NFC West: Leinart Demotion

The latest NFC West chat flew past Thursday. So much to discuss. Transcript here. One question regarding each division team below:
Dave (Columbus): Wouldn't you think AZ would have known what they had in Matt Leinart by now and not had to go through the drama they are going through? Seems like the coaching staff has dropped the ball big time on this one.

Mike Sando: That is a fair criticism. There was some thought that Leinart would be a different guy once he became the undisputed starter. That was the book on him at USC and that was Pete Carroll's read on him several years ago. At the same time, Ken Whisenhunt's nature doesn't really let him commit fully to a player who has not earned the commitment. That would have been a tough sell in the locker room, anyway, because all the veterans in Arizona know the deal with Leinart. They know he's an unproven player no matter what Whisenhunt says about him. Beyond that, the manner in which Leinart has responded to his demotion was revealing and very damaging to his standing with the team. In retrospect, the Cardinals did not handle the QB situation as well as they could have handled it, although I fully understood why they wanted to give Leinart a chance.

Ben (Portland): It seems clear to me that Wilson was traded because he wasn't expected to be a Seahawk in 2011 and that a 1-year rental isn't worth more than 4th. Do you think Wilson was on the outs because he was too short or was going to be too expensive (for a nickel CB)?

Mike Sando: Josh Wilson became expendable in the Seahawks' view because the team was taking a long-range view. The Seahawks liked their young depth at cornerback and they did not envision paying Wilson for the long term, in part because Wilson doesn't fit the physical profile for John Schneider and Pete Carroll corners. I think it was a move that made them worse in the short term and a move that probably will not make them better for the long term (unless they hit on a player in the fourth or fifth round of the 2011 draft). The Seahawks' decision to select Walter Thurmond in the fourth round this year is paying off beyond reasonable expectations. Seattle will be fortunate to find a similar talent with whatever pick the team gets from Baltimore as part of the deal for Wilson.

Jerry (Folsom, Calif.): Hey Mike, faithful blog follower here, even if I don't always engage. Are the top three wide receivers for the Rams now Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola, or is there someone else likely to move in there? Also, health permitting, can these three do enough to keep defenses honest (with Sam Bradford playing at least average) to keep Steven Jackson from facing eight- and nine-man fronts this season? Or will it be more of the same?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jerry. Always appreciate your contributions. Mardy Gilyard is one guy I see as potentially getting into that mix. He might be just brash enough to command some playing time, perhaps at flanker or from the slot (where Amendola is ideally suited). Gibson's profile does rise following Donnie Avery's injury. Defenses are still going to focus on Steven Jackson, but Jackson can still get yards under those circumstances. He certainly did last season until his body wore down. I've got relatively high expectations for Bradford at this point and think Rams fans should be cautiously optimistic about the offense's ability to improve this season. The line lacks depth beyond the starters and that is a big concern. Another injury at receiver would really hurt. The Rams are fragile from a depth standpoint. But when looking at their projected starters on offense, they should be able to function better than they did last season -- particularly late last season.

Rob (belgium): Hi Mike. I believe this is my fifth question and still nothing posted, so again don't you think the Niners are one franchise QB away from contending for the Super Bowl? Cuz clearly Nate Davis has all the tools you want in a QB instead of Alex Smith and David Carr, who aren't the answers.

Mike Sando: I'll usually answer on the sixth ring, but let's waive that requirement here. You're on the air, Rob. Thanks for calling. On Nate Davis, yes, he has physical tools. But it's a horrible sign when the head coach questions any player's offseason work ethic. It's worse when that player is a quarterback. It's worse when that quarterback already has a learning disability that could, in theory, require even more work than a typical quarterback puts in. Singletary's public rebuke of Vernon Davis worked out well, but Davis always worked hard. If Nate Davis doesn't have that work ethic, or if he simply isn't mature enough yet to know what it takes, then he doesn't have all the tools.

Around the NFC West: Arizona tradewinds

September, 2, 2010
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are open to trading Matt Leinart and guard Reggie Wells. Somers: "The Cardinals became overstocked at guard this offseason when they signed Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot in free agency. Wells moved from left guard to right guard to make room for Faneca and has been on the first team since last spring. Lutui reported to training camp overweight but has been dropping pounds and making the contest closer. With Hadnot and Jeremy Bridges capable of playing guard, there has been speculation that the Cardinals could part with either Lutui or Wells, barring injuries at the position. Wells is in the last year of his contract and is due to make $2.4 million this year."

Trading Wells would make sense given the depth Arizona enjoys, but how many teams would want to absorb that salary two days before roster cuts?

Also from Somers: says Darnell Dockett wants to retire as a member of the Cardinals. Somers: "This is Dockett's second extension and was two years in the making. Until this year, Dockett didn't hesitate to express his unhappiness with his contract. In 2009, he sat out minicamp because of a hamstring injury that coach Ken Whisenhunt compared to a seasonal allergy. Dockett also skipped all off-season workouts. Cardinals management, meanwhile, was adamant about not extending any contract that had more than two years left. This year, however, Dockett was a regular at off-season workouts. His goal, he said, was not to convince the Cardinals to pay him, but to keep his word to free agents he helped recruit, including outside linebacker Joey Porter."

More from Somers: key players in the Dockett negotiations. No mention of general manager Rod Graves, though, and that's probably fine by Graves, who prefers a low profile. It's also a reflection of Whisenhunt's standing within the organization.

Darren Urban of passes along this thought from Dockett regarding the players Arizona has lost recently: "Granted, we can’t keep everybody. We wish we had those guys, but we tried to get those guys. That’s what a lot of people have to understand, we tried to keep people, it wasn’t like we ignored them and let them go. I have talked to Coach about those things. I wanted to make sure I am here and will do whatever I can to keep other guys around with a winning attitude."

Ben Malcolmson of says Jerry Rice surprised Seahawks players by showing up at their team meeting in Oakland on Wednesday. A photo shows a smiling Matt Hasselbeck greeting his former teammate. Sean Locklear and Craig Terrill were rookies when Rice played for Seattle in 2004. Rice: "If you want me to play 10-15 plays tomorrow night, I could probably do it."

Clare Farnsworth of updates Mike Williams' progress in the receiver's return from career irrelevance. Williams' signing could stand as one of the most improbable home runs in recent NFL personnel memory. There are times when Williams appears to be the best receiver on Seattle's roster. He has excellent hands and he's a willing blocker, too. Coach Pete Carroll: "To see Mike come out and be effective, that’s a really good sign for him. Physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him since maybe his sophomore year of college. He’s very serious about it, so maybe he has a chance to give us some help."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times singles out veterans to watch in the Seahawks' final game of the 2010 exhibition season: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Owen Schmitt, Julius Jones and Jordan Babineaux. A scout I spoke with Wednesday thought releasing Babineaux could be a consideration. Babineaux is scheduled to earn $2.45 million in salary this season, hardly a prohibitive number, but more than his role might justify. Babineaux has had additional value in the past because the Seahawks knew he could play some cornerback if necessary. Rookie Earl Thomas provides even greater flexibility that way, and the Josh Wilson trade showed how much Seattle likes its depth at cornerback anyway.

Also from O'Neil: a run through the Seahawks' roster. He thinks the Tyler Polumbus trade could put Mansfield Wrotto on notice. Polumbus did start eight games for the Broncos last season.

Greg Johns of checks in with Lawyer Milloy. Carroll: "He's had an excellent preseason. He's been all over the place. He's shown the kind of hitting that we love to see on defense, the toughness that he brings. He's been very, very studious as far as his alignments and calls and all that kind of stuff. It doesn't matter how old he is, he's a good football player and we're lucky to have him."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Ben Obomanu finds himself in a familiar position heading into the final exhibition game of the season.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald has the Seahawks keeping 11 defensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster. That's an unusually high number, but Seattle did keep 11 in Week 1 last season -- the highest number I can recall for any team in the NFC West.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams kicker Josh Brown is seeking greater accuracy after a down 2009 season. A hip injury this summer has actually helped Brown get needed rest, the kicker said. Brown on his 2009 stats: "Those numbers are not the numbers I want to have or to reflect how much I care about what I'm doing. Took a lot of inventory this year in what we were doing and how we were approaching the game, and it's been paying off."

Also from the Post-Dispatch: a look at the Rams' roster. Daniel Fells and Fendi Onobun reside on the bubble.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at Rams roster battles. Quarterback Keith Null: "I don't think anybody in this business can ever really get comfortable. I think once you do that, then you're not really giving out your full effort -- you're not really competing like you should. I still feel like I'm trying to get here (on the final 53), and even get on the field somehow."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers will give Alex Smith the night off when the team plays its final game of the exhibition season, an indication the coaching staff is pleased with Smith to this point and no longer concerned about getting reps for him.

Also from Maiocco: a 49ers roster projection showing Nate Davis, Kyle Williams, Tony Wragge, Alex Boone, Dominique Zeigler and Phillip Adams earning roster spots.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wonders whether Michael Crabtree will play in the 49ers' final exhibition game.

Sam Good of checks in with Khalif Mitchell, who is fighting for a roster spot with the 49ers.

Also from a transcript from coach Mike Singletary's media session, featuring comments about the confrontation involving Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Singletary: "They were both wrong. And we will not have distractions on this team. Vernon just forgot temporarily, and that is not allowed. We don’t do that. We don’t treat family like that. We don’t disrespect each other. And I just needed to remind him that that’s not who we are. He’s fine. He did a great job. He’s one of the captains. He did the right thing, but he did it the wrong way. So, that’s all I’m going to say about that."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with the 49ers' Adams.

More from Barber: Could the 49ers' entire 2010 draft class earn roster spots?

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle details the Crabtree-Davis dispute.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Crabtree's extended injury-related absence from practice could have been a point of contention between Crabtree and Davis. That stands as a logical issue.

Boldin hints at Leinart-Whisenhunt rift

September, 1, 2010
Not that anyone would suspect tension between Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback Matt Leinart at this point, but former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin did have this to say when asked whether Leinart's recent demotion surprised him:
"Honestly no. That’s just because I’ve been there and witnessed the relationship between both Matt and Coach Whisenhunt. So I’m actually not surprised. I don’t really want to speak too much on that because it’s not my problem. If it doesn’t refer to anybody in black and purple, I really could care less."

This is really out of left field. I haven't seen any indications of trouble between coach and quarterback in Arizona. Looks like something to monitor here.

Ha. Ha. Ha. has the transcript and a link to the audio from Boldin's interview with 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. The Leinart-Whisenhunt comment comes about the 5:16 mark.

Feels like endgame for Matt Leinart

September, 1, 2010

ESPN's Adam Schefter names the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants as teams that have spoken to the Arizona Cardinals about a possible trade for Matt Leinart.

I'm not sure whether those teams initiated discussions or simply answered their phones, but an executive for another team told me the Cardinals were calling around, trying to gauge the market for their jilted quarterback. It's all consistent with the broader feeling that Leinart's tenure in Arizona could be nearing an end.
Update from Schefter: " said the Bills have not discussed trading for Leinart and will not trade for him. But two sources said the Bills had ongoing discussions this summer with the Cardinals regarding a trade for Leinart. Buffalo is unlikely to make a trade for Leinart because the Bills are uncomfortable about bringing aboard the quarterback's contract, which carries a $2.485 million base salary this season and balloons to $7.36 million next season. As for the Raiders and Giants, at least one member of each organization had a conversation this week, discussing the idea of trading for Leinart. It is unknown how serious each team is about for Leinart, but the topic has been broached in the organizations. The point to all this is clear. The Cardinals are willing to deal Leinart. It still is uncertain where Leinart will be spending this season, but it is growing increasingly likely that it will not be in Arizona."

How could this be happening?

That's the question Cardinals fans will be asking, particularly if Leinart leaves and the team struggles at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jim Brown/US PresswireCould Matt Leinart be on his way out of Arizona?
"It amazes me that [coach Ken Whisenhunt] is not being held accountable for this QB situation," Bruce writes via Facebook. "If Matt Leinart was not his guy, then why didn't he trade for Donovan McNabb? He could have had him for a nickel. And by the way, we were having these very same questions LAST YEAR about throwing down the field, and Kurt Warner was our quarterback. I don't know if Matty is the answer, but if Derek Anderson is our starting quarterback, he is a turnover machine and we will win six games this year. GOD HELP US."

For the record, the Cardinals apparently never had much interest in McNabb.

"The Cardinals are always mentioned as a possible future employer for McNabb, who has an offseason home in Chandler," Arizona Republic beat reporter Kent Somers wrote back in March. "I've never gotten the sense, however, that the Cardinals are all that high on McNabb."

They haven't seemed all that high on Leinart, either, but he was their starter all offseason and through training camp.

Did Leinart really go from potential franchise quarterback to potential second-stringer or, worse, potential candidate for trade/release? Did this transformation happen while he was completing 19 of 23 passes during the first three preseason games? Can the team really afford to walk away from its projected starter? Or will the situation settle down, with Leinart remaining part of the equation? It's tougher to envision that last scenario after Leinart questioned Whisenhunt's motives for making the change.

Bringing back Leinart made sense for Arizona. The Cardinals had used the 10th overall choice for Leinart without getting an extended chance to see him grow into the starting role. This season gave them one final chance to realize a return on their investment. Whisenhunt kept saying he was encouraged by Leinart's progress, growth, work ethic, etc. Whisenhunt still gives Leinart credit for developing in those areas. He pointed past Leinart to how the team was responding to the quarterback as a primary reason for the change to Anderson for the third (and now fourth) exhibition game. But there's no way a couple disappointing exhibition games should lead a team to part with a potential franchise quarterback -- particularly when that quarterback is putting up decent stats.

This can only happen if the Cardinals had serious reservations about Leinart all along, or if something significant happened behind the scenes more recently, or if ownership was more committed to Leinart than the coaching staff was -- an angle I'd like to hear Whisenhunt address.

Something isn't adding up.
710ESPN Seattle has posted audio from my conversation with Brock Huard and Mike Salk regarding the Seattle Seahawks' Leroy Hill and the Arizona Cardinals' Matt Leinart.

This was from Tuesday at noon ET.

Regarding Leinart, Huard recalled the time when Seattle acquired Matt Hasselbeck, at which point Huard thought he would be the Seahawks' No. 2 quarterback -- only to discover the team was bringing in Trent Dilfer. Huard was suddenly the odd man out, and he reacted negatively. Mike Holmgren came up to Huard after practice and pointed out Huard's negative body language. Huard said he couldn't channel his anger properly at that time -- and he's seen similarities in the way Leinart has reacted to losing his starting job.

Cue the audio.

Wait, there's more? Yes, with Dave Grosby, also of 710ESPN Seattle.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt offered thoughts, insights and clarifications regarding his handling of quarterback Matt Leinart during an appearance Tuesday on the Scott Van Pelt Show .

I'll pass along some highlights and offer some thoughts:
On Leinart's feeling that he needed an explanation following his benching: It was communicated with Matt last Thursday and explained that we were going to start Derek [Anderson] in Chicago, as well as the reasons behind it. I can understand if he didn’t like the explanation or if he disagreed with it. However, I am comfortable in the way it was communicated and the way we communicate to all our players in general. There were a number of other positions where we made changes. … It's really not singling one person out. It’s about trying to find the best team for us as we go into the regular season a week and a half from now.

On Leinart in general: Matt has made a great deal of progress and there is no question in my mind that he can play quarterback in this league. Once again, that is the toughest position, in my opinion, to play in this league and there is a lot that goes with it besides just statistics. It’s more about how you handle the team, how you handle situations. There is a certain quality that you have to have in that position and that is all part of the evaluation process. And I think, more importantly, is how your team responds to that player and how you handle that role. I’m not talking about Matt. I’m just saying I feel like he has made great progress in that area, but, for whatever reason, we have not performed the way we have needed to perform as an offense. We have not made the progress that we as a coaching staff felt that we needed to do. So it’s not so much about that person as it is about trying to find the right combination. Once again, I believe Matt can play. I’m not saying that at all. I am just trying to find the best match for our football team.

On possibly releasing Leinart: That’s not something we have discussed. I can tell you that. We are going to look at our quarterback position. We have two rookies that are fighting for a position on our football team as well [Max Hall and John Skelton]. We have put a lot of time and effort in with Matt in trying to help him improve as a quarterback and fit into what we do well. I would say that would be something that would take a lot of time and thought before we made any kind of decision like that.

Whisenhunt said Anderson will start in the final exhibition game Thursday night. He said Anderson is getting more snaps because the team needs to find out more about him. Whisenhunt said he put the team on notice following the exhibition opener that jobs were on the line, and that there wasn't enough progress in the second exhibition game.

Leinart's reaction to Whisenhunt's moves is understandable. He's frustrated after putting in the time and effort he felt was necessary to keep the starting job, and it's not like Anderson has lit up the practice field or opposing defenses. It's also possible the Cardinals will view Leinart's response as whining and unbecoming of a starting quarterback -- in effect, more evidence Leinart isn't suited for the role. Leinart still might be the best available option for the Cardinals heading into the season. Whisenhunt will be watching closely to see how the team responds to both quarterbacks.

Podcast: Kurt Warner on Matt Leinart

August, 31, 2010
Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner weighs in on Matt Leinart's situation, among other subjects, during his conversation with ESPN's Mike & Mike.

A few highlights from Warner's comments:
I don't know exactly the feeling within the locker room. The feeling around the community is simply that they were looking for someone to step in and do exactly what I did or our team did the last three years. It wasn't going to happen. Matt is a guy who hasn't played in a while, a young guy, still growing into the position. There was no way you can expect him to come out and do the things that I have done, especially right away.

He has been very efficient in training camp. He hasn't made a lot of mistakes. The one thing that I think people are looking at is, he has not made a lot of big plays, the impressive plays, the things that make you say, 'Wow.' I think that is the unfortunate part about it, if they have made that decision, that he didn't get the opportunity to get out there in a game, manage a game and do what he can to help them win.

The part about Leinart not making dazzling plays stands out. Perhaps Leinart has played it safe, playing not to lose his job, and he hasn't seized the opportunity in a manner coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to see. If it were only about stats, it would be tough to find fault with Leinart's numbers through three exhibition games. Leinart has completed 19 of 23 passes -- 82.6 percent -- for 161 yards, one touchdown and a 110.3 rating.
A quick look at four prominent NFC West players with notable contract situations for 2010, and how those players fit with their teams:

Arizona Cardinals: Matt Leinart



Leinart's contract carries a $2.485 million base salary this season before ballooning in value for 2011.

The Cardinals could easily justify that 2010 salary even if Derek Anderson went into the regular season as the starter. Releasing Leinart would carry no ramifications for the Cardinals because there is no salary cap.

Leinart's deal calls for him to earn at least $7.36 million in salary and $5.5 million in bonus money for 2012, however, and the Cardinals would not pay that money unless Leinart became a franchise quarterback -- something that appears unlikely given recent events.

St. Louis Rams: Oshiomogho Atogwe



The collective bargaining agreement turned Atogwe from a franchise player last offseason to a restricted free agent this offseason.

The unusual predicament gave the Rams two options: offer $1.226 million to Atogwe or guarantee him nearly $7 million. The Rams gambled some by taking the cheaper route.

Atogwe eventually signed a one-year, $4.1 million deal that can be worth $31.6 million over five years if the Rams pay an $8 million bonus to Atogwe after the season. Atogwe becomes a free agent if the Rams decline to pay the bonus.

This was the best Atogwe could do under the circumstances (beyond the tough labor restrictions, he was also recovering from shoulder and hernia surgeries). At least the Rams got to keep him for 2010.

San Francisco 49ers: Michael Lewis



The 49ers have added youth and speed at safety over the past couple seasons.

The team still values the toughness and leadership Lewis provides, but his $4.1 million salary for 2010 was a bit steep. Lewis accepted a new deal featuring a $1.7 million salary for 2010 and another $400,000 in bonus money. The final two years of his previous deal -- 2011 and 2012 -- were torn up.

Lewis becomes a free agent after the 2010 season. This was potentially his last season with the 49ers, anyway. The team drafted safety Taylor Mays in the second round this year. Reggie Smith has also developed into a potential contributor at the position.

Seattle Seahawks: Leroy Hill



A domestic violence plea agreement and one-game NFL suspension created a gap between Hill's paper value and his actual value to the team.

The sides reached a compromise this offseason. Hill accepted a 2010 salary reduction from $6 million to $2.125 million and the Seahawks wiped out the remaining years on his contract. Hill received a $60,000 roster bonus and he can earn another $300,000 in incentives.

Hill's new deal more accurately reflects his value to the team. It acknowledges that his off-field issues compromised the status his previous deal reflected.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along comments from Matt Leinart and Ken Whisenhunt after an eventful Monday at Arizona Cardinals headquarters. Leinart: "I feel like I've outplayed the competition, training camp, preseason. I think my play speaks about that. For me, this goes beyond the football field. The philosophy is you want the best 11 guys to play. I feel like I've proved that with my performance. I don't really know what else I could possibly do, so it probably goes beyond football. For me, I just really want an explanation, and I haven't been given one." I'm thinking Whisenhunt isn't looking for philosophical pointers from his quarterback. Just a thought.

Also from Somers: It's looking as though the Cardinals will be without inside linebacker Gerald Hayes for the regular-season opener.

More from Somers: Leinart and Whisenhunt have spoken, but it's looking like Derek Anderson will start the regular-season opener.

Darren Urban of has this to say about the Leinart-Whisenhunt dispute: "Does anyone really think Whisenhunt would move away from Leinart if he believes Leinart gives him a better chance to win than Anderson? I just can’t see it. Maybe Anderson starts. Maybe Leinart does. Either way, I am guessing Whiz wouldn’t jeopardize his chances at victory by making a QB choice based on anything else. The man has an engineering degree. He thinks through everything and he makes decisions very deliberately. This isn’t Denny Green, making spur-of-the-moment emotional choices -- like John Navarre starting in Detroit."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams running back Steven Jackson feels no need to play in the final exhibition game. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he's undecided on whether Jackson might play. One consideration could be getting Jackson and rookie Sam Bradford more work together before the regular-season opener. Jackson on whether he wants to play Thursday: "No. But if Coach wants me to go out there, I'm fully prepared to play however long the 'ones' are going to be out there. But me personally, no, I don't want to play."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says winning five games would equal a successful season for the Rams.

Also from Thomas: Players on the fringes of the Rams' roster fight for jobs. Ernest Reid: "I was working as a youth counselor, and in security, just bouncing around jobs," Reid said. "Finally, I decided I just wanted to finish my football and see where it takes me."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis explains how he used to make roster decisions when he was with the Rams. Softli: "I rank the team from 1-60, from the best players to the worst, Blue to Green. Blue players are difference makers with blue production, Red players are starters and heavy contributors, Orange Players are back-up special teamers with limited production and Green players are high percentage of free agents that won’t make the team. I pick the starting eleven on offense and defense. That’s 22 players. Add the second string players and you get 44. I then add a Kicker, Punter and snapper to bring the total to 47. Once I get to 47, I then choose six players I just could not go without to bring the total to 53."

Matt Maiocco of says Joe Montana watched part of practice at 49ers headquarters Monday. Maiocco: "Montana's last known visit to the 49ers' practice facility with the entire team present was June 2002 when he took part in a video for NFL Films on quarterback mechanics with Bill Walsh and several former teammates."

Also from Maiocco: Kurt Schottenheimer's role in formulating the 49ers' roster.

More from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers' defensive players fared against Oakland in the third exhibition game. On Reggie Smith: "He entered as part of the 49ers' first sub defense. He admittedly made a mental mistake when he allowed Louis Murphy to run past him in the slot for a 74-yard touchdown just before the half. But he was also in coverage on the final fourth-down play when Gradkowski tried to get the ball deep to Watkins."

More yet from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers' offensive players fared. On Brian Westbrook: "He played six snaps in his 49ers debut before leaving the game with a cramp in his hamstring. He carried twice for 17 yards. He was stuffed for no gain on his first attempt, then took a handoff out of the shotgun formation on third and 6 for a 17-yard burst up the middle. He is considered 'day to day'."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee updates 49ers injuries. Sounds like tight end Vernon Davis is doing well.

Also from Barrows: Where do Alex Boone and Diyral Briggs stand with the 49ers? Keeping Briggs on the roster seems like a priority to me. He's shown enough during preseason for another team to pick him up, I would think.

More from Barrows: a 53-man roster projection that Nate Davis would like. I don't think keeping three quarterbacks is necessarily a given.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sizes up the 49ers' options at punt returner.

Also from Barber: a look at 49ers roster battles.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says veteran Travis LaBoy isn't sweating out looming roster cuts.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers coach Mike Singletary took a low-keyed approach when given a chance to praise David Carr.

Clare Farnsworth of says Chester Pitts will get limited practice work this week for the first time since joining the Seahawks. Pitts was a good player before suffering a knee injury that required microfracture surgery. It's a significant development for Seattle if Pitts recovers well enough to start this season.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times checks in with Deion Branch, who feels good physically and also about his situation in Seattle. General manager John Schneider told Branch not to worry about rumors questioning whether Branch would return for a fifth season with the team.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks rookie Golden Tate has to work on being patient.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says an elbow injury sidelined Aaron Curry in practice Monday.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune hasn't seen much from the Seahawks' running game to this point of the exhibition season. Boling: "Of the three leading candidates for carries at tailback, Leon Washington has picked up 3.5 yards a try, while incumbents Justin Forsett and Julius Jones are both at 2.8. Give them a break … it’s not like there’s exactly been room to romp. There haven’t even been much in the way of flashes as the banged up offensive line apparently is still learning the blocking scheme with a shuffling cast of performers."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Marcus Trufant is looking to regain his Pro Bowl form. So far, so good.
The most recent NFC West mailbag sought context for perceptions that Matt Leinart could be sinking in Arizona at least in part because the Cardinals' head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, did not draft him.





Leinart played into those perceptions Monday by telling reporters he has outplayed the other quarterbacks in camp. Further, Leinart suggested Whisenhunt made the change to Derek Anderson for the third exhibition game for reasons that "probably go beyond football" -- such as Leinart not being Whisenhunt's guy, to cite the most obvious inference.

Whisenhunt cannot be happy with such insinuations. The coach's comments Monday, as relayed by Darren Urban of via the link above:
I think we have been consistent, always trying to pick the best team and pick the best players to try and win. That’s what this process is about, not whether you like somebody or don’t like somebody. It’s more about what you feel is right for the team. I have great affection for Matt and the way he has worked and what he has gone through, so I want to dispel that right away.

Whisenhunt speaks credibly on the subject. He attached conditions to Kurt Warner's starting status and he is doing the same for Leinart. One difference, however, is that Warner knew precisely what he needed to do: protect the football. Warner's close relationship with former coordinator Todd Haley gave him a direct link and better feel for the head coach. Leinart says he wants to know what more he can do; the fact that he doesn't know isn't a good sign. He sounds insecure and possibly in denial.

Could there be better communication between head coach and quarterback? No doubt. But Whisenhunt says he has thought through his approach to the matter. He wants to see how both quarterbacks react to the situation. Holding Leinart's hand through the process isn't part of the experiment. We can debate whether Whisenhunt is taking the approach most likely to get the most from Leinart, but it's tough to question his motives or track record. It's also worth pointing out that both quarterbacks improved their performance Saturday night, to the benefit of the team.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Arizona Cardinals will look beyond the stats when naming their starting quarterback for the 2010 regular season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "It's not as much about stats as it is about chemistry with the team. In that position it's about how you handle everything that's thrown at you." If the Cardinals were happy with Matt Leinart on this front, they never would have named Derek Anderson their starter for the third exhibition game. It's also unlikely Leinart would suddenly meet expectations in these areas. Anderson would appear to be the favorite to start, then, unless he also appears deficient in these areas. Whisenhunt previously said he thought through the decision. Why make the change without being reasonably certain Anderson would measure up more favorably in these areas? Anderson and Leinart both put up good numbers against Chicago on Saturday night.

Also from Somers: He thinks the Cardinals have probably made their decision at quarterback, and probably in favor of Anderson. He also asks a logical question: "Maybe the tepid endorsements (of Leinart from teammates) had something to do Whisenhunt's approach with Leinart. The coach never went all in with him, so why would the players?" Somers thinks the Cardinals would try to trade Leinart instead of releasing him, should the team decide Leinart no longer has a place on the roster.

More from Somers: Cardinals players steer clear of the quarterback discussion.

Darren Urban of also thinks Anderson is the favorite to start. Urban: "It was interesting that twice, Whisenhunt noted the quarterback choice will come down to chemistry with the team and how the QB handles things when he is in the fray -- and that it won’t necessarily be about stats. Given that Leinart has completed 19-of-23 preseason passes and not turned it over, Whiz’s comments seem to pump the brakes on the idea Leinart could be the favorite. One of the issues swirling around Leinart for a while has been whether he is able to inspire the team."

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic handicaps the Leinart-Anderson race to start for Arizona.

Clare Farnsworth of says rookie safety Earl Thomas was the team's top defensive player in the third exhibition game Saturday night. Coach Pete Carroll: "We drafted him because he’s a playmaker. He was the best playmaker in the country."

Also from Farnsworth: a closer look at Thomas' interception return for a touchdown. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy said he hasn't played with a faster teammate. Milloy: "The one thing I like about Earl, he has an attitude, too. He definitely has the potential to be very good, very special in this league if he does the right things."

More from Farnsworth: Carroll liked what he saw from his defense, even though the Seahawks lost the game at Minnesota. Also, the team might be changing its mindset on the road, as this strong statement from Matt Hasselbeck suggests: "Pete has done a great job of really changing our mindset when we go on the road. Understanding how to handle what we’re really up against when we’re on the road. If anything, I think we proved to ourselves things that have really been annoying issues on the road in the past are nothing we need to worry about because we kind of dealt with it and we know how to handle it."

Brian McIntyre of says the Seahawks' inability to get off the field on third down stands out as a problem for Seattle on defense despite some solid individual efforts against the Vikings.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Charlie Whitehurst has appeared "progressively worse" during the preseason. O'Neil: "He remains firmly entrenched as the back-up, but he was particularly bad in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game. His 47-yard pass to Golden Tate was a highlight, but his next three throws were increasingly worse, culminating in an interception that two different Minnesota defenders were vying for."

Also from O'Neil: It's been a while since anyone in the Seahawks' secondary has generated excitement the way Thomas has lately. Ken Hamlin's rookie season comes to mind. A few hard hits early in Hamlin's rookie season drew comparisons to Kenny Easley, but Hamlin could not sustain his early success. By 2005, the Seahawks found out they were better with the steadier, headier Marquand Manuel in the lineup.

More from O'Neil: The Seahawks' running game is stuck in neutral.

Greg Johns of didn't see much from Seahawks rookie Dexter Davis against Minnesota, and I would agree. Davis appeared to be running in sand on a couple pass-rush chances I saw.

John Morgan of Field Gulls counts the ways Seattle protected left tackle Mansfield Wrotto against the Vikings, noting that such tactics will not work as well over the long term.

Also from Morgan: high marks for Walter Thurmond even though the Packers exploited Seattle's rookie corner. I would agree. Thurmond is playing aggressively.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks Donnie Avery's injury will lead to more playing time for Danny Amendola, who has been nicknamed "White Chocolate" by rookie teammate Mardy Gilyard. Thomas: "It looks like Amendola gets the first crack at replacing Avery in the starting lineup opposite Laurent Robinson. Amendola already was playing a lot as the slot receiver in three-receiver sets, but this would basically put him on the field for every play on offense. The Rams didn't make a lot of personnel changes at wide receiver over the offseason. Much of their hope at the position lies in developing young returning players, many of whom got their first taste of extended NFL playing time last season." The fact that Gilyard is handing out nicknames to veterans reflects the needed swagger the rookie receiver brings to the Rams.

Also from Thomas: Patriots owner Robert Kraft prank-called new Rams owner Stan Kroenke during the recent preseason game between the teams. Fun stuff.

More from Thomas: a game-by-game look at the Rams' 2010 schedule, with a predicted upset victory over the Cardinals in Week 1.

More still from Thomas: an entertaining look at the Rams' past quarterbacks in St. Louis, featuring classic stories.

More yet from Thomas: a position-by-position look at the Rams' offense, noting that Keith Null appears likely to secure the No. 3 quarterback job.

One more from Thomas: a look at the defense, with special mention for linebacker Larry Grant, who has impressed.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Thaddeus Lewis as the rookie quarterback tries to unseat Null as the Rams' third-string quarterback.

Also from Coats: a look at how some big-name quarterbacks got their start, with Sam Bradford's development in mind.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are thrilled with Bradford. Guard Adam Goldberg: "Sam is super impressive at everything. He's super impressive in the huddle, super impressive in the meeting room. He's obviously super impressive with the ball in his hands, in the pocket, outside the pocket, handing the ball off, following through with his fakes after he hands off. He just does everything right. His [voice] volume is right. He's loud enough and clear enough so we can all hear him, but he's not nervous and yelling so the defense can hear him. He's calm and composed and nothing really shakes him."

Matt Maiocco of gives high marks to several 49ers players for their efforts against Oakland on Saturday night. Maiocco on rookie tight end Nate Byham: "He entered the game on the 49ers' second offensive snap. He's a blocking tight end who has the versatility to play in the backfield, making it unnecessary for the 49ers to retain a second fullback."

Also from Maiocco: Coach Mike Singletary was pleased with David Carr's performance under the circumstances. Nate Davis had virtually no shot at unseating Carr this offseason based on the money the 49ers committed to Carr and the experience Carr offered. We could take away the "virtually" after Singletary criticized Davis last week.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up the 49ers' roster and sees the team saving a spot for its best backup left tackle, Barry Sims. Barrows: "Sims is a known commodity, and that's what a team that expects to make the playoffs wants if something should happen to its left tackle."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are a tough, hard-hitting team.

Also from Cohn: Two days before the 49ers had trouble getting plays into the huddle on time, Alex Smith complained about headset troubles.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Raiders coach and former Idaho offensive lineman Tom Cable gave high marks to 49ers rookie guard Mike Iupati, also from Idaho.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks Smith could do a better job leading his receivers.

Mailbag: How to handle quarterbacks

August, 29, 2010
Cory from Arizona writes: I was watching a replay of the USC-Cal game from 2003 on Fox Sports last weekend. This was the year Matt Leinart took over as a starter for USC. The thing that caught my attention about the game was a comment by the announcers quoting Norm Chow. The comment was that Leinart was over-thinking in situations and the coaches told him to just go out and play football. When he started doing this, everything started clicking for him. This got me thinking about the Cardinals' handling of Leinart. I think this is why Leinart played so well his rookie year, yet has struggled when faced with competition. He started to doubt himself, and never regained his confidence. Do you think the Cardinals mishandled the transition to Leinart?

Mike Sando: Every coach must establish his approach and stick to his basic philosophy. Coaches do not treat every player exactly the same, however. They recognize which buttons to push for certain players. The goal should be to get the very best from Leinart. After watching the game Saturday night -- Leinart completed 9 of 10 passes -- perhaps coach Ken Whisenhunt is doing that in his own way.

As a Cardinals fan, you're left to trust that Whisenhunt knows the situation better than anyone and he's making the decision based on what works best for the team, not based on any personal misgivings he might have about Leinart.

Much is made of the fact that Whisenhunt inherited Leinart, but coaches can be hard even on their own hand-picked quarterbacks. I recall Mike Holmgren acquiring Matt Hasselbeck and immediately acknowledging that his tenure in Seattle would "sink or swim" based on the move. A year later, Holmgren decided Trent Dilfer gave the Seahawks a better chance to win right away. It didn't mean Hasselbeck was finished forever.

"If there was any naivete, that was kind of lost now," Holmgren said at the time. "This is the real world and you’ve got to get it done when you get a chance and some of the hard facts of the business come into it."

Hasselbeck, like Leinart now, was not happy with the move (unlike Leinart, he had started the previous season). Hasselbeck fought through his disappointment and became a good quarterback. Can Leinart do the same? Here's what Hasselbeck said after losing his job to Dilfer heading into the 2002 season:
It’s a little bit of like a football game, I guess. You’re out there on the field and playing the game and you kind of get blindsided. You get up, shake it off and just come back, keep fighting, keep playing. It’s not like this is a final decision. I was once named the starter here. Brock Huard was once the starter here. Guys are going to be named the starter. Guys are going to lose their jobs. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys are going to play well. Guys are going to play bad. It’s a long season. I hope to get another opportunity at some point and this time I’m going to make sure I’m ready.

A torn Achilles' tendon sidelined Dilfer after six starts in 2002. Hasselbeck took over and finished strong enough to win the starting job. He hasn't lost it yet. Leinart has a shot at emerging from this preseason as the starter for Week 1. He is not necessarily finished in Arizona.

Jeff from Waco, Texas writes: Sando, it appears that Niners have developed a little bit of heart this offseason. It was good to see them come back and beat the Raiders in the fourth quarter Saturday night and it's got to give this team more confidence coming to the end of preseason. But what do you think? After watching three weeks of preseason football, do the Niners have your confidence to win the division?

Mike Sando: The 49ers remain the favorite in my eyes. The preseason has only reinforced that feeling. They have the most stability and continuity in the division. They have they fewest question marks. Arizona is still searching for its quarterback. Seattle has some issues on its offensive line, plus depth problems overall. The Rams remain in the early stages. That doesn't mean the 49ers will win the division. It just means they look like the safest choice right now, based on what we know. Things change quickly, though, so you shouldn't take that division title to the bank.

How the 49ers finished against the Raiders isn't a factor in my thinking, however. There are probably key veteran players on the 49ers who couldn't tell you specifics about how that game against Oakland ended. There were a bunch of backup players out on the field. I'm sure coach Mike Singletary liked seeing the backups come back to win, but that will not have bearing on the regular season.

Barry from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hi, Mike. With Russell Okung, Ben Hamilton, Ray Willis and Chester Pitts injured, why hasn't Seattle gone out and tried to bring in some outside talent to help bolster the line? All this talk about leaving no stone unturned makes me wonder. Is it possible we are waiting until the next round of cuts to see if some serviceable players become available?

Mike Sando: NFL teams will be releasing close to 150 offensive linemen over the next 10 days or so. The Seahawks will certainly check to see if any can help their depth (they tried to claim tackle Tyler Polumbus off waivers from Denver, but the Detroit Lions' waiver claim prevailed). They will need to decide whether Willis can help them this season. They will need to decide whether Hamilton can play well enough to justify a spot on the team in a mentoring role. Mike Gibson was probably going to start that third exhibition game at left guard even if Hamilton were healthy, and he might beat out Hamilton. Pitts' injury status is nothing new. The team knew he was coming off serious surgery and may or may not be ready for the season.

Arnold from St. Louis writes: Quick question about the Rams, Mike. Why has Rodger Saffold been at left tackle this preseason and Jason Smith at right tackle? I thought the plan was for Smith to be the future left tackle. I mean, we did draft him No. 2 overall! What gives?

Mike Sando: Your thinking is sound. A tackle drafted that early should play the left side. The Rams did not expect to land Saffold in this draft, however. Once they did, they saw he was well suited to the left side, in their view, and they thought Smith fit the mold of a mauling right tackle. Does this represent the most efficient use of resources? Not in theory. But if the Rams have bookend tackles for years to come, it doesn't matter as much how they got them.

I asked general manager Billy Devaney about the situation during camp. His reply: "We lucked out with Saffold. We didn't think we were going to take a lineman after taking Jason last year, but he stuck out. That was an easy one. There wasn't a lot of discussion. As it turned out, he may wind up being our left tackle. That is fine with us."

Rams left guard Jacob Bell said Saffold reminds him of Brad Hopkins, the longtime tackle for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. Hopkins and Bell played together for the final two seasons of Hopkins' career (2004 and 2005). Bell said they have similar feet -- quick and light enough to make a pitter-patter sound in pass protection. Smith is also athletic, but he might be less refined. His sledgehammer mentality could be better suited for the right side.

In Whisenhunt they trust: QBs respond

August, 28, 2010
The Arizona Cardinals' choices at quarterback appear more favorable after coach Ken Whisenhunt replaced Matt Leinart with Derek Anderson for the team's third exhibition game Saturday night.

The chart shows how both players fared. Leinart completed his final seven attempts. He led one touchdown drive and was close to leading another until Beanie Wells lost a fumble deep in Chicago Bears territory shortly before halftime.

Whisenhunt's lineup change caught Leinart off guard. The timing of it caught some fans off guard as well. Leinart hadn't really gotten many chances to prove himself during the first two exhibition games. The switch to Anderson threatened to derail Leinart for good in Arizona, particularly if Leinart's opportunities remained limited. But the game against Chicago played out favorably for the Cardinals.

Neither quarterback was perfect. Anderson appeared off target with a few passes. Leinart held the ball too long once, inviting a sack. Leinart also might not have seen a wide-open receiver on another play (Cardinals analyst Ron Wolfley made that observation; I could not verify what he saw while watching the broadcast).

As the chart shows, both quarterbacks were effective.

First impressions: Cardinals at Bears

August, 28, 2010
Five thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals after watching the first quarter-plus of their exhibition game at Chicago on Saturday night:
  • The first-team offense looked better for Arizona and that counts as a positive for quarterback Derek Anderson. Anderson made some good throws and got results. He also appeared to be off-target a few times. Anderson missed Early Doucet with a high pass over the middle. His pass to Tim Hightower in the right flat appeared wider than Hightower was expecting. Another pass was behind Stephen Williams, although Williams made the grab anyway. Beanie Wells dropped a short pass over the middle; the ball appeared to surprise him. Overall, though, Anderson has put up good numbers to this point: 7-of-12 passing for 94 yards, one touchdown and a 111.1 rating.
  • Williams is going to make this team and he could see regular-season playing time as an undrafted free agent. There’s no question the 6-foot-5 Williams has outplayed third-round choice Andre Roberts. Williams has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown to this point. He has gained yards after the catch. He has caught imperfect passes. If coach Ken Whisenhunt believes in rewarding performance -- and he does -- Williams deserves a spot on the team.
  • Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler each picked off passes for Arizona. I'll give credit to the Arizona defensive line for roughing up Bears quarterback Jay Cutler repeatedly. Calais Campbell was particularly destructive from a Bears perspective. Cutler struggled to get much going. Chicago took advantage of the Cardinals' aggressiveness with screen-type plays on occasion. Overall, though, the defense did its job. Toler was the favorite to start coming into camp and it's looking like he's making a push for that job.
  • Beanie Wells needs to step it up. He dropped that short pass from Anderson and fumbled in the red zone during two-minute offense work right before halftime. Wells appeared down, but officials didn't see enough on replay to overturn the call. Either way, Wells must protect the ball, particularly in the red zone. Tim Hightower looks like the safest choice at running back for Arizona to this point.
  • Wells' fumble proved costly for Matt Leinart, who was leading the team down the field. A touchdown drive right before the half would have looked good on Leinart's résumé. Instead, the Cardinals suffered a turnover and went into the locker room for halftime. Leinart will get a longer look in the second half, but he won't have any momentum carrying over. Tough break for him.

I've got three games playing at once here, but it's been tough watching more than two at a time. Will need to replay the San Francisco 49ers' game at Oakland from the beginning. I've been focusing more on the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks because they have the most questions to answer going into these games.

Finally, someone speaks up for Leinart

August, 28, 2010
It's been a rough week, by NFL standards, for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart.

Three three-and-out possessions Monday night hurt his already tenuous standing, and before long coach Ken Whisenhunt announced Derek Anderson's promotion to the starting lineup for the third exhibition game Saturday night.

Reporters covering the team have offered accounts of Leinart's demotion, but if there's been a single story featuring pro-Leinart sentiments from another Cardinals player, I've missed it. There haven't been anti-Leinart comments, either -- the team has been practicing in Nashville and traveling to Chicago, diminishing media coverage -- but where is the love for Leinart?

Answer: UCLA.

"I tell you what, don’t write [Matt Leinart] off," Bruins offensive coordinator Norm Chow told 710ESPN Los Angeles, according to "I'm still convinced that he will have an extremely, extremely successful career."

What else is Chow going to say? He was the offensive coordinator at USC when Leinart played there.

"You know, he started out well and then whatever happened, happened, but I still think he’s going to have a terrific career," Chow said. "I’ve talked with him over the offseason, I know how hard he’s working, how much this means to him. I don’t have any question in my mind that he’s going to be successful at that level."

The quarterback situation will dominate discussion following the Cardinals' game at Chicago. Leinart's performance in relief will speak for him. Will any Cardinals teammates speak for him? Darnell Dockett and Larry Fitzgerald have been prolific on Twitter, but neither tweeted anything, to my knowledge, regarding their longtime teammate, Leinart, following the change.

Surely someone associated with the Cardinals must be in Leinart's corner, right? The postgame session should be interesting Saturday night.