NFC West: T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Camp Confidential: Arizona Cardinals

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer's relationship with his new head coach, Bruce Arians, is unlike any the Arizona Cardinals quarterback has experienced in 10 NFL seasons or even in college under Pete Carroll at USC -- except for a nine-start period in 2011.

That 2011 season under Hue Jackson in Oakland was the only other time Palmer played for an offensive-minded head coach. In nine starts, Palmer posted a higher Total QBR score (64.8) than four of the seven quarterbacks accorded Pro Bowl honors.

Coincidence? Palmer, a week into his first training camp with Arizona, doesn't think so. He has played under Carroll, Marvin Lewis and Dennis Allen, all defensive coordinators before they became head coaches.

"There are so many defensive head coaches," Palmer said. "I had Hue for nine games. It was great. We lit it up on offense. We just didn't win."

Plenty of successful quarterbacks have played for defensive-minded head coaches, of course, but at this stage of his career, the 33-year-old Palmer wants to clear away all potential impediments to success. He wants his head coach to see the game the way he sees it, as a quarterback. Arians played the position at Virginia Tech.

"[Arians] is not sitting in the film room and saying my five-step drop was too shallow here or too deep there," Palmer said. "He's all about eyes and where the ball is coming out. That is the first time I've had that. To see it through his eyes and see what he expects and see what he thinks is something that takes time to get used to. It's phenomenal for me."

Palmer has much to prove. The metrics say he's been below average in recent seasons. The win-loss record says he's been worse. The Cardinals' quarterbacks over the past three seasons set the bar low enough for Palmer to clear it, but by how much?

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeTodd Bowles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCan new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles keep the Cardinals defense operating at the same high level as last season?
1. Life without Ray Horton. The Cardinals ranked third in defensive EPA with Horton as coordinator last season. Arians beat out Horton for the head coaching job and cast off Horton in favor of his own coordinator, Todd Bowles. The switch was a clear downgrade on paper, but you'd never know it after a trip inside the Cardinals' locker room.

"Everybody is excited about this defense," nose tackle David Carter said. "Last year, everybody was like, 'I don't like the defense, but I'm going to play it because I have to.' Now, it's like, 'Hey, you want me to do what? OK, sure, I'll do that!' "

According to Carter, Horton was trying to replicate the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4 scheme in the absence of the proper personnel. He sees Bowles tailoring the defense to fit the Cardinals' personnel, which is better suited for attacking up the field.

"We don't have the type of personnel to hold up and mirror technique and two-gap," Carter said.

The Cardinals have continued to add players who appear best suited for a 4-3 scheme. It's increasingly clear the 3-4 and 4-3 labels can be a hindrance to understanding how teams play defense. Teams don't necessarily commit 100 percent to the traditional core principles of either scheme.

2. Arians' vertical passing game. Conventional wisdom says Arians' preference for the deep passing game will expose an immobile quarterback to excessive punishment behind a questionable offensive line. That could happen, and no one would need an explanation.

Let's also acknowledge the role quarterbacks play in sack avoidance.

Consider Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He took sacks on 8.8 percent of drop-backs over the three seasons before Arians became his coordinator. The rate was 8.5 percent for Roethlisberger over four seasons with Arians running the offense.

Palmer's career sack rate was 4.7 percent with Cincinnati and 4.6 percent with Oakland. In 2012, he took 26 sacks in 591 drop-backs playing behind a Raiders line that wasn't necessarily more talented than the one Palmer has in Arizona this season.

And if Palmer takes a few extra hits while looking for Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd well down the field?

"That is my game," Palmer said. "My strength isn't making a guy miss and getting out and running for a first down on third-and-12. The strength of my game is, I'm 245 pounds, I absorb hits, I'll stay in the pocket and hold it to the very last second for a guy to come out on a certain concept -- not taking a sack, but holding onto the ball and waiting for the guy to get open to get that completion."

3. Who starts on the offensive line? First-round draft choice Jonathan Cooper will be the left guard. Lyle Sendlein will be the center. For the first time in a while, the Cardinals could have multiple decent options elsewhere on the line. The key word is decent, not great.

Levi Brown and Daryn Colledge must play well to justify their high salaries. That could be tough for Colledge, who is battling a nerve problem in his leg. The Cardinals need both veterans, but their longer-term futures are cloudy at best. It's clear that Arizona wants to keep adding youth to the line, which was badly neglected over the previous five drafts. Right now, neither is assured a starting spot.

The two young tackles from last season, Nate Potter and Bobby Massie, provide experienced young depth at worst. One or both could wind up starting.

Arizona does not list an offensive line coach, but three assistants are coaching the position, including coordinator Harold Goodwin. I think the line is getting more thorough coaching under the current setup than when Russ Grimm had been the line coach. Grimm's a Hall of Famer and he built a reputation as a top line coach, but the results simply weren't there in Arizona.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Palmer represents a three-victory improvement over his immediate predecessors if he plays the way he played for Oakland last season. The rest of the team should respond favorably to an upgrade at the most important position. The offensive line is healthier and deeper than it was a year ago. First-year general manager Steve Keim has brought a more proactive approach to personnel. The Cardinals have made themselves better throughout the roster as a result.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The current NFC West is no place to attempt a rebuilding project. Even if some defensive players didn't like the previous scheme, there's no denying the results. Arizona's defense ranked among the NFL's top five in interception rate, third-down conversion rate, red zone efficiency, Total QBR, passing yards, sack rate and first downs. Bowles' Philadelphia Eagles ranked a respective 32nd, 32nd, 27th, 32nd, 14th, fourth and 22nd in those categories during his run as coordinator from Week 7 through season's end. Also, Bowles won't have inside linebacker Daryl Washington for the first four games because of his suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
    AP Photo/Rick ScuteriCoach Bruce Arians wants more "explosive" plays from Michael Floyd and the Cardinals offense.
    The emphasis on big plays is obvious in practice. Palmer frequently pushes the ball deep to Fitzgerald and Floyd. Arians has told players he wants six to eight explosive plays per game. He defines explosive plays as passes covering at least 25 yards and rushes covering at least 15 yards. Arizona tied for the league low with 32 drives featuring at least one play fitting Arians' explosive profile, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The league average was 45 such drives, and San Francisco was two off the league high with 58, while Seattle had 45 and St. Louis had 35. Arians' Indianapolis Colts had 46. His Steelers ranked 11th with 230 such drives from 2007 through 2011, when Arians was coordinator.
  • Floyd opened camp by catching all three of the "50-50" passes Palmer threw his way. Palmer defines those throws loosely as jump balls into coverage, passes in which the receiver and defender should, in theory, have an equal chance at the ball.
  • Arians wants a physical camp when the team is in pads. He had every non-specialist, non-quarterback and uninjured player on the team, including Fitzgerald, engaged in what amounted to close-quarters combat on the team's first day in pads.
  • Rob Housler, who led NFC West tight ends in receptions last season, is the player Fitzgerald points to as among the most impressive in camp to this point. Fitz: "I know you have seen the Jimmy Grahams and Antonio Gateses and Vernon Davises and these tight ends who can do receiver-type angles, routes, things like that. [Housler] is turning into that type of guy. He has 4.4 speed, he can run with the best of them and he's improving in his blocking. He is coming into his own. That is exciting. To have a tight end that can do that is going to open up other things."
  • Rookie Earl Watford, a fourth-round draft choice, struggled getting into position in one-on-one pass-rush drills on the one day early in camp when I charted every rep.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson has already been to the Pro Bowl as a returner and as a cornerback. His timing and spacing in coverage has improved, allowing Peterson to better challenge routes. Watching Peterson work at receiver in camp, I don't see how Arians will resist using him on offense to some degree. Peterson appeared more natural in his route-running than some of the young receivers. I was standing with Keim, the GM, when Peterson thrilled the crowd with a reception in practice. Keim: "He is so natural. Watch him running routes, particularly stops and digs. You watch him drop his weight at 219 and accelerate out of the break, that's not what cornerbacks do. He can come out here and just run a route and you're just like, 'He looks like Percy Harvin running a route. How does he do that?' "
  • The newly acquired John Abraham worked with the second team and was trouble for the offense. He was moving through the backfield so quickly on one play that he collided with defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy, who was rushing from the other side. Abraham signed a two-year deal with a $2.325 million average.
  • Rookie second-round choice Kevin Minter is going to deliver big hits on special teams, it appears. He "decleated" fellow backup linebacker Zack Nash during one punt return.
  • Fifty-one of the 90 players in camp weren't with the Cardinals at any point last season. Arizona focused on signing younger veteran players to one-year deals during what amounts to a transition year. The team signed no unwieldy contracts this offseason. The turnover means watching practice without a roster printout can be a confusing experience. Defensive end Calais Campbell: "I wish I knew everybody's name. I don't."
  • Bowles' defense requires the safeties to be more vocal in making adjustments based on personnel and formations. Bowles was a safety in the NFL for eight seasons. Rashad Johnson: "In the past, we more likely would come out in a call and if we got motion, we would just stay in it. We wouldn't change the coverages or change our look based on that. Now, we do things based off the personnel and based off what guys are giving us."
  • Palmer appears to have a good rapport with Andre Roberts, who figures to factor from the slot. The quarterback compared Roberts to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, his former teammate in Cincinnati, based on body type, route running and football smarts. Palmer: "It's almost like they have played quarterback all the way 'til they got to the NFL. They understand it from your perspective. Andre has that kind of IQ. He just gets it. He sees it, feels it, gets it, he reacts. That is a special trait."
  • The praise in camp for players such as Housler, Floyd and Roberts highlights just how horrible the quarterback play was last season. Even Fitzgerald had an off year. The Cardinals need Palmer to get much more from these players.

Around the NFC West: Kolb better off?

August, 24, 2012
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Kevin Kolb tossed two ugly interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, but still might have improved his standing in the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback race.

"Might have" would be the key phrase there. Kolb looked as good as he's looked all preseason for stretches of the Cardinals' game Thursday night against Tennessee. He did a better job hanging in the pocket early in the game. He bounced back from mistakes. He led a touchdown drive and generally succeeded in the two-minute offense.

But as Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic points out, there's nothing quite like a pick-six to open the second half. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "It numbs you. You've worked so hard to get back into it. At halftime, we said, 'We get the ball back. If we go out and score the game is tied.' And the next thing you know, one play, we're down 13 points. I'm really proud of our guys for fighting back from that point. That's a big deal on the road."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kolb's competition for the job, John Skelton, missed an opportunity. Skelton: "It's frustrating getting out of the game that early and seeing the offense get into a flow, but you have to make the most of your opportunities and I don’t feel I did."

Also from Urban: non-quarterback notes. Urban: "Running back William Powell is leading the NFL is rushing this preseason. He had another 71 yards (on just seven carries) and has 231 yards on 33 carries (a 7.1 average) and three touchdowns. Yes, it's against deep backups usually, but seven yards a carry is seven yards a carry. When you have the head coach bringing up your name, unprompted, in the postgame presser, that’s a good sign. It’s going to be a tough call between Powell and Alfonso Smith."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along a couple of updates from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Brandon Jacobs will earn a spot on the 53-man roster, and Colin Kaepernick will likely be the No. 2 quarterback.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Harbaugh and Peyton Manning gave reporters the silent treatment regarding their offseason connections. Manning: "I can't speak for them. It's pretty well documented how all that went down in the offseason. Not really going down memory lane."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Harbaugh applies Indy racing strategies to coaching the 49ers. Harbaugh: "How can we get better, what facet can we tweak to get a little faster, where to reduce drag, where can we save time, where can we be more efficient? That's the whole operation of racing. They do it as a team. Everybody's doing a little. And that adds up to a lot."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at players fighting for playing time and/or roster spots in Seattle. Williams on Terrell Owens: "He has a lot to overcome. And the fact that he finished without a catch and a bad drop against Denver is just scratching the surface. He still appears to be the same T.O. who complains when things are not going his way. And Pete Carroll will not put up with that from a fifth or six receiver -- see T.J. Houshmandzadeh."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says dropped passes haven't undermined tight end Anthony McCoy in the eyes of coach Pete Carroll.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times silences the alarm bells that rang upon hearing of the "little procedure" Doug Baldwin underwent to remove blood from a hamstring.

Also from O'Neil: Carroll isn't afraid to play rookies. O'Neil: "Carroll once worked for Bud Grant in Minnesota, one of the league's old-salt coaches who believed you lost a game for every rookie you played. But during Carroll's time at USC, he not only began to play his younger players, but he embraced the concept."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at how training camps have changed over the years. Rams assistant Dave McGinnis on the way it was years ago: "We'd have 120 guys in camp. It's an entirely different world. The league has evolved a lot with offseason training, with the type of condition that these players are in, and clearly now with the new CBA, there's new regulations. The first camp I went to was in Platteville, Wis. (in 1986) and it was two-a-days, every day, full pads, on your mark, get set, go. And so it's changed."

Also from Thomas: Injuries are hurting the Rams' depth on the defensive line. Thomas: "The team still has enough bodies at defensive tackle to get them through practice and Saturday's preseason game in Dallas, including Cornell Banks and recently signed John Gill. Meanwhile, defensive end Eugene Sims' ankle injury, which prompted the team to sign Vernon Gholston on Wednesday, wasn't as bad as initially feared. Sims, who was wearing a walking boot Wednesday, does not have a high ankle sprain -- an injury that could have sidelined him a month. As it is, he may miss a week or two."
Danario Alexander has proved he can be a big-play receiver for the St. Louis Rams when healthy enough to get on the field.

Alexander played 41 percent of the offensive snaps last season, up from 19 percent as a rookie in 2010. He owns a healthy 16-yard average on his 46 receptions over the past two seasons. But he missed a five-game stretch in the middle of the season and is having some issues this offseason.

With bigger numbers at the position this offseason, Alexander could have a harder time earning a roster spot.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on Alexander as the Rams conduct organized team activities. Softli: "His multiple knee surgeries are well documented, but now soft-tissue injuries are creeping back into the picture -- and the Rams just started the offseason program. In order to impress the new regime of head coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the former Missouri Tiger must stay healthy, compete and put his full set of talents on display." Noted: This is a tough situation for Alexander. He has fought through serious injuries, enduring pain and disappointment. He is only 23 years old, but chronic injuries can worsen over time.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Aldon Smith denied any intent to injure Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Candlestick Park last season. Smith: "Our goal was to win the game. We don't go out and talk about hurting other players, their ankles or injuries or any of that. We were going out to win the game. The quarterback, he controls the game. So if he got hit, it happens."

Also from Barrows: 49ers rookie Trenton Robinson comes to the team with something to prove. Robinson lacks ideal height for a safety, but he's relatively rangy.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers have lots of fallback options behind starting fullback Bruce Miller. Maiocco: "Technically, there's only one player listed behind Miller on the depth chart: undrafted rookie Cameron Bell, a fullback from Northern Illinois. But, unofficially, there are a lot of players on both sides of the ball who can lend assistance."

Also from Maiocco: Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham skipped the Giants' Super Bowl ring ceremony to practice with the 49ers. Jacobs: "I think winning a championship is important, not many people have one and not many people have had a chance to play in a Super Bowl. I respect that, but right now, I'm working towards the same goal with a new team. I think my goal here is pretty clear on what I'm trying to achieve as an individual player and as a team."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Doug Baldwin was the sixth player to lead the team in receptions during his first year with the team. Steve Largent, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, John Carlson, Mike Williams and Derrick Mayes were the others.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Baldwin is one of eight wide receivers on the roster who caught at least one pass for the team last season. O'Neil: "The exact pecking order of those receivers, though, is going to be something that will be sorted out in one of the most wide open competitions over the course of this offseason and into training camp. Can Sidney Rice stay healthy? Can Mike Williams rebound to the form he showed in 2011? Can Golden Tate continue the progress he showed in the second half of last season."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks safety Earl Thomas downplays the individual honors he's won to this point in his career. Thomas: "I don’t know what everybody else thinks, but in my eyes, if you’re a great player, the personal accolades are going to come, but you just let them fall and play ball. I’ve been playing ball since I was little, and I love doing it. If people like the way I play, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. I just like to play ball."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic notes that Nate Potter is the fifth of seven Cardinals draft choices to sign with the team.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team will open training camp July 24, an early start reflecting the Cardinals' participation in the Hall of Fame game against New Orleans on Aug. 5. Urban: "The Cardinals could have gone to camp 15 days prior to that -- three days before they will end up going -- but coach Ken Whisenhunt had said the Cards wouldn’t go that early."
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/cardinals/articles/2012/05/17/20120517arizona-cardinals-sign-offensive-tackle-nate-potter-boise-state.html
The list of available unrestricted free-agent receivers continues to dwindle.

The St. Louis Rams aren't going to find the playmaking help they covet on a list featuring Plaxico Burress, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Crayton, Rashied Davis, Deion Branch, Jerheme Urban, Bryant Johnson, Roy Williams, Greg Camarillo, Jerricho Cotchery, Mark Clayton, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock, David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Donnie Avery, Maurice Stovall, Andre Caldwell, Ted Ginn Jr., Steve Smith (Philly version), Jerome Simpson and Devin Thomas.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked colleagues how the Rams will address the issue. Jim Thomas: "There’s not much left at the position in free agency. The wide receiver shelves were cleaned out quickly, so barring a trade of some kind -- which seems unlikely -- the Rams are almost limited to getting help via the draft. And at No. 6 overall, there’s no guarantee that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be available. So yes, the team is in a bit of a predicament at wide receiver."

Also from Thomas, regarding Mike Wallace: "He has a first-round tender. And you can only use your original first-round pick as compensation. The Rams no longer have their original first-round pick after trading down with Washington. So they can't acquire Wallace through the regular process of restricted free agency. Now, the Rams could always offer less in a sign-and-trade situation. But why would the Steelers want less than a first-rounder? They put the tender on him in an attempt to keep him." Noted: The Rams could, in theory, offer the sixth overall pick, but that would be a steep price to pay.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams should steer clear of Tim Tebow.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' search for a backup quarterback continues in the absence of attractive options.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding Harbaugh's relationship with Alex Smith: "It's been good -- strong relationship, as always. It's a very strong relationship."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the situation with Smith: "It's unclear if Smith agrees with Harbaugh that they are as tight as they've ever been. The team's offer did not exactly mesh with Harbaugh's statements of devotion during and after the season. While it's all but certain Smith will be the 49ers' quarterback this season, it also leaves an opening for backup Colin Kaepernick to take over before the three years are complete. Kaepernick has been a regular at the 49ers' training facility this offseason."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have ruled out Tebow, according to CEO Jed York.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Early Doucet's re-signing means the Cardinals will return their top receivers from last season. Urban: "Doucet set career-highs in 2011 with 54 receptions, 689 yards and five touchdowns in his fourth NFL season, playing in 16 games for the first time. He came up with a pair of long touchdown catches against Carolina (70 yards) and San Francisco (60 yards) and scored on a game-winning screen pass in Philadelphia."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals have little salary-cap room, and there are tradeoffs associated with gaining flexibility.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as saying Peyton Manning reached out to the Seahawks while figuring out which team to join. Carroll: "He had contacted me about wanting to talk about coming here. By the time we got down to where we had our chance he had already set his sights on going in the direction wound up going, with Denver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the market for free-agent linebacker David Hawthorne. O'Neil: "Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles each of the past three years, but right now, the market for free-agent linebackers looks to be a little softer than some expected." Noted: Looks like we're approaching that period where players reset their expectations before taking deals for less than they had hoped.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com puts together an overview of free agency from the Seahawks' perspective.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' WR decision

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
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On the surface, the San Francisco 49ers's decision to sign Brett Swain over more established receivers doesn't make much sense.

Why not sign one of the veterans they brought in for a tryout? T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Chambers and Brian Finneran have combined for 1,394 career receptions. Swain, meanwhile, has six receptions in only 22 games, with no touchdowns.

Signing Swain makes sense only in the context of special teams. He played extensively on the Green Bay Packers' special-teams units last season. Of the more accomplished veterans brought in for tryouts, only Finneran played on special teams last season, and only then in a limited role. He's 35 years old. Swain is 26. The fourth receiver on a game-day roster generally must contribute on special teams, particularly for an offense that keeps two tight ends on the field as frequently as the 49ers do.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers did not immediately announce the move to add Swain because the team was still deciding how to clear a roster spot. Noted: That suggests the team isn't ready to place Josh Morgan on injured reserve even though Morgan required surgery to repair the broken leg he suffered making a sideline reception during the final minutes of the 49ers' 48-3 victory over Tampa Bay.

Also from Maiocco: a player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense against the Bucs.

More from Maiocco: a look at the defensive players as well.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Jerry Rice for thoughts on Alex Smith's improved play this season. Rice: "You can tell [Smith] is more relaxed. He's not holding on to the ball. His decision-making is so much better. The ball is out of his hands just like that. I think as long as they continue that, they're going to have success. All these guys, everybody pitched in -- Frank Gore. Carlos Rogers. Delanie Walker. Vernon Davis. The weight is not on Smith's shoulders, and I think that's why he's playing so well."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Tom Cable, like the Seahawks' offensive line, is getting better these days. Cable recently underwent major back surgery. Cable: "It’s an old injury that all of a sudden got really bad. So the choice is either you lose the use of your left leg or you go get this done and now you can move forward. I feel great -- it obviously worked. The incision is a big one, so that’s the only real negative left … just letting that heal up."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says quarterback Charlie Whitehurst runs through the team's no-huddle offense in unconventional places, including when he's trying to fall asleep at the team hotel. Whitehurst: "I’ve often wondered if people can hear me through the walls."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with current Rams players with roots on the Packers' roster, notably Al Harris, who opened last season on the physically unable to perform list, then was released in November. Thomas: "Harris told the Journal Sentinel at the time that Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson led him on, giving him the false impression that he still fit into the team's plans as he completed the PUP-list process. But that was then. With the season-ending knee injury to Bradley Fletcher during the Rams' bye week, Harris might start Sunday against his old team. So Harris is concentrating on the here and now, not a stroll down memory lane."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains the gap between public comments from Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb and coach Ken Whisenhunt regarding whether players are showing up for meetings on time. Somers: "According to sources, (Whisenhunt) told his players that too many details were being ignored, that the sloppiness wasn't going to be tolerated, that it was time to stop sliding into meetings seconds before they were scheduled to start. That speech prompted quarterback Kevin Kolb to tell reporters Sunday that his head coach 'hit the nail on the head. We have to get more detail-oriented. It starts with meetings, showing up to work on time, getting in early, getting your work done, and all the stuff a professional is supposed to do. Maybe it takes a game like this to figure out.'"

Also from Somers: a look at key areas where the Cardinals need to improve.

Around the NFC West: Curry's end game?

September, 28, 2011
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Looks like Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry will find out whether a few tweets can accelerate his departure from the team.

Curry, who used Twitter to lament his use as a pass-rusher last season, has let loose with a few curious tweets following his Week 3 removal from the starting lineup.

When packfan_1995 mentioned to Curry that the Seahawks had enjoyed a big win against Arizona, Curry replied, with, "yea they won." Curry also said he would embrace a chance to play for the Carolina Panthers.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has the details. O'Neil: "There were no indications Tuesday that there was any change to his status with the Seahawks. He is listed as Wright's backup at strongside linebacker in the team's official release for this week. It appears the two sides are headed for a split, and it appears the question now is how clean the break will be." Noted: The Seahawks have already declared their hand on Curry by shortening his contract and replacing him in the starting lineup with rookie K.J. Wright. The contract change gave the Seahawks an easy out if they wanted to release Curry following the 2011 season. Releasing Curry before then would be possible, but the team would be eating millions in guaranteed money for 2011. Trading Curry would obviously have appeal, but it's unlikely another team would acquire his contract for this season. Rules would prevent Seattle from agreeing to pick up most of Curry's 2011 salary to facilitate a trade. Those rules complicated 2010 efforts to trade receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who also had short-term contract guarantees. The Seahawks wound up cutting Houshmandzadeh, then paying most of his salary after Houshmandzadeh signed with Baltimore.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Matt Hasselbeck's departure from the Seahawks is hurting the team on the field in the short term while allowing young players such as Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor to grow into leaders for the team's long-term betterment.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic runs through several critical plays that spelled defeat for the Cardinals against Seattle in Week 3, including the one featuring a third-down pass to Andre Roberts on a receiver screen. Quarterback Kevin Kolb changed the play at the line of scrimmage, but not everyone made the right adjustment. Somers: "Looking at video of the play, it appears tight end Todd Heap was the one who made the mistake. He was in the middle of three receivers lined up to the right on that play, with Early Doucet on the inside. Heap ran a crossing route across the middle, away from the screen, while Doucet tried in vain to get outside quickly enough to help Roberts. Matching (ken) Whisenhunt's comments with the replay, it appears Heap either should have been lined up in Doucet's spot, or at the very least, understood that the audible meant he had to block for Roberts. Even with the mistake, Roberts had room if he had cut inside. Instead, he danced a bit and was tackled." Noted: Weather conditions, crowd noise and new players' inexperience in Arizona's offense complicated the Cardinals' efforts to operate efficiently against what appears to be a solid Seattle defense.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals kicker Jay Feely following a rough game.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams appear to be regressing on defense. Thomas: "The leaks in the secondary have been glaring since Ron Bartell suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 1 against Philadelphia. But despite good work from ends Chris Long and first-rounder Robert Quinn against Baltimore, the Rams' pass rush has been sporadic all season. There's been very little inside push so far. But if (Steve) Spagnuolo could do just one thing to make the defense right, it would have nothing to do with coverage or the pass rush." Noted: The struggles stopping the run have been most confounding given the Rams' offseason emphasis to improve in that area. Falling behind in games and having insufficient offensive firepower to respond has put the defense in tougher situations. Still, the overall run defense has been far weaker than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.

Also from Thomas: The Rams have signed free-agent cornerback Rod Hood.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says owner Stan Kroenke likely would not make any in-season coaching changes, but the Rams need to win some games to ensure stability beyond this season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about Alex Smith during his player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense from Week 3: "He completed 20 of 30 passes for a season-high 201 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 85.6. Smith was sacked five times. Afterward, he reported no injuries. A week earlier, he sustained a concussion in the second quarter of the 49ers' loss to the Cowboys but remained in the game. He did not report his injury to the medical staff until after that game. In three games, Smith has been sacked 11 times and has yet to fumble. In the fourth quarter, Smith completed 5 of 6 attempts for 57 yards. Late in the third quarter, he had a TD pass nullified when Michael Crabtree was ruled to have stepped out of the back of the end zone before catching an apparent 10-yard scoring pass."

Also from Maiocco: a player-by-player review of the defense. On rookie Aldon Smith: "Entered the game as part of the 49ers' nickel defense at right defensive end. He played approximately 20 snaps and did not record any tackles or quarterback pressures."

Scott Skinner of the San Francisco Chronicle takes a peek inside the 49ers' planned new stadium. More here.
A link to the latest NFC West chat transcript, plus one newly addressed subject per division team, not appearing in the transcript:
Chris from Fresno, Calif., thought the San Francisco 49ers' offense looked "pathetic" in the preseason opener. "Should 49ers fans be concerned?" he asks.

Mike Sando: Preseason final scores are pretty much meaningless. How players perform while learning a new offense matters more, but it's too early for panic. You can bet the 49ers will be determined to improve upon their showing against New Orleans. If they look the same or worse, they'll be disappointed and they'll hear about it, but they'll still have time to figure out things before the regular season. If I were the 49ers, I'd be more concerned about losing a key player to injury, particularly a quarterback, than incurring criticisms from those who complain about paying full price for meaningless games, only to analyze those games as if they were worth every penny.

William from Oklahoma City has heard the term "gunslinger" attached to Kevin Kolb, triggering visions of careless play and turnovers. "I don't think the Cards have the defense to cover more turnovers and win games," he writes.

Mike Sando: The gunslinger talk stems at least in part from Kolb's swashbuckling ways off the field. Tales of Kolb disarming a rattlesnake with a boot and killing it with a firearm contribute to the image. There is also this: 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over the past two seasons, and more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11) overall for his career. Kolb thinks the Cardinals' offensive system will allow him to exploit coverages more precisely than he could running a West Coast system in Philadelphia. A few numbers to consider: Kolb has thrown interceptions on 3.5 percent of pass attempts over the past two seasons. That compares to 4.9 percent for Alex Smith over the same span and 2.7 percent for Kurt Warner in 2009, his final season with Arizona.

William from St. Louis thinks the Rams could wind up keeping seven wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster, or possibly spread across the active roster and practice squad. He sees Danario Alexander, Mike Sims-Walker, Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas making it, with Mardy Gilyard beating out Brandon Gibson thanks to superior special-teams value.

Mike Sando: Gibson has worked with the starters all through camp. Teammates have raved about his approach to the game. Gibson will almost certainly be part of the 53-man group. Teams keeping seven receivers generally do so when injuries force their hand. Perhaps a starting wideout is injured, so the team carries another one as insurance while the starter heals. The Rams do have some flexibility at the position because they'll be primarily a one-back team. They do not need to carry a pure fullback on the roster. They could have one of their tight ends, Lance Kendricks or Michael Hoomanawanui, shift into the fullback spot on an as-needed basis.

Back to which receivers will earn roster spots. Amendola makes it for sure. I think both draft picks, Pettis and Salas, will stick on that initial 53. Sims-Walker will make it and could start. Then it comes down to health. Injuries have a way of solving these dilemmas. If Alexander and Avery are healthy and playing at a high level, the team has a choice to make. Avery has practiced well the last couple days, but can he stay on the field? Gilyard has had his moments in camp. I'm just not sure whether the Rams will find a spot for him.

Trenchbroom from Spokane, Wash., wonders what position besides offensive line figures to be most improved for the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

Mike Sando: Wide receiver is a good place to start after the team added Sidney Rice in free agency. The Seahawks have caught the ball exceptionally well this summer. They now have two big targets at receiver. They have a pass-catching tight end (Zach Miller) to give opposing secondaries more to think about. And if they get any consistency from Golden Tate this season, that would further elevate the group. Seattle was better than expected at receiver last season after trading Deion Branch and releasing T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Expectations are higher heading into the upcoming season, and for good reason. The talent is better.

All for now.

Camp Confidential: Seattle Seahawks

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
12:37
PM ET
RENTON, Wash. -- NFL training camps aren't what they used to be now that players have secured day-spa treatment from coaches under the new labor agreement.

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

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

None of this shocks the system for Seattle.

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

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

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

THREE HOT ISSUES

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

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

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

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeRussell Okung
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRussell Okung has shown no signs of the injuries that nagged him last season.
    The ankle injuries that slowed left tackle Russell Okung as a rookie last season haven't been a problem so far. Okung appears exceedingly smooth. He rides out defenders effectively during pass-rush drills, sometimes even driving them to the ground. He's a threat to flatten defenders in the running game. Another recent first-round pick on the line, James Carpenter, has made a positive first impression at right tackle early in camp. He's thick and massive. He plays with an edge. He's going to start in Week 1.
  • Rookie right guard John Moffitt projects as a starter, but he could need time to develop. That was my impression watching Moffitt in drills. Of course, it's not fair comparing Moffitt to Okung or Carpenter. Those guys were first-round picks. Moffitt was a third-rounder. Having youth on the line is a good thing overall. Getting the 31-year-old Gallery into the lineup is critical, however. Gallery has been serving as a coach on the field during practices. He knows Cable's blocking schemes and is already proving valuable as a resource. Durability is a concern for him.
  • Seattle is finished with the big-ticket purchases in free agency. The team could still add veterans at linebacker and kicker. The team lacks experience in the secondary as well. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are the only cornerbacks on the team with more than one start. Going young sounds great during the offseason, but throwing untested corners onto the field against veteran quarterbacks isn't very appealing when the games start counting. The Seahawks face Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning in the first five weeks of the regular season.
  • Strong safety Jeron Johnson and three linebackers -- Mike Morgan, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith -- are among the rookies impressing Seattle early in camp. Another rookie, safety Mark LeGree, is getting a chance to play safety when Thomas, the starter at free, shifts to cornerback against slot receivers. Carroll alluded to such an arrangement during the draft. One more rookie, Pep Levingston, has impressed in early one-on-one pass-rush drills. A defensive tackle at LSU, Levingston projects as an end with Seattle. He's leaner than I had anticipated, an advantage in pass-rush drills.
  • Seven of the 11 cornerbacks on the roster are at least 6 feet tall. Three are 5-foot-11 and one is 5-10. The biggest, Brandon Browner, goes 6-4 and 221 pounds. Impressive? Perhaps, but only three of the 11 have started an NFL game, and none of the three with starting experience stands taller than 5-11.
  • Size is a theme throughout the roster. Mike Williams, Rice and fellow receiver Kris Durham are at least 6-4.
  • The Seahawks might need to find more touches for Leon Washington if they hope to get sufficient return on their investment in him. New rules governing kickoffs figure to diminish the value of Washington and other top returners.
  • Seattle's front office trusted its coaches during free agency. Just about every free-agent addition has ties to a Seahawks staff member. Miller and Gallery played for Cable in Oakland. Jackson and Rice played for Bevell in Minnesota. Defensive tackle Alan Branch was an exception. Seattle added him after failing to land a defensive tackle in the draft. Ideally, Branch would be a backup. He could start for Seattle at three-technique, with Brandon Mebane moving to nose tackle. Branch will also back up Bryant at five-technique.
  • For the second year in a row under Carroll, the Seahawks are piping hip-hop beats and mixes into practices. A disc jockey stands behind two turntables near the front corner of the practices fields. "Halfway home and my pager still blowin' up, today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day ..." Hearing those lyrics from Ice Cube during a recent practice, I couldn't help but wonder what Chuck Knox would think of the arrangement. Did I mention times have changed in the NFL? Just a little.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to part with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round selection for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Somers: "The Cardinals and Eagles have negotiated for the better part of two days, so it's logical to think they have agreed on compensation and that the Cardinals are talking to Kolb's agent, Jeff Nalley, about a new contract. Kolb has a year left on his contract. Nalley did not return phone messages." The price will not matter if Kolb is the right quarterback for the Cardinals. Adding Patrick Peterson in the draft made Rodgers-Cromartie somewhat expendable, particularly with a new scheme emphasizing sound tackling from the position.

Also from Somers: Daryn Colledge is an option for the Cardinals in free agency.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic sizes up quarterback options for the Cardinals. On Kolb: "Big arm, young and very mobile. Still unproven, and he lost his job to Michael Vick. Heck, Kolb might just be an A.J. Feeley redux. Plus, he's expensive. Reportedly, the Cardinals might have to part with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which is pricey enough. Asking for a draft pick too, let alone a first-rounder, amounts to extortion. If you believe all the pundits, this deal has been done for weeks, but the Cardinals are wise to explore other options for leverage purposes if nothing else. Since Tavaris Jackson is headed to Seattle, according to reports on Tuesday, Philadelphia already has lost some leverage."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com will miss Steve Breaston, who has agreed to terms on a deal with Kansas City. Urban: "Personally, he’s a guy I would have liked to stick around (and until he signs another deal elsewhere, I guess the hope remains). But if this offseason hasn’t driven home the point enough, business is business, and that includes the NFL."

Also from Urban: a look at the Cardinals' schedule for training camp.

Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com passes along photos from Rod Mar showing the Seahawks returning to work.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says linebacker Matt McCoy will re-sign with the Seahawks after the team lost Will Herring to New Orleans.

Also from O'Neil: thoughts on Seattle's contract agreement with Sidney Rice. O'Neil: "It's a big-budget deal, but not all that much bigger than the $40 million deal Seattle gave T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2009. Of course, Houshmandzadeh was 31 then, Rice is 24. Houshmandzadeh's yards per reception declined in three successive seasons before coming to Seattle while Rice is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season with more than 1,300 yards receiving."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Rice's addition is consistent with the Seahawks' plans under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. Brewer: "Their goal is to build a championship team with mostly young, athletic 20-something players who possess prototypical size. They want to be an attacking defense-centered team with a mobile quarterback guiding an offense that makes opponents choke on the running game. And they want to build from within, using the draft as their primary resource and filling out the roster with smart free-agency moves that help them acquire players who still have an upside. To be certain, it's not a revolutionary plan. But the entire front office's commitment to it, how it permeates every tactic, is special."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks center Max Unger, who is returning from a toe injury.

Jacob Thorpe of 710ESPN Seattle passes along Brad Childress' thoughts on Tarvaris Jackson. Childress: "He's got plenty of arm, I think he can command a football. I've always believed that an NFL quarterback, it ought to be like a yo-yo on a string. If they say put it on the front shoulder, put it on the front shoulder, if they say put it on the back shoulder, put it on the back shoulder. I wouldn't say anything about his accuracy; I think it's improved over the course of time."

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle provides thoughts on Matt Hasselbeck from the quarterback's former Seahawks teammates. John Carlson: "We knew that was a possibility all along. I wish him the best, I wish he was here, because he's a good friend of mine and he's a leader for this team and this organization. He's beloved in this city for what he does on the field but also what he does off the field, so he will be greatly missed. But this is football and there's a business side to football, as we all saw in this lockout, and he's going to be playing football somewhere else. I wish him luck. Wherever he ends up I wish him luck and wish him well except for when he's playing against us. Matt's a great guy and he's such a tremendous asset in the locker room, but there's been a lot of turnover over the last couple of years. I'm going into my fourth year here and I've had three head coaches and four offensive coordinators, and a lot of turnover in the locker room and the front office, so that's just kind of the way football is, at least in my experience. That's just how it works."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lists rookie free-agent additions for the Rams.

Also from Thomas: Josh McDaniels has much work to do as the Rams' new offensive coordinator. McDaniels: "I'm trying to meet as many of the guys as I can, whether they be new to the building, or guys that were here last year. I haven't met every player yet."

More from Thomas: Jason Snelling and possibly Jerome Harrison are running backs the Rams will consider in free agency.

More yet from Thomas: a look at the Rams' camp schedule.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls colleagues for thoughts on how the lockout will affect the Rams. Jeff Gordon: "Installing a new offense will be a process. I’m sure quarterback Sam Bradford will adapt easily enough after getting a head start on the playbook, but the the team will add rookies and other newcomers to the personnel mix under a new coordinator. Many teams are in similar situations after missing all the work time, but this training camp will become a crash course in the Air McD scheme."

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis says Quintin Mikell will impress Rams fans. Farr: "Oshiomogho Atogwe was more than adequate in this role, but I believe Mikell will be an upgrade. His familiarity with the scheme should allow him to have more leeway to become a playmaker once the opposing offense calls an audible when they smell the blitz coming. Last season this was a major flaw in the Rams defense as teams routinely exposed the holes in the secondary when trying to pressure the quarterback. Seattle backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst had a career day hitting multiple open hot reads in the flats or over the middle once the Rams committed more than four rushers to get after the quarterback. The disguise often worked against the Rams and the Seahawks were able to pick up key first downs that extended drives and bleed valuable clock time."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams appear mostly healthy heading into camp.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers could levy $30,000 daily fines against Frank Gore if the running back does not report for training camp. Also: "The only veteran quarterback on the roster, David Carr, was informed Wednesday that he would be released. Teams are allowed to release players Thursday, beginning at 1:01 p.m. (PT)."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have signed two draft choices and 18 undrafted free agents.

More from Maiocco: Ray McDonald is getting "starter money" from the 49ers as the team shuffles its line prior to the expected departure of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks Eric Weddle's deal with San Diego will affect what Dashon Goldson gets in free agency. Barrows: "He is being pursued by multiple teams, including the 49ers. Earlier in the day, the Chargers re-signed one of their safeties, Eric Weddle, to a contract that will pay him $40 million over five years, including $19 million guaranteed. That's the highest contract ever for a safety and one that should serve as a basis for Goldson's deal."

Also from Barrows: Jim Harbaugh's affinity for the tight end position.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Jeremiah Masoli had a feeling the 49ers would sign him.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle rounds up 49ers-related news, with notes on Gore, Nnamdi Asomugha and more.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and says no Cardinals player is off-limits for trade when it comes to landing a new quarterback. Somers: "The possibility of swapping Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb, however, is more than just the work of minds idled by the lockout. Those discussions will take place whenever the teams are able to discuss the trade, according to NFL sources. Mike Jurecki of KGME-AM (910) reported earlier this week that the Cardinals would offer Rodgers-Cromartie as part of a deal to acquire Kolb. The deal makes sense for both teams." I haven't seen a quote from Whisenhunt specifically saying no players were off-limits, but his comments provided here do nothing to discourage the notion that Arizona would in fact part with Rodgers-Cromartie in a deal for Kolb.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com passes along quotes from Jurecki's recent interview with Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, who says he's recovered from a knee injury that bothered him last season. Urban: "Breaston said the knee that hampered him all season is fine now, but he also didn’t want to talk about it much, saying it meant nothing for him to say he was OK -- only that he needed to prove it on the field. Of course, he’ll have to sign somewhere before he can really show that. He’s been working out with teammates like Adrian Wilson and said he is stronger in his legs, and admitted last year was inconsistent, in part because of the knee. He didn’t have any further surgery, but the rest made a big difference."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' coordinators face challenges this season. Ray Horton: "I like the phrase ‘Water finds the path of least resistance.' I’ll learn on the fly that this guy doesn’t like to be yelled at, this other guy likes to be pushed. I’ve got to be real fluid, real understanding. I have to be on my toes, don’t oversaturate these guys with too much information and that’s a fine line. Mentally I think I am ready. I already know what I don’t want to do. If we miss however many days of training camp, I already know what I’m not going to do. That’s the best thing. Now, I don’t know what we can do, but … we’re going to be fine."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the Rams to have between $12 million and $15 million in salary-cap space once the lockout ends and the cap is set between $120 million and $130 million. That number is lower than the one published on ESPN.com this week. Recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith could carry larger cap numbers thanks to escalator clauses that will hit the books when the league year finally does begin. Salaries for restricted free agents also must be taken into account. Thomas: "So at first glance, it appears there won't be much money to sign outside free agents. But that's not exactly the case. Assuming the old cap rules are in place, only the 51 highest-paid players on the roster count against the cap during training camp and the preseason. With exactly 51 players on the roster at the moment, that means for every player the Rams sign once the lockout lifts and the new labor deal is in place, they'll get to subtract a contract from their 'top 51' cap count."

Also from Thomas: a big-picture look at the Rams. Thomas: "Despite the informal offseason work done by Sam Bradford and the receivers during the lockout, it wasn't the same as being out on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp with the coaching staff and the full squad. So the biggest question of camp is how quickly the Rams can assimilate Josh McDaniels' system? Will McDaniels have to tone it done and simplify it some because of the lockout? Or can a still-young receiver corps get it down, and get it down quickly?"

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times, writing for Sporting News, says a return to the playoffs might be a stretch for the Seahawks this season. O'Neil: "The Seahawks won’t repeat their numerous roster moves of a year ago, but this roster is hardly settled, either. The Seahawks were barely good enough to win the worst division in the NFL and likely won’t see a return to the playoffs, especially given the uncertainty at quarterback. Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are rebuilding this franchise through the draft, and that takes time. A winning record will be asking a lot this season, maybe too much in a division that will be much improved if only because it’s hard to imagine the NFC West getting any worse."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks back at the 2009 season, the one and only for Jim Mora as head coach of the team. Farnsworth: "T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the team’s big free-agent addition during the offseason, led the club with 79 receptions. But he averaged only 11.5 yards on those catches and scored three touchdowns. Matt Hasselbeck passed for 3,000 yards, for the sixth time in eight seasons. But he had only 17 touchdown passes and, worst yet, threw a career-high 17 interceptions. Julius Jones led the team in rushing for the second consecutive season. But he had only 663 yards and averaged 3.7 yards a carry. Second-year tight end John Carlson led the team with seven touchdown catches. But he had fewer receptions (51) and receiving yards (574) than he did as a rookie (55 for 627)."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com takes a look at the 49ers' salary situation for 2011. Maiocco: "The 49ers will re-sign quarterback Alex Smith to a new contract once the new CBA is ratified by the players and owners, and the lockout officially ends. The club will also pursue agreements with many of their other pending free agents, including center David Baas, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive end Ray McDonald and inside linebacker Takeo Spikes."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with NFL Films' Greg Cosell for thoughts on free-agent cornerbacks in relation to the 49ers, offering this regarding Nnamdi Asomugha: "Cosell says that Asomugha is clearly the best press/man-to-man cornerback available. He didn't doubt whether Asomugha was capable of playing zone defenses but noted that he simply has not done that in his career. He also questioned whether Asomugha had the build to be a factor in run support. That is, Cosell wondered whether teams that involved their cornerbacks in the running game -- like the 49ers have in previous years -- would value Asomugha as highly as other teams." Asomugha is 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds. Dunta Robinson, the cornerback Houston drafted in the first round when new 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was on staff, goes 5-9 and 182. Size isn't the only key variable in determining how a cornerback plays, particularly against the run. But if improving their coverage in the secondary is the goal, Asomugha would obviously help.

Mike Rosenberg and Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News assess to what degree a new NFL labor deal could help the 49ers get a new stadium built. Rosenberg and Mintz: "In the ongoing drama of whether the Santa Clara stadium actually will receive enough funding to get built -- at least in time for the 2015 football season -- the league's contribution may be the most important factor. The 49ers front office has never said how much money it expects to get from the league but has remained adamant that it needs at least some help to get the project going. Around the country, the last 13 teams to build new stadiums have done so with league funds, according to a study by Vanderbilt sports economics professor John Vrooman. On average, the NFL has funded 14 percent of the cost to build those stadiums. If that rate holds steady, the 49ers could expect to get $125 million to $140 million from the NFL for its Santa Clara stadium. In the past, NFL loans have been capped at $150 million per team in big markets and were dependent on team owners chipping in at least twice as much of their own cash, usually by selling the rights to premium seats."
Josh from Redding, Calif., could use some help settling an argument. His friends say the Seattle Seahawks haven't used free agency to bring in any Pro Bowl-caliber receivers. Josh points to Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as players with that kind of potential, but he wonders why neither produced for Seattle the way they did for their previous teams.

Branch

Branch


Mike Sando: None of the wide receivers Seattle has signed in free agency during the Hasselbeck era were coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber season when he signed with the Seahawks. Therefore, no one should be surprised that the free-agent receivers Seattle signed during this era failed to reach that level with the team. That is the most direct, succinct answer to your question.

Bobby Engram was coming off a torn ACL when Seattle signed him back in 2001. He enjoyed his best season playing with Hasselbeck. Engram put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers for the team in 2007 with 94 receptions for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. Seattle got as much or more from Engram than the Chicago Bears had gotten from him. But there were no expectations of Pro Bowls when the Seahawks signed him. Engram was simply trying to get healthy.

Branch never put up Pro Bowl numbers before or after signing with Seattle (after the Seahawks acquired him by trade). He suffered a torn ACL in the final game of his second season with the Seahawks. Branch also joined the team at a time when the front office (Tim Ruskell) and head coach (Mike Holmgren) were falling out of sync. Holmgren could have done more to maximize what Branch offered, Ruskell could have done more to make sure Holmgren was getting what he wanted, or a combination of both. By the time Branch was back up to speed physically, Holmgren was gone, Hasselbeck was battling injuries and Branch, through his fat contract, had come to symbolize the unfulfilled expectations of a franchise in decline following its Super Bowl appearance.

Houshmandzadeh had been to one Pro Bowl in eight seasons before signing with Seattle. He was 32 years old and declining during his first season with Seattle. However, his numbers for receiving yards, yards per reception and touchdowns increased from 2008, his final season with Cincinnati, to 2009, his only season with Seattle. Houshmandzadeh, like Branch, came to the organization during a time of transition. He never seemed to mesh with Hasselbeck, either.

Burleson

Burleson


Nate Burleson's numbers with Minnesota had been in decline when Seattle signed him as a free agent in 2006. Burleson had one solid season with the Seahawks. He suffered a torn ACL in the season opener of his third season with the team. Burleson never put up Pro Bowl numbers before or after signing with Seattle.

Seattle simply has not signed Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in free agency during the Hasselbeck era. The team has done well finding solid role players on occasion, from Engram to Joe Jurevicius.

But only three wide receivers in Seahawks history have represented the team in a Pro Bowl. One of them, Alex Bannister, did so as a special-teams player. The others, Steve Largent and Brian Blades, never played with Hasselbeck. Blades was the last Seattle player to represent the team in a Pro Bowl as a wide receiver -- following the 1989 season.

Right off, then, we can say that Hasselbeck wasn't the only Seattle quarterback to spend his Seahawks career throwing to wideouts deemed unworthy of Pro Bowl acclaim.
Jim from Westfield, Ind., wants to know what I was smoking before agreeing that St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola had a shot at 100 receptions in coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense. He thinks 70 receptions would be closer to the "ceiling" for Amendola.

Mike Sando: Amendola broke through that ceiling when he had 85 receptions last season. While I think Amendola will approach 100 receptions under McDaniels, I think he's unlikely to reach the milestone. The Rams should have more options at the position than they had last season. Also, only 26 players have reached 100 receptions in a season since 2000. Only 10 have done so over the past five seasons. It is difficult to do.

This discussion began when Ben from Toledo asked during the latest NFC West chat whether Amendola would become "the new Wes Welker" with 100-plus receptions per season. Welker reached 100 receptions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. McDaniels was his offensive coordinator for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Ben noted that Eddie Royal never reached 100 receptions under McDaniels in Denver despite expectations it could happen. Royal, after all, had caught 91 passes for 980 yards in 2008, the year before McDaniels arrived.

The Denver Post made Royal-to-Welker comparisons after Royal's reception total fell to 37 in 2009. McDaniels had this to say then:
"I know that I'm frustrated and disappointed that we couldn't do more in terms of using Eddie Royal. I've been asked that question a bunch. I know Eddie is frustrated with it, too. I'm not happy with that, and I don't want that to be the case. We're going to work hard to try to fix that and get that to change dramatically going into next season."

Amendola's teammate in St. Louis, A.J. Feeley, saw Welker-like potential in Amendola heading into last season. Feeley on Amendola then:
"He has polished his game. Some of these guys discover themselves after a year of playing and realizing what they can do. The guy is a special player. The guy is going to make plays and have a lot of catches this year ... a poor man's Wes Welker trying to establish himself. He fits that mold right now. The guy is cat quick."

As I mentioned during the chat, it seems as though Welker comparisons crop up everywhere. Amendola fits the profile in that he is also a slot receiver, and he did make 85 receptions last season (Welker had 86). McDaniels adds another link.

However, Roddy White and Reggie Wayne were the only 100-catch receivers in the NFL last season. Neither is a Welker type. And when Welker did catch 123 passes in 2009, he was very much the exception in terms of style. The other 100-catch receivers that year: Andre Johnson, Wayne, Brandon Marshall and the New York Giants' Steve Smith.

The most accurate read on Amendola would simply cast him as the slot receiver in McDaniels' offense, a role Welker once played and one that could lend itself to making lots of receptions.

As for reaching 100? Ten players have done it since 2006. The chart lists those players with their reception totals by season when reaching at least 100.
The 2010 NFL season was a tough one for the Arizona Cardinals on the field.

It wasn't nearly as costly as the 2009 season in terms of cash outlays for salaries. Kurt Warner's retirement and the subtraction of several big-money performers -- Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby come to mind -- reduced cash costs by nearly $30 million.

The chart, based on salary information ESPN's John Clayton maintains, shows year-over-year cash spending for salaries. The Seattle Seahawks' outlays increased by more than $31 million in part because the team ate salaries, including more than $6.6 million for released receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The Cardinals' figure for 2010 ranked lowest in the league, down from 12th the previous season, according to Clayton. Seattle's cash spending jumped from 30th in 2009 to 18th last season. The San Francisco 49ers ranked eighth in cash spending last season after signing Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis to new contracts.

The St. Louis Rams' have allocated larger than usual sums for early draft choices in recent seasons. They drafted no lower than second from 2008 through 2010, forcing them to pay large bonuses.

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen once had enough personal wealth, on paper, to own every team in the NFL and NBA.

Franchise valuations have gone up and Allen's estimated personal wealth has dropped from $30 billion to $13 billion, according to Forbes.

When reading the report saying NFL owners have enough wealth to last them through a 2011 season without games, I'm thinking Allen will be OK no matter how long this lockout drags. Last season, he paid more than $6 million to T.J. Houshmandzadeh after Seattle cut the receiver.

It's only logical, then, that the Seahawks showed up on the New York Daily News' list of teams planning no salary reductions for coaches while the NFL and its players fight over $9 billion in annual revenue.

Other teams on that list: the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys.

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