NFC West: Pisa Tinoisamoa
The team faces other questions coming off a 2-14 season, but that position went largely unaddressed in the draft. St. Louis emerged from the draft with five linebackers on its roster, leaving roughly six or seven spots to fill for training camp.
The Rams used a seventh-round choice for Aaron Brown, a weakside linebacker from Hawaii, but linebackers selected that late would generally project as special-teams contributors only if they earn roster spots at all.
Veteran Jo-Lonn Dunbar, signed from New Orleans in free agency, projects as one starter. Josh Hull, a seventh-round choice in 2010, projects as the other starter until the Rams can further address the position.
James Laurinaitis is a solid starter in the middle. He should fare better in 2012 playing behind recently acquired Kendall Langford (Miami Dolphins) and Michael Brockers (first-round draft choice). He cannot make every play from sideline to sideline, however. He needs help. The Rams desperately need speed on the outside.
After struggling through last season with aging stopgap options such as Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga, the Rams have gotten younger at the position, but they have not gotten appreciably better. Some of the players they cast aside in previous seasons -- Paris Lenon, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Will Witherspoon come to mind -- would have been better than the players St. Louis wound up relying on.
At one point in the draft, the Rams traded down from the 45th spot, coming away with running back Isaiah Pead and the 150th choice. Philadelphia and Seattle took inside linebackers with the 46th and 47th overall picks. The Rams could have drafted Nebraska's Lavonte David, who went to Tampa Bay at No. 58, but they thought Pead would bring greater value at another position of need.
Teams running 4-3 defenses selected only four projected outside linebackers from the third through fifth rounds, with Jacksonville selecting Nevada's Brandon Marshall at No. 142, eight spots before the Rams chose South Carolina guard Rokevious Watkins.
The bottom line was that St. Louis entered this draft with more needs than it could address with the available picks. Outside linebacker moves closer to the top of their priority list as the roster rebuild enters its next phase.
Also from Williams: checks in with Seahawks rookie E.J. Wilson. Draft analyst Rob Rang says he probably underrated Wilson coming out of college.
More from Williams: Deon Butler has more than speed to offer Seattle's offense.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says linebacker Leroy Hill downplayed the knee injury he suffered during practice. Hill could miss some time, however. Hill has never played a full 16-game regular season since entering the NFL as a third-round draft choice in 2005. He has missed nine games over the past two seasons and he'll miss at least one more in 2010 thanks to an NFL suspension.
Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from practice, including one showing rookie Golden Tate making a one-handed grab.
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com says T.J. Houshmandzadeh was highly productive in practice Tuesday.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times was ringside for the Seahawks' most contentious practice of camp. Brandon Mebane took a swing at someone (it might have been Max Unger).
Also from O'Neil: Aaron Curry was back at practice following a concussion and determined to make a strong impression.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks formally made Russell Okung their starting left tackle Tuesday. Also, Kevin Ellison picked off a pass. Ellison appears to have a good shot at sticking in the secondary.
Also from Johns: The defense seemed to like practice Tuesday. Safety Earl Thomas: "Today was just a great day. The defensive line and O-line were battling it out. That's what we've got to have in practice. It felt good. It gave me chills in my body. I'm just glad to be part of this team. We're going in the right direction and are just looking forward to the first game."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals like having some seasoned veterans on their roster. They have 12 players in their 30s at present, including Joey Porter. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "If you watch Joey walk into a meeting room and you watch the younger players, they watch him. They look at where he sits, how he prepares, because this guy is a Pro Bowl player. So when things aren't going well, or are going well, that's where the younger players are going to look to, to see how those guys are going to handle it."
Also from Somers: Beanie Wells might not play Sunday after taking a hit to the ribs this week. Sitting out sounds like the safest strategy.
More from Somers: an early Cardinals depth chart with rookie Dan Williams listed as the third nose tackle.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals could be looking to sign a veteran at inside linebacker, where Pago Togafau worked with the starters Tuesday. Also, second-year outside linebacker Cody Brown is showing signs of progress, a very good sign for Arizona.
Also from Urban: a look at how the 7,000-foot altitude affects players at Cardinals camp.
More from Urban: Safety Hamza Abdullah fasts from sunrise to sunset during camp in observance of Ramadan.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch heads to Bears camp to check out former Rams Lovie Smith, Mike Martz, Isaac Bruce, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brandon Manumaleuna. Too bad the Bears did not bring back Orlando Pace. Martz: "This is a good football team. I love the organization. Good players. The coaching staff has a real special chemistry with this group. You know, you get in those moments where things are really good and everything kind of meshes. This has that kind of feel. Everything's just kind of -- it's hard to explain -- there's a lot of good things that could happen. We'll just see."
Also from Thomas: That was Jason Smith working with the starters during team drills for the first time this summer.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have lots to figure out at tight end. The Rams have been happy with what Billy Bajema has added, not only as a blocker but as a receiver.
Also from Coats: The Rams' exhibition opener will not be televised live in St. Louis.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams have worked on contingencies at kicker while Josh Brown rests a hip injury.
Also from Korte: Rookie George Selvie has made a positive impression lately.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says two Alex Smith completions stood out as highlights of 49ers practice Tuesday morning.
Also from Maiocco: New special-teams coach Kurt Schottenheimer had nice things to say about returners Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye says Smith will be judged on whether the team wins, nothing more, and that is one reason not to worry about a rough practice. Barrows: "Raye also said there were extenuating circumstances to Smith's day. He noted that Smith usually makes 94 throws in the morning and another 86-90 in the afternoon. He said this is the point in camp that quarterbacks get what Raye called 'arm weary'. And he also noted that both of Smith's top targets, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, were given the morning off. (That's two straight practices for Davis). One more obstacle: Smith is getting used to a new center, David Baas, who had a few errant snaps. Raye said he hoped to settle the center competition between Baas and Tony Wragge by the third preseason game."
Also from Barrows: The mystery of Kentwan Balmer continues.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com offers notes from 49ers practice, plus a photo of Dominique Zeigler's acrobatic grab over Shawntae Spencer.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the linebackers San Francisco signed for depth.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Baas, who is on to his next challenge. Brown: "David Baas has a knack for showing up unexpectedly, starting with the day he was born. His parents steered their Datsun into a parking lot upon realizing there was no time to make it to the hospital. Baas greeted the world just outside a bank in Tulsa, Okla. That set the tone for a life in which Baas could pop up almost anywhere." Next stop: center.
Also from Brown: notes from practice and a challenge (name the five running backs with the most rushes of at least 20 yards last season).
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the conversion to Baas at center is tougher because the team has inexperienced guards around him.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider wonders how Crabtree gets a veteran's day off in only his second season. By playing like a veteran, perhaps?
Dorsey gives the Rams the potential game-changing tackle that they need, and justifies the Sam Bradford pick at No. 1. Carriker gives Kansas City the end the Chiefs need in the 3-4, and what is turning out to be a very valuable 33rd pick. Thanks for taking the question.
Mike Sando: Good thinking, Tom. I don't know if the Rams would value Dorsey high enough to make that move, but if they thought he could basically be close to Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, why not? The quick reaction would be to dismiss any such comparisons, claiming Suh and McCoy are much better prospects. But a lot of prospects look better before they line up against NFL players week after week. Dorsey was considered a top-five talent when he entered the draft.
Here is what Scouts Inc. said about Dorsey when he was coming out of college:
"A squatty defensive tackle prospect with a thick build and very good quickness. Anticipates the snap well, explodes out of his stance and generally will win one-on-one battles with his initial burst. He plays with a non-stop motor. Stays active, using swim and rip moves to get off of blocks when necessary. Displays good upper-body power and the ability to knock linemen back on their heels with initial pop. Does a fine job of locating the ball once he's in the backfield and flashes good change-of-direction skills for his position. A powerful tackler when he can line up a hit. Also does a better job of taking on blocks in the run game than he gets credit for. He can be washed out by some bigger OL, but generally does a good job of staying low and holding his ground when asked to."
Durability concerns were singled out as the primary weakness. Dorsey has played in 31 of 32 games with the Chiefrs, starting 30 of them. The Scouts Inc. report said Dorsey would fit best in a one-gap scheme that would allow him to get upfield and disrupt offenses. The Rams are running that type of scheme. The Chiefs are not. You're right in suggesting that Carriker could fit better at end in a 3-4 scheme. Durability is a big concern with him, but that 33rd overall choice would have to tempt the Chiefs.
Michael From Lynchburg, Va., writes: Why or what is Seattle waiting on? They need running backs, defensive backs, offensive linemen, a wide receiver, but no movement. Is the draft going to be their best bet?
I have been a fan since 1983, and since then I have seen draft pick after draft pick be a bust. Thomas Jones would have been good for us. Chester Taylor could have helped and Brandon Marshall would definitely be an upgrade from Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. I think Darren Sharper or Antrel Rolle would have been good for us, or Anquan Boldin at wide receiver. I would just be happy with some kind of movement.
Mike Sando: It's human nature for fans to crave action once the signing period begins, but a lot of money has been spent foolishly in free agency over the years. The Redskins will be paying a $21 million bonus to Albert Hayensworth shortly and he might not even fit the scheme they are implementing.
It's also human nature for general manager and coach to undervalue the players they inherit. The Seahawks' previous leadership might have been more aggressive in keeping Burleson. I also think former general manager Tim Ruskell would have been more aggressive in free agency. That doesn't mean being aggressive in free agency would have necessarily served the team well, however.
This was a very weak free-agent class packed with aging, declining veterans. As I tweeted Saturday, there were 156 unrestricted free agents left and 139 would be 30 or older come September.
Seattle did finally add a tight end in Chris Baker (not a UFA, but rather a player whose contract was terminated). I thought the Seahawks might have been a little more aggressive in this signing period, given their needs and coach Pete Carroll's desire to improve quickly. But I also realize Carroll and general manager John Schneider want to go young. That's tough to do through free agency when so many of the younger players failed to hit the market as UFAs thanks to the current labor situation.
The team will probably sign an offensive lineman or two. Ben Hamilton could make sense. He lost his job in Denver largely because the Broncos were changing to a scheme that did not fit him. The Seahawks are adopting the scheme Hamilton ran for years.
The Marshall situation could take time to play out. There's no sense in the Seahawks bidding against themselves. They can afford to wait on that one, probably.
Edward from Tempe writes: Sando, you mentioned in your NFC West Draft Watch that selecting Alan Branch in 2007 was a mistake; he was the first selection in the second round that year. He missed a few games his first year but then played the remainder. He might not be what the Cardinals had hoped, but do you see him more now as a situational position player? I mean, he has shown some signs of life this past year, so maybe not all is lost.
Mike Sando: Drafting Branch didn't give the Cardinals a reliable nose tackle. The pick was a "mistake" from that standpoint. He did show some promise playing defensive end. All is not lost. And when you look at the players drafted immediately after Branch that year -- Paul Posluszny, Arron Sears, Kevin Kolb, Eric Weddle, Zach Miller, Justin Blalock, John Beck, Chris Houston, Tony Ugoh, Drew Stanton -- it's not like all were home runs.
Scott from Maryland writes: Do you think the Niners could trade away their 17th pick this year and first-rounder next year to the Browns for their first-rounder? If the Rams take Sam Bradford, there could be a good chance that Eric Berry falls to the Browns' pick. However, the Browns have so many holes and Mike Holmgren is familiar with the Niners. I think it could benefit both teams.
Mike Sando: Would that be the best use of draft capital for the 49ers, though? They would have no first-rounder in 2011, just to move up 10 spots? I wouldn't give away that future pick.
Joe stationed in Germany writes: Sando, love the blog. One of the best sources of info on the net. Please keep up the great work. With the Colts releasing Ryan Lilja, can the 49ers maybe use him? I know we really need an offensive tackle, but seems they are in need of depth and talent on the offensive line over all. I Think Lilja has proved the injury is better after a full season of starting and he has experience. My only concern is that the Colts were not a running team, but he has got to be a good pass protector. That and I was hoping for something better than David Carr for us in the free agency. Just some thoughts. What do you think?
Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Joe, and your service. Lilja doesn't fit the 49ers' profile for offensive linemen because he's a smaller guy, listed at about 290 pounds. I just don't see him fitting what they want. At quarterback, the 49ers decided to trade what they knew -- Shaun Hill -- for a bit of a wild card in Carr. I understand their desire to shake up the position. They had tried Hill and decided he wouldn't be the starter. Could they have done better than Carr? I'm with you a little bit. Not expecting very good things from him.
Cal from Daly City, Calif., writes: What are the NFL rules on signing multiple restricted free agents? if a team wanted to, could they sign two RFAs, both with a first-round tender attached? If so, how do they work out the draft picks involved?
Mike Sando: A team could sign more than one RFA only if it had its own first-round choice and a better first-round choice available as compensation.
Blazzinhawk from Spokane, Wash., writes: Why not trade Deion Branch and the 14th to denver for Brandon Marshall and a third-rounder? Sounds good to me.
Mike Sando: My initial thoughts also focused on a way for Seattle to recoup a third-round choice, given that the team does not own one. Your proposal would allow the Broncos to get back their own first-rounder as well. Your proposal assumes the Broncos would do such a deal. I think Seattle might be waiting to see if the price is lower.
Eri from Los Angeles writes: What would you say percentage-wise is the Rams' chances of landing Michael Vick? And why do I hear Donovan McNabb as an option for the Rams as well?
Mike Sando: Looks like the Vick-to-St. Louis chatter has gone away. I wonder if the pending ownership change has diminished the team's interest. On McNabb, I still do not believe Andy Reid wants to trade him.
Jerry from Mishawaka, Ind., writes: Mike, I've read that Denver is not negotiating with any team to trade Brandon Marshall. If that's the case, then Seattle should find a team from the 12 to 23 range to trade the sixth overall pick to for that team's first-round pick and a second- or third-round pick, depending on the value of that team's first-round pick.
Then sign Marshall to an offer sheet. Denver gets the pick it wants for him, Seattle comes out on top with Marshall and the Seahawks don't have to pay the cash for a sixth overall player, plus Seattle still has three picks in the first three rounds , and the team that got that sixth pick could get a player to replace what they lost.
Green Bay comes to mind in this scenario becaause most GMs like to work out trades with their former teams. Also, Green Bay could use the sixth overall pick to draft a defensive end to replace Kampan. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando: The effort is appreciated, but there would be a few problems with such a scenario. One, rules require teams to possess their own pick or a better pick in the relevant round before signing a restricted free agent. Two, most teams would rather pick 12th through 23rd instead of sixth. Third, Green Bay in particular wouldn't want to move up that high, in my view. Their general manager, Ted Thompson, seems to prefer moving back to add picks (the Packers have drafted a league-high 51 players since Thompson took over in 2005).
Michael from Midland, Texas writes: Hey Sando, As an avid 49ers fan in the heart of Cowboys country, I just want to thank you for your solid coverage of the 9ers. I just wanted to bounce some ideas off of you in terms of draft/free agent acquisitions.
By my way of thinking, the 49ers have three key needs to make them a playoff contender: right Tackle, inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis and a cornerback to start opposite Shawntae Spencer. I know a lot of talking is being made of finding a dynamic return man, but I consider that more of a luxury than an absolute need.
Anyway, enough preamble. My actual question is, what do you think are the chances of the 49ers emerging from the first two rounds of the draft with some combo of Trent Williams/Bruce Campbell/Mike Iupati, Eric Berry/Taylor Mays and Devin McCourty/Kareem Jackson?
Also, do you know if the 49ers are taking any looks at Larry Foote or Pisa Tinoisamoa? Seems like either of those guys would be a good fit at will linebacker for the 49ers and we could probably get them relatively cheap.
Mike Sando: Thanks for the support. Good questions, too. Would Foote be better than Takeo Spikes at this point? That could be a consideration. Tinoisamoa seems too small to fit in a 3-4 defense. He goes about 230 pounds.
I could see Williams and possibly even Iupati. Berry would seemingly be gone by the time the 49ers selected. Mays could be there, but I'm not sure where teams are going to value him. He seems like a higher-risk player, but the measurables could appeal from a pure personnel standpoint.
The corners you mentioned sound promising. Jackson would be the bigger of the two, and that could be important to the 49ers. San Francisco is past due to draft a cornerback somewhere relatively early. General manager Scot McCloughan's teams haven't drafted a cornerback in the first two rounds since 2003 (Marcus Trufant, when McCloughan was with Seattle).
Don't forget about quarterback as a potential need, too. Alex Smith and David Carr aren't exactly perennial Pro Bowl players.
Mike from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, just wanted to say keep up the good work and I really appreciate on how quickly you update your stuff. Well, I have a quick question that you can clear up for me. I thought Mike Holmgren was hired to be the president of football operations, and he retained the current coaching staff. I was just curious why he made a trade for Seneca Wallace, unless he wants him at Wildcat. I was just wondering why there are articles that was written that Holmgren wanted Seneca because he knows the offense.
Mike Sando: I keep forgetting that Holmgren isn't coaching the team and I have a feeling I'm not the only one. Holmgren is a coach at heart. I even asked him at the combine how in the world he would be able to watch another coach run practice. He joked about having hired two security guards to restrain him in case his instincts take over and he feels the urge to run out there and blow a whistle.
Holmgren does want the Browns to run his offense. His offensive coordinator in Seattle, Gil Haskell, is already onboard in Cleveland. One of his other trusted offensive coaches, Keith Gilbertson, is also there. None of us should be surprised if Holmgren is coaching the team in another year or two.
Ryan from Puyallup, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, here's a kicker question for ya. Are the Cardinals planning on moving on from Neil Rackers? he's a free agent and I figured the cardinals would have resigned him. Minus the playoffs, where I belive his groin injury was still affecting him, he is a really good, reliable kicker. You think that they are just planning on drafting a kicker in the late rounds?
Mike Sando: The Cardinals would probably go in another direction if Rackers demanded a lucrative deal. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was clearly not happy with Rackers' injury situation in the playoffs, indicating he thought Rackers was healthier than Rackers wound up being. Re-signing Rackers does not appear to be a priority, although I think he could come back for the right price.
The natural question is whether the organization went too far in pushing out higher-priced veterans.
I suspected they might have gone too far when they released linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. I also thought they might have been premature in parting with Orlando Pace despite the tackle's steep salary and history of injuries.
The reality, though, is that the Rams got it right.
They have gone from being a bad, old team with significant salary-cap problems to being a bad, young team with a much brighter salary-cap future.
The younger players finding their way this season have a chance to help the team in the future. That wasn't the case in 2008, when losing got old, literally.
The Rams have the third-youngest roster in the league. They had the third-oldest last season. Their offense has moved the ball much better than I would have anticipated. A glaring lack of playmakers has turned the red zone into a dead zone, preventing the Rams from scoring enough points to compete on the scoreboard. But I think it's safe to say the Rams have the most promising young offensive line in the NFC West.
This team needs to find playmakers in the draft, plain and simple.
Kraig writes via Facebook: Sando, you pity the Rams, but you ridicule the Seahawks. You're a believer in the new 49er formula, although not always its execution. The Cards are an enigma, but undeniably talented. Interesting. But kicking the Seahawks when they're down is starting to stand out. What gives?
Mike Sando: Expectations frame the analysis. The Rams were a 2-14 team rebuilding. They parted with Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey, Brett Romberg, Chris Draft and others. This was a total roster overhaul. I thought the Rams might have gone too far with a couple of these moves, but once the moves were made, the expectations were set accordingly.
With a new head coach and a younger roster, the Rams were going to struggle for a while. I thought 0-7 was likely and said so on the blog. The fact that the Rams are 0-6 is bad, but not a shock. It's Year 1 of a total rebuild. The Seahawks did not see themselves in the same light. Holding them to the same standard as the Rams would have been a bigger insult to the Seahawks than holding them accountable as I have tried to do.
Seattle thought injuries were pretty much to blame for a 4-12 record. The team thought Walter Jones would be fine this season. The team thought depth at tackle would be fine after re-signing Ray Willis. I thought the team needed to do more to shore up the position. Sean Locklear had missed a few games in the past, Willis has had knee issues and Jones was coming off surgery at age 35. I questioned whether the team could stay healthy in predicting a 7-9 record when schedules came out, upgrading the outlook slightly when Matt Hasselbeck seemed to pass a few injury-related milestones.
The outlook for Seattle darkens when we consider advanced ages for some of these injured players. Jones and Patrick Kerney are into their 30s. Both needed to play at a high level for Seattle to succeed. The fact that both are dealing with injury problems should surprise nobody. It was entirely predictable even if there was a chance both might beat the odds.
I think it's an even worse sign for Seattle if we start judging them with the same standards applied to the Rams. It's not that bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' decision to release linebacker Chris Draft three days before the regular-season opener surprised me. What were the Rams thinking? Coach Steve Spagnuolo may or may not answer that question when he meets with reporters later Thursday. My own thoughts:
- Was this move money-related? Yes and no. The Rams asked Draft to reduce his salary from $1.225 million to $900,000. The difference would be insignificant from a cash standpoint, even for a team trying to trim expenses. If saving cash were the sole motivation, the Rams could have found more inviting targets. But if the team viewed Draft as a marginal starter with little more value than, say, newly re-signed linebacker Quinton Culberson, the difference could mean more from a salary-cap standpoint. The team has been tight against the cap all offseason. This is the type of move a rebuilding team makes with an eye toward the long term, not just Week 1.
- Was Draft going to start Sunday? I thought so. But if the Rams were willing to cut Draft, they clearly did not value him as a starter. Draft has played significantly fewer than half the Rams' defensive snaps over the last two seasons. The Rams wanted Culberson to start heading into last season.
- Why cut Draft now? As a veteran, Draft would have been eligible for termination pay -- up to his full 2009 salary -- if he had spent Week 1 on the 53-man roster. The Rams weren't willing to carry a $1.225 million salary for a 33-year-old linebacker who didn't factor into their long-term plans or help on special teams. They could have saved more than $700,000 against the cap by reducing his salary to the veteran's minimum.
- What's the scouting report on Draft? Scouts Inc. calls him "a descending athlete who should only be in backup role at this point. His ability to read and react is above average. He has the intelligence to learn all three LB assignments where he can provide good depth across the board from a game planning perspective should a starter go down due to injury. Draft shows little hesitation reading his keys. He just lacks the speed and burst needed to make plays consistently in space. He has a solid grasp of zone concepts and defensive coverage assignments. He shows good zone spacing and the ability to anticipate after reading the QB. Overall, a descending backup whose instincts are sharp but age is a concern with him at this point."
- What about Culberson? Scouts Inc. says he has "good size with below-average speed. He is a backup who has good strength and hand use playing the run. He has good reactions with the ability to play off contact. He is missing top burst and speed in the open. He can deliver a physical hit in tight quarters and does a good job of wrapping up in traffic. He has adequate movement in his pass drops. Culberson is more of a short-area athlete in coverage than a rangy type LB that can cover lots of ground. Overall, he is an adequate backup and part-time starter if needed."
- Was cutting Draft a good move? It's probably an inconsequential one for the long term. In the short term, the Rams appear worse at linebacker. I think Draft and the previously released Pisa Tinoisamoa would have been among the five best linebackers on the team. They are both gone. Depth suffers as a result.
In the end, this move affirms the long-term approach St. Louis is taking. The organization made a bottom-line value judgment on an older player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
So much for the Chris Draft Show on 101ESPN St. Louis.
The Rams released Draft, presumed to be a starting linebacker, in a surprise move. The veteran linebacker refused a pay cut earlier in the week, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Draft was scheduled to earn $1.225 million in salary this season.
The Rams are rebuilding, obviously, and that means getting younger. But releasing a veteran starter three days before the season opener strikes me as the type of move that can backfire in the locker room, at least short term.
The Rams' linebackers minus the 33-year-old Draft feature Will Witherspoon, James Laurinaitis, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora and Larry Grant. Re-signing Quinton Culberson could be one option. Update: The team did re-sign Culberson.
I thought the Rams were already thin at linebacker after releasing Pisa Tinoisamoa, who subsequently signed with the Bears. If nothing else, this move shows that the Rams viewed Draft far differently than thought.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
As the headlines suggests, this item includes the second part of our conversation covering the best and worst moves in the NFC West this offseason.
butlerrt97: I don't think AZ made the wrong decision with [Antonio] Smith. Houston overpaid for him. He is a solid player, but not a great player. Calais Campbell will fill in nicely. I would say AZ's worst move was not drafting or acquiring a center to back up Lyle [Sendlein] in case he gets hurt.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals can't know how Campbell will fare over the course of a full season. They like him, but they can't know how much they'll miss him. Paying Smith what the Texans paid him might have been going overboard given the Cardinals' other priorities, but I still think Arizona would be better with Antonio Smith.
At center, Max Unger might have been a nice addition in the second round, but the Seahawks drafted him first.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams fans and 49ers fans might be interested in knowing that Larry Grant was working with the St. Louis starters at strongside linebacker, with Chris Draft at middle linebacker and Will Witherspoon on the weak side, according to Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The 49ers drafted Grant in the seventh round last year. The Rams signed Grant from the 49ers' practice squad in November.
The Rams' situation at linebacker is one I very much want to monitor this season. The assumption is that second-round choice James Laurinaitis will become a starter sooner rather than later, with Draft moving to the strong side. I wouldn't read much into opening-day camp lineups. Coach Steve Spagnuolo will probably give multiple linebackers chances to work through the rotation as the staff evaluates personnel at the position.
Still, if you had told me six months ago that Grant would open training camp with the starters and Pisa Tinoisamoa wouldn't be on the roster, I would have been skeptical.
While Grant was getting work in St. Louis, however briefly, another former 49ers linebacker was commanding attention in New England. I don't know if Tully Banta-Cain will earn a roster spot with the Patriots, but with Mike Vrabel in Kansas City, there's a chance.
Belichick: "I think Tully is the same player as he was when he was here. I spent some time with Tully both when we signed him in the spring and then in the spring camps and even in training camp. I think we are really trying to define his role and the things that we want him to focus on first.
Tully is a pretty talented player and he's a versatile player and he's done a lot of things for us. He's played in the kicking game. He's played outside linebacker. He's played defensive end. He's played on the edge in a lot of sub situations and he can do all those things, but we really tried to narrow the focus for him a little bit going into camp. I'm not saying he won't be required or asked to do all those things, but we want to try to concentrate on fewer things to start with and then build on that base, so I think he's working hard on that.
I think athletically, physically he's pretty much a similar player to what he was when we had him a couple years ago in terms of his weight, his strength, his speed, his quickness. I'd say pretty much about what they were.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.
Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.
Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?|
Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?
The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.
Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.
Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.
Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?
Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.
While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?|
Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.
The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.
On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.
The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.
Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.
On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.
That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.
Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.|
Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)
Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.
Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.
Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season. If S
pencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.
Camp will be a downer if ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization.
Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.
Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.
Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.
Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.
St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)|
|Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?|
Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.
Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.
None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.
Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.
The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams certainly never set out to amass 13 seventh-round draft choices, three more than any other team in the league. It just worked out that way.
Ronald Curry, a seventh-round choice of the Raiders in 2002, became the lucky 13th when St. Louis acquired him from the Lions by trade Wednesday.
Rosters are at their fattest this time of year, so the total will certainly shrink.
The Rams' failure in the early rounds of past drafts -- before the current regime took over -- has probably left more room for later-round players.
Billy Bajema's addition could help cost 2006 second-rounder Joe Klopfenstein a roster spot. At linebacker, the Rams have parted with 2003 second-rounder Pisa Tinoisamoa, 2004 fourth-rounder Brandon Chillar and 2006 third-rounder Jon Alston, creating room for seventh-rounders David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain. At running back, the Rams practically gave
away 2007 second-rounder Brian Leonard, making it more likely for seventh-rounder Chris Ogbonnaya to stick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Reports from Rams camp suggested Tinoisamoa lacked the size St. Louis wanted in its linebackers under a new coaching staff (the team also saved millions in salary and cap space). OK, I thought, but you have to line up with someone, and Tinoisamoa was likely to be no worse than the third- or fourth-best linebacker on a team lacking proven depth at the position.
The move appears more dubious from a pure talent standpoint with Tinoisamoa emerging as a starter in Chicago. At the same time, the Bears have erred before in picking up former Rams. I thought Adam Archuleta might help them given that the safety had enjoyed his finest seasons when Bears coach Lovie Smith was his defensive coordinator in St. Louis. It never happened.
Tinoisamoa was also with the Bears under Smith. He appears to have more left than Archuleta had when the Bears signed him. We'll find out how much.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says Kentwan Balmer readily acknowledges he has much to prove entering his second season with the 49ers. FitzGerald: "[General manager Scot] McCloughan said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky told him Balmer was his most improved player from last year to this."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers coach Mike Singletary liked what he saw from the team during the final three practices of the week.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers rookie Michael Crabtree was eager -- perhaps too eager -- to get on the field and run following foot surgery. Singletary set him straight. Also: Rookie tight end Bear Pascoe, perceived primarily as a blocker, made an impressive catch.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary downplayed McCloughan's recent comments about Alex Smith looking impressive in practice. Singletary made it clear Smith must prove himself in games. Shaun Hill has already done so, to an extent. For Smith, beating out Hill in practice isn't going to be enough.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation wonders if Singletary's approach could wear out players before the season. We'll have a better idea after seeing how the 49ers practice at training camp.
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com sizes up five position battles for the Rams heading into training camp. He thinks the situation at linebacker could be fluid. I don't see much depth beyond the projected starters. Whether Pisa Tinoisamoa was a good fit for the system or overpriced, he appeared to be one of the two, three or four best linebackers on the team.
PRWeb.com carries a news release announcing the installation of a new FieldTurf playing surface in the Edward Jones Dome. The previous FieldTurf surface was installed in 2005.
Nate Davis of usatoday.com lists Rams center Jason Brown as a player to watch in 2009. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Walter Jones and Frank Gore were the other NFC West nominees.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt enjoyed minicamps and organized team activities. Whisenhunt sees the relatively low-pressure environment as conducive to teaching. Meanwhile, quarterback Kurt Warner offers more praise for second-year cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains why Bertrand Berry might be unhappy with his situation in Arizona. Beyond the financial concerns Berry might have, the Cardinals' expected shift to more of a 3-4 defense doesn't appear to suit him all that well.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks are opening training camp to the public from Aug. 3 through Aug. 20. This was part of the plan when the Seahawks built their facility. The team presumably needs to construct grandstands of some sort to accommodate fans.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says rookie linebacker Aaron Curry is showing good pass-rush ability in minicamp drills.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom's attempts to find a buyer for the franchise comes while "cash flow for the family is a problem" -- which invites scrutiny upon the team's decision to part with so many older, higher-priced players.
Every new coaching staff wants to reshape its roster. The Rams needed to get younger whether or not cash flow was a problem for ownership. Most of the players the Rams released were arguably scheduled to earn more than they proved to be worth. Salary-cap concerns were another factor. Still, cash-flow issues could have influenced some decisions.
The Rams saved $26.85 million in 2009 cash outlays by releasing the following seven players:
- Torry Holt: $7.9M in salary and bonus
- Orlando Pace: $6M in salary and bonus
- Drew Bennett: $3.8M in salary and bonus
- Pisa Tinoisamoa: $3.25M in salary
- Trent Green: $2.9M in salary and bonus
- Corey Chavous: $2.0M in salary
- Anthony Becht: $1M in salary
These are gross savings. Net savings are less. The Rams released Green, for example, but a contract for his replacement, Kyle Boller, cost $1.5 million in salary and bonus.
Bennett needed to go. Time appeared to run out for Green and Chavous. Holt's salary was inflated. I think the Rams would have been more talented keeping Pace, Tinoisamoa and probably even Becht. Those players found homes on winning teams. Pace commanded as much in 2009 money from the Bears as the Rams would have paid him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Sportsradiointerviews.com provides highlights from Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart's recent interview with XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix. Leinart: "Well, obviously it's been a tough couple of years ... and I really learned a lot last year and I've kind of developed a mindset where I'm aware of what I need to do to get better, to be a player, to be a good quarterback for this football team. And I've put in a ton of extra work this offseason. Obviously the offseason's not over yet, but just in the film room, working out, working on my footwork, just working on the little things that are going to help me. And I truly believe that I'm ready to play, it's just a matter of when that opportunity comes." Audio here.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin remained a no-show for voluntary workouts despite news that he had changed agents. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I know from our perspective ... nothing has changed. We're a much better football team with Anquan than we are without him, and we have a high regard for him. So nothing has changed from that perspective."
Marla Ridenhour of the Akron Beacon Journal checks in with former Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood, now with the Browns. Hood: "Coach [Eric] Mangini told me his vision and we had a lot of things in common. It just felt like a good fit for me."
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times says former Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa will likely sign with the Bears or Bills. Biggs: "The Bears would seem to have an edge simply because Tinoisamoa played for Lovie Smith and Bob Babich as a rookie for the Rams in 2003. Tinoisamoa seemed at ease visiting with coaches and players alike during the OTA at Halas Hall last Wednesday. If the Bears can sign him in the next few days, he will be available to participate in 12 of the 14 OTA's, which would give him a good crash course on the defense in advance of training camp."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the Rams' reconfigured offensive line. The team expects Jason Smith to start at right tackle even though he has worked with the backups to this point in practice. Guard Richie Incognito: "Right now, we're just running through things in jerseys and helmets, and we're concentrating on getting the scheme down. I'm thinking some time in training camp, when we get the pads on and we get the lineup set ... you roll into those first preseason games and things start really coming together and you start jelling. But it's going to take some time."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says backup 49ers safety Mark Roman is close to returning from injury.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says 49ers receiver Dominique Zeigler hopes to build on a strong finish to the 2008 season. Price: "The 6-foot-3, 185-pound wideout has excellent hands and has been known for making highlight reel catches during his season and a half stint as a member of the 49ers practice squad. Zeigler was so impressive in practice that he was called up to active duty at the midway point of last season."
Also from 49ers.com: The YMCA of San Francisco is honoring team owners John and Denise York for their humanitarian efforts.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks rookie Nick Reed finds motivation in suggestions he's too small to play defensive end in the NFL. Defensive line coach Dan Quinn: "Every game film you put on in college you say, 'There it is again.' He has that relentless attitude you're looking for. So I'm anxious to see if he can transfer the things he does innately well and we can add some more things to what he does."
John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks' Marcus Trufant was pretty much the same player in 2008 as he was in 2007, only facing less favorable situations. That's what I saw.