NFC West: Michael Adams

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson is back as the starting left corner in a revamped secondary. The team must discover during training camp which corner will start opposite him. Newcomers Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers are the leading candidates. Arizona has quite a few options. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu figures prominently into the Cardinals' plans as a hybrid corner-safety type. Slot corner Javier Arenas, acquired from Kansas City, and 2012 third-round choice Jamell Fleming are also in the mix. The Cardinals will have three new starters in their secondary after parting with cornerback William Gay, free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Greg Toler, James Sanders and Michael Adams are also gone. Those six combined to play nearly 70 percent of the snaps in the secondary last season. Rashad Johnson was starting to overtake Wilson. He projects as the likely strong safety, with veteran newcomer Yeremiah Bell at the other safety spot. Bell played under new coordinator Todd Bowles previously.

St. Louis Rams: Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins provide the foundation for a secondary that expects to play quite a bit of man coverage behind an aggressive front seven with improved speed. Finnegan is the most accomplished and highest-paid member of the secondary, but he insists Jenkins is the best defensive back on the team by a wide margin. That might be true from a talent standpoint. The team will be looking for Jenkins to demonstrate improved consistency in his second season. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round choice in 2012, also figures prominently. A DUI arrest and previous off-field troubles in college raise questions about his long-term reliability, however. The situation at safety is ... different. The Rams want to develop third-round pick T.J. McDonald quickly. Darian Stewart projects as the other primary safety. The team signed veteran Matt Giordano as insurance. Former starting safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone. The Rams must determine this summer what they have at safety.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers demonstrated by their actions this offseason a general belief that the secondary's issues late last season stemmed more from a diminished front seven than from talent deficiencies on the back end. Dahl, signed from the Rams this offseason, provides a veteran insurance policy in case rookie first-round pick Eric Reid isn't ready to start immediately at free safety. San Francisco must replace former starter Dashon Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. C.J. Spillman, primarily a force on special teams to this point in his career, also factors as an option there. The 49ers have never appeared particularly concerned about losing Goldson over the years, but trading up 12 spots to select Reid showed they value talent at the position. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner return as the other three starters. Beyond identifying an immediate starter at free safety, the 49ers need to figure out this summer whether free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha can help them.

Seattle Seahawks: All four starters return from arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and new nickel corner Antoine Winfield have all earned Pro Bowl or Associated Press All-Pro honors within the past three seasons. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are talented backups with limited starting experience. The team must figure out this offseason whether Thurmond factors in for the long term. Thurmond beat out Sherman for the starting job heading into the 2011 season. However, repeated serious injuries have derailed his career. Winfield is probably safe as the nickel corner this season, but the gap between Winfield and the team's other options is smaller than Winfield's credentials would suggest.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' defense:

Arizona: The Cardinals listed 16 players on their injury report for the team's Thursday night game in St. Louis. Cornerback Michael Adams (hamstring), tight end Jim Dray (knee), outside linebacker Quentin Groves (hamstring), tight end Todd Heap (knee), running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip), defensive end Darnell Dockett (hamstring), linebacker Paris Lenon (knee), quarterback John Skelton (ankle) and nose tackle Dan Williams (foot) were questionable. Seven others were probable. None was doubtful. Running back Beanie Wells remains out until Nov. 25. Having Stephens-Howling available would give the Cardinals' needed options on offense, particularly in no-huddle situations. Dockett missed the most recent game and he was limited Wednesday. Skelton has practiced fully the past two days, but Kevin Kolb remains the starter.

St. Louis: The Rams listed running back Steven Jackson (groin) and left tackle Wayne Hunter (knee) as questionable. Both practiced on a limited basis over the past two days. Both are expected to play against the Cardinals. Jackson was able to run hard against Seattle. Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and backup defensive end Eugene Sims (head) will miss the game. The three players listed as probable practiced fully Wednesday. That list included receivers Danny Amendola (ankle) and Brandon Gibson (knee), and backup defensive end William Hayes (knee).

San Francisco: Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) could be available for the first time this season. The 49ers have good depth at the position already, however, and some of their other running backs contribute more on special teams. If Jacobs doesn't play against Buffalo, I'd expect him to be active against his former team, the New York Giants, a week later. The 49ers are relatively healthy overall. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (knee) missed the game against the New York Jets and was limited in practice. He could be available this week, but the 49ers probably will not need him much against Buffalo. San Francisco will likely use its sub packages heavily against the Bills' offense. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) and cornerback Carlos Rogers (ankle) were also limited in practice.

Seattle: The Seahawks have used eight starters on their offensive line, tied with Jacksonville for most in the NFL through Week 4. One of the eight, guard/center John Moffitt, will not be available against Carolina. Seattle listed him as out with a knee injury. James Carpenter's return from 2011 knee surgery last week gives the team welcome flexibility. Carpenter started at left guard and survived an injury scare. Paul McQuistan will start at right guard for a second consecutive week. Cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) and defensive end Jaye Howard (foot) missed practice Wednesday. The team gave running back Marshawn Lynch the day off. Trufant's role as the nickel corner gets him on the field for roughly 40 percent of the snaps, depending on the opponent. Carolina's opponents have played with at least one additional defensive back about 60 percent of the time when the score was within eight points and 80 percent of the time otherwise, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Around the NFC West: Trade reconsidered

September, 12, 2012
The St. Louis Rams traded the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft to Washington with the long-term future in mind.

They knew they wouldn't be drafting Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III because they'd already committed so much to Sam Bradford. They knew they needed many picks spread over multiple drafts, not just one high selection in 2012, to restock their roster under new coach Jeff Fisher and new general manager Les Snead.

Of course, long-term thinking gives way to short-term realities once a regular season begins. The short-term reality for St. Louis arrives Sunday when Griffin, superb in leading the Redskins past New Orleans in Week 1, visits the Edward Jones Dome in Week 2.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Rams should have kept the second overall pick and used it for Griffin. Bernie Miklasz: "I am a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, and after one regular-season game, I am recommending that The Hall suspend its rules, so that we immediately induct RG III into Canton. My serious answer: Calm down. It's one game." Noted: There was no realistic or sensible way for the Rams to divest from Bradford in an effort to get Griffin. The team did what it needed to do under the circumstances.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' concern for Calvin Johnson opened up plays for other Lions, notably Nate Burleson, during critical moments of the team's defeat at Detroit in Week 1. Coach Jeff Fisher: "Guys were dropping a little bit (too deep), too concerned about the big play down the field to Calvin. As a result, we allowed some chunks. So, we got that corrected."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Alex Smith last threw an interception on Thanksgiving. Smith: "Smith heads into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions having thrown 185 consecutive passes without being intercepted. That breaks the 49ers record of 184 set by Hall of Famer Steve Young in 1993. (The NFL record is 358 by the New England Patriots' Tom Brady from 2010-11.) Joe Montana has the franchise's third-longest streak, with 154 passes in 1989. Now, the record belongs to the man who threw 11 interceptions (and one TD pass) as a rookie."

Matt Maiocco of offers his player-by-player review for the 49ers' defense from Week 1. On Aldon Smith: "He played 70 snaps on defense, mostly at defensive end as the 49ers rarely played their 3-4 defense against the Packers' passing game. . . On second play of the game, he made outstanding play to dart inside and stop Benson for a 1-yard gain. . . On next play, he stayed at home on a misdirection rollout and dropped Rodgers for a 10-yard sack. But when he flipped his helmet off, he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty." Noted: It looked to me like Smith's helmet was already coming off when Smith facilitated it coming off all the way.

Also from Maiocco: his weekly look at the 49ers' offensive players. On Bruce Miller: "He started at fullback and played a career-high 37 snaps. Last season, he played less than one-third of the team's offensive snaps. ... He made a good block on cornerback Tramon Williams to help Gore pick up 10 yards in second quarter. ... He missed safety Charles Woodson on a blitz for a third-quarter sack of Smith for minus-3 yards. ... Made strong block on Williams to open way for Gore's 21-yard gain in third quarter."

Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle looks through Joe Staley's eyes at differences between playing offensive and defensive lines.

Clare Farnsworth of says Chris Clemons remained the team's best pass-rusher, perhaps disproportionately so. And he continued a trend of collecting sacks on the road. Farnsworth: "Of Clemons’ 23 sacks, 18.5 have come in other venues, with just 6.5 at CenturyLink Field. What gives? The din generated by the 12th Man crowd while the opposing offense is on the field is supposed to play to the strengths of the Seahawks’ defense, and Clemons." Noted: Clemons has said teams play him more cautiously in Seattle.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle looks at the Seahawks' final offensive plays against Arizona. He says the Seahawks did a good job on fourth down taking Patrick Peterson out of the play and getting Sidney Rice matched up against Michael Adams, but Braylon Edwards' inability to finish the play against aggressive coverage was the difference between winning and losing for Seattle.

Also from Huard: Seattle's skill players weren't able to beat one-on-one coverage consistently enough. He thinks the Seahawks need to re-sign Kellen Winslow. He also thinks Golden Tate needs to make a difference.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks are studying replacement officials' tendencies to get a better feel for them. Seattle and Week 2 opponent Dallas lead the NFL in penalties through one game.

Danny Kelly of Field Gulls notes that Seattle's issues along the offensive line went far beyond rookie right guard J.R. Sweezy on Sunday. Noted: Having a rookie making his first start at an interior position can put pressure on the guys around him to adjust and help the younger player with his assignments. That's one way a rookie can hurt play at more than one position.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at how Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb has dealt with criticism. Efforts to ignore it can be futile. Kolb: "My close family members and friends know how I am. It's the ones that you haven't talked to in two months. 'I heard this, man.' And I'm like, 'Dude, I didn't even know that went on.' You are not going to block 100 percent of it out."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals guard Adam Snyder, who predicts good things from receiver Michael Floyd against New England in Week 2.

Josh Weinfuss of profiles linebacker Paris Lenon, who delivered a passionate speech Saturday night.

Around the NFC West: First-round update

September, 7, 2012
The four rookie first-round draft choices in the NFC West will have varying roles in regular-season openers Sunday.

Receiver Michael Floyd, chosen 13th, projects as a backup and rotational player. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, chosen by St. Louis one pick later, would be starting if a high-ankle sprain hadn't sidelined him. Defensive end Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall pick to Seattle, will play as a situational pass-rusher.

Matt Maiocco of isn't sure whether A.J. Jenkins, chosen 30th overall by San Francisco, will be active for the 49ers' game at Green Bay. The same goes for second-rounder LaMichael James. Maiocco: "The chances of Jenkins and James suiting up ... appear better with the doubtful conditions of Brandon Jacobs and Ted Ginn Jr."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News tempers expectations for the 49ers. Kawakami: "Alex Smith and the 49ers offense could rise up and play perfectly at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the 49ers defense could dominate Aaron Rodgers and Co., and all the good vibrations could go on and on. But there is a quiet understanding among some in the 49ers headquarters that everything that went right in 2011 may not quite all go so smoothly in 2012. Possibly starting Sunday. And that’s OK, that’s part of accepting NFL reality and bracing for the moment when many others could have it better than them."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Lambeau Field appears unlikely to faze the 49ers.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle previews Justin Smith's matchup against Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Says Tim Ryan, the Fox analyst and 49ers preseason TV commentator: "He'll destroy him. He’ll destroy him. And the Packers with (running back Cedric) Benson and all that, we'll see how it works. That's a matchup that 100 percent favors Justin. He'll play him right down the middle in terms of head up ... and he’ll kill him in the run game."

Clare Farnsworth of uses the word "explosive" to describe Marshawn Lynch's running in practice Thursday. Farnsworth: " There was nothing limited about his efforts on the few touches he got before giving way to rookie Robert Turbin. Lynch displayed the explosive one-step-and-go style in getting through the line that is required to run in line coach Tom Cable's system. There also were the multiple changes of direction, with accompanying dips and ducks, that were such a part of Lynch putting up career-high totals in rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (14) last season."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times profiles Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. O'Neil: "Wilson's grandfather was the president of Norfolk State. His father attended Dartmouth and was so driven he went on to attend law school and so athletic that after earning his law degree, he went through a training camp with the San Diego Chargers. Russell's older brother played two sports at University of Richmond, and their younger sister is entering high school, where she's a heck of a basketball prospect. A point guard, she's considered one of the best players in the country in her grade." Says Wilson: "Thing I'm worried about, she may be taller than me." Noted: I'll have a height-related note in the "Final Word" piece set to run Friday afternoon.

Brian McIntyre of says the Seahawks' Josh Portis is among practice-squad players earning more than the $5,700 weekly minimum.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic thinks Larry Fitzgerald will grow weary of life as a Cardinal if the team doesn't field a contender within the next couple years. Bickley: "if there were a device to measure heart in the NFL, I'd bet no player yearns more for a Super Bowl ring and all it brings. He will demand and require another shot before his career ends. Whether that happens in Arizona or not will be up to the Cardinals." Noted: Fitzgerald's contract is set to run through the 2018 season.

Darren Urban of points to LaRod Stephens-Howling as a logical candidate for a new contract after the Cardinals re-signed linebacker Daryl Washington. Urban: "There are younger guys like linebacker Reggie Walker and defensive backs Rashad Johnson and Michael Adams. I don’t see any of them getting new deals in season."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders what the Rams have planned for rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Thomas: "During preseason games, neither rookie got a single football thrown his way by quarterback Sam Bradford. And except for a play or two, neither player was even on the field with the starters during exhibition play."

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a closer look at undrafted rookie Austin Davis, the Rams' only backup quarterback. Nelson: "Davis not only beat out incumbent Tom Brandstater as the third QB, he unseated backup Kellen Clemens, who has yet to sign with another team. Davis admitted to being surprised, especially because he was undrafted, but he said the learning curve was less steep with the regular season starting Sunday in Detroit."
The Arizona Cardinals drafted three offensive linemen and found spots for all of them on their initial 53-man roster.

That's good for a team that could use a youth infusion up front. It's unfortunate to the extent that Levi Brown's season-ending triceps injury made room on the roster for another young tackle, such as seventh-round rookie Nate Potter.

The Cardinals' starting offensive line was stable last season. The same players started every game at every position but right tackle, where Jeremy Bridges made six starts subbing for an injured Brandon Keith.

Arizona will have new starters at left tackle, right guard and possibly right tackle this season. The lineup has the potential to get younger if rookie Bobby Massie starts at right tackle.

The nine linemen making the initial cut: starting center Lyle Sendlein, starting left guard Daryn Colledge, starting right guard Adam Snyder, potential starting left tackle D'Anthony Batiste, rookie guard Senio Kelemete, guard Rich Ohrnberger, Massie, Potter and Bridges.

It's looking like Batiste and Massie will open the season as the starting tackles. Bridges provides an experienced alternative at either spot. Sendlein has started every game over the past four seasons, plus six playoff games. He would be the lineman most difficult to replace if lost to injury.

Arizona could be set up to lean more heavily on its ground game. Quarterback John Skelton remains unestablished. Questions persist at offensive tackle. The team has two talented running backs, four tight ends instead of three and five wide receivers instead of six. Then again, teams rarely use more than two tight ends at a time, and sixth receivers rarely factor.

While game situations can dictate run-pass ratios, a handful of teams were far more likely than Arizona to run on first down when the score was close (defined as a one-score differential or less). Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Houston were among teams running at least 60 percent of the time in these situations. Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay, Detroit and New England -- all teams with top quarterbacks -- were below 48 percent. Arizona was at 53 percent.

This could be a storyline to monitor. As noted, game situations can override the best intentions. But with a defense that appears strong, Arizona might be in position to make a more run-oriented offense work.

Elsewhere on the roster, the Cardinals remain deep at cornerback even after trading former starter A.J. Jefferson to Minnesota. They still have Patrick Peterson, William Gay, Michael Adams, Jamell Fleming and Greg Toler.

Receiver is another position of strength even though Arizona kept only five, one fewer than in recent seasons. First-round pick Michael Floyd joins a group already featuring Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet. Rookie LaRon Byrd is the developmental player among the group.

The chart shows roster counts for Arizona by position. The asterisk in the headline reflects unofficial counts for the practice squad. The Cardinals have not announced their initial practice squad. Their website does refer to a few possibilities, culled from media reports.

For download: This Cardinals roster features 27 columns of info for every player on the roster since roughly 2007. It also feature summary info comparing the Cardinals against league averages.
San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was good during a 35-3 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

Very, very good.

Kaepernick's performance came against backups (and, in some cases, against backups to the backups). That should prevent anyone from campaigning for Kaepernick to supplant Alex Smith as the starter in Week 1. But the broader context -- strong training camp, generally strong preseason -- has to be encouraging.

A month ago, the 49ers had to wonder whether Kaepernick would nail down the No. 2 job. He did so rather quickly.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat makes the case that Kaepernick is more gifted (but not yet better than) Smith. Cohn: "One pass by Kaepernick stood out. He rolled left -- sprinted actually -- and as he ran, he threw across his body to fullback Bruce Miller for nine yards. It was a beautiful throw and it’s Kaepernick’s signature throw -- toss that sucker while his body goes one way and his arm goes the other, an impossible maneuver. No one does it better than him in the entire league. Certainly not Alex Smith. Not even close."

Matt Maiocco of notes that both Kaepernick scoring passes came on "well-thrown balls on rollouts to either side."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee was similarly impressed: "Throughout the first half, Kaepernick showed why the 49ers used a high, second-round draft pick on him: He's excellent at evading defenses with his quick feet and then making them pay with his big arm. Kaepernick went into the half 12-18 for 158 yards and a 131.3 passer rating."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' quarterbacks fared well, except for Scott Tolzien. Branch: "On his first series, he sailed a third-down throw to a wide-open Nathan Palmer on a slant route. On his second series, he badly underthrew Chris Owusu, who was open down the left sideline. Two plays later, his third-down pass was picked off by linebacker Bront Bird near the line of scrimmage."

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers postgame notes following the Seahawks' victory over Oakland. Golden Tate suffered a twisted knee. Red Bryant chipped a tooth while celebrating Jaye Howard's safety.

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest framed the performances of Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn this way: "Wilson played the first two series and one quarter, and didn’t have his previous wow factor. Nor did he feel compelled once to take off running. There simply was no need to risk anything in the final exhibition when the defense was in charge the entire game. For those inclined to offer a pity party for Matt Flynn, the heir apparent to the starting QB job who was usurped by the upstart, there is no need to bother. Taking over in the second quarter, he evinced no depression, moving the club on touchdown drives of 78 and 90 yards."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals couldn't have expected much more from rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley on Thursday night. Somers: "He showed poise in the pocket and patience in making his reads. It helped that the Cardinals were successful running the ball, which has been the lone positive on offense this preseason. Running back Beanie Wells started and gained 35 yards on seven carries in the opening quarter."

Darren Urban of says the Cardinals' final exhibition game changed perceptions about which players might earn spots on the initial 53-man roster. Urban: "Now I'm finding it hard to believe outside linebacker Quentin Groves doesn’t stick around. The other backup outside linebacker choice then would come down to Clark Haggans or Brandon Williams. In the secondary, undrafted rookie Blake Gideon got a ton of playing time, and while Rashad Johnson and Adrian Wilson sat out, I start to wonder if Gideon could have a chance to slip on the roster, in place of Johnson, maybe? And there is little question there is a decision coming between A.J. Jefferson, Greg Toler and Michael Adams."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams aren't sure how much time first-round draft choice Michael Brockers might miss. Thomas: "Brockers took an X-ray on site at the Edward Jones Dome, and Fisher said the ankle will undergo an MRI exam today. Brockers left the locker room Thursday night wearing a walking boot on his right foot, so his status is very much up in the air for the Sept. 9 season opener in Detroit. The defensive tackle from Louisiana State was cut block below the knees by a Raven while in pursuit of Baltimore running back Bernard Pierce down the line of scrimmage. Brockers did not return."

Nick Wagoner of offers postgame notes, including this one: "DT Matt Conrath left the game with an undisclosed injury and his status moving forward is unknown. The Rams are already a bit thin depth wise at DT and any serious injuries would not be good moving forward."

CANTON, Ohio -- Looking back upon three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener against New Orleans, a 17-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on Sunday night:

1. Kevin Kolb's performance. The first item linked above included two questions for the Cardinals' quarterback. One, can he command the offense and finally appear comfortable running it? Two, can he make it through the game healthy after injuries derailed his 2011 season? Unfortunately, "no" and "definitely not" were the respective answers against the Saints. Kolb tossed an interception on his first pass attempt. Kolb, dropping back for his fourth pass attempt, suffered a rib contusion when New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis hit him. Kolb's night was finished, the latest damaging blow to his starting candidacy in Arizona. Injuries have knocked Kolb from preseason and/or regular-season games in four consecutive seasons.

2. Right side of the OL. Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie played extensively. He matched up against third-year Saints defensive end Junior Galette and seemed to do well enough. New Orleans did get pressure against Massie a few times, including once when Massie might have allowed a sack (I did not see the play clearly). Massie cleared out Galette to spring running back William Powell into the clear. Another time, Galette wanted a holding call, but did not get one, when Massie appeared to hook Galette around the collar. Massie disengaged and held up his hands as if to show officials he wasn't holding. Update: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he thought Massie struggled some while getting needed reps. The team is working with Massie to adjust his setup. The goal is to make Massie less mechanical, Whisenhunt said. That won't happen overnight or after a week of practices, but we should see progress as the preseason continues.

3. Cornerback competition. William Gay started opposite left cornerback Patrick Peterson, as expected. Michael Adams was the nickel corner with the starting group. Tackling was a problem for the defense overall, including at corner. Gay missed one tackle on running back Mark Ingram early. Adams was the left corner and A.J. Jefferson the right corner with the second unit. Greg Toler also worked with the second unit. He missed a tackle in the third quarter. Teams aren't getting as much contact work in training camps under the current labor deal. That makes it tougher to simulate timing and work on the fundamentals of tackling. Saints quarterback Drew Brees played little, so the Cardinals' secondary didn't get an extended look against top competition. Update: Whisenhunt liked the way his corners played the ball. He thought they were physical. He thought the Cardinals needed to do a better job tackling on check-down plays.

Three things: Cardinals-Saints

August, 5, 2012
Three things to watch for in the Arizona Cardinals' preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at 8 p.m. ET:

1. Kevin Kolb's performance. The Cardinals' quarterback competition includes John Skelton as well, so his performance also matters. But Kolb is the most intriguing variable on the team's roster this summer. Can he command the offense and finally appear comfortable running it? Can he make it through the game healthy after injuries derailed his 2011 season? We shouldn't expect an all-world performance right out of the gates. We shouldn't read too much into a seemingly shaky one, either. Quarterbacks and offenses in general can struggle during preseason if opponents decide to crank up the pressure or get creative. But perceptions matter for Kolb or any highly paid player trying to prove his worth. In a best-case scenario, Kolb connects with Larry Fitzgerald and rookie first-round choice Michael Floyd for meaningful gains. For reference, Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards in his 2011 Cardinals preseason debut. Skelton completed 6-of-10 for 94 yards and a touchdown in that game.

2. Right side of the OL. The Cardinals have a new look on that side of their offensive line. Right guard Adam Snyder signed from San Francisco in free agency. Veteran Jeremy Bridges remains at right tackle for now after replacing Brandon Keith during the 2011 season. The team hopes rookie Brian Massey can grow into the starting role and take over for Bridges at some point in the near future. This game against New Orleans provides a first look. The Saints have been working with left defensive end Cameron Jordan to drop into coverage in zone-blitz packages, a change for him. We should still see Jordan, a 2011 first-round choice, get some pass-rushing reps against the right side of the Cardinals' line.

3. Cornerback competition. The Cardinals know Patrick Peterson will be starting at left corner this season. They feel great about the likelihood of him emerging as a Pro Bowl-caliber force at that position. Arizona also likes the possibilities on the other side, but it's unclear how that race will settle out. Free-agent addition William Gay represents the known. Greg Toler, coming off ACL surgery, has starting potential. So does A.J. Jefferson, who made seven starts last season after Toler was injured. Throw in third-round choice Jamell Fleming, the team's most impressive rookie during minicamps, and the Cardinals have a genuine camp competition on their hands. The assumption is that Michael Adams would project more in a nickel role, not as a starter. He's as competitive as anyone in the Cardinals' corner mix.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters concludes with projections for the Arizona Cardinals' defense and special teams.

Defensive linemen (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, David Carter, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday

Leading contenders: Ronald Talley

Longer odds: Ricky Lumpkin, Landon Cohen

Comment: The position should be a strength for the Cardinals. Campbell and Dockett have earned most of the attention. Carter stood out immediately as a rookie in training camp last year. He came out swinging and quickly moved up the depth chart at nose tackle. Carter impressed enough as a rookie for Pro Football Focus to feature him in its "Secret Superstar" series. Williams has gotten his weight down. This is a big year for him coming off a season-ending arm injury.

Linebackers (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Daryl Washington, Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Stewart Bradley

Leading contenders: Reggie Walker, Quentin Groves

Longer odds: Quan Sturdivant, Marcus McGraw, Paul Vassallo, Colin Parker, Brandon Williams, Antonio Coleman, Zack Nash

Comment: Washington is an emerging star and should command more widespread respect if the Cardinals' defense continues to improve. Lenon remains an integral part of the defense. He's the link between coordinator Ray Horton and the rest of the defense. Bradley hasn't come close to unseating him. A full offseason should give Bradley a better chance to earn playing time, at least. The Cardinals are counting on Acho and Schofield to provide their outside rush. The coaching staff also wants to get pressure with its inside linebackers. Washington has shown he can make that happen.

Defensive backs (17)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.2

Safest bets: Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Jamell Fleming, Greg Toler, William Gay, Rashad Johnson

Leading contenders: A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams, James Sanders

Longer odds: Justin Bethel, Marshay Green, Blake Gideon, Eddie Elder, Crezdon Butler, Larry Parker, James Nixon

Comment: Fleming, the Cardinals' third-round choice, stood out among rookies at organized team activities and minicamps. Coach Ken Whisenhunt commended his quickness and ability to change direction fluidly. The team plans to try him in the nickel role during training camp. The other nine defensive backs listed among "safest bets" and "leading contenders" have started regular-season games in the NFL. Barring injuries, one or two players released from this group figures to play elsewhere this season.

Special teams (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Safest bets: Jay Feely, Mike Leach, Dave Zastudil

Leading contenders: none

Longer odds: Ricky Schmitt

Comment: Feely's field-goal percentage last season (79.2) was his lowest since 2004. Four of his five misses were outdoors. Arizona plays six games outdoors in 2012 (Arizona counts as indoors even though the roof can open).
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Arizona Cardinals might wind up releasing a player they now or recently considered as a starting cornerback. They also have reason to expect more from safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson as both players operate nearer to full health.

Those and other factors made the Cardinals' defensive backfield a worthy choice for this exercise, particularly after cornerback Richard Marshall's departure in free agency raised concerns about the secondary's strength early in the offseason.

Third-round choice Jamell Fleming was arguably the Cardinals' most impressive rookie during organized team activities and minicamps. The non-contact sessions offered only limited glimpses of what players have to offer, but Fleming's quickness stood out to the coaching staff. The Cardinals want to see how he operates as the nickel. William Gay was a veteran addition in free agency.

Patrick Peterson is locked in as the starter on the left side and should be primed to take a big step forward after finishing strong as a rookie first-round choice in 2011. Former starters A.J. Jefferson and Greg Toler join Gay as candidates to start on the opposite side. Fleming is in the mix. Michael Adams, who played a third of the defensive snaps last season, offers veteran depth (he is 27).

The backup safeties, Rashad Johnson and free-agent addition James Sanders, each played 450-plus snaps on defense last season.

Tight end was another position I considered here. Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler and Jim Dray give the Cardinals variety, depth and upside.
A look at three potentially significant under-the-radar offseason moves for each NFC West team, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals:

1. Cornerback shuffle. Former Pittsburgh Steelers corner William Gay is working with the starting unit during organized team activities. Arizona signed him to a modest deal after losing Richard Marshall in free agency. Gay played for Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton previously. He should fit the defense. Third-round corner Jamell Fleming has been the Cardinals' best rookie during organized team activities. Arizona could wind up cutting a cornerback who once projected as a starter. Patrick Peterson, Gay and Fleming have job security. A.J. Jefferson, Greg Toler and Michael Adams could be competing for two spots. Jefferson and Toler have been starters. Adams knows how to win a roster spot as an underdog. He's a good special-teams player and sound tackler.

2. Naming John McNulty as QB coach. The stakes are sky-high for the Cardinals at quarterback this season. Former QB coach Chris Miller made his coaching debut in 2009 and, as a former player, was probably an ideal sounding board for then-starter Kurt Warner. The landscape has changed dramatically since then. McNulty brings college coordinating experience, organizational skills and an emphasis on mechanics to the role. He's a professional coach, not a former pro player making the transition to coaching. The Cardinals are banking on McNulty to challenge Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. They are asking him to help develop rookie Ryan Lindley for the future. McNulty coached the Cardinals' receivers previously. Coach Ken Whisenhunt considered him to be a rising talent, one reason the Cardinals blocked Tampa Bay from interviewing McNulty for its opening at offensive coordinator.

3. Re-signing Levi Brown. There are some parallels between this move and the San Francisco 49ers' decision to bring back Alex Smith a year ago. Both players were disappointing as high first-round draft choices. Both cited unfinished business when deciding to return. Both players' teams easily could have moved in another direction. But Arizona, like San Francisco, might have been worse off in the short term. Brown, like Smith a year ago, re-signed after finishing the previous season relatively strong. Arizona had a tough enough time trying to replace its right tackle this offseason. Replacing both of them probably would have set the team back.

Odds-defying linebacker has earned raise

February, 10, 2012
The St. Louis Rams thought they could upgrade from veteran linebacker Paris Lenon following the 2009 season.

Three years later, they still have not adequately replaced him.

The Arizona Cardinals sought to upgrade from Lenon last offseason when they invested $6 million a year in free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley.

Lenon wound up playing more than 95 percent of the defensive snaps in 2011. He was a team captain, played through multiple injuries (including a cracked tailbone) and triggered a $500,000 salary increase for the 2012 season. His name jumped off the chart below showing NFC West players who have earned 2012 pay raises by meeting incentives.

Lenon, 34, will not go away. He has done what solid, unspectacular veterans must do to remain viable: stay on the field at all costs.

"His story is amazing," Lenon's agent, Jonathan Persch, said Friday. "He is the only XFL player still even remotely around. What makes him amazing is not just his resiliency on the field, but he is a normal soccer dad when he goes home to his wife and kids."

Undrafted from Richmond in 2000, Lenon went to camp with Carolina as a rookie, then caught on with the XFL's Memphis Maniax. He was briefly with Seattle and Green Bay before joining the Packers' practice squad in 2001.

Lenon played for the Amsterdam Adrmirals in NFL Europe and has subsequently played in 159 of 160 regular-season NFL games for the Packers, Detroit Lions, Rams and Cardinals. He has never missed a game to injury. Lenon did not play the 2009 opener only because the Rams had not yet signed him.

"He doesn't verbalize this," Persch said, "but dear God, don't tell him what he cannot do."

The Cardinals credited Lenon with 127 tackles in 2010 and 103 last season. Those totals, combined with playing time, helped Lenon achieve the $500,000 raise. Lenon also set a career high with three sacks. He has five sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in two seasons with Arizona.

Will Lenon start again in 2012? There are never guarantees, but it's tough betting against him. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has emphasized playing the best players at every position, even when it wasn't convenient to him. That explained why Lenon stayed on the field last season even though the team had more invested in Bradley.

Note: Thanks to Brian McIntyre for putting together the information in the chart below. He has posted a broader NFL list of salary increases here.


2011 Cardinals Week 16: Five observations

December, 29, 2011
Five things I noticed about the Arizona Cardinals while watching their most recent game, a 23-16 road defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals:
  • The Adrian Wilson we know and love/hate. In putting together the recent item on the NFC West's biggest, baddest safeties, I couldn't recall as many big, violent hits from Wilson this season. He delivered one early in this game against the Bengals. Cincinnati had taken over deep in Cardinals territory following a John Skelton interception on Arizona's opening drive. Patrick Peterson had blanket coverage on A.J. Green and probably would have broken up Andy Dalton's pass, anyway. But Wilson made sure of it by blasting Green in the upper back. Wilson thrives on these hits. He got up quickly and tripped over Green while trying to stand over him. Wilson also forced a critical fourth-quarter fumble.
  • Great battle between rising young players. There was no shame in the touchdown Arizona's Daryl Washington allowed to Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham following Skelton's first interception. Washington shadowed Gresham and contested the ball aggressively. Gresham reached out his arms and made a strong play for the ball. Washington was right there. He couldn't have covered the play any more closely without breaking up the pass. This play showed the value of an accurate pass, too.
  • Posterized. Washington couldn't get a break. After coming up short against Gresham, Washington was the Cardinals defender falling victim on the wrong end of Jerome Simpson's spectacular forward flip across the goal line. Washington stands 6-foot-2. His body was straight and leaning slightly toward the pylon when Simpson went off two feet and leaped over him. Simpson's hips appeared to be roughly seven feet off the ground at their highest point. Check out the video.
  • Tough calls against the secondary. Officials flagged Peterson for interference on the drive to the Gresham touchdown. That seemed like a tough call. They flagged Arizona's Michael Adams for interference on a throw for Ryan Whalen inside the Cardinals' 5-yard line. In watching the replay, I'm pretty sure Adams never touched Whalen before the ball arrived. The Bengals got three points out of that drive and 10 overall on drives sustained by questionable interference calls. That hurt.
  • It's a wonder Fitzgerald has held up. Skelton throws high frequently enough to put his receivers in danger. Fitzgerald has not missed a game since 2007 and that streak will continue through this season, obviously. But every time Skelton throws too high for a receiver, the Cardinals are testing the odds. It happened multiple times against the Bengals, including right after Wilson forced Cedric Benson to fumble in the fourth quarter. Arizona took over and wanted to capitalize on the momentum change. Fitzgerald was open at the Cincinnati 20, but the ball was thrown high and behind him. Fitzgerald was vulnerable when leaping to make a play on the ball. The safety ran past him, fortunately. Something to keep in mind when the Cardinals face a Seattle secondary with good size and a big hitter in Kam Chancellor.

This wound up being an exciting game at the end, but more exciting than it needed to be. The three interceptions from Skelton put the Cardinals in a tough position. Cincinnati nearly picked two additional passes in the final minutes.