NFC West: Luke Butkus

Vernon Davis was honest during his nationally televised interview Sunday. He wanted the New York Giants to beat the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, the only scenario producing another home game for his San Francisco 49ers.

I wondered how long it would take for that interview, or others like it, to repackage itself as disrespect for the Giants. Three days was the answer.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has the details, including this quote from Giants safety and NFC West alum Antrel Rolle: "If he said that, I can only hope that he was saying just because they wanted to get a home game. You know, they better be careful for what they ask for because their wish has been granted and we will see those boys come Sunday." Noted: The 49ers naturally wanted to play at home. The Giants naturally did not want to play in the Superdome, a brutally tough environment for opposing offenses.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says a couple 49ers took the talk to Twitter. Anthony Davis: "Are the Giants doing drunk interviews? Lol." Inman also revisited comments from the Giants heading into Week 10, specifically one by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who had called 49ers quarterback Alex Smith a game manager, in a bad way.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers his offensive player review from the divisional round against New Orleans. On Michael Crabtree: "Started at played 56 plays in the game. He caught four passes for 25 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown on a quick slant in the first quarter. He made a crucial block on Alex Smith's TD run. He had one flat-out drop and did not secure catches on two other passes that hit his hands."

Also from Maiocco: his defensive player review. On Patrick Willis: "He played the entire game and had the difficult assignment of trying to keep up with 6-foot-7 tight end Jimmy Graham in coverage. Willis recorded 10 tackles and recovered a fumble in the first quarter after Donte Whitner's big hit on running back Pierre Thomas. Graham twice elevated over Willis for receptions that turned into touchdowns. The first was on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brees in the second quarter. On the second touchdown, Willis ran with Graham down the field but didn't find the ball on the back-shoulder throw. Willis was then taken out of the play, as Donte Whitner arrived and Graham turned it into a 66-yard touchdown."

Jim Trotter of SI.com takes a closer look at Smith's redemption this season, noting that friends and family had urged the 49ers' quarterback to start fresh elsewhere.

Monte Poole of Bay Area News Group checks in with Vernon Davis, who remains thankful for all he went through under former coach Mike Singletary.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Roger Craig expects the 49ers to win multiple Super Bowls.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along thoughts from Rams players regarding Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach. Steven Jackson: "I'm very excited. I think what Jeff brings is that he's been a head coach and he has been successful in this league. The other coaches that I've had after Mike Martz were all successful at the time and trendy and hot, but Jeff brings stability, he brings credibility. He's played in the league. He was 1-yard away from winning the Super Bowl."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Fisher brings a strong presence.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams owner Stan Kroenke would not commit to keeping the team in St. Louis for the long term. Kroenke: "I think this is all out there. The chronology of what occurs with the lease is public knowledge. I think for me to comment on that process is particularly (un)timely. The city, or the (stadium) authority, they're dealing with their side of it. And they present a proposal to us by Feb. 1. So there's a team in place that deals with all that. So we'll see how that process sorts itself out. But it's a thing that takes place over time."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says this marks the first time since 2001 that the Seahawks have gone into an offseason without appearing in the postseason or making a significant front-office change. O'Neil: "It's good for the Seahawks in terms of continuity. The franchise has had four different offensive coordinators the past four seasons. There are no indications that Tom Cable, the team's offensive-line coach and associate head coach, is headed elsewhere. Seattle lost assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus, who went to his alma mater at Illinois. Assistant special teams coach Jeff Ulbrich took a spot on Jim Mora's coaching staff at UCLA. Those are minor changes, though."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle or its division rivals have won a playoff game every year since 2004. No other division can make that claim.

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle rookies K.J. Wright and Ricardo Lockette reflect on the Seahawks' home-field advantage.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have re-signed members of their coaching staff, ending speculation that Russ Grimm, Freddie Kitchens and others might find opportunities elsewhere. Somers: "Meanwhile, the Cardinals are said to still be interested in bringing former offensive coordinator Todd Haley back to the coaching staff. It remains to be seen what position he might be offered and how head coach Ken Whisenhunt might shuffle his staff. The team has only its quarterbacks-coach vacancy to fill following the dismissal of Chris Miller. The team was expected to interview candidates this week at its Tempe training facility. No names have surfaced publicly. It is doubtful Haley, fired this past season as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, would return to coach the quarterbacks."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with former Cardinals tackle Lomas Brown.
Finishing with a 13-3 record will not equate to lifetime job security for the San Francisco 49ers' current players. The team will try to upgrade at various spots during the offseason, as usual.

The smart money says San Francisco will re-sign quarterack Alex Smith and install him as the starter while continuing to develop 2011 second-round choice Colin Kaepernick. But what if the team had an opportunity to find a quarterback with far better credentials than Smith? Would the team bypass that opportunity for the sake of continuity?

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says making a run at Peyton Manning would not make sense for the 49ers. Maiocco: "Peyton Manning's future is uncertain with the Indianapolis Colts, who are expected to select quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. But don't look for Manning, who turns 36 in March and missed this season with a neck injury, to have any chance of ending up with the 49ers." Noted: I tend to agree and question whether Manning has much of a future given his age and injury status. But I also would not take Harbaugh's public support for any player as an unconditional commitment to staying the course. Opportunities arise unexpectedly and teams, like players, must act in their best interests.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith and running back Frank Gore each played 16 games in a season for the first time since 2006. Knapp: "The Rams didn’t see much of Gore on Sunday; he ran the ball only seven times. Likewise, his teammates didn’t see him taken off the turf like Rashard Mendenhall, whose eighth carry in the Steelers’ finale snapped a knee ligament and knocked him out of the postseason. ... Smith's health may owe itself to good luck more than deft management, but he has talked several times about knowing when to take a sack rather than force things." Noted: I recall thinking during camp that Smith appeared stronger in his upper body, especially his arms.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need to make a strong play for Jeff Fisher as their next head coach. He says the job should be appealing. Burwell: "Stan Kroenke is the sort of pro sports owner that every head coach ought to dream of. No tantrums. Deep pockets. He's an extremely wealthy businessman who loves owning pro sports franchises and seems to know how to get the people he hires to win games for him. The way he built winners in the NBA and NHL is the way he hopes to build one at Rams Park: give his coach and GM whatever they say they need, then get out of the way and let them go to work."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers Rams thoughts during his weekly chat.

Darren Urban of azcadinals.com takes a player-by-player look at the Cardinals' roster heading into the offseason. Two former Philadelphia Eagles, Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley, face critical seasons in 2012.

Also from Urban: thoughts on Calais Campbell's contract situation. Urban: "I have no idea if anything is close. I know they’ve been talking, I haven’t heard anyone be pessimistic and Ken Whisenhunt himself said he didn’t want to talk about it Monday because he didn’t want to jinx anything -- and could that be a hint, since you don't worry about jinxing something that won’t happen, right? Either way, Campbell will be back because they will franchise him if they must."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic expects quarterback competition between Kolb and John Skelton in training camp. Bickley: "Cardinals fans are becoming emotionally vested in John Skelton. His bad throws are maddening. His victories are always gritty and rarely pretty. But he fights and he wins, and on Sunday, after fainting in pregame preparations, he left the field with an oozing sense of conquest. He was pumping his fist and acknowledging the fans. It was like he owned the place. After winning 6 of 8 games, Skelton's voice has grown, too. He speaks like a starting quarterback, not a designated driver dangling a set of keys. He has newfound credibility with the guys in the locker room, and there is no longer a clear hierarchy at quarterback in Arizona."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks appear ready to pursue a quarterback in the 2012 draft. Coach Pete Carroll: "My opinion in the last few years has changed on what the quarterbacks can do coming out of college. I would have told you in years past, as an NFL coach, that young guys can't do it and there were only a couple that ever did, and that wasn’t enough to make that an expectation that you could count on. But I think that's totally shifted. I don’t think that's the case anymore."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks expect receiver Sidney Rice to return from shoulder surgery in 3-4 months.

Art Thiel of Sport Press Northwest says Carroll's support for Tarvaris Jackson is ultimately unconvincing. Thiel: "I walked out of the VMAC training facility thinking of Jackson like the old high school maxim that politely disses the plain girl by saying she has a great personality."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says former 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, now a Seahawks assistant, is leaving to join Jim Mora's staff at UCLA. Another Seahawks assistant, Luke Butkus, is also leaving.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides the latest on contract talks between Sam Bradford and the Rams. Thomas: "Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations, had indicated earlier Wednesday that talks were progressing. But sources familiar with the negotiations indicated later in the evening that no talks took place Wednesday night. Demoff could not be reached later. There are no indications of major hang-ups. Nonetheless, there's still no deal." I would think the Rams would have a deal with Bradford by Friday or Saturday. Both sides will want to get him into camp by then.

Also from Thomas: The Rams have a four-year agreement with second-round choice Rodger Saffold.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are looking for a fresh start.

Reid Laymance of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Bradford's college coach. Bob Stoops: "I know he is anxious to get started. He doesn't know when it (contract) will all get taken care of, but he's ready. He was lifting weights and looked in great shape."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks five Rams-related questions heading into camp. Miklasz: "Stan Kroenke will likely be voted in as the Rams' owner by the start of the season. The franchise cannot move forward until new leadership takes over. Will Kroenke be a hands-on owner? Is he sold on (Billy) Devaney and (Steve) Spagnuolo? Will he be patient or restless? As the minority owner, Kroenke largely remained in the background and deferred to Georgia Frontiere and her children. Kroenke has been an assertive and decisive owner in Denver, with the NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues how much the Rams should work Steven Jackson this summer. Thomas: "There’s no need to keep Jackson enclosed in bubble wrap. He needs enough practice reps to get his timing down. And he needs at least some touches -- 10 to 12? -- over the course of preseason play to get reacquainted with the speed of the game and get used to (some) contact. But we may not see Jackson exposed to any of the live tackling drills Steve Spagnuolo dials up for training camp."

Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com says coaches spent Wednesday giving detailed reports on the team's 2010 opponents.

Also from Malcolmson: a look at Seahawks offensive quality control coach Luke Butkus. Malcolmson: "Butkus was an All-Big Ten offensive lineman during his senior season at Illinois in 2001 before going on to try his hand in the NFL. Over three years, he was signed to a trio of teams, including San Diego, Chicago and Houston, along with playing two seasons in NFL Europe."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expects Leroy Hill to request a delay in his domestic-violence trial. O'Neil: "Recently, the victim had not been responding to attempts by the prosecutor and police to contact her regarding the case, but a material-witness warrant was issued last Friday. She turned herself in, and is expected in court Thursday."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Golden Tate's value to the Seahawks could increase during the season as injury concerns threaten veteran Deion Branch. Morgan: "Seattle's Tate will probably break into the league in two capacities: return man and high-value / low-target specialist. Eddie Royal is a fair usage if not ability comparison. Royal was a more refined route runner and joining a much more talented offense. Golden will be most valuable in leagues that allow return yardage and touchdowns and award touchdowns six or more points. He takes a slight hit in points-per-receptions leagues."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects second-round choice Daryl Washington to sign with the Cardinals in time for training camp.

Also from Somers: This Cardinals camp is especially important for Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Rashad Johnson. Somers: "A third-round pick a year ago, it's a bit too early to label Johnson a bust. But it's telling that he stayed on the bench in the playoffs while Hamza Abdullah, signed in late December, took over because of injuries to Antrel Rolle and Matt Ware. ... Johnson now seems to have a good grasp of the defense and was in the right place most of the time in OTA. He has the mental side of the game down.The key for him this pre-season is tackling. The Cardinals have some depth at safety with Matt Ware and Abdullah, so Johnson needs to make a positive impression."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 projects the Cardinals' 53-man roster.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com asks whether the 49ers can find a running back to lessen the burden on Frank Gore. Maiocco: "The problem, of course, is that Frank Gore is a really good player. The 49ers fear a considerable drop-off in production while Gore is on the sideline. Gore is the 49ers' best back on first and second downs. But he is also their best back on third downs because of his blitz-pickup skills along with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. This season could be different. The 49ers expect to be playing football into January. They'll want Gore to be fresh and healthy for the possible playoff run." Glen Coffee should show improvement.

Also from Maiocco: Antonio Gates' deal probably will not affect what Vernon Davis wants from the 49ers.

More from Maiocco: How will the 49ers' second camp under Mike Singletary change from the first one? The team could tweak the nutcracker drills, for one.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers president Jed York had nice things to say about former general manager Scot McCloughan.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers had better be right about Alex Smith.

Seahawks' emphasis on line obvious

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
12:42
PM ET
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Seahawks have been plugging holes with mixed results in recent seasons.

In 2007, they threw $10.5 million in bonuses at Deon Grant and also signed another veteran free agent, Brian Russell, to address deficiencies at safety. They threw another $15 million in bonuses at Patrick Kerney to help the pass rush. In 2008, they hired Mike Solari to coach their offensive line and signed veteran left guard Mike Wahle to finally plug the hole Steve Hutchinson left two years earlier. In 2009, the Seahawks responded to chronic injury problems at wide receiver by committing about $15 million in guarantees to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, then trading up in the draft to select receiver Deon Butler.

The offensive line was the biggest problem for Seattle in 2009.

One look at the Seahawks' coaching staff shows the team's renewed commitment to that area. Seattle has three assistant coaches dedicated to its offensive line, more than any team in the division and more than any team I can recall covering. Alex Gibbs leads a group featuring assistant line coach Art Valero and quality control coach Luke Butkus. Seattle has a separate quality control coach for offense (Dave Canales), with Butkus focusing on the line only.

Update: The Texans had three line-oriented assistants under Gibbs last season if we count offensive assistant Bruce Matthews. Gibbs' title in Houston also was not line-specific. He was assistant head coach/offense.

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
3:33
PM ET
MIAMI -- With the Seahawks announcing their 2010 coaching staff, I went through every NFC West team's staff to produce a chart allowing for easy comparison.

It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.

In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.

I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.

The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).

The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.

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