15, 16 and 14 yards)."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
"The 49ers released Kory Sheets!" loses some of its drama when Sheets quietly re-signs to the 49ers' practice squad after none of the other 31 NFL teams submit a waiver claim for him.
I've gone through the initial NFC West cut lists -- those players released at the 53-man deadline -- to see which ones have returned to their teams or caught on elsewhere.
The chart shows results for San Francisco.
The 49ers' initial cut list featured only one vested veteran, cornerback Eric Green. The other 19 players had practice-squad eligibility and the 49ers brought back six of them in that capacity.
The remaining 14 players are unsigned.
Offensive lineman Jacob Bender had a tryout with the Seahawks. The Jets showed interest in tight end Bear Pascoe, only to receive another tight end via waivers.
Sheets impressed during the preseason, but the 49ers were stacked at running back with Frank Gore and Glen Coffee. They valued the versatile Michael Robinson far too much to carry a rookie runner on their 53-man roster in his place.
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Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are taking a "long look" at former Jaguars starting tackle Tony Pashos. Barrows: "The 49ers are looking at Pashos as a right tackle. They signed Marvel Smith in the offseason to play that position, but Smith's bad back never returned to normal, and he retired last month. As of now, Adam Snyder is the starter with Barry Sims backing him up."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says "none of the players [the 49ers] cut on Saturday was claimed off waivers today, including [Kory] Sheets. And the 49ers did not make any waivers claims, either. However, the 49ers might still be interested in adding a veteran or two for insurance."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers view Pashos as a backup right tackle. Pashos sees the 49ers as where he might find the best chance at playing time. Maiocco: "The 49ers scouted Pashos’ final exhibition game. Although Pashos (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) started and played the first half of the Jaguars’ game Thursday against Washington at right guard, the 49ers envision him as a backup right tackle."
Cameron Hollway, writing for the Amarillo Globe-News, checks in with quarterback Keith Null after the rookie earned a spot on the Rams' initial 53-man roster. Null: "Man, it's such a blessing to have made it. It's sort of a hard feeling to explain. I've worked so hard to get here, and to reach that goal is just so special." Null and the man he beat out, Brock Berlin, both had practice-squad eligibility. The Rams have not signed a quarterback to their practice squad.
Allen Meyer of stjoenews.com checks in with Roger Allen's former college coach after the undrafted rookie earned a spot on the Rams' initial 53-man roster. With John Greco sidelined by wrist surgery in the short term, the Rams were one of only six teams carrying more than nine offensive linemen Sunday night. They had only four receivers. Those holding down spots on the fringes of the roster could remain vulnerable as the Rams add depth where it's needed most.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who hasn't let contract issues sour his mood.
John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks' defense fully reflects general manager Tim Ruskell, and that Ruskell's future in Seattle depends on how well that defense performs. Morgan: "The parts have been good individually, but never great together. Until now the talent and the coaching staff were at odds. This year, they are united by the vision of one man. Seattle's defense is now Tim Ruskell's living resume. In one week, this ship sets out to sea. It will float or it will sink. It will take this season somewhere wonderful or drag us all to a watery grave. The hull, keel, masts, crew and captain were picked by Ruskell as was the sail. We are below deck, cargo. Now we await the wind."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks plan to sign Mike Hass and (reportedly) Logan Payne to their practice squad
Also from O'Neil: An advance look at the Rams-Seahawks game in Week 1.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt remains confident in his team following some shaky moments during the exhibition season. Whisenhunt: "I had a friend who said his son was torn up because we didn’t do well in preseason because he really didn’t understand what preseason was all about. I think with the general public, that’s the perception, and I understand that. All I can say is I feel good about our team and what we have done and where we are."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Cardinals safety Aaron Francisco, released Friday, plans to sign a one-year deal with the Colts. Somers: "Francisco is a vested veteran, so he wasn’t subject to the waiver process. He was traveling to Indianapolis on Sunday and is expected to begin practice with the Colts this week, said his agent, Max Hannemann."
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The 49ers announced seven signings to their practice squad Sunday. Sixth-round choice Bear Pascoe, a player the team once envisioned as a smashmouth blocking tight end, was not one of the seven players. J.J. Finley was the only tight end signed to the practice squad.
The other six initial members of the squad: tackle Alex Boone, receiver Dobson Collins, fullback Brit Miller, defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, receiver Dominique Zeigler and running back Kory Sheets.
It probably wasn't a good sign for Pascoe when coach Mike Singletary told reporters Saturday that the NFL game appeared too fast for the former Fresno State player.
Five of the 49ers' seven 2009 draft choices earned spots on the initial 53-man roster. A sixth, Michael Crabtree, remains unsigned.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL teams can begin forming eight-man practice squads once released players clear waivers this afternoon.
Every player the 49ers released on the reduction to 53 players -- minus cornerback Eric Green -- possesses eligibility for the practice squad. Tackle Alex Boone, guard Matt Spanos, fullback Brit Miller, defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell and running back Kory Sheets could make sense as options. The team will presumably keep one of the tight ends it released, Bear Pascoe or J.J. Finley. Cornerback Terrail Lambert could provide another option.
Some 49ers fans have expressed to me surprise over Sheets' release in particular. The depth San Francisco enjoys at that position made Sheets' release likely.
We likewise should not be surprised if backup running back Glen Coffee plays sparingly as a rookie. Like Sheets, Coffee showed promise during the exhibition games. But with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye having already committed to Frank Gore as the workhorse back, there won't be many carries left over.
As long as Gore is healthy and his usually productive self, I think Coffee would have to break long runs when given opportunities to siphon significant carries in the No. 2 role.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Biggest surprise: The 49ers kept only four running backs, two tight ends and eight offensive linemen on the initial cutdown to 53 players, suggesting the team will consider adding players at those positions. This is a power running team, after all. The decision to release both Bear Pascoe and J.J. Finley was a bit of surprise. One of them was expected to serve as the third tight end. Undrafted free agent Diyral Briggs earned a spot at linebacker, edging out Jay Moore. Fullback Brit Miller, running back Kory Sheets and receiver Dominique Zeigler had made positive impressions with fans, but none enjoyed strong roster security. Their releases were not surprising in that context. Coach Mike Singletary had said the 49ers faced few significant roster decisions heading into the final exhibition game. The team did not cut any big-name players.
No-brainers: The 49ers' cut list ran 20 deep and also featured tackle Jacob Bender, tackle Alex Boone, receiver Dobson Collins, defensive end Pannel Egboh, cornerback Eric Green, guard Kyle Howard, cornerback Terrail Lambert, defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, receiver Maurice Price, fullback Bill Rentmeester, linebacker Justin Roland, offensive lineman Matt Spanos, tackle Joe Toledo and linebacker Mark Washington.
What's next: The 49ers could use a veteran offensive tackle after Marvel Smith retired. They will presumably scan the waiver wire for a fullback. The team will also likely want to add a third tight end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rookie quarterback Nate Davis, rookie running back Kory Sheets, and backup receiver Micheal Spurlock likely are not going to help the 49ers in meaningful ways this season. They did help the 49ers during their exhibition game Saturday night.
Davis rallied the 49ers in the second half. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 132 yards. He found Spurlock for a 35-yard gain, setting up Sheets' winning touchdown run.
The game was not televised in my area and I will not offer observations until I watch the NFL Network replay Sunday. But I do think we can say this: The first-team offense was not productive, starting with quarterback Shaun Hill.
As Hill said during the game, according to the 49ers: "I would have liked for it to have gone a bit smoother than it did. I don't know. You can't tell a whole lot right now. I just wish we could have put a few more points on the board."
Hill completed 9 of 17 passes for 79 yards, or 4.6 yards per attempt. I know offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has said running back Frank Gore is the most important member of the offense, but teams generally must throw the ball efficiently to win meaningful games. Hill did miss practice time during the week after experiencing back soreness. That did not help.
More broadly, how much evidence have we seen suggesting the 49ers are developing momentum in their passing game this summer?
The Seahawks' decision to sign 31-year-old Edgerrin James and confer upon him "complementary" status behind "workhorse" Julius Jones showed what the team thought about its quality depth at running back: not a great deal.
The move upgraded the position, in my view, because James is better suited than was T.J. Duckett to step into the lineup on a full-time basis if needed.
But the Seahawks still might be chasing the rest of the NFC West at the position.
James' signing provides an opportunity to size up the position across the division.
I ranked each team's situation at running back in my mind before calling Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to talk through each situation. He felt more strongly than I did about ranking the Rams' situation No. 1, ahead of the 49ers' situation. We agreed on ranking the Cardinals' running backs third, ahead of the Seahawks' backs.
Rankings and explanations follow:
1. St. Louis Rams
Current backs: Steven Jackson, Samkon Gado, Antonio Pittman, Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya, Mike Karney (FB), Jerome Johnson (FB)
Williamson's take: "Adrian Peterson is the best back in the league and I would probably give the No. 2 honor to DeAngelo Williams right now, but then Steven Jackson is right there -- if healthy, of course. I think he'll get a ton of touches there. They are installing more of an Eagles-type offense. He'll be a bigger, badder version of Brian Westbrook and catch a lot of balls. He will also be the focus of every defense and there could be a greater chance of injury. Karney is a little more athletic than some of the pure straight-ahead hammer blockers. He has had injury problems, too."
My take: The 49ers' overall depth at running back appeals, but Jackson is unquestionably a special player athletically, more so than any back in the division. Special traits always appeal to the scout, which might explain why Williamson was quick to rank the Rams' running backs ahead of those in San Francisco. From my perspective, the Rams' situation at running back might be best in the division while it lasts. I question whether Jackson can hold up for a full season. The drop-off from Jackson to the next guy -- whoever it might be -- will be more dramatic than elsewhere in the division. That's another reason I'm a little nervous about ranking the Rams' running backs No. 1.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Current backs: Frank Gore, Glen Coffee, Michael Robinson, Kory Sheets, Moran Norris (FB), Bill Rentmeester (FB), Brit Miller (FB)
Williamson's take: "I like Gore as well. I would say he is more of the fifth- to 10th-best back in the league. I do not think his skills are as impressive as Jackson's skills. He is also going to be a jack-of-all-trades and get a ton of touches, but his job will be a little easier because I think their passing game will be more respectable than St. Louis' passing game. Of the fullbacks, I like Norris probably the best in the division. He will help Gore's cause. I don't think that is a determining factor one way or another, though."
My take: Gore has shown signs of wearing down late in seasons. He could be at additional risk as the team commits more fully to a run-oriented power scheme. But his toughness and running style earn him high marks. He's enjoying a sensational summer and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has said Gore will matter more than the quarterback. All signs point to Gore revisiting the production level he enjoyed during the 2006 season. And with Coffee breaking out in the preseason, the 49ers appear better protected than the Rams if their starter gets hurt.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Current backs: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, Jason Wright, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Chris Vincent, Dan Kreider (FB), Tim Castille (FB), Reagan Maui'a (FB)
Williamson's take: "James is more proven than Hightower, but Hightower is cheaper. I don't think he is a special player at all. He has had a better preseason than I expected, but he does not bring any special quality to the table. He is not an extremely powerful player, he is not going to wear down defense, his pass-catching skills are ordinary, he is not a make-you-miss guy and he is not a speed player. Wells has the most talent of any back in Arizona or Seattle."
My take: Cutting James and adding Wells is like moving money from a savings account into something riskier. James was never going to pay off big at this stage of his career. Wells has the talent to complete an already productive offense, but it's tough to believe he'll be healthier in the NFL than he was in college. I know he didn't miss many games at Ohio State, but he's already missed a bunch of training camp. The burden of proof is on Wells at this point. Hightower has been more productive in the preseason because he has taken the opportunity seriously. He looks leaner and quicker than he was last season. The Cardinals can get more from this position by resisting the temptation to throw so frequently.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Current backs: Julius Jones, Edgerrin James, Justin Forsett, Devin Moore, Owen Schmitt (FB), Justin Griffith (FB), Dan Curran (FB), David Kirtman (FB)
Williamson's take: "I don't trust Jones to carry the load. I probably like him better than Hightower, though. I don't like him as a No. 1, but I don't know if either team has a No. 1 right now. Wells has the best chance. Jones is a complementary player, a gets-what-is-there kind of back. I don't think he is a great receiver or anything. He is not tremendously powerful or elusive. Justin Forsett is probably the most intriguing back between Arizona and Seattle. With Edgerrin James, I don't have a lot of faith in him. One thing people don't understand about his game, though, is that he is a great pass-protection back. He will be used more out of the backfield than he was the last couple years, especially with Seattle's offensive line being shaky. He can grind out some yards and could be good in the red zone."
My take: The Seahawks haven't targeted the position early in the draft recently and it shows. Paying Shaun Alexander all that money a few years ago set back the position. The team wasn't going to immediately invest as much in a replacement. Jones and James are both very good in pass protection, though, and I think that will help the offense more than the running stats will show. This looks like a pass-first team on paper. We'll find out whether the zone blocking scheme can manufacture production. Having the same five offensive linemen for more than a week or two would certainly help. Forsett has been the Seahawks' most impressive back this summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com thinks it's a good sign for the team that Kurt Warner sounds unconcerned about recent problems in the red zone. Urban: "Warner has never been one to shy away from voicing worries about issues so for him to say he felt as good in the second game as the first is a plus for the offense. You definitely get the sense, as a veteran offense, how much the key players just don't put much stock in these exhibitions."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Warner is proceeding as though rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling has already locked up a roster spot. Warner: "Obviously, he was very impressive and having a guy like that is something that's really going to help us. I look at him a lot like J.J. [Arrington] was for us last year. He was a game-changer and made a lot of big plays for us in critical situations. He's kind of a scat-back guy and LaRod can be that same guy who can give us a spark and make a big play every time he touches the ball. I think we'll see the same thing once we implement him into our offense a little bit more."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams set aside a couple first-team practice snaps at both tackle spots for rookie Jason Smith. On the injury front: RB Kenneth Darby sat out with what is believed to be a slight knee sprain.
Also from Coats: Leonard Little has fresh legs, while Adam Carriker participated in individual drills for the first time since suffering an ankle injury.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams players, notably Oshiomogho Atogwe, think the defense will be improved this season, despite struggles in the most recent exhibition game. I was looking at the Rams' schedule Sunday and trying to find five or more victories. They need to win some division games.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams will adjust their practice schedule now that training camp is over. Wagoner: "Hard work has certainly been the calling card of Camp [Steve] Spagnuolo. Beyond the hitting and tackling drills, the Rams had 14 two-a-day practices with at least 12 of those full padded practices that included live drills."
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says Glen Coffee's emergence makes it easier for the 49ers to forget about another rookie, Michael Crabtree. This is what often happens when non-quarterbacks fail to sign in time for camp. After a while, everyone forgets about them.
49ers linebacker Scott McKillop updates his team-sanctioned blog, noting that Joe Staley and David Baas tried to pull a phone prank on tight end Bear Pascoe.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers coach Mike Singletary as saying he needs longer than most coaches to make decisions such as the one his team faces at quarterback. Shaun Hill or Alex Smith? Singletary: "Got to look at some more film. It takes me a little longer than other coaches. Attention to detail is key. That's the thing I'm always looking at. That's why it takes me longer."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' receivers are not getting open. Lynch: "Over two games, Smith and Hill have completed one pass to a receiver that traveled over 10 yards in the air and that was Smith to Josh Morgan for a 14-yarder against the Broncos on a ball that should have been intercepted. While the receivers have potential, they're not getting open, and that includes the two days of practices against the Raiders."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the following young players stood out to Singletary against the Raiders: Reggie Smith, Scott McKillop, Carlos Thomas, Glen Coffee, Kory Sheets, Nate Davis and Chilo Rachal.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says neither 49ers quarterback has made much of a case for the starting job. Brown: "After three minicamps, four organized team activities, three weeks of training camp and two exhibition games, the 49ers' quarterback competition remains unsettled."
Also from Brown: He thinks the 49ers need to end the drama by naming Hill their starter.Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks linebacker Will Herring impressed against the Broncos on Saturday night. Herring appears stronger and more decisive than in the past.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the good, bad and ugly from the Seahawks' most recent exhibition game. Three projected starters on the offensive line are out. Chris Spencer became the third. Walter Jones is already out and Mike Wahle had to retire.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com calls the Seahawks' Deon Butler a receiver who is fast, not a fast guy trying to play receiver.
John Morgan of Field Gulls didn't like what he saw from Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu during an encounter with Broncos running back Correll Buckhalter.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The race for the No. 3 job behind them deserves some attention. Veteran Damon Huard has a 15-12 record as an NFL starter. He provides value as an experienced backup. The team also wants to develop fifth-round rookie quarterback Nate Davis.
What to do?
Davis is a project. He will not help the 49ers this season. The question becomes whether another team would sign him to its 53-man roster if the 49ers waived Davis and tried to sign him to their practice squad.
As noted, NFL teams selected 19 quarterbacks in the fifth round from the 2000 through 2008 drafts. Eighteen earned opening-day spots on 53-man rosters as rookies. The Steelers' Omar Jacobs was an exception in 2006, the year Ben Roethlisberger opened on the bench following a motorcycle accident.
The factors that pushed down Davis in the draft -- notably a learning disability that the 49ers see as overstated -- still exist. If teams fear Davis might struggle to learn their system -- and for the sake of this discussion, it doesn't matter if such fears are justified -- the 49ers might have an easier time getting
Davis onto their practice squad.
What would you do?
The chart shows all 31 current 49ers players with eligibility, arranged by position. I left first-round choice Michael Crabtree off the chart because he has not signed with the team.
NFL teams must reduce rosters from 80 to 75 players Sept. 1. They must reduce to 53 players Sept. 5. They can begin forming eight-man practice squads Sept. 6 at noon ET.
As the NFL puts it:
After 12 noon, New York time, clubs may establish a practice squad of eight players by signing free agents who do not have an accrued season of free-agency credit or who were on the 45-player active list for less than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season(s). A player cannot participate on the practice squad for more than three seasons.
The 49ers also face dilemmas at other positions, including what to do at receiver while Crabtree and Brandon Jones are not available, but that third quarterback race stands out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers' roster appears most interesting at running back and receiver.
The more I think about how much the 49ers want to pound the ball on offense, the more I see them keeping two fullbacks on the Week 1 roster.
Zak Keasey's broken forearm prevents him from becoming part of the equation early, and it's tough to see a team waiting two months for a backup fullback to get healthy. Enter Bill Rentmeester. Formerly of the Chargers, Rentmeester offers what preseason touchdown machine Brit Miller does not: experience at fullback. For the sake of this roster exercise, I'll pencil in Rentmeester for Week 1.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the 49ers might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Cardinals.
Here's a quick look at which 49ers players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players (I made one change, moving Cody Wallace into the group of offensive linemen at Joe Toledo's expense):
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are treating their exhibition opener as an exhibition opener. The outcome doesn't matter much, but the team would like to set a positive tone in Steve Spagnuolo's first game. Spagnuolo: "But I will say this: It doesn't matter whether you're playing pickup basketball in the backyard, or playing your brother in cards, it's competition and everybody wants to win. We'll approach this thing as if it's a competition. We want to compete, compete at the highest level, and then let it play itself out."
Also from Thomas: five things to watch during the Rams' opener. The Rams should tackle better than most teams would in an opener because they've been tackling in practice.
More from Thomas: Former Rams quarterback Trent Green misses the game while making a transition to broadcasting.
Turf Show Times' VanRam wants to see how the Rams' run defense holds up Friday night.
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com reveals five things he'll watch for during the Rams' exhibition opener. Receivers made the list.
The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript from Mike Singletary's session with reporters. Alex Smith will get a chance to work with the first-team offense, same as Shaun Hill.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat answers questions regarding the Michael Crabtree situation. Signing sometime before the regular-season opener would make the most sense for Crabtree. Otherwise he'll be forfeiting first-year salary for every game he misses.
Also from Maiocco: Singletary sounds "mighty comfortable" with Adam Snyder at right tackle.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have not cleared Marvel Smith to participate fully in practice. Barrows: "There's a sense, and Smith agrees, that he may have tried to come back too fast in the past."
Also from Barrows: Isaac Bruce participates in a program to educate Brits on the NFL.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with 49ers rookie Kory Sheets, who is looking forward to his preseason debut. Sheets has gone from college star to "nobody" status as an NFL rookie, part of the deal.
Also from Brown: Snyder has a "sizeable lead" over Marvel Smith at right tackle.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Matt Leinart was happy with his 2009 preseason debut. Coach Ken Whisenhunt liked how his defense stopped the Steelers early.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals ran the ball only 16 times against the Steelers.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Brian St. Pierre will be the first quarterback off the bench for the Cardinals in their next exhibition game. Whisenhunt also said St. Pierre didn't get much help from teammates Thursday night. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden blamed St. Pierre's interception on receiver Jerheme Urban for failing to sell a deep route.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks rookie Aaron Curry will get extended playing time in the exhibition opener Saturday night.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Patrick Kerney returned to Seahawks practice after resting an unspecified injury for two days. The Seahawks have been cautious with Kerney to this point. I'd be a little surprised if he played Saturday night.
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Kerney views his recent shoulder injuries as fluke situations that are unlikely to recur. Kerney: "I got injured the exact same way both times. I was coming around the left edge, going across my body to get to the quarterback's arm. It's just a weak position for the shoulder and the odds of getting caught the same way twice in 10 games is slim. But it happened. It's the heat of the moment. The heat of the play. You're working hard, you beat your guy. You're excited. Now you're going to do whatever you've got to do to get the quarterback on the ground or get the ball out. It didn't work so well, those couple of times. But I went eight out of my 10 years without getting my arm caught that way. I look to go a few more years without it happening."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Brandon Roy was a guest at Seahawks practice. Also, Curry will play about three quarters and get some work at right defensive end.
John Morgan of Field Gulls liked what he saw from Curry in pass-rush drills Monday. Owen Schmitt's issues in protection apparently showed themselves again.