NFC West: Todd McFarlane

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Michael Crabtree's arrival at the San Francisco 49ers' player-organized practices was notable for what the receiver said about quarterback Alex Smith. In short, Crabtree would not play along with the idea that Smith appears likely to serve as the starting quarterback in the short term, while rookie Colin Kaepernick develops. The leadership role Smith has assumed in organizing workouts seems valid based on public endorsements from coach Jim Harbaugh. Crabtree could diffuse the situation by going along with the premise. Instead, he's playing into perceptions that something isn't right between quarterback and receiver. Smith previously played into those perceptions by questioning why Crabtree hadn't shown up for workouts to this point. Barrows: "When I asked Crabtree if he thought throwing with the quarterback was beneficial toward improving chemistry, he asked, 'Who's the quarterback?' When I responded, Alex Smith, Crabtree said, 'He's the quarterback? I'm just asking.' Later Crabtree said, 'Whoever the quarterback is, I'm gonna do my job. I'm going to do the best I can to get whatever he needs. You know what I'm saying?"

Also from Barrows: the newspaper version of his story on the 49ers' workouts.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says tight end Vernon Davis continues to express support for Smith. Davis and Smith have an obvious rapport on the field. Crabtree and Smith have not yet developed such a rapport.

Also from Branch: This is not the first time teammates have lauded Smith for his leadership during the offseason.

More from Branch: Crabtree, Smith and that elusive rapport.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers' workouts, which feature Smith breaking down plays on video.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Crabtree defended his decision to stay away from team workouts to this point. Crabtree described himself as a hard worker.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com recalls Warren Moon's 1997 season with Seattle, punctuated by a 409-yard passing performance against Oakland in the Kingdome.

Also from Farnsworth: That 1997 season was significant for Walter Jones' arrival through the draft and Paul Allen's arrival as team owner. Farnsworth: "It was Allen’s leadership from the top and Jones’ domination from the pivotal left tackle spot that eventually would help carry the Seahawks to the most successful five-season stretch in club history: 2003-07, when they played in the franchise’s only Super Bowl; went to the playoffs each season; won four consecutive NFC West championships; and posted a 51-29 regular-season record."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic uses research from Pro Football Focus as a starting point for revisiting the Cardinals' performance in pass protection last season. While offensive lines are most instrumental in protection, the other six players on the field can also play roles. Somers: "I thought the Cardinals were poor in this department in 2010, especially in contrast to the two prior seasons. Running back Tim Hightower entered the season with a well-earned reputation as being excellent at picking up the blitz. He was not nearly as good in that area in 2010. It's not Beanie Wells' strength, either. The team's tight ends also struggled in pass blocking, but sometimes that's because they were matched up one-on-one with defensive ends. That's a tough job for a tight end."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com unveils Todd McFarlane's figurine showing Larry Fitzgerald reaching the ball across the goal line.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com profiles first-round draft choice Robert Quinn. Wagoner: "Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is based on the idea of creating and generating relentless, consistent pressure on the quarterback. That’s Quinn’s specialty so while he might not start right away as he learns to become a complete player from the likes of Chris Long and James Hall, Quinn will likely jump in right away in passing situations with the specific instructions to get after the quarterback."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis looks at what Plaxico Burress would offer the Rams and other NFL teams looking for help at receiver. Softli: "Adding a red-zone threat brings immediate value. The question is whether the Rams should groom the picks for the future or add Burress and take a roster spot and reps away from young players. Coach Steve Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator with the Giants and saw Burress up close in living color. He understands and has the best insight into Burress' mindset, personality and his relationship with others in the locker room and his professional acumen." The more I consider the situation, the less likely I see the Rams setting aside a roster spot for an older receiver coming off a prison stint.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams should probably stay away from Burress.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Oregon State assistant Mark Banker for thoughts on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Banker was an assistant with the Chargers when Harbaugh was finishing his playing career with San Diego. Branch: "Banker, who served for one year as the Chargers defensive coordinator, described Stanford under Harbaugh as a smash-mouth running team with a sophisticated NFL passing attack that made effective use of its tight ends. In Banker’s estimation, the core principles of Stanford’s offense will easily transfer to the NFL and he expects the 49ers’ attack to mirror the Cardinal’s in many ways." ESPN's Brock Huard, who called Pac-10 games this past season, also emphasized the power element of Harbaugh's offense when I asked him about it last month.

Also from Branch: There might not be a quarterback worth drafting in the first round for the 49ers.

Joe Staley of the 49ers blogs about life in the offseason, with this note on the coaching staff: "One of the coaches who is still around from last season is my o-line coach, Mike Solari. I like the fact that he’s still around and I think it’s especially good for the rookies Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. Solari just has a good rapport with all of the players and he knows who we are, what we do and what we respond to. So him still being here is great."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at the 49ers' running backs, noting that Frank Gore became an even bigger part of the offense in 2010. Maiocco on backup Anthony Dixon: "Dixon is a big, powerful back who needs to learn how to run like a big, powerful back. He definitely showed flashes with some very nice runs. But he also frustrated the coaching staff with too much dancing, some missed assignments and difficulty with the simple things, such as making sure he was wearing the right kind of cleats to maintain traction on slippery fields. Dixon played just 16 offensive snaps in the first 10 games before Gore's injury. Dixon finished with 237 yards rushing on 70 rushing attempts. He should continue to prove that he is capable of taking on a larger role in the offense."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers need more pass-rush pop from their outside linebackers.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says cornerback Bryant McFadden was "shocked" and a little "astonished" when the Cardinals traded him back to the Steelers. McFadden did not meet expectations with the Cardinals, but the team was not better at cornerback without him. McFadden on the two defensive systems: "Our defense is difficult but, once you get it, you feel comfortable. We just play football. There (Arizona) it was different. You see things and think, 'It may work, it may not work.' Every coach doesn't coach the same. Every person don't walk the same." Three other differences: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explores receiver Steve Breaston's fascination with comic books. Breaston got to hang out with Todd McFarlane, who drew for Marvel comics and created the "Venom" character associated with Spider-Man. Urban: "A huge fan of comics, including the McFarlane-create Spawn, Breaston reached out to the Tempe-based McFarlane to set up a meeting. The two did Wednesday at The McFarlane Companies offices just down the street from the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, talking for two hours. Breaston got a short rundown on how McFarlane builds and sells its SportsPicks line of athlete action figures, and then sat down in McFarlane’s office to talk comics."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune outlines the Seahawks' draft needs and checks in with analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on the available quarterbacks. Rang on Missouri's Blaine Gabbert: "He’s got a big arm. He’s got a quick release for a big guy, and that’s very rare for a big quarterback. He uses his feet well, and so it leads you to believe that he can make that transition. He reads defenses well -- he does all of those things well. He just doesn’t have the eye-popping statistics. … When it’s all said and done with Blaine Gabbert, I believe he’s going to be end up being a top 5 to top 7 pick."

Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times says Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto interviewed for a job as defensive coordinator at UCLA. This would stand as a significant step forward for Seto, who helps coach Seattle's secondary. And with a lockout potentially looming in the NFL, now isn't a bad time to consider college options, anyway.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Greatest Show on Turf would have been as great if Jerome Bettis had stayed with the Rams. Bernie Miklasz: "Absolutely not. It’s not even a discussion. Bettis was a power runner. A good one. But a one-dimensional runner. Faulk was the greatest all-purpose back in NFL history. He’s the best receiver/RB in league history. From 1999 through 2001, the Rams scored 500-plus points each year and Faulk had 44 percent of the team’s touches from scrimmage during that time. He had nearly 70 percent of the rushing yards. He caught more passes than Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt. He had more TD catches than Holt, and only five fewer than Bruce. I hope this slams the door shut on the question."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford's freshly cut hair is getting mixed reviews. Bradford: "My friends in Oklahoma, obviously, it doesn't matter what I do. I'm going to hear about it. All the girls back home really like it. They were excited when I told them I was cutting my hair."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says former Rams linebacker Kevin Greene would make a logical choice to address the Packers before the Super Bowl.

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