NFC West: Steve Loney
- Preseason plan: The starters will play until halftime unless the Saturday night game against Tennessee features an unusually high number of snaps. Coach Steve Spagnuolo thinks the team needs extra work given restrictions on practice time and cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game against Chicago.
- Receiver alert: The team expects Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) to play against the Titans. Avery in particular has been sharp since returning to practice Wednesday. Quarterback Sam Bradford singled out Avery for making proper route adjustments and operating efficiently within the offense. Avery caught a deep ball down the middle in practice Thursday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly pleased with Avery's attention to detail on an outside route. Danario Alexander missed a couple chances to make plays on the ball high in the air and well downfield. On one, he fell back and waited for the ball instead of leaping to catch it at a higher point. Something to work on. He's at his best letting his size work to his advantage. Brandon Gibson is enjoying a strong camp and continues to work exclusively with the starters.
- Legend watch: Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil dropped by practice wearing a golf shirt with a "Vermeil Wines" logo. He mingled with fans watching practice and spoke with the team afterward. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is on the guest list for Friday. He's joining the team's television network.
- Mikell's impact: Recently signed veteran safety Quintin Mikell has caught Bradford's attention with his quickness on blitzes and ability to disguise intentions in the secondary. The Rams expect both of their safeties to support the run near the line of scrimmage at times. Mikell appealed to the Rams for his toughness, particularly against the run.
- Jackson's return: Running back Steven Jackson was back on the field after resting a hip injury this week. Bradford reiterated his expectation that Jackson will see his total for receptions increase this season given the nature of McDaniels' offense.
- Afternoon free: Spagnuolo called off afternoon meetings with an eye toward getting players fresh for the game against Minnesota.
- Weis payoff: Bradford said his two-day meeting with former McDaniels associate Charlie Weis during the lockout gave him a firmer grasp of the basics heading into camp. Bradford: "Talking to Charlie and getting an idea for what Josh was going to be like and what his offense was going to be based around really helped me grasp the very basics of it and what we were going to try to do at the beginning of camp."
- Striking out: Receiver Mardy Gilyard and offensive line coach Steve Loney strung together six or seven strikes in a row during a recent team bowling event. Spagnuolo lamented his inability to beat Bradford. The coach wasn't particularly forthcoming about his score, either. Bradford: "He never really told me his score. I have a feeling I beat him pretty bad."
- Stuffing the run: Justin Bannan has blown up a couple running plays in the practices I've watched. The free-agent addition from Baltimore has played the nose in 3-4 defenses, but he's not as massive as prototypical noseguards such as Vince Wilfork or the retired Ted Washington. He can swing between nose tackle and traditional 4-3 defensive tackle.
- Linebacker shuffle: Bryan Kehl continues to work with the starters at weakside linebacker, but recently signed veteran Ben Leber is getting reps there, too. I would expect Leber to take over starting duties as the season progresses. Na'il Diggs continues to work with the starters on the strong side. Brady Poppinga could be a candidate to start there as well.
The Rams will be back on the field Friday for a walk-through session.
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
If it all starts up front -- and most quarterbacks will tell you it does -- NFC West fans will want to keep an eye on the men coaching their teams' offensive lines.
No division in the league features higher-caliber line coaches across the board. And in an unusual twist, NFC West teams used the offseason to play musical line coaches. A look at what it means for each team:
Seattle: For years, Alex Gibbs has ranked among the most highly regarded line coaches in the league. He's the absolute best for installing a pure zone blocking scheme. Gibbs is also 69 years old, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll stick around. Gibbs is a coaching lifer and an extremely intense personality. Gibbs' hiring has changed what the Seahawks want in their offensive linemen -- see Rob Sims' departure -- while more clearly defining the team's approach to offense. This is a zone team all the way.
San Francisco: The 49ers were big winners this offseason when the Seahawks fired coach Jim Mora. The change from Mora to Pete Carroll led to Gibbs' hiring, displacing Mike Solari as offensive line coach. Solari was the perfect fit for the 49ers because he's an excellent teacher and he worked previously with San Francisco offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Raye largely had inherited the 49ers' offensive staff upon his hiring by Mike Singletary before the 2009 season. Solari gives Raye a trusted lieutenant at a position critical to the 49ers' success -- just as the 49ers were about to add two offensive linemen in the first round of the draft. Solari likes his linemen to have quick feet.
St. Louis: The Rams felt good enough about Steve Loney to keep him around as line coach when Steve Spagnuolo took over for the 2009 season. Art Valero also stayed on staff, serving as Loney's assistant, but Valero left the Rams for the same job in Seattle this offseason. That makes Valero a potential heir-apparent to Gibbs.
It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.
In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.
I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.
The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).
The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.
- Rams assistant offensive line coach Art Valero interviewed for an unspecified job with the Seahawks. Valero worked with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Tampa Bay earlier this decade. Valero has coached offensive line, tight ends and running backs at the NFL level. Steve Loney is the Rams' offensive line coach. I'll update when I know whether Valero remains a candidate for a job with Seattle, and in what capacity.
- The Rams are replacing longtime trainer Jim Anderson. Anderson has stuck around a long time and across multiple coaching staffs. Sometimes a new head coach wants his own person in a specific role, though. In 1999, Mike Holmgren made a similar move in Seattle when he replaced trainer Jimmy Whitesel, who had been with the team since its inception.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of Around the Horns focuses on the Rams' youth movement in looking at the team as part of an NFC West offseason recap. Coats: "In addition to getting younger, the Rams also got bigger with the additions of free-agent pickups Jason Brown, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound center, and James Butler, a 6-3, 215-pound strong safety, plus tackle Jason Smith, a 6-5, 306-first-round draftee."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com checks in with Rams offensive line coach Steve Loney, a holdover from the previous staff. Loney: "I think there's always some anxiety whenever you are a holdover. This is my first experience with it but I know I have gone into new situations with guys that have been held over and I have empathy for them. I would say that coach Spags and I talked coming in that it's important I be treated just like anybody else and he has done that. He's treated me great so any anxiety was not well founded. Everything has gone pretty smooth."Also from Wagoner: a report on assistant line coach Art Valero as part of a continuing series on assistant coaches.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks back on Ray Wersching's career with the 49ers. Price: "If you ask him which field goal meant the most to him during his entire career, Wersching insists it was his game-winning field goal on November 22, 1981, which beat the Los Angeles Rams 33-31."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation asks whether Joe Montana was the best football player in NFL history. Montana was the best quarterback for the 49ers when they fielded some of the best offenses in NFL history. That's good enough.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals rookie Cody Brown. Cardinals scout Don Corzine was with Brown at UConn, giving Arizona a better feel for the pass-rusher. Brown: "Pound for pound, he was the strongest kid at UConn. He is extremely athletic. You can see his upside."
Also from Urban: Rookies are dispersing for what remains of the offseason.
Revenge of the Birds' Bezekira wonders whether any Cardinals player will reach at least 10 sacks this season. I would think not.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Jim Mora, Tod Leiweke and Roger Goodell following their successful climb on Mount Rainier. Goodell: "There's some fear involved, I'll tell you. You're out there on the middle of this mountain, it's pitch black, and you're out there with 12 people or so, and you have flashlights on your helmet."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune provides spectacular photos from the Mount Rainier climb. Guide Ed Viesturs took the photos.
John Morgan of Field Gulls looks back on the Seahawks' trade for Deion Branch. Branch has played well when he's been healthy. He simply hasn't been healthy nearly enough.
Also from Morgan: Will Mike Wahle bounce back from recent injuries to give the Seahawks' a veteran presence at left guard?
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cardinals had already hired Curtis Modkins to coach their running backs. They didn't say anything publicly until the Chiefs announced Maurice Carthon's hiring as assistant head coach.
Carthon coached running backs for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008. Modkins coached running backs for the Chiefs in 2008.
When Todd Haley left his job as Cardinals offensive coordinator to become the Chiefs' head coach, he wanted to bring along Carthon from Arizona.
The Cardinals allowed Carthon to pursue the promotion. They quickly lined up Modkins, who broke into the NFL with Kansas City in 2008 after six seasons coaching running backs defensive backs at Georgia Tech.
The chart provides a general overview of NFC West coaching staffs. Yellow shading highlights changes from last season. Titles are imprecise in some cases.
For example, the Cardinals do not have an offensive coordinator. They have a running game coordinator in assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm and they have a passing game coordinator in Mike Miller.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The NFC West will break in seven new coordinators for the 2009 season. Five of them joined incumbent 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on my list of 10 NFC West assistants in the spotlight this season:
1. Jimmy Raye, offensive coordinator, 49ers. No head coach in the division has less administrative experience than the 49ers' Mike Singletary. He was going to need a strong, experienced offensive coordinator to handle the side of the ball with which Singletary was least familiar. Raye gets the call.
2. Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator, Rams. The Rams have a first-time head coach with a defensive background. Shurmur, formerly the Eagles' quarterbacks coach for seven seasons, is a first-time NFL coordinator. He has less experience than his predecessor, Scott Linehan. The Rams' recent failures seemed to leave some key offensive players jaded. Shurmur must win them over decisively.
3. Greg Knapp, offensive coordinator, Seahawks. Knapp is installing a new offense and taking the lead with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
4. Unnamed, defensive coordinator, Cardinals. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt figures to take over play-calling duties on offense. The defensive coordinator he hires must carry a full load on that side of the ball.
5. Steve Loney, offensive line, Rams. Loney is the only Rams position coach to keep his job from last season. The Rams figure to make the position a top priority in the draft and possibly free agency. Loney must coach 'em up.
6. Zerick Rollins, linebackers, Seahawks. Rollins is the only Seahawks position coach on defense to keep his job from last season. He must get more from Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson and possibly Leroy Hill after all three failed to meet expectations in 2008.
7. Ken Flajole, defensive coordinator, Rams. The defensive coordinator under a defensive-minded head coach can sometimes become a figurehead. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo indicated otherwise during his most recent media session. Flajole is a first-time NFL coordinator. He must step up if Spagnuolo spends less time focusing on the defense.
8. Bruce DeHaven, special teams, Seahawks. The Seahawks retained DeHaven even though their special teams haven't been as strong as expected. Former Mora assistant Joe DeCamillis was available, but the Cowboys snapped him up.
9. Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, 49ers. The 49ers' defense improved once head coach Mike Nolan departed and Manusky took over the defense in full. The schedule played into that, but Manusky can define himself as a coordinator on the rise if the defense continues to improve.
10. Unnamed, quarterbacks coach, Cardinals. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the point man with quarterback Kurt Warner. Now that Haley is gone, the Cardinals will need more from their quarterbacks coach.
NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete after the Rams assigned titles to Frank Leonard, Paul Ferraro, Andre Curtis and Clayton Lopez.
The chart shows which coaches retained their titles from the end of last season (gray shading) and which coaches are new to their current roles (yellow shading). The Cardinals could face additional changes if they fill vacancies from within.
All four offensive line coaches remain in their roles from last season (subject to change if Russ Grimm becomes the Cardinals' offensive coordinator). Every other core staff position features at least one change in the division.
The 49ers and Rams have the largest staffs with 20 members apiece, counting head coaches. The Seahawks reduced to 18 after moving assistant offensive line coach Mike DeBord to tight ends and eliminating the job of assistant special teams coach John Jamison. The Cardinals have 13 coaches, a number that figures to rise by at least three.
The 49ers and Rams have full-time administrative assistants assigned to their head coaches. The Cardinals do not formally list an assistant strength and conditioning coach, although Pete Alosi does help John Lott in that area.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' coaching staff is tied for the largest in the NFC West after the team added Clayton Lopez, Andy Sugarman and Derius Swinton in moves announced Monday.
The hirings give the Rams 20 coaches, counting head coach Steve Spagnuolo. That matches the 49ers' total. The Seahawks have 18. The Cardinals have 14 after losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley and firing defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
The Rams' and 49ers' totals are higher in part because both teams list their head coaches' administrative assistants -- Bruce Warwick in St. Louis and Bill Nayes in San Francisco -- as staff members. The Rams listed 20 coaches entering last season as well.
Lopez, a Seahawks assistant from 1999 to 2003, joins the Rams as a defensive assistant. A specific title was not given. His background is in the secondary. The Rams have not named a secondary coach. Lopez coached with new Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole in Seattle.
Sugarman, a former Lions and 49ers assistant who was out of the league in 2008, will serve as offensive quality control coach. Swinton spent the past two seasons at the University of Tennessee. He will serve as quality control coach for special teams. Quality control coaches tend to work extremely long hours logging formations, personnel groupings and a long list of other parameters while breaking down video of upcoming opponents, among other often underappreciated duties.
The Rams have not named coaches at tight end, linebacker or secondary. Andre Curtis and Paul Ferraro were hired as unspecified defensive assistants. The Rams have also hired Frank Leonard as an unspecified offensive assistant.
Full Rams staff below:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete. The chart provides a general overview showing which coaches are primarily overseeing key areas.
Some coaches have fancy titles. I'll list those below. Including those titles in the chart would have served them but not us.
The 49ers have two coaches assigned to linebackers and two assigned to the secondary:
- Jason Tarver is a defensive assistant/outside linebackers. Vantz Singletary is coaching inside linebackers. Coach Mike Singletary and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky are former NFL linebackers, so the 49ers have that position covered.
- Vance Joseph and Johnnie Lynn are both listed as secondary coaches.
The Rams have not named coaches at tight
end, linebacker or secondary. However, they have hired Andre Curtis and Paul Ferraro as unspecified defensive assistants. They have also hired Frank Leonard as an unspecified offensive assistant.
The Seahawks and Cardinals do not list administrative assistants as part of their staffs. Bill Nayes and Bruce Warwick fill those spots for the 49ers and Rams, respectively.
The following team-by-team list includes all the fancy titles, plus some coaches who did not appear on the chart:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams are close to completing their coaching staff under Steve Spagnuolo. I've been keeping track of the hires as they become official.
Here's where the Rams stand on coaching hires (2008 employers and job titles in parenthesis):
Head coach: Steve Spagnuolo (Giants, defensive coordinator)
Assistant head coach/quarterbacks: Dick Curl (Chiefs, quarterbacks)
Assistant to the head coach/football operations: Bruce Warwick (University of Tennessee, assistant athletic director for football operations)
Offensive coordinator: Pat Shurmur (Eagles, quarterbacks)
Offensive line: Steve Loney (Rams, offensive line)
Assistant offensive line: Art Valero (Rams, running backs)
Receivers: Charlie Baggett (University of Washington, receivers)
Tight ends: open
Running backs: Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State University, head coach)
Offensive assistant, title undetermined: Frank Leonard (Kansas State University, tight ends)
Defensive coordinator: Ken Flajole (Panthers, linebackers)
Defensive line: Brendan Daly (Vikings, assistant defensive line)
Defensive assistant, title undetermined: Andre Curtis (Giants, defensive quality control)
Defensive assistant, title undetermined: Paul Ferraro (Vikings, special teams)
Defensive quality control: Matt House (Panthers, assistant special teams and assistant strength and conditioning)
Special teams: Tom McMahon (Falcons, assistant special teams)
Strength and conditioning: Rock Gullickson (Packers, strength and conditioning)
Assistant strength and conditioning: open
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoDan Bickley of the Arizona Republic provides a checklist for the Cardinals as the team tries to sustain its current momentum.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic describes Ken Whisenhunt's conflicting emotions following a fantastic season punctuated by a painful defeat.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals felt Super Bowl XLIII was over-officiated, but Whisenhunt told players not to blame officiating for the defeat.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune wonders if the Cardinals' Super Bowl appearance marks a beginning or an end.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer runs a list of the Seahawks' players scheduled to become free agents. The unrestricted list features Rocky Bernard, Bobby Engram, Charlie Frye, Chris Gray (retired), Howard Green, Will Heller, Leroy Hill, D.D. Lewis, Wes Mallard, Steve McKinney, Maurice Morris, Jeff Robinson, Koren Robinson, Leonard Weaver, Ray Willis and Floyd Womack. Lance Laury is the only restricted free agent.
John Morgan of Field Gulls expects the Seahawks to have about $9 million in salary-cap room, a relatively low figure. The team had more than $20 million last week, according to an NFL source with access to salary data, but cap numbers are fluid, particularly at this time of year. I expect to provide some more definitive numbers this week.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have retained Art Valero in a new capacity while hiring Tom McMahon to coach special teams. Valero will assist offensive line coach Steve Loney, who was also retained by new head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams now have 15 assistants under contract. They are nearly finished filling Spagnuolo's staff.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com wonders if Spagnuolo can deliver success to the Rams in keeping with what other first-time head coaches have delivered in Pittsburgh, Arizona and elsewhere.
Also from Gordon: A chat transcript in which he says receiver Michael Crabtree has "a lot of support" in the Rams' organization.
VanRam of Turf Show Times examines the decision to retain Loney and Valero despite the Rams' problems last season.
Gary Plummer of 49ers.com explains what makes play-action fakes effective, using a specific 49ers play against the Cowboys as an example. Even an average fake can be effective if the opposing front seven is selling out to stop the run.
Christopher Reina of realgmfootball.com recaps the 49ers' season while noting that Shaun Hill, though hardly an elite quarterback, might fit what Mike Singletary wants to do on offense. Hill had a higher passer rating than Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler.
Craig Massei of scout.com says the Cardinals' success this season should give the 49ers some hope for 2009 even though Singletary refused to call the 49ers a playoff-caliber team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains why Larry Fitzgerald's comments about restructuring his contract to accommodate a new deal with Anquan Boldin were as irrelevant as they were well-intentioned. The Cardinals have more than $40 million in salary-cap space. They do not need additional space to create room for a new deal with Boldin. The hard part will be reaching a new deal with Boldin, not figuring out how to make that deal fit within the salary cap.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers could be leaning toward hiring Ravens assistant Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator. Jackson received a second interview. Meanwhile, Mike Johnson interviewed as a potential quarterbacks coach. He was out of the NFL last season after working for three NFL teams. Jimmy Raye is another potential candidate, although the team would not confirm whether he would interview.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides an update on the Rams' new coaching staff. Charlie Baggett will coach receivers, as expected. The team has now hired offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, quarterbacks coach Dick Curl, offensive line coach Steve Loney, Baggett, offensive assistant Frank Leonard and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole. The team has not hired coaches for the defensive line, secondary, running backs, tight ends and special teams.
Nothing on the Seahawks at present, as far as I know.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has turned over most of the previous coaching staff, but offensive line coach Steve Loney will remain, the team announced Tuesday.
The decision speaks well of Loney's abilities given the natural inclination of a new coach to establish his own program with his own people.
The Rams' shortcomings on the offensive line have appeared to be mostly personnel related. The organization hasn't done a very good job finding starting-caliber linemen in the middle rounds, or anywhere recently.
Rebuilding the line has to be the Rams' top priority this offseason. The team has too much money invested in quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Steven Jackson to focus its resources elsewhere, although Spagnuolo will surely try to upgrade the middle of the defense as well.