NFC West: Tony Wragge

Former St. Louis Rams receiver Steve Smith announced his retirement through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday.

The story by itself shouldn't mean much to Rams fans.

Smith, after all, started only two games in 2012 while trying to overcome serious knee injuries. He was never a player the Rams were counting on for significant contributions.

Smith's retirement is notable in another context, however. His name tops what should be a relatively short list of players to disappear from the game in 2013 after making at least one start for the Rams last season.

Last season, 16 players made zero regular-season appearances in an NFL game after starting at least once for the Rams in 2011. One such player, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, probably would have played with New Orleans had he not suffered a knee injury. Many of the others languished for lack of interest.

A quick look at the list of 15 players beyond Chamberlain: Adam Goldberg, James Hall, Fred Robbins, Tony Wragge, Jason Brown, Cadillac Williams, Rod Hood, Al Harris, C.J. Ah You, Mark Levoir, Ben Leber, Nick Miller, A.J. Feeley, Mike Sims-Walker and Mark Clayton.

Hall, Robbins, Goldberg, Wragge and Brown started at least half the games in 2011. Some others found opportunities because the Rams suffered from an unusual number of injuries that season.

Still, as the Rams improve and build around younger players, including quite a few drafted in the first two rounds, they should have less room on their roster for stopgap veterans. At receiver, for example, none of the Rams' players is even 26 years old. Players such as Smith, Sims-Walker and Clayton wouldn't fit.
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
NFL rosters undergo massive changes each offseason. That has been particularly true in 2012 as limits increased from 80 to 90 players.

As much as I'd like to comply with requests to publish specific roster breakdowns for age and other factors, the changes require quite a bit of time to process.

A few trends are coming into focus regarding the NFC West already:
Enjoy your Friday. Hope to see you at the rescheduled NFC West chat. I'll publish a reminder later Friday.

An update on the Rams' youth movement

March, 29, 2012
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The St. Louis Rams' list of unrestricted free agents got a little shorter Thursday when longtime punter Donnie Jones reached an agreement with the Houston Texans.

Jones, 31, was generally outstanding for the Rams during five seasons with the team. He was twice a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection.

Teammate Steven Jackson has called Jones the one Rams player he thought most deserving of the Pro Bowl.

The Rams have yet to re-sign any of their UFAs, no surprise as they break from the past and generally seek to get younger.

The Rams signed punter Tom Malone this offseason. Malone has spent time with New England, Seattle and San Francisco without playing in a regular-season game.

Dave Zastudil, Brad Maynard, Mat McBriar, Matt Turk and Daniel Sepulveda are among the UFA punters without contracts.

The chart lists the Rams' UFAs and their statuses. Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain were the only ones to sign elsewhere before Jones reached agreement with the Texans.

I'll be surprised if the Rams' new leadership re-signs more than a couple of the players listed. Most are older players. The Rams currently have the youngest roster in the NFL, slightly younger than those for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.
Leverage shifts from players to teams as NFL free agency moves along.

Contract values provide the most persuasive evidence.

As time passes, players with stratospheric expectations must lower their sights to find deals.

Team-issued statements from San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke have marked the changing landscape with unintended humor.

"We are extremely pleased to re-sign an All-Pro player like Carlos," Baalke said when the 49ers re-signed Carlos Rogers on March 16.

Notice the shift when quarterback Alex Smith returned to the team five days later, much deeper into free agency.

"We are pleased that Alex has chosen to continue his career as a 49er," Baalke said then.

The 49ers brought back Rogers. They waited out Smith. Big difference.

More of the same awaited Ted Ginn Jr.'s re-signing a day later.

"We are glad that Ted has decided to return to the 49ers in 2012," Baalke said.

Teams are more proactive in re-signing players early in free agency. Players come back to teams later in the process.

Forty-one unrestricted free agents from NFC West teams remained without contract agreements through Saturday. Eleven of them are at least 33 years old. Another 17 are at least 29.

As the chart shows, St. Louis saw little value in rushing out to secure players from a team that finished 2-14 last season. Nineteen of the 21 original UFAs from the Rams remain unsigned. Two, Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain, signed elsewhere.

Overall, only seven of the remaining 41 UFAs without contracts were players I listed as starters late in the season: Clark Haggans and Brandon Keith from Arizona; Tony Wragge, Brady Poppinga and Jacob Bell from St. Louis; and two Seattle linebackers, Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne.

Hawthorne stands out as a relatively young starter (26) with an established record of consistent production. He visited Detroit, only to have the Lions re-sign Stephen Tulloch. He visited New Orleans, only to have the Saints reach agreement with Curtis Lofton.

The Seahawks would be better with Hawthorne and Hill back on their roster. Like a lot of teams at this stage, however, they aren't facing a great deal of pressure.

That helps explain why it's been a quiet weekend around here so far.
The St. Louis Rams are getting one of the better centers in the NFL. They're also getting a veteran with the ability to assist Sam Bradford's development as a quarterback.

Wells
That is the immediate takeaway from news the Rams have agreed to terms with veteran center Scott Wells, who earned a Pro Bowl berth with the Green Bay Packers last season.

The Rams loaded up Bradford with additional responsibilities last season, including making protection calls at the line of scrimmage. Wells, the Packers' starting center since 2006, became a resource for Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers has recently credited Wells for helping take pressure off him mentally. The Rams are looking to help Bradford with a strong running game. Having a veteran center known for his attention to detail also looks like a Bradford-friendly move.

"Scott knows the offense as well as anybody in the building," Rodgers told Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee. "I'd say, if you look at guys who really are the smartest players on the team -- and I'm not going to include myself in that mix -- Scott Wells and (fullback) John Kuhn know the offense as well as anybody and they're able to make checks without me even saying anything."

That should be a huge asset for Bradford.

"It takes a ton of stress and pressure off of me and my film study and my preparation when I know that if I guess wrong, or if I'm unsure about a look, that I know Scotty is going to be right there next to me, a step ahead of me at times, knowing what the call needs to be," Rodgers said. "Scotty and his smarts take a ton of pressure off me."

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., speaking to Paul Kuharsky of the AFC South blog when Wells and Chris Myers were under consideration for Tennessee, had this to say about the 31-year-old center: "Myers is the better player -- and in his prime -- but Wells is a top-seven or -eight center, too. ... Wells is a tough guy that Mike Munchak will love."

Jason Brown was the Rams' starting center last season. The previous coaching staff benched him for Tony Wragge. The Rams released Brown, 28. Wragge, 32, is an unrestricted free agent.

Brown was already the starter when the Rams drafted Bradford in 2010.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
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Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.

First look at Rams' 2012 free agents

February, 7, 2012
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The St. Louis Rams have 20 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.

I'm not sure any of them qualify as players the Rams absolutely must bring back, particularly with a new coach and new schemes on both sides of the ball.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd would help fill a need, but at what price? Would he fit as well in a new offense after producing at disproportionate levels to this point when paired with former coordinator Josh McDaniels, now in New England?

Guard Jacob Bell played for new coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He might have more value to the new staff than he had to the old one; McDaniels wanted more powerful guards, such as Harvey Dahl.

This item, like the previous one for Arizona, expands upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added columns for offensive and defensive snap counts from 2011, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows how much each player's previous contract averaged.

Update: Punter Donnie Jones is also an unrestricted free agent. His previous contracted averaged not quite $1.2 million.

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Receiver Danny Amendola, listed with the restricted free agents below, has not played since suffering an elbow injury in the 2011 season opener.

Quick note on a 49ers contract extension

December, 10, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers' recently signed extension with backup tackle Alex Boone reflected his value as more than a conventional lineman.

The 49ers have scored six of their nine rushing touchdowns with Boone on the field, according to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information. They have lined up Boone more at tight end (50 snaps) than at tackle (37 snaps). He's been used as a blocker either way.

Developing young players such as Boone is important for teams serious about upgrading their depth. The 49ers decided this past offseason to move on from veteran backups such as Barry Sims and Tony Wragge. That thinking has cleared the way for Boone to get an opportunity. The contract extension suggests the team thinks Boone has a future beyond this season.

NFC West Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Jason Brown, Rams center. The Rams have paid $7 million per season to Brown since signing him for the 2009 season. They replaced him with Tony Wragge, presumably because they wanted their line to project more toughness and tenacity. The move almost surely foreshadows the end for Brown in St. Louis. Wragge, 32, had started only 15 games, 10 of them in 2008, since making his NFL debut in 2002. The San Francisco 49ers cut him after developing Adam Snyder as a backup for additional positions, including center. Wragge made his first Rams start Sunday and the running game carried on.

2. Frank Gore, 49ers running back. Gore carried only six times for zero yards during the 49ers' otherwise memorable victory over the New York Giants. The knee injury Gore suffered did not appear serious, but it's the latest ailment to threaten his availability this season. Ankle injuries slowed him earlier in the season. Gore's franchise-record streak of 100-yard games ended at five, but the injury concerns account for his placement on this list.

3. Rams' secondary. Losing Al Harris to a season-ending and (at his age) career-threatening knee injury weakened an already ravaged St. Louis secondary. One of the few remaining corners, Justin King, suffered a head injury late in the game, although coach Steve Spagnuolo suggested all symptoms cleared quickly. Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy and other corners have already landed on injured reserve for the Rams this season.

RISING

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenSeattle's Russell Okung has stepped up his play in recent weeks.
1. Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals have not allowed a passing touchdown in their last three games after allowing nine in their first six. They became the first team to hold Philadelphia below 300 yards this season. Younger players like Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield and Patrick Peterson are contributing. Calais Campbell has had some huge games. Yes, the Cardinals have played a couple struggling teams in recent weeks. But after allowing 932 yards over the first two games and 445 to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, Arizona has stopped the defensive bleeding.

2. Russell Okung, Seahawks left tackle. Okung fared well in matchups against DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs over the past two games. He had help at times, but there's no question Okung is gaining in confidence and ability as his previous ankle injuries fade into the more distant past. His play has helped Marshawn Lynch put together 100-yard rushing performances in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Seattle has allowed only two sacks in its last two games after allowing 14 in its previous three.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers quarterback. Smith doesn't appear higher on this list because his stock has already been rising steadily throughout the season. Even those surprised the 49ers would lean on him so heavily against the Giants had to admit Smith's performance was only mildly (if at all) surprising in the context of this season. Don't be fooled into thinking the 49ers leaned on Smith out of necessity once Gore was injured, either. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays because that was the offensive plan.

On the Rams' outlook along offensive line

November, 10, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams head into the second half of their schedule with Tony Wragge at center and Adam Goldberg at right tackle.

The team did not plan for journeyman backups to emerge as starters, but the switch to Wragge from Jason Brown was voluntary. The switch to Goldberg from Jason Smith was related to injury, but after two-plus games with Goldberg, are the Rams worse off? Tough to say.

Offensive line was one area where the Rams invested heavily through the draft and free agency. They have relatively little to show for their investments, a concern as the team tries to build around quarterback Sam Bradford.

Heading into Week 10, however, the picture looks like this:
  • Left tackle Rodger Saffold is struggling with consistency. He's had lingering back problems and suffered a lower-leg injury at Green Bay. Whether those injuries are affecting his play, Saffold hasn't taken the next step after a promising rookie season.
  • Left guard Jacob Bell was released before the season and brought back on a reduced contract, an indication the team no longer valued him as it once did. Bell has played pretty well, however.
  • Brown, the starter at center since signing a big free-agent contract in 2009, does not play with the surly demeanor the Rams have been seeking along their line. He hasn't played consistently well this season. The change from Brown to Wragge suggests Brown will not be back next season under his current deal, and probably not at all.
  • Harvey Dahl remains the starter at right guard. The team signed him because it wanted a bigger, stronger guard with toughness and attitude. Dahl better fits the McDaniels mold for guards. He seems to be functioning as anticipated.
  • Goldberg is starting at right tackle while Smith recovers from head/neck injuries suffered at Dallas. The team signed Dahl to replace Goldberg at right guard. Goldberg isn't a power player and doesn't project as a long-term starter. He's a versatile backup, though.

The Rams thought they had overcome a 2005 draft that brought them Alex Barron, Richie Incognito and Claude Terrell. At best, however, they are set for next season at left tackle and right guard, unless Smith returns and improbably justifies his first-round salary.
Steven Jackson, more than any other St. Louis Rams player, commands the respect and attention of teammates.

Even he realizes Sam Bradford is the Rams' future, but when players voted on team captains this year, they elected Jackson to represent the offense.

"I wear it with pride and hopefully I can continue to do so and continue to show these guys the way," Jackson said at the time.

Now, following an 0-4 start to the season, the Rams need Jackson to utilize whatever power he has to affect positive change.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jackson stopped practice Monday and gathered the offense around him for a motivational talk. He declined to discuss what was said. Coach Steve Spagnuolo on what Jackson was getting at: "Yeah, just some determination. Some will to succeed, some drive for excellence. Just some key points and we appreciate that. I'm sure the guys on defense were doing the same thing. James Hall and I talked this morning. He's great. They get it. These guys are warriors. They've been through this and we've just got to fight our way out of it."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis passes along a summary of Jackson's remarks via backup guard/center Tony Wragge: "He just reaffirmed what we've talked about as a group, being positive. Play fast, be productive, play hesitant-free football."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about tackle Anthony Davis during his player review from the 49ers' victory at Philadelphia: "Started at right tackle, and had a good game in run-blocking but struggled in pass protection. . . . He was called for tripping, when he leg-whipped Jason Babin on 49ers' second play. He did it again in the third quarter and was caught again. . . . Got to the second level to block on Gore's 40-yard run. . . . Babin twice beat Davis twice for sacks. The other sack came when Davis blocked down and Babin sailed untouched toward Smith."

Also from Maiocco: a defensive player review from the game. On first-round choice Aldon Smith: "He saw extensive action in the 49ers' nickel defense and played on both sides of the formation. It was his best game, as he recorded four tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for a loss and three quarterback hurries. . . . Nearly got his first career sack in the second quarter, but Michael Vick escaped and gained five yards. Two plays later, he did get his first sack when he split right guard Kyle DeVan, who was holding, and Ronnie Brown. . . . Got pressure at Vick's feet and nearly had sack. Vick threw incomplete pass instead. . . . Recorded split sack with Ray McDonald."

Brock Huard of 710 ESPN Seattle cannot figure out why the Seahawks' Aaron Curry ran out of the play when Michael Turner broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run Sunday, but he also says other players, notably Earl Thomas, could have done more on the play. Huard thought Thomas wasn't excited about taking on the bigger Turner one-on-one.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com hands out awards one-fourth of the way through the season. Thomas is his top Seahawks player. Farnsworth: "This has been apparent to anyone who's watched the Seahawks during their 1-3 start. The second-year free safety is good, and only getting better by the game. Thomas leads the team in tackles (26) and also has been forcing plays by forcing the issue."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks found an impact player in undrafted Stanford receiver Doug Baldwin. Williams: "Half of Baldwin’s 12 receptions have gone for first downs. Those six receptions for first downs have taken place on the all-important third down, with Baldwin tied for ninth in the league in those situations."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says this is the fourth consecutive season the Cardinals have faced the Vikings, and yet another chance to revisit Arizona's decision to draft tackle Levi Brown over running back Adrian Peterson. Somers: "It proved to be a mistake. Four-plus seasons later, there is no arguing that. Peterson has missed two games over the years and averaged 1,445 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns a season. Brown has been durable, too, missing three games in his career. But his performance has been pedestrian, at best, and a liability, at worst. And, because of the way his contract is structured, it will be a surprise if he is with the Cardinals beyond this season."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with surprisingly productive rookie nose tackle David Carter, who reveals, among other things, that he was on his high school debate team.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kevin Kolb's pocket presence should improve with experience. Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner captured perfectly the idea that a quarterback becomes more purposeful in his movement when he has a fuller grasp of an offense. Warner: "If you are thinking, 'OK, I’m going from one to two to three' (in your progressions) and you know what’s going on and you have a big-picture sense of what the offense is doing, it’s much easier to say, 'OK, I’m going to slide a little bit (in the pocket) because I know I’m going to throw the ball here.' When you have those questions of, 'OK, that’s not open and … I’m not really sure what the next move is,' then you think to yourself, 'OK, I’m just going to get out of here and make a play.' That comes down to feeling comfortable with what you are seeing. To me, it looks like. 'This is my comfort zone right now. It’s not going through my reads, it’s get out on the move and we can make something happen.' "

Around the NFC West: Towering CB

September, 5, 2011
9/05/11
9:24
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Greg Toler, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings were among the starting cornerbacks for NFC West teams in Week 17 last season.

Only Toler remains with his team from that group, and he's on injured reserve. Another Week 17 starter at corner, Shawntae Spencer, has missed extensive time to injury.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times checks in with one of the NFC West cornerback replacements, and an improbable one at that: 6-foot-4 CFL alum Brandon Browner, the favorite to start opposite Marcus Trufant when the Seattle Seahawks visit the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Kelley: "Watch him in practice or preseason this summer and you had to wonder how so many teams could have been so wrong about him. In a league where wide receivers are getting taller, Browner, at 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, seems like a natural. But in the past five years he had auditioned for Miami, Philadelphia, Minnesota and the Seahawks and never gotten a call back."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune provides an interview transcript from his meeting with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Carroll on why he named Tarvaris Jackson the starting quarterback outright: "Our commitment to Tarvaris is really a commitment to the execution of a really good plan, and to put a team together in very short order. And because of the coaching shifts there are things that made that come to the surface. … I think it’s the best competitive thing we can do for our club to make him the quarterback right now, and not worry about an open competition and dividing reps and stuff. There’s just no time. … It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the team or our fans -- everybody that’s following us. … And I love what Tarvaris can do. I think he’s a fantastic player. I’m just hoping that we can support him properly and play good around him so he can get rolling for us, and that hasn’t quite happened yet."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic profiles new Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb. Guard Rex Hadnot played with Kolb in college and had this to say: "I couldn't tell you what it is about him. His parents have instilled something in him for him to be able to come into a situation, adapt and achieve great success. When I heard about the acquisition, I was excited."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are expected to announce Chester Taylor's addition Monday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says veteran guard Hank Fraley is out after the Rams reached a contract agreement with Tony Wragge. Thomas: "Fraley, 33, was due to make $1 million in base salary this season. He appeared in seven games last season, mainly on special teams."

Also from Thomas: NFL teams made waiver claims on Rams castoffs, an indication the talent level is improving in St. Louis. The team hoped to sign quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to its practice squad, but former Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur knew about Lewis and claimed him for the Browns. Rams general manager Billy Devaney: "We were hoping he wasn't claimed, but we fully understood that he played good enough in the preseason where I know he opened some people's eyes. And Pat's certainly familiar with him in Cleveland."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the NFL has not decided whether to suspend 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards, who pleaded guilty to DUI.

Also from Maiocco: It's looking like the 49ers will sign inside linebacker Tavares Gooden, released by the Ravens. Gooden was a third-round choice in 2008. Would his coach with the Ravens, John Harbaugh, provide a scouting report to his brother, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh?

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee highlights stark differences between current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and former coach Mike Singletary. Singletary was all about the big picture. Harbaugh is all about the little things. The team hasn't even used the giant hill Singletary had built for conditioning drills. Noted: Head coaches set the tone, obviously, but details surely mattered to Singletary as well. He just didn't want to be the one in charge of them. There's a different feel and standard when the head coach is involved at the most detailed level.

Also from Barrows: updates the 49ers' practice squad signings.

Lots of little moves as rosters in flux

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
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Catching up with various moves around the edges of NFC West rosters Sunday:
Teams are also assembling practice squads. The 49ers announced adding seven players to theirs, all released by the team on the reduction to 53 players. I'll round up those additions once they become official.

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