NFC West: Tony Softli

Pete Carroll and his Seattle Seahawks coaching staff have shown little use for conventional wisdom.

They've built a strong, ascending defense in decidedly unconventional fashion. As discussed Tuesday, we'll be better off setting aside the usual templates when analyzing what Carroll and the Seahawks might do at quarterback.

Yes, it is possible the team will go into the 2012 regular season with a rookie third-round quarterback standing less than 5-foot-11. Russell Wilson will need a strong exhibition season and training camp to make that happen, of course.

Tony Softli, former personnel evaluator for the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams, backed Wilson as an immediate threat to Matt Flynn. He also called Wilson a future star.

"Flynn will have his hands full in a training camp competition against this star in the making," Softli predicted.

A big thanks to Nick Andron for passing along what has to be the most in-depth analysis on Wilson to date.

Matt Waldman's debut piece for Football Outsiders ran in early April, before the draft and well before Wilson made a positive first impression during offseason practices. Waldman studied three games from Wilson's career at North Carolina State, each against a strong ACC opponent. He saw a smart, resourceful player with a strong arm, uncanny deep-ball accuracy (even on the move) and solid fundamentals. He stopped short of guaranteeing Wilson's success, but he saw parallels between Wilson and Drew Brees.

"Considering the examples from Wilson's junior year in the Atlantic Coast Conference where he’s effective on deep passes off play-action, throws receivers open, and improvises on the move, his potential to develop into an NFL quarterback is better than his height may indicate," Waldman wrote. "Still, it is reasonable to approach Wilson’s NFL prospects with skepticism. Brees never overcame doubts from the organization that drafted him. ... However, as Brees, Tom Brady, Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, and several others have demonstrated, careers don’t end due to an inauspicious beginning."

There has been nothing inauspicious about Wilson's beginning to this point. He's fallen into a perfect situation, one featuring an open-minded coaching staff, no established starter and a zone scheme requiring quarterback movement.
The San Francisco 49ers' recently posted item on former defensive back Eric Davis joining the radio broadcast booth does not mention one detail.

Gary Plummer is out.

It's too early to say whether Davis will take on the team as strongly or frequently as Plummer did while in the role from 1998 through last season. If he does, I would expect him to do so with less volume and possibly upon further reflection.

Plummer wasn't afraid to level sharp criticism when he felt it was warranted, and it was warranted quite a bit over the last decade or so. He called Michael Crabtree and his advisers "morons" for refusing to accept the team's contract offer. When the defense struggled under former coach Mike Nolan, Plummer called for changes even while Nolan said there would be none.

Plummer's own experiences as a hard-nosed, undrafted linebacker defined his in-game commentary. He was emotional and wouldn't hesitate to criticize players for poor tackling, blown coverages or what he considered to be substandard effort. He would question coaches' strategies as well. At one point, I recall him saying the 49ers' defensive line got pushed around when it ran a 3-4.

Davis' credentials are strong. He was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, once with the 49ers and again with Carolina. He played six of his 13 seasons with the 49ers and won a Super Bowl with the team following the 1994 season. He's done postgame analysis and preseason game commentary for 49ers TV broadcasts, in addition to other duties in the market.

Plummer was also part of that 1994 championship team. He spent four of his 12 seasons with the 49ers, retired following the 1997 season and transitioned to the radio booth in 1998. He commuted to games from San Diego, whereas Davis lives in the Bay Area.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider evaluates Jed York as the San Francisco 49ers' president, outlining the good and bad during York's tenure. Lynch on one of the positives: "York held the line against draft-slot busting contract demands of wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Drafted with the 10th selection in the 2009 draft, Crabtree held out until October for top-seven money. York and then general manager Scot McCloughan never buckled, which won York some admiration from his older owner brethren." Hiring Mike Singletary as head coach goes down as probably the biggest mark against York to this point. Hiring Jim Harbaugh appears to protect the 49ers against some of Singletary's primary limitations, notably when it comes to overseeing an offense in general and quarterbacks in particular.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat rounds up 49ers-related notes from around the Web, including this comment from Ravens coach John Harbaugh about facing his brother, Jim, when Baltimore takes on San Francisco: "Like I’ve already told a bunch of guys on the team, we’ve got Pittsburgh; that’s a must-win. We’ve got a bunch of must-wins, but the San Francisco game is going to be a must, must-win. There’s no doubt the motivation for that one is going to be there."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with former Rams executive Tony Softli for thoughts on the 49ers' draft options at quarterback. Softli thinks Blaine Gabbert's recent workout helped the Missouri quarterback's cause. He thinks Cam Newton will not get past Washington at No. 10, and he thinks Jake Locker will be taken among the top 18 choices.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on Alex Marvez's report noting that the 49ers had interest in Kevin Mawae following Eric Heitmann's injury. Barrows: "Heitmann has since been bothered by a neck/upper back injury that has clouded his 2011 availability while both (David) Baas and (Tony) Wragge are impending unrestricted free agents. My guess is that Baas is the 49ers' top priority when it comes to re-signing their own free agents."

Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group updates the 49ers' search for a quarterback in the draft.

Carly Gillis of the Huffington Post says former Seahawks running back T.J. Duckett has re-evaluated his life and become more charitably inclined since Seattle released him. Duckett: "I lost a sense of who I was. But once I started to get rid of myself, I began to get a sense of self-worth. With football, and I think with any job, you get caught up in it and it starts to run your life -- consumes it. When it was taken away from me, I had to think, 'Now what am I about?' " According to the report, Duckett did not shave his beard during the two years since the Seahawks released him. He'll be having it shaved off as part of a charity benefit in Michigan this week.

Joe Conroy of insidenova.com says Seahawks receiver Deon Butler was back at his high school recently to honor an injured Marine.

Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun has this to say regarding Kurt Warner's recent comments suggesting Marc Bulger could be a good fit for the Cardinals: "It is believed Bulger chose being a backup for the Ravens last season over being a starter in Arizona because the Ravens’ offer ($3.8 million) was more. Bulger didn’t take a snap backing up Joe Flacco in 2010. It’s been reported that Bulger would prefer to stay close to St. Louis, where his wife is a doctor. Tennessee and Cincinnati could be other options for Bulger." Last offseason, the Cardinals felt as though they could not wait for the Rams to release Bulger. They needed to address the quarterback position quicker. The timing was never right. The lockout is preventing anyone from addressing anything at this point. Bulger did sign only a one-year deal with the Ravens last offseason, so the Cardinals know he'll hit the market whenever the league does re-open for business.

Gil Brandt of NFL.com says Rams receivers coach Nolan Cromwell participated in working out Maryland receiver Torrey Smith at the school's recent pro day. Brandt: "Smith was one of 15 NFL hopefuls looking to increase their stock in front of representatives from 28 teams at Maryland pro day on March 16. Smith, a 6-foot-1, 208-pound wideout, stood on everything he did at the combine, but went through positional workouts indoors on AstroTurf. Smith worked out with St. Louis Rams wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell and Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban. He’s had three private workouts to date. Smith figures to be a bottom of the first or top of the second round draft choice next month."

Thoughts as 49ers name Baalke GM

January, 4, 2011
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Thoughts after the San Francisco 49ers promoted Trent Baalke to general manager:
  • Team president Jed York said he wanted to consider as many candidates as possible. He wound up interviewing four guys out of the NFL -- Tony Softli, Mike Lombardi, Ted Sundquist and Rick Mueller -- and one in his own building. Baalke might be the right guy. The 49ers would know best; they've watched him work in a GM-type role for nine months. But York is not setting any trends here. This was not, by all appearances, an exhaustive search. That reflects well on Baalke, but not on the 49ers' ability to attract hot candidates.
  • Fans clamoring for a seasoned NFL power broker to take control of the team will be disappointed. Baalke appears to be a strong scout, just like his predecessor, Scot McCloughan. Is he suited to oversee a football operation? Again, the 49ers would know better than outsiders, but it's looking like top personnel people around the league were not lining up outside 49ers headquarters for a chance to speak with York. They could have known Baalke was going to get the job all along, or they could have had no interest, or a combination of these and other factors.
  • Quite a few reporters I respect have suggested hiring Baalke could clear the way for the 49ers to land Stanford's Jim Harbaugh as their head coach. I do not know why this would be true, unless hiring a lower-profile GM clears the way to offer more power for Harbaugh. Still, if I'm a hot coaching candidate -- and Harbaugh seems to be one -- why rush into the 49ers' arms?
  • The 49ers have not yet done anything to seriously disrupt their power structure. That could change if they arm a coach with control over football operations. For now, though, it's looking like York and Paraag Marathe, the team's executive vice president of football and business operations, carry on as before. That means the 49ers are basically blaming former coach Mike Singletary for their troubles, confident that replacing him will fix what ails them.
  • The 49ers might be right on that last point, provided they also find a decent quarterback. We'll have a much fuller picture once the team hires a head coach and enunciates its plan.
  • York could have rushed Baalke into the role when McCloughan resigned unexpectedly before the 2010 draft. Waiting until after the season was the right thing to do. The 49ers bought time to consider what structure they wanted.

What are your thoughts?

Around the NFC West: 49ers' GM options

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
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Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says current 49ers executive Trent Baalke is the "leader in the clubhouse" as the team searches for a general manager. The 49ers have already interviewed former Rams executive Tony Softli. The team will presumably widen its search once the regular season ends and candidates employed by other teams become available. Team president Jed York has said Baalke is "very much in the mix", but he would probably say that as a courtesy even if the status quo were not his preference. Baalke would be the candidate most familiar to them at this early stage. I'd be surprised if the 49ers have identified a favorite before they're even able to interview candidates employed by other teams.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers plan to interview former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist. Also: "By interviewing Softli, the 49ers have met their obligation under the NFL's 'Rooney Rule' to interview at least one minority candidate before making a hire."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reacts with surprise and condemnation upon hearing that Baalke might be the favorite. Kawakami: "Even if there are special circumstances with Baalke (read: Jim Harbaugh might come along), why trick up a fake process, pretend that there were other real candidates, only to leak to reporters after half-a-day of the interview process that it’s all Baalke?"

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers need to focus more on walking the walk than talking the talk.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a transcript from an interview with 49ers president Jed York. York: "I saw the relationship with Scot [McCloughan] and Mike [Singletary] and I think they worked well together, and I think Mike got to a position where he wasn't working with Trent [Baalke] and the new personnel staff, and he retreated a little bit, especially after a poor start. I think it is so important to have a GM and a head coach working together to make sure this is a successful organization."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle failed to place a player in the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks and Bucs -- who played last Sunday -- were the only NFC teams without a Pro Bowl selection. The Bills and Bengals were shutout in the AFC. The Seahawks played against 23 of the 42 players on the NFC squad this season, and 10 of the AFC Pro Bowl selections."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll won a must-win game with his backup quarterback during his tenure as coach in New England.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says a Seattle victory in Week 17 would not make history in terms of sending a team with a losing record to the playoffs. O'Neil: "In the strike-shortened season of 1982, the playoff format was changed with division affiliations forgotten entirely and the top eight teams from each conference qualifying. The result was that two teams reached the postseason at 4-5: Detroit and Cleveland."

Also from O'Neil: Should Seattle fans really root for their team to lose Sunday?

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune wonders whether having no players voted to the Pro Bowl could serve as motivation for the Seahawks. Williams: "Seattle was represented at the Pro Bowl for eight straight seasons from 2001 to 2008. Recently retired offensive tackle Walter Jones was the last Seahawks player to make it two seasons ago."

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune looks through sports history for examples of losing teams earning postseason berths.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston faces an uncertain future with the team. Somers: "There are only two possible reasons the club could have for not making Breaston an offer: It doesn't want to spend the money, or it has serious concerns about Breaston's long-term health. The Cardinals don't want to pay big guarantees for a player they aren't convinced will be able to practice enough to be relied upon." Knee problems continue to slow Breaston. Andre Roberts' emergence gives the team options.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with safety Adrian Wilson, who says teammate Kerry Rhodes would have been a more deserving choice for the Pro Bowl this season. Wilson: "To be honest, I am very shocked. Someone told me, ‘You always go in a year later than you’re supposed to go, and you always get that one last one when you don’t really deserve it. I hope this isn’t my last one and I understand that this hasn’t been one of my greatest years."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are on the verge of a significant accomplishment. Thomas: "With a victory over Seattle, the Rams would join the 2008 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in NFL history to go from 1-15 (or 0-16) to a playoff berth the next year. (The league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.) In terms of won-lost record, an 8-8 finish and a plus-7 in the victory column would be the fourth-best improvement for a team that finished 1-15 or 0-16. The '08 Dolphins were plus-10, followed by the 1992 Indianapolis Colts and 1997 New York Jets, both at plus-8. The Dolphins went from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5, winning the AFC East but then losing to Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs. The '92 Colts and '97 Jets both finished 9-7 -- but missed the playoffs -- after finishing 1-15 the previous year."

Also from Thomas: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo praises Steven Jackson after the running back earned another Pro Bowl berth.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring thoughts for the future and regarding general manager Billy Devaney as the team moves forward with new owner Stan Kroenke. Thomas: "Sam Bradford looks like the real deal at QB, and that alone lends legitimacy to what the team has accomplished. However, the Rams can't be fooled into thinking they've arrived and all their troubles are over. (And I don't think the front office or the coaching staff feels that way.) They have only one victory this season over a team with a winning record (8-7), and on paper will face a much tougher schedule next year. There are still several holes on the roster. As the relationship between Kroenke and Devaney, I'm not sure what to tell you. When Kroenke mentioned in an early September interview with me that he didn't know Devaney that well it raised eyebrows with some, but it may have just been an innocent -- yet honest -- remark. Kroenke hadn't been around the team much in recent years and hadn't been around Devaney that much."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need to continue using receiver Danario Alexander, who caught six passes for 99 yards against the 49ers. Also, Miklasz wonders whether the Seahawks are being a bit coy regarding Matt Hasselbeck's availability for Sunday. Miklasz: "Hasselbeck is an intense and dedicated competitor. If there's a way to go, he'll go. And NFL teams like to keep the other side guessing, so Seattle has a chance to engage in a little gamesmanship with the Rams. But I don't believe the coaches are sitting around in their upstairs offices at Rams Park, brooding and fretting over the Seahawks' QB pick. The Rams are familiar with Hasselbeck. They have ample video on Charlie Whitehurst. Seattle doesn't appear to change its offensive approach in a significant way based on the QB. Frankly, I'm surprised the Seahawks don't commit to the running game more than they do, and we'll discuss that later on."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have given vice president of player personnel Tony Softli a chance to seek a job elsewhere. Thomas: "Softli ran the '07 draft for St. Louis, with former coach Scott Linehan having the final say on selections. Of the eight players chosen in that draft, only defensive tackle Clifton Ryan remains with the Rams. Near the end of the 2007 season, rumors swirled that Softli would be ousted in the offseason. Softli stayed with the Rams, but Billy Devaney was hired in February 2008, to run the personnel department, essentially taking over Softli's duties." Softli's role had diminished so much that I had forgotten he was still working for the Rams.

Also from Thomas: The Rams will not retain Ray Ogas, who has headed up the team's player programs department for the past 10 years.

The 49ers' website offers a transcript from a recent interview with guard Chilo Rachal. Rachal on working with new line coaches Mike Solari and Ray Brown: "I’m just trying to be a sponge to both of them. I’m excited to work with both coach Solari and coach Brown, especially because coach Brown was a player at my position for 20 years in the league. I’m looking forward to finding out how he was able to play for so long, and at such a high level. With Coach Solari, he’s so technical. I’m really looking forward to this offseason with him. He understands the game of football, angles, hand placement and those types of things. Those are things I need to get better at in order to have the type of season I want to have. I’m really focusing in on all those details."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle sizes up new 49ers running back Anthony Dixon. White: "At 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, Dixon looks like he can pack a wallop. He runs like a smaller back with his short-area quickness and burst. Raye wants to see him run like a big back, dropping the boom at the end of the run instead of getting cute with it. Add a little pass-protection work, and Dixon will be very much in the race for backup snaps with Glen Coffee when training camp starts in late July."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with 49ers rookie linebacker Navorro Bowman, a player the team hopes might one day earn a spot alongside Patrick Willis. Bowman: "I'm gonna focus on inside [linebacker] for now. They see me fitting that the most, and I'm excited about it. I haven't really played straight inside backer since high school, and I felt like I could've done it in college. And for them to have this confidence in me, I'm really excited about it and gonna give it 100 percent."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects newly signed Cardinals cornerback Justin Miller to compete with LaRod Stephens-Howling as a kick returner. Miller went to a Pro Bowl in that capacity after the 2006 season.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains how he thinks Miller might fit in the Cardinals' secondary. Urban: "He never really made an imprint at cornerback (he does not have a career interception), but he does give a veteran presence in an area where the Cards have little. This won’t rule out the Cards looking at other veteran cornerbacks. Of that, I am pretty sure. But as I have said before, I think the Cards will continue to sort through who is on the roster this summer and maybe not look at actually bringing in another veteran until training camp."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' postseason success has shortened their offseasons, cutting into coach Ken Whisenhunt's practice time on the golf course. The team made it out on the course this week, however. Urban: "It doesn’t take much for many of the players to have fun on the course. Darnell Dockett doesn’t play, but he gave the practice green a little work with his putting (with help from Joey Porter) before riding around on a cart during the tourney, ostensibly to check out his teammates that do play."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says former 49ers guard Joe Toledo turned down a chance to play for Pete Carroll at USC in 2001, instead choosing the University of Washington. Toledo accepted a tryout offer with the Seahawks last week and the team signed him Monday. Johns: "Now 27 and about 60 pounds heavier than his tight end days, Toledo worked as the second-string right tackle for most of the Seahawks' three-day minicamp that concluded Sunday. Toledo said Carroll got into the recruiting process late during his senior season in Carlsbad, Calif., having just taken the Trojans' job. He was happy to cast his lot with the Huskies and is just as eager now to land a return invitation to Seattle after spending time with four different NFL teams in the past four years."

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