NFC West: Mike Gibson

Bethel clears protocol, plans to play

November, 20, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel has passed the league's concussion protocol, and he expects to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bethel said. “That’s my plan to play.”

Passing the concussion test was Bethel’s biggest hurdle to returning to the field. He was limited in practice Wednesday.

Bethel
“We’ll take it very easy with him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Bethel left last weekend’s game against Jacksonville after a vicious hit left him staggering. After finally getting to his feet, he had to take a knee again and eventually be helped off the field.

The second-year gunner, who Arians has said may be the best special-teams player in the NFL, said he didn’t know how bad the concussion was, but he was feeling better Wednesday.

“Just going to go out there and try to get better every day, do what I can,” Bethel said. “And just try to get ready for Sunday.”

Without Bethel, the Cardinals' punt-return unit would be in trouble. In the third quarter against the Jaguars, fellow gunner Teddy Williams was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. In Williams' place, the Cardinals signed Bryan McCann, who is expected to assume the gunner duties. But if Bethel can't return Sunday, the Cardinals' ability to flip the field won't be as strong as it has been and the defense will face more pressure to keep opponents from working in short fields.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was listed on the Cardinals’ injury report with a hand injury, but he practiced fully. The only Cardinal not to practice was center/guard Mike Gibson. Linebacker John Abraham (hamstring) and wide receivers Michael Floyd (shoulder) and Brittan Golden were limited.

Arians said Floyd’s right shoulder, in which he suffered a sprained AC joint against Houston, was sore. The coach also described Golden as at “about 90 percent,” an estimation the receiver agreed with.

“He’s still finding that last gear,” Arians said. “I think it’s more scar tissue than it is injury at this point in time. We hope to get him back soon.”

OC Goodwin learning from Arians, Moore

September, 6, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – A lot has been made about the Arizona Cardinals spending all offseason learning a new offensive scheme.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin can relate.

Since he was hired in early February, Goodwin has been learning how to direct an entire offense, from the run to the pass, from the first string to the practice squad. Until this year, Goodwin had only been an offensive-line coach. He knew two things: pass protection and run blocking.

When new head coach Bruce Arians brought him on board in Arizona, he entrusted Goodwin with the keys to the Cardinals’ new offense, one that featured All-Everything receiver Larry Fitzgerald and would soon have a name quarterback in Carson Palmer. But there was one caveat. Goodwin wouldn’t be calling the plays.

“It’s still a work in progress for me as being the O-line coach trying to grasp that kind of stuff,” Goodwin said. “Every day I get more and more apt at being able to do it, and being able to see it and tell you what those guys are doing.”

[+] EnlargeHarold Goodwin
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliHarold Goodwin, in his first stint as an offensive coordinator, relies on the experience of fellow coaches Bruce Arians and Tom Moore.
For now, Goodwin is content being a sponge, watching and learning from two football geniuses. Arians was the mastermind behind a Super Bowl victory with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is known for his vertical passing game. Tom Moore, the assistant head coach, made Peyton Manning into who he is today.

“At the end of the (day), he’s still a great mind as far as the passing game,” Goodwin said of Arians. “I just throw in my two cents every now and then for the most part.

“Those guys are doing it because they’ve been doing it for along time.”

But Goodwin still gets his chance to mold the offense in his image. He said the majority of the work during the week is on his shoulders.

For now, however, Goodwin will continue to learn from two of the brightest minds in the game.

“At the end of the day,” Goodwin said, “in my belly, I’m still a line coach.”

  • The fact that Patrick Peterson will also be playing wide receiver this season isn’t a secret. But how the Cardinals will unveil Peterson on Sunday still is.

“I can’t tell you that,” Goodwin said with a smile. “He’s going to be in there some. Who knows? That’s up to coach (Arians) and what he calls. Obviously they’ve seen some stuff in the preseason, but they haven’t seen it all.”

  • Goodwin believes left tackle Nate Potter is good enough to make the transition to guard, which the second-year pro started doing this week at practice.

“Nate’s a good athlete,” Goodwin said. “It’s still a little bit of an adjustment to him, but I think he’s capable.”

  • The Goodwin family is a house divided these days. Harold’s younger brother, Jonathan, is an offensive lineman for NFC West rival San Francisco. But don’t expect a good-luck phone call. Harold hasn’t heard from his brother as his coordinator debut nears.

“I haven’t talked to him,” Harold Goodwin said. “He’s the enemy now.”

  • While he was in Indianapolis, Goodwin was impressed enough with tackle Bradley Sowell that when the Cardinals were looking for a little more stability on the offensive line, they turned to the former Colt.

“He knows the system because he was in it last year,” Goodwin said. “It’s still a little bit of a learning curve because he forgot a little bit, but for the most part you see him out there getting reps, so he knows most of it.”

  • With Potter now an option at guard, Goodwin said guard Daryn Colledge along with backup center Mike Gibson will be the “exchange guys inside.”
This much we knew about the Arizona Cardinals' running game heading into Sunday’s season opener at St. Louis: Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.

Smith
After that? It was anybody’s guess.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians helped sort out the four-man “committee” waiting on the sideline by announcing that in most situations, Alfonso Smith will “probably be our next guy.”

That’s as much a testament to Arians’ faith in the oft-injured Ryan Williams as it is to Smith’s perseverance. He’s been cut three times in four years, during which time he bounced between the Cardinals’ 53-man roster and the practice squad. At the start of minicamp and OTAs, Smith wasn’t expected to make it through final cuts. But he impressed during training camp and developed a reputation as a punishing pass-blocker.

“There were a lot of linebackers and DBs that quit rushing him in training camp when we had pads on,” Arians said. “There were serious blows. He brings it and that’s what I like about him.”

That leaves rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, and Williams, awaiting their call. Ellington and Taylor have roles on special teams, but how many running backs Arians dresses on Sunday will be telling.

“It’s a blessing, man, just to be able to be on the active roster starting off and to get an opportunity to be the backup, so I’m going to be excited,” Smith said. “I’m going to be pumped up.”

In other news:
  • Arians said he will use three kick returners in St. Louis, although there are five or six possibilities.
  • The number of offensive linemen the Cardinals dress against the Rams will be a game-time decision, Arians said. He’s thrown around seven throughout training camp, but that could change with the injury to rookie guard Jonathan Cooper. If it’s seven, look for Nate Potter and Mike Gibson, in addition to the front five, because of their ability to combine to work at all five spots. If it’s eight, look for Bobby Massie to dress.
  • Arians said he thought Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown outing Thursday night against Baltimore was "outstanding." Arians, who was Manning's quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis in 1998-2000, said, "It was one of those ones that you dream about when you’re young, you know seven touchdowns in a game, especially against the Ravens, which is a great defensive football team. So that was really, really special."

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 26, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals placed second-year tight end Rob Housler (shoulder) on injured reserve. Receiver LaRon Byrd (knee), receiver Early Doucet (concussion), guard Mike Gibson (calf), tackle Nate Potter (ankle), fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) and safety Adrian Wilson (illness) did not practice Wednesday. Arizona is now without its top two tight ends entering the season. Housler is out and former starter Todd Heap was released. Potter's injury is concerning because he could be diminished, or the team could have to play D'Anthony Batiste at left tackle in his place. The 49ers' Aldon Smith will be gunning for the NFL's single-season sacks record.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams held out cornerback Cortland Finnegan (thigh), running back Steven Jackson (foot), linebacker James Laurinaitis (back) and center Scott Wells (knee). Safety Craig Dahl (knee) was limited. Not much new here. The same players appeared on the Rams' injury report last week. All played during the Rams' victory at Tampa Bay. Finnegan was limited to 54 percent of the defensive snaps. Rookie Trumaine Johnson showed he can play well with increased snaps. He played 94 percent. Laurinaitis appeared to play well. He played every snap against the Bucs. Wells played every snap as well. Jackson played 82 percent. The Rams appear to be limiting snaps in practice as a precaution.

San Francisco 49ers: Injuries to key players are mounting for the 49ers. Tight end Vernon Davis (concussion) and defensive lineman Justin Smith (elbow) did not practice. Davis did not finish the game at Seattle. Smith has not played since the second half at New England two weeks ago. Receiver Mario Manningham (knee) is out for the season. It's looking like Randy Moss, Delanie Walker and Garrett Celek could see more playing time than usual. That was already the case against Seattle. Moss played 74 percent of the snaps. He had been in the 30 percent range before the 49ers lost Kyle Williams and Manningham to season-ending injuries. Celek played 51 percent of the snaps against Seattle. Walker was at 77 percent. Justin Smith's injury is making life tougher for an defensive line rotation that lacks depth. It's also creating fewer favorable matchups for Aldon Smith.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks held out from practice receiver Sidney Rice (knee), tight end Anthony McCoy (back), tackle Breno Giacomini (elbow), running back Marshawn Lynch (back), linebacker Leroy Hill (hamstring), cornerback Walter Thurmond (hamstring) and defensive end Red Bryant (foot). Cornerback Marcus Trufant and defensive tackle Alan Branch practiced. Both have been injured recently. Trufant has been out for weeks. Thurmond's continued absence could hurt if the team loses starting corner Richard Sherman to a suspension. The NFL is expected to rule on Sherman's case as early as Thursday. Fellow corner Brandon Browner remains suspended until the team's first playoff game.
A few thoughts on known contract offers for restricted free agents in the NFC West:
  • The Hyphen: The Cardinals announced a second-round tender for running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, meaning any team signing Stephens-Howling would have to give Arizona a 2012 second-round choice if the Cardinals declined to match the offer. Stephens-Howling was a seventh-round pick. The fact that Arizona values him at a second-round level reflects well on him, and on the team for drafting him.
  • Amendola valued: Jim Thomas' report of a second-round tender for Danny Amendola suggests the Rams' new staff wants to keep the slot receiver. Amendola caught 85 passes in 2010, then suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the 2011 opener. He is 26 years old, has a good rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford and can contribute in the return game.
  • Secondary values: Arizona safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Greg Toler received original-round tenders. That means Johnson would fetch a third-round pick and Toler a fourth-rounder. The knee injury Toler suffered before last season suppressed his value.
  • No Max Hall: The Cardinals retained rights to exclusive-rights free agents Rich Bartel, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley and Brandon Williams. They made no offer to Max Hall, a forgotten man in the team's quarterback race. Hall was once a player the Cardinals liked for his toughness and leadership, but his days in Arizona appear finished.
  • 49ers' LB depth: San Francisco had only two RFA candidates, linebacker Larry Grant and receiver Brett Swain. The team has made no announcement on its tenders, but Grant appears likely to receive an original-round offer, pegging his value to a seventh-round pick, Matt Maiocco notes. Grant played extensively on special teams and filled it pretty well at linebacker when Patrick Willis was out. The 49ers should be able to match any offers, or they could look for depth in the draft. Looks like Swain is head headed for free agency.
  • Seahawks have three: NFL Players Association records show Seattle extending a $1.26 million tender to kicker Steven Hauschka, allowing Seattle the right of first refusal. Guard Mike Gibson and cornerback Roy Lewis are the team's other RFAs. Lewis' agent said he has not yet received word from the team, which has until Tuesday to make RFA offers.

Looks like I've finally made it through a blog post without mentioning -- wait, who wrote that headline?
The Seattle Seahawks' top priorities in free agency appear clear, at least when it comes to their own players.

Re-sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.

Lynch's agent of record, Mike Sullivan, recently took a job with the Denver Broncos. That would not affect negotiations as much if Lynch remained with Octagon Worldwide. The agent game can be an unpredictable one, however. That is something to file away.

Bryant has said he strongly wants to re-sign with Seattle.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.

MNF inactives: Rams without Fred Robbins

December, 12, 2011
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SEATTLE -- The St. Louis Rams' inactive list could favor the Seattle Seahawks' run defense.

The Rams will be without veteran defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who was questionable on the injury report and did not practice during the week. Robbins' absence means more playing time for Darell Scott and Gary Gibson.

Also inactive for the Rams: quarterback A.J. Feeley, quarterback Tom Brandstater, running back Quinn Porter, fullback Brit Miller, linebacker Justin Cole and guard Kevin Hughes. Kellen Clemens will serve as the backup quarterback to Sam Bradford.

For Seattle, linebacker David Hawthorne is active. The Seahawks' inactive list features quarterback Josh Portis, safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Kennard Cox, linebacker Adrian Moten, guard Mike Gibson, guard Paul Fanaika and defensive tackle Pep Levingston.

Week 5 rematches: NFC West vengeance?

October, 5, 2011
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NFC West teams went 0-3 last season against the teams they face in Week 5.

They lost those games by a combined 99-31 score.

Much has changed since then. Let's take a look:

Cardinals at Vikings

Score last season: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Key play: Brett Favre's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation tied the game, forcing overtime after the Cardinals had built a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in the game.

Biggest change: Both teams have new quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb for Derek Anderson in Arizona, and Donovan McNabb for Favre in Minnesota. Also, the Vikings have a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) while the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton).

Storyline: McNabb keeps a home in Arizona and was available to the Cardinals when their quarterback situation was in flux, but the team showed no interest in him. He is now trying to hold off a change to rookie Christian Ponder.

Lineup changes for Arizona (12): Beanie Wells for Tim Hightower at running back, Kolb for Anderson at quarterback, Daryn Colledge for Alan Faneca at left guard, Rex Hadnot for Deuce Lutui at right guard, Todd Heap for Ben Patrick at tight end, Andre Roberts for Steve Breaston at receiver, Anthony Sherman for Reagan Maui'a at fullback (although the team opened its 2010 game at Minnesota without a fullback), Dan Williams for Bryan Robinson at nose tackle, Daryl Washington for Gerald Hayes at linebacker, Clark Haggans for Will Davis at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, Patrick Peterson for Greg Toler at cornerback.

49ers vs. Buccaneers

Score last season: Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

Key play: Josh Freeman's 1-yard scoring pass to tackle Donald Penn midway through the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977.

Biggest change: Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as the 49ers' head coach.

Storyline: Alex Smith gets a shot at Tampa Bay after watching Troy Smith struggle against the Bucs as the 49ers' starting quarterback last season. Troy Smith's approach centered around striking for big plays. The Bucs took away the big plays. Alex Smith gives the 49ers a chance to be more efficient.

Lineup changes for San Francisco (12): Alex Smith for Troy Smith at quarterback, Joe Staley for Barry Sims at left tackle, Adam Snyder for Chilo Rachal at right guard, Bruce Miller for Moran Norris at fullback, Isaac Sopoaga for Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Ray McDonald for Sopoaga at defensive end, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman for Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Carlos Rogers for Nate Clements at cornerback, Tarell Brown for Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Donte Whitner for Reggie Smith at strong safety.

Seahawks at Giants

Score last season: Giants 41, Seahawks 7

Key play: With Seattle already down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Giants returned Leon Washington's fumbled kickoff return to the Seattle 4, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw's touchdown run on the next play.

Biggest change: Tarvaris Jackson is the starting quarterback for Seattle. Charlie Whitehurst was a fill-in starter for Matt Hasselbeck when the teams played last season.

Storyline: The Seahawks' so-far-unproductive ground game faces a Giants run defense that has struggled. Seattle's young line improved in pass protection last week. Can it take a step forward in run blocking this week?

Lineup changes for Seattle (16): Sidney Rice for Deon Butler at receiver, Jackson for Whitehurst at quarterback, Russell Okung for Chester Pitts at left tackle, Paul McQuistan for Mike Gibson at left guard, Max Unger for Chris Spencer at center, John Moffitt for Stacy Andrews at right guard, James Carpenter for Sean Locklear at right tackle, Zach Miller for John Carlson at tight end, Brandon Mebane for Junior Siavii at defensive tackle, Alan Branch for Craig Terrill at defensive tackle, Red Bryant for Kentwan Balmer at defensive end, K.J. Wright for Aaron Curry at linebacker, David Hawthorne for Lofa Tatupu at linebacker, Leroy Hill for Hawthorne at linebacker, Brandon Browner for Kelly Jennings at right cornerback, Kam Chancellor or Atari Bigby for Lawyer Milloy, depending on Chancellor's availability.
The Seattle Seahawks went into their final exhibition game hoping injured left tackle Russell Okung would be available for the regular-season opener.

They emerged from the 20-3 victory over Oakland hoping their other starter on the left side, guard Robert Gallery, would also be available.

The knee injury Gallery suffered against his former Raiders teammates was serious enough to raise questions about his availability for Week 1. The Seahawks' left side will face a tough challenge against San Francisco in that game. Justin Smith, the 49ers' Pro Bowl defensive end, has started 155 consecutive regular-season games, easily the longest streak for active defensive linemen. It's safe to assume he'll be ready for Week 1.

Seattle went into this preseason expecting the left side of its line to serve as the foundation while the young right side found its way.

Rookie right tackle James Carpenter and rookie right guard John Moffitt remain in the early stages of development following a truncated offseason. The Seahawks will have a harder time helping them out during the regular-season opener at San Francisco if they're also funneling additional resources toward the left side.

At this point, it's arguably cruel but hardly unusual to recount the starting line combinations Seattle has used beginning last season. Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Chris Spencer, Max Unger, Sean Locklear, Ben Hamilton, Stacy Andrews and Chester Pitts started games last season. Spencer, Locklear, Hamilton and Pitts are gone.

Okung, Polumbus, Gallery, Unger, Moffitt and Carpenter have started games during the 2011 preseason. Paul McQuistan replaced Gallery during the game against Oakland.

The chart shows the 13 starting combinations Seattle has used since the 2010 regular-season opener. The final two rows show combinations used during the 2011 preseason.

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Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus started at left guard for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

No wonder the team went after Robert Gallery when the free-agent negotiating period opened Tuesday.

Gallery
Gallery and Seattle agreed to terms on a three-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The contract length suggests this will be a relatively modest deal financially for Seattle, a bit of a surprise.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009, but he's a significant upgrade at the position for Seattle. The team has struggled to find a long-term starter at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota following the 2005 season.

The line has been a mess overall. Seattle started 11 combinations last season alone, but the line is taking shape. First-round draft choice James Carpenter projects as the starter at right tackle, with third-rounder John Moffitt at right guard. Max Unger will step in at center, with Gallery at left guard and 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung at left tackle.

For the first time in years, Seattle has what appears to be a coherent, sustainable and promising plan for its offensive line. Gallery's durability is the biggest concern. The Seahawks felt good about adding another veteran guard, Mike Wahle, several years ago. His injury problems prevented him from holding down the job for long, however.

Gallery's connections to new Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable were important in getting this deal done. Both were together in Oakland for years. Gallery let it be known he wanted to leave Oakland and stay with Cable. Cable's presence means the Seahawks know what they're getting from an injury and production standpoint.

Logan Mankins and the NFC West wish list

February, 14, 2011
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Signing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins away from New England has gone from unlikely to an even longer shot after the Patriots named Mankins their franchise player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association cannot agree upon whether the franchise tag even exists this offseason, but if it does, the tag will effectively take Mankins off the market.

It's unclear whether any NFC West team would make a strong push for Mankins given the expected price tag, but the thought had appeal for Seattle Seahawks fans still stinging over Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player following the 2005 season.

Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus have started at left guard for Seattle since Hutchinson got away. Trading away Sims last offseason proved unfortunate once Alex Gibbs retired as line coach and Seattle stopped favoring smaller guards.

Tom Cable's hiring as offensive line coach puts Seattle in prime position to consider Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery, a projected free agent.

Mailbag: Assessing Seahawks' draft needs

January, 30, 2011
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Patrick from Munich, Germany writes: Recently I have been confused by the perceived needs many mock drafts list for the Seahawks. I personally would list offensive line, cornerback and quarterback as most pressing concerns. I don't see how running back keeps popping up, as I blame the lack of ground game more on the offensive line than anything else. What is your take on the situation? Where do you think Seattle has to draft most urgently?

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenRussell Okung is the only offensive lineman guaranteed a starting job in Seattle.
Mike Sando: Running back did not show up among the Seattle Seahawks' top-five needs when I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to break them down in December. The strong running Marshawn Lynch provided during Week 17 and the wild-card round gave additional reason for Seattle to rank other positions as higher priorities to address.

Lynch and Justin Forsett are under contract for 2011. Re-signing Leon Washington would make sense. The team could use another fullback, but I wouldn't call running back a significant need.

Let's set the quarterback situation to the side for a moment. That position takes priority until Seattle feels no need to upgrade. In other words, the Seahawks need to draft a franchise quarterback if they have a chance to select one. Beyond that, I think we start with the offensive line.

Seattle used 11 starting configurations on its line during the 2010 season, counting playoffs. The team never started the same five guys in the same spots for more than three weeks at a time. Center Chris Spencer was the only offensive lineman to start every game. He is scheduled to become a free agent.

Upgrading the line would upgrade every other aspect of the offense, and even the defense, by helping Seattle to sustain drives, protect its quarterback, put points on the board, etc.

Spencer, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Max Unger, Sean Locklear, Stacy Andrews, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts started games for Seattle on the offensive line this season. The chart lists all the combinations.

Of those nine players, only Okung is assured a starting job, or even a a roster spot, for the 2011 season. The team will have to make decisions on where the other players fit (Hamilton is off the roster). It's easy to see why the offensive line trumps running back and every position but quarterback among need areas for the Seahawks.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 15, 2010
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Arizona: Concussion symptoms continue to sideline quarterback Derek Anderson, leaving Richard Bartel as the backup to rookie starter John Skelton. The Cardinals no longer planned for Anderson to start even if he were healthy, but they could certainly use him for depth. Skelton is making his second start. Bartel has practiced with the team for about a week. Running back Beanie Wells practiced Wednesday despite still suffering from the illness that limited him against Denver. Tim Hightower's 148-yard, two-touchdown performance against Denver gives Wells additional incentive, should he need any.

St. Louis: Cornerback Ron Bartell has enough strength back in his shoulder to resume practicing. The Rams will want their secondary closer to full strength against Kansas City, particularly if Matt Cassel is back at quarterback for the Chiefs. Left guard Jacob Bell (bruised knee) and backup running back Kenneth Darby (rib injury) are making progress toward playing, coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Wednesday. Bartell's status stands out as a key variable for the Rams this week.

San Francisco: The 49ers listed left guard Mike Iupati as probable with a shoulder stinger, a strong indication he'll play against San Diego. Iupati has become an effective run-blocker. Maintaining continuity also has some value, particularly with left tackle Joe Staley unavailable while he recovers from a broken leg. The team listed linebackers Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis as questionable with hand injuries. Both have missed practice time. Both have been seen wearing cast-like contraptions. I have a tough time envisioning either player missing this game after defensive coordinator Greg Manusky told reporters he expected them to play.

Seattle: Receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu returned to practice Wednesday after missing Seattle's game against San Francisco in Week 14. Getting both players back is critical for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to snap out of his recent turnover streak, particularly with Deon Butler landing on injured reserve and Brandon Stokley dealing with a tight hamstring. Guard Chester Pitts is returning to practice, but I would think Mike Gibson will remain at left guard for the time being. Defensive backs Roy Lewis (knee) and Walter Thurmond (hamstring) could be limited some during the practice week.

Thoughts, notes from Seahawks HQ

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
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RENTON, Wash. -- A few quick notes from Seattle Seahawks headquarters following the team's practice Friday:
  • Receiver Mike Williams showed up on the injury report Friday as questionable despite missing practice again. Williams continues to wear a protective boot on his injured left foot. The team plans to run Williams through a workout Sunday before determining his availability. Williams dominated at Arizona two days after suffering a compound fracture of a finger, so he has shown an ability to fight through injuries. Otherwise, circumstances would seem to give him little chance at playing.
  • Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu has generally been pleased with the Seahawks' run defense under the circumstances, except for the game against the New York Giants. A couple other opponents have put up strong rushing totals -- Oakland comes to mind -- without pounding out yardage from play to play. Tatupu said he's still adjusting to life without defensive end Red Bryant and nose tackle Colin Cole, the two players Seattle built its run defense around, even though their replacements have played well. It's a feel thing. Tatupu: "I always knew where Red was going to be and knew what he was going to do, and C.C. for the most part. I also felt a little freer as far as having more control over which gap to shoot." Tatupu said he's getting more comfortable with the new personnel.
  • The Seahawks have limited quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's passing reps from the beginning this season. They gave him days off during training camp and continue to limit his throws during the season, similar to a baseball manager keeping a pitch count, coach Pete Carroll said. Hasselbeck's arm appears fresher as a result. Carroll: "He seems to have maintained really good arm strength. There is no question about his ability to throw any of the stuff in the plan."
  • Mike Gibson will start at left guard after working his way back from a high-ankle sprain. Gibson started at left guard against San Francisco, Oakland and the Giants.
  • Seattle listed Williams and fullback Michael Robinson as questionable on their injury report. Eight players are probable: Gibson, Golden Tate, Chris Spencer, Hasselbeck, Brandon Stokley, Chris Clemons, Tatupu and Marcus Trufant. Trufant, who suffered a concussion last week, practiced Friday and plans to start Sunday.
  • Tate enjoyed a strong week of practices. Carroll singled him out for praise and said Tate would be part of the plan against Kansas City. Tate impressed with a leaping grab Friday.
  • The Seahawks placed rookie tight end Anthony McCoy on injured reserve. They claimed 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive end Clifton Geathers off waivers from Cleveland.

That's it from Renton. I'll be covering the Chiefs-Seahawks game Sunday before heading to Arizona for the Monday night matchup between San Francisco and Arizona.

Continuity not on the line for NFC West

November, 25, 2010
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The last two Super Bowl teams from the NFC West -- the 2005 Seattle Seahawks and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals -- started the same five players in the same five spots every game except one.

Seattle rested left tackle Walter Jones in Week 17.

No team in the NFC West has started the same five offensive linemen each week this season.

The Seahawks have done the most shuffling. They expect to use their ninth starting combination in 11 games when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Qwest Field in Week 12.

The chart shows Seattle's starting combinations by week. The team has started the same five in back-to-back weeks twice this season. Nine offensive linemen have started for Seattle: Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Chris Spencer, Max Unger, Sean Locklear, Ben Hamilton, Stacy Andrews, Russell Okung and Chester Pitts.

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