NFC West: Rod Hood
The story by itself shouldn't mean much to Rams fans.
Smith, after all, started only two games in 2012 while trying to overcome serious knee injuries. He was never a player the Rams were counting on for significant contributions.
Smith's retirement is notable in another context, however. His name tops what should be a relatively short list of players to disappear from the game in 2013 after making at least one start for the Rams last season.
Last season, 16 players made zero regular-season appearances in an NFL game after starting at least once for the Rams in 2011. One such player, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, probably would have played with New Orleans had he not suffered a knee injury. Many of the others languished for lack of interest.
A quick look at the list of 15 players beyond Chamberlain: Adam Goldberg, James Hall, Fred Robbins, Tony Wragge, Jason Brown, Cadillac Williams, Rod Hood, Al Harris, C.J. Ah You, Mark Levoir, Ben Leber, Nick Miller, A.J. Feeley, Mike Sims-Walker and Mark Clayton.
Hall, Robbins, Goldberg, Wragge and Brown started at least half the games in 2011. Some others found opportunities because the Rams suffered from an unusual number of injuries that season.
Still, as the Rams improve and build around younger players, including quite a few drafted in the first two rounds, they should have less room on their roster for stopgap veterans. At receiver, for example, none of the Rams' players is even 26 years old. Players such as Smith, Sims-Walker and Clayton wouldn't fit.
One key difference between those groups: age.
The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.
Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.
The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.
Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.
A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
- St. Louis Rams (14): receiver Mark Clayton, tackle Mark LeVoir, tackle Adam Goldberg, tight end Billy Bajema, safety James Butler, cornerback Al Harris (retired), cornerback Rod Hood, cornerback Justin King, quarterback A.J. Feeley, running back Jerious Norwood, linebacker Brady Poppinga, tight end Stephen Spach, running back Cadillac Williams and center Tony Wragge.
- Seattle Seahawks (4): defensive end Raheem Brock, defensive tackle Jimmy Wilkerson, linebacker David Vobora and running back Justin Forsett. Forsett reached agreement with the Houston Texans following the UFA period. The Seahawks had already given his jersey number (20) to free-agent running back Kregg Lumpkin.
- Arizona Cardinals (7): defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, tackle Floyd Womack, tackle Brandon Keith, outside linebacker Joey Porter, outside linebacker Clark Haggans, running back Chester Taylor and safety Hamza Abdullah.
- San Francisco 49ers (2): tight end Justin Peelle and fullback Moran Norris.
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.
Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
Jones, 31, was generally outstanding for the Rams during five seasons with the team. He was twice a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection.
Teammate Steven Jackson has called Jones the one Rams player he thought most deserving of the Pro Bowl.
The Rams have yet to re-sign any of their UFAs, no surprise as they break from the past and generally seek to get younger.
The Rams signed punter Tom Malone this offseason. Malone has spent time with New England, Seattle and San Francisco without playing in a regular-season game.
Dave Zastudil, Brad Maynard, Mat McBriar, Matt Turk and Daniel Sepulveda are among the UFA punters without contracts.
The chart lists the Rams' UFAs and their statuses. Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain were the only ones to sign elsewhere before Jones reached agreement with the Texans.
I'll be surprised if the Rams' new leadership re-signs more than a couple of the players listed. Most are older players. The Rams currently have the youngest roster in the NFL, slightly younger than those for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.
Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.
Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...
UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)
UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)
UFA added: none
UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)
Franchise player: none
Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.
San Francisco 49ers
UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)
UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)
UFA added: none
UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)
Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)
Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.
UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)
UFA re-signed: none.
UFA added: Snyder (30)
UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)
Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)
Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.
St. Louis Rams
UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)
UFA re-signed: none
UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)
UFA lost: none
Franchise player: none
Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.
The chart below shows a general overview.
I'm not sure any of them qualify as players the Rams absolutely must bring back, particularly with a new coach and new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Receiver Brandon Lloyd would help fill a need, but at what price? Would he fit as well in a new offense after producing at disproportionate levels to this point when paired with former coordinator Josh McDaniels, now in New England?
Guard Jacob Bell played for new coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He might have more value to the new staff than he had to the old one; McDaniels wanted more powerful guards, such as Harvey Dahl.
This item, like the previous one for Arizona, expands upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added columns for offensive and defensive snap counts from 2011, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows how much each player's previous contract averaged.
Update: Punter Donnie Jones is also an unrestricted free agent. His previous contracted averaged not quite $1.2 million.
Receiver Danny Amendola, listed with the restricted free agents below, has not played since suffering an elbow injury in the 2011 season opener.
That will happen at defensive end, where rookie Robert Quinn is getting the start over injured and inactive veteran James Hall. Quinn has shown flashes of ability as a situational player this season. Taking a longer look at him across additional situations will help.
But in too many other cases, the Rams are playing out the season without learning much about the future. Injuries are one reason. Not having enough young depth is another reason.
Sam Bradford is inactive against the Bengals, but replacement Kellen Clemens is a stopgap, not a developmental player. The team had hoped to keep Thaddeus Lewis on is practice squad coming out camp, but Lewis signed with Cleveland. And without a regular offseason, the team decided to stick with veteran A.J. Feeley as its backup even though Feeley, now injured, did not know the new offense.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold is also out. His replacement Sunday, Adam Goldberg, is 31 years old. The team knows he projects as a backup guard and tackle. He isn't going to develop into more than that.
The team has suffered too many injuries at cornerback to even consider developing young players at that position. With Justin King out Sunday, Rod Hood gets the start. Hood is 30 years old and still coming back from a career-threatening knee injury. He did not play in 2010.
Some of the players St. Louis wanted to develop this season -- tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, receiver Greg Salas and tackle Jason Smith -- are on injured reserve.
As a result, the Rams are largely just playing out the final three games.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- Nick Miller's 88-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Rams a 7-0 lead. This tied for the third-longest punt return in franchise history. It was the Rams' first punt return for a touchdown since Dante Hall had one against Dallas in 2007.
- Chris Long collected his 10th sack of the season, a career high. Long and his father, Howie, joined Clay Matthews Sr. and Jr. as the only fathers and sons to record double-digit sack seasons since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Chris Long now has a sack in each of the Rams' last five games, a career-long stretch.
- Rookie Austin Pettis made a spectacular leaping grab for a 35-yard gain.
- Former Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood picked off a pass against his former team. Linebacker James Laurinaitis also picked off a pass, while linebacker Brady Poppinga forced and recovered a fumble. Pressure from Gary Gibson set up Laurinaitis' pick.
- The Rams prevented touchdowns on three of four red zone possessions for Arizona.
- Rookie first-round draft choice Robert Quinn collected his fifth sack of the season.
- Sam Bradford threw no interceptions.
- Receiver Brandon Lloyd's 16-yard scoring reception was his fourth since joining the Rams. He has one touchdown in each of the team's last three games.
- Safety Darian Stewart now has sacks in back-to-back weeks.
- The Rams allowed 106 net yards passing.
Al Harris' season-ending knee injury, confirmed Monday by coach Steve Spagnuolo, leaves Josh Gordy, Justin King, Marquis Johnson and Rod Hood as the available corners. King suffered a head injury Sunday, but not necessarily a concussion. That was the word from Spagnuolo, who said King was symptom-free by Monday.
The Rams have another corner, Nate Ness, on their practice squad.
Starters Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher are on injured reserve. Jerome Murphy, the projected third corner, is also on IR, as is another replacement corner, Brian Jackson.
Yet another replacement at the position, Tim Atchison, was lost to injury and reached an injury settlement, making him free to sign with any team once he's healthy.
The Rams' depleted secondary heads into Week 11 against a Seattle Seahawks receiving corps with its own injury issues. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin suffered concussions Sunday. But with Mike Williams back from injury, Golden Tate contributing Sunday, Ben Obomanu available and Deon Butler coming off the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks can flood the field with more NFL-caliber receivers than the Rams can defend with NFL-caliber corners.
It's been a rough season for NFC West corners in general. The chart breaks down which ones have been lost for the season.
The team named him inactive Sunday purely on the merits after the veteran receiver dropped three passes, including one for a potential touchdown, during a 17-10 defeat to the Washington Redskins' in the Rams' most recent game.
Rookie receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas are both active for the Rams. Danario Alexander is starting in Sims-Walker's place opposite Brandon Gibson.
The Rams' inactive list against Green Bay was also significant as it applied to the team's situation at linebacker and in the secondary. Starting linebacker Ben Leber is inactive, meaning Chris Chamberlain will start. Veteran cornerback Rod Hood, signed during the bye week after the team lost Bradley Fletcher to a knee injury, is not active for this game. Justin King, Al Harris, Josh Gordy and Brian Jackson are the active corners.
Leber, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, would presumably have a good feel for the Packers.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says that's what essentially happened to Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein. Somers: "League officials issued a memo earlier this month directing teams to have their starting center or starting guards wear microphones during games. The team has the option of which players wear the microphone, and only one mike is open at a time. The league and television networks want to enhance the sound during games, giving fans a better sense of the action on the field. ... Sendlein said he wasn't aware the microphone was in his pads the first time he wore it, against the Giants on Oct. 2. His brother told him later that Sendlein could be heard. The issue was approved by the players in the collective bargaining agreement." Noted: San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh recently said he likes watching game broadcasts for the sounds that wouldn't be available watching coaches' video, which is shot from high above the field.
Also from Somers: Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb doesn't plan to get away much during the bye week. Also, the Cardinals are putting special emphasis on issues with their two-minute offense: "To correct the problem, coach Ken Whisenhunt changed the structure of practice. On Thursdays of game week, the two-minute session was usually done at less than full speed, so players could concentrate on assignments. Starting last week, that session became full speed. And it was carried out that way this week, with the first units working against each other."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times notes that Aaron Curry's departure from the Seahawks leaves the team with zero first-round draft choices from the Tim Ruskell era. O'Neil: "First, Seattle made no real effort to re-sign center Chris Spencer, who left for Chicago as a free agent. Then, the Seahawks traded cornerback Kelly Jennings to Cincinnati before the regular season began. Now, it is expected that Aaron Curry will be traded to the Oakland Raiders, a deal that hasn't quite been finalized, but is largely expected."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times marvels at Curry's demise in relation to the obvious physical talent Curry possesses.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on Curry's shortcomings: "The criticisms of Curry included his lack of instinctual play. In his first season, he was expected to be an edge pass rusher, but rarely came up with big plays. When he was asked to drop back into coverage, he appeared to lose track of receivers or drop potential interceptions. After Curry struggled in the second game this season against Pittsburgh, the staff gave Wright a chance to start in his place. Afterward, Curry said he was at peace with the demotion because of his strong faith, and that he would stay focused on improving as a player."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford returned from his bye week refreshed and with renewed confidence in the team. Bradford: "The more I thought about things the more I realized that we've got the right people here. The right players; the right coaches. We've all just got to continue to work hard no matter what happens. Buy in and we'll get this thing figured out."
Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams rookie tight end Lance Kendricks, who will be returning home to Wisconsin when the team visits Lambeau Field.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says veteran Rams cornerback Rod Hood spent his bye week huddling with secondary coach Clayton Lopez in an effort to learn the team's defense in time for the Green Bay game. Hood: "It’s unfortunate what happened to Fletch but it’s time for some guys to step up. I think that’s what they brought me in for. It’s time to get in the game plan as much as I can and be ready to go on Sunday. Once I got on the team I am definitely devoted to being here. To me, I have been off for two or three weeks not playing so I am ready now to play."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is ranking the 49ers' Alex Smith among his top five at the position to this point in the season. Warner: "My big surprise: Alex Smith comes in at No. 4. A guy I probably didn't expect to make this list all year long, but he's got his team at 4-1 right now. He's playing as consistent as anybody. And what I've seen the last couple weeks is him making the big play, something that he hadn't done up to that point in the season."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers ordered and received new speakers, the better to simulate opposing teams' crowd noise. The team played songs from AC/DC, Guns 'n' Roses, Ram Jam and Eminem in preparation for Ford Field in Detroit.
Also from Barrows: The team wants to re-sign receiver Josh Morgan, who recently landed on injured reserve.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News passes along Harbaugh's thoughts on linebacker Patrick Willis: "I compare it to baseball in some ways. I mean, the five facets of being a great baseball player. Hitting for power, hitting for average, catch, run, throw, being able to do those five things at an elite level. Patrick as a linebacker, play downhill as a linebacker, No. 1, to be able to drop in coverage, be active and good in coverage, be able to tackle in open space, be able to blitz, strong, with tempo and timing, and also be able to run from sideline to sideline with the agility and the speed to do that and make plays. Those five things, he’s doing it at an elite level, where some ‘backers are great downhill linebackers, but they’re not as good in coverage. Some other ‘backers are really good in coverage but not so good when it comes to downhill and playing between the tackles. I think just like Willie Mays -- to me, five facets of baseball, Willie Mays is the greatest of all-time. And Patrick Willis has a chance to be one of the all-time great linebackers, if he’s able to play at this elite level in all five facets over a long period of time."
Test results on Bradley Fletcher's knee injury suffered Wednesday revealed a torn ACL, leaving an already thin secondary defenseless -- with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next on the schedule. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the info.
Fletcher joins fellow starter Ron Bartell and third corner Jerome Murphy on injured reserve.
The Rams are off this week, but they've got Green Bay, Dallas and New Orleans coming out of their bye week. All three of those teams possess the ability to light up a good secondary.
St. Louis, barring a significant personnel move, heads toward those games with Justin King and Al Harris as potential starters. The newly-signed Rod Hood projects a potential third corner even though he hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2009. He suffered a season-ending knee injury while in camp with Tennessee in 2010.
The Rams have already played significant stretches without top offensive weapons Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. The injuries in the secondary and looming schedule increase the likelihood St. Louis will fall behind even earlier in games, putting quarterback Sam Bradford at heightened risk as the team plays from behind. The Rams have yet to run an offensive play this season while leading. Bradford, sacked 34 times as a rookie in 2010, has taken 18 sacks and has suffered injuries to his toe and hip over the past two games.
If the Rams' 0-4 start turns into a lost season, owner Stan Kroenke will have to weigh injuries among other factors in setting a course for the franchise beyond this season.
In the latest development suggesting that 2011 could become a lost season for St. Louis, the only remaining starting-caliber cornerback on the roster, Bradley Fletcher, suffered a knee injury during a collision with receiver Mike Sims-Walker in practice Wednesday.
Fletcher will undergo an MRI to assess the severity of the damage. The team has already lost starting cornerback Ron Bartell to a broken neck and No. 3 cornerback Jerome Murphy to a broken ankle. Al Harris, Josh Gordy and the recently signed Rod Hood join Fletcher and fellow starter Justin King as the cornerbacks on the roster.
The Rams' next opponent, Green Bay, knows a thing or two about exploiting defensive secondaries. Subtracting Fletcher, arguably the team's No. 1 corner when everyone was healthy, would spell disaster for the Rams against the Packers, in my view.
Update: Meant to include the passage below as well.
Also from the you-could-not-make-this-up department: Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole pulled a groin muscle while administering drills during practice Friday.
"I think he's OK, but I'll be teasing him after," coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Wednesday.
Depth at running back remains the biggest injury variable for the Cardinals heading into Week 4. Beanie Wells hopes to return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him against Seattle. Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to manage, however. Returning too soon can put a player at heightened risk for a setback with long-term ramifications. The extent to which Wells practices late in the week should be telling. He was limited Wednesday. Chester Taylor started against Seattle, but Alfonso Smith was the primary back. Fellow running back and return specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling, recovering from a hand injury, also missed the Seattle game. He has only two kickoff returns this season. After three games last season, he had 13 returns for 351 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals also miss what he brought to the offense as a situational player. On defense, linebacker Daryl Washington returned from his calf injury against Seattle.
San Francisco 49ers:
Receiver Braylon Edwards and fullback Moran Norris remain out, hurting the offense. Edwards would have given the team a needed receiving threat heading into the 49ers' game against Philadelphia's talented secondary. More pressure falls on Michael Crabtree, who apparently made it through Week 3 without aggravating his foot injury. Running back Frank Gore was on the practice field Wednesday despite suffering an injured right ankle against Cincinnati. That injury could lead to more playing time for rookie Kendall Hunter. Injuries were already affecting the ground game. The 49ers miss Norris and their top blocking tight end, Nate Byham, who is on injured reserve. Safety Donte Whitner was expected to play this week despite a hip injury. Having fellow safety Dashon Goldson return from injury last week helped the team's depth at the position.
The Seahawks' latest injury-related change to the offensive line will not affect the game-day rotation. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable underwent back surgery that will keep him from coaching for the short term. On the field, Seattle appears likely to start the same five linemen in the same spots in back-to-back weeks, something the team has not done this season. The line made strides overall against Arizona, but Paul McQuistan struggled through a tough matchup against Calais Campbell in his first game as Robert Gallery's injury replacement at left guard. Fullback Michael Robinson's absence since Week 1 has hurt the special-teams coverage units. He's back this week. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is expected to start despite resting a thigh injury Wednesday. Receiver Sidney Rice made it through his Seattle debut without aggravating his shoulder injury. His availability is big for the passing game.
St. Louis Rams:
Sam Bradford participated fully in practice despite his sprained toe. He was hurt scrambling against Baltimore. The fact that Bradford missed no practice time suggests the injury does not threaten his availability. What it means for his mobility will be harder to say. Running back Steven Jackson practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and appeared closer to full strength than at any time since suffering a quadriceps injury in Week 1, according to reports. He appears likely to play a more significant role against Washington this week. Receiver Danny Amendola appears on course to return from a dislocated elbow following the Rams' Week 5 bye. He participated in individual drills Wednesday, but it's an upset if the Rams hurry him back into the lineup with the bye so close. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui continues to fight through injuries. He emerged from the Baltimore game with a back injury, but he practiced on a limited basis. With injury issues affecting the secondary, the Rams signed veteran cornerback Rod Hood, formerly of the Cardinals. The Rams released rookie safety Jermale Hines, who appeared headed for the practice squad.
How injuries affect the players should count for something, too -- especially with an injury as potentially serious as the one St. Louis Rams cornerback Ron Bartell suffered during Week 1.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's no question Bartell's 2011 season ended Sunday. The question now is whether the broken bone in Bartell's lower neck will heal well enough for Bartell to resume his career. Thomas: "Bartell, 29, expects to go on the injured-reserve list today. He said the C7 bone in his lower neck has two fractures, the result of being hit by an Eagles player in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-13 loss to Philadelphia. He won't need surgery but will spend the next two to three months wearing a brace that extends from his rib cage to his neck." Bartell says he has a chance to heal fully because there was no displacement. With Bartell out and fellow corner Bradley Fletcher hurting, the Rams brought in Fred Bennett, Rod Hood, Nathan Jones and Robert McClain for workouts.
Also from Thomas: Rams first-round pick Robert Quinn was surprised to be named inactive for the opener. He'll be active in Week 2 after defensive lineman C.J. Ah You suffered a wrist injury requiring surgery.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are signing fullback Eddie Williams off the Browns' practice squad because they needed depth and special-teams help after losing Michael Robinson to injury. Backup tight end Dominique Byrd will be the odd man out for now.
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks' offensive line remains a work in progress. O'Neil: "Seattle has spent its past two first-round selections on offensive lineman, choosing Russell Okung in 2010 and James Carpenter this season. Max Unger -- a second-round choice -- is at center, while this year's third-round selection, John Moffitt, is playing right guard. ... Draft pedigree is no guarantee that those players will live up to the potential the team sees in them. The litany of busts who never develop into effective starters speaks to that. But it's also true that one regular-season game after a lockout-shortened offseason is hardly an accurate forecast for what kind of players Carpenter and Moffitt will turn into." Noted: A trip to Pittsburgh in Week 2 puts this young line in a brutally difficult position.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic focuses on Kevin Kolb's ability to find tight ends during the Cardinals' regular-season opener. Kolb: "I've always relied on my tight ends a lot, and when I came here and got with these guys, man, there's a lot of talent there. We're going to continue to use them. They obviously have the playmaking ability, so we'll look forward to putting the ball in their hands a lot more." Noted: The Cardinals did not invest all that money in Larry Fitzgerald so he could serve as a decoy to free up Jeff King and Todd Heap. Expect the Cardinals to find ways for Fitzgerald to get more involved.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says linebacker Stewart Bradley needs time to reprogram himself as he transitions from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. Somers: "Even the basic techniques are drastically different. In the Eagles defense, Bradley often would cover receivers man to man in certain situations and schemes. That sometimes meant turning his body and running with receivers. Now coaches are telling him to stay squarely facing the offense." Noted: There's no question the lockout set back Bradley's efforts to get comfortable in a new system. It's also surprising, at least to me, that he hasn't made the transition more quickly. Bradley said during training camp he had long wanted to play in a 3-4 defense that would let him become more of a playmaker.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com tells the story of a Cardinals fan's recovery from a random shooting. Urban: "The Taylors were about to leave when Jason, overhearing a couple of men talking about the military, told them he had always wanted to join the military, probably with the Marines. One of the men, Jeremiah Pulaski, a 24-year-old Army veteran who had just returned from duty in the Middle East, suddenly pulled a gun and shot Taylor. Pulaski fled, but was shot and killed later that night by police."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers his postgame look at every 49ers defensive player from Week 1, noting that defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald dominated. Maiocco on Smith: "Started at right defensive end, and was equally as dominant as McDonald. Smith finished with four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries . . . . Used a spin move against left tackle Russell Okung to throw Jackson for a 9-yard sack in the first quarter. . . . While working against rookie left guard James Carpenter, Smith got a got his left arm around Jackson for the sack late in the fourth quarter to force the punt that Ted Ginn returned for a touchdown and the final points of the game."
Also from Maiocco: a player-by-player look at the 49ers' offense, with special emphasis on what went wrong on the six plays when Frank Gore went nowhere or lost yardage.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers finally found a third tight end, adding Justin Peelle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' signing of Ken Lucas might help Seattle at least slow Larry Fitzgerald's stunning production against the team. He also mentions the need for an improved pass rush.
More specifically, I would point to the need for Patrick Kerney. Kerney missed both games against Arizona last season. Fitzgerald caught 15 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns in those games. Seattle had lots of other problems in those games, of course, but Kerney's presence against Arizona makes a big difference. In 2007, when Kerney played all 16 games, Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown against Seattle. Kerney had a three-sack game against the Cardinals that season.
The Seahawks probably are not going to beat the Cardinals in Arizona. They haven't won there since the 2005 season. Beating Arizona in Seattle is much more feasible if Kerney is healthy because crowd noise heightens Kerney's quickness advantage against tackle Levi Brown. Kerney's three-sack game against the Cardinals in 2007 came at Qwest Field.
From a coverage standpoint, former Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood offered this advice to anyone trying to match up against Fitzgerald: Jam him at the line of scrimmage, buying time to see the ball in the air. "Because if I jump up blindly or if I let him catch the ball and try to break it out of his hands," Hood said, "there is almost a 90 percent chance he is going to catch the ball."