NFC West: Steve Slaton

Sammy Batten of the Fayetteville Observer checks in with Seahawks offensive lineman Sean Locklear. Locklear: "Anywhere I go, whether that's Seattle or somewhere else, I hope to go to a team that wants to win," Locklear said. "I love Seattle. I've been there my whole career. It's the only team I know. I want to be there. But that decision is not up to me now. It's up to the guys in the front office, or another team. Where ever I go, I'm hoping to help them win." Locklear has extensive starting experience and should have value on the market. However, he appears less likely to return after Seattle chopped off the final year of his contract and used a first-round draft choice on his replacement. Locklear will be eligible for free agency once the signing period opens.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks hope rookie Malcolm Smith can make an impact right away. Coach Pete Carroll: "He’s not built like a linebacker, he’s built like a skilled athlete,” Carroll said. “So, in nickel situations, he’ll be able to match up with anybody that we see. Hopefully, we’ll be able to develop him more. He’s played in our system, so we know that he can do those things, and that’s why to us he is maybe more valuable than he is to anybody else."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits the impact Joey Galloway made with Seattle during a relatively short stay with the team. I do not recall covering a faster NFL player. Farnsworth: "As a rookie, he broke an 86-yard touchdown run on a reverse off of a reverse; added a 59-yard TD catch; and capped it all with an 89-yard punt return for a TD. Galloway also became only the 10th rookie in NFL history (at the time) to surpass 1,000 receiving yards (1,039), and the first since 1986. He also set club rookie records for receptions (67), yards and 100-yard games (three). Before Galloway called it a Seahawks career, he had added punt returns for touchdowns of 88 and 74 yards; TD catches of 81, 70, 65 and 53 yards; and also broke non-scoring runs of 51 and 44 yards."

Also from Farnsworth: a look at Dennis Erickson's first season as Seahawks coach. The team immediately improved to 8-8, but would get no better during Erickson's tenure. Erickson, like successor Mike Holmgren, had a 31-33 record after four seasons with the team. Erickson, unlike Holmgren, did not have the clout to keep his job at that point.

Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange thinks Texans running back Steve Slaton could provide value for a team such as the Rams. Pasquarelli: "Slaton is only 25 years old, doesn't have a lot of tread rubbed off the tires yet, and is a good receiver, so he could be an attractive No. 2 back for some team seeking to bolster the position. Rumors have linked him to St. Louis, where the Rams could use a reliable back capable of getting 6-8 touches per game, to reduce the workload for Steven Jackson, but the talk has been unsubstantiated. Slaton is under contract for 2011 at the league-minimum base salary, then would be eligible for free agency next spring. For the right price, though, he would provide a solid, experienced back for a year."

Bill Vilona of pnj.com says the Rams' defensive linemen are training in Florida. George Selvie: "I haven't seen these guys in four months, so it's just great seeing everybody again. It makes it more of ... this is what we're supposed to be doing."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com sees Mike Singletary's departure from the 49ers having no adverse effect on linebacker Patrick Willis. Maiocco: "Singletary seemed to emphasize focus and getting in the right frame of mind. I have no doubt that Willis benefited from being around a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a regular basis. ... Willis is at the stage of his career that he knows what it takes to be successful in the NFL. He's a highly motivated player, and Singletary -- with his long daily post-practice talks -- was all about providing motivation to his players. ... Now, it's more of a matter of how defensive coordinator Vic Fangio decides to utilize Willis' immense skills."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have been ready for free agency since March, so a sudden opening for business would not catch anyone off-guard.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up the 49ers' situation at receiver with special attention toward Kevin Jurovich and Kyle Williams. San Francisco opened last season with five wide receivers on its 53-man roster, down from six in 2009.

Also from Barrows: Some rookies will miss the 49ers' player-organized practices this week.

The 49ers' website catches up with Roger Craig, a finalist for induction into the team's Hall of Fame. Craig: "We have the best fans on the planet. They’ve always been supportive, through good and through bad. They’re faithful and I feel they deserve to get back in the playoffs, do some damage and win some more Super Bowls. I would love to see that happen very soon, because the fans were cheering us when we played and were a big part of the dynasty. The 49ers have the tools to make that happen with Jim Harbaugh now as their head coach. He reminds me of Bill Walsh and I think it’s in his DNA to make this happen because of his background. He’s seasoned and knows what it takes to take a team to the next level."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider looks at Harbaugh's involvement in the offense at Stanford.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com notes, per ESPN's John Clayton, that cap space will not be a problem for the Cardinals once the free-agent signing period opens. Urban: "It’s impossible to know what is 'aggressive' and how the plan will play out (and part of that includes the moving parts once everything is able to begin; for instance, a trade for a quarterback complicates/affects things more than a straight free-agent signing of a QB would)."

Chat wrap: Boldin's value to Cards

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
2:20
PM ET
Anquan Boldin's name came up a few times during the latest NFC West chat. His future seemed worth revisiting after a strong performance against the Vikings. Chat transcript here. Highlights below:

Paul (Albany, Ore.): Ok Mike, I am going to go against the grain here. As bad as the Rams quarterback play has been, I think if they have a shot at Suh in the draft they HAVE to take him. The "miss" potential on Suh is way less than that of any quarterback that is out there. Heck, none of these guys are as gifted physically as Ryan Leaf and we know he did not pan out. If they spend huge money on a QB, they will have to throw him out there in 2010 and he will get hammered. With Suh, they can try and play 14-10 games and build some confidence, while grooming a second or better yet third round qb (go for O line in the second round). Tell me why I am wrong please? Thanks.

Mike Sando: You do not sound wrong to me. The only way you take a quarterback that early is if you don't see any red flags. There were some red flags with Ryan Leaf. The Rams have not gotten dynamic enough players early in past drafts. Adding a dominant defensive lineman -- and I'll trust conventional wisdom on Ndamukong Suh -- would give Steve Spagnuolo someone to build around up front. The team does need offensive playmakers, too, so that must be a consideration early as well.

Chris (Phoenix): Can we officially end the argument and say the Cardinals ARE a better team with a healthy Anquan Boldin than not?

Mike Sando: The healthy part is indeed important. That performance Sunday had to make the Cardinals feel very good about what Anquan Boldin has to offer. One question I've had in the past is whether having a healthy Boldin has sometimes led the Cardinals to rely too heavily on four-receiver personnel groupings at the expense of their run game. The team ran a fair amount of two-tight end stuff against Arizona. I think it's important for the Cardinals to keep doing that stuff even when they have a full contingent of healthy wideouts.

Will (Va.): Looks like the 'Hawks are big underdogs at Houston this weekend. With Steve Slaton on the shelf and our offensive line gaining some consistency, what is it going to take for Matt Hasselbeck and the boys to come out with a win? Also, is Cory Redding going to be back?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks do expect Cory Redding to return. The best way to beat the Texans will be to hit Matt Schaub, who is hurting right now and not known as a durable player. The Seattle pass rush is a weakness, however, so the Seahawks could be vulnerable defensively. You raise an interesting point about the Seattle offensive line gaining some consistency. Left tackle Sean Locklear had problems against the 49ers. Mario Williams has sacks in three of the Texans' last four games. He was hurting and ineffective when I saw him against the 49ers, but if he is playing at a higher level, that matchup could favor Houston. Let's see if Justin Forsett can get something going in the running game for Seattle.

Tyson (Calistoga, Calif.): Do you think Kurt Warner and the Cardinals passing attack will be able to put up enough points to win over the 49ers? The 9ers always seem to be able to score against the Cardinals, and the Cardinals have had trouble against 3-4 defenses to protect the quarterback, so I see a relatively close game this monday. Hopefully the Cardinals can win by more than a ghost tackle of Frank Gore this year on Monday night!

Mike Sando: Justin Smith has given the Cardinals problems. Parys Haralson was a big problem for Arizona in the opener. The Arizona offensive line surprised a lot of people, including me, with its solid protection against the Vikings. The Cardinals will win easily if Warner has time. That is hardly a given. I think the Cardinals have enough balance and talent offensively to control this game.

How NFC West receivers stack up

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
6:20
PM ET

Not too many years ago, the Seahawks' receivers were known as much for dropping passes as for catching them.

Through Week 10 this season, the team has the NFL's third-lowest drop percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Seahawks have dropped 13 passes in 361 attempts (3.6 percent). Only the Texans (7 in 313, 2.2 percent) and Jaguars (10 in 282, 3.5 percent) have dropped fewer. The Colts (13 in 357, 3.64 percent) and Falcons (10 in 273, 3.7 percent) round out the top five. The league average is 5.5 percent.

Charting drops is a subjective process. I have the Seahawks with 16 potential drops, but I can be hard grader.

The 49ers' Michael Crabtree (four drops) has the fifth-highest drop percentage (13.8) among player with at least 25 targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Gore, Coffee and running in place

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
5:45
PM ET
Player Plays for 0 or loss Pct.
Glen Coffee 14 40.0
Chris Johnson 21 39.6
Derrick Ward 9 34.6
Donald Brown 10 34.5
Willie Parker 16 30.8
Larry Johnson 16 30.8
Steve Slaton 11 28.9
Frank Gore 11 28.2
DeAngelo Williams 11 26.8
Matt Forte 15 25.4
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' commitment to running the football has allowed opponents to gang up against Frank Gore and Glen Coffee.

I think that helps explain why Gore and Coffee have combined for 25 plays that gained no yards or lost yardage. The totals reflect rushes and receptions.

A few notes on those plays, based on information in my play-by-play spreadsheet:
  • All 25 of the 49ers' plays were running plays.
  • The plays were distributed fairly evenly across quarters, not just when the 49ers were trying to run time off the clock late in games.
  • The plays transcended typical early-down personnel groups.
  • Ten were on first down, 11 on second down and four on third down.
  • The 49ers needed an average of 7.88 yards for a first down on these plays.
  • Nine of these plays were against the Cardinals, six against the Seahawks and 10 against the Vikings.

There wasn't any obvious mitigating factor, in other words.

Related: This chart's original advocate, Paul Kuharsky, advances the subject on his AFC South blog. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for providing the data.
Rank
2008 NFL Rusher
Team
Yards
Drafted Round


1
Adrian Peterson
MIN
1,760
1


2
Michael Turner

ATL
1,699
5


3
DeAngelo Williams

CAR
1,515
1


4
Clinton Portis

WAS
1,487
2


5
Thomas Jones

NYJ
1,312
1


6
Steve Slaton

HOU
1,282
3


7
Matt Forte

CHI
1,238
2


8
Chris Johnson

TEN
1,228
1


9
Ryan Grant

GB
1,203
N/A


10
LaDainian Tomlinson

SD
1,110
1









Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Zone blocking schemes tend to get much credit for a team's success in the running game.

The Broncos won two Super Bowls with sixth-round choice Terrell Davis in the backfield. Alex Gibbs, up there with Bobb McKittrick among the finest offensive line coaches in NFL history, ran a zone scheme that helped make it happen. The Broncos subsequently had success running the ball while plugging in various backs to the offense.

The zone scheme can definitely help facilitate big numbers in the ground game, but the NFL's most productive backs last season generally entered the league as higher picks. That was true even for some backs running in zone schemes.

In looking around the NFC West, it's clear the most productive running backs were high draft choices. The Rams' Steven Jackson was a first-round choice. The 49ers' Frank Gore and promising rookie Glen Coffee were third-round choices. The Cardinals just used a first-round choice on Beanie Wells to replace Edgerrin James, who entered the NFL as a first-round choice. Even the Seahawks' Julius Jones was a second-rounder.

Fifteen of the 35 players with more rushing yards than Seattle's Jones last season entered the NFL as first-round choices. Ten more were second- or third-round selections, meaning 25 of the top 35 rushers in total yards were drafted in the first three rounds. Four were fourth-round choices and two were fifth-rounders. Only three of the NFL's top 35 rushers last season -- Ryan Grant, Willie Parker and Pierre Thomas -- were drafted in the final two rounds or undrafted.

Five of the top 10 rushers last season were first-round choices, as the chart shows. Eight of the 10 were drafted in the first three rounds. Michael Turner (fifth round) and Grant (undrafted) were the exceptions. Grant played in a zone scheme with Green Bay. I thought the Seahawks might draft a running back in the first three rounds this season, but they valued Aaron Curry, Max Unger and Deon Butler higher than the backs available at the time, which seemed reasonable.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have not yet commenced contract talks with coach Ken Whisenhunt. Somers: "Whisenhunt hasn't brought the subject up with management, nor does he have plans to. Asked at the owners' meetings about his contract, Whisenhunt said he wasn't even thinking about it. General Manager Rod Graves referred questions about the subject to team President Michael Bidwill, who smiled and didn't respond to the question." Whisenhunt has three years left on his deal.

Also from Somers: The NFL owners' meeting included a video presentation complete with Super Bowl highlights. Whisenhunt had trouble watching.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team's new additions tend to have special-teams prowess. Somers asked Whisenhunt about that during the NFC coaches' breakfast Wednesday. Whisenhunt said special-teams play was a factor in the signings, but not necessarily a pivotal one.

Also from Urban: New Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis takes a long-range view. 

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind wonders what the Cardinals need more: Help on the offensive line or a running back. The running back probably provides more value at No. 31.

Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press says the 49ers weren't impressed by Matthew Stafford's attitude. This story revisits Bay Area reports stemming from the combine.

Paul Gutierrez of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Al Davis and Mike Singletary from the NFL owners' meeting. Both enjoyed a laugh or two.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers and Marvel Smith could be moving toward an agreement. Also, Tony Wragge extended his contract through 2010.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo from the NFL owners' meeting. Not counting interim coaches, Spagnuolo is the Rams' first defensive-minded head coach since Ray Malavasi. So far, James Butler is the only defensive starter added during the offseason. Thomas: "Spagnuolo confirmed Wednesday that Will Witherspoon will open next week's minicamp at outside linebacker with Chris Draft at middle linebacker. At defensive end, he likes the experience that Leonard Little brings to the table and the high-energy approach of Chris Long."

Also from Thomas: Former Rams receiver Torry Holt plans to visit the Jaguars.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks need a running back with speed. Williams: "Don't get me wrong, [Julius] Jones is plenty fast. He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine when he came out of Notre Dame in 2004. However, I'm thinking of guys like Chris Johnson with Tennessee (4.29), Felix Jones with Dallas (4.44) or Steve Slaton (4.44) with the Houston Texans, guys who can change the complexion of a game with one play by bursting through the line of scrimmage and sprinting past the secondary for a long touchdown run."

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts explains why he thinks Seattle fans aren't excited about Jones. Sullivan: "It also seems that many fans believe that [Maurice] Morris was the better back last year, but statistically that's not the case. They were basically on par with each other (4.41 ypc for Jones, 4.35 for Morris). Jones had two touchdowns, Morris had none; Jones had two fumbles lost, Morris had one. Call it even? I do."

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