NFC West: Mike McCarthy

Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has reached the NFC title game in each of his three seasons, so why would the 49ers look elsewhere?

Coach Jim Harbaugh's situation in San Francisco has been one of the most talked-about stories in the league in recent weeks.

If a resolution on his contract isn't reached, it will likely hover over the franchise all season and would be a major story next January, when Harbaugh could leave the team, although Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated this week he is happy with all aspects of his job and doesn’t see any way he will leave the team before the end of his contract. Still, getting the contract done would ease a lot of issues.

We all know the backdrop: Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in all three of his seasons as coach. He got them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him $5 million per year. Harbaugh and the 49ers have been in discussion about a new deal for about a year, but are not close to an extension. Team owner Jed York recently told the Sacramento Bee he thinks contract talks will resume after the NFL draft in early May.

Things got interesting when the Cleveland Browns pursued a trade for Harbaugh. The 49ers were not interested, but that could change next year.

There have been rampant reports that Harbaugh has had trouble with some in the 49ers' front office, including general manager Trent Baalke. York, Harbaugh and Baalke have long downplayed the friction, indicating that they can coexist.

However, there is enough smoke here to think this situation go could south if a contract isn't agreed upon this year. Let's look at some issues that may be part of this story as it further develops:

The history: While it would be stunning to see the 49ers-Harbaugh marriage disintegrate after such a stellar start, similar breakups have happened before.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Ron HeflinJim Harbaugh would not be the first successful coach to leave during a team's prime. Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys after winning two Super Bowls because of fighting with owner Jerry Jones.
After winning two straight Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson famously left the Cowboys in 1994 after fighting with owner Jerry Jones. Following the 1998 season, Mike Holmgren shocked the NFL when he left quarterback Brett Favre and a Green Bay Packers team in its prime after a seven-year run that included a Super Bowl win. Holmgren left for more power and much more money in Seattle. In 2002, the Raiders traded coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a massive amount of draft picks. The Raiders were burned as Gruden led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win against Oakland in his first season. In 2007, the Chargers sided with general manager A.J. Smith in his feud with coach Marty Schottenheimer even though the Chargers went 14-2 the season before.

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, it wouldn't be the first time a coach and team split despite success.

The highest-paid coaches: Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated he is not unhappy with his pay, but the man is underpaid considering his massive NFL success. Nine of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 made at least $7 million. Only five of them had won a Super Bowl.

I'd think it has to bother Harbaugh that Chip Kelly earned $6.5 million in his first NFL season and NFC West rival Jeff Fisher made $7 million in St. Louis. Coaches' salaries are at a premium and, by NFL standards, Harbaugh is underpaid.

The best coaches without power: He is hypercompetitive and likes to be in control. So, Harbaugh probably isn't always thrilled to defer personnel decisions to Baalke. But I don't sense Harbaugh wanting to be the general manager and making every decision as he said. He is a coach.

I don't see this as a deal-breaker.

There are plenty of great NFL coaches who don't have total power, including Harbaugh's brother, John, in Baltimore. There's also Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll in Seattle. So, a lack of total power in the NFL really isn't a big deal anymore for coaches.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkWould Stanford coach David Shaw be a candidate to follow Jim Harbaugh again?
Where could Harbaugh land? Harbaugh's situation could cause teams to adjust their plans late in the season. I could see many owners prematurely firing a coach to get a shot at Harbaugh if he goes into January unsigned.

But right now, the list of teams that may be making a change next year and may make sense for Harbaugh isn't very long.

Miami and Dallas would be among the biggest suitors. Miami tried to hire Harbaugh before he went to San Francisco. The team has deep pockets, a need for good public relations, and the Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Dallas has big bucks and Tony Romo. Harbaugh could like both places.

Other possibilities could include both New York teams and Atlanta (coaching Matt Ryan would surely be intriguing). A potential long shot could be Oakland. Harbaugh was an assistant in Oakland and he could stay in the Bay Area. But the Raiders have to find a quarterback and ownership would have to be willing to shell out financially to make it work. Plus, the 49ers would need to get a haul from the Raiders to trade him to their Bay Area rival.

If I had to give odds on the early favorite, I'd look toward Miami.

Who could replace Harbaugh? It's only logical to think that San Francisco ownership, in the back of its mind, is thinking post-Harbaugh just in case.

The chance of getting draft picks for a coach the 49ers can't come to an agreement with could interest the team next offseason. Also, the idea of front-office peace could be at the forefront as well, especially if things go haywire the rest of this year.

The first place the 49ers would likely look to replace Harbaugh is on the current staff. Because the team has been so successful, I could see the 49ers having interest in staying close to home. Offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, respectively, would likely be on the 49ers' list. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the front office. He was a candidate when Harbaugh was hired and his players love him.

Here's another name the 49ers could look at -- David Shaw. He replaced Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm sure he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

Shaw has been steadfast in his desire to stay at Stanford. But if he were ever to leave for the NFL, this would likely be an appealing situation. He and his family could stay in their house and he'd go to a near perfect NFL situation with a franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

There is plenty to unfold in this situation in the next several months. Harbaugh and the 49ers could end it all by coming to a contract extension. But as we have realized early this offseason, it's not that simple.
Welcome to the NFL, where players who have never played a down or who are not even currently on an active roster are part of the storylines of the week.

They also may have a hand in the game plan.

Tolzien
The Green Bay Packers added some intrigue to a match-up that didn’t need much more when they signed quarterback Scott Tolzien to their practice squad. Tolzien was was cut last week by Packers' Week 1 opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.

Tolzien was with the 49ers the past two years and was fully versed in their game plan and their read-option offense. Indeed, it's been said that Tolzien’s greatest asset is his football knowledge.

The Packers surely are picking Tolzien’s brain, perhaps even as you read this. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy danced around what kind of role Tolzien will have this week, but I could see Tolzien spending more time with the defensive coaches than his offensive coaches this week.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh acknowledged that Tolzien could let the Packers in on some 49ers knowledge.

“There’s things he knows,” Harbaugh said, “so we’ll see how that plays out.”

Does that mean Tolzien’s presence on Lombardi Avenue is causing Harbaugh to lose sleep?

“Our plan remains the same,” the coach said.

49ers left tackle Joe Staley downplayed the significance of Tolzien being in Green Bay. He said that terminology and plans are always evolving, and he offered this Midwestern spin on it: “The hay is never all in the barn until the door is closed.”

Do I think the Tolzien Factor will be an issue come game day? No, not really. He might help with some preparation, but once the game starts, Tolzien will just be another out-of-uniform practice-squader.
We have rightfully focused at times over the years on coordinator continuity for NFC West quarterbacks.

Alex Smith famously played with coordinators Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson and Greg Roman while with the San Francisco 49ers from 2005 through last season.

Sam Bradford has bounced from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels to Brian Schottenheimer during three seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

The dynamic works both ways. Some coordinators have bounced from one quarterback to another, preventing them from getting the best feel for their players. Playcallers and quarterbacks are most comfortable -- and presumably most effective -- when they've had time to figure out one another. Coordinators get a better feel for players' strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Quarterbacks more fully understand how their coordinators are approaching specific situations.

That line of thinking came to mind this week while watching Schottenheimer coach Bradford during the Rams' organized team activities. Schottenheimer has worked for only two teams since 2006 and he was offensive coordinator both times. But he has run through five primary quarterbacks during that time: Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez before joining Bradford in St. Louis.

"The things we are able to do starting this offseason, we are 1,000 years ahead of where we were last year," Schottenheimer said following a recent practice. "It's been fun to push Sam and have Sam push me, too, in terms of, 'Hey, I can take more.' We're both enjoying having some stability."

The chart associates current NFC West offensive playcallers with their primary quarterbacks since 2006, the first year any of the four was a coordinator. I've listed Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians instead of coordinator Harold Goodwin because Arians plans to call the plays. Arians has also called plays continuously since 2007.

Quarterbacks are the most important pieces for any team, but I thought it would be interesting to view these situations from the playcallers' perspectives. Every NFC West team but Arizona returns the same coordinator-quarterback combination from the end of last season.

Only a select few outlasted Whisenhunt

December, 31, 2012
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Ken Whisenhunt, hired by the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, had outlasted all but eight NFL head coaches when the team fired him Monday.

Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, Tom Coughlin, Mike McCarthy, Gary Kubiak and Sean Payton were hired by their current teams no later than 2006. Lovie Smith and Andy Reid were also in place before 2007. Both were fired Monday.

Whisenhunt, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and San Diego's Norv Turner remained from the 2007 hiring class until Monday, when Turner joined Whisenhunt among the ranks of former coaches.

As Jerry Glanville put it years ago, NFL means, "Not For Long."

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith enters Week 10 as a four-coordinator favorite over St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

Each man has run plays under three coordinators over the two-plus seasons since Bradford entered the NFL in 2010. Smith worked with four others previously.

Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler, Mike Martz and Jimmy Raye had already coordinated offenses featuring Smith when Bradford joined Rams in 2010. Smith, who worked with Mike Johnson following Raye's firing three games into the 2010 season, has found coordinator bliss under Greg Roman over the past two seasons.

Bradford appears to be adjusting well to Brian Schottenheimer's offense after playing for Josh McDaniels (2011) and Pat Shurmur (2010). But Smith is much deeper into his playbook with Roman. Their pairing has gone so well, in fact, that Roman could emerge as a head coaching candidate after the season.

Chaos, confusion and a 14-12 Seahawks win

September, 25, 2012
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Packers vs SeahawksAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenConfusion was rampant on the field as the officiating overshadowed the end of the game.
SEATTLE -- The reigning NFL Most Valuable Player and a vicious Seattle Seahawks defense were no match Monday night for the seven guys in stripes.

Russell Wilson's 24-yard desperation heave for the Seahawks' winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers? No match, either. Perhaps Golden Tate really did catch the pass. I thought the Packers' M.D. Jennings intercepted it, but it was a close call. Tate definitely shoved Green Bay's Sam Shields out of the way before the ball arrived, but why sweat the details?

"They said simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know which guy said it. Somebody said it."

Good enough for Carroll, but it wasn't that simple. Although Jennings appeared to get the ball first, what mattered most was which player had the ball when they came to the ground. Tate might have prevailed by that measure, although it was tough to say for certain.

One official standing over Tate, Jennings and a mass of bodies responded by waving his arms over his head, as if to signal for a clock stoppage or a touchback. There was no time left on the clock and the players were in the end zone, so stopping the clock shouldn't have been a concern, but hey, let's not pick nits here.

Besides, the other official standing by signaled a touchdown.

"The ruling on the final play was simultaneous catch," referee Wayne Elliott told pool reporter Danny O'Neil of The Seattle Times. "Reviewed by replay. Play stands."

Touchdown, it was, pending the customary review. There would be no reversal, but when Elliott declared the game over, he wasn't quite right. While Carroll gave interviews on the field and players headed for the showers, officials stood over the ball at the Green Bay 2-yard line, huddling away. They apparently didn't know the rule compelling teams to attempt even meaningless conversions. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka would make the point-after try, turning a 13-12 victory into a 14-12 victory. But hey, who cares about a point except for gamblers everywhere?

The Packers, upon returning to their locker room for a second and final time, threw towels at a video monitor while watching replays of the final play. Even the Seahawks knew officiating had overshadowed what could have been a memorable game on the merits. Elliott, umpire Marc Harrod, head linesman Mike Peek, line judge Tommy Keeling, side judge Lance Easley, field judge Richard Simmons (not that Richard Simmons) and back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn assessed 24 penalties for 245 yards -- more yardage than Seattle managed (238) and nearly as much as Green Bay finished with (268).

Officiating left the Packers furious while threatening to cheapen what should have been an all-time great finish.

"I think that hurts the game," Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. "The sooner we can have back our real officials, I think the integrity of the game is too important not to get them back."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy declined to discuss officiating, but the part about having to return to the field minutes after the game had supposedly ended? Well ...

"I've never see anything like that in all of my years of football," McCarthy said.

Now, the regular officials messed up plenty, of course. They've blinded a player with an errant penalty flag, botched a coin toss, awarded a phantom touchdown and so much more.

In a hilarious twist, the NFL made available a comment from its officiating supervisor. The name of that supervisor? Phil Luckett. Yes, that Phil Luckett. The same one who botched the coin toss. The same one who awarded a phantom touchdown to Vinny Testaverde and the New York Jets against Seattle back in 1998.

"The PAT is an extension of the game, so we have to finish the game," Luckett said. "A touchdown on the last play you have to do the extra point, in regulation."

Alas, this wasn't the first time a referee had to summon players back from the locker rooms to kick a meaningless extra point with no time remaining.

Carroll was with the New England Patriots in 1998 when they, having scored the winning touchdown on the disputed final play of regulation, scored a conversion without opposition. The Buffalo Bills declined to participate. That time, the 2-point conversion changed the final margin from two points to four in a game the Patriots were favored to win by somewhere in between.

There was never anything untoward about that situation, of course, and I'm not suggesting anything was awry Monday night. But perceptions matter and when crazy things happen week after week, game after game, crazy thoughts occur. What would any of these replacement officials have to lose?

"It's time for this to be over," Carroll said. "My hat's off to these officials. They're doing everything they can to do as well as they can. They’re working their tails off. It demonstrates how difficult it is.

"It’s a very, very complex process to handle these games and make these decisions. There’s nothing easy about it, and it takes years and years of experience to pull it off properly and in a timely fashion and to keep the flow of the game alive and all that, and it’s time for it to be over. The league deserves it; everybody deserves it."

The Packers deserve it. They still can't get over the Tate call.

"From my view, I saw the referee in the back waving his arms, which means he is calling a touchback," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "No idea how the other guy said touchdown. Golden Tate, on the replay, he takes his arm off the part of the ball that he may or may not have had, and they reviewed it and it was upheld."

Waving hands overhead signals a clock stoppage. Following that signal by swinging an arm at the side signals a touchback. Throwing towels at the video monitor in the visitors' locker room signals incredulity.

"If you asked Golden Tate to take a lie-detector test and ask him did he catch that ball or did M.D. catch that ball, that M.D. caught that," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "It was clear as day. The officials did a great job out there today."

Tate did not submit to a lie-detector test afterward. He kept a straight face, for the most part, when saying he knew he caught the ball. The exchange between Tate and reporters in the Seahawks' locker room bordered on comical.

Did he catch the ball?

"Yes, I think so."

But replays seemed to show Jennings getting to the ball first.

"Maybe he did, but I took it from him."

What about that push-off?

"I don't know what you're talking about. I just went up and competed."

Tate, like everyone else, initially had no idea what had happened.

"I didn't know if they called touchdown, interception, incompletion," Tate said. "I didn't know what was going on."

Welcome to the new NFL.

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Once upon a time, Mike Holmgren and the Cleveland Browns were doing all they could to acquire from St. Louis the second overall choice in the 2012 NFL draft, presumably to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

The Browns had "stepped up their efforts to try to acquire the No. 2 pick, going so far as to offer at least three No. 1 picks to the Rams and possibly even a second-round pick," ESPN's Adam Schefter reported at the time.

Once Washington outmaneuvered Cleveland to acquire the pick, Holmgren suggested a cozy relationship between the Rams and Redskins could have left the Browns on the outside. It sounded like spin, but the picture was only beginning to change.

Now that the Browns have identified first-round choice Brandon Weedon as their franchise quarterback, hindsight says RG3 and other prospects not named Weedon weren't such great fits after all. That sounds convenient.

[+] EnlargeFlynn
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMatt Flynn may not have the strongest arm, but the Seahawks saw enough in the free agent to sign him for three years.
These developments would not matter much in the NFC West if the story ended there. But it does not end there.

"Of the more realistic candidates," ESPNCleveland's Tony Grossi wrote, "free agent Matt Flynn was no bigger than Colt McCoy with a similarly popgun arm. He was never seriously considered."

Paul from Richmond, Va., read those words and fired off a plea for clarification to the NFC West mailbag.

"I take it that John Schneider and Pete Carroll don't share the Browns' view of Flynn's arm, but how can one staff see an adequate NFL arm when the other sees a popgun?" Paul asked. "Mike Holmgren coached Matt Hasselbeck, who doesn't exactly have a cannon, but apparently was good enough. Does Flynn have less of an arm than Hasselbeck? Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: While we cannot hold the Browns accountable for what someone else wrote, we can assume Grossi was writing what he perceived to be the Browns' position.

Holmgren and Schneider both have long and close associations with Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson. It is conceivable both would have access to Thompson's thoughts on Flynn, a player Thompson drafted.

But it's also clear Schneider would have a much better feel for Flynn. One, Schneider was with the Packers when Green Bay drafted Flynn. He evaluated Flynn in person on a daily basis for years. Holmgren did not. Two, Schneider counts Packers coach Mike McCarthy among his close friends, conceivably giving him access to the most current and credible assessment of Flynn. Holmgren likely would not have the same access to McCarthy.

It's also reasonable to think the Seahawks and Browns both had some reservations about Flynn. Seattle did not pursue Flynn all that aggressively in free agency. Carroll and Schneider said Flynn won them over during Flynn's visit to team headquarters. That visit included a tryout on the field and coaching sessions in the classroom. That part of the evaluation should not be understated.

When personnel people discuss players with dynamic arm talent, those conversations aren't going to involve Flynn. They wouldn't involve Hasselbeck, either. Both were later-round picks in part because their raw talent wasn't off the charts.

But it's harsh to say Flynn has a "popgun" arm. For a more qualified opinion, I called 710ESPN Seattle's Brock Huard, who played for the Seahawks and has watched them practice this offseason. He also thought Flynn's arm was better than that.

As for Weedon being the Browns' most logical choice all along? Sure, he might have been, but it's awful convenient now.

"No doubt, Weedon had one of the most dynamic arms in this draft," said Huard, who also serves as a college football analyst for ESPN. "But when the play broke down and the pocket was not clean, he was the least resourceful of all these prospects. He would be a fantastic fit in a Mike Martz system, but in a West Coast system requiring some movement and resourcefulness, behind a shaky line and with questionable receivers, we'll have to watch how it plays out."
The NFL and NFL Players Association remain vague over what triggered their investigation into the Seattle Seahawks' practices.

They revoked two organized team activities and a workout session from Seattle without much explanation Tuesday.

Coach Pete Carroll offered additional clues Wednesday during a conversation with Dave Mahler of Sports Radio 950 AM KJR. Media reports about a shoving match at practice apparently caught the NFL's attention.

"There was a little pushing thing that happened on the practice field a week ago, there was an article written about it, that did draw their attention and that is what came up," Carroll said. "They said, 'We're going to come up and check you out.' They did. The guy who came out, he loved what we did, he said it was the best OTA he has ever seen.

"We thought we were on track," Carroll said, "but then when they went back and looked at some other stuff (on video), they thought we were getting after it too much."

It was natural to wonder if a Seahawks player reported the team to the NFL or to the NFLPA. That was not the case, according to Carroll.

League spokesman Greg Aiello declined to reveal what started the investigation. He listed several ways the league and the NFLPA can monitor OTAs or minicamps, all spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement.

The CBA bans "live" blocking, tackling, pass rushing and bump-and-run tactics. Those prohibitions remain for mandatory minicamps next week.

A physical Seattle defense stocked with aggressive press cornerbacks seemingly could not function on the field without some contact. Pro Bowl corner Brandon Browner incurred 19 penalties last season, after all. Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor racked up $60,000 in fines.

The Seahawks' margin for error has only gotten smaller now that the team is attracting additional scrutiny.

The challenges could be even tougher for a team with a new coach. The St. Louis Rams come to mind. Jeff Fisher promotes an in-your-face defensive style. He also needs to quickly evaluate the Rams' personnel, a tough enough task when more contact is permitted.

I thought of Fisher and the Rams first when reading comments from Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy earlier this offseason.

"If you watch the offense, that's not too far off what we used to do; we just can't have the opponent defense, but we're still creating timing," McCarthy said. "The defense doesn't get that. No direct competition. It's not practical as far as having any type of group or team activity to get a realistic look.

"We've had to be really creative with our film work and how we present the information and be very creative in the classroom as far as how the videos are presented, how the meetings are organized."

No live contact means no live contact. Carroll will have to tone down practices. He asked the NFL to make sure other teams also comply. Good luck with that.

"The problem is, we have nothing to go by as far as looking at film," Carroll told Mahler. "We just have to go by suggestive, what they have written and what they feel after they look at it."
SeattleAztec from San Diego asks whether Matt Flynn might be the "most developed" quarterback in the NFC West after learning from Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.

"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"

Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.

"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."

That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
  • Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
  • Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
  • Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.

Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.

Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.

I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
Imagine a San Francisco 49ers personnel group featuring Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd.

The team is 80 percent there after signing Moss this week.

Lloyd, who began his career with the 49ers and revived it with Denver, is apparently a receiver of interest as well. Lloyd, expected to visit the 49ers on Wednesday, has 147 receptions for 2,414 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Broncos and St. Louis Rams over the past two seasons.

The 49ers appear determined to protect themselves from the manpower issues that affected them at receiver last season. A primary question with Lloyd focuses on to what degree his recent success would transfer to a system from the one Josh McDaniels ran in Denver and St. Louis.

Lloyd, 30, did catch 48 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns with the 49ers in 2005, when the team was running a West Coast system under then-coordinator Mike McCarthy. San Francisco runs a version of the West Coast offense under current coach Jim Harbaugh and coordinator Greg Roman.

Lloyd would provide the 49ers with a proven veteran option at a position of need. He has consistently demonstrated a flair for the spectacular catch. He finished last season with 145 targets, sixth most in the NFL. He had 70 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns, with four dropped passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sam Bradford and Alex Smith, early years

February, 9, 2012
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Count Frank Cignetti's expected hiring as quarterbacks coach in St. Louis as the latest career parallel between the Rams' Sam Bradford and the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith.

Both were No. 1 overall draft choices.

Both began their careers under first-time head coaches with backgrounds on defense.

Both started as rookies.

Both watched their original offensive coordinators take head coaching jobs elsewhere after one season. Mike McCarthy left the 49ers for Green Bay in 2006. Pat Shurmur left the Rams for Cleveland in 2011.

Both appeared fortunate when their teams landed high-profile replacements. Norv Turner replaced McCarthy. Josh McDaniels replaced Shurmur. Turner and McDaniels had been head coaches, but both were best known for calling plays.

Smith and Bradford would experience coordinator changes once again while entering their third seasons. Turner left the 49ers to coach San Diego. McDaniels left St. Louis to rejoin New England.

In a coincidence of coincidences, Bradford and Smith will have approached their third NFL seasons with Cignetti as their new position coach, provided the Rams make official Cignetti's expected hiring. Cignetti coached Smith and the 49ers' quarterbacks in 2007. The Rams have targeted him to work with Bradford this season.

These circumstantial parallels will not necessarily produce the same results. Many other variables come into play.

Mike Nolan was entering his third and final full season as the 49ers' head coach in 2007, whereas Jeff Fisher is entering his first season with the Rams. The coaching situation in St. Louis appears more stable than the one Smith encountered in 2007, when the 49ers were breaking in a first-time coordinator and Nolan was nearing the end.

The Rams' new coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, has much more experience.

Still, the parallels between Smith and Bradford through two seasons are uncanny, at least.

Smith suffered a serious shoulder injury during his third season. He missed the 2008 season before rebounding to throw 49 touchdown passes with 27 interceptions in three subsequent seasons.

Brian Schottenheimer's plans for Rams

January, 24, 2012
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A few notes after participating in a conference call featuring new St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer:
  • QB coach on way: The Rams did not have one last season. Then-coordinator Josh McDaniels handled that role. Schottenheimer plans to hire one and said the subject was one of the first things he discussed with new coach Jeff Fisher. Schottenheimer: "Because there are so many things that come across your plate as a play caller and coordinator, you need someone for Sam (Bradford) or any of the quarterbacks to go to and be hearing the same voice."
  • Two backs: Schottenheimer believes in supplementing the starting back with a change-of-pace runner. He emphasized the need for depth everywhere, including that position.
  • Clemens fan: Look for the Rams to re-sign backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, who was with Schottenheimer on the New York Jets. Schottenheimer described himself as a "big fan" of Clemens and someone who supported the drafting of him.
  • Philosophy: The offense St. Louis will run has roots in the Don Coryell digit system, though Schottenheimer said his offense would be more concept-based than reliant upon actual numbers. Schottenheimer learned the game from his famous father, Marty, but he initially thought he would fall under the West Coast tree. He pointed to Mike McCarthy, Jimmy Raye and Steve Spurrier as coaches he had borrowed from over the years. He learned the Coryell-based offense from Jerry Rhome in St. Louis during the 1997 season, when Dick Vermeil was coach. Schottenheimer said he likes the way "the formations flow" and the flexibility afforded coaches on game days.
  • Sam Bradford: Schottenheimer met with Bradford recently and plans to streamline the transition by making sure the terminology associated with a new system isn't a stumbling block. Schottenheimer: "The most important thing is not getting caught up in terminology. That will not be a problem. I understand how smart he is."
  • On his Jets departure: Schottenheimer had only good things to say about his six seasons with the Jets. He said he was ready for a change and does not think he would have remained in New York even if the Jets had finished the season strong.

The Rams' new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, is also scheduled to be available Tuesday. I'm also about to speak with Bernie Miklasz for our weekly spot on 101ESPN St. Louis. Back in a bit.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' WR decision

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
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On the surface, the San Francisco 49ers's decision to sign Brett Swain over more established receivers doesn't make much sense.

Why not sign one of the veterans they brought in for a tryout? T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Chambers and Brian Finneran have combined for 1,394 career receptions. Swain, meanwhile, has six receptions in only 22 games, with no touchdowns.

Signing Swain makes sense only in the context of special teams. He played extensively on the Green Bay Packers' special-teams units last season. Of the more accomplished veterans brought in for tryouts, only Finneran played on special teams last season, and only then in a limited role. He's 35 years old. Swain is 26. The fourth receiver on a game-day roster generally must contribute on special teams, particularly for an offense that keeps two tight ends on the field as frequently as the 49ers do.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers did not immediately announce the move to add Swain because the team was still deciding how to clear a roster spot. Noted: That suggests the team isn't ready to place Josh Morgan on injured reserve even though Morgan required surgery to repair the broken leg he suffered making a sideline reception during the final minutes of the 49ers' 48-3 victory over Tampa Bay.

Also from Maiocco: a player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense against the Bucs.

More from Maiocco: a look at the defensive players as well.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Jerry Rice for thoughts on Alex Smith's improved play this season. Rice: "You can tell [Smith] is more relaxed. He's not holding on to the ball. His decision-making is so much better. The ball is out of his hands just like that. I think as long as they continue that, they're going to have success. All these guys, everybody pitched in -- Frank Gore. Carlos Rogers. Delanie Walker. Vernon Davis. The weight is not on Smith's shoulders, and I think that's why he's playing so well."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Tom Cable, like the Seahawks' offensive line, is getting better these days. Cable recently underwent major back surgery. Cable: "It’s an old injury that all of a sudden got really bad. So the choice is either you lose the use of your left leg or you go get this done and now you can move forward. I feel great -- it obviously worked. The incision is a big one, so that’s the only real negative left … just letting that heal up."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says quarterback Charlie Whitehurst runs through the team's no-huddle offense in unconventional places, including when he's trying to fall asleep at the team hotel. Whitehurst: "I’ve often wondered if people can hear me through the walls."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with current Rams players with roots on the Packers' roster, notably Al Harris, who opened last season on the physically unable to perform list, then was released in November. Thomas: "Harris told the Journal Sentinel at the time that Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson led him on, giving him the false impression that he still fit into the team's plans as he completed the PUP-list process. But that was then. With the season-ending knee injury to Bradley Fletcher during the Rams' bye week, Harris might start Sunday against his old team. So Harris is concentrating on the here and now, not a stroll down memory lane."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains the gap between public comments from Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb and coach Ken Whisenhunt regarding whether players are showing up for meetings on time. Somers: "According to sources, (Whisenhunt) told his players that too many details were being ignored, that the sloppiness wasn't going to be tolerated, that it was time to stop sliding into meetings seconds before they were scheduled to start. That speech prompted quarterback Kevin Kolb to tell reporters Sunday that his head coach 'hit the nail on the head. We have to get more detail-oriented. It starts with meetings, showing up to work on time, getting in early, getting your work done, and all the stuff a professional is supposed to do. Maybe it takes a game like this to figure out.'"

Also from Somers: a look at key areas where the Cardinals need to improve.

Sifting through 2011 NFL predictions

September, 1, 2011
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Nine of 12 dentists recommend brushing with -- wait, wrong survey. Let's try this again.

Nine of 12 ESPN.com football reporters are picking the St. Louis Rams to win the NFC West this season. Three others are taking the Arizona Cardinals. And that is only a small sampling of results from our NFL predictions for the 2011 season.

NFL divisional bloggers joined John Clayton, Adam Schefter, Matt Williamson, Ashley Fox and Jeff Chadiha in voting for eight division winners, two wild-card teams per conference, AFC champion, NFC champ, Super Bowl champ, coach of the year, MVP, top offensive rookie and top defensive rookie.

A quick look at voting results:
  • Super Bowl champ: Six of 12 votes, including mine, went for the New England Patriots. Chadiha and Seifert took Green Bay. Four other teams drew votes: New Orleans (Paul Kuharsky), San Diego (Dan Graziano), Pittsburgh (Fox) and the New York Jets (Bill Williamson).
  • AFC champ: Nine votes for New England. One apiece for the Chargers, Steelers and Jets.
  • NFC champ: Green Bay drew four votes, including mine. New Orleans and Philadelphia drew three votes apiece. Atlanta (Bill Williamson) and Dallas (Schefter) drew one apiece.
  • NFC West: I was among nine picking the St. Louis Rams. Chadiha, Kevin Seifert joined Graziano in picking the Arizona Cardinals.
  • NFC North: It was unanimous. Twelve votes for the Packers.
  • NFC South: Six for New Orleans, six for Atlanta. I took the Falcons.
  • NFC East: Eleven votes for the Eagles. Schefter took the Cowboys.
  • NFC wild cards: The Saints and Cowboys were my picks, in part because Dallas plays the NFC West this season. There were six votes for Atlanta, five for New Orleans, four for Dallas, three for Detroit, three for Tampa Bay, one for Minnesota (Chadiha), one for Philadelphia (Schefter) and one for the New York Giants (Yasinskas).
  • AFC West: Eleven votes for San Diego. Kuharsky took Kansas City.
  • AFC North: Eight votes for Pittsburgh, including mine. Four for Baltimore.
  • AFC South: Seven votes for Houston. Five votes for Indianapolis, including mine.
  • AFC East: I was among 10 voting for the Patriots. Graziano and Bill Williamson picked the Jets.
  • AFC wild cards: Baltimore and the Jets were my picks. There were eight votes for the Jets, five for the Ravens, four for the Steelers, three for the Colts, two for the Patriots, one for the Texans (Kuharsky) and one for the Chiefs (Bill Williamson).
  • Coach of the year: Bill Belichick was my choice. There were three votes for Jim Schwartz, two for Jason Garrett, two for Belichick and one apiece for Steve Spagnuolo (Kuharsky), Sean Payton (James Walker), Mike McCarthy (Clayton), Andy Reid (Chadiha) and Gary Kubiak (Pat Yasinskas).
  • MVP: I was among four voting for Aaron Rodgers. Philip Rivers drew three votes. Tom Brady and Michael Vick drew two apiece. Kuharsky cast the lone vote for Brees.
  • Offensive rookie: I was among nine voting for Julio Jones. There were two votes for Mark Ingram (Clayton, Schefter) and one for Cam Newton (Bill Williamson).
  • Defensive rookie: I was among nine voting for Von Miller. Adrian Clayborn (Kuharsky), Ryan Kerrigan (Graziano) and Jimmy Smith (Walker) drew one vote apiece.

Take these to the bank, but please do not try depositing them. I'm sure our perceptions will change -- "evolve" sounds better -- as these teams reveal more about themselves.

For me, the biggest challenge is following four teams so closely every day of the year, then trying to make sense of faraway teams that cross the radar screen far less frequently. I'm interested in your picks, too. Fire away.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Alex Smith is picking up where he left off with Mike McCarthy in 2005. Smith on Jim Harbaugh: "Meeting with him this offseason, I was excited to get coached like that, getting coached hands on and how he was talking about the quarterback position, the offense. No question, you guys can see it out there. We sure get it every day -- the detail coaching on every level, not just in the film room but on the field. It never ends. That's what I wanted. No question it's intense at times and it can be a lot, but that's what I wanted and the way you want it as a player." It's never been easier to write off Smith simply because he's had so many chances to this point. It's also probably true that 2011 represents his best chance at succeeding -- not as a franchise quarterback, but simply as a competent one. Can he throw with touch and accuracy on the shorter throws in Harbaugh's system? Does he have a good enough feel for the game to play effectively when acting instinctively?

Also from Barrows: a look at the most competitive camp battles for the 49ers. On Adam Snyder's battle with Jonathan Goodwin at center: "When the 49ers signed Goodwin, it seemed as if the Snyder experiment would end very quickly. After all, Snyder hadn't played center before in his career while Goodwin was the starting center on the Saints' Super Bowl team. That Snyder has remained the first option at the position shows how much faith the coaching staff has in him there. Goodwin also has been working with the first-team offensive line, but not as much as Snyder. It will be interesting to count the snaps for each in Saturday's game. My guess is that Goodwin ultimately will start at the position, but the 49ers seem in no hurry to move Snyder out of the lineup."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com projects which players have the best shot at sticking on the 49ers' initial 53-man roster. Maiocco: "Seven offensive linemen will suit up on game days, and this group appears pretty solid, regardless of the winner of the center competition."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Patrick Willis cautions against reading too much into how the 49ers have played during preseason.

Also from Inman: a transcript from Willis' interview session.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle handicaps the Snyder-Goodwin battle.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat describes Michael Crabtree's routine during the 49ers' media-availability session.

Also from Cohn: music prevails in the 49ers' locker room. Speak up, Vernon Davis.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times updates Mike Williams' career with the Seahawks. Great quote from Williams, who continually downplays his achievements: ""If there's a getting-tackled-at-the-1 Pro Bowl, I definitely would have been first ballot for that."

Also from O'Neil: thoughts on cornerback Walter Thurmond. O'Neil: "Thurmond is not an exceptionally tall cornerback like 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner or 6-3 rookie Richard Sherman. He is 5-11, but has a large wingspan, and is an explosive athlete. Seattle chose Thurmond in the fourth round of the 2010 as he was coming off a knee injury in which he suffered three torn knee ligaments during his senior season of 2009. Prior to the injury, he was regarded as a second, perhaps even late first-round choice."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says rookie Byron Maxwell had the play of the day for Seattle.

Also from Williams: checking in with new Seahawks linebacker David Vobora, formerly of the Rams. Williams: "Vobora also rolls in an interesting car. Last summer he bought a 1984 Chrysler LeBaron convertible 'Woody' edition off Craig’s List for $1,500. The car’s still in St. Louis, so he has to have it shipped back to Seattle. He said the only accessories he bought for the car was some fuzzy dice and Bob-a-Hula Girl, along with a car tree air freshener decorated in wood paneling."

More from Williams: Free-agent receiver Doug Baldwin continues to impress for Seattle. Baldwin: "One (of) my strengths is my creativity in the slot, being able to be witty and creative matched up against a nickel corner or a (weakside) linebacker, so just being able to be creative in there, getting open and getting separation."

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle checks in with Seahawks fullback Mike Robinson, who covers the team for which he plays.

Also from Mathews: Thurmond expects to play against Denver.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com recaps the practice day for Seattle. Thurmond stood out.

Also from Farnsworth: Maurice Fountain is making the most of his latest NFL opportunity. Farnsworth: "Despite not practicing with the team since January – or any team, for that matter – the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Fountain tackled Vikings running back Lorenzo Booker for a 5-yard loss in the third quarter and then teamed with rookie middle linebacker K.J. Wright to make another tackle in the fourth quarter."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald provides a Seahawks injury update. Boyle: "Linebacker Aaron Curry returned to action after missing Tuesday's practice with a sore knee. Seattle's other two starting linebackers, Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne, remained out for a second straight day, however, also with knee injuries. Carroll didn't meet with the media today, however he did tell 710 ESPN Seattle that Hawthorne has a knee strain, and that Hill's injury is an old issue, but that he should be OK."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says catching up with Adrian Wilson can be an adventure. Somers: "When motivated, Wilson can be a great interview. In bad years, he's been brutally honest about teammates who didn't care enough about the game. In good years, he's been one to pump the brakes on excitement, pointing out that the team hadn't done anything. There have been times in one-on-one interviews when he's opened up about how much his wife and kids mean to him, when he's talked about his changing definition of leadership. And there have been times when he has been begged to talk, when team's media relations people have been asked to intercede and remind him that NFL players are required to be available to reporters at least once a week."

Also from Somers: It's unlikely Max Hall will the see the field again for Arizona.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Hall was never the same after taking a huge hit against New Orleans.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers thoughts on Hall's status and Brodie Croyle's arrival. Croyle should have a decent feel for the Cardinals' first regular-season opponent, Carolina. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was running the Chargers' defense when Croyle was quarterback for the AFC West-rival Chiefs.

Also from Urban: Kevin Kolb looks forward to his first home game as a member of the Cardinals.

More from Urban: Injuries affected Stewart Bradley's career with the Eagles. He's healthier now. Urban: "The Cardinals are counting on that. Bradley got a five-year deal worth up to $30 million for Bradley to come in and solidify the middle of the linebacking corps after the team released Gerald Hayes. Playing behind fellow veteran Paris Lenon for now, Bradley should team with Lenon and Daryl Washington for a three-man rotation."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch visits with Rams quarterbacks Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley. Feeley: "Sam's a really bright guy and an amazing quarterback; you could see that from day one when he came in here. He's mature beyond his years, he's got all the physical tools, he's got the charisma, he's got the moxie. He's got everything you could possibly want in a quarterback."

Also from Coats: The Rams want to size up their new outside linebackers in game situations.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bradford wants more consistency from the first-team offense.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether they think the Rams have improved at wide receiver. Thomas: "Well, if you could tell me that the group was healthy – and could stay healthy – it would be an emphatic yes. But who knows if Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander can stay healthy for 16 games – or close to it. Same goes for Mardy Gilyard. Mike-Sims Walker will help, but he’s had only a couple weeks of practice time and still needs to get in sync with Sam Bradford. The rookies, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, haven’t shown a whole lot. Salas was out with a hamstring injury for a while, but made a couple of nice catches on the fourth-quarter field goal drive against Tennessee." Pettis looked pretty good when I visited Rams camp.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says Mike Hoomanawanui, Mikail Baker, Jermelle Cudjo and Fred Robbins will not play in the Rams' next preseason game.

Also from Wagoner: Darian Stewart's push for playing time in the Rams' secondary.

More from Wagoner: Mike Sims-Walker's expectations for the season.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis appreciates what Bradford offers the Rams.

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