NFC West: Marquis Johnson

The St. Louis Rams' scheduled visit with Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan, noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter, lines up with expectations heading into free agency.

Finnegan played for new Rams coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. His reputation for hard-nosed play would lend an edge to the Rams' secondary.

Since 2007, when Finnegan became a starter, he leads the NFL with 16 combined penalties for disqualification, face mask, horse-collar tackle, personal foul, roughing the kicker, roughing the passer, taunting, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct. The chart identifies league leaders in these "swagger" penalties since 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Finnegan earned Pro Bowl honors for his play during the 2008 season. The Titans decided against naming him their franchise player at a cost of nearly $10.3 million for one season.

Injuries wiped out the Rams at cornerback last season. The team released starter Ron Bartell, who finished the 2011 season on injured reserve with a neck injury. The other starter, Bradley Fletcher, is returning from a season-ending knee injury.

Finnegan and the San Francisco 49ers' Carlos Rogers could make sense for the Rams as free-agent additions. The team could also consider LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall choice in the 2012 draft.

Fletcher, Jerome Murphy, Marquis Johnson, Brian Jackson, Nate Ness, Chris Smith, Josh Gordy and Kendric Burney are the corners on St. Louis' roster at present.

New Orleans' Tracy Porter is another option. Like Rogers, he played for Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams elsewhere.
The San Francisco 49ers have become the hunted in the NFC West.

Having already take aim at their 2011 turnover differential, let us consider another reason for a potential 2012 regression from 13-3.

"Repeating the 2011 relative lack of injuries on the 49ers may be as hard as replicating the turnover ratio," Michael Rally contended via Twitter.

Injuries did slow and/or sideline some of the 49ers' most important players, including running back Frank Gore and linebacker Patrick Willis. Starting receiver Josh Morgan missed most of the season. A freak jaw injury sidelined tight end Delanie Walker late in the season. A hamstring injury slowed defensive end Ray McDonald.

But in looking at injured-reserve lists, the 49ers definitely fared better than their division rivals. They finished the regular season with five players on IR. The other three NFC West teams had a combined 39.

I've broken out the IR lists by team and position, based on where teams stood after Week 17. In some cases, teams released and/or reached injury settlements with players placed on IR previously. Teams usually keep on IR the players they value the most, however. The players listed below are the most relevant ones.

St. Louis Rams (16)

Fullback: Brit Miller

Receiver: Danny Amendola, Mark Clayton, Greg Salas

Tight end: Mike Hoomanawanui

Offensive line: guard Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith

Defensive line: Jermelle Cudjo

Linebacker: Josh Hull

Cornerback: Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Al Harris, Brian Jackson, Marquis Johnson, Jerome Murphy

Comment: Quarterback Sam Bradford was injured much of the year without landing on IR. The Rams ran through several unlisted cornerbacks as well. That position was hit hard. Losing both starting offensive tackles is never good, but Smith wasn't a huge positive factor on the right side. The team was arguably better off without him in the lineup.

Seattle Seahawks (15)

Receiver: Kris Durham, Mike Williams, Sidney Rice

Tight end: John Carlson

Offensive line: John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Russell Okung

Defensive line: Jimmy Wilkerson

Linebacker: Jameson Konz, Matt McCoy, David Vobora, Dexter Davis

Cornerback: Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Ron Parker

Comment: The Seahawks remained strong against the run largely because their line was healthier this season. Losing three-fifths of the starting offensive line could not stop Marshawn Lynch from producing at a high level. Rookie Richard Sherman capitalized on injuries at cornerback. Good, young depth helped Seattle weather injuries well.

Arizona Cardinals (8)

Quarterback: Max Hall

Running back: Ryan Williams

Offensive line: Brandon Keith, Floyd Womack

Defensive line: Dan Williams

Linebacker: Joey Porter

Cornerback: Crezdon Butler, Greg Toler

Comment: Ryan Williams' knee injury affected the team significantly. The injury situation was worse overall than the list would indicate. Quarterback Kevin Kolb missed seven starts with foot and concussion problems. Running back Beanie Wells played hurt much of the year and had a hard time producing late in the season. Adrian Wilson played through a torn biceps and got better as the season progressed.

San Francisco 49ers (5)

Receiver: Dontavia Bogan, Josh Morgan

Tight end: Nate Byham

Defensive line: Will Tukuafu

Cornerback: Curtis Holcomb

Comment: Byham was a solid blocking tight end. The team missed Morgan, especially late in the year. Gore's production diminished after he suffered an apparent knee injury in Week 10. Overall, though, the 49ers were healthy. They inflicted more injuries than they suffered, knocking out several opposing runners, including Felix Jones, LeGarrette Blount, Jahvid Best, Steven Jackson and Pierre Thomas.
The Seattle Seahawks can thank the division-rival San Francisco 49ers for adding a high-gloss shine to their 2010 draft class.

Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round pick for Seattle that year, is headed to the Pro Bowl after the 49ers' Dashon Goldson withdrew from the game, citing injury. Chancellor's presence on the NFC roster gives Seattle two Pro Bowl safeties from its 2010 class. Earl Thomas, chosen sixth overall that year, was named to the team as the starting free safety.

I went back through that 2010 class and noticed the St. Louis Rams (Mardy Gilyard) and Seattle Seahawks (E.J. Wilson) were the only NFC West teams to release players chosen earlier than the fifth round that year.

Chancellor and the Rams' Mike Hoomanawanui are the only current projected starters chosen later than the fourth round (they were taken one pick apart in the fifth). Hoomanawanui might not start; it's too early to say.

Taylor Mays and Jorrick Calvin were the only NFC West picks traded.

Seattle's Golden Tate, chosen 60th overall, is the highest choice remaining with his team as a backup, not a starter.

A quick run through the 2010 class for the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Starters: Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Andre Roberts.

Backups: John Skelton, Jim Dray, O'Brien Schofield.

Traded: Jorrick Calvin.

Released: none.

Comment: The Cardinals were picking later than their division rivals after winning the 2009 NFC West title. They still found four projected starters. Washington, a second-rounder, stands out as the best selection. Williams and Roberts have much to prove. Schofield appears to be ascending. He did not start in 2011, however, and will have to win the job.

San Francisco 49ers

Starters: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman.

Backups: Anthony Dixon, Nate Byham, Kyle Williams.

Traded: Taylor Mays.

Released: Phillip Adams.

Comment: Bowman's emergence as an All-Pro inside linebacker strengthens this class and helps offset Mays' disappointing stint with the team. Byham was emerging as a top blocker before suffering a season-ending injury. Iupati is a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Williams is coming off a rough NFC Championship Game.

Seattle Seahawks

Starters: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor.

Backups: Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Anthony McCoy, Dexter Davis, Jameson Konz.

Traded: none.

Released: E.J. Wilson.

Comment: Thomas and Chancellor are making this a successful class. Okung might be the best of the three, but only if he can get healthy. Thurmond was a starter until suffering an injury at Cleveland. He'll have a hard time winning back a starting job now that Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman have locked down jobs. But he could still factor. Tate made strides late in the 2011 season.

St. Louis Rams

Starters: Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Mike Hoomanawanui.

Backups: Jerome Murphy, Eugene Sims, Marquis Johnson, Josh Hull.

Traded: none.

Released: Mardy Gilyard, Hall Davis, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie.

Comment: This class will succeed or fail based on how Bradford develops under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Bradford and the rest of this class -- and the entire roster, pretty much -- struggled this past season.

The first chart breaks down NFC West teams' picks by projected status for 2012.

The second chart provides context. The Rams have released four players from their 2010 class, which could look bad. But they also had far more later-round picks than their division rivals. Those players have a harder time earning roster spots.
News that Sam Bradford remained limited, Chris Long did not practice and Darian Stewart still had not passed concussion testing hung over the St. Louis Rams on Friday.

Bradford, as the starting quarterback, ranks high on the team's list of most important players. Long has 10 sacks and ranks as one of the team's best players on defense. Stewart, though inconsistent, has provided a physical presence with his hitting at safety.

Bradford's ankle injury is threatening to prevent him from getting sufficient work in the offense and with receiver Brandon Lloyd. But with so many problems throughout the roster, including along the offensive line, perhaps there's little to gain by putting Bradford on the field against the San Francisco 49ers' defense in Week 13.

To review, the Rams' injured reserve list already features:
Just about every NFL team has a chance against every opponent. The Rams should not concede the game. But if that ankle is preventing Bradford from practicing much, why play him?

Around the NFC West: 49ers' QB play fine

November, 23, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals were once seen as likely NFC West favorites this season, largely because their quarterback situations appeared to be improving.

The subject came up when I ran across Trent Dilfer at 49ers training camp. He made the point then that Sam Bradford, though apparently headed for a bright future, might be only the second- or third-best quarterback in the division for now. And he said the 49ers could win with Alex Smith because they would not ask too much from him.

Three months later, Smith is executing his duties better than the other quarterbacks in the division. The 49ers do not need him to carry the team.

Keith Goldner of Drive-By Football, writing for Advanced NFL Stats, offers evidence putting Smith in the same category Dilfer inhabited when Dilfer was part of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about Smith during his player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense against Arizona: "While Smith was not always on target with his throws, his receivers got their hands on seven of his first eight incomplete throws. ... Missed wide-open receiver Michael Crabtree in second quarter for what would've been a 16-yard touchdown in second quarter. ... He got away from pressure on first play of fourth quarter but threw his second career interception in the red zone as linebacker Daryl Washington picked him off."

Also from Maiocco: player-by-player review for the defense. On Patrick Willis: "Started at middle linebacker and recorded a team-high seven tackles. He also had an interception, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. ... His forced fumble of Beanie Wells was initially ruled down by contact, but Willis urged coach Jim Harbaugh to throw the challenge flag. ... Called for unnecessary roughness on a fourth-down play when he hit Bartel as he was sliding."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is quite familiar with the Ravens' defense, given that he helped coach it in Baltimore several years back.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is very happy with Leroy Hill's contributions at linebacker. Coach Pete Carroll: "He's one of the toughest guys on the team and if you’re going to pick one guy to go fight for you, a lot of guys would pick him. It was attractive when you talk about linebackers."

Also from Farnsworth: The Seahawks' last two opponents made little effort to run the ball.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Carroll defended Kam Chancellor's recent hits drawing penalties.

Also from O'Neil: a look at where the Seahawks stand after nearly two seasons under Carroll.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks currently stand 12th in the draft order for 2012. He discusses options with analyst Rob Rang.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic profiles Cardinals quarterback Rich Bartel. Somers: "It's fitting that the ball Cardinals quarterback Rich Bartel threw for his first NFL touchdown pass took a circuitous route to Sunday's game in San Francisco. A 'K Ball,' for use by kickers only, somehow was included in the Cardinals' ball bag and found its way into the game in the fourth quarter. A few seconds after receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught the deflected ball for a 23-yard touchdown, he handed it to Bartel, who had waited almost five seasons to get it."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team placed nose tackle Dan Williams on injured reserve, filling his roster spot by signing Ronald Talley from the practice squad. Urban: "The Cardinals actually made multiple moves on the practice squad. Filling Talley’s spot, the Cards brought back nose tackle Ricky Lumpkin. The Cardinals also released tight end Steve Skelton from the practice squad and replaced him with linebacker Brandon Williams, who was drafted by Dallas in 2009 before tearing his ACL in preseason of that year."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says protecting Sam Bradford should be the Rams' top priority. Miklasz: "Having Bradford rocked and slammed to the ground would be OK if the Rams actually had something to show for his bruises. Kurt Warner took more hits than any QB during the 'Greatest Show' glory days, but the trade-off resulted in one of the greatest performances in NFL history. ... Sam and the Rams are getting nothing in return for this steady QB abuse. They're last in the NFL in points per game (12), they're last in touchdowns from scrimmage (10), they have the league's worst third-down conversion rate (29.9 pct.) they rank 30th of 32 teams in yards per passing attempt (5.81), they are 27th in average yards at the point of the catch (5.5) and are tied with Jacksonville for the fewest number of TD passes (6)."

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis has this to say about the Rams: "Large investments in the offensive line haven't paid off and now are going to be reshuffled again due to injuries. The cornerback position is a mess. Franchise quarterback Sam Bradford is taking a beating to the point where you hope it doesn't ruin his future. If someone asked me to identify the Rams offense, I don't think I could. I'm not positive the skill players tell me enough information so I can make that type of determination. The team is last in the league in scoring, and there are a few names inherently attached to that. But there's still six weeks left. Six weeks to prove that this team is close to breaking through." Noted: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wasn't seeking "identity" in the traditional sense on offense. He wanted to mix up game plans from week to week and play to play, based on what gave the Rams their best chance. When I think of identity for this offense, I'm wondering what it does well. So far, the team has occasionally gotten the ground game going with inside handoffs from shotgun formations. Not much to go on.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams put another cornerback, Marquis Johnson, on injured reserve.

NFC West running out of cornerbacks

November, 14, 2011
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Another week, another cornerback injury for the St. Louis Rams.

Al Harris' season-ending knee injury, confirmed Monday by coach Steve Spagnuolo, leaves Josh Gordy, Justin King, Marquis Johnson and Rod Hood as the available corners. King suffered a head injury Sunday, but not necessarily a concussion. That was the word from Spagnuolo, who said King was symptom-free by Monday.

The Rams have another corner, Nate Ness, on their practice squad.

Starters Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher are on injured reserve. Jerome Murphy, the projected third corner, is also on IR, as is another replacement corner, Brian Jackson.

Yet another replacement at the position, Tim Atchison, was lost to injury and reached an injury settlement, making him free to sign with any team once he's healthy.

The Rams' depleted secondary heads into Week 11 against a Seattle Seahawks receiving corps with its own injury issues. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin suffered concussions Sunday. But with Mike Williams back from injury, Golden Tate contributing Sunday, Ben Obomanu available and Deon Butler coming off the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks can flood the field with more NFL-caliber receivers than the Rams can defend with NFL-caliber corners.

It's been a rough season for NFC West corners in general. The chart breaks down which ones have been lost for the season.

Around the NFC West: 49ers threaten West

November, 3, 2011
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Brock Huard of 710ESNP Seattle says the San Francisco 49ers' success is legitimate and stands as a long-term threat for coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and the Seattle Seahawks. Huard: "Jim Harbaugh has had success at every turn. He is building something very special in San Francisco. For Pete Carroll and John Schneider, this is not going to be the woeful NFC West that Mike Holmgren had for a decade. This is going to be a brutal, black-and-blue division for a long time." Noted: The Seahawks have won four division titles since 1999 without exceeding nine victories. The have won two additional division titles during that time without exceeding 10 victories. Only once since 1985 have the Seahawks exceeded 10 victories in a season. That was in 2005, when the team went 13-3 on its way to the Super Bowl.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com compares the Seahawks' current struggles and those experienced during Holmgren's early years with the team. Farnsworth: "After Holmgren was hired in 1999, the Seahawks backed into the playoffs and an AFC West title in his first season. Then, Holmgren decided to remake the roster. Twenty-five games into his tenure (including playoffs), Holmgren had an 11-14 record and was struggling to find a quarterback from a group that included Jon Kitna, Brock Huard and Glenn Foley. Holmgren’s QB quandary remained unsettled even after he made a trade with the Green Bay Packers to acquire Matt Hasselbeck and signed Trent Dilfer as a free agent in 2001. An injured and ineffective Hasselbeck struggled through the 2001 season. Dilfer was named the starter in 2002, only to be injured twice." Noted: There's a tendency to recast unplanned events as planned ones when things work out. The fact that Seattle eventually succeeded under Holmgren doesn't mean all the early failures were necessary ones. Holmgren seemed to have turned the page on Hasselbeck, who might not have gotten another chance with the team had Dilfer avoided injuries. But because Hasselbeck succeeded ultimately, it's as though Holmgren and the rest of us knew it would happen all along. We did not know that.

Also from Farnsworth: The team has allowed only two second-half touchdowns all season, the lowest figure in the league through Week 8. The Ravens (three), Browns (four) and Lions (four) are next.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says quarterback Kevin Kolb feels like a "weenie" for being sidelined by a turf-toe injury. Kolb: "I remember Deion Sanders was the first one I have ever saw that had 'turf toe,' and I was thinking the same thing as a fan: 'What? Why is (he) out for two weeks with a turf toe?' Then you get one and realize it's a little more painful than it comes across as." Somers: "Turf toe involves sprained or torn ligaments in the metatarsophalangeal joint, which indicates why the injury goes by a much shorter name. Kolb also has a mid-foot sprain in other ligaments and a bone bruise. It is not a lisfranc injury, which is more serious. Kolb has to be able to plant and drive off the foot to get full power on his throws."

Also from Somers: Fullback Reagan Maui'a says an alcohol problem led to his suspension earlier in the season.

More from Somers: Beanie Wells is not yet practicing, but he's expected to play Sunday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com profiles the team's young outside linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The two have divergent personalities, something Schofield has fun with. Schofield: "Everybody says Sam is the brain guy, so I’m like, 'Damn, so then I’m stupid?' "

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is inching closer to returning from a high-ankle sprain. Sounds like Bradford will not be ready this week, however. Thomas: "The silver lining to the injury is that Bradford has been able to talk with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on game day, not just when the Rams' defense is on the field but also when the Rams' offense is out there. It has allowed Bradford to get a better feel for McDaniels -- why he calls certain things at certain times, and what he's seeing during the ebb and flow of a game."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the team has until early next week to activate receiver Mark Clayton from the physically unable to perform list or lose him for the season. An Achilles problem has stunted Clayton's return from a knee injury.

Also from Wagoner: the latest on Bradford, and a note about how cornerback Marquis Johnson played well in his return from injury.

More from Wagoner: an update on Robert Quinn's development.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' Dashon Goldson isn't happy about being wrongly penalized for what officials called an illegal blow to the head against Cleveland. Goldson: "I'm good. I knew it was clean . . . If it was a blow to the head, I would've had a $15,000 or $20,000 fine in my locker right now. But I got penalized. That could've cost us the game."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers defensive end Justin Smith missed practice on a veteran's courtesy, not because of an injury. Smith has started 162 games in a row.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sees 49ers quarterback Alex Smith pick up traits from coach Jim Harbaugh. How thick is the 49ers' playbook each week? State secrets.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers should be able to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Kawakami: "Because of their walloping defense, the 49ers should realistically aim for the No. 2 seed, and a first-round bye. And because the 49ers offense remains less than dynamic (though effective), they should really want that No. 2 seed, so they can avoid the prospect of having to play a first-round shootout against a team such as Philadelphia or Atlanta. But to do that, the 49ers have to beat out the winners of the NFC East and South divisions -- it looks like a 12-4 record is the most realistic way for the 49ers to do that." Noted: The 49ers' offense has outscored the Falcons' offense 167-116 this season. The Eagles' offense has 173 points. More on this in a bit.

Around the NFC West: Loving on 49ers

October, 28, 2011
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The accolades keep flowing the San Francisco 49ers' way following their 5-1 start to the season.

Winning tends to validate every aspect of an operation.

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle praises team president Jed York for naming Trent Baalke general manager and hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Ostler: "The 49ers desperately needed a game-changer and Harbaugh was the only candidate who potentially fit that description. ... York snagged him. Maybe York got lucky. Maybe Harbaugh was ready to make the jump to the NFL and he saw the 49ers as the one team in which he instantly could seize near-complete control of the entire football operation. But give York credit. When he went into marathon discussions with candidate Harbaugh, some people on the outside (OK, I was one) thought that might be a deal-killer. What if Harbaugh chats with York and Paraag Marathe for several hours and realizes he is being recruited to head up some rich kid's Junior Achievement project? So yes, some of us underestimated York (and Baalke and Marathe)."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lauds Harbaugh for succeeding in creating the family atmosphere that eluded the 49ers under former coach Mike Singletary. Players received an extra two days off for winning their final two games before the bye week. Practice-squad players travel on road trips. Barrows: "Long and tedious team meetings were common. Singletary often gave speeches -- sermons, really -- during the week. He wanted the 49ers to bond, but it was forced bonding. Jim Harbaugh also wants a family like atmosphere. But he is running the team in a different manner, like Patrick Swayze ran his household in 'The Outsiders.' Harbaugh is like the older brother who lets you drink out of the milk carton and who isn't beyond getting into scrapes of his own."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with the 49ers' coordinators for an explanation on how West Coast offenses have evolved over the years. One key difference: Teams rarely use a split backfield, which was a staple under Bill Walsh. Noted: Mike Holmgren used split backs a fair amount of the time during his years with the Seahawks. Sometimes the team would shift from split backs into the I-formation and back to split backs. But it's uncommon to see split backs in the NFL today. I was watching the 1979 playoff game between the Rams and Cowboys recently. The Cowboys' use of split backs jumped out right away. Before that, teams used to have their receivers line up in sprinter's stances, which they never do any longer.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News profiles 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are bracing for a New Orleans team that has continued functioning at a high level despite coach Sean Payton's knee injury. Thomas: "Because of the surgery, Payton was less involved in game-planning for last Sunday's game against Indianapolis. On game day, Payton was upstairs in the coaches' booth, with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael taking over the play-calling duties from Payton. The result was an amazing 62-7 victory over the Colts. It was the most lopsided victory in Saints history, and it matched the most points scored by an NFL team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Payton may not have a leg to stand on, but he still has his team's ear."

Also from Thomas: Mark LeVoir is back with the team and says Rams Park looks the same, only four years older.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could be close to getting cornerback Marquis Johnson back from injury.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have lost their past 10 road games. Noted: They are one of eight teams in the NFL without a road victory this season. Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami and the New York Jets are also without a victory away from home. Carolina was the only team without a road victory all last season. The Cardinals haven't won a road game outside the division since beating the Detroit Lions during the 2009 season.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals hope to fix Kevin Kolb's footwork.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks tight end Zach Miller has no hard feelings toward Giants safety Kenny Phillips for the illegal hit that sidelined Miller until this week. The league levied a $20,000 fine against Phillips. Miller: "It's part of the game. A few years ago, that hit would have been legal. You can't fault the defensive guys too much because they're trying to make plays on the ball. It's tough when you change rules when you try and adapt and play within the rules. I wish it wouldn't have happened, though." Noted: Those are the types of hits I think about every time a retired player experiences health problems at a relatively young age. I suspect absorbing a hit such as that one would be life-altering for the typical non-athlete. It's remarkable athletes bounce back so quickly, but the evidence increasingly suggests they pay in the long term.

Also from O'Neil: Red Bryant's transformation from average defensive tackle to formidable defensive end continues to serve the Seahawks well.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes that the team hasn't played a home game since Oct. 2, meaning nearly a month will have passed between games at CenturyLink Field.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

October, 26, 2011
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Arizona: Beanie Wells missed practice Wednesday and will have to fight through a knee injury if he does play against Baltimore in Week 8. The fact that the Cardinals initially thought Wells suffered a season-ending injury makes returning only one week later seem like a long shot. The Cardinals have not set a timetable for Wells' return. Whether Wells practices Thursday and Friday should tell us plenty about whether the third-year running back plays Sunday. The Cardinals are a much more physical team in the running game when Wells is available. The Ravens rank among the NFL's top three in rushing yards allowed overall and per carry. Tight end Todd Heap's availability is also in question. A hamstring injury continues to slow him. The Cardinals have better depth at the position this season, though. Wells is the key variable.

St. Louis: Sam Bradford continues to miss practice with a high-ankle sprain, preventing the Rams from making fuller use of new receiver Brandon Lloyd, in my view. I see no reason for the Rams to rush Bradford back onto the field against a New Orleans team known for taking shots at opposing quarterbacks, including their ankles. The assumption here is that Bradford must practice by week's end to have a shot at playing. The Rams have yet to activate receiver Mark Clayton and cornerback Marquis Johnson from the physically unable to perform list. The need is greater at corner than receiver. The Rams, already without their top three corners for the remainder of the season, lost corner Justin King to a groin injury last week. His status remains unclear. Right tackle Jason Smith could be out indefinitely after suffering neck and head injuries at Dallas. Left tackle Rodger Saffold missed practice with an illness Wednesday.

San Francisco: The 49ers are expected to welcome back receiver Braylon Edwards from knee surgery. The timing is perfect for Edwards because the 49ers are facing the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him third overall. Coach Jim Harbaugh suggested his injury-related optimism earlier in the week might have been premature. You can bet Edwards has been pointing toward this game for his return, however. Fullback Moran Norris isn't expected to return. His replacement, Bruce Miller, has shown improvement. The 49ers have used only one back half the time on first and second down to this point in the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They're obviously comfortable using two tight ends with two wide receivers, diminishing the need for a fullback. They're fine without Norris, in other words. Parys Haralson's expected return from a hamstring injury comes as rookie Aldon Smith is stepping up his game, anyway. How many snaps those players get will be a storyline for the remainder of the season. Smith, it seems, needs to play. Right guard Adam Snyder is expected back from a stinger. The 49ers' ground game has been better since Snyder took over as the starter.

Seattle: The Seahawks should get center Max Unger, running back Marshawn Lynch and/or tight end Zach Miller back from injuries this week. All were limited Wednesday, and coach Pete Carroll said decisions would not be made until later in the week. Seattle needs Lynch because the team doesn't have another big back for its offense. Backups Leon Washington and Justin Forsett are too similar to provide the differentiation Carroll values. Miller's absence played a leading role in the team's defeat at Cleveland, I thought. Backup Anthony McCoy suffered through a rough game. The Seahawks need him back. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is the other big question mark for Seattle this week. His pectoral injury hasn't prevented him from throwing, but he remains limited. It's too early to say whether he's likely to play this week. I would expect a better effort from backup Charlie Whitehurst this week, should he play.

Around the NFC West: Gallery's surgery

September, 21, 2011
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Three NFC West teams signed veteran guards to start for them in 2011.

Harvey Dahl (St. Louis Rams) and Daryn Colledge (Arizona Cardinals) have brought toughness and experience to their new teams. Robert Gallery was supposed to do the same for Seattle. News that Gallery needs groin surgery and will miss at least a month raised a question in my mind: Was the injury affecting him over an extended period, preventing Gallery from playing as well as anticipated?

That was apparently the case. According to coach Pete Carroll, Gallery had a tougher time playing through the groin injury once he suffered a sprained knee in the final exhibition game. He wound up aggravating the groin injury during the first quarter of Seattle's Week 2 game at Pittsburgh, but Gallery didn't tell anyone about the injury until after the game.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Gallery's absence means sixth-year veteran Paul McQuistan will start for the first time since the 2007 season. That means Seattle will use its third starting combination in as many games along its offensive line, continuing a trend that has complicated life for the Seahawks' running backs and quarterbacks.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' latest starting quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, hasn't made much of an impact either positively or negatively. Carroll: "He hasn't had that many opportunities where we said, 'He should have done this, he should have done that.' He has pretty much taken what's there. There hasn't been a lot of situations where he's turned down a big throw."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with a medical expert for thoughts on labrum injuries such as the one Sidney Rice is battling through.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals might simplify their defense after allowing 466 yards per game over the first two weeks of the regular season. Safety Kerry Rhodes: "It's a tough system to learn. Coming to a new season with it, it's been a little frustrating. But we've got a lot of time to rectify it, though. Yeah, it's complicated, but we've got to be pros at the same time and figure it out. This is what we get paid to do. We don't have anything else to do but learn it and try to get it down."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says playing the Seahawks' offense should help Arizona's defense.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the injury situation in the Rams' secondary. Tim Atchison is headed for injured reserve. Nelson: "An undrafted rookie from Baylor, Atchison was with the Rams in camp, signed to the practice squad, released, then signed to the active roster last week. He will be the fifth cornerback to go on IR since the start of camp. The others are Ron Bartell (neck), Jerome Murphy (ankle), Dionte Dinkins (ankle) and Mikail Baker (hamstring). In addition, Marquis Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2010, was placed on the physically unable to perform list because of a hamstring injury and won't be available until at least Oct. 23, when the Rams face the Cowboys."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams aren't panicking at 0-2.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers his player-by-player review of the San Francisco 49ers' defense against Dallas in Week 2. Safety Donte Whitner played every snap. Maiocco: "He was credited with four tackles and three passes defensed. . . Was in the right spot to get an interception in the end zone against Jon Kitna. . . . He bit hard on a run fake on the first play of overtime, allowing Jesse Holley to get behind him for a 77-yard gain that set up the winning field goal."

Also from Maiocco: player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense. On Frank Gore: "Started at running back and played 53 of the team's 54 offensive snaps. There wasn't much room for him to operate. He gained 47 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But do you want to know why the 49ers like him so much? His pass-protection was outstanding. He leveled blitzing safety Barry Church off the right side to allow Smith to complete a 21-yard pass to Braylon Edwards. On 49ers' second drive, cut-blocked DeMarcus Ware to the ground to allow Smith to hit Ted Ginn 14-yard gain."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through each of the six sacks the 49ers allowed Sunday.

Assessing 2010 NFC West draft classes

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
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The Arizona Cardinals' division rivals selected five players among the first 17 overall selections in the 2010 NFL draft.

The Cardinals weren't on the clock until they made nose tackle Dan Williams the 26th overall choice.

A year later, Arizona expects to have three members of its 2010 class starting in Week 1, a number that compares favorably within the division.

With the regular season less than two weeks away, I'll revisit the 2010 NFC West draft classes, pointing to injury considerations and key variables.

St. Louis Rams

Total 2010 picks: 11

No longer with team (1): Hall Davis, LB, fifth round (traded to Washington).

Projected starters (2): Sam Bradford, QB, first round; Rodger Saffold, LT, second round.

Others (8): Jerome Murphy, CB, third round; Mardy Gilyard, WR, fourth round; Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, fifth round; Eugene Sims, DE, sixth round; Fendi Onobun, TE, sixth round; George Selvie, DE, seventh round; Josh Hull, LB, seventh round; Marquis Johnson, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Murphy underwent ankle surgery and is out indefinitely, a setback for the secondary. A series of injuries to Hoomanawanui makes it tougher for the team to count on him. If healthy, he's a key role player.

Key variable: Gilyard's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The Rams have other options at receiver. Gilyard suffered when the Rams lost their offensive coordinator heading into the NFL lockout.



Seattle Seahawks

Total 2010 picks: nine

No longer with team (1): E.J. Wilson, DE, fourth round (waived).

Projected starters (4): Russell Okung, LT, first round; Earl Thomas, FS, first round; Walter Thurmond, CB, fourth round; Kam Chancellor, SS, fifth round.

Others (4): Golden Tate, WR, second round; Anthony McCoy, TE, sixth round; Dexter Davis, DE, seventh round; Jameson Konz, DE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Okung's repeated ankle sprains have kept him off the field for long stretches. The team needs him healthy to stabilize the line.

Key variable: Tate's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The section on Gilyard applies here. The Seahawks have other options. Tate suffered when the Seahawks fired their offensive coordinator heading into the lockout. It's looking like an upset if Tate becomes a key contributor this season.



San Francisco 49ers

Total 2010 picks: eight

No longer with team (1): Taylor Mays, SS, second round (traded to Cincinnati)

Projected starters (3): Anthony Davis, RT, first round; Mike Iupati, LG, first round; NaVorro Bowman, LB, third round.

Others (4): Anthony Dixon, RB, sixth round; Nate Byham, TE, sixth round; Kyle Williams, WR, sixth round; Phillip Adams, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A season-ending knee injury will sideline Byham, who was looking like one of the better young blocking tight ends in the league.

Key variable: Davis' development. The 49ers need their young right tackle to gain consistency in his second season. Like other members of the 2010 draft class, Davis could have used a fuller offseason to develop in an organized setting. Instead, he's pretty much picking up where he left off last season.



Arizona Cardinals

Total 2010 picks: seven

No longer with team (1): Jorrick Calvin, CB, sixth round (traded to Philadelphia)

Projected starters (3): Williams, NT, first round; Daryl Washington, LB, second round; Andre Roberts, WR, third round.

Others (3): O'Brien Schofield, OLB, fourth round; John Skelton, QB, fifth round; Jim Dray, TE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A high-ankle sprain has sidelined Skelton, the No. 2 quarterback. The team signed Brodie Croyle as insurance in the short term. Rich Bartel could push for the No. 2 job as well.

Key variable: Schofield's development. The Cardinals knew Schofield would require time to more fully recover from the knee injury he suffered during 2010 Senior Bowl practices. They've seen flashes from Schofield during the preseason and badly need whatever he can give them from a pass-rushing standpoint.
With the San Francisco 49ers in the market for cornerback help and our offseason power rankings focusing on the position later Tuesday, I'll look back at the corners current NFC West teams have drafted over the last decade.

This is the second part in a series that began with a look at 15 classes of NFC West quarterbacks. Then as now, I'll break up the charts with narration from teams' perspectives.

These guys had better start early and challenge for Pro Bowls ...

Some prospects aren't ideal in one area or another, but they could shine in the right scheme ...

Still not too late to find decent starters ...

Last chance to find a likely contributor ...

Time to fill out the 80-man roster ...
The St. Louis Rams can probably forget about landing the highest-rated cornerback in the 2011 NFL draft.

They're drafting too late for a realistic shot at LSU's Patrick Peterson, who apparently knows this, and the position isn't one of great need for the Rams, anyway.

Before taking a look at cornerbacks the Rams have drafted since moving to St. Louis for the 1995 season, I'll pass along thoughts on the position from coach Steve Spagnuolo, who addressed his secondary over breakfast at the NFL owners meeting last month:
"Real happy with the way Bradley Fletcher overcame his knee injury. I do think it affected him early in the season. As you guys know, when you have the ACL, his knee injury was pretty extensive, you come back and it takes the whole year. I'm really looking forward to him this coming year.

"Jerome Murphy, rookie, I thought he came on at the end, so that is helpful. Ron Bartell, this will be the third year for him in this system, so that is real helpful. Justin King will bounce back. He battled injuries. It was a pull or a groin. We have some guys there to work with that will help us. We're OK. You would like to add a guy at any position."

That final sentence came off as obligatory -- what coaches say when leaving open the possibility for something unexpected.

The Rams have drafted only one cornerback, Tye Hill, in the first round since moving to St. Louis. They haven't drafted one higher than 65th overall over the past four drafts. The team could still draft one relatively early, but it's an upset if the Rams use the 14th overall choice for one.

Rams: How 2010 draft picks project

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
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Quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't the only player the St. Louis Rams drafted last year.

It seemed that way at times, given the profound impact Bradford made as a rookie. The rest of the Rams' 2010 draft class features one sure starter in left tackle Rodger Saffold, a potential starting tight end, a couple likely rotation players and one big question mark.

Receiver Mardy Gilyard, a fourth-round choice, missed critical offseason work as a rookie when rules prevented him from reporting until the University of Cincinnati held its final examinations. The lockout this offseason is preventing Gilyard from getting valuable work for a second offseason. Throw in a coordinator change and Gilyard will be further behind.

The chart projects how Gilyard and his fellow 2010 Rams rookies might fit in 2011.

2010 NFL Draft: NFC West player updates

October, 8, 2010
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St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is commanding most of the attention among NFC West rookies.

A quick look at Bradford and the division's other 2010 draft choices through Week 4:

Arizona Cardinals: First-round nose tackle Dan Williams was named inactive Sunday after failing to make weight requirements. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Williams got the message. Arizona has drafted its share of disappointing nose tackles. It's too early to know whether Williams will break the trend.


St. Louis Rams: The Rams' offensive line struggled in its only road game this season. Let's see whether rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold fares better at Detroit in Week 5. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui practiced some this week for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain. He could become a factor if the ankle allows.


San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers' top six picks are already making positive contributions. Coaches trusted Anthony Dixon on a third-and-1 carry against Atlanta in Week 4. Dixon picked up the first down. He scored a touchdown against New Orleans on his first carry this season.


Seattle Seahawks: Left tackle Russell Okung started but did not finish the St. Louis game. He's still working his way back from a high-ankle sprain. Walter Thurmond did not play even in a nickel or dime role when Marcus Trufant was cleared following an ankle injury, a bit of a surprise. Thurmond had worked as the starter in practice, so he might have faced a difficult adjustment to a more specialized role on game day.

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