NFC West: Olindo Mare

Rookie kickers have made 86.7 percent of field goal attempts over the past five seasons. Veteran kickers have made 83 percent over the same period.

That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.

While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.

Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.

Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.

But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.

Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.

Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 field goal tries (69 percent) since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).

The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.

Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker Insider for ranks of kickers Insider and all free agents.

NFC West perspective on franchise tag

February, 18, 2013
NFC West teams have used the franchise player designation nine times for eight players over the past five years.

Only twice did the franchise tag lead to a long-term agreement between the parties.

That figure could rise to three if the San Francisco 49ers sign 2012 franchise player Dashon Goldson to a long-term deal. Until then, Arizona's Calais Campbell (2012) and Seattle's Marcus Trufant (2008) remain the only ones over that five-year period. The league-wide figures were higher in 2012, with 12 of the 21 franchise players reaching agreement on multiyear contracts. Four of the 12 were punters or kickers.

These trends came to mind Monday as the NFL's period for designating franchise players was opening for the first time in 2013.

Goldson, St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola and Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka have been widely mentioned as potential candidates for the tag. Each is without a contract for the coming season. As a franchise player, each would receive a one-year offer for the values outlined in the chart. None would become an unrestricted free agent.

The first chart shows projected values for non-exclusive franchise players. Nearly all franchise players are non-exclusive ones. They're free to negotiate with other teams, but their current teams retain right of first refusal. And if their current teams decided against matching an outside offer, those teams would receive two first-round draft choices from the signing team.

Teams can also name exclusive franchise players at higher prices. This rarely happens, however. Drew Brees (2012), Peyton Manning (2011), Michael Vick (2011), Richard Seymour (2010), Nnamdi Asomugha (2008) and Dwight Freeney (2007) were the only exclusive franchise players since 2005.

The values listed in the first chart reflect averages for the five highest-paid players at the corresponding positions. Franchise players receive that amount or 120 percent of their salary in the previous year, whichever is greater.

Sometimes, the price for naming a franchise player is low enough for teams to use the tag merely out of convenience. That is generally the case with kickers and punters. It has sometimes been the case with safeties and tight ends.

Amendola's situation in St. Louis is a little different. The Rams value him. They love what he offers the offense and the toughness he brings to the team. But they also know injuries have limited Amendola to nine games over the past two seasons. That could affect their thinking on a long-term deal.

Welcome to the blog for the only NFL division with a second-round playoff representative every season since realignment in 2002.

We are under no illusions here. The NFC West has not always produced formidable teams top to bottom. Three other divisions have produced more divisional-round playoff appearances under the current format.

It's just that the NFC West has produced more than a few playoff success stories, and the 2011 San Francisco 49ers can write their own chapter by defeating the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. The matchup is going to dominate conversation on the blog this week even as the St. Louis Rams move to hire a head coach.

This season marks the fourth since realignment with every NFL division still playing in the divisional round. New England (seven), Indianapolis (6), Pittsburgh (5), Philadelphia (5) and Baltimore (5) lead the league in divisional-round appearances over the past 10 seasons, counting this one. Seattle is one of four teams with four. Every other NFC West team has made it twice, starting with the 49ers nearly a decade ago.

The football-related aspects of the Saints-49ers matchup interest me the most. I offered some early thoughts after the Saints' victory over Detroit secured New Orleans' trip to Candlestick Park. There will be more.

Matt Maiocco of outlined quite a few keys to the game. A couple regarding the Saints' defense stood out: "The Saints must scheme up their pass rush because they're lacking in individuals who can get to the quarterback. Strong safety Roman Harper led the Saints with 7.5 sacks. As a team, the Saints recorded 33 sacks -- spread out among 15 -- that's right, 15 -- different players. ... The Saints defense does not have a lot of playmakers. This is not like the team in 2009 that won the Super Bowl. On that team, safety Darren Sharper had nine of the team's 26 interceptions. During this regular season, the Saints recorded only nine interceptions." Noted: The matchup between San Francisco's defense and New Orleans' offense should not obscure other matchups pivotal to the outcome.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers will play the Saints differently than the Lions did. Lynch: "Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch had a horrible game. He was constantly manipulated by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Tulloch was also late covering the middle in the Lions two-deep defense. That won’t happen with 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who have more speed and hopefully, more awareness than Tulloch."

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists reasons the 49ers can beat the Saints. Cohn: "The Niners have a top-notch home red-zone defense (allowing TDs just 25 percent of the time), while the Saints scored touchdowns only seven times out of 22 chances on grass this season in the red zone. The Saints will move the ball, but the Niners defense should be able to hold them to field goals."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through the longest plays San Francisco allowed this season. Noted: Four of the five longest ones occurred during the first four weeks of the season.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' offensive line has improved dramatically.

Also from Inman: 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin on facing his former team, the Saints.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' coaching search, noting that Jeff Fisher is expected to make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday. Thomas: "The only possible hangup, according to two sources, is the potential of a possible move by the franchise to Los Angeles. The move from Houston to Tennessee was grueling for Fisher during his 17 seasons with that franchise. It's something Fisher doesn't want to go through again. Even with those concerns, it's not known if that's a deal breaker with St. Louis." Noted: On the other hand, Fisher went to USC and was said to have some interest in the San Diego job had it come open under the right circumstances. The possibility of a move years from now wouldn't seem to be a deal breaker, in my view.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says former Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is already working for the Patriots as an offensive assistant, and his role will change to offensive coordinator next season.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks need to re-sign several key players before free agency. Boling: "Seahawks fans might trigger a seismic event from outrage if running back Marshawn Lynch takes his beastly style elsewhere. And Red Bryant has likewise become an exemplar of spirited toughness for the Seahawks on defense. These two are at the top of the list of 18 unrestricted free agents with whom the Seahawks may exclusively negotiate."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune hands out grades for the 2011 Seahawks, including a "C" for special teams. Williams: "Leon Washington was solid, but not as explosive as last season. Punter Jon Ryan had another good season, and kicker Steven Hauschka made people forget about Olindo Mare. The usually solid coverage units gave up three return touchdowns and were one of the most penalized groups in the NFL this season."

Will Brinson of quotes CBS analyst Charley Casserly as saying the the Arizona Cardinals could provide a landing spot for Peyton Manning if the Colts part with the quarterback. Casserly: "Jim Irsay in interviewing general manager candidates has told them he will make the decision whether Peyton Manning is back. He will not put that on the new general manager. Right now there have been absolutely no discussions according to the Manning camp between Manning and Irsay about extending that deadline. In fact, it would make no sense to me for Manning to agree to that. Why give up the opportunity to talk to other teams? One team to watch? The Arizona Cardinals. They can get out of the Kevin Kolb contract and also Ken Whisenhunt's been down this road before. A veteran quarterback coming in at the end of his career? Kurt Warner." Noted: The Cardinals could get out of the Kolb deal by declining to pay a $7 million bonus in March. If Manning were available, however, he would have more than one team interested in him. I'll have more on this in a bit.

2011 Seahawks Week 10: Five observations

November, 14, 2011
Five things I noticed while watching the Seattle Seahawks' 22-17 home victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10:
  • Seahawks had the better QB. Tarvaris Jackson outplayed Joe Flacco by a shockingly wide margin. Jackson hung tough in the pocket when pressure was mounting and delivered the ball accurately, including to Marshawn Lynch. But the most impressive play for Jackson showcased his strong arm. Jackson, supposedly limited by a strained right pectoral muscle, threw a pass 45 yards in the air to Doug Baldwin on an across-the-body throw while rolling hard to his left. Not many quarterbacks can make that type of throw. Flacco repeatedly missed receivers. He missed one potential touchdown on a deep pass and another when tight end Dennis Pitta slipped behind linebacker Leroy Hill in the end zone. Flacco overthrew both passes. He also threw into double coverage in the end zone on another play. Seattle's Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas collided while trying to make the pick, or else this would have been an interception.
  • Offensive line depth improved. The Seahawks lost starting right guard John Moffitt to a knee injury early in the game. Lemuel Jeanpierre replaced him and proved, again, that Seattle's depth along the line is not longer such a liability. The personnel department has done a good job in that area. Jeanpierre seemed to function well despite facing a formidable Ravens defensive front. He made a positive impression starting at center against Cleveland a few weeks earlier. Right tackle James Carpenter still has problems protecting. Officials flagged him for holding on a third-and-goal play from the 3. Carpenter's right foot was outside the 5-yard line before the snap in an effort to get a jump in protection, but it wasn't enough. The line's strong blocking for Lynch helped Seattle take an early lead and minimize obvious passing situations. That was huge for the line.
  • Letting Mare leave worked out OK. Seattle wanted to re-sign kicker Olindo Mare, but the Carolina Panthers made on offer the Seahawks weren't willing to match. The offer was sensational from Mare's perspective, but also above market. A contending team might have found a way to keep its kicker, but the Seahawks remained in rebuild mode. Mare has made 14 of 18 attempts this season. Steven Hauschka made all five attempts for Seattle against Baltimore. He has now made 15 of 17 attempts. Mare has more touchbacks.
  • Gallery's veteran savvy shows up. You had to watch carefully, but with about 4:17 left in the second quarter, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis inexplicably fell down while closing on Jackson in the Seattle backfield. The fall gave Jackson time to escape the pocket and throw away the ball without risking a penalty for intentional grounding. Lewis had beaten Seahawks left guard Robert Gallery on the play, but as Gallery was down on all fours, he made sure one hand snagged Lewis' right foot. Lewis stumbled, got up quickly and raised his arms in protest as if to say, "Hey, what was that?" It's tripping, but only if the officials see it.
  • Seattle needs another Lynch. At one point during the Fox broadcast, analysts said Lewis had called Lynch the Seahawks' heartbeat. Seattle lacks another big halfback on its roster, however. If Lynch misses a game, as he did at Cleveland, the Seahawks cannot play offense they way they want to play it. Lynch should have a strong second half of the season as the line continues to improve. I'm just not sure how long he'll hold up carrying the ball as much as he has in the last couple games. He has 55 carries and 61 total touches over the last two games. It'll be fun to watch Lynch and the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson in the same game next week. Defensive players will want to keep the ice packs handy. Seattle might want to add another big back in the offseason, though.

I'm writing this from San Francisco 49ers headquarters following Jim Harbaugh's news conference and will be heading to the airport shortly. More to come once I'm settled.
Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 8:
  • Leader: Da Ramzz, for the first time this season, by two points. Da Ramzz has scored at least 130 points in seven of the eight weeks. Very solid. Previous leader mboles52 is only seven points back after leading four weeks in a row.
  • High score of the week: Coleyfudge, with 170 points. Getting 31 points from the Buffalo Bills' defense certainly helped.
  • Lowest score on first page of leaderboard: Try Not to Suck, with 88 points. This was a calculated gamble or an oversight. Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Sebastian Janikowski and the Green Bay defense stayed on his roster despite having bye weeks. Try Not to Suck remains tied for 31st and in the 98.4 percentile anyway. Not bad.
  • My team: tied for 208th out of 1,619 entries, 88.9 percentile. Up from 280th and 83.0 percentile. Cam Newton, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Steve Smith scored 99 of my 131 points in Week 8.
  • My wife's team: tied for 679th place, 59.7 percentile. Down from 584th and 64.8. She's been under the weather, but that's no excuse. Mark Ingram was her running back. Olindo Mare was her kicker.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 340th, 80.7 percentile. Up from 408th and 75.1. Lots of NFC East flavor on our NFC East blogger's roster. Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Ryan Torain.
  • Note of the week: Buying back Aaron Rodgers at $7.9 million hurt, particularly after getting only 14 points from Joe Flacco as a bye week replacement. I picked up Matt Cassel on the relative cheap and will go with Frank Gore and Matt Forte as my running backs. The St. Louis Rams were a cheap pickup on defense and a gamble, but with the Cardinals' quarterback situation unsettled, it could work out OK.

Graziano is keeping on the pressure. Can't see him leaving Torain in his lineup against San Francisco's defense.

Akers to Feely: Kickers and close games

September, 29, 2011
Twelve games in Week 3 were decided by no more than seven points.

That was the highest number in NFL history, matching totals from 2003 (Week 12) and 1993 (Week 15), according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Expansion has increased the chances over the years, but with so many close games in Week 3, I wanted to quickly touch upon kicking dynamics heading into Week 4:
  • 49ers: Former longtime Philadelphia Eagles kicker David Akers returns to Philly with the San Francisco 49ers. He has made all seven field-goal tries this season, including two from 50-plus yards, both in clutch situations. He has touchbacks on 52.9 percent of kickoffs, best in the NFC West. Akers has been outstanding and the 49ers have leaned on him heavily while playing conservatively on offense.
  • Cardinals: Jay Feely, who missed twice amid tough weather conditions during a 13-10 defeat at Seattle last week, faces one of his former teams when the New York Giants visit University of Phoenix Stadium. Feely is tied for the NFL lead with three misses this season. He missed only three last season, connecting on 24 of 27 attempts. Feely has touchbacks on 33 percent of kickoffs, which ranks third in the division. That is up from 22.9 percent last season.
  • Seahawks: Seattle's Steven Hauschka has made all three of his attempts as a budget replacement for Olindo Mare, who cashed in with Carolina in free agency. Hauschka has one touchback in nine kickoffs for an 11.1 percentage that ranks last among players with more than two kickoffs. Mare has made all five field-goal attempts while producing touchbacks on half his kickoffs.
  • Rams: Josh Brown has two of his three games indoors, an advantage over his divisional counterparts. He has touchbacks on 45.5 percent of kickoffs. Brown has made all four field-goal tries from inside 30 yards, missing one of two from 40-49.

The chart shows field-goal stats for kickers playing for and against NFC West teams in Week 4. The "missed from" column includes abbreviations for field goals missed short, wide right, wide left and blocked. Note: I added the Redskins' kicker to the list; thanks to Los Angeles Rams of St. Louis for pointing out the omission.

Around the NFC West: Seahawks' kicker

September, 12, 2011
The wind conditions at Candlestick Park were tricky enough for the Seattle Seahawks to require a holder during a kickoff.

For that reason, I was not clear to what degree kicker Steven Hauschka was to blame for the kickoff San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr. returned 102 yards for a touchdown pivotal to the Seahawks' 33-17 defeat Sunday.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times raises the question in light of the Seahawks' decision to let veteran kicker Olindo Mare walk in free agency. O'Neil: "Would a touchback have won Seattle the game? No. Seattle's defense had to hold, and its offense would have had to score. Besides all that, when the guy brings the ball out from 2 yards deep in the end zone, the coverage should prevent him from running untouched to the end zone. But for a team with so much uncertainty, it's not so crazy to think -- in hindsight -- that Seattle could have put a little more value on the kicker who was a big part of the special teams that was such a solid part of last season's team." Noted: Carolina was the team that stepped up and paid Mare in free agency. Mare kicked off four times against Arizona in the opener. Two went for touchbacks. Two others failed to reach even the 5-yard line, and the Cardinals' dangerous returner, LaRod Stephens-Howling, had returns of 33 and 27 yards. At San Francisco last season, Mare kicked off four times, none for touchbacks. Ginn returned three of them, none for a long return.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Leon Washington took responsibility for the Seahawks' special-teams issues.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks were generally happy with their defensive effort Sunday, but they needed to force turnovers. Noted: The pass rush didn't get to Alex Smith quickly enough in some cases, but in holding the 49ers to 209 yards, there was little to complain about.

Also from Williams: thoughts on the Seahawks' offensive line and injury notes. Michael Robinson has an ankle sprain. Noted: I saw Robinson leaving the locker room with his lower left leg in a walking boot.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' offense wasn't nearly good enough Sunday. Boling: "If it seemed to viewers as if there was an attitude deficiency across the Seahawks’ offense early in this game, well, they noticed the same thing."

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.
The Seattle Seahawks once carried two kickers on their 53-man roster because their general manager (Tim Ruskell) and head coach (Mike Holmgren) could not agree on which one to keep.

Ruskell, as a personnel evaluator, valued the potential associated with the young prospect. Holmgren, as the man responsible for winning games often decided by narrow margins, valued the veteran's experience and track record.

The Seahawks will not keep two kickers on their roster this season, but they'll be able to choose between youth and experience after signing veteran Jeff Reed, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported they did Wednesday.

Reed's weight was an issue when the veteran kicker was filling in for an injured Joe Nedney in San Francisco last season. Reed, best know for his years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, showed up in better condition when the Seahawks brought him to their headquarters for a workout this week. The 32-year-old Reed joins a roster that has featured inexperienced kickers Brandon Coutu and Wes Byrum to this point in camp.

Reed made nine of his 10 field goal attempts for the 49ers last season. He ranked 33rd out of 35 kickers in average kickoff distance among players with at least 20 kickoffs during the regular season. David Akers, the 49ers' kicker this season, and Olindo Mare averaged an additional 5 yards per kickoff.

Leg strength on kickoffs will not matter as much now that the NFL has moved kickoffs from the 30- to 35-yard line.

Camp Confidential: Seattle Seahawks

August, 3, 2011
RENTON, Wash. -- NFL training camps aren't what they used to be now that players have secured day-spa treatment from coaches under the new labor agreement.

Still, teams aren't practicing in slippers and robes ... yet.

Earl Thomas, the Seattle Seahawks' second-year safety, did go through a recent practice -- make that a walk-through, just to be safe -- wearing a visor that also would have served him well standing over a Titleist. Several teammates wore ball caps.

None of this shocks the system for Seattle.

Coach Pete Carroll ran a player-friendly camp last year as well, giving the team full days off from practice. But the veterans who lauded Carroll's approach in 2010 aren't around to celebrate it this year. And therein lies the biggest difference for the Seahawks this summer.

For the first time since 2000, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck isn't around to offer the insights and asides that made him mandatory viewing at Seahawks camp. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, leader of the defense since 2005, also is gone. Other veterans I polled during the inaugural Camp Carroll are also elsewhere -- Lawyer Milloy, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Olindo Mare among them.

This day has been coming for a while. The Seahawks are getting on with their lives, untethered from what came before.


[+] EnlargeTarvaris Jackson
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonTarvaris Jackson should be familiar with the Seahawks' offense since he spent five seasons with new coordinator Darrell Bevell.
1. Why Tarvaris Jackson? The Seahawks decided it was time to move on from Hasselbeck before they had a long-term replacement lined up. Once that decision was made, the team targeted Jackson because he and the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, had spent five years together. Once Jackson was signed, Carroll wasted little time endorsing him as the starter. Three possible explanations come to mind. One, Jackson knew the offense. Two, Charlie Whitehurst hadn't asserted himself as a leader during offseason workouts when Hasselbeck was without a contract for 2011. Three, a quick endorsement gave Jackson a confidence boost following a rough run in Minnesota. There's a feeling that maybe, just maybe, Brad Childress did not give Jackson the best chance to succeed with the Vikings.

2. Who will lead the defense? Tatupu's release following six seasons with the team leaves the defense in transition. Tatupu was instinctive and adept at getting teammates lined up properly. His play had deteriorated through injuries, but Tatupu had three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl on his résumé. He was the defensive leader. Carroll pointed to linebacker David Hawthorne, pass-rusher Chris Clemons and defensive end Red Bryant as heirs. He named Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor as well. "I'm not worried about it," Carroll said. "There’s a lot of very strong character kids on that side of the ball, particularly."

3. Does Whitehurst have a future? It's tough to see him emerging in Seattle. The decision to go with Jackson even though rules prevented him from practicing right away said plenty about Whitehurst's status on the team. Whitehurst has been running the first-team offense while Jackson waits to become eligible under rules for players with new contracts. Everyone knows he's the backup even though there was never any competition. It's a tough situation for Whitehurst. Still, getting to work with the starters provided an opportunity to impress. It has not happened. Whitehurst's contract runs through the 2011 season. If Whitehurst doesn't show more as camp progresses, it's fair to wonder whether the team would consider bringing in a cheaper veteran.


Signing Zach Miller in free agency. Miller was on the Seahawks' radar when free agency opened. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable had high praise for Miller from their days together in Oakland. But the Seahawks never expected Miller to remain available so deep into the signing period. After a while, the Seahawks began to view Miller the way they would view a talented prospect falling to them in the draft. They felt compelled to pursue Miller with a strong offer. The Raiders made a push to keep Miller, but Seattle came through with a five-year, $34 million contract featuring $17 million in guarantees. Having Cable and former Raiders guard Robert Gallery in Seattle helped the Seahawks get this deal done. The team emerged from free agency with a 25-year-old Pro Bowl player.


Extending the lockout (sort of). Carroll has bristled every day over the rules preventing newly signed players from practicing before Aug. 4, only one week before Seattle's exhibition opener at San Diego. Jackson, Sidney Rice and Gallery are among the key additions who were forbidden from participating in practices or even workouts with the team. The situation was tough for teams throughout the league, but Seattle felt challenged more than most because the team has undergone so much roster turnover. Seattle also has quite a few new coaches on the offensive side of the ball, including Bevell, Cable and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. Going a week without getting key starters onto the field didn't make any sense from a football standpoint.


  • [+] EnlargeRussell Okung
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRussell Okung has shown no signs of the injuries that nagged him last season.
    The ankle injuries that slowed left tackle Russell Okung as a rookie last season haven't been a problem so far. Okung appears exceedingly smooth. He rides out defenders effectively during pass-rush drills, sometimes even driving them to the ground. He's a threat to flatten defenders in the running game. Another recent first-round pick on the line, James Carpenter, has made a positive first impression at right tackle early in camp. He's thick and massive. He plays with an edge. He's going to start in Week 1.
  • Rookie right guard John Moffitt projects as a starter, but he could need time to develop. That was my impression watching Moffitt in drills. Of course, it's not fair comparing Moffitt to Okung or Carpenter. Those guys were first-round picks. Moffitt was a third-rounder. Having youth on the line is a good thing overall. Getting the 31-year-old Gallery into the lineup is critical, however. Gallery has been serving as a coach on the field during practices. He knows Cable's blocking schemes and is already proving valuable as a resource. Durability is a concern for him.
  • Seattle is finished with the big-ticket purchases in free agency. The team could still add veterans at linebacker and kicker. The team lacks experience in the secondary as well. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are the only cornerbacks on the team with more than one start. Going young sounds great during the offseason, but throwing untested corners onto the field against veteran quarterbacks isn't very appealing when the games start counting. The Seahawks face Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning in the first five weeks of the regular season.
  • Strong safety Jeron Johnson and three linebackers -- Mike Morgan, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith -- are among the rookies impressing Seattle early in camp. Another rookie, safety Mark LeGree, is getting a chance to play safety when Thomas, the starter at free, shifts to cornerback against slot receivers. Carroll alluded to such an arrangement during the draft. One more rookie, Pep Levingston, has impressed in early one-on-one pass-rush drills. A defensive tackle at LSU, Levingston projects as an end with Seattle. He's leaner than I had anticipated, an advantage in pass-rush drills.
  • Seven of the 11 cornerbacks on the roster are at least 6 feet tall. Three are 5-foot-11 and one is 5-10. The biggest, Brandon Browner, goes 6-4 and 221 pounds. Impressive? Perhaps, but only three of the 11 have started an NFL game, and none of the three with starting experience stands taller than 5-11.
  • Size is a theme throughout the roster. Mike Williams, Rice and fellow receiver Kris Durham are at least 6-4.
  • The Seahawks might need to find more touches for Leon Washington if they hope to get sufficient return on their investment in him. New rules governing kickoffs figure to diminish the value of Washington and other top returners.
  • Seattle's front office trusted its coaches during free agency. Just about every free-agent addition has ties to a Seahawks staff member. Miller and Gallery played for Cable in Oakland. Jackson and Rice played for Bevell in Minnesota. Defensive tackle Alan Branch was an exception. Seattle added him after failing to land a defensive tackle in the draft. Ideally, Branch would be a backup. He could start for Seattle at three-technique, with Brandon Mebane moving to nose tackle. Branch will also back up Bryant at five-technique.
  • For the second year in a row under Carroll, the Seahawks are piping hip-hop beats and mixes into practices. A disc jockey stands behind two turntables near the front corner of the practices fields. "Halfway home and my pager still blowin' up, today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day ..." Hearing those lyrics from Ice Cube during a recent practice, I couldn't help but wonder what Chuck Knox would think of the arrangement. Did I mention times have changed in the NFL? Just a little.
NFL teams tend to think they can replace specialists somewhat easily.

Often, they are right.

When they're wrong, the money they saved seems trivial in retrospect.

The Seattle Seahawks went through quite a few punters and snappers after letting Jeff Feagles and J.P. Darche get away years ago. They're taking a risk this offseason after watching kicker Olindo Mare agree to terms with Carolina on Wednesday. Mare set a franchise record for consecutive field goal attempts without a miss after then-coach Jim Mora ripped him for an "unacceptable" performance against Chicago.

Mare has made 88.0 percent of his field goal attempts over the last three seasons, the third-highest percentage among players with at least 20 attempts. Only Neil Rackers (90.7) and Ryan Longwell (90.0) have higher conversion rates during that time, according to Pro Football Reference.

Rackers' appearance atop that list affirms the first sentence of this blog entry. The Cardinals parted with Rackers and came out just fine with Jay Feely.

One other consideration: Mare has been strong on kickoffs, but strong legs might carry less value now that the league has moved up kickoffs to the 35-yard line. As Mare told Dave Mahler of Sports Radio 950 AM in Seattle via Brian McIntyre, the change should extend careers for kickers.

Seahawks' back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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Readiness factor: No team in the NFC West faces more roster-related work than Seattle once the league reopens for business. The team is entering the second season of a massive roster overhaul. More than two dozen players are headed for free agency, in many cases by design. The quarterback situation remains in flux. The lockout prevented the Seahawks from continuing their trend for draft-day trades under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. That avenue for improvement was lost for good. Seattle will need some time to work through personnel changes.

Biggest challenge: The Seahawks could have a hard time upgrading their quarterback situation. Matt Hasselbeck appears on his way out, with Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson as a possible addition via free agency, according to ESPN's John Clayton. Charlie Whitehurst is unproven. Kevin Kolb could be too expensive for Seattle's tastes in terms of trade compensation and contract demands. I don't get the sense the Seahawks are all that concerned. They're building for the long term. My sense is that Carroll doesn't value quarterbacks the way he might if his background were on offense. Still, addressing the position is important. The task presents challenges.

What surprises await on the injury front? Seattle has suffered more than its share of injuries in recent seasons. A few top contributors, including left tackle Russell Okung and pass-rusher Chris Clemons, played through painful conditions last season. The lockout has prevented players from training and rehabbing at team facilities. Injury-related news updates have been scarce. Will the Seahawks be as healthy as they need to be given the state of their roster?

Key players without contracts for 2011: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, kicker Olindo Mare, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, tackle Sean Locklear, center Chris Spencer, cornerback Kelly Jennings, safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive end Raheem Brock, defensive tackle Craig Terrill, fullback Michael Robinson.
Alex Smith and Matt HasselbeckGetty ImagesAlex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck are both eligible for free agency this offseason.
It is possible, even likely, that the NFL and its players will continue their staring contest through the 2011 draft -- even with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson.

The appeals process could take weeks or longer, during which time it's unlikely the league would open for business. We're probably doomed to status quo, in other words.

But if ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson is correct, Judge Nelson will most likely end the lockout, leading to an immediate appeal -- a scenario I think would lead, eventually, to the league opening for business under 2010 rules while the sides continued their battle in the courts.

Those 2010 rules set the bar high for free agency. Only players with six accrued seasons would qualify for the unrestricted market. Starters such as Arizona's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Seattle's Brandon Mebane would lose leverage and most likely return to their teams under relatively modest one-year deals.

The players listed in the chart -- those with at least six accrued seasons and no contracts for 2011 -- would be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.

Options and implications for this type of free agency in the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Overview: The Cardinals suffered more personnel losses than they could weather last offseason. They would benefit from a return to 2010 rules, however, because the restrictions would keep multiple starters off the market. Their list of potential free agents with six-plus seasons features no front-line players. The Cardinals would be better off focusing on a new deal with Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Top priority: Finding a veteran quarterback. Derek Anderson isn't expected back. Marc Bulger's name is heard most frequently in connection with the Cardinals. He turned 34 this week and did not attempt a pass in a regular-season game while with Baltimore last season. Bulger struggled during his final seasons with the Rams, but the team was falling apart around him. He last finished an NFL season with more touchdowns than interceptions in 2006. The down year has surely helped him get healthy.

Players in flux: Breaston, starting guard Deuce Lutui and starting center Lyle Sendlein wouldn't have enough accrued seasons to become unrestricted under 2010 rules. The situation is particularly difficult for Breaston, who has battled through knee problems without getting a long-term deal.

Veteran variable: Starting left guard Alan Faneca has considered retirement. The Cardinals invested in veteran guard Rex Hadnot for depth last offseason. The team lacks young depth on the line, but if Lutui and Sendlein return, the Cardinals have some flexibility.

Name to keep in mind: Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping Greg Toler can build upon an up-and-down 2010 season. Taylor would give the team options. He played under new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

St. Louis Rams

Overview: The Rams' most important players tend to be younger starters under contract for the long term (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith). Most of their top veterans are also under contract (Steven Jackson, Fred Robbins, James Hall). Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is out of the picture after signing with the Washington Redskins following his salary-related release.

Top priority: The Rams could use a veteran guard with some nastiness. The team has invested heavily in its line, but this group could use more of an edge. Bringing back receiver Mark Clayton should be another consideration even though Clayton is coming off a serious knee injury. The rapport Clayton had with Bradford was strong.

Players in flux: Defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan would remain property of the Rams under 2010 rules, as would cornerback Kevin Dockery and receiver Laurent Robinson. Gibson was the only full-time starter of the group last season. The Rams are expected to seek an upgrade at that position even with Gibson coming back.

Veteran variable: Adam Goldberg started all 16 games on the offensive line last season. The Rams could stand to upgrade, but I see value in bringing back Goldberg as a backup. He can play every position on the line but center. Goldberg has also taken an interest in mentoring younger players. His value off the field is a consideration.

Name to keep in mind: Daniel Graham, TE, Denver Broncos. Graham could make sense for the Rams in free agency. He played under the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and could help upgrade the run blocking. Seattle has connections to Graham as well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overview: The 49ers signed some of their better young players to long-term contracts well before labor pains became so severe. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley come to mind. The lockout has made it tougher for the 49ers' new coaches to get a feel for players. The 49ers like their talent overall and haven't been big players in free agency over the past couple of seasons. That isn't likely to change.

Top priority: Finding a starting quarterback trumps everything else. Alex Smith can become a free agent. Backups David Carr and Troy Smith are not expected back. The 49ers aren't expected to use the seventh overall choice to select or acquire a quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh prides himself in coaching up quarterbacks, but he needs quarterbacks to coach.

Players in flux: Goldson, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive lineman Ray McDonald are among the 49ers players that would fall short of the six-season requirement for unrestricted free agency.

Veteran variable: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin played last season under a one-year franchise deal. The price tag for re-franchising Franklin appears prohibitive. The 49ers took a wait-and-see approach with Franklin because they hadn't seen him perform at a high level over the long term. They'll need a new nose tackle if Franklin departs.

Name to keep in mind: The 49ers' staff is coming mostly from the college ranks, so there aren't obvious connections to players from other NFL rosters. I expect the 49ers to focus more on re-signing some of their own players, from Spikes to David Baas and beyond.

Seattle Seahawks

Overview: The Seahawks have a long list of players without contracts for 2011. That was mostly be design. The team would like to continue turning over its roster without investing too much in older players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Raheem Brock and Olindo Mare.

Top priority: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Hasselbeck is headed for free agency and could leave if another team gives him some of the longer-term assurances Seattle has resisted. The Seahawks have shown some interest in Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, a player they inquired about last offseason. They still have Charlie Whitehurst. They could draft a quarterback early.

Players in flux: Defensive tackle Mebane heads the list of Seattle players who would not reach free agency under the rules used in 2010. General manager John Schneider called Mebane a "steady pro" when asked about him at the combine. That sounded like faint praise and an indication the Seahawks are not yet prepared to pay top dollar for Mebane if, and when, he hits the market.

Veteran variable: The Seahawks have a few of them, including Mare and Brock. But let's focus on offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer. They combined for 31 starts, but neither appears to be a priority for re-signing. Stacy Andrews is a candidate to step in for Locklear at right tackle. Max Unger could replace Spencer. Coach Pete Carroll thinks the team has upgraded its young depth on the line.

Name to keep in mind: Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach makes Seattle a logical destination for Gallery, who has declared his intention to leave the Raiders.
Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, writing in the Arizona Republic, explains how former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman continues to make an impact through his foundation seven years after his passing. Tillman's wife, Marie, has taken the lead. Ryan: "The foundation has pledged over $1.3 million in scholarships to 111 Tillman Military Scholars attending 46 universities in 28 states. At a time when veteran jobless rates are high, a degree is indispensable. But, as impressive as the foundation's work is, the real inspiration comes from the personal example set by Marie Tillman. ... No one would have blamed her if she had walked away from the Army and everything that reminded her of Pat's time in the military. But she did not."

Darren Urban of says the team's quest to find a quarterback will impact Larry Fitzgerald's decision on whether to remain with the team past 2011. Urban: "Money will not be an issue. The Cardinals are expected to meet Fitzgerald’s desires in that area. As last season progressed, however, Fitzgerald talked more and more about wanting to make sure he played for a winner. He was always careful not to talk about having a better quarterback -- Fitzgerald is too smart for that -- but it was not difficult to read between the lines."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams went without a compensatory draft choice for only the second time in 10 years. Thomas: "Over the years, the Rams have had good success with compensatory picks, including two members of the current roster -- linebacker Josh Hull from the 2010 draft and linebacker David Vobora from the '08 draft. Vobora was Mr. Irrelevant in '08 as the last player taken in the draft. Three other former Rams compensatory picks are still playing in the NFL: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo) and fullback Madison Hedgecock (Giants) were Rams comp picks in 2005; and linebacker Scott Shanle (New Orleans) was a comp pick in 2003."

Also from Thomas: The Rams expected improvement from quarterback Sam Bradford to help raise the level of play at receiver as well. Better luck with injuries would certainly help. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "Donnie Avery looks great. You know, when Donnie and I talked a year ago at the end of the (2009) season I said, 'You've got to be a durable guy, and that takes the offseason.' Because he would catch a pass and it seemed like every time he got up -- I told him this -- something was sore. So he worked on it last year, and of course he had the (knee) injury, and with this time with rehab that still rings in his ear. He has really taken a step to get his body ready to play an NFL season."

Nick Wagoner of says the team is still formulating its draft opinions. General manager Billy Devaney: "We are not close to being there. I have a general idea. Being realistic, there are certain guys you know are going to be gone from pick one to five, six, seven. Then after that there is a cluster of names and they are darn good names. It’s exciting. It’s really exciting the possibilities that will be there at 14. We have a vague idea but we haven’t narrowed it down yet."

Matt Maiocco of explains why the 49ers received a second compensatory draft choice. Maiocco: "There were 21 compensatory picks awarded Friday based on the compensatory pick formula. By rule, 11 additional choices were awarded at the end of the seventh round to bring the total number of compensatory selections to 32, equaling the number of NFL clubs. The 49ers were among the teams given an extra draft choice based on the 2011 draft selection order."

Also from Maiocco: He makes the case against San Francisco using an early draft choice for a wide receiver. Maiocco: "Teams with good passing attacks can plug in receiver after receiver, and there is rarely a statistical drop-off. The 49ers have 10 picks in the draft, and they will almost assuredly use one of those selections on a wideout. But the team should be just fine with Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan as the starters -- as long as Jim Harbaugh can come up with somebody to throw the ball to them. The 49ers will look to upgrade the production from their No. 3 wideout. Veteran Ted Ginn had only 10 catches for 122 yards, and his spot on the roster is certainly not guaranteed. Kyle Williams did not get on the field much as a rookie, but he's a Trent Baalke draft pick. Baalke raved about Williams' combination of quickness and speed, attributes that serve him well as a slot receiver and in the return game."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee updates pre-draft workouts and visits for the 49ers. Barrows on Andy Dalton: "Dalton said on NFL Network that he has private visits set up with the 49ers among other teams. Jim Harbaugh attended Dalton's pro day workout earlier this month, and he is among a group of second-round prospects the 49ers are sorting out. Dalton's best attribute may be his accuracy, although like many passers in this year's class, he operated out of a spread system in college."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers, who already hold a league-high 12 draft choices, should trade back to acquire more in the hopes that quantity gives them a better shot at quality. Lynch: "In the last decade, the 49ers proved adept at drafting a Pro Bowl punter, long-snapper, middle linebacker and running back. But now they have to take chances on pass rusher, cornerback and quarterback. It would be best to go after those spots with two or three possibilities instead one potentially expensive miss."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have a shot at continuing their recent successes in the latter rounds of drafts. The team holds five choices in the final two rounds. Josh Morgan, Ricky Jean-Francois and Anthony Dixon were recent finds in those rounds.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare would take a "hometown discount" to remain with the team. Mare: "Oh, absolutely. For sure. I would be stupid not to. The Seahawks gave me an opportunity. I always take that into consideration also. But we'll see. I have to get a offer first. What would be great would be is if there was a bunch and it would show that people appreciate what you do, and that's always flattering. Just to get all your options available. If you signed (for) three, four, five years, that would be your last contract. You want to make sure that everything was done right. But yeah, Seattle will definitely get a home discount. Besides, I like to go to the Sounders games, and I've got a lot going on there." Looks like the Seahawks don't have to worry about losing Mare in free agency.

Clare Farnsworth of continues his series on the 35th anniversary team with a look at retired safety Eugene Robinson. Farnsworth: "For a guy who showed up in 1985 as an undrafted rookie out of Colgate, as a cornerback no less, Robinson left an indelible mark on the franchise. He is the Seahawks’ all-time leading tackler (984) and ranks second in career interceptions (42) to Dave Brown (50) and fumble recoveries (14) to Jacob Green (17) -- one of the ends on the reader-selected 35th Anniversary team."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says a small group of Seahawks fans protested the NFL lockout at Qwest Field. Said one fan: "It frustrates me because we paid for our tickets. We spend a lot of money during the season to watch these guys, and our say doesn't even get taken into any consideration."

Around the NFC West: Rams ready to win?

February, 16, 2011
Steve Wyche of says the Rams could be within a couple tweaks of winning the NFC West. Wyche: "St. Louis hasn't been too involved in signing big-money free-agents, but part of that could have been because the team was for sale. Now that deep-pocketed Stan Kroenke owns the team, he could try to make a few splash moves. With the need to upgrade passing targets, players like wide receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Marcedes Lewis (if they aren't franchised by their respective clubs) could be on the radar (Vincent Jackson could be a target, too, but the Chargers placed a franchise tag on the receiver). St. Louis could also add a wideout, like Alabama's Julio Jones, through the draft. The Rams also have to look hard at getting a play-making, pass-rushing outside linebacker, depth along the offensive line and some help at running back behind Jackson. The Falcons' big-play, but injury-prone, running back Jerious Norwood seems headed for the open market and he could be an inexpensive option for tailback depth and in the kick-return game." The Rams have a head start on the division because they're set at quarterback for years to come. Will the labor situation allow them to make the necessary upgrades around Sam Bradford?

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers Rams-related thoughts via a chat transcript. On quarterback Sam Bradford: "In 2010, Bradford made a base salary of $320,000 (the rookie minimum), and got a roster bonus of $2.88 million in August. He's due a $17.974 bonus sometime before the start of the 2011 season."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are the only team to have used the franchise tag in each of the four previous offseasons. O'Neil: "Whether they will again is an open question with defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and kicker Olindo Mare the most reasonable candidates."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a positional look at the Seahawks' roster. On running backs Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington: "Lynch is signed through 2012, but by achieving some minimal-level playing requirements the final year would void, making his contract over at the end of the 2011 season. Forsett’s rookie deal ends in 2011. I think the Cal products still provide a nice, 1-2 punch for Seattle. Washington is an unrestricted free agent, and the Seahawks likely want him back. But he might find a better fit elsewhere with a team that will use his services more on offense."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton must bridge some of the communication gaps that seemed problematic on defense last season. Somers: "Maybe those were legitimate explanations for the defensive problems. Or maybe they were excuses given by players who just weren't doing their job. Either way, one of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's biggest tasks will be not only introducing his philosophy, but also making sure it is taught consistently in every defensive meeting room. If there was a disconnect last year, it was happening in the secondary, judging by the staff changes this off-season."

Also from Somers: Louis Cioffi rounds out the Cardinals' defensive coaching staff.

Matt Maiocco of passes along comments from 49ers leadership, including coach Jim Harbaugh, as delivered during a fan forum. Maiocco: "What kind of defense does Harbaugh plan on running? Harbaugh said they'll be a multiple 3-4 defense, meaning a lot of different schemes. They'll blitz and play coverage -- all those things will be part of the package, he said. He said it would be similar to the aggressive styles of Green Bay and Pittsburgh. The defense is in good hands with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Harbaugh said."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Harbaugh offered specific thoughts regarding Frank Gore's role. Harbaugh: "Having studied our team, our personnel and other backs across the league, I really think Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the National Football League, the most complete back. To talk about his carries, Frank Gore's a guy that doesn't want to come out. He wants to be in there every single down. But I believe you make a great point. And that's, can he have more production by coming off the field at times? And I think (Anthony) Dixon did a tremendous job last year. I think his productivity has grown and will be even more elevated this year. So I think he'll be able to take some of those carries. Now Frank may not want to hear that, but I think your point is a valid one. And that's being fresh, alternating backs at times ... But it won't be the type of thing where we're going to have Frank coming off the field too much because he's one of the best backs in the league in my opinion."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Harbaugh made more nice comments regarding Alex Smith.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat quotes Harbaugh as saying Smith is "definitely" in the race to start at quarterback in 2011. It's not much of a race at this point. The dynamics will change before training camp.