NFC West: Tom Gamble

We hear quite a bit about NFL coaching trees. Personnel trees can be important, too, as like-minded former associates compete for the same players.

Implications for the latter came to mind Monday when the New York Jets announced Rod Graves' hiring as their senior director of football administration. Graves, the Arizona Cardinals' former long time general manager, will work under new Jets GM John Idzik, an NFC West alum with ties to the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

Look around the league and you'll see connections with implications for NFC West personnel departments. The Seahawks in particular could find themselves competing against their former associates:
  • Jets: Idzik, who was involved mostly with contract negotiations during his time with Graves in Arizona, studied personnel more closely under Seahawks GM John Schneider. He has taken what he learned to the Jets.
  • Packers: Green Bay GM Ted Thompson worked with Schneider for the Packers and in Seattle before taking his current job. There is overlap in their approaches to scouting.
  • Titans: GM Ruston Webster worked with Idzik and Schneider in Seattle before taking a job with Tennessee.
  • Chiefs: New Chiefs GM John Dorsey worked with Schneider and Thompson in Green Bay. Again, there is overlap in their approaches to scouting.
  • Jaguars: New coach Gus Bradley's connection to Seattle is via coaching, but it's already clear he's looking for players similar to the ones the Seahawks have acquired on defense, notably at cornerback.
  • Raiders: GM Reggie McKenzie is another member of the Green Bay personnel tree with strong ties to Schneider.

There are surely other connections I've overlooked. Each person brings his own style to the job, of course, but similarities in their thinking can provide a common philosophical foundation. We'll be on the lookout during future drafts and free-agent signing periods for evidence these teams are, at times, interested in similar players.

Elsewhere, note that the San Francisco 49ers lost one of their highest-ranking personnel people this offseason when Tom Gamble left for the Philadelphia Eagles.
A look at the San Francisco 49ers' offseason to this point ...

What went right: The 49ers kept together their coaching staff, a major victory following a two-year run of success. ... General manager Trent Baalke continued to maximize trade value in ways that should benefit the team for years to come. That included getting a 2013 second-round choice and another early 2014 selection from Kansas City for Alex Smith even though the 49ers might have released Smith in the absence of a trade. ... The 49ers added to their haul of 2014 draft choices, which stands at 10, while still maneuvering around the 2013 board to select the players they had targeted, including safety Eric Reid. ... Management secured a naming-rights deal for the team's new stadium, improving the longer-term debt situation. ... Anquan Boldin and Glenn Dorsey filled immediate needs in free agency without compromising the longer term. ... The 49ers reached a contract extension with 23-year-old right tackle Anthony Davis, who owns 53 regular-season and postseason starts in three NFL seasons. ... The 49ers re-signed guard Adam Snyder on the cheap after receiving a compensatory pick for losing him a year earlier -- not a great move from a personnel standpoint, but one that showed, again, the 49ers' flair for working the system.

What went wrong: Every one of the 49ers' division rivals appeared to get better, reducing the team's margin for error. ... The 49ers lost director of player personnel Tom Gamble to the Philadelphia Eagles. Gamble, Baalke and the personnel staff had worked productively for years. ... Cornerback Chris Culliver, reprimanded for anti-gay remarks made during Super Bowl week, invited further criticism with remarks demeaning women. ... The 49ers were in on the Percy Harvin trade talks, but they weren't willing to pay the price Minnesota commanded ultimately. They could have lived with Harvin landing outside the NFC West instead of with a primary rival. ... Strong markets for Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker made those players' departures all but certain, whereas the team had re-signed Goldson on the relative cheap previously.

The bottom line: The 49ers are still the team to beat the NFC West. They are still good enough to win the division and compete for the Super Bowl. It's just that the road out of the division is more treacherous these days.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
NFL coaching and scouting can be itinerant work.

The San Francisco 49ers' announcement Wednesday that they had made promotions within their scouting department brought into focus crossover within the division.

Matt Malaspina, promoted to college scouting director after eight seasons with the team, previously spent five years with the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Williams, promoted to director of pro personnel, spent the 2009 through 2011 seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

Last offseason, the Seahawks announced Todd Brunner's hiring as an area scout. He had been with the 49ers from 2001 through 2011. The Seahawks in 2010 hired former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan as a top assistant to their own GM, John Schneider, who previously worked with the 49ers' current GM, Trent Baalke, with the Washington Redskins.

One of the Arizona Cardinals' scouts, Chris Culmer, worked previously for the Seahawks.

Teams usually wait til after the draft to make changes to their scouting department.

The changes San Francisco announced followed Tom Gamble's departure to the Philadelphia Eagles in February. Gamble had been the 49ers' director of player personnel, reporting directly to Baalke. The 49ers promoted Joel Patten to fill Gamble's role. Patten previously was director of college scouting.

NFC West links: Cards' James suspended

February, 14, 2013
Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals running back Javarris James has been suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's policy and program for substance abuse, a league spokesman told's Ian Rapoport.

Say cheese, Bruce Arians. The Cardinals' new coach takes his official headshot.

Two Cardinals -- Calais Campbell and Dave Zastudil -- make the cut for USA TODAY Sports' 21st annual All-Joe team.

San Francisco 49ers

Which team is more popular in the San Francisco area -- 49ers or Giants? Ann Killion discovers there's a passionate group of fans who feel strongly about their Niners.

“I’m not just a pass-rusher, I’m an all-around player. What I’m trying to do is establish myself as one the best players, not just the best pass-rusher,” said Aldon Smith, who told's Alex Espinoza that he expects bigger and better things for San Francisco in 2013.

Tom Gamble, the 49ers' director of player personnel, accepted a similar position Wednesday with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch says the timing of Gamble's departure isn't ideal for the Niners.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have hired Travis Jones as the team's new defensive line coach.

Monte Kiffin knows an aggressive secondary when he sees one, and the new Cowboys defensive coordinator plans to use Seattle's defensive scheme as a teaching tool in Dallas. On the offensive side, the Tennessee Titans will examine Seattle's offense for ideas to help out quarterback Jake Locker on zone reads.

St. Louis Rams

At age 41, Tim Walton is on the fast track, but the Rams' new defensive coordinator is not an overnight sensation, says Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Columnist Jeff Gordon says Walton is an "excellent fit" for coach Jeff Fisher's team.

Where West coaches stand as candidates

January, 10, 2013
A few NFC West assistant coaches and personnel evaluators remain in play for jobs elsewhere:

A look at where things stand:
  • Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator: Roman's name has surfaced in connection with head coaching jobs in San Diego and Jacksonville. He has ties to the general managers each of those teams hired recently. Roman and the Chargers' new general manager, Tom Telesco, were college teammates and even roommates. Roman and new Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell also played together in college and worked together with the Carolina Panthers. The Jaguars are expected to have interest in Roman after firing Mike Mularkey, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Losing Roman could put more pressure on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to oversee the offense. Harbaugh's background is on offense, so the 49ers appear to have some protection on that side of the ball. Niners players have referred to Roman as an offensive genius, however, so it's clear Roman would be missed.
  • Tom Gamble, 49ers director of player personnel: Gamble is reportedly a leading candidate to replace Mike Tannenbaum as the New York Jets' general manager.
  • Gus Bradley, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator: Philadelphia received permission to speak with Bradley about its head coaching vacancy. Rules allowed for contact this week, but the Seahawks are focused on a divisional-round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Eagles have quite a few known candidates. They appear to be in no rush. No clear favorite has emerged. Bradley is in the mix, at least. Head coach Pete Carroll's background is on defense. That would appear to provide some insurance for the Seahawks if Bradley took a job elsewhere.
  • Darrell Bevell, Seahawks offensive coordinator: The Chicago Bears received permission to speak with Bevell, an NFC North alum via the Minnesota Vikings. Line coach Tom Cable coordinates the running game for Seattle. The Seahawks would look to keep their offensive system if Bevell departed. Cable's presence provides some insurance.
  • Brian Schottenheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator: Schottenheimer quickly emerged as a candidate in Jacksonville once the Jaguars fired Mularkey. Schottenheimer interviewed for this job one year ago before the team chose Mularkey. If Schottenheimer left, the Rams would presumably hire a replacement from the outside and try to keep a similar offensive system in place. Quarterback Sam Bradford has changed coordinators every season. The Rams would want a smooth transition if Schottenheimer did take a job elsewhere. Still, adjusting to yet another coordinator would likely come at a price for Bradford.
  • Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator: The NFC West assistant considered most likely to generate interest this offseason appears to have little going at this time. He remains a candidate to succeed Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, it appears. But there's been little buzz on the Horton front lately.
Happy New Year, everybody.

A few notes on this first day of 2013:
  • The Arizona Cardinals said they plan to interview Andy Reid, Ray Horton and Mike McCoy as potential replacements for Ken Whisenhunt;
  • Steve Keim is a candidate to replace fired Cardinals general manager Rod Graves;
  • Tom Gamble, right-hand man to San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke, will interview for jobs with Jacksonville and the New York Jets;
  • Greg Roman, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, could be a head-coaching candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles;
  • Brandon Jacobs' release from the 49ers was a formality. He wasn't going to play again this season anyway;
  • Even though the Associated Press' award announcements are weeks away, voting closes Thursday. That means the playoff game featuring Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawks and Robert Griffin III's Washington Redskins won't affect offensive rookie of the year balloting;
  • Seattle welcomed back starting cornerback Brandon Browner from a four-game suspension after losing another corner, Walter Thurmond, to injured reserve;
  • ESPN's final Power Rankings of the season are coming later Tuesday.
Brian Banks' NFC West tour has apparently run its course for now.

The free-agent linebacker, exonerated following his wrongful imprisonment on a rape charge, did not sign with San Francisco after completing a three-day tryout with the 49ers. The same was true after Banks worked out for the Seattle Seahawks, also over three days.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says that's no surprise. Barrows: "Banks is working his way back in football shape and will resume training in Orange County. He's now had workouts with the 49ers, Seahawks, Chargers and Chiefs. Other teams have shown interest, but with most coaches and general managers on vacation, Banks does not have any workouts lined up in the near future. Neither Jim Harbaugh nor Trent Baalke, for example, were on hand this week for Banks' 49ers tryout."

Matt Maiocco of says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (on a mission trip to Peru) and general manager Trent Baalke (recently in Minnesota to complete a marathon) were not in attendance for Brian Banks' recent three-day workout. Maiocco: "Brad Seely, assistant head coach/special teams coordinator, is running the practices this week. And director of player personnel Tom Gamble is evaluating the workouts in place of Baalke."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers thoughts on how the 49ers' quarterbacks performed this offseason.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists players the 49ers have acquired since Baalke became the 49ers' general manager. Cohn: "Baalke’s acquisitions on defense and special teams have been brilliant. But how’s he doing on offense? He’s doing OK, but not as well. None of his additions to the offense has earned a trip to a Pro Bowl, and I wouldn’t rank any of them in the top-15 players on the team."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks have a good shot at fielding a top-10 defense in 2012. Boling: "Four key players were in their first season as starters: Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman. And Alan Branch was in his first season with the team. All those players are returning with a full off-season to further settle into their roles. Browner, particularly, struggled to find a balance between coverage that was physical and coverage that drew flags. We may assume that will be less a problem."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice has put on 11 pounds of muscle in an effort to improve his durability, according to Rice. Rice: "I feel like that's the right thing to do as well so I can take the pounds, the hits across the middle and things like that, whatever I have to do for this team."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says it's unclear whether Clark Haggans will face punishment from the NFL after serving a jail sentence for extreme DUI. Somers: "If the NFL does punish Haggans, the severity of the penalty depends upon Haggans' status in the NFL's substance-abuse program. According to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Haggans had a DUI in 2004. It's not known if Haggans is in the league program. That's seven years between known incidents, and players can emerge from the program in a much shorter period, provided they comply with standards."

Note: Looks like the St. Louis Rams have the morning off from Around the NFC West.

A spin around NFC West front offices

February, 11, 2012
A quick look at front-office happenings around the NFC West:
  • Seattle: Longtime Seahawks personnel evaluator Will Lewis is no longer with the team, Adam Schefter reports. Lewis had been vice president of football operations following a long stint as pro personnel director. He stayed with the team when John Schneider arrived as general manager, and the fit seemed good because the two had worked together in Green Bay. The team's flow chart became a bit top-heavy, in retrospect, when former San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan joined the team as senior personnel executive in June 2010.
  • San Francisco: Trent Baalke's three-year contract extension through 2016 seemed like a matter of when, not if, following the teams' 13-3 record. Just about every move the 49ers made contributed to their deep playoff run. Baalke's top lieutenant, Tom Gamble, has interviewed for the GM job in St. Louis. The 49ers do not want to lose him, but with Baalke signed for the long term, the front-office dynamic should remain similar either way.
  • Arizona: Steve Keim, the Cardinals' director of player personnel, has also interviewed for the Rams' GM job. He has been with Arizona since 1999, an unusually long run with one organization. Rod Graves is the general manager, but Keim carries a significant part of the personnel load. The team lists director of pro personnel T.J. McCreight, director of football administration Reggie Terry and assistant pro personnel director Quentin Harris next on its football operations list. They joined the Cardinals in 2009 (McCreight), 2007 (Terry) and 2008 (Harris).
  • St. Louis: The latest report from St. Louis suggests the 49ers and Cardinals need not worry about losing top execs to a division rival this offseason. Minnesota's George Paton and Atlanta's Les Snead have emerged as finalists for the GM job, with Paton as the most likely choice, Jim Thomas reports. Check out Paton's profile here.

Enjoy your Saturday.
Aaron Levine's report about the Seattle Seahawks hoping to bring a Super Bowl to the Northwest sent me back through notes to a 2002 interview with team owner Paul Allen.

The Seahawks were about to open their new stadium at the time, so it was natural to ask Allen whether the organization could bring a Super Bowl to Seattle.

"It is certainly do-able," Allen said at the time. "The league, there hasn’t been one in a northern city for some time. There is some talk of New York and Washington. Certainly, our hat is in the ring if they decide to look beyond cities like that."

The recent positive Super Bowl experience in Indianapolis would seem to help.

"I think probably it will be in another Northern city first," Allen said during that 2002 interview, "and if it’s a positive experience, hopefully some momentum will build."

CenturyLink Field is an open-air facility, however, and that could be a problem. The NFL sent the Super Bowl to Indianapolis knowing Lucas Oil Stadium would shield fans and players from inclement weather. Indianapolis is also a major-league destination for conventions. Skywalks connect downtown hotels.

Steve Rudman of Sports Press Northwest looks at Shaun Alexander's Hall of Fame credentials following Cortez Kennedy's induction. He compares Alexander's production to that for Curtis Martin, something I'll break out later on the blog.

Darren Urban of breaks out pertinent NFL dates and makes this notation about the Cardinals regarding free agency: "The Cards have four restricted free agents (guys who could leave, but the Cards, if they tender an offer, have right of first refusal): running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, linebacker Reggie Walker, safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Greg Toler." Note: Re-signing unrestricted free agent Calais Campbell has to be the top priority as far as addressing players already on the roster.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a general manager. The 49ers' Tom Gamble is next up, with Minnesota's George Paton up for a second interview. Thomas: "Gamble will be the ninth candidate to interview for the job. The others: Paton; Joey Clinkscales, vice president of college for the New York Jets; Lake Dawson, vice president of player personnel for Tennessee; Brian Gaine, director of player personnel for Miami; Ryan Grigson, director of player personnel for Philadelphia; Ron Hill, vice president of football operations for the NFL; Steve Keim, director of player personnel for Arizona; and Les Snead, director of player personnel for Atlanta. Grigson has since been hired as general manager by Indianapolis."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams have signed an offensive lineman from the CFL.

Matt Maiocco of takes a look at how the 49ers' receivers performed in 2011. On Josh Morgan: "Morgan's rehab is ahead of schedule, and he should be able to participate in the entire offseason program. He is scheduled to be a free agent, and it would seem to make sense for the sides to agree on a contract for next season. In five games, Morgan caught 15 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco 49ers looks at which draft choices the 49ers hold for 2012.

On Rams' GM search targeting rivals

February, 6, 2012
News that the St. Louis Rams are considering San Francisco's Tom Gamble and, earlier, Arizona's Steve Keim as general manager candidates makes sense from at least one perspective.

Both men would give new coach Jeff Fisher direct, inside knowledge of teams the Rams must beat to become competitive again. St. Louis went 0-6 in the NFC West this past season. Fisher was not in the NFL last season. He was previously in the AFC South. He'll have a full offseason to study the Rams' division rivals, but Gamble and Keim would bring institutional knowledge an NFC West outsider would not.

The 49ers have focused on re-signing their own players and avoiding big free-agent purchases in recent seasons. Gamble would presumably bring to St. Louis the same mindset -- one Fisher was familiar with while working with GM Mike Reinfeldt in Tennessee.

Minnesota's George Paton is also among those under consideration, having received a second interview. From Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Paton is highly regarded within the Vikings organization, and his responsibilities are expected to expand should he stay in Minnesota. Paton played a large role in the trade for defensive end Jared Allen in 2008."

Finding a GM with the personality and people skills to work well with Fisher stands as a leading consideration for the Rams.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton isn't the only Arizona Cardinals employee expected to interview with the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Steve Keim, director of player personnel, has surfaced as a candidate on the general manager front, according to Mike Jurecki of XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix.

This is good strategy by the Rams even if they're still focusing primarily on hiring Jeff Fisher as head coach and a Fisher-vetted candidate for GM. The team gets a chance to learn more about its rivals in the division -- rivals that went 6-0 against St. Louis this season and 20-4 against the Rams since 2007.

Keim's name has surfaced previously in media speculation surrounding jobs in the division. That was the case back before the Seattle Seahawks hired John Schneider as general manager. Keim never interviewed with Seattle. His standing took a hit when the Cardinals went 5-11 last season and 1-6 to open 2011. But with the Cardinals rallying to 8-8, the overall success Arizona has enjoyed since 2007 comes back into focus.

The Rams would be wise to check out other candidates in the division as well. San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are two assistants I would investigate. Both have overseen units that have gone young over the last few seasons. The 49ers' overall success under Jim Harbaugh should make Roman appealing. Seattle's defensive improvement has been striking.

The fact that current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll retained Bradley from Jim Mora's staff and kept him in place as coordinator also speaks well of Bradley. How many defensive-minded head coaches retain the defensive coordinators they inherit from previous regimes? That is highly unusual.

Seattle's assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable also stands out as a candidate to consider. Cable's history with Oakland included some controversial moments, but the Rams would have to like the way Seattle's ground game kept getting strong production despite suffering injuries similar to the ones that undermined the Rams' offense.

The Seahawks' ability to identify and acquire young talent through the draft and off the street should make members of their personnel department appealing to the Rams. Vice president of football operations Will Lewis and senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan are the most experienced high-ranking members of Schneider's staff. Both were with the Green Bay Packers with Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson in the 1990s; McCloughan helped to acquire much of the 49ers' current talent while serving in senior positions with the team.

The 49ers' more recent success in the draft and free agency reflects well on Tom Gamble, the team's director of player personnel.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up the 49ers' inside linebackers. Lynch: "The best thing the 49ers do as a team is play inside linebacker. The reputed Patrick Willis remains the team's best player and largely because of his talents, the 49ers are excellent against the run. Last season may have been Willis's most challenging. Teams figured they had to run away from Willis or be devoured. Opposing offenses decide to run offensive linemen at Willis instead of running backs and his tackle total for the season dropped. Nevertheless, the 49ers dropped just two places from fourth to sixth according to in their effectiveness against the run. Even though Willis wasn't always making the tackle, they were still able to cage running backs. Why? Two words: Takeo Spikes." The 49ers' signing of Spikes before the 2008 season stands as one of the better low-profile moves an NFC West team has made in recent seasons. He projected as a one- or two-year stopgap initially, but Spikes has started 44 of 48 games. He's been credited with six interceptions and 16 passes defensed. At age 34, he does not appear finished.

Matt Maiocco of explains how 49ers kicker Fabrizio Scaccia can play in the Arena League during the lockout. The Cardinals' Cliff Louis is doing the same thing. Maiocco: "The players are required to report to their NFL teams when the lockout ends. The AFL is in Week 6 of their 18-game regular season. The Arena Bowl, the league championship, is scheduled for Aug. 12. Scaccia also played last fall with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Tom Gamble and Tom Rathman were there when Eastern Washington University's Taiwan Jones ran for scouts. Branch: "Jones, perhaps the draft’s most tantalizing running-back prospect, clocked 40-yard dash times that ranged anywhere from 4.28 to 4.35 seconds, according to the figures from the phalanx of scouts on hand. Perspective: On a different surface, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott had the fastest 40 (4.34) among running backs at the NFL Combine and Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke had the fastest time overall (4.28). Jones also registered some other eye-opening measurables, including a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump, five inches shy of the all-time combine record."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gives the Cardinals a "C" grade for the first-round selections they've made since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. The grade isn't any better for the second and third rounds. Somers on the first-rounders: "Levi Brown is the most controversial of the four, partly because the Cardinals passed on running back Adrian Peterson to take him. Whisenhunt defends Brown, who moved from right tackle to left in 2010, calling him an improving player. But Brown has been average, at best, and more is expected of a fifth pick. A bust? I don't say that. But more was/is expected. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took a step back last year after making great progress his first two years. A Pro Bowler in 2009, he’s been worth the first-round pick. Wells has yet to live up to expectations, but I've seen the Cardinals give up too early on other backs. A little patience could pay dividends. Dan Williams showed improvement in the latter half of the 2010 season."

Darren Urban of profiles new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who likes keeping people off-balance -- on the field and with the braided hair he wears. Urban: "In Horton’s world, he doesn’t want to be that predictable. He’ll drive to work various routes. If he’s playing golf, he may use a 6-iron on a particular shot and then, if a similar shot comes up again, try to 8-iron, just to see the difference. He’s also got the hair, which he started growing in Pittsburgh and -- when no one said anything -- just kept growing it, in part egged on by his players." Said Cardinals assistant DeShea Townsend: "Most coaches don’t have the good hair. That’s how I see it. This is his Samson moment."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' offensive linemen are working out together during the lockout. Thomas: "We train on Tuesdays and Thursdays together as a group. That way we get some camaraderie and cohesiveness that everybody who knows anything about football knows is important for our group. So we train together twice a week, and then most of us train there at other times during the day on a one-on-one basis [with a personal trainer]."

Also from Thomas: Draft prospects visiting the Rams hung out in the late Georgia Frontiere's posh suite at Rams Park, dining on steaks catered by Ruth's Chris. Julio Jones and Corey Liuget were among the 19 confirmed attendees.

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams were better than expected at defensive end last season, including backups. Wagoner: "C.J. Ah You’s performance came as a bit of a surprise on the heels of his return from a season-ending knee injury in 2009. But he answered the bell as a third-down pass rush specialist as he was fourth on the team with four sacks and 10 quarterback hits and pressures while also showing the versatility to move inside. As a seventh-round choice, George Selvie impressed coaches with a strong preseason before he was put on the sidelines early with a foot injury. Selvie pushed through and contributed 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits while also proving solid against the run."

Clare Farnsworth of says former receiver Michael Bumpus is giving soccer a try. Writes Mark Gaschk of "He started playing club soccer at age 13 with Santa Monica United and played his high school soccer at Culver City High School, where he was one of the better defenders in the region and was heavily recruited. He even went to Europe with his club team, where the soccer bug had him fully enraptured. However, when it came time to decide on his future in his senior year of high school, the scholarships he was being offered to play football outweighed a scenario that would have him playing soccer and paying his own way through college."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times provides a chat transcript featuring former Seahawks coach Jim Mora. Mora says the Eagles would be a great fit for Jake Locker. Also from Mora: "I'd like to see them re-sign Matt (Hasselbeck) just because I have so much respect for him and he's such an institution here in Seattle. But I think it's irresponsible as an organization if you don't address the future at such an important position as quarterback. And I think they've tried to address the future with the signing of Whitehurst and they'll continue to do so." But he thinks selecting Locker wouldn't be a great idea for Seattle.

Around the NFC West: What Rams need

January, 10, 2011
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at what the Rams have on offense and what they need heading into the offseason. Thomas on what the line needs: "You can get by with one 'finesse' blocker at guard, but not two. The Rams need a road grader there to help with run blocking and to neutralize wide-body DTs. One of the season's mysteries was why the Rams couldn't get John Greco in uniform over the second half of the season. The run blocking was at its best when Greco was part of a time-share at right guard with Adam Goldberg. A smart, tenacious player who helped keep Smith settled down on the right side, Goldberg lacked the bulk to handle bull rushes and power moves inside; he's scheduled for unrestricted free agency. At center, Jason Brown didn't play as well as he did in 2009. At left guard, Jacob Bell had some problems with power players but was generally effective." Adding a more dynamic threat at receiver could also help open up running lanes. Teams were able to load up against the run without enough regard for giving up the big play. That made life tougher for the linemen in ground game.

Also from Thomas: what the Rams have on defense and what they need. Thomas on what the team needs at linebacker: "A quality weakside linebacker, someone with range who can play the run and the pass, is one of the Rams' top overall needs. In an ideal world, this guy could also rush the passer. Too often the Rams got burned on outside runs because they couldn't hold the perimeter, or couldn't get to the edge in time. Too often, opposing running backs and tight ends leaked out late as receivers with the Rams slow to detect them, which meant what should have been small gains turned into costly bigger ones. Better play at outside linebacker would help shore up these problem areas."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hands out end-of-season awards for the Rams. He says it was "disgraceful" for the team to fire longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt. Miklasz: "One thing I've learned from watching the good and the bad at Rams Park for the last 16 years is this: It's never healthy for coaches to worry about things that have nothing to do with winning or losing games. It's never healthy for coaches to be insecure about having 'their' guys in place all over the building. Hewitt was loyal to the Rams because he deeply loves the franchise -- which means he was loyal to Steve Spagnuolo and to all of the men who have passed through as the head coach."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether familiarity with the Chicago Bears can help the Seahawks when the teams play in the divisional-playoff round. Safety Lawyer Milloy: "I think it always helps. We know what to expect. We beat Chicago in their home stadium, but they’re definitely a different and better team since the last time we played them."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks will face an improved Bears offense when the teams meet for the second time this season. Farrar: "In the second half of the season, the Bears have used pre-snap motion as often and as effectively as any team in the league. On their first play from scrimmage against the New York Jets in Week 16, the first formation was an empty backfield before running back Matt Forte and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna motioned into the backfield, changing the Jets’ interior defensive structure and loosening up the run defense enough for Forte to gain four yards. On the next play, Devin Hester’s motion from right to left forced the defensive backfield to shoft that way, which left Forte with an opening outside for an additional five yards on the ground. When extra blocking was needed, Manumaleuna might motion from inline to an I-formation or H-back look in order to give second-level protection and allow Jay Cutler to move and roll out in the pocket, and this was a major improvement."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says money isn't the only factor when it comes to the Cardinals re-signing Larry Fitzgerald. Somers: "The team needs an upgrade at quarterback to improve upon its 5-11 record this season, and to convince Fitzgerald that the offense is heading in the right direction. Fitzgerald caught 90 passes for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns this season, but he was open on numerous other occasions, and the quarterbacks had trouble getting him the ball. At this point, the Cardinals probably are doing most of the talking, and agent Eugene Parker likely is doing more listening."

Darren Urban of says the word "preliminary" in relation to contract talks can mean very little is going on substantively. Urban: "But the Cards have never been anything but sure they wanted to keep him long-term, and I have always thought his remaining in Arizona was the most likely outcome."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers will make some changes to their front office. Maiocco: "Tom Gamble, director of pro personnel, will become the team's director of player personnel. Gamble has been in the NFL for 23 seasons, the past six with the 49ers. He has worked for nine playoff teams -- five with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Philadelphia Eagles. After the promotion of Gamble, the 49ers plan to hire an experienced NFL executive to serve in a senior football advisor role."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky interviews with Carolina.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at ties between the defense Dom Capers runs in Green Bay and the one Vic Fangio is expected to run with the 49ers. Barrows: "The two started coaching professional football together under (the elder) Jim Mora for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL. That team's famed 'Doghouse Defense' blitzed often and was one of the first to bring pass rushers from an array of angles. Many of the blitzes Capers uses today had their origins in the USFL 25 years ago and the experience influenced both men. The Stars appeared in all three of the league's championship games and won two of them."

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' hiring of Jim Harbaugh stands as a coming-of-age moment for team president Jed York, who understands why people are skeptical about a leadership team featuring York and first-time general manager Trent Baalke. York: "I'm 29 years old, Trent's a first-time general manager. People are going to have questions. And we haven't done anything yet. It's time to get to work."
A few notes from 49ers president Jed York's conference call with reporters following Trent Baalke's promotion to vice president of player personnel:

  • The 49ers complied with the Rooney Rule, though York would not say which minority candidates he interviewed;
  • Joel Patten's hiring as college scouting director comes in conjunction with David McCloughan's departure from that post;
  • Pro personnel director Tom Gamble will focus some on college personnel because York thinks it's important for guys on the pro side to have their own gut feel for college prospects, meaning they won't be entirely dependent on reading reports from guys on the college side;
  • Baalke's power will be somewhat narrower than the powers of a general manager. He won't oversee areas relating to budgets or contract negotiations, for example. Baalke's experience is in personnel and his responsibilities reflect that focus;
  • Mike Singletary will continue to hire and fire assistant coaches;
  • Baalke, Singletary and executive vice president of business and football operations Paraag Marathe all report to York.

The structure seems to make sense on the surface. As noted previously, maintaining continuity in the short term had to be a top priority.
The 49ers announced a few moves Thursday that pretty much affirm their commitment to stay the course through at least the 2010 season.

Trent Baalke becomes vice president of player personnel after serving as director of player personnel for two seasons under general manager Scot McCloughan. Baalke had taken over most of McCloughan's duties after McCloughan left the organization in March. The 49ers said Baalke will "oversee all aspects of player personnel, including the draft, free agency, trades and re-signings" while continuing to manage the college and pro scouting departments.

Pro personnel director Tom Gamble takes on additional duties on the college side. Joel Patten, a former Redskins scout who spent 2009 as a regional scout for the Rams becomes college scouting director, as previously reported. Matt Malaspina becomes national scout. The team has hired Bob Morris, formerly of the Browns, to scout the south region, with scout Justin Chabot moving from south to southeast.

These moves allow the 49ers to maintain continuity at a critical time. The team can reevaluate after the 2010 season. Hiring new leadership from the outside right now would potentially undermine coach Mike Singletary, his staff and quarterback Alex Smith. That would have served no one in the short term, and the short term is what matters most after the 49ers improved to 8-8 last season. This team appears in position to make a strong run for the NFC West title and automatic playoff berth.

Retaining Baalke was pretty much a given unless he faltered badly during the draft or subsequently. The team appears to have stayed the course with Baalke, so there was no obvious need to make changes.