NFC West: Nate Potter

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It all sounds so familiar to the Arizona Cardinals.

They're 4-4 midway through the season, the defense is carrying them and the offense is struggling. Is it 2012 all over again? Nope, not in the least.

Despite having the same mark at the halfway point of the 2013 season, this year’s Cardinals can feel a different vibe in the locker room than a year ago.

“This year there’s been less [of a] roller coaster of emotions,” offensive lineman Nate Potter said. “It’s been more back-and-forth, roll a couple off, lose one, get another one. So that just feels a lot more consistent.”

Before the wheels fell off in 2012 and Arizona lost nine straight, the Cards were the talk of the NFL. They started 4-0 despite sending out two starting quarterbacks. Throughout the team, the feeling that they were on the verge of something special permeated.

Then the first loss led to a second, which led to the third and the fourth and by time they were done -- nine straight. But at 4-4, Potter said there was still hope last season. Gunner Justin Bethel could feel the tension after four straight losses a year ago. Everybody was starting to get tight. Guys were pushing. Coaches and players were scrambling to figure out how to win a game.

This year, however, the overall feeling has changed.

“Losing here and there is a lot different,” Bethel said. “This year we’re 4-4 in the same position in the same part of the season. This year I feel like we got a better chance of making things happen.”

Of course, anything can happen at this point, with the exception of a nine-game losing streak. That’s mathematically impossible coming off a win with eight games left in the season. But nobody is sitting around resting on their laurels.

And nobody is forgetting about what happened a year ago.

“Definitely a different team and a different mentality,” noseguard Dan Williams said. “I think as far as the guys who did go through that last year, we keep that in the back of my mind. Our goal this year is to make it to the playoffs.

“I mean, you can definitely tell it’s a different feeling in the locker room. We want to be playing in January.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell is expected back at practice Friday after missing two days with an illness, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

But whether one day of practice will be enough for Sowell to prepare for the league’s top-ranked defense is yet to be seen. Goodwin will evaluate Sowell during Friday’s practice and then make a decision about the player's status for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

Potter
Sowell
“After practice tomorrow I’ll have a better feel,” Goodwin said. “I don’t want to say so right now, but obviously missing two days of practice, [with] whatever illness he has, hopefully it hasn’t affected him too much and hopefully he’s been studying and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Goodwin guessed that Sowell was out with the flu, since the virus has been making its rounds this time of year.

If Sowell doesn’t start Sunday, Nate Potter would fill his slot. Potter started six games at left tackle last season, allowing seven sacks. His first significant action in 2012 came against the Green Bay Packers and linebacker Clay Matthews. This season, his first start could come against Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

But Potter has learned to fill in on the fly.

“It’s just part of the process,” he said. “It’s part of the league, part of the position, part of my role. I just got to accept and play the best I can.”

Potter spent most of the first half of 2013 learning how to play guard. That versatility helped him stay active on game days and made him an attractive option to coach Bruce Arians.

“He’s a guy who comes to work every day,” Goodwin said. “Doesn’t say much. Does what we ask him to do. I have confidence in him. If he has to play. I’m sure he’ll be OK.”
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said he was pleased with backup tight end Jim Dray, who caught two passes for 21 yards Sunday in St. Louis with starter Rob Housler sidelined by an ankle injury.

Dray
“He made a couple of really tough catches, made a really nice run and broke a couple of tackles,” Palmer said.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Cardinals tried out tight ends Brett Brackett and Ryan Otten and receiver Raymond Radway on Tuesday. Since no announcement has been made yet, it’s unlikely the Cards signed any of them.

Palmer hinted that Dray's role in the offense may grow Sunday against Detroit.

“I think Jimmy has done a great job with his backup role,” Palmer said. “I think this week he is even going to expand on that a little bit.”

Depth chart changes: On the Cardinals’ latest depth chart, Nate Potter was listed as a backup for left guard Daryn Colledge, while recently acquired Bradley Sowell will back up Levi Brown at left tackle.

“We’re trying to get him some guard work now,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Bradley Sowell, we’re comfortable with playing both tackles.”

Arians said Sowell will not play at left tackle Sunday.

Suh’s reputation not a problem for Arians: Arians knows what he sees when it comes to Ndamukong Suh, who was fined $100,000 for an illegal low block against he Vikings.

“The only thing I evaluate is tape, and when I watch tape, I see a great football player -- high energy, high passion, disruptive three-technique,” Arians said. “All the rest of the stuff, I don’t have to deal with.”

Never too old: Palmer identified areas he struggled in at St. Louis and said he set out to improve them this week.

Palmer said he had technique issues stepping into throws, reading the coverage and getting himself out of trouble in the pocket. He watched relevant tape Monday and Tuesday, then came to work Wednesday with a few footwork drills he could do with quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens.

Minter to keep waiting: It’s not likely that rookie linebacker Kevin Minter will see the field behind Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby on Sunday, or any game in the future.

“Only in the case of injury,” Arians said.

Minter participated in 17 special-teams plays against the Rams.

Arians sticking with Levi Brown

September, 8, 2013
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ST. LOUIS -- Bruce Arians wanted to get ahead of the story.

But as much as he tried to outrun the questions about left tackle Levi Brown, he simply couldn't. Nobody would let him.

Brown
Brown
"No," Arians said unprompted. "I'm not concerned about the offensive line."

It’s tough to believe after watching Brown give up three sacks to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who, like San Diego's Dwight Freeney a few weeks ago, sailed by Brown more often than not.

But Arians responded to a reporter's question a few minutes later: Who would he replace Brown with?

"You got one?" Arians asked. "He's our guy. No, there's no position change. Somebody would've already beaten him out."

Brown struggled to slow Quinn on the Cardinals' opening drive. Quinn's first sack was on first and 10. He stripped the ball from Carson Palmer. Four snaps later, Quinn, who also had three quarterback hurries, got by Brown again on third and 12. He dragged Palmer down for an eight-yard loss, forcing the Cardinals to punt.

"He’s got a lot of speed," Brown said. "He's good with his hands. Tough job today."

While Quinn got to Palmer a few more times throughout the day, it was his third sack that changed the course of the game. With the Cardinals clinging to a 24-21 lead with 11 minutes left in the fourth, after being up 11 just two minutes earlier, Quinn strip-sacked Palmer again, but this time Quinn recovered. Four players later, despite a valiant stand by the Cardinals' defense, the Rams tied the game.

Brown will remain at left tackle, since Nate Potter did not win the job in camp, until a better option comes along on waivers or through a trade. But the likelihood of another team parting with a high-functioning left tackle isn't high.

"They're our guys," Arians said. "And we're going to live with them."

Brown will wait until he watches the tape Monday to draw conclusions about what went wrong against Quinn. But a former fifth-overall pick, Brown knows there’s room for improvement.

"I got work to do," he said. "I didn't perform well. I think he had three sacks. That's not acceptable. Go back to work tomorrow and get ready for next week."

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."

Potter answers backup guard questions

September, 4, 2013
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Nate Potter knows an opportunity when he sees one.

When the Cardinals’ coaches came to him earlier this week wondering if Potter could also play guard, the second-year left tackle didn’t hesitate.

“Of course I’ll do it,” Potter said.

The Cardinals are all too familiar with an offensive line falling apart because of injuries. They saw it first hand in 2012, starting seven players over the course of the season. It happened again during Week 3 of the preseason, when rookie left guard Jonathan Cooper's season ended after he broke his leg. After a reshuffling of the 53-man roster, only three guards were left standing: starters Daryn Colledge (left) and Paul Fanaika (right), and rookie Earl Watford. The Cardinals had just one backup for two interior linemen. Until this week.

Enter Potter, who started practicing at guard in addition to left tackle earlier after the Labor Day weekend. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians made the announcement during his Wednesday press conference.

“It’s a really easy transition for him,” Arians said. “He’s got the potential, and he’s smart enough to be a full-rotational guy. He plays both sides. He already knows how to play both tackles from the experience he got in the spring and now we’ll get him ready to play guard.”

Easy might be a stretch as of today, but Potter could make a career of being a swing lineman. It’s not the ideal job for anyone who had aspirations of being a starter in the NFL for years, but it could keep him employed.

Potter is young and agile enough to learn another position this early in his career, even if he hasn’t played guard since his not-that-long-ago days at Boise State.

“It’s been a while so it’s going to be an adjustment,” Potter said. “The more you can do the better. It’s going to be a learning experience and I still got a long ways to go because I just started but I’m excited to try it.”

This move is telling in more ways than just the Cardinals didn’t feel the need to add another guard. They could’ve simply done that. Instead they showed their fondness of Potter, a seventh-round pick in 2012, by trying to make him fit. Working Potter at guard was also something being thrown around early last year.

This will help the Cardinals decide who to keep active on game days. Arians has hinted toward seven active offensive linemen, but who the additional two will be is the biggest question mark. It’ll most likely be a combination of Potter, right tackle Bobby Massie and center Mike Gibson.

After earning his stripes by fire last season, Potter didn’t impress Arians enough during training camp to overtake Levi Brown at left tackle. With his snaps expected to be limited, this could get him on the field, especially if Colledge or Fanaika go down.

It won’t be easy for Potter, who will have to learn new blocking schemes and protections. Then there’s the footwork and body mechanics.

But his goal is to get “comfortable at everything.”

“Everything happens a little bit faster at guard so I got to get comfortable with that,” Potter said. “It’s going to take a little time but I started so it’s good.

“That’s how you stick around … the more you can do.”
One year ago, we considered the challenges Arizona Cardinals offensive tackles would face against a long list of accomplished pass-rushers.

It's hard not to think similar thoughts after watching left tackle Levi Brown struggle badly against the San Diego Chargers' Dwight Freeney during an exhibition game Saturday night. Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus counted three hurries and a sack for Freeney at Brown's expense. Brown also surrendered a pressure and a holding penalty while working against Larry English.

Brown did not play last season. Freeney has been a dominant rusher for years. That combination could have explained the degree to which Brown struggled. However, those familiar with Brown's career know he has struggled in pass protection at other times.

The 2013 schedule presents challenges early.

Brown will face Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith early in the season if he remains in the starting lineup at left tackle. Those players combined for 41 sacks last season. Another veteran pass-rusher, Will Smith of New Orleans, was also on the Cardinals' schedule for 2013. However, he reportedly suffered a season-ending knee injury over the weekend.

The Cardinals have better depth at offensive tackle this season with Brown healthy and Eric Winston joining the team. Those two are the starters at present. Nate Potter (left side) and Bobby Massie (right) played extensively as rookie tackles in 2012. Both improved as the season progressed. Arizona allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season, but that included 39 in the first eight games.

New quarterback Carson Palmer ranked tied for ninth in sack rate over the past two seasons while playing for the Oakland Raiders, an indication he can help the Cardinals' tackles by getting the ball out before pressure arrives. The Cardinals allowed sacks at a league-worst 8.6 percent rate, well above the 6.0 percent average.

The line remains in some flux. Coach Bruce Arians told reporters Monday the team planned to move Daryn Colledge from right guard back to left guard, where he played last season, now that a broken leg has sidelined talented rookie left guard Jonathan Cooper. Paul Fanaika is the leading candidate to replace Colledge at right guard. There are no plans at present to play Massie at guard, Arians told reporters.

The San Francisco 49ers have all five starters returning along their offensive line. There's no drama at the position unless you're into swing tackles, left guard contracts or developing young depth at center.

The situation is different for the Arizona Cardinals, but coach Bruce Arians brought welcome clarity to the position following the team's opening camp practice Friday.

Newly signed veteran Eric Winston will battle incumbent Bobby Massie at right tackle. Nate Potter, who eventually served as Levi Brown's injury replacement at left tackle last season, will battle Brown for that job this summer. There had been some thought about Massie competing at right guard. That could happen down the line in an effort to get the best five linemen on the field, but for now, the tackle competitions are clearly defined.

We know rookie first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will play left guard once he reaches agreement on a contract. We know Lyle Sendlein will be the starting center for a sixth consecutive season. Another veteran, Daryn Colledge, appears likely to start at right guard, a switch from the left side.

Winston has started 16 games in each of the past six seasons, five with Houston and one with Kansas City. Massie improved dramatically as a rookie starter last season. He seemingly would be a young player for the Cardinals to develop -- on the field.

The team has options, which is the point. There weren't enough viable ones for the Cardinals one year ago. The team had veteran career backups such as D'Anthony Batiste, Rich Ohrnberger, Pat McQuistan and Jeremy Bridges mixed with rookies such as Potter and Massie. Losing Brown to injury devastated the line. This year, the Cardinals have four tackles they could feel OK with in the lineup.

The chart shows every offensive lineman to play for the Cardinals over the past five seasons, ordered by snap counts. Shading highlights players on the 90-man roster at present. Cooper, chosen eighth overall in the 2013 draft, and Winston are two prominent newcomers.
ST. LOUIS -- Good morning, NFC West. I'll be heading over to St. Louis Rams headquarters shortly as players transition from organized Twitter activities to organized team activities, also known as OTAs.

First, though, let's take a quick look around the division.
  • Cards' OL moves: Through injuries, misfortune and questionable planning, the Arizona Cardinals finished last season with offensive linemen D'Anthony Batiste and Pat McQuistan in their lineup. Neither is employed in the NFL at present even though each team is allowed to carry on its roster 90 players, 37 more than during the regular season. It's refreshing to see recent draft choices Nate Potter, Bobby Massie and Jonathan Cooper factoring along with 2007 first-rounder Levi Brown as coaches experiment with various combinations.
  • Big names, small injuries: Reports suggest there's no reason to worry about seemingly minor injuries that recently sidelined Seattle Seahawks tight end Zach Miller and San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin during practice. Those are two valuable veterans, however, so any time they miss practice, it's at least a note around here.
  • Mangini watch: 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters he hasn't talked football with new senior offensive consultant Eric Mangini, who built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball. Fangio: "We haven’t to this point, and right now he's knee-deep into the offensive side trying to learn our offense. So, it's nothing that’s been planned that that would happen. But, just sitting around the table eating lunch or something one day, you might have a conversation. But, that's not the intent."
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at key players for each NFC West team who are coming back from injuries:

Arizona Cardinals: Levi Brown, left tackle. A torn triceps sidelined Brown last season, but the Cardinals expect him to be at full strength for 2013. A healthy Brown makes a happy Bruce Arians, it appears. Former coach Ken Whisenhunt was always quick to defend Brown from critics who expected more from a player drafted fifth overall. Arians, entering his first season as the Cardinals' coach, has taken the pro-Brown rhetoric to another level, calling the seventh-year tackle an "elite" player. Arizona improved its depth on the line. The team could conceivably get through the upcoming season with Nate Potter at left tackle. However, the Cardinals don't want to merely "get through" the season. They want Brown to play a key role on a line that now features first-round pick Jonathan Cooper.

St. Louis Rams: Jake Long, left tackle. The Rams ran Long through a thorough physical examination before signing the Pro Bowl left tackle in free agency. They are banking that a return to health will restore Long to his previously dominant ways. Long, like Brown in Arizona, is coming off triceps surgery. Injuries have slowed Long the past couple of seasons. The Rams think a healthy Long can stabilize their line, putting quarterback Sam Bradford at ease after three often-difficult seasons for the offense. Having Long in the lineup would allow incumbent left tackle Rodger Saffold to play on the right side, upgrading two positions. That's important for the Rams in a division featuring top defenses.

San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith, defensive end. The 49ers' defense sagged considerably once Smith suffered a partially torn triceps during a late-season game against New England. Smith, who had surgery this offseason, has worked well in tandem with outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Both were hurting late last season, and the defense suffered as a result. The 49ers tried to address the issue in the draft by loading up on front-seven players. That made sense for the long term. More immediately, the team could use one more season of dominance from Justin Smith, one of their most important players on either side of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks: Chris Clemons, defensive end. The Seahawks' defense wasn't the same in the playoffs after Clemons suffered a torn ACL against Washington in the wild-card round. Seattle addressed the issue this offseason by adding Cliff Avril in free agency from the Detroit Lions. Avril's addition could put the Seahawks in position to bring along Clemons at a measured pace. Whatever the case, Seattle will want -- and possibly need -- Clemons near full strength for a playoff run, if not sooner. No other defensive end on the roster plays the run and pass as well as Clemons plays both. He's been a big part of Seattle's defensive success.
One year ago, a visitor to the NFC West blog warned against reading too much into Russell Wilson's strong showing at the Seattle Seahawks' rookie camp.

"A third-round QB looks good against other rookies and undrafted players? Who would have thunk it?" TheFault17 wrote May 14, 2012. "Not hating on Wilson at all, but there's way too much stock put in rookie minicamps. Is it September yet?"

The skepticism was warranted even though Wilson later validated the hype.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune joined Brock Huard, Danny O'Neil and me Monday in digesting the Seahawks' recently completed 2013 rookie camps. Williams in particular hit the brakes on post-camp excitement. I agree in general but also think he was on the low side in projecting how many 2013 draftees might earn spots on the 53-man roster this season.

710ESPN Seattle has posted the audio to rave reviews. Make that one rave review.

The chart ranks 2012 NFC West draft choices by most games started as rookies. The San Francisco 49ers had zero starts from their rookie draft choices. However, in looking at the 15 players listed in the chart, few would have likely started a game for San Francisco.
The Arizona Cardinals' situation at guard changed when the team used the seventh and 116th choices in the 2013 NFL draft to address the position.

Adam Snyder's release from the team Monday was one immediate consequence.

The five-year, $17.5 million contract Snyder signed with the Cardinals last offseason invited skepticism at the time because Snyder had seemingly struggled while starting at right guard for San Francisco previously. The 49ers were eager to move on from Snyder and Chilo Rachal at right guard last offseason. The Cardinals signed Snyder, paid him a $5 million signing bonus and made him their starter.

The Cardinals still must account for $4 million in charges against their salary cap relating to the bonus money Snyder received. The team will save $2.9 million in base salary this season, but the cap charge for Snyder's contract could be the same in 2013 without Snyder as it would have been had he remained on the roster: $4 million. Update: The Cardinals are reportedly designating Snyder as a post-June 1 release, meaning they can defer some cap consequences until 2014.

Arizona has mismanaged its offensive line over the past five-plus seasons, in my view. Using the fifth overall choice of the 2007 draft for Levi Brown delivered to the team a long-term starter, but not one of the NFL's top tackles. The team failed to draft another offensive lineman in the first three rounds from 2008 until selecting Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall choice this year.

The Cardinals' reliance on older backups with little room for improvement proved costly last season when D'Anthony Batiste was initially the replacement for an injured Brown at left tackle. Snyder also struggled.

A steady stream of overmatched quarterbacks has exacerbated the situation. Top quarterbacks help out their lines by getting rid of the ball quickly. Poor quarterbacks make bad lines look worse by holding the ball too long and inviting sacks or other negative plays, leading to unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

The team appears recommitted to improving its line. Selecting Cooper and fourth-round choice Earl Watford one year after drafting Bobby Massie and Nate Potter has given the team younger options.

Snyder would be best suited as a backup for all five positions on the line, in my view. I could see him landing in that capacity with a team such as San Diego. Former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is the Chargers' offensive coordinator. He was with Arizona when the team signed Snyder.

2013 #bloggermock: Cardinals at No. 7

April, 23, 2013
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What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Tuesday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

How to access: Blogger mock console, and via #bloggermock on Twitter.

The latest: I used Arizona's first-round pick, No. 7 overall, for Alabama guard Chance Warmack.

My rationale: There was some debate in my mind between targeting offensive tackle, guard, outside pass-rusher or defensive tackle in this slot. Tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson were not available, however. That helped narrow the choices. I figured Warmack would have been the highest-rated offensive lineman remaining. Guard is arguably a greater need than tackle for the Cardinals if we count Levi Brown, Bobby Massie and Nate Potter as viable players at tackle. Every outside pass-rusher except for Dion Jordan remained available. All else relatively equal, I figured the Cardinals needed more help on offense than defense, so Warmack was the choice. His arrival would allow projected starting right guard Adam Snyder to back up all five positions.

What's next for the NFC West: The St. Louis Rams are scheduled to pick 16th and 22nd, followed by the San Francisco 49ers at No. 31.
Three of four starting NFC West left tackles have been named to start a Pro Bowl over the past few seasons.

The fourth, Levi Brown, was drafted fifth overall in 2007.

From 2009 through 2011, NFC West teams used five first-round selections for offensive linemen, more than any other division.

Results have been mixed. Overall, however, the lines in this division should be on the rise. There is still quite a bit of variance top to bottom.

Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, picks up the conversation from there as part of our ongoing series ranking NFC West position groups.

Williamson: San Francisco has the best offensive line in the league. The 49ers bring back all five starters. They are loaded. Arizona has one of the worst lines in the league, although I think it will be better. Brown is back from injury. Bobby Massie and Nate Potter will be better in their second seasons. All the draft analysts seem to think the Cardinals need a tackle. They really need a guard. That is the weakest spot on the line, right guard.

Sando: I was pretty surprised when the Cardinals gave decent starting money to Adam Snyder in free agency last offseason. He's most valuable for his versatility and would be ideally suited as the sixth man for any line.

Williamson: Snyder is terrible. I don't think they'll draft Chance Warmack seventh overall. They need an outside pass-rusher. Still, they should strongly consider Warmack. He would help their line more than anybody.

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
AP Photo/Dave MartinESPN's Matt Williamson says Alabama guard Chance Warmack would fill a glaring need for Arizona.
Sando: Arians and general manager Steve Keim think the line will be vastly improved this season for some of the reasons you outlined. I tend to agree. The line already improved once D'Anthony Batiste left the lineup. Beyond Arizona, you've got Seattle with the second-best line in the division. Was that a tough call for the second spot?

Williamson: I think you could make an argument between the Seahawks and the Rams O-lines. The Rams' line has been so bad for so long that it's easy to say they stink. But look at them player by player. They have four quality starters now that Jake Long is the left tackle. Age and/or injury is a big issue for three of the four. I think they should draft Warmack on Jonathan Cooper over a wideout. Add one of those guards to the line and you'd have five solid starters. Not many teams can say they have that.

Sando: There is definitely a tendency for people to pencil in a wide receiver for the Rams in the first round. If there is a truly elite WR prospect available, I'd have no problem with that. But there's absolutely no need to force a wideout in the first round. The Rams already have developmental prospects at the position. Using a first-round pick for another Brian Quick really wouldn't make sense if an immediate starter were available for the line.

Williamson: Guard is a bigger need than wideout, with safety being the biggest need. Rams fans will go crazy if they end up with Cooper and Kenny Vaccaro, but to me that would be a home run. Jared Cook is a wideout. Quick will be a good player. Givens already is good. He emerged. And if you can protect, Givens will be that much better.

Sando: Let's get back to the debate between Seattle and St. Louis for the No. 2 line in the division. The Seahawks have two Pro Bowlers on their line in center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung. They're not all that great elsewhere on the line.

Williamson: Seattle has the two best guys from either team's line. If you asked 100 people to rank these guys, 98 would put Seattle over St. Louis, but it's much closer than people think. That right side of the offensive line in Seattle scares me. Before the Percy Harvin trade, I would have said D.J. Fluker was who I would add to Seattle -- the biggest, nastiest pure right tackle and guard to compete with the physicality of the Niners.


Sando: The Seahawks don't have a first-round pick now, and I'm not sure they see the line as a primary need. For reference, NFC West teams have drafted 10 offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Okung, Unger and Rodger Saffold became starters. Chilo Rachal, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Jason Smith and John Greco haven't produced and have moved on in some cases.

Williamson: No picks for Arizona in there.

Sando: Right. That will presumably change this year. To your point about the right side of Seattle's line scaring you, we should note that right tackle Breno Giacomini gives the Seahawks a physical, nasty presence. He has played to negative reviews, but I think Seattle likes him.

Williamson: Breno has been serviceable. Marshawn Lynch has room to run. I think they have two good players and then a bunch of guys. I do think the whole is greater than sum of the parts. There is some truth to that in Seattle, which goes to coaching.

Sando: That really was true for the Rams last season as well. Adding Long lets them move Saffold to right tackle, an upgrade from Barry Richardson last season. Scott Wells' return to the lineup for the final seven games last season went under the radar a little bit. His presence for a full season could help Sam Bradford. But there are injury concerns across the board for the Rams on their line. Adding a starting guard through the draft would certainly improve the outlook.

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