NFC West: Michael Johnson

The 2013 deadline for naming franchise players passed Monday without NFC West teams using the mechanism to protect against losing their unrestricted free agents.

Dashon Goldson, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl safety, tweeted his approval.

Teams can begin negotiating with representatives for UFAs from March 9 before the signing period opens March 12.

Goldson, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker and St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola are among the more notable NFC West players scheduled to hit the unrestricted market.

Goldson earned $6.2 million as the 49ers' franchise player last year. The labor agreement would have required the 49ers to increase that by 20 percent to $7.45 million if the team decided to name him its franchise player for a second consecutive season.

Without the franchise tag, Goldson is free to test the market for the second time as a veteran player. Last time, Goldson settled for a one-year, $2 million deal from the 49ers. This time, Goldson, 28, has Pro Bowls on his résumé. Will teams pony up?

The 49ers had the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Giving Goldson a 20 percent raise as a two-time franchise player would have been difficult philosophically in that context. The team was more interested in extending inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman's contract. Bowman signed an extension during the season.

San Francisco would like to retain Goldson and Walker. The tag value for Goldson ($7.45 million) and Walker ($6.066 million) lagged far behind what teams would have to pay franchise players at quarterback ($14.896 million), defensive end ($11.175 million), cornerback ($10.854 million) or wide receiver ($10.537 million). The 49ers' reluctance to tag Goldson and Walker could reflect their acknowledgement that difficult decisions must be made in the interests of long-term planning. Their reluctance also could reflect a line of thought that neither player is worth that much on a per-season basis.

Nothing would stop either Goldson or Walker from re-signing with the 49ers later in the process.

Amendola's situation in St. Louis is one we discussed in detail previously. As the chart shows, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was much more effective on third and fourth downs last season when Amendola was on the field. However, Bradford averaged slightly more yards per pass attempt across all downs when Amendola was off the field. That is not to suggest that the Rams would be better off without Amendola. Rather, it's fair to question whether Amendola would be worth the $10.537 million franchise price as a frequently injured player whose value could be built around third-down situations as a slot receiver.

NFL teams named eight franchise players Monday, down from 21 last season.

The list included Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, Dallas Cowboys defensive end-turned-linebacker Anthony Spencer, Denver Broncos tackle Ryan Clady, Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, Kansas City Chiefs tackle Branden Albert and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks.

The Colts' use of the tag for McAfee moves them past Seattle as the team that has used the franchise tag most frequently since the designation became available in 1993. Indianapolis (11), Seattle (10) and Arizona (nine) top that list, according to Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information.
Miles from Seattle asks whether John Abraham, recently released by the Atlanta Falcons, could fit with the Seahawks as a free-agent addition better than Dwight Freeney might fit with them.

"He's 34, but he is still productive with 10 sacks last year," Miles writes. "It was suggested that Freeney would be willing to play for a discount with incentives in order to play for a contender. At 34, could the Seahawks land Abraham with such an offer?"

Sando: The Seahawks do have a need at defensive end, most likely, while starter Chris Clemons recovers from ACL surgery. A veteran free agent could work well as a one-year stopgap for the Seahawks, but I don't know whether Freeney or Abraham would come to Seattle at a discount. The market probably needs to play out beginning March 12.

Let's also remember how Seattle acquired Clemons in the first place: by trade. The Seahawks have 10 draft choices at present, second most in the league behind San Francisco. Perhaps their pro scouting department can identify the next Clemons -- a player miscast elsewhere and ready to break through if used properly.

Scheme changes can lead to personnel turnover when existing players no longer fit as well. Philadelphia, New Orleans, Buffalo and Cleveland are switching to 3-4 schemes in 2013. Might any players from those teams carry more value elsewhere as a result? I don't know.

The Eagles' Brandon Graham was highly drafted. After a slow start, he had a career-high 5.5 sacks last season and could be headed for a position change from defensive end to outside linebacker. What's his long-term fit with the Eagles? He's relatively cheap and could be ascending. Philadelphia has ample salary-cap room. There would be no obvious reason for the Eagles to move him.

At 268 pounds and with a 40-yard time in the 4.7-second range, Graham might not fit the Clemons mold closely enough, anyway. His name was merely one that came to mind when looking through rosters for potential trade candidates.

Gus Bradley, the former Seattle defensive coordinator and new head coach in Jacksonville, described the prototype during an interview at the NFL scouting combine.

"It needs to be somebody who has good speed, a guy like Chris Clemons," he said. "Not to talk about another team's personnel, but that type of individual who is maybe 6-3, 250 pounds and can run a 4.5, 4.6. Some teams may consider that a linebacker-type."

The free-agent market for defensive ends of any kind is poorer after Cincinnati named defensive end Michael Johnson its franchise player. Houston's Connor Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 before falling to 3.0 last season. He's 26 years old, listed at 268 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds and may or may not fit. Seattle might be better off drafting for the position than overpaying at a spot where Clemons is already well compensated and expected to return at some point.

Finding next home for 49ers' Alex Smith

February, 19, 2013
In eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith has played for three head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterbacks coaches (seven if you count Pep Hamilton, who helped Jim Hostler coach the position in 2006).

These many associations would seem to increase exponentially the number of likely landing spots for Smith as a free agent or trade candidate this offseason.

A closer look suggests that might not be the case.

Smith's connections with former head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary would actually deter reunions. Neither would be in position to push for landing Smith, anyway. Nolan's Atlanta Falcons don't need a quarterback.

Former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner could potentially need a quarterback in Cleveland. The team's other former Smith-era coordinators wouldn't be in position to help. Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers are obviously set at the position. Mike Martz is a color commentator for Fox. Hostler coaches wide receivers for the Joe Flacco-led Baltimore Ravens. Jimmy Raye worked last season as a senior offensive assistant with Tampa Bay. Michael Johnson was out of the NFL.

Hostler and Johnson were also among the Smith-era quarterbacks coaches in San Francisco. Another, Frank Cignetti, coaches the position for the Sam Bradford-led St. Louis Rams. Another, Ted Tollner, is no longer coaching. Another, Jason Michael, coaches tight ends for the Philip Rivers-led San Diego Chargers. Hamilton, meanwhile, is offensive coordinator for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts.

Even a run through former position coaches for the 49ers' receivers, tight ends and offensive line turns up more dead ends than fresh leads. Former tight ends coach Pete Hoener coaches the position for the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Former line coach Chris Foerster coaches the position for the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins. Another former line coach, George Warhop, is with Turner in Cleveland.

The 49ers' longtime former receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, coaches the same position for Jacksonville. New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would be familiar with Smith from his days coordinating the Seattle Seahawks' defense. But Jacksonville would make much greater sense as a landing spot for Smith if the 49ers' current offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, had become the Jaguars' head coach. That had been the expectation until the 49ers' deep playoff run complicated efforts to hire Roman.

There still could be a market for Smith, of course. But in a league built on connections and relationships, it's tough to find many likely to influence where Smith winds up next season. That is partly because the 49ers have kept together their current staff under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The coaches most closely associated with Smith's recent revival remain under contract to the team. That was great for Smith when he was starting, but it won't help him find his next job.
The following recently released and waived/injured NFC West players are eligible for practice squads if they clear waivers:
Arizona Cardinals

Jared Campbell, Marshay Green, Sean Jeffcoat, Ricky Lumpkin, Jeremy Navarre, Aaron Nichols, Bryant Nnabuife, Kris O'Dowd, Tom Pestock, William Powell, Steve Skelton, Kendall Smith, Thad Turner, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Young.

St. Louis Rams

Damario Ambrose, Tim Atchison, DeMarco Cosby, Tae Evans, Marlon Favorite, Pete Fleps, Cody Habben, John Henderson, Kevin Hughes, Randall Hunt, Thaddeus Lewis, Greg Mathews, Jeremy McGee, Ryan McKee, Jonathan Nelson, Fendi Onobun, Chase Reynolds, Van Stumon.

San Francisco 49ers

Chase Beeler, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Brian Bulcke, Jack Corcoran, Phillip Davis, Derek Hall, Joe Hastings, Chris Hogan, Ronald Johnson, Alex Joseph, Chris Maragos, Cory Nelms, Xavier Omon, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Sealver Siliga, Monte Simmons, Curtis Taylor, Kenny Wiggins.

Seattle Seahawks

Pierre Allen, Dorson Boyce, Chris Carter, Paul Fanaika, Maurice Fountain, David Howard, Michael Johnson, Jameson Konz, Mark LeGree, Ricardo Lockette, Michael Morgan, Josh Pinkard, William Robinson, Owen Spencer, Vai Taua, Patrick Williams.

A few younger players are not eligible, including former St. Louis Rams receiver Mardy Gilyard, who spent 11 games on the game-day roster last season. Players with no accrued seasons or fewer than nine appearances on game-day rosters in their only accrued season are among those eligible. Players can spend a third season on a team's practice squad as long as their team keeps its 53-man roster full at all times.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points to running back Marshall Faulk as the key figure on the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf offenses. Burwell: "I am sure that some folks would love to have me put all sorts of qualifiers behind this comment that Faulk was the hands-down most valuable player of the Rams championship era. But I feel no need to break up the sentence with words like 'arguably.' This is a flat-out, dead-on, simple as can be fact of football life."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Faulk had no equal as an all-around running back. Miklasz: "Of the 27 modern-era backs to reach Canton before Faulk, only six rushed for more yards: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Jim Brown. But among the 27 modern-day backs, only Smith and Payton had more yards from scrimmage than Faulk (12,279.) And this is what separates Faulk from the others: He has the most receptions (767) and the most receiving yards (6,587) of any Hall of Fame running back. Faulk, in fact, has more catches than 17 Hall of Fame wide receivers."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses how Cadillac Williams' addition will affect the Rams. Thomas: "The search for a backup to Pro Bowler Steven Jackson has been an ongoing saga for three offseasons. Because of the lockout, it spilled into training camp this year. But the addition of Williams, plus the arrival of Atlanta free agent Jerious Norwood on Tuesday, gives the Rams sudden depth and flexibility in the backfield."

Also from Thomas: Rams executive Kevin Demoff negotiates rookie salaries that are palindromes, according to Mac's Football Blog. Demoff has been doing this for at least a couple years, toying with the system.

Nick Wagoner of looks at how the team's free-agent additions will fit. On Justin Bannan: "In hopes of getting better against the run, the Rams brought in this big body to help occupy blockers. Bannan will probably be plugged right into the starting lineup as well, holding down the position next to Fred Robbins on first and second down."

Matt Maiocco of has this to say about newly signed center Jonathan Goodwin: "Goodwin (6-foot-3, 318) is expected to start at center for the 49ers this season. The club appeared satisfied with the play of Adam Snyder at center through the first week of camp after David Baas left the organization to sign a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Giants. The 49ers signed Goodwin, in part, because of his familiarity with the scheme and the same blocking techniques. Now, the versatile Snyder can serve as a backup at each of the team's offensive line positions."

Taylor Price of says rookie Aldon Smith is making a positive impression. Price: "In his first week of practices with the 49ers, Smith’s work in one-on-one pass rushing drills has been impressive so far. There, he’s flashed pass-rushing moves that utilize his propeller-like, 83 and 7/8-inch wingspan. Smith also spends time in seven-on-seven periods covering tight ends in passing routes sometimes 20 yards down the field."

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along a transcript from 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman's interview session. Roman on working with Vernon Davis: "Tight ends are something I hold near and dear to my heart and I just love giving them tips, and we talk through things and Vernon is a very, very professionally minded guy, very impressive work ethic and loves to pick up little tidbits. It’s just something else he can add to his game, so we throw things back and forth and work on drills and we just spend a little extra time refining things. He’s a real pleasure to work with, real pleasure to work with."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News has this to say about the 49ers' stadium plans: "To refresh your browser in terms of the 49ers’ stadium, it offers a C-shape bowl with a west-side suite tower, in a relatively tight space. To drop the bowl lower to the field, there are no club-level suites, per the request of 49ers owner John York at the project’s onset. That is intended to create a college-stadium atmosphere (although Lambeau Field’s redesign offers that, too)."

Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals deserve credit for spending wisely in free agency.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals hope guard Deuce Lutui will do a better job controlling his weight after meeting an unfriendly fate during free agency. Somers: "For the second consecutive year, Lutui has cost himself millions by failing to control his weight. It's the main reason the Cardinals didn't sign him to a multiyear deal last year. It's the reason the Bengals cut him this week after agreeing to terms on a two-year, $8 million deal. So Lutui, who is from Mesa, returned home to the team that drafted him, signing a one-year deal worth far less than the $5 million he would have made this year in Cincinnati."

Also from Somers: Veteran safety Adrian Wilson likes what he sees from rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson: "I love the kid, honestly. His confidence level makes me confident. He knows the playbook. He knows the things we want him to do. He doesn't talk back, which is great. You can tell he's very well-rounded and he wants to be great."

Darren Urban of passes along a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailing a generous move by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Horton sold for $20 a prized vehicle.

Also from Urban: Veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday shares his mindset heading into his 14th season in the NFL.

More from Urban: Will Beanie Wells bounce back from a down season? Coach Ken Whisenhunt, alluding to Wells' draft status: "You have to understand Beanie’s makeup. That was tough for Beanie. Quite frankly, he didn’t handle it as well as he probably could have, and that’s part of maturity. He’s a different player from that standpoint this year. I don’t question Beanie’s toughness. I have seen Beanie do things when he was nicked up. What Beanie has had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you are faced with."

Clare Farnsworth of looks at changes to the team's roster. There have been many.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times runs through a few roster moves for Seattle. The Seahwks signed Kelly Jennings, Michael Johnson, Zach Miller, Jeff Reed, Chase Reynolds and Jimmy Wilkerson. The team released Ladi Ajiboye, Wes Byrum, Michael Huey, Zac Lee and Blake Sorensen.

Also from O'Neil: a look at the Seahawks in free agency. O'Neil: "Seattle had 22 players entering unrestricted free agency, tied for second-most in the league. Seven of those free agents have been re-signed, but only defensive tackle Brandon Mebane came with what could be considered a sizeable deal."

More from O'Neil: Former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has hit the ground running in Tennessee. O'Neil: "Hasselbeck was off to Nashville without getting a chance to really say goodbye. The Seahawks took out a half-page newspaper ad on Sunday, thanking Hasselbeck, his wife Sarah and their children Annabelle, Mallory and Henry for their contributions to the community. Hasselbeck said he appreciated the gesture. During his trip east, he wrote a letter summarizing his feelings to the man who shared so many of his experiences -- both the successes and failures -- during Hasselbeck's decade with the team. That's how Hasselbeck wound up emailing Seahawks owner Paul Allen for the first time. He got a response, too."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks have interest in Viking linebacker Ben Leber, according to John Clayton.
The San Francisco 49ers' changes at offensive coordinator have become an annual storyline.

The team has gone from Mike McCarthy to Norv Turner to Jim Hostler to Mike Martz to Jimmy Raye to Michael Johnson to Greg Roman since January 2006.

The effect on quarterback Alex Smith cannot be quantified, but that much change cannot be a good thing.

The St. Louis Rams almost certainly will not go through as many changes while bringing along their franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford. Still, the change from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels after one season has raised concerns for the short term, particularly with McDaniels looking to re-emerge as a head-coaching candidate -- as was the case with Smith's second coordinator, Turner.

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo isn't buying the idea that a transition from Shurmur to McDaniels during an NFL lockout will significantly hinder Bradford in 2011.

"This may be some naïve thinking, but I coached two years in NFL Europe and we would go down to Florida with 60 guys, and in three-and-a-half weeks, you cut down to 35 and you play a 10-game season," Spagnuolo said from the NFL owners meeting last week. "That part of it, I have been through it. I certainly don't think that is going to happen. There is a confidence on that side of the ball in our building that if you are smart about how you implement it, go at the pace the players absorb it, I think we'll be fine. It still comes back to throwing it, catching it, running it, tackling."

The Rams' confidence in Bradford lets them feel that way. The coordinator change and ongoing lockout would affect a lesser quarterback to a greater degree.

Injuries prevented Bradford from working extensively with some of his receivers last season. The Rams can feel good about how quickly Bradford developed a rapport with Mark Clayton, even though Bradford was a rookie and Clayton had not run the Rams' offense.

The 49ers' Smith, despite not meeting expectations, improved dramatically in his second season following a coordinator change. He went from tossing one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions as a rookie to finishing his second season with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Bradford finished his rookie season with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 3,512 yards.

As the offensive coordinators turn

January, 20, 2011
NFC West teams have had 14 coaches serving in offensive coordinator roles over the last three-plus seasons.

That's a lot of turnover.

Seattle and San Francisco each will have had four coordinators in four seasons, with the 49ers' Mike Johnson having taken over for Jimmy Raye during the 2010 season.

Darrell Bevell is the favorite for the Seahawks' job after the team offered him the position.

All four teams turned over offensive coordinators from the 2008 to 2009 seasons.

Arizona's Russ Grimm (running game) and Mike Miller (passing game) share responsibilities, with head coach Ken Whisenhunt usually calling the plays.

Around the NFC West: Cards' QB options

January, 13, 2011
Darren Urban of runs through potential options for the Cardinals at quarterback. On Donovan McNabb: "First, he has to be released. If it happens before the lockout, I believe he can be signed. But will that happen? Regardless, I don’t see it here. McNabb will have been let loose by two different teams. His play was less than consistent this year (and yes, I know some people don’t think he had enough weapons). There are questions about his fitness (the Washington stuff earlier this season wasn’t out of the blue), his accuracy and his age. Plus, he’s spent almost his entire career in a West Coast offense that doesn’t exactly mirror the Cards’ offense. I just don’t see it." The Cardinals made no effort to acquire McNabb when he was available last offseason.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on the Cardinals' search for a defensive coordinator and their prospects at quarterback. Somers: "All of us are going to have a zillion questions about the team's next quarterback over the next few months. Until a new CBA is reached, however, there are going to be zero answers. No free agents can be signed. And teams can't trade players for draft picks. So even if Denver is willing to deal Kyle Orton, or Philadelphia is open to swapping Kevin Kolb, it can't be done absent a CBA. And I wonder how seriously those teams will want to trade. Do the Broncos really want to trade Orton and go with Tim Tebow? Are the Eagles really ready to go all in on Michael Vick? Having a quality backup quarterback is important. Any trades for those players will carry a hefty price tag in terms of compensation."

Clare Farnsworth of says quarterbacks making their postseason debuts have a 5-19 record since 2003. The Bears' Jay Cutler will try to make it 6-19.

Also from Farnsworth: Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run is still resonating with friends and family, including some Lynch hadn't heard from in years. The Bears are hearing about it quite a bit, too. Brian Urlacher: "A lot of misses tackles on that play. Marshawn is not a real easy guy to tackle, man. So guys missing tackles on him doesn’t surprise be at all. I actually expect it. Again, Marshawn made a great run. It was great call in the perfect situation for it. They lined up to where we knew we were going to get something positive out of it. The will and the determination to score is probably one of the most impressive things about it."

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks expect to see a more balanced Bears offense Sunday.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' top three receivers have come out of nowhere, or close to it. Releasing T.J. Houshmandzadeh and trading Deion Branch cleared the way for them to emerge. O'Neil: "Combined, the trio made $2.5 million in base salaries this season, which translates to about 35 percent of the $7.2 million Seattle paid Houshmandzadeh not to play in Seattle. But the most important measurement was against New Orleans on Saturday, when they combined for 14 catches, 184 yards receiving and two touchdowns."

Also from O'Neil: Leon Washington and Devin Hester lead the return games for Seattle and Chicago, respectively.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Brandon Stokley is the new Bobby Engram for Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Williams: "The Seahawks picked up Stokley to serve as a mentor for Seattle’s young receivers after veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh (now with Baltimore) and Deion Branch (traded to New England) moved on. They also liked the fact that Stokley had an intimate knowledge of Seattle offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ offense from his time in Denver."

Also from Williams: Hasselbeck's future could be in Seattle. Williams: "Hasselbeck is one of 30 Seahawks players who will be free agents once the season is over. But because of the way he played against the Saints, he’ll have some options now. Teams such as Buffalo, San Francisco, Minnesota, Arizona, Carolina and Tennessee will be looking for veteran upgrades at quarterback. And few, if any, hitting the market hold the pedigree that Hasselbeck possesses. ... With Seattle’s unlikely playoff run, the club fell from a projected top-10 pick in the draft to something in the mid-20s -- a tough spot to land a franchise quarterback. And now that Stanford’s Andrew Luck has decided to stay in school, that quarterback talent pool is even shallower."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald looks at David Hawthorne's value to the Seahawks as a versatile linebacker. Hawthorne has developed into a legitimate starter after making a positive impact as a hard-hitting backup in previous seasons.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ndamukong Suh edged Sam Bradford as top rookie in a poll of roughly 600 NFL players. Suh was more dominant as a rookie. Bradford had a greater impact through the nature of his position.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues what to expect from new Rams majority owner Stan Kroenke. Thomas: "If you’re expecting Jerry Jones slapping backs on the sideline, or Dan Snyder burning money like firewood on a cold January night in St. Louis, you’ve got the wrong guy. Stan Kroenke will be an involved owner but not a hands-on owner. He will rely on the people he had hired to make the decisions – and make the right decisions. I’m sure he will offer some thoughts on possible courses of action, but he will largely leave that to the hired hands."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says Pat Shurmur could be heading to a similar situation in Cleveland if the Browns hire him as head coach. Stull: "Shurmur would be leaving Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson, but in return he will be receiving Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis. In his eight games, McCoy completed just under 61 percent of his passes and threw for over 1,500 yards, with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was also sacked 23 times. By comparison, Bradford was sacked only 34 times the entire season and completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards, eighteen touchdowns and fifteen interceptions. Hillis carried the ball 270 times for 1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns. Jackson had 330 rushes for 1,241 yards and six scores."

Matt Maiocco of looks at options for Jim Harbaugh's initial 49ers staff. Maiocco: "Harbaugh has yet to make a hire. When I asked him Friday about his timetable for forming his staff, he agreed he'd likely have several hires in place by Jan. 24, when Senior Bowl practices begin. Then, he'd likely conduct more interviews during that week in Mobile, Ala."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says former University of South Florida coach Jim Leavitt is a candidate to coach linebackers for the 49ers. Barrows: "Leavitt was immensely popular and successful with the Bulls but was fired a year ago for allegedly striking a player during halftime of a 2009 game against Louisville." Advice to Leavitt: Striking Patrick Willis might not be a good idea.

Also from Barrows: more thoughts on the 49ers, including one on Vic Fangio and the search for a defensive coordinator. Barrows: "I think Fangio is Harbaugh's first choice. There is no deal yet, but all indications are that he will join Harbaugh in Santa Clara. The reason why we haven't heard of any hires yet is twofold: One, Harbaugh is first interviewing the assistants from Mike Singletary's staff before he makes any decisions. Two (and more important), whom Stanford hires as its head coach -- Fangio is being considered for that position, too -- will have a big bearing on Harbaugh's 49ers staff. The Stanford decision will have a domino effect, and we'll see the 49ers' positions starting to fall in place."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says it's looking like 49ers offensive coordinator Michael Johnson will take a job at UCLA.

Also from Branch: Ted Tollner's thoughts on Harbaugh.

Bradford, Rams need succession plan

January, 12, 2011
Thoughts while St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur remains a candidate to land in Cleveland as the Browns' head coach:
  • If that happens, the Rams will want to have quarterback Sam Bradford's best interests in mind as they consider a successor for Shurmur;
  • Keeping Bradford in the same system for a long time should be the goal;
  • Name the best quarterbacks in the league and you'll find that just about all of them own multiple years in the same system;
  • Bradford has only one year in Shurmur's offense, so a scheme change at this point would not require throwing out years of accumulated knowledge, and it's possible Shurmur's offense isn't the best fit for Bradford anyway;
  • Hiring former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress to succeed Shurmur would allow for basic scheme carryover;
  • Childress has never been known as a master play-caller, a reminder that the Rams should not hire for the sake of continuity alone;
  • Hiring former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as coordinator could send the Rams down a path of coordinator instability similar to the one San Francisco followed (against its will) after drafting Alex Smith first overall in 2005;
  • Bradford is better than Smith, so let's not get carried away with comparisons if the Rams do change systems early in Bradford's career;
  • Bradford might play well enough in 2011 to launch his next coordinator -- whether Shurmur or a McDaniels type -- into consideration for a head-coaching job;
  • The Rams need a better succession plan than they one they brought into this season;
  • Hiring a quarterbacks coach who projects as a future coordinator could protect the Rams from instability issues in the future, even if it requires promising the job to him should the coordinator depart;
  • McDaniels' offense might fit Bradford quite well; picture Tom Brady working from the shotgun with three-plus wideouts at his disposal;
  • Agent Bob LaMonte represents Shurmur, McDaniels, Childress, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and Browns president Mike Holmgren, among others; taking away Shurmur from Spagnuolo makes more sense for LaMonte, in theory, if he can deliver a high-profile coordinator to Spagnuolo in return.

I've put together a chart showing the 49ers' coordinators since 2005.

Around the NFC West: Bradford's status

December, 23, 2010
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Sam Bradford as saying he feels good physically heading into Week 16. Linebacker James Laurinaitis: "Sammy boy's doing fine. It's a long season. But to see him, he's still in here having fun, smiling, joking around. So Sam is doing fine. I'd expect him to say the same thing about a rookie wall -- he's going to say it's a myth." Bradford has taken hard hits in recent weeks. He limped back to the huddle at Arizona after injuring an ankle. He took a hit to the knee against Kansas City.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookie Darian Stewart has been willing and able to help in multiple ways. Coats: "The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Stewart has dressed for 13 of the Rams' 15 games, including each of the last six. He's on three special-teams units: kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt return. Lately, he's seen increased work on defense, coming in on certain packages in passing situations."

Also from Thomas: The Rams' game against the 49ers will likely be televised in St. Louis.

Nick Wagoner of provides an injury update after speaking with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. Wagoner: "Michael Hoomanawanui did limited work in practice. Spagnuolo said Hoomanawanui wasn’t able to get in as much work as hoped."

Also from Wagoner: more thoughts on how Bradford is handling the NFL grind. Bradford has played every offensive snap so far this season. Bradford: "Physically I feel great. I really think the weight I added in the offseason has really paid off. My body feels great. I feel probably fresher now than I did in college."

Jonathan Webb of says Donnie Jones has been among the Rams' most consistent players.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis revisits Bradford's ability to draw the 49ers offside when the teams played earlier this season.

Matt Maiocco of recounts top 49ers storylines from 2010. Maiocco: "The 49ers were 0-5, and questions were being raised about Mike Singletary's job security. Team president Jed York declared Singletary was his coach, and -- furthermore -- the 49ers would win the NFC West. Bold prediction? Sure. But in the NFC West, it certainly was not inconceivable. Singletary managed to keep the locker room together. The 49ers didn't exactly heat up, they they did win five of their next nine games to get within striking range of the division crown. The 49ers' biggest win of the year up to this point was the ballot June ballot measure that gave the go-ahead for the Santa Clara stadium project to move forward. Now, if the 49ers win their final two games, and the Seahawks lose once, the team will advance to the playoffs and make good on York's guarantee."

Also from Maiocco: He expects Singletary to confirm Troy Smith as the 49ers' starting quarterback.

Taylor Price of looks at the team's performance on third down this season.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reflects on the 49ers' inability to keep secrets.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Singletary's future son-in-law: Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Yes, Atogwe admits he was initially intimidated by his future fiance's famously intense father.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says there's a gap between Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Johnson regarding the quarterback situation. Lynch: "That makes Johnson one incredibly out-of-the-loop offensive coordinator, or someone who needs to get his story straight with Singletary before he fields questions about his starting quarterback."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Thaddeus Lewis will make his NFL debut for the 49ers on Sunday.

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says Tampa Bay's youth movement could show the way for Seattle.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with Leon Washington and Mike Williams regarding which player most deserves consideration as top comeback player this season. Washington came back from a career-threatening leg injury to become one of the most dangerous returners in the NFL. Williams came back from being ... Williams. Williams: "I think that award is about guys who we really have come back, guys who were established players in this league and had a little bit of adversity and bounced back. So, Leon represents that. Wes Welker represents that. … Leon, in my opinion, is even better than I remember him in New York. Just for me, I don’t think I really came back from anything that you can really put your finger on something that I came back from. You could give me 'Comeback Couch Player of the Year.' "

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wants his team to ignore playoff implications stemming from the San Francisco 49ers' game against the St. Louis Rams.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Carroll as saying his decision to stick with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback has nothing to do about the team's feelings for Charlie Whitehurst. That is an impossible position to defend, in my view. If the Seahawks thought Whitehurst gave them a better chance to win, they would play him without reservation. Sticking with Hasselbeck means, at the very least, that the Seahawks do not think Whitehurst would provide an immediate upgrade from a player coming off a four-game stretch with 13 turnovers.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says David Hawthorne has emerged as a force at linebacker for Seattle. Led by Hawthorne, the Seahawks dramatically improved their tackling last week.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Carroll plans to track what's happening in the Rams-49ers game without making changes based on what he knows.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says losing receiver Early Doucet should not affect the Cardinals too much because Andre Roberts can slide into the No. 3 role.

Also from Somers: O'Brien Schofield has a chance to get more playing time now that Joey Porter has a strained triceps. Somers: "Schofield is determined to end 2010 on a positive note after the year started with a devastating setback. He suffered a torn left ACL in practice before the Senior Bowl in January. Schofield had 12.5 sacks as a senior, but fell in the draft because of the injury. The Cardinals took him in the fourth round but were unsure if he would contribute this season. He spent the first seven weeks of the season on the reserve-non football injury list, missing six games. Ideally, he would have missed more time, but injuries to other players forced the Cardinals to speed up the timetable." Hitting on Schofield would help offset at least some of the price associated with getting nothing from 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown.

More from Somers: John Skelton wasn't a Cowboys fan even though he grew up in Texas.

Darren Urban of quotes coach Ken Whisenhunt as saying it's important for the team to keep Larry Fitzgerald, whose contract expires following the 2011 season.

Also from Urban: Schofield and rookie linebacker Daryl Washington have a chance to make positive impressions over the final two games.

49ers, Cardinals and Monday night matchup

November, 29, 2010
PHOENIX -- I'll be shifting gears from regular Monday blogging into "Monday Night Football" mode as the afternoon progresses.

A few pregame notes to pass along:
  • Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and I will be chatting throughout the San Francisco 49ers-Arizona Cardinals game. I'll pass along a link as soon as I have one.
  • Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt knows his team needs to gain some confidence early against the 49ers after losing five in a row. Whisenhunt to Sports 620 KTAR in Phoenix, via "I know that we’ll have a lot of energy. Our guys are excited about playing on Monday Night. But we’ve got a lot of young guys –- this is their first time playing on Monday Night Football. We’ve got to calm them down and make sure we play within our scheme, play physical, and make some of those plays early in the game."
  • The 49ers are the younger team on offense. They entered the season with the youngest offensive starters in the league. They have changed coordinators and quarterbacks since then. The new coordinator, Mike Johnson, has lamented the fact that his starting quarterback, Troy Smith, wasn't on the team in time to go through training camp.
  • If you weren't on the blog over the weekend, here's the item I put together previewing the game.

I'll be heading over to University of Phoenix Stadium a few hours before kickoff, with coverage picking up from there.

Around the NFC West: More 49ers 'rats'?

November, 26, 2010
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes current and former 49ers players anonymously regarding the team's alleged coaching deficiencies on offense. Those players say the team fails to make the proper adjustments. Coach Mike Singletary previously used the term "rats" to describe anonymously quoted internal critics. Reading between the lines, it appears as though offensive coordinator Mike Johnson feels hamstrung with Troy Smith at quarterback. Johnson has more than once mentioned limitations associated with using a quarterback who did not go through training camp with the team. Johnson was Alex Smith's position coach all offseason. Johnson: "I think if you have a quarterback who has been here the entire time and you go through training camp and you go through an entire playbook, I think that gives you more leeway. The adjustment part of it, you can't do all that you would like to sometimes because of that, but I think we had enough in the game plan to get some things done and we just weren't effective."

Also from White: The 49ers' Justin Smith makes his 150th consecutive start Monday night, an impressive feat that doesn't really impress Smith. Justin Smith: "I mean, I guess I've been lucky and fortunate not to be injured too bad to this point. ... I've had my ribs separated and my fingers broke and the top of foot broke. A lot of guys play through a lot of stuff that you wouldn't believe. Usually it takes something like a major muscle tear or major knee or breaking a bone. I've just been fortunate to not get those. There's been times I've had my ankle rolled up and maybe it should've broke, and for whatever reason it didn't, so I'm just thankful for that."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers and some other teams might be reluctant to hire big-money head coaches this offseason without a labor agreement in place. That seems like a short-sighted mindset given the prominent roles head coaches play and the fact that most earn far less up-front money than star players collect.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Troy Smith is working from a shorter leash this week.

Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' efforts to find a young inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis.

Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals rookie Dan Williams is making strides after getting benched for weight issues early in the season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We haven't had any issues with his weight since that time, so if that's the message that he got, that's a good thing. We have high expectations for Dan; he's done a nice job for us. He's been pretty dominant in some of the goal-line situations for us this year, and I think that sometimes with young guys you have to send them a message, and he obviously got that message."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald sees the Cardinals' Monday night game against the 49ers as "make or break" in nature. More here.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic counts the ways the NFC West isn't all that strong this season. Young: "We keep hearing about how the Cardinals are only two games out of the division lead, which is true. However, they have two losses to the first-place Seahawks, so really they're three games down -- unless there ends up being a three- or four-way tie. Anything is plausible in the NFC Worst."

Darren Urban of says cornerback Greg Toler and defensive end Calais Campbell missed Cardinals practice Thursday.

Also from Urban: There's no love lost between the Cardinals and 49ers, regardless of team records.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' annual turkey trick caught one unsuspecting rookie this Thanksgiving.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Golden Tate is eager to get back onto the field after missing time with an ankle injury. Tate made impressive plays against Oakland before suffering the injury in that game. Tate has the athletic ability to become a factor in the passing game. He needs to become more in tune with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck by paying closer attention to the finer points of the position. Ben Obomanu and Brandon Stokley have shown the way on that front.

Also from Boling: a Seahawks injury update noting that receiver Mike Williams was still wearing a boot to protect his injured left foot.

More from Boling: Marshawn Lynch's fumbling problems against the Saints might bear some relation to the team's issues on the offensive line. Clare Farnsworth of offers notes from practice Thursday.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo sent the right message with his angry reaction to the team's loss against Atlanta. Spagnuolo thinks the Rams have improved enough to beat good teams. That is particularly true at home. Miklasz: "We can take note of the Rams' progress. We can be cautiously optimistic over the future. We can be appreciative of the new players that they've added who are turning the franchise around. We can agree that it was a dandy surprise to see the Rams at 4-4 and tied for first place two weeks ago. We can also sign off on the premise that the Rams' best days are most likely in the future. That doesn't mean we should wave off losses now. The 2010 season isn't a school project."

Also from Miklasz: putting Sam Bradford's accuracy in perspective.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams receiver Danario Alexander expects to return from knee surgery Sunday.

Also from Thomas: The Rams' Steven Jackson plans to sleep inside an altitude tent this week in preparation for facing the Broncos in Denver. Guard Jacob Bell: "The altitude, it's a factor. You definitely feel the lack of oxygen. Your throat might burn a little bit, stuff like that. But I've honestly never had too much of a problem with it. You've got to realize that you are in good shape. And for us, we've played 10 games now. So it's not going to affect you as much."

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams have lost some key players to injured reserve, but the 53-man roster is quite healthy for this time of year.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Jackson has been using his altitude tent since training camp.

Around the NFC West: Rams' chances

November, 24, 2010
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have become a little too consistent on offense, at least in terms of how many points they score. Thomas: "Ten games into the season, the Rams have topped 20 points only once, in a 30-16 victory over Washington in Game 3. At a point in the season where there is next to nothing left on the street in terms of free agents, it could very well be that the Rams have reached their level of competency for this season. Compared to last year, the offensive improvement has been significant. With six games still to go this season, the Rams already have scored more touchdowns (18 to 17) and scored more points (177 to 175) than they did in the entire 2009 season."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring his thoughts on the Rams' chances in the NFC West. Thomas: "I think Arizona and San Francisco are out of it. If the Rams can win two of these next three road games, I think they're very much in the mix. If they win one of the three, they're hanging by a thread, if they lose all three forget about it."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls colleagues on the legacy of Steven Jackson. Bill Coats: "It’s been interesting to watch Steven Jackson mature over his seven seasons with the Rams. He was open with his feelings and thus misunderstood for a few years. Ultimately, I think his legacy will be as a fierce competitor, the most productive running back in franchise history, as well as a devoted team leader."

Jeff Gordon of says Sam Bradford's success as a rookie contrasts sharply with experiences elsewhere around the league.

Matt Maiocco of offers a player-by-player review from the 49ers' game against Tampa Bay, noting that the offensive line struggled. Maiocco on rookie tackle Anthony Davis: "He had another difficult game with a couple pressures surrendered. Although none of the sacks were entirely on him, his protection could've been a lot better on half of those six sacks. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett beat him on a fourth-quarter sacks, and linebacker Quincy Black got pressure that contributed to a sack, too."

Also from Maiocco: Mike Singletary would need lots of breaks to return as head coach in 2011. Maiocco: "True, the 49ers are not inclined to make any dramatic move during the season. But the attention brought on by a national-TV audience for "Monday Night Football" against the Arizona Cardinals could also factor into the equation. If the wheels come off Monday night -- as they did Sunday against the Buccaneers -- it might force Jed York to expedite his next move."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh and Brian Billick as likely candidates to replace Singletary.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Troy Smith needs to do a better job avoiding sacks. Branch: "Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said Troy Smith was responsible for at least three of the six sacks the Niners allowed against Tampa Bay, which had managed eight sacks in its first nine games. On two occasions, Smith held the ball too long and on another occasion he rolled out and, instead of throwing the ball away, ran out of bounds for a two-yard loss, which goes as a sack in the stat book."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary appears to hold the Cardinals in low regard. Also from Kawakami: "If John and Jed York really want to change the culture -- and GET A QUARTERBACK --they’d have to spotlight the offensive wizard in Stanford, which also happened with Eddie D more than 30 years ago. And if the Two JYs don’t check out Harbaugh because they’re either scared of the money terms or don’t want to change up their Jed/Paraag Marathe/Lal Heneghan/Trent Baalke bland hierarchy, then we’ll know things aren’t likely to change for a great while."

Clare Farnsworth of says Justin Forsett, the only Seattle running back on the roster from last season, has played well when called upon for the Seahawks.

Also from Farnsworth: a look at roster moves Seattle made Tuesday.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the relationship between Pete Carroll and Matt Hasselbeck resembled an arranged marriage, but that doesn't mean it cannot work.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune posts Brian McIntyre's weekly snap counts and personnel notes for Seattle. McIntyre: "Against Seattle’s base defense, Drew Brees completed 14-of-24 pass attempts for 175 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interception. Brees was 6-for-7 for 91 yards against the Seahawks’ “Bandit” package, converting 5-of-7 third down conversion attempts. Brees was 5-for-6 for 85 yards and a touchdown when Seattle was in dime, 3-for-5 for 27 yards against nickel and 1-for-1 for 3 yards and a touchdown against Seattle’s short-yardage package."

Also from Williams: a look at the Seahawks' issues in the red zone on offense.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says the Seahawks should win the NFC West this season. Boyle: "With six games left on the schedule, the Seahawks are alone in first place in football’s worst division. They play four of those six games at Qwest Field and the team closest in the standings, St. Louis, has to come to Seattle at the end of the season. So we should no longer be asking if the Seahawks can make the playoffs; the discussion should instead be what a disappointment it would be if they don’t."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, who says the team will fight through its current struggles. Bidwill: "I'm a fan and this is really frustrating to all of us. I know the guys are working hard and we're trying to get this thing rectified. The good news is we're only two games out of first, but we have to focus on getting out there on Monday [vs. the 49ers], against an NFC West opponent, and take care of business."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' roster moves suggest the team expects LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright to return from injuries.

Darren Urban of says he sees Larry Fitzgerald re-signing with the Cardinals as the most likely scenario. I think that depends largely on what the team does at quarterback before Fitzgerald's contract expires following the 2011 season.

Around the NFC West: 'That's on me'

November, 23, 2010
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary went out of his way to accept blame for the team's 21-0 defeat to the Bucs and 3-7 record this season. "That's on me," the coach kept saying. Based on the feedback I've been receiving from 49ers fans, they weren't having any difficulties assigning blame following the 49ers' latest defeat. They've been blaming Singletary for weeks, and rightfully so. Even if the 49ers' talent was overrated, it's tough to say Singletary and his staff have gotten enough from it. Having the right quarterback masks problems, of course. The teams leading the NFC West have gotten the most consistent quarterback play. When quarterbacks underachieve, teams tend to unravel. They become impossible to trust. Seemingly safe expectations become unreliable.

Also from White: The 49ers don't plan changes to their offensive line despite a rough outing against the Bucs. This team has needed a veteran presence at right guard to help rookie right tackle Anthony Davis come along. Singletary's insistence upon sticking with a younger player, Chilo Rachal, doesn't make sense to me. Every other team in the division has plugged in veteran guards next to young tackles. It just makes sense, especially if younger guards are struggling.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Fox analyst Kurt Warner foreshadowed Troy Smith's struggles for the 49ers against Tampa Bay. Warner before the game: "I think to be an every-down quarterback and to play successfully year after year, you're going to have to play inside the pocket," Warner said. "You're going to have to see the field, you're going to have to make those decisions, and those are things that I don't know if they've asked him to do yet."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Singletary's unwillingness to change reflects bad coaching.

Matt Maiocco of says 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson defended his game plan against Tampa Bay, instead blaming execution issues and suggesting the team was hamstrung because Troy Smith had not gone to camp with the team. Johnson: "We didn't execute, but they didn't do anything to really stop what we had done, other than they took away the vertical [passes]. At the end of the day, you still have to run-block, you still have to catch, you still have to throw, and you still have to do the small details to execute a given play each week. The team that executes the best is usually the team that wins. Last week, the St. Louis Rams didn't execute as well as we did on offense and we won the game. We came out yesterday and didn't play well. That falls on me. I take responsibility for that. But we'll get it corrected and move forward and go from there."

Also from Maiocco: highlights from Singletary's news conference, including news that Troy Smith would remain the starting quarterback ahead of Alex Smith.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary changed catchphrases in a 24-hour period. Branch: "Reading, at times, from handwritten notes on a sheet of white paper, Singletary acknowledged the Niners weren't properly prepared for a game in which they entered favored by three points and exited with their first home shutout since 1977, when Singletary, 52, was a freshman at Baylor."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says penalties forced the Cardinals into too many unmanageable down-and-distance situations against Kansas City. Also: "It was obvious that lineman Darnell Dockett is not himself. He played after missing last week because of a shoulder stinger but was not a factor. Safety Adrian Wilson appeared to blitz more than he has in recent weeks, and cornerback Michael Adams, playing in place of the injured Greg Toler, seemed to hold up well."

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals lost linebacker Will Davis to a season-ending leg injury. Boivin: "Davis started Sunday against Kansas City in place of Clark Haggans, who has missed three of the past four games with a groin injury. (Coach Ken) Whisenhunt believes Haggans will be available for the San Francisco game Monday night and is comfortable with reserve O'Brien Schofield seeing more time." Injuries have affected the Cardinals more this season than in recent seasons. The team does hope to have LaRod Stephens-Howling back against the 49ers on Monday night.

Also from Boivin: Derek Anderson and other Cardinals players need to improve their body language. Boivin: "Botched passes prompt an angry grimace. Frustrations trigger questionable decisions, like throwing the ball to the sidelines Sunday and landing an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. This is not the behavior of a rally-the-troops kind of guy. Teammates, consciously or not, look to him for a signal." Having some success would change body language immediately. The Cardinals haven't been good enough to succeed.

Darren Urban of says Whisenhunt thinks the team's struggles are not eroding what the organization has built in recent seasons. Whisenhunt: "I don’t think you can look at our team over the last two years and what we have done in the playoffs and be ashamed about anything with that or feel like we’ve lost anything from that. If we have to go through some tough times to get back to that point, that's what we have to do." Every team is different and this one is vastly different from its recent predecessors. The Cardinals turned over more of their roster than nearly every other team did during the offseason.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are not sure when receiver Mike Williams will return from the foot injury he suffered Sunday. According to coach Pete Carroll, Williams suffered the injury later in the game, not when the Saints appeared to tackle him awkwardly following an early 68-yard reception. Carroll: "He was running down the field and felt something pop. It's very unusual. They know exactly what it is. I can't explain it to you, and they've never seen it before. So it's an unusual thing that he's got. Something in the bottom of his foot." Meanwhile, left guard Chester Pitts suffered an ankle injury and might not play this week. I noticed Pitts limping badly into the locker room at halftime and figured his surgically repaired knee was the problem. Recovering from the ankle injury should allow Pitts' knee to get some rest.

Also from O'Neil: Carroll is most concerned with issues along the Seahawks' defensive front. Carroll has acknowledged that the Seahawks are having a hard time making up for what they lost when Red Bryant landed on injured reserve. The Seahawks built their run defense around Bryant, essentially creating a position for him.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks could remain without starting nose tackle Colin Cole for a couple more weeks.

Also from Boling: Seattle leads the NFC West despite quite a few significant injuries.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold expects to play Sunday despite aggravating a shoulder injury. The team initially thought Saffold had suffered damage to his rotator cuff. Saffold: "Pretty much the same thing, just retweaked it during the game. I got caught in a bad position when I was pass blocking. It was really hurting after that. I knew I had to come out."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are lucky to remain in the NFC West race. Burwell: "While no one seems to be able to win the NFC West, with six games remaining, no one seems to be able to lose it, either. And that means that for the first time in ages, the Rams are still playing meaningful football games this late in the season. Not since 2006 when the Rams finished 8-8, only a game out of first place, have they pushed and shoved their way into November with a division title still at stake."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on every team in the NFC West. Miklasz on the Rams: "The Rams have lost two in a row, now must play the next three games on the road, where the franchise is 1-16 since Oct. 26, 2008. In the last two games the Rams defense has been roasted by a mediocre quarterback (Troy Smith) and a very good quarterback (Matt Ryan) in allowing a total of 609 yards passing and a rating of 108.4."

Nick Wagoner of says the Falcons' ability to get pressure up the middle disrupted the shovel pass Atlanta intercepted.

Also from Wagoner: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo wasn't interested in watching Sunday night football even though his former teams were playing.

Around the NFC West: Troy Smith's future

November, 19, 2010
Matt Maiocco of provides a chat transcript featuring this thought on Troy Smith: "Yes, Troy Smith has a chance to be the starting 49ers' QB in 2011. I've been impressed with his mentality. I like that he keeps his eyes downfield and he's not afraid to let it fly. When I look at the potential free-agent quarterbacks, he might be the best guy out there -- assuming, as everyone would assume, Michael Vick returns to the Eagles. As for what he needs to 'clean up,' I address that in the link I posted at the top. There was one play last week against the Rams in which he threw a pass up for grabs that was a bad decision. I think that's the play that Mike Singletary did not like." Projecting the 49ers' future at quarterback could require knowing how the coaching situation will shake out. The team's thinking on the position could change dramatically with a new head coach.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' offense has improved with Mike Johnson as its coordinator. Singletary: "There was a reason why Mike Johnson was chosen as the coordinator. I think the best thing about Mike Johnson is his ability to get everybody in that room (involved). All those guys have the opportunity to have input. And when you do that, then you're going to get creativity. You're going to get a different thought process when everybody is involved, so it's definitely going to make a difference and it has so far."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' offensive coordinator leans on assistants.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers need to re-sign center David Baas, among others. On Alex Smith: "Smith bashers can take out their tambourines and snare drums, but don't start banging them quite yet. There's still an X-Wing-fighter-hits-a-small-hole-in-the-Death-Star chance the quarterback will be re-signed. It likely would involve a Troy Smith injury/collapse and a miracle finish by Alex Smith and the 49ers. That or Norv Turner is named the 49ers new head coach in January."

Taylor Price of says Patrick Willis has stepped up when needed.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News has this to say about Johnson, the 49ers' offensive coordinator: "Johnson has figured out how to use (Troy) Smith all on his own. Against the Rams, for example, Johnson often used a max-protect scheme that helped buy Smith extra time to take a deep shot down field. That led to a 65-yard completion to Josh Morgan in the first quarter and reminded St. Louis that the 49ers had other players to worry about besides running back Frank Gore. Get used to it, Johnson said. Over the past two games, the 49ers have nine pass plays of at least 25 yards -- with zero interceptions."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers this quote from 49ers tight end Delanie Walker: "All my life playing football, it’s the first time the offensive coordinator let the other coaches talk (in meetings)."

Also from Branch: Josh Freeman is the latest rising young quarterback to face the 49ers.

More from Branch: Brett Favre gets a mention in relation to the 49ers.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers want Troy Smith to improvise without losing control.

Clare Farnsworth of says tight end John Carlson has had to learn fullback while Michael Robinson recovers from injury. Carlson hasn't fared well enough as a receiver to command a more prominent role in that capacity. Chris Baker was the one catching a deep ball against Arizona.

Also from Farnsworth: Matt Hasselbeck's left wrist is not limiting the quarterback.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers details regarding Raheem Brock's DUI arrest. O'Neil: "Brock declined to submit for voluntary field-sobriety tests. He did consent to a preliminary breath test, which measured his blood-alcohol concentration at .133, according to the report. The legal limit in Washington is 0.08. Brock was then arrested. He was taken to University of Washington Police Department for further tests. According to the police report, the two breath samples were measured at .115 and .111."

Also from O'Neil: Russell Okung appears ready to return from an ankle injury. Seattle needs him, particularly in the running game.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald sizes up the Seahawks' next opponent, New Orleans.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt spoke of his special teams when asked about his offensive line. Whisenhunt: "It's hard for me to sit here at 3-6 and say we're doing anything good. The only thing that I would say is playing well is special teams. They've been pretty consistent the whole year. Like every other area of our team, I've seen them (offensive linemen) play very well, I've seen them play not so well. Sometimes the offensive line is judged by the number of sacks they give up and unfortunately this year, we've been in situations where we've trailed in games. And that makes it even more difficult on your offensive line."

Also from Somers: a Cardinals-Chiefs scouting report. The Chiefs have suffered a league-low seven turnovers. Somers: "The Chiefs have been intercepted four times and lost three fumbles. The Cardinals will need to change that trend Sunday. The offense needs all the field position help it can get, and turnovers will be a key. The Chiefs fumbled three times last week in a loss to the Broncos, but lost only one of them."

More from Somers: Beanie Wells is eager to get back on the field for Arizona. Quarterback Derek Anderson: "We haven't really had him, so I can't really say that we miss him. We don't know what he can do. I think he's a special back and someone that can help us."

Darren Urban of says he will be "shocked" if Wells does not play against the Chiefs.

Also from Urban: a more detailed look at Wells' situation.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have sold enough tickets to avoid a local television blackout for their Week 11 game against Atlanta.

Also from Coats: Rodger Saffold has made a quick recovery from the ankle injury that sidelined him for most of the Rams' game at San Francisco.

More from Coats: Punter Donnie Jones is enjoying another excellent season for the Rams.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have concerns in pass coverage heading into their game against Roddy White and the Falcons. The 49ers repeatedly made big plays in the passing game last week. Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole: "If you would've been in our meeting room on Monday watching the tape, I think you would fully appreciate that our guys were bitterly disappointed. Bitterly disappointed on how we performed, bitterly disappointed in the outcome. I appreciate that as a coach, the fact that the guys take a lot of pride. It means something to them. It means something to them that when the game was on the line, and we had a chance on defense to overtake the game, that we didn't get it done."

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams added Fred Robbins to their injury report with an upper back injury. Robbins was limited in practice. Strong play from Robbins has helped the Rams' defensive ends get to the quarterback against more favorable matchups.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams rank first in sacks, sixth in points allowed and among the NFL's best in third-down defense and red zone defense.