NFC West: Leonard Little

Kurt WarnerAl Pereira/Getty ImagesKurt Warner won two league MVPs and a Super Bowl title during the Rams' memorable run from 1999-2001.
Editor’s note: revisits the NFL’s most interesting teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Compelling Teams of the Century” series. We begin with the Greatest Show on Turf -- the 2001 St. Louis Rams.

The Greatest Show on Turf won one Super Bowl, lost another and unraveled so furiously that its epitaph requires some reassembly.

Dramatic narratives have sought to explain why the St. Louis Rams fell so hard after a 1999-2001 run featuring three consecutive MVP awards, a 37-11 record and an average of 32.7 points per game.

Coach Mike Martz’s ego swallowed the team, some say. Front-office infighting poisoned the culture. Quarterback Kurt Warner’s deteriorating health precipitated a controversial and regrettable departure. Draft failures wrecked the roster. The team lost its soul when key role players departed in free agency.

Whatever the reasons, the Rams were never the same after Adam Vinatieri delivered an 48-yard field goal to put the underdog New England Patriots past St. Louis 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI, launching one NFL dynasty at the expense of another.

Throw in spying allegations against New England as a Super Bowl subplot -- more on that in a bit -- and those 2001 Rams easily qualify on’s short list for "Most Dynamic Teams of the Century." They're relevant for what they accomplished and for what happened next: a 7-9 record in 2002 and just one additional winning season for the Rams to this day.

About that epitaph ...

"It's one that escapes me as to how, one, we didn't stay together and, two, how things from that point forward did not continue to roll on," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said recently.

If only the Rams could have known then what has become apparent now.

"Success is something that you have to know how you are going to deal with it before it hits you," Faulk said. "We ran into that in a sense of people wanted credit for putting the team together. Guys on the team who had roles, they wanted to move on and become the actual guy."

So, while some of the Patriots’ core players stuck around instead of chasing more prominent roles elsewhere -- Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi come to mind -- the Rams watched Grant Wistrom, Kevin Carter, London Fletcher and others cash in elsewhere. And who could blame them? Certainly not Faulk, who had escaped Indianapolis via trade and became an MVP in St. Louis. Teams look out for their own interests, and players often must do the same. But free agency has proven over time that money doesn’t always buy the right fit.

"That core group of guys that might not be the highest paid, might not be the most visible guys, their roles and them understanding the roles is kind of what keeps it together," Faulk said. "They might not be the guys who make it into the Hall of Fame, but they are for more or less a lot of the reasons why a lot of games are won, multiple championships are won."

Defensive back Aeneas Williams, himself a Hall of Fame finalist in recent years, was new to the Rams in 2001. The team expected Williams to do for the defense what Faulk had done for the offense. That wasn't far from what happened.

Williams famously picked off Brett Favre twice in the playoffs that postseason, returning both for touchdowns. He clinched the Rams' Super Bowl berth by picking off Donovan McNabb late in the NFC Championship Game.

With Williams and first-year coordinator Lovie Smith, that Rams defense ranked among the NFL's statistical leaders almost across the board, a reversal from 2000. They were third in yards, fifth in yards per play, third in rushing yards, sixth in net yards per pass attempt, second in first downs, sixth in third-down conversion rate and seventh in scoring.

"It was one of the best seasons I had, not just the winning but the amount of talent and the amount of humility that was on the team," Williams said. "That team was special."

The Rams knew it, too. They were 3-0 and coming off a 42-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins when Smith, recently hired away from Tony Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay, delivered just the right message. Players were reveling in the victory and newfound elite status of the defense when Smith stood up to address the team. He listed off the team's accomplishments and exulted in how good it all felt. Players exulted along with him.

Smith then delivered a message that resonates with Williams to this day.

"There are some of you who are still making the same mistakes, and I'm telling you that we are looking to replace you," Smith told the team.


There was nothing condescending or demeaning about Smith's delivery or his message. He did not name names. But the message was clear.

"To have that sobering thought from your leader in such a respectful and honoring way, which was intentional as it relates to accountability, I'll never forget it," Williams said. "The teams that have coaches who hold the players accountable no matter how good they are will be the ones that consistently win."

And yet the way that 2001 Rams season ended, and what happened next, might always publicly define that team more than the 14-2 record or revitalized defense.

"That team was loaded," Faulk said. "But this is why we play the greatest sport. There is no Game 5. No Game 7. There is one game, and you have to get it right or it doesn't matter how great you were the rest of the year."

Williams, now a pastor in St. Louis, pointed to the Rams' relatively narrow 24-17 victory over the Patriots during the regular season in suggesting the fat Super Bowl point spread was more about perception than reality. He downplayed the Spygate angle while acknowledging that some teammates are more passionate about whatever advantages the Patriots might have gleaned through taping opponents' hand signals or worse.

"Without knowing, we can only speculate," Williams said. "I relish the moment and the other thing, once we played 16 games and two or three playoff games, rarely are you fooled by what a team does. In that game, it boils down to turnovers."

Faulk carries a different perspective as someone familiar with every aspect of the Rams' offensive plan. He questions whether the Patriots could have anticipated previously unused wrinkles without spying. He has alluded in the past to red zone and third-down plays. The Rams scored on their lone red zone possession. Pressed for specifics, Faulk cited the way New England adjusted to tweaks in the way Faulk went into motion, including on Warner's quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"It's extremely hard to tell you what it was, or what we did, but I will say this," Faulk explained. "The play that Kurt Warner scored on, Mike [Martz] drew that up in the dirt. The motion that I used on that play, I would love to show it to you and love to show you other plays how I went in motion and what I did so you could see it. It's just talk when you talk, but here is what we normally do and this is what we put into this game."

Related comments from Faulk made waves during Super Bowl week. Then as now, Faulk wearies of charges he's pushing conspiracy theories.

"I didn’t make the news, I didn’t make up the news about what happened, but it is what it is," he said. "You accept the loss. They beat us. It happens. You are going to lose games. Is Bill Belichick a great mind? Yes.

"But when a guy like Aeneas Williams sits at home and has to wonder whether he lost the Super Bowl or was cheated out of it, that is who I feel bad for."

Faulk, Warner, Fletcher, Wistrom, Carter, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Leonard Little and others from that 2001 team can reflect knowing they won it all two years earlier. For some, that Super Bowl against New England would be as close as they came to football immortality. At least they can know the 2001 team will not be forgotten anytime soon.
RENTON, Wash. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Seattle Seahawks open their rookie camp Friday:

  • First-round pick Bruce Irvin impressed coaches with his ability to grasp defensive concepts. That can be a concern for any rookie and particularly for one with Irvin's unusual background (out of football for two years while living on the streets). Irvin practiced with intensity. He did not get great results immediately and it was easy to see why. Alex Barron, who has practiced against Leonard Little and DeMarcus Ware over the years, was one of the few veterans in camp. While Barron's career has faltered, he remains a first-round talent and it showed in the first practice. The Seahawks are giving him a tryout. Barron, a first-round pick for St. Louis in 2005, is 29 years old and spent last season on injured reserve with New Orleans. He looked healthy and was obviously more talented than the free-agent offensive linemen in camp.
  • Coach Pete Carroll raved about running back Robert Turbin. He loved Turbin's quickness and feel for the zone running game. Turbin has huge biceps, but his lower body looks like it belongs to a smaller man.
  • Third-round quarterback Russell Wilson took twice as many snaps as any rookie and made a resoundingly positive first impression. Wilson threaded perfect passes all over the field, hitting receivers and tight ends in stride. Height, not talent, is the concern for the 5-foot-11 Wilson. He did have three passes tipped near the line of scrimmage, by my count. A couple deep balls failed to find their targets, Carroll noted. Wilson is going to get the attention of the veteran quarterbacks, it looks like.
  • Fourth-round pick Jaye Howard, a defensive tackle from Florida, impressed Carroll with his quickness.
  • The Seahawks invited draft choices' families to watch practice. All 10 picks had family in attendance on a spectacularly sunny day on the shores of Lake Washington.
  • Linebacker Korey Toomer, a fifth-round pick from Idaho, appeared athletic. He picked off a batted pass and headed for the end zone with it.
  • The Seahawks fared well with undrafted receiver Doug Baldwin last season. Phil Bates from Ohio was the undrafted receiver I noticed the most during this practice. He made a leaping grab on a deep ball. He also made a one-handed grab in traffic. He also dropped a pass later in practice. Overall, though, he looked good. Bates is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.

Players were wearing helmets, but no pads. It's tough to make lasting judgments from a camp such as this one. First impressions will have to suffice.
Torry Holt's formal retirement from the NFL -- as a St. Louis Ram, fittingly -- will touch off the usual discussions about Hall of Fame worthiness.

In the meantime, consider this an appreciation.

Holt was the NFC West wide receiver opponents feared most during the first five or six years following divisional realignment in 2002. He could beat defenses with his speed and then make spectacular, seemingly impossible plays on the ball against coverage.

Terrell Owens left the division following the 2003 season. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were still ascending. Holt's teammate in St. Louis, Isaac Bruce, remained formidable, but Holt was increasingly the dominant force.

From 2000 through 2007, Holt strung together eight consecutive seasons with at least 81 receptions and 1,188 yards. That included two 1,600-yard seasons and four others with at least 1,300 yards. He averaged 19.9 yards per reception in 2000 and 106 yards per game in 2003, figures that led the NFL in those seasons.

My previous job as a Seattle Seahawks beat reporter provided a first-hand view for some of Holt's finest moments. His eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle during a 2006 shootout at the Edward Jones Dome stands out. The Rams trailed 27-21 with three minutes remaining when Leonard Little forced a Maurice Morris fumble. Less than a minute later, Holt's 67-yard touchdown catch had the Rams in the lead.

Safety Michael Boulware had deflected the pass and nearly intercepted it. Holt somehow gathered the ball, a deep heave from Marc Bulger, and ran into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

"Until he caught it, I thought I was catching it," Boulware said at the time. "I'm still kind of ... I can't believe that he caught it."

Holt was a Seahawk killer in those days. He finished his career with 91 receptions for 1,247 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games against Seattle. But Holt did not discriminate. He lit up Arizona with 101 receptions for 1,417 yards and nine scores in 15 games. Holt had 116 receptions for 1,542 yards and seven touchdowns in 21 games against San Francisco, a team he faced in the NFC West before and after realignment.

Purely by coincidence, I cued up that 2006 Seahawks-Rams game on Tuesday night when my kids asked if they could watch an old game on their DVD player before bedtime.

We watched Holt dominate, at one point catching a 9-yard scoring pass against Marcus Trufant before Trufant could even turn to locate the ball. After a while, my youngest son, 7, asked whether Holt was in the Hall of Fame. The question was premature, as Holt will not be eligible for another five years. But the case for him is a strong one.

Holt had more receptions and receiving yards than any player from 2000 to 2009. He was fifth in receiving touchdowns during that time, a respectable total that suffered because the Rams had other options. He won one Super Bowl and played in another.

The Rams have struggled to replace Holt in recent seasons. They hold the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and could select Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, if available. Holt, the sixth player chosen in 1999, set the bar high.

Around the NFC West: 49ers own Cards?

December, 9, 2011
The NFC West rivalry between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers hasn't been much of a rivalry lately.

The Cardinals last defeated the 49ers on Nov. 10, 2008. That was 1,124 days ago.

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals' frustration has mounted during a five-game losing streak in the series. Larry Fitzgerald: "Eventually, you have to stand up and fight. Five in a row, enough has to be enough at some point. For it to be a rivalry, you have to beat them sometimes, and sometimes they’re going to beat you. We have to reclaim homefield. They’ve beaten us here the last two years and that’s not supposed to happen." Noted: The last time Arizona won in the series, Kurt Warner passed for 328 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. That game was notorious for other reasons.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals played into the 49ers' hands when the teams last played. Arizona controlled the ball for less than 16 minutes, registering its lowest time of possession for a game since at least 1981. Somers: "That presents offensive coaches with a difficult decision: Do they concentrate on being conservative and call safer plays that minimize the risk of turnovers and brief possessions? Or do they elect to take shots downfield, reasoning that not doing so plays into the 49ers' style?"

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers' contract extension with backup tackle Alex Boone comes as the team tries to re-sign several role players. Maiocco: "Among the players to whom the 49ers are believed to have offered new deals are outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, guard Adam Snyder, linebacker Larry Grant and special-teamer C.J. Spillman."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have new names for their linebackers, according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Barrows: "When Mike Nolan implemented a 3-4 defense in San Francisco several years ago, he called the strong-side inside linebacker -- the one who played on the tight end's side of the field -- 'Ted' and the weak-side inside linebacker 'Mike.' The positions continued to be called that under Mike Singletary. Last year, for example, Patrick Willis was the 'Mike' linebacker and Takeo Spikes was 'Ted.' This year the names are different. The strong-side linebacker is called 'Mike' and the position is played by NaVorro Bowman. The weak-side inside linebacker is called 'Jack' and is played by Willis and now Grant." Noted: The game would improve, in my view, if coaches ever settled on one terminology. Players could learn one language at the youth level and continually perfect it over their careers.

Also from Barrows: 49ers great Joe Perry suffered from brain trauma likely related to his playing career.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are getting more from their wideouts.

Also from Inman: a music review on a song based around a mantra from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with offensive line coach Tom Cable, who has this to say about the recently injured Russell Okung: "Really good. Big time. He was playing like you’d expect a guy you draft that high to play. Particularly the last five or six weeks, I don’t think anybody was playing at his level at that spot. It was just dominant, protecting the quarterback and you can run to him you can run away from him."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the NFL did not consider Okung's injury in determining how much to fine Philadelphia's Trent Cole for throwing Okung to the ground. Coach Pete Carroll: "They can't deal with a violation in terms of kind of the impact it has on the other player. That's not a factor for them."

Bob Stelton and Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle say the Seahawks' Zach Miller is making significant contributions as a blocker.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks the Seahawks are on track despite their 5-7 record this season and 12-16 record under Carroll.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts as to why the Seattle Seahawks have fared better than the St. Louis Rams despite suffering through similar injury losses. Nelson: "Part of the difference between the two teams is that the Seahawks have sustained their recommitment to the ground game, led by Marshawn Lynch. He has reached 100 yards in four of the last five games, has 591 rushing yards since Week 9 and 854 yards on the ground this season. Seattle has strung together five consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing as a team, its longest streak since 2005." Noted: Personnel differences are a big part of the disparity. The Seahawks have generally had better replacements.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with injured Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who says he hasn't thought about finishing the season on injured reserve. Thomas: "For the second day in a row, Tom Brandstater took all the reps in practice with the starters. Kellen Clemens, claimed on waivers Wednesday from Houston, wasn't at practice. He had travel complications and was still en route while the Rams practiced Thursday. So that leaves Clemens with only two practice days -- today and Saturday -- to get ready to play Seattle."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis thinks the Rams should protect Bradford by placing him on injured reserve.

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis has this to say about Chris Long's 12-sack season through 12 games: "Long joins the discussion as one of the best left defensive ends the Rams have lined up in St. Louis. Right now, it's a three-man race between Kevin Carter, Leonard Little and Long. Heading into Monday night's matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, Long leads the team with 12 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. He hasn't missed a game and hardly a series. I smell a big new contract in his future. He's playing like the beast we're all hoping that he turns into, being a consistent threat much like DeMarcus Ware or Jared Allen."

Silver linings: Rams vs. 49ers

December, 5, 2011
The facts: The St. Louis Rams fell to 2-10 with a 26-0 road defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Chris Long collected two more sacks, giving him 12 for the season. Long has the most sacks by a Rams player since Leonard Little had 13 in 2006. Kevin Carter had 17 in 1999, the most for a Rams player since the NFL began tracking sacks officially during the 1982 season. Kevin Greene twice had 16.5-sack season with the team. Pro Football Reference shows all Rams players with at least 12 sacks during the sack era. Long joins a list featuring Carter, Little, Greene and Mike Wilcher. Long has at least one sack in each of the Rams' last six games. He added two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits Sunday.
  • Steven Jackson moved within 16 yards of Henry Ellard for third place on the Rams' all-time list for all-purpose yardage. Jackson has 11,691 all-purpose yards.
  • Quarterback Sam Bradford gained a week to get his high-ankle sprain healthier. Bradford aggravated the injury during practice.
  • Brandon Lloyd made another improbable catch, this one for a 34-yard gain along the sideline.
  • The Rams' defense held the 49ers to field goals on all four San Francisco possessions in the red zone.
Looking ahead: The Rams visit the Seattle Seahawks on "Monday Night Football" in Week 14.
About those quarter-by-quarter sack numbers discussed here earlier:
  • The St. Louis Rams had at least twice as many fourth-quarter sacks (16) as any other team in the division. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins had four of his six sacks in fourth quarters. Defensive end James Hall had five of his 10.5 sacks in fourth quarters. Those two combined for more fourth-quarter sacks than any other NFC West team.
  • The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith had only one of his 8.5 sacks in fourth quarters last season, down from 3.5 in 2009 and three in 2008.
  • The Seattle Seahawks' Chris Clemons had five of his division-leading 11 sacks in third quarters. Clemons and Hall were the only NFC West players with five sacks in any quarter. Seattle's Raheem Brock had 4.5 in second quarters.
  • The Rams' production for 2010 is impressive given that their leading sacker over the past decade, Leonard Little, had transitioned into retirement. Little's 82 sacks since 2001 are easily the most in the division during that span. Chike Okeafor (49.5) is next, followed by Julian Peterson (42), Bertrand Berry (40) and Grant Wistrom (32.5).

The first chart shows team-by-team sack numbers, by quarter.

The second chart shows quarterly sack numbers for the five NFC West players with more than six sacks last season. Smith also had one sack during overtime.

Draft hindsight: Big Ben and beyond

January, 31, 2011
SteelersUS PresswirePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and LaMarr Woodley are all playing in Super Bowl XLV, but could they have ended up in the NFC West coming out of college?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers appeared loose and comfortable during their first Super Bowl 45 media session.

They've been in big games before, and frequently, thanks largely to shrewd drafting.

This is the Steelers' third Super Bowl appearance in the last six seasons.

The team made available James Farrior, Flozell Adams, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley during its initial media session Monday -- just the opportunity I needed to produce an item corresponding to the one titled, "Draft hindsight: Aaron Rodgers and beyond".

The idea: to examine a Super Bowl team's featured players -- in this case, the ones made available Monday -- with an emphasis on draft status and the decisions NFC West teams made in the same rounds. Not every team held a choice in every featured round.

The Arizona Cardinals had a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they came out OK.

Here goes ...

1997 Draft: James Farrior, LB, Virginia

Round: First (eighth overall, by the New York Jets)

NFC West spin: Farrior is a two-time Pro Bowl choice, but the NFC West offers no apologies for passing over him. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones became perennial Pro Bowl tackles. Jones became the best player in Seahawks history, in my view. Shawn Springs made one Pro Bowl trip and picked off 33 passes during a 13-year career. The Cardinals had no shot at Farrior. They chose Tommy Knight one pick later. He started 54 games in six NFL seasons. Rumor says the 49ers selected a quarterback in the first round of this draft.

First-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (first overall): Pace, T, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (third overall): Springs, CB, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (sixth overall): Jones, T, Florida State
  • Cardinals (ninth overall): Knight, CB, Iowa
  • 49ers (26th overall): Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
1998 Draft: Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State

Round: Second (38th overall, by Dallas)

NFC West spin: Adams became a five-time Pro Bowl choice with Dallas. His career appeared finished, or close to it, until injuries led the Steelers to call on him this season. Arizona passed on Adams twice. Safety Corey Chavous, chosen five spots before Adams, went to a Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was a productive player for roughly a decade. Tackle Anthony Clement, chosen two spots before Adams, started more than 100 games for three teams.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Corey Chavous, SS, Vanderbilt
  • Cardinals (36th overall): Anthony Clement, T, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Rams (37th overall): Robert Holcombe, FB, Illinois
  • Seahawks (47th overall): Todd Weiner, T, Kansas State
  • 49ers (58th overall): Jeremy Newberry, C, California
1998 Draft: Hines Ward, WR, Georgia

Round: Third (92nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Rams and Seahawks found Pro Bowl-caliber players when they passed over Ward in the third round. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green prematurely, however, after coach Mike Holmgren grew weary of early fumble problems. The 49ers missed on tackle Chris Ruhman three choices before Ward went to Pittsburgh. Ruhman played in six games with the 49ers, starting none. He played in 11 NFL games with two starts overall. The 49ers passed on Ward even though Jerry Rice had suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1997 opener.

Third-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (65th overall): Leonard Little, DE, Tennessee
  • Seahawks (76th overall): Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska
  • 49ers (89th overall): Chris Ruhman, T, Texas A&M
2002 Draft: Brett Keisel, DE, BYU

Round: Seventh (242nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The 49ers drafted longtime starting guard and center Eric Heitmann three spots before the Steelers found Keisel. Pittsburgh could use Heitmann this week after the Steelers' starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, suffered a severely sprained ankle during the AFC Championship Game. Keisel became a Pro Bowl choice for the first time this season, distinguishing him from 2002 NFC West seventh-rounders. The Rams found their mainstay snapper in this draft. Keisel was gone when the 49ers found guard Kyle Kosier, who started 29 games for them and remains a starter with Dallas.

Seventh-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (223rd overall): Mike Banks, TE, Iowa State
  • Seahawks (232nd overall): Jeff Kelly, QB, Southern Mississippi
  • 49ers (239th overall): Heitmann, C, Stanford
  • Rams (243rd overall): Chris Massey, LS, Marshall
  • 49ers (248th overall): Kyle Kosier, G, Arizona State
  • 49ers (256th overall): Teddy Gaines, DB, Tennessee
2004 Draft: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio

Round: First (11th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Roethlisberger and came away with a potential Hall of Fame receiver. No complaints there, even though quarterbacks are more valuable than receivers. None of the other NFC West teams had a shot at Roethlisberger. Seattle and St. Louis were set at quarterback, anyway.

First-round selections in the division: 2007 Draft: LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Michigan

Round: Second (46th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals could certainly use Woodley now, and badly, but they had already invested millions in the position heading into the 2007 draft. Free-agent additions Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry had combined for 14.5 sacks during the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they haven't gotten enough from their second-round investment in Alan Branch.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Branch, DL, Michigan
  • Rams (52nd overall): Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
  • Seahawks (55th overall): Josh Wilson, CB, Maryland

OK, all done, and just in time. teammates Mike Reiss, Kevin Seifert and I are heading out to the Packers' media session next. Seifert is driving and he doesn't wait for anyone. Gotta jam.

Around the NFC West: Fitzgerald's laments

December, 15, 2010
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald wants to win more than he wants to make another dollar. These comments are relevant given that the Cardinals are not winning and Fitzgerald's contract expires after next season. The deal features a no-trade clause and a provision preventing the Cardinals from naming Fitzgerald their franchise player. Fitzgerald: "When you're playing on a team that isn't having any success, it isn't a lot of fun. This year has been physically grueling and psychologically grueling. The toughest year of my career, hands down." Update: The no-trade clause was removed for the 2011 and voidable 2012 seasons of the deal.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, one of the team's more productive players this season. Rhodes: "My favorite pro basketball team is the Dallas Mavericks. And my favorite college teams, there's two. I've got to say Louisville, because that's my school and I have a lot of love for them. But my favorite college basketball team is the Duke Blue Devils. ... I'm a big fan of Dirk Nowitzki. He's a great player but he still catches a lot of flack for not getting that championship and I like guys who are in that position and have something to prove."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at how the Cardinals have been getting John Skelton ready in case the team needed him to start at quarterback. Somers: "Skelton's days became a little busier a few weeks ago, when he started meeting with Chris Miller individually on Thursday and Friday afternoons for mental work. They went over plays, formations and adjustments. Skelton would go up the board and draw the whole thing out, including reads, progressions and other adjustments."

Darren Urban of says Arizona will continue putting its best players on the field instead of forcing younger backups into the lineup with an eye toward the future.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks do not regret parting with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch even though injuries have wiped out the receiver position. O'Neil: "Those were long-term decisions made with an eye toward developing younger players and building the roster for the future. But the subtractions carried a risk, too, and now Seattle is left waiting for Obomanu's right hand to heal so he can catch passes and Williams' left foot to recover. Neither was active for the last game, but both are expected to practice Wednesday, according to Pete Carroll." The Seahawks' record would be no better, in my view, had they kept either veteran receiver. It's possible their record might be worse if keeping those players diminished opportunities for Mike Williams.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are no more competitive now than they were when they fired previous coach Jim Mora. Kelley: "Carroll and general manager John Schneider cut and culled the roster. They brought in every ambulatory offensive lineman and every pass-catching body they could find. They turned over the roster like a couple of farmers turning over the soil and came up with ... the same old Seahawks. The same old results." The Seahawks need to get better on both lines. That was the case last season. The difference now: They have their franchise left tackle, Russell Okung, and a productive pass-rusher in Chris Clemons. They had neither a year ago. Seattle appears no closer to resolving its long-term quarterback issues. That is the biggest downer of the 2010 season from Seattle's perspective, in my view.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at a couple playoff scenarios for Seattle.

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest takes a closer look at the Wildcat play Seattle ran effectively against the 49ers.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams defensive end Leonard Little has retired. Sometimes the league makes that decision for players. The phone stops ringing, or when it does, the offers aren't worth the player's time. Little: "I didn't want to leave there and leave a hole to be filled, but Chris Long started playing well last year, and I felt comfortable walking away from it."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he offers thoughts on rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard. Thomas: "Let's cut to the chase on Gilyard. He was a fourth-round pick, not a first or second or third round pick. And right now, he's not good enough to play ahead of Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson or Danario Alexander, regardless of the reason. I wouldn't, however, mind seeing him return kickoff once again. Keep in mind the last time he tried to return a kickoff -- against San Francisco -- he couldn't even catch the football. So I'm not sure the coaching staff has much confidence in him at this point." Some rookie receivers have a tougher time than others. It's not like Seattle is getting great contributions from second-round choice Golden Tate.

More from Thomas: The Rams and their Week 15 opponent, Kansas City, appear to be on similar tracks. Both teams' long-time owners died in recent seasons, and both teams are improving.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will define their season over the next three games.

Nick Wagoner of says the team is making adjustments heading into the final three games of the regular season. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "What I did talk about a little bit today was starting today it’s about getting ready for Sunday’s game. It’s about extra rest. It’s about taking care of your body; it’s about coming back on Wednesday with the determination to make sure we are not sitting here next Monday feeling the same way. I don’t think it’s status quo Wednesday, Thursday, Friday this week. I think everything has to go up a notch. I think they’ll come back that way, I really do."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers' linebackers are banged up. Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes have hand issues heading into the 49ers' game Thursday night.

Also from Maiocco: Under what circumstances could Alex Smith return to the 49ers?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Willis has played well with hand injuries in the past. Barrows: "Patrick Willis scholars will recall that Willis played with a cast on his right hand during his junior season at Ole Miss (that protected a broken finger) and that he also broke a bone in his right hand in Week 9 during his rookie season with the 49ers. Not only did that injury fail to slow Willis down, he seemed to gain strength when the club was placed on his hand, and he led the league in tackles that year. (Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco -- he was still Chad Johnson back then -- dubbed Willis 'Bam Bam' for the reckless abandon with which he played while wearing the club.)"

Also from Barrows: why Fox played music during the Seahawks-49ers game Sunday. Fox executive Dan Bell says the network wanted to add a dramatic score to the game as part of an experiment. Barrows: "Bell said the intent was to give the game the same type of drama that a great musical score provides a sports movie like 'Rocky' or 'We Are Marshall.' He said that the 49ers-Seahawks game was the first time the music was unveiled (yes, you were the guinea pigs) and stressed that at this point it was still in the experimental stage. Bell said the network would continue to 'tweak' the concept this season but that he didn't know which future games would include it." Bell says the network thinks some sort of musical score will become part of watching games on TV.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with 49ers running back Anthony Dixon, who is seeking to refine his running style.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Michael Crabtree hasn't found a role in the 49ers' offense to this point.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Spikes might have to start picking off passes with one hand.
The Seattle Seahawks' decision to unveil Walter Jones' already retired jersey number (71) during their game against Carolina in Week 13 seems fitting.

Jones, whose number was retired when he announced his retirement April 29, turned in one of his more memorable performances against Carolina the last time the Panthers visited Qwest Field.

Check out this video at the 3:01 mark to see what I'm talking about. The sequence shows Jones at his dominant best during the Seahawks' victory over the Panthers in the NFC title game following the 2005 season.

Seattle took the best offensive line in the league -- and in its history -- into the playoffs that season. Center Robbie Tobeck and right guard Chris Gray had started 80 consecutive games together at that point. Jones had started 78 of those games, missing two during a contract dispute. Left guard Steve Hutchinson had started 68 of the 80, missing 12 after suffering a broken leg during his second NFL season. Right tackle Sean Locklear was a newcomer to the line that season; I remember him matching up well against the St. Louis Rams' Leonard Little.

The Seahawks finished that season with 361 first downs. They are on pace for 249 this season. That 2005 line helped Shaun Alexander convert all 16 chances on third-and-1. That season ended a five-year run during which time Alexander averaged 1,501 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns per season.

The team announced Wednesday that it would unveil Jones' No. 71 for display at Qwest Field during the two-minute warning before halftime Sunday.

Earlier: Walter Jones appreciation.

Home cooking: Rams' sack pace soars

October, 18, 2010
Multiple factors affect a team's sack totals over the course of a season.

For the St. Louis Rams, having a more competitive team overall has created more favorable situations to rush opposing quarterbacks. And the team has probably done a better job capitalizing on its opportunities.

St. Louis has also played four of its first six games at home, collecting 14 of its 17 sacks in those games.

Still, the gains have been impressive.

The Rams had 25.0 sacks while posting a 1-15 record last season. The team already has 17.0 sacks in six games this season after collecting seven against Philip Rivers and San Diego in Week 6. That puts the Rams on pace for 45.3 sacks this season, which would equate to an increase of 81.3 percent. The pace could be difficult to keep with only four home games remaining, but the 2009 Rams did collect 14 of their 25 sacks away from the Edward Jones Dome.

The chart shows sack totals and 2010 sack paces for every player with a sack for the Rams last season or this season. The NFL issues full sacks or half sacks; I did not round off projected totals for the 2010 season, even though it's impossible for a player to finish with, say, 5.3 sacks. I wanted the projected totals for each player to match the projected team total.

Fred Robbins and George Selvie were not with the Rams in 2009. Leonard Little and LaJuan Ramsey had sacks for the team last season, but neither returned.

Veteran James Hall is on pace for 16.0 sacks after collecting two more Sunday. He also blocked a field goal attempt during the Rams' 20-17 victory. Hall has collected five of his six sacks this season during home games.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Dirty laundry

September, 10, 2010
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford makes his NFL regular-season debut against some rough-and-tumble Arizona Cardinals defenders.

The chart, put together with information from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, shows NFC West defensive players with the most penalties since 2005 under categories labeled roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting, horse-collar tackle, personal foul, disqualification and 15-yard facemask.

These penalties include only those committed while playing for NFC West teams. They include playoff games.

Joey Porter, signed by the Cardinals in free agency, has eight such penalties since 2005. Bryan Robinson, signed by the Cardinals in 2008, ranks tied for ninth on the list with four. He had four additional penalties in these categories while playing for Cincinnati from 2005 to 2007.

Not that Bradford needed anything additional to think about.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)

Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)

Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)

San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)

The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Matt Maiocco of says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was particularly sharp in practice Wednesday. Maiocco: "Smith could not have thrown the deep ball better when he put four consecutive passes on the money during a passing drill. On consecutive go-routes against man coverage, Smith hit Brandon Jones, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn with perfect passes approximately 40 yards down field. Crabtree, however, dropped his pass."

Also from Maiocco: Chilo Rachal sat out practice a day after suffering from dehydration.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams, a seventh-round draft choice trying to catch the coaches' attention.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers carted off linebacker Scott McKillop with a knee injury diagnosed initially as a sprain.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers shuffled their offensive line thanks to personnel changes. Barrows: "Tony Wragge is clearly ahead of Cody Wallace at center, and he's been the No. 2 center since training camp began. (Baas also had taken some snaps at center before his concussion). Adam Snyder's chances of making the team go up because he can both play inside and outside on the offensive line. Both Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are very inconsistent, which is what you'd expect from a rookie on Day 4 of training camp. In one instance, Iupati is mowing down the opposing defensive end as he did against Khalif Mitchell this morning. On the next two, he is beaten by Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, respectively. Davis, meanwhile, has been the culprit on a couple of blown protections the last two days. Today he was beaten soundly by Parys Haralson who disrupted Alex Smith." It's all good for the 49ers as long as Iupati and Davis are getting extended work with the first-team offense. They need the reps.

Taylor Price of says the 49ers will hold only one practice Thursday and it will be in Monterey.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' Delanie Walker suffered a concussion.

Also from Brown: Jerry Rice's legacy and its impact on current 49ers players.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says during a chat that the Cardinals have been impressed with inside linebacker Paris Lenon. Somers: "They like Paris Lenon a lot. They watched him video the past few years and say he didn't make a lot of mistakes. Washington has been good. He can really run. My guess is he will open the season playing in passing situations and then maybe work into the starting unit."

Also from Somers: Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick suffered a knee injury and will undergo an MRI exam. The injury was initially diagnosed as a sprain. Patrick is the most versatile tight end on the team. Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach are primarily blockers.

More from Somers: What's in a number for strong safety Adrian Wilson?

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated checks in from Cardinals camp. Wilson on Matt Leinart: "To be honest with you, Matt has really jumped out at me. He's been a much more vocal leader. He wasn't like that in the past. The quarterback position is the head position; everybody looks up to it. Matt wasn't just thrown in that spot, he had to wait a while. I think he's really matured and it's showing. If he misses on a ball, he knows it's his fault and not the receiver's fault. That's just something he has really grown into." I haven't gotten the sense Leinart's job has been in question this summer. It's easier to be assertive without that doubt. However, it's also important for Leinart to play well enough consistently enough to make it obvious he's a legitimate starter. He'll need to do that the rest of the summer.

Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic says Early Doucet is shooting for a breakout season.

Darren Urban of offers notes from practice, plus a photo of former Cardinals pass-rusher Bertrand Berry in his new role as reporter.

Also from Urban: This Cardinals training camp is more intense.

More from Urban: Beanie Wells is much more comfortable in Arizona than he was one year ago.

Greg Johns of looks at recent roster moves for Seattle, including the addition of defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. Johns: "The Seahawks aren't particularly thin at defensive tackle with starters Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole backed up by veterans Craig Terrill, Kevin Vickerson and Jonathan Lewis. Vickerson, a 6-5, 321-pounder obtained from Tennessee in the LenDale White trade on draft day, has shown flashes of considerable power at times early in camp. But GM John Schneider has made it clear he's willing to look for talent anywhere he can find it, so the Seahawks apparently will bring in Pitcock to see what he can offer."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times asks whether the grueling camp Seattle conducted under Jim Mora one year ago contributed to a poor finish. O'Neil: "Consider Mora's regular-season record. In four seasons as an NFL head coach, his teams were 25-19 before Dec. 1 (.568). His record after Dec. 1? 6-14 (.300)." New coach Pete Carroll gave the Seahawks a day off from practice Wednesday. Several teams give players down days on occasion.

Clare Farnsworth of reviews the first four days of Seahawks training camp. Farnsworth: "Matt Hasselbeck has been en fuego, but his touchdown pass to rookie Golden Tate on Monday afternoon was a beauty. As Tate slipped behind cornerback Cord Parks, Hasselbeck not only hit Tate in stride, he put a little something extra on the pass so Tate could make the catch before running out of end zone."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the competition between backup quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman. Boling: "Whitehurst is more nimble than one might expect, given his height. And he has a decent enough presence in the pocket. But his pure passing and arm strength do not appear to be the equal of Losman’s. Two plays in recent team drills seem fair comparisons. On one deep pass, receiver Golden Tate got behind cornerback Josh Wilson. Whitehurst put too much air under the ball, and as it finally nosed downward, Wilson had time to recover and deflect the pass. On the other side, Losman saw Deon Butler streaking up the sideline past his coverage. With a lower trajectory and more velocity, Losman’s pass was out in front of Butler where he could run it down. Butler didn’t make a great adjustment to it, though, and it fell incomplete. But not because the pass wasn’t there. Whitehurst looked very competent in a two-minute drill on Tuesday. Losman countered with continued zip on his ball, including one sideline completion of an 'out' route that was absolutely humming as it reached the receiver."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams defensive end Leonard Little is undecided about continuing his career. Most veterans with Little's age and experience aren't excited about participating in training camp. Little: "Sometimes I feel like I want to come back," Little said. "Sometimes I feel like I don't. It's a hard decision to make when you're used to playing football. I've been playing football since I was 5 years old. I love the game. And I do miss it. But my decision is not going to be about football. It's going to be about other things -- things I'd rather not talk about right now."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is working through the usual rookie mistakes. Bradford: "We've put a lot [of the offensive scheme] in every day," Bradford said. "And the more we put in, the more I have to think. ... Once we get everything in and I've repped everything, I think I'll feel more comfortable. I think it's just a matter of me really adjusting to the speed and all the different variations can that occur in a play."

Also from Coats: Bradford has high expectations for the offense.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat updates Rams injuries, noting that Ron Bartell suffered a low ankle sprain and tight end Eric Butler has a shoulder injury.

Also from Korte: Bradford says he's having fun working the "best job in the world."

Are the Rams really any better?

July, 27, 2010
Jesper from Denmark graced the NFC West mailbag with a position-by-position evaluation of the St. Louis Rams. He thinks the team has gotten worse at several positions. He also thinks I've been a little too optimistic in my assessments of the team's prospects for 2010. I liked the clear, concise way Jesper presented his case. I'll pass along his thoughts and add my own.


Jesper: Marc Bulger is better than A.J. Feeley. Sam Bradford is a rookie who has not been described as very pro ready. Verdict: worse.

Sam Bradford
AP Photo/Tom GannamSam Bradford might not be ready to start.
Sando: The Rams' outlook at the position has improved, but you're right about the short-term prospects. I think the Rams would be foolish to open the regular season with Bradford at quarterback, even if Bradford looks better than Feeley during training camp. Bulger had five touchdowns, six interceptions and a 70.7 rating last season. I'm not expecting much better from the Rams at that position this season.

Running back

Jesper: Steven Jackson had more than 350 touches last season. He is coming off back surgery. It's hard to imagine him producing the same numbers, and there has been no attempt to get a decent backup. Verdict: At best the same/possibly worse.

Sando: I see this position as a downgrade for sure simply because it's unrealistic to expect the same production from Jackson following back surgery. This position could turn into a big problem for the Rams if Jackson breaks down physically. However, there's a good chance Jackson will be a productive player this season, based on my conversations with ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell.

Wide receiver

Jesper: Laurent Robinson is back from injury, but can we really judge him from seeing him play 2.5 games last year? Can he even stay healthy? Avery's receptions and yardage went down in his second season and he has in no way lived up to his status as the first receiver drafted in 2008. Then you've got a bunch of no-names, and Mardy Gilyard, a rookie (how often do rookie receivers produce?). Verdict: same.

Sando: This group could improve through better health. I agree that some of the guys appear prone to injuries. Brandon Gibson was a player you might have mentioned. Overall, though, it's not a stretch to say this group appears similar to last season. I would expect some improvement, though.

(Read full post)

Age rankings for every NFL team

July, 12, 2010
Rookie free agents and other young prospects drag down age stats for NFL teams this time of year.

The relative averages are more relevant than the averages themselves.

The chart shows where NFL teams ranked in average age heading into the weekend. The figures count undrafted free agents and unsigned draft choices. They do not count kickers, punters or snappers because older players at those positions could distort averages in a misleading way.

Having an older roster can be fine and even preferable as long as the team is contending. Being old and bad leads to massive roster overhauls. The St. Louis Rams fit the profile two years ago, leading to a dramatic roster overhaul that continued this offseason.

Quick thoughts on each NFC West team's current age ranking, based on the rosters I maintain for every team, and not counting specialists:

12. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals subtracted Kurt Warner, but they're counting on 33-year-olds Clark Haggans, Alan Faneca and Joey Porter. The team also re-signed 36-year-old nose tackle Bryan Robinson.

Arizona does have good young players, though.

13. Seattle Seahawks

This ranking was higher than I would have anticipated given how much coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have talked about embracing youth.

Seattle re-signed Lawyer Milloy and added two more older players, receiver Sean Morey and guard Ben Hamilton, as free agents.

18. San Francisco 49ers

More than half the 49ers' starters could be 26 or younger, the highest total in the division (based on tentative projections): Vernon Davis, Parys Haralson, Alex Smith, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson, Joe Staley, Patrick Willis, Josh Morgan, Chilo Rachal, Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree and the youngest player on the roster, 20-year-old tackle Anthony Davis.

28. St. Louis Rams

The Rams were generally among the three youngest teams on average last season. They added some seasoning this offseason by signing Fred Robbins, A.J. Feeley, Chris Hovan and Na'il Diggs. Those four players are between 32 and 33 years old.

The Rams remain one of the NFL's youngest teams after adding 11 draft choices, releasing Marc Bulger and failing to re-sign three unrestricted free agents in their 30s (Randy McMichael, Leonard Little and Clinton Hart).