NFC West: Trent Cole

Hurdles rising for NFC West left tackles

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
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Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle won games Sunday with the following backups getting most or all of the snaps at left tackle:
  • D'Anthony Batiste, Cardinals: He's starting in place of the injured Levi Brown. Batiste struggled against Seattle's Chris Clemons in the opener. I thought he was generally effective during the Cardinals' 20-18 victory at New England. He had problems during a third-down sequence deep in Cardinals territory, drawing a flag for holding and then giving up a sack. Batiste was not consistently a liability, however. The Cardinals helped him on occasion but did not consistently funnel extra blockers toward Batiste's side. Batiste was not a significant limiting factor for the offense. In fact, I thought pressure came from other areas more frequently. Quarterback Kevin Kolb did a good job moving in concert with his linemen, so there were fewer surprises for the guys up front.
  • Wayne Hunter, Rams: Hunter took over for Rodger Saffold after Saffold suffered a sprained knee during the Rams' victory over Washington. The Rams had to settle for a field goal before halftime after a holding penalty against Hunter moved back the offense. A third-quarter holding penalty set back the offense again. The Rams were best when Sam Bradford threw quickly from three-receiver sets. That could be a remedy for their tackle situation. Bradford completed all nine of his third-down attempts against the Redskins. The Rams expect Saffold to miss at least one month. They caught a break against Washington when the Redskins lost Brian Orakpo to a season-ending injury. Hunter could be matched against Julius Peppers in Week 3.
  • Frank Omiyale, Seahawks: Omiyale started against Dallas while Russell Okung was recovering from a bruised knee. Okung is expected back to face Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers' defense on "Monday Night Football" in Week 3. The Seahawks helped Omiyale some of the time. Omiyale held up without assistance when protecting Russell Wilson's blind side during a 22-yard scoring pass to tight end Anthony McCoy. Dallas' Demarcus Ware finished the game with no sacks. Seattle rushed for 182 yards while allowing only two sacks, one of which resulted from an unblocked rusher coming free on Wilson's front side, away from Omiyale. Seattle got through this game as well as could be expected. The team has averaged 3.5 yards per rush with Okung and 4.4 yards without him. The per-carry average was slightly higher without Okung last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There are other variables, however. Okung is easily the most talented option at tackle.

Looking at the schedule, every NFC West left tackle faces a tough test in Week 3. San Francisco's Joe Staley matches up against Minnesota's Jared Allen. Batiste faces Philadelphia's Trent Cole. Hunter draws Peppers while Okung or Omiyale faces Matthews.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals do not yet know which players will start at offensive tackle for them.

The Cardinals do have a pretty good idea which players those tackles will have to block in passing situations this season.

The list includes Jared Allen and Jason Babin, who combined for 40 sacks last season while ranking first and third, respectively, in that category. Overall, the Cardinals face nine of the 17 NFL players with at least 10 sacks last season, plus another player, John Abraham, who finished with 9.5. There are also players expected to reach double figures in sacks this season after failing to do so in 2011. Mario Williams and Clay Matthews head that list.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic identifies D'Anthony Batiste (left) and rookie Bobby Massie (right) as potential favorites to start at tackle after a triceps injury knocked out left tackle Levi Brown, perhaps for the season.

Batiste, 30, started four games for Atlanta in 2007. Massie, a fourth-round choice, started 29 consecutive games at right tackle to end his career at Mississippi.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2012 schedule, plus projected top pass-rushers from the left and right sides of each opponent's defense. Those pass-rushers' sack totals from 2011 appear in parenthesis.

Camp Confidential: Seahawks

August, 13, 2012
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RENTON, Wash. -- Terrell Owens' arrival at Seattle Seahawks training camp commanded national headlines.

It commanded the Seahawks' attention, as well, not just on the field but also in the meeting room, where coach Pete Carroll made Owens the leading man in an entertaining prank.

When the Seahawks' first exhibition game kicked off Saturday night against Tennessee, the focus returned to where it needed to be: quarterback. Although Owens might not even earn a roster spot, let alone an important role on the team, the situation behind center will determine whether Seattle breaks from its recent 7-9 form.

The way Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson played against the Titans showed that Seattle has a chance to do just that. It was only one game, with a meaningless outcome, but it affirmed some of the evidence collected to this point.

Flynn, nondescript through organized team activities and minicamps, had responded favorably when Carroll gave him the first-team practice reps last week. He was sharp in practice and efficient while completing his first eight passes against the Titans. Flynn's lone interception resulted from a rookie running back failing to sell the play fake, allowing linebacker Colin McCarthy to drop into coverage without concern for the run.

Wilson, sensational for a rookie in the offseason program, hadn't stood out as much in camp, but when the lights went on Saturday night, he looked like the best player on the field. He showed the pocket presence needed to move just the right distance at just the right times and extending plays. He scored on a 32-yard bootleg and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass from the pocket. Only an ill-advised interception over the middle prevented a full Wilson lovefest from breaking out. But it's early, and Wilson is just getting started.

Seattle has seen enough to think one of its new quarterbacks can provide an upgrade from Tarvaris Jackson, who remains on the roster as insurance.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Owens or Edwards? The Seahawks want a receiver with dominant size to fill the role Mike Williams played in the 2010 season. Owens is one candidate. Braylon Edwards is another. Second-year pro Kris Durham might still emerge as a third contender, but he has struggled to gain traction in camp.

Braylon Edwards
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireBraylon Edwards, on his fourth team in the past four seasons, has been impressive in camp.
Edwards has stepped up his game markedly after Owens' arrival, no coincidence. Edwards has to realize the Seahawks aren't going to keep two veteran receivers with no value on special teams. Owens has the bigger name and better credentials, but Edwards has the inside track for a roster spot. That is because Edwards is nine years younger and could project as a factor beyond this season. It's also because Owens has been a higher-maintenance player.

Edwards was scrapping like an undrafted free agent against Tennessee. He was a willing blocker -- too willing at one point, drawing a penalty. He rewarded Wilson's trust by making a strong play for that 39-yard touchdown reception. Owens will get his chance in the coming weeks. This competition is only beginning.

2. What to do with Jackson. Carroll has shown sensitivity for Jackson after the veteran quarterback played through a torn pectoral muscle last season. The grit Jackson showed won respect in the locker room. As much as the team wanted to look at Flynn and Wilson this summer, Carroll gave Jackson an equal portion of the reps through the first week of training camp.

Carrying a three-man race through the exhibition schedule would have been impractical, which is why Flynn and Wilson took the meaningful reps in practice last week. It's also why Flynn and Wilson took all the snaps in the exhibition opener.

Jackson represents the known. He is the baseline for a team seeking improvement at the position. Jackson, for all his toughness, wasn't effective when it counted last season (zero touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks in the final two minutes of halves).

He is scheduled to earn $4 million for the 2012 season. Flynn and Wilson are going to be on the roster, most likely filling the top two spots. The team also likes developmental quarterback Josh Portis.

Something has to give, and logic says it'll be Jackson.

3. Health concerns at tight end. The Seahawks envision running quite a few personnel groupings with two tight ends. Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable values H-backs. The expectation this season was for Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow to provide Seattle with a diverse duo at the position. That still might happen, but, with Miller suffering from his fourth concussion in less than three years, there are suddenly renewed health questions at tight end.

Winslow's chronic knee problems limit how frequently he can practice. Although he hasn't missed a game to injury in the past three seasons, Winslow is 29 years old and doesn't figure to gain durability.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Seahawks have upgraded at quarterback and in their ability to rush the passer. Those were the two areas most responsible for holding them back in the recent past. They're also more settled on the offensive line.

How much Seattle has upgraded at quarterback remains unknown, but even if Jackson were to somehow emerge as the starter in a sort of worst-case scenario, at least he would be healthy. The Seahawks aren't asking their quarterbacks to carry the team. They just want efficient play from the position. The early returns suggest that Flynn can provide that, and that Wilson might be able to provide more.

Newly acquired defensive tackle Jason Jones has already improved the pass rush. Rookie first-round choice Bruce Irvin has been the most difficult player to block in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He has the speed to beat tackles to the outside and better power than anticipated for a player weighing less than 250 pounds. The combination of Jones, Irvin and leading sacker Chris Clemons will be tough at home, in particular.

Seattle's defense already ranked among the NFL's top 10 in fewest points allowed, yards allowed and yards allowed per play. This was a mostly young defense on the rise even before Jones and Irvin arrived to address the pass rush.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Matt Flynn
Steven Bisig/US PresswireMatt Flynn was 11-for-13 against the Titans on Saturday night, but he is still largely untested in the regular season.
Faith is involved in projecting how well unproven quarterbacks will perform.

A year ago, division-rival Arizona was convinced that Kevin Kolb would fix its problems. At the very least, the Cardinals would become average at quarterback, it seemed, which surely would be enough to make them a playoff contender.

Flynn might be better than Kolb, but what if he's not? What if it becomes clear a month or two into the season that Flynn, with only two career regular-season starts, isn't ready to manage an NFL offense from week to week?

Wilson has appeal as an alternative, but how far can a team with a 5-foot-10 rookie quarterback go in an NFC featuring Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton?

The Seahawks have a powerful ground game and a potentially dominant defense, but the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, right? The five most recent Super Bowls featured Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Brees, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner as the starting quarterbacks. No Super Bowl team was trying to decide between a player with two starts and a rookie third-round choice.

Even if Flynn or Wilson emerges as viable this season, Seattle could have the third-best quarterback in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The red noncontact jersey Sidney Rice wears in practice invites questions about his availability coming off two offseason shoulder surgeries. Rice seems to be moving and catching well. My read is that the team is being cautious and there are no pressing concerns.
  • Rice needs to do a better job of protecting himself. He tends to land awkwardly, exposing himself to unnecessary contact. The plan was for the shoulder surgeries to enable more aggressive weightlifting, allowing Rice to strengthen his lithe frame. Although the shoulders are a concern, Rice also suffered two concussions last season.
  • Seattle continues to show an uncanny ability to find important roles for obscure defensive players. Defensive end Red Bryant became a success story after converting from defensive tackle over the past couple of seasons. Clinton McDonald, a former college linebacker acquired from Cincinnati in the Kelly Jennings trade, is now a factor. McDonald stands ahead of Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch as the fourth defensive lineman in the nickel package. McDonald is backing up Mebane in the base defense.
  • Bryant's outgoing personality makes him a natural leader on defense. Mebane, his quieter teammate on the line, emerged in that area last season after the team released veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Said Leroy Hill: "A lot of times in the huddle, Mebane is the one talking. It's odd because he never did that role, but last year he stepped up and people fell in behind him. ... People listen to what he's got to say."
  • Left guard John Moffitt could miss the next few weeks after requiring elbow surgery. My initial take was that his replacement, Deuce Lutui, would provide an upgrade, in pass protection especially. One question is whether Lutui fits the profile for Cable's zone-blocking scheme. Moffitt appears to be a better fit that way. Lutui might be best suited for center, but the team is set there with Max Unger, who signed a long-term extension.
  • Seattle has apparently hit on two seventh-round choices this year. Greg Scruggs has a chance to stick on the defensive line, and J.R. Sweezy has improbably made a quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Seattle gave Sweezy time with its starting line against Tennessee, and he played surprisingly well. Sweezy projects as a good run-blocker for Cable's scheme. Rishaw Johnson is another obscure offensive lineman to watch.
  • We've made it this far without mentioning Marshawn Lynch, the offensive player Seattle relied on most heavily last season. Rookie Robert Turbin has gotten more attention as the projected backup. The Seahawks haven't heard whether Lynch will face a suspension in relation to his pending DUI case. Teams wouldn't have to fear the ground game nearly as much if Lynch missed time.
  • At middle linebacker, rookie Bobby Wagner remains the favorite to start in my view. He has outstanding speed and strong hands for taking on blocks when necessary. Veteran fullback Michael Robinson compared Wagner to a young Patrick Willis. Wagner's preseason debut was a bit of an adventure, however. He overran a few plays and didn't stand out.
  • The offensive line should be fine as long as left tackle Russell Okung remains healthy. Okung was looking good early in camp one year ago, only to suffer an ankle injury in an Aug. 11 preseason game against San Diego. The torn pectoral he suffered late last season counts as a fluke. Philadelphia's Trent Cole, frustrated by Okung's edgy style, unleashed a judo move on him. The longer Okung can go without landing on the injury report, the better Seattle can feel about his long-term prospects.
  • Cornerback Walter Thurmond and offensive lineman James Carpenter could make an impact later in the season. Both are coming off serious injuries, and neither will be a factor early in the season. Playing Carpenter at left guard has long-term appeal. He and Okung would form a massive combination on the left side. Carpenter is still limping around with a heavy brace on his surgically repaired knee, however.
  • Carroll's commitment to competition shows up in his willingness to play young players at key positions, including middle linebacker and quarterback. The effect is felt throughout the roster. Lutui: "Rookies, first-year guys, he puts them in. I've never seen that on any level. That pushes the older guys. Everybody is not comfortable. Everybody is not complacent. It doesn't matter if you have a new contract. Everybody is on an edge. You know you have to better yourself, and that is good to see."
Thoughts on Seattle Seahawks first-round pick Bruce Irvin after reading John Clayton's piece questioning the selection:
  • Specific role: The Seahawks envision Irvin as a situational pass-rusher for now and the evenutal successor to Chris Clemons in the "Leo" role. Clemons was a 236-pound linebacker coming out of college. He had a 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash, went undrafted as a junior and floundered in Philadelphia. The Seahawks acquired him with a specific role in mind. Clemons ranks eighth in the NFL with 22 sacks over the last two seasons, more than Julius Peppers, James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Dwight Freeney, Trent Cole, Jason Pierre-Paul and others. Clemons now weighs 255 pounds and has become much stronger against the run. Irvin is Clemons' height (6-foot-3) and weighs 245 pounds, but he is much faster, having run the 40 in 4.4 seconds. The plan would be for Irvin to grow into a bigger role, not to remain a situational player forever.
  • Value at No. 15: Draft analysts did not anticipate Irvin's selection at No. 15. It's impossible to know whether the Seahawks could have drafted Irvin later than that. Three teams running variations of the 4-3 defense selected defensive ends in the first round. Irvin went first, followed by Shea McClellin to Chicago at No. 19 and Chandler Jones to New England at No. 21. Jacksonville, picking 38th, was the next 4-3 team to select a defensive end (Andre Branch). There was a six-pick window for 4-3 teams to select a pass-rusher in the first round. Seattle opened the window. Chicago and New England closed it, with the Patriots trading up to make sure the window did not slam on them. The Seahawks liked Jones, but concerns over a toe injury raised questions about how early they would select him. They were comfortable with the off-field issues Irvin carried into the draft.
  • Whether Irvin starts: Aldon Smith collected 14 sacks in a situational role with San Francisco last season. Robert Mathis had three seasons with double-digit sacks as a reserve at various points in his career with Indianapolis. Years ago, a young Anthony Smith put together three consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks despite rarely starting for the Los Angeles Raiders. The plan is for Aldon Smith to become a starter this year. Mathis continued to produce as a starter. Anthony Smith's sack numbers fell. Clemons is the best comparison for Irvin. They have physical similarities. They are playing in the same scheme. The same coaches and personnel people decided they fit the same role.

Irvin will be a fun player to watch during training camp. Dexter Davis is another Seattle pass-rusher to keep in mind. He missed all but one game last season after suffering a hip injury and could be overlooked heading toward the season.

2011 Seahawks Week 13: Five observations

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
3:53
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The Seattle Seahawks have not played in 11 days. That will change Monday night. In the meantime, I've taken another look at the team's most recent game, a 31-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13. Five observations with implications for the future:
  • No fear from Tarvaris Jackson. It's still unclear how Jackson went from struggling to play with a torn pectoral to flourishing as though healthy. He ran with the ball on the Seahawks' first drive and dove forward instead of sliding. Jackson attempted only 16 passes against the Eagles and has now had an extended period between games. He should be even better physically against St. Louis.
  • Cole-Okung undercard. The Seahawks lost left tackle Russell Okung to a season-ending pectoral injury when Eagles defensive end Trent Cole threw Okung to the ground in frustration late in the game. That incident had been building. Cole and/or defensive tackle Mike Patterson threw down Okung just 35 seconds into the game. Marshawn Lynch was finishing a run up the middle when Okung rallied to his assistance. The whistle had blown three times as one of their shoves sent Okung toppling over a pile.
  • Giacomini might have a future. The Seahawks drafted James Carpenter to play right tackle and would like to see him play there in the future. The next few games could reveal whether Carpenter's injury replacement, Breno Giacomini, might be worth keeping in that spot. Such a move would make sense only if Giacomini played well and the team felt good enough about Carpenter at guard. When Lynch broke free for his improbable 15-yard touchdown run, Giacomini was laying on two Eagles defenders in the backfield. He plays with attitude and adds toughness. Would a left-side pairing featuring Okung and Carpenter be worth investigating next season? A thought.
  • Defense feasted on bad QB play. The Seahawks picked off four passes against Vince Young. They'll be facing Sam Bradford or Tom Brandstater on Monday night, Caleb Hanie, Alex Smith and John Skelton or Kevin Kolb in their remaining games. The defense has a chance to keep the turnovers coming. The San Francisco 49ers' Smith has done a very good job avoiding them this season, but Seattle gets to face him at CenturyLink Field, an advantage for the Seahawks.
  • David Hawthorne's valiance. Hawthorne made it through the game despite continuing knee problems. His game-clinching interception return for a touchdown helped him emerge as the defensive player of the week in the NFC. His knee problems raise questions about long-term durability, however. Hawthorne has limped through the past couple games at less than full strength. I'd list linebacker among the team's needs heading into the offseason even though Hawthorne, Leroy Hill and K.J. Wright have played well at times. The team needs to restock its depth after deciding Aaron Curry wasn't a fit.

The day is only beginning. I'm heading over to CenturyLink Field shortly and will report from there. It's looking like weather should not be a problem. Temperatures are expected to be in the 30s, with no rain.

Around the NFC West: 49ers own Cards?

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
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The NFC West rivalry between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers hasn't been much of a rivalry lately.

The Cardinals last defeated the 49ers on Nov. 10, 2008. That was 1,124 days ago.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' frustration has mounted during a five-game losing streak in the series. Larry Fitzgerald: "Eventually, you have to stand up and fight. Five in a row, enough has to be enough at some point. For it to be a rivalry, you have to beat them sometimes, and sometimes they’re going to beat you. We have to reclaim homefield. They’ve beaten us here the last two years and that’s not supposed to happen." Noted: The last time Arizona won in the series, Kurt Warner passed for 328 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. That game was notorious for other reasons.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals played into the 49ers' hands when the teams last played. Arizona controlled the ball for less than 16 minutes, registering its lowest time of possession for a game since at least 1981. Somers: "That presents offensive coaches with a difficult decision: Do they concentrate on being conservative and call safer plays that minimize the risk of turnovers and brief possessions? Or do they elect to take shots downfield, reasoning that not doing so plays into the 49ers' style?"

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' contract extension with backup tackle Alex Boone comes as the team tries to re-sign several role players. Maiocco: "Among the players to whom the 49ers are believed to have offered new deals are outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, guard Adam Snyder, linebacker Larry Grant and special-teamer C.J. Spillman."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have new names for their linebackers, according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Barrows: "When Mike Nolan implemented a 3-4 defense in San Francisco several years ago, he called the strong-side inside linebacker -- the one who played on the tight end's side of the field -- 'Ted' and the weak-side inside linebacker 'Mike.' The positions continued to be called that under Mike Singletary. Last year, for example, Patrick Willis was the 'Mike' linebacker and Takeo Spikes was 'Ted.' This year the names are different. The strong-side linebacker is called 'Mike' and the position is played by NaVorro Bowman. The weak-side inside linebacker is called 'Jack' and is played by Willis and now Grant." Noted: The game would improve, in my view, if coaches ever settled on one terminology. Players could learn one language at the youth level and continually perfect it over their careers.

Also from Barrows: 49ers great Joe Perry suffered from brain trauma likely related to his playing career.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are getting more from their wideouts.

Also from Inman: a music review on a song based around a mantra from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with offensive line coach Tom Cable, who has this to say about the recently injured Russell Okung: "Really good. Big time. He was playing like you’d expect a guy you draft that high to play. Particularly the last five or six weeks, I don’t think anybody was playing at his level at that spot. It was just dominant, protecting the quarterback and you can run to him you can run away from him."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the NFL did not consider Okung's injury in determining how much to fine Philadelphia's Trent Cole for throwing Okung to the ground. Coach Pete Carroll: "They can't deal with a violation in terms of kind of the impact it has on the other player. That's not a factor for them."

Bob Stelton and Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle say the Seahawks' Zach Miller is making significant contributions as a blocker.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks the Seahawks are on track despite their 5-7 record this season and 12-16 record under Carroll.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts as to why the Seattle Seahawks have fared better than the St. Louis Rams despite suffering through similar injury losses. Nelson: "Part of the difference between the two teams is that the Seahawks have sustained their recommitment to the ground game, led by Marshawn Lynch. He has reached 100 yards in four of the last five games, has 591 rushing yards since Week 9 and 854 yards on the ground this season. Seattle has strung together five consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing as a team, its longest streak since 2005." Noted: Personnel differences are a big part of the disparity. The Seahawks have generally had better replacements.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with injured Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who says he hasn't thought about finishing the season on injured reserve. Thomas: "For the second day in a row, Tom Brandstater took all the reps in practice with the starters. Kellen Clemens, claimed on waivers Wednesday from Houston, wasn't at practice. He had travel complications and was still en route while the Rams practiced Thursday. So that leaves Clemens with only two practice days -- today and Saturday -- to get ready to play Seattle."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis thinks the Rams should protect Bradford by placing him on injured reserve.

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis has this to say about Chris Long's 12-sack season through 12 games: "Long joins the discussion as one of the best left defensive ends the Rams have lined up in St. Louis. Right now, it's a three-man race between Kevin Carter, Leonard Little and Long. Heading into Monday night's matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, Long leads the team with 12 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. He hasn't missed a game and hardly a series. I smell a big new contract in his future. He's playing like the beast we're all hoping that he turns into, being a consistent threat much like DeMarcus Ware or Jared Allen."
The fine levied against Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent Cole apparently was not for inflicting a season-ending injury upon Seattle Seahawks tackle Russell Okung.

The fine, reportedly for $7,500, likely would have been the same whether or not Okung was injured. The amount is consistent with first-time offenses for late hits, chop blocks and the like, as spelled out in the chart.

The NFL, per its labor agreement, reserves the right to levy larger fines.

Officials did not penalize Cole for throwing Okung to the ground after Okung blocked Cole through the whistle during Seattle's 31-14 victory Thursday night.

The fine amount suggests the NFL was more concerned with the letter of the law than with liability. The blatant, unnecessary nature of Cole's attack on Okung might have justified a larger fine, in my view. But from Cole's perspective, Okung invited a strong reaction by failing to release Cole even though the play was ending and the whistle was starting to blow.

"The guy was on my back after the whistle," Cole said. "He was holding me the whole game. If you look at it, he had me hooked and you see me after trying to get off of him before it happened; you see me trying to wiggle and trying to get off of him, but he wouldn’t let me go.

"My intention was not to hurt that man. I never had any intentions to hurt him. I don’t wish nothing upon no player. I’m not a dirty player."

.
NFC West teams have used top-33 draft choices to select seven of their eight projected starting offensive tackles.

Okung
Okung
At least four of the seven will finish this season on injured reserve.

In fact, the Week 14 game between the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams will feature four backup tackles in those teams' starting lineups.

Seattle's Russell Okung became the latest casualty after suffering a torn pectoral that will require a six-month rehabilitation, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Okung suffered the injury during the final minutes of a 31-14 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Seahawks think the NFL should discipline the Eagles' Trent Cole for injuring Okung with a violent takedown.

The Seahawks previously lost right tackle James Carpenter, their 2011 first-round pick, and rookie third-rounder John Moffitt to season-ending knee injuries. The Rams placed left tackle Rodger Saffold and right tackle Jason Smith on injured reserve. Saffold was the first player chosen in the second round of the 2010 draft. Smith was the second overall choice in 2009.

Other NFC West tackles drafted early by their teams: Arizona's Levi Brown, chosen fifth overall in 2007; San Francisco's Joe Staley, chosen 28th overall in 2007; and San Francisco's Anthony Davis, chosen 11th overall in 2010.

Losing Okung, Carpenter and Moffitt sets back the Seahawks' plans to develop those players this season. All three will presumably return in time for the 2012 season, but none will have the experience or continuity Seattle sought to build this season.
Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung was playing through the whistle Thursday night when he continued blocking the Philadelphia Eagles' Trent Cole away from the play.

Sustaining the block that long wasn't really necessary. Seattle was running out the final minutes of a 31-14 victory. Cole wasn't a threat to make a tackle.

Okung's persistence was of the type that tends to annoy defensive linemen. It was unnecessary, but within the rules and reflecting the tenacity line coaches seek when telling players to finish their blocks.

What happened next falls into the "unfortunate" category. Cole got upset. He latched onto Okung and used great force in flipping the 310-pound tackle over his hip and onto the ground.

Okung suffered a pectoral injury that could end his season. His coach, Pete Carroll, used his radio show with 710ESPN Seattle to lobby for league discipline against Cole, though he did not mention Cole by name.

"That guy is responsible for hurting Russell in a really unnecessary situation and hopefully the league will take care of that," Carroll told the station.

Nothing yet from Cole's Twitter account. The league isn't likely to review this play until it reviews other plays from Week 13 early next week.

Around the NFC West: Okung's injury

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
10:16
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The whistle had just blown when the Philadelphia Eagles' Trent Cole, apparently frustrated by Russell Okung's aggressive tactics, flipped the Seattle Seahawks' left tackle onto the ground in one violent motion.

There's a chance Okung suffered a serious pectoral injury during what otherwise would have been a forgotten play during the final minutes of Seattle's 31-14 victory Thursday night.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Okung "felt something pop" and could be lost for an extended period. O'Neil: "There is no final diagnosis on the severity of the pectoral injury, but it can be an injury that requires season-ending surgery. After the game in the locker room, Okung was holding his arm completely stationary, and had to have his uniform cut off of him." Noted: It'll be interesting to see whether the NFL fines Cole for what appeared to be unnecessary roughness.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Marshawn Lynch is running toward a significant payday in the offseason. Brewer: "Yes, running backs are plentiful, and most have short careers. Yes, it's unwise to invest too much in a player whose value decreases with every hit. Yes, the Seahawks learned this harsh lesson with Shaun Alexander, who signed a mega contract after his 2005 MVP season and wound up being released two years later. But Lynch is a different breed. He's way south of age 30. He doesn't have major injury concerns. Most important, he has chemistry with a young, rapidly improving offensive line, and unless his contract demands are outrageous, there's no reason to break up a good thing, especially since the Seahawks know how long it can take to fix a run game." Noted: The price for naming Lynch their franchise player could approach $10 million for one season.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune finds value in Lynch's contributions beyond the rushing yards and touchdowns. Boling: "Sometimes you have to watch closely. Late in the first half, for instance, Golden Tate pulled in a pass and was detained but not tackled by several Eagles. More defenders were closing in on him when a flash of blue sprinted into the pile to knock them off Tate. It was Lynch. He was nowhere near the play, but flew downfield to strike a blow for a teammate. Every player on the team will see that in the video study, and Lynch’s example makes lesser effort by anybody seem unacceptable."

Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Golden Tate, who has a touchdown reception in each of the Seahawks' past two games. More on this from Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson might have scored an offensive touchdown against the Rams had he not muffed a snap from the Wildcat formation. Peterson: "If I had held on to that ball, I believe I was going the distance. I didn’t have to look at the paper (on the sideline). They tried to show (the photo) to me, and I was like, 'Trust me, I know. I know what could have happened.' "

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are thoroughly impressed with rookie Sam Acho's savvy, not just his playmaking ability. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton: "He's got the ability to make plays because he understands. He's got that 'it' factor. We were keeping our fingers crossed about how long it would take this kid to develop. No surprise, we're just really happy he's on schedule."

Also from Somers: Larry Fitzgerald knew Beanie Wells had 214 yards at one point during the game against the Rams. Fitzgerald also knew the team record was 214 yards. In fact, Fitzgerald told coach Ken Whisenhunt that Wells needed another carry to break the record. Somers: "When Fitzgerald was named the NFC's offensive player of the week last month, he obviously knew it was the first time he won the award. But he also guessed correctly that Roy Green was the last Cardinals receiver to win it. Receivers don't win that award much, Fitzgerald said, because if they had a big day, it's likely that the quarterback did, too. So the quarterback usually wins it."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a setback regarding his ankle injury, leading the team to withhold him from practice Thursday. Thomas: "Walking with a slight limp, Bradford watched part of practice but also spent time on the stationary bike and getting treatment. Outwardly, the absence of Bradford working with the first unit on the practice field created barely a ripple. ... Backup quarterback A.J. Feeley, who started in place of Bradford against the Cowboys and Saints, knows the drill by now. But with Tom Brandstater no longer on the active roster or practice squad, it meant for a busy day of practice. Feeley took all the reps with the regular offense, as well as all the reps with the scout team running San Francisco plays against the Rams' starting defense."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown since their most recent game against the Rams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio: "Some luck is involved, but it's good play ... The part that's overlooked is how our defensive backs have made some critical tackles (on runs) that would have been touchdowns."

Also from Inman: The 49ers promise not to raise ticket prices in 2012.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at which current and former 49ers decision makers played leading roles in acquiring various players. Noted: The new coaching staff gets credit for maximizing those players to this point in the season. There's still lots of time remaining in the season to shape perceptions, however. The team could feel better or worse about its talent depending upon what happens between now and the end of the season.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' passing game needs to improve for postseason.

Hawks wouldn't be same minus Beast Mode

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:27
AM ET
Marshawn LynchOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch's fourth 100-yard game in his past five further helped his case for a new contract.
SEATTLE -- The last time the Seattle Seahawks shelled out top dollar for a running back, Shaun Alexander went into Ceased Mode. The former MVP took the money and couldn't find anywhere to run. He was finished within a couple of years.

That cautionary tale came to mind Thursday night when Marshawn Lynch shifted into Beast Mode during the Seahawks' 31-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field.

The raw numbers Lynch is posting -- 148 yards against the Eagles, his fourth 100-yard game in five weeks -- are enough to justify a new contract once his current deal expires in the spring. But it's how Lynch produces that makes him less dispensable than the typical running back. His running style is the very foundation of the offense coach Pete Carroll has vowed to build around.

"When you see effort like that from Marshawn, you can't help but give it your all," center Max Unger said.

Take that inexplicable 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Lynch ran right, disappeared into a crowd and emerged face to face with the end zone. On first glance, it appeared Lynch must have torn through the Philly defense with bolt cutters and a blow torch. Replays showed that wasn't the case. It wasn't even clear whether a defender touched him.

"I couldn't figure it out myself," Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said. "When he popped out, I didn't know who had the ball."

Teammates' explanations for what happened were nearly as entertaining as the run itself.

"I don't know what happened," fullback Michael Robinson said. "My nose started bleeding, man. I hit, my nose bled, I looked up, he scored and I'm getting ready for kickoff. That is how it happens."

This, from right guard Paul McQuistan: "I think they just pirated on us [slanting to the inside] and then we kind of caught it in the wash and he just squirted out, just made his way through there like he does, so it was great."

Whatever happened in there, Lynch showed the determination that is defining his career in Seattle. His puzzling refusal to discuss that play or anything else was the only disappointment afterward.

So, Marshawn, on the first touchdown run, can you describe what happened in there?

Lynch: "Offensive line played a helluva game, Tarvaris [Jackson] did a helluva job managing the game, we came out victorious, everybody is happy. Now we're on to our break. Thank you. I appreciate it. Excuse me."

With that, he was gone. No one got in his way, either.

What to make of Lynch and what he might become in Seattle?

No back is likely to approach the sheer production Alexander provided during the most successful seasons in franchise history: 1,500 yards and nearly 20 touchdowns per season for five years ending with Seattle's 2005 Super Bowl season. But it's safe to say which back opposing secondaries would prefer to see coming their way.

"They want nothing to do with Marshawn coming through there," left guard Robert Gallery said.

Lynch appears headed for a 1,200-yard season with double-digit touchdowns, numbers that could spike if Lynch sustains his latest production. The team lost left tackle Russell Okung to a potentially serious pectoral injury late in the game Thursday night. Running lanes might narrow without Okung, but as Lynch has demonstrated repeatedly, he requires only a little room to wedge his way through a defense.

When the Seahawks acquired Lynch from Buffalo last season, they also acquired the contract he signed as the 12th overall choice of the 2007 draft. That deal ran through 2012, but the final year voided. That means Lynch will hit the market this coming offseason unless the Seahawks use the franchise tag on him or the sides reach an agreement on a new deal.

It's not too early to consider the possibilities. As always, shelf life is the leading concern for running backs.

Alexander was 28 years old and had 2,005 career touches when the Seahawks signed him to a deal paying him $15 million in the first year. He turned 29 before the next season, started only 20 more games and never exceeded 896 yards rushing in a season.

Lynch will turn 26 before next season. He'll have about 1,300 touches at that point in his career. It's tough to know what Lynch's aggressive running style will mean for his longevity. The Seahawks need to keep him around as long as he's running the way he did Thursday night.

If the 15-yard run confounded, the 40-yarder Lynch broke for another touchdown had a revelatory feel. Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel appeared to have the angle on Lynch, but he couldn't catch him. Lynch, listed at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, ran at closer to 240 pounds late last season. He's a power back, but not a slow one. And his receiving skills, on display during a 20-yard touchdown reception against Washington last week, are probably underrated.

Robinson, the Seahawks' fullback, drew on his days with San Francisco, where he blocked for Frank Gore.

"They both are dynamic, they both can run, they can block, they can catch," Robinson said. "And people don't realize it, but Marshawn has hands, man. In college, he ran bubble screens and everything. The man can catch the ball. They are very similar. Marshawn runs a little bit harder -- you know, more physical, he's bigger. They are both great backs, and it's been an honor to play with both of them."

With Lynch pounding away on the ground, Jackson completed 13 of 16 passes for 190 yards. The Seahawks played Carroll's brand of football. They forced turnovers, they protected the football, they picked their spots in the passing game and they ran it.

Lynch, who entered the game leading the NFL in yards after contact since Week 9, surely widened the gap.

"Every carry he gets is like his last carry," Jackson said.
SEATTLE -- Beast Mode apparently comes with its own low-range four-wheel drive.

Even after watching replays, it was tough to fathom how the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch broke free from what seemed like an impossible predicament on his way to a 15-yard touchdown run.

Lynch disappeared into a sea of super-sized NFL bodies. Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney and and defensive end Trent Cole had shots at him, but Lynch, momentarily lost in the crowd, found a hidden exit and escaped.

This run moves to No. 2 on the list of memorable ones from Lynch. Those unsure which one ranks first missed the Seahawks' upset victory over New Orleans in the playoffs last season. That one might be impossible to beat. This one was pretty special, too.

Babin throws accusations at NFL, 49ers

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
7:53
PM ET
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason Babin stood with his arms extended to his sides, as though utterly baffled by the penalty referee Al Riveron had called against him in Week 4.

Roughing the passer was the call after Babin collected one of his three sacks on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, this one on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.

Babin put the gesture into words Thursday when the NFL levied a $15,000 fine against him. He mocked the league's system of punishing defensive players. He said teams should hire better offensive linemen if they want to protect quarterbacks.

The 49ers' Vernon Davis and Alex Boone double-teamed Babin on the play in question, but Boone got out of position and inadvertently set a pick on Davis while Babin rushed to the inside. Babin hit Smith right after the quarterback delivered a 26-yard completion to Joshua Morgan.

Babin's helmet appeared to graze Smith's helmet. The defensive end also grabbed Smith around the neck area.

Babin also took issue with the 49ers' tactics on the play, accusing them of coaching running back Kendall Hunter and right guard Adam Snyder to execute a high-low block on the Eagles' other defensive end, Trent Cole.

Replays showed Hunter taking out Cole at the knees on the left side of the offensive formation while Snyder moved toward Cole from his guard spot. Cole got up quickly, tried to bat the pass and then gestured as though officials should have thrown a flag.

Smith was also gesturing toward officials after the play. The league has instructed referees to err on the side of protecting quarterbacks in particular. This call was consistent with that mission, independent of whether the mission is justified.
Chris Long's increased sack production and overall strong play last season moved him into the periphery of discussions about the NFL's best pass-rushers.

Long was the lone NFC West player to draw a vote in ESPN.com's recently posted power rankings for pass-rushers. Tim Graham of the AFC East ranked Long 10th on his ballot, a reflection of the progress Long continues to make.

"He was always around the ball and led the NFL in quarterback hurries, according to Football Outsiders," Graham said. "He was tied for sixth in quarterback hits. He didn't have the best sack total, but sacks aren't everything."

I agree. Long came close to cracking my top 10, but the players I ranked had generally produced at a higher level over the course of multiple seasons. Projecting their future production seemed more reliable, although Long's current trajectory suggests he'll gain traction in the discussion.

A quick look at my top 10:
  1. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys. He was first on seven of our eight ballots.
  2. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts. The Colts' offense and indoor stadium sometimes give Freeney a huge edge.
  3. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs. Hali was the most physically dominant pass-rusher I saw last season. He had 14.5 sacks to prove it.
  4. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers. Made a case for league MVP last season, particularly early.
  5. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers. Bad intentions add to the fear factor.
  6. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings. My perception is he has become less consistently dominant, but the bar was set high.
  7. LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers. Thirty-five sacks and six forced fumbles over the last three seasons.
  8. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears. Peppers would rank higher on a list of best defensive ends. He was probably undervalued here.
  9. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons. Collected 13 sacks at age 32.
  10. Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles. Produces consistently and almost never misses games.

Back to the NFC West: Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock, Justin Smith and James Hall joined Long in causing problems for opposing offenses last season.

Smith had 8.5 sacks, a high number for a 3-4 defensive end.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The premise: Criminal profilers develop rich character sketches to help identify unknown suspects. Couldn't we use similar tactics, though vastly simplified, to anticipate how NFL teams might view college prospects? With your help, I think we can do some amateur profiling of teams and their general managers.

In focus: Rams general manager Billy Devaney and the linebackers his teams have drafted since 1994.

Would the Rams consider drafting Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry with the second overall choice this year? An offensive tackle appears more likely in that slot, at least in my view, but new coach Steve Spagnuolo also needs to strengthen the Rams' defense.

Draft Rd. Pick Devaney's Team Linebacker College Conference
2001 2 47
49ers Jamie Winborn
Vanderbilt
SEC
1996
2 50
Chargers Patrick Sapp
Clemson
ACC
2002
3 69
49ers Saleem Rasheed
Alabama SEC
1997
3 74 Chargers Michael Hamilton N.C. A&T
MEAC (I-AA)
1995
3 98 Chargers Preston Harrison
Ohio St.
Big Ten
1995
4 100 Chargers Chris Cowart
Florida St.
ACC
2007
4 109 Falcons Stephen Nicholas
S. Florida
Big East
2000
6 184 Chargers Shannon Taylor
Virginia ACC
1998
7 194 Chargers Jon Haskins
Stanford Pac-10
1994
7 207 Chargers Zane Beehn
Kentucky SEC
2001
7 209 49ers Alex Lincoln
Aburn SEC
1997
7 218 Chargers Toran James
N.C. A&T
MEAC (I-AA)
2008
7 228 Rams Chris Chamberlain
Tulsa C-USA
2008
7
252 Rams David Vobora
Idaho
WAC

The chart shows every linebacker Devaney's teams have drafted since 1994, ranked by how early his teams selected the linebackers. Seven of the top 11 were from teams currently affiliated with the SEC and ACC (all conference listing reflect current affiliations).

Devaney's teams selected none of the 14 higher than 47th overall. Going back further, Devaney was with the Chargers in 1990 when they selected Junior Seau with the fifth overall choice. Also going back to 1990, Devaney's teams have selected three linebackers from North Carolina A&T: Michael Hamilton (74th overall in 1997), Kevin Little (131st in 1992) and Toran James (218th in 1997).

Spagnuolo, meanwhile, was with Philadelphia as linebackers coach when the team selected five linebackers, all in 2005 and 2006. One of them, fifth-round choice Trent Cole, became a pass-rushing defensive end. The others: Chris Gocong, Omar Gaither, Matt McCoy and David Bergeron. The Eagles drafted none earlier than 63rd overall (McCoy, 2005). Gocong was the 71st player chosen in 2006. The others were 146th or later.

The Rams waited until the seventh round before selecting a linebacker last year. They will almost surely draft one earlier this year. The team also might need a starting receiver. The defensive line could also use reinforcements even though St. Louis has used high picks for Chris Long and Adam Carriker in recent seasons.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. is going to help us fill in the gaps on which college players might fit our profile.

Muench on the Rams and a linebacker: They might fill that in the middle rounds because Spagnuolo can coach them up. We should look for guys who can pressure the QB. That is why they might take an end, because they might want to build their pressure.

The linebacker I was looking at for the Rams was Jason Phillips from TCU. They had a great defense at TCU. He's a middle linebacker, team leader, blue-collar kind of guy. He is not the most athletic guy to match up in coverage, but he is fast, so he can blitz. He has a torn meniscus in his left knee that could scare some teams, but I don't think it's an issue at all. He is so smart that I think he will pick it up anyway.

I think Spagnuolo would love a kid like that. Maybe play him behind Chris Draft for a year, if that. He could play situationally on third down. He is going to spend all that down time [while rehabbing the knee] in his playbook and the film room. The other thing that is interesting about the inside linebacker class, unless they trade out, they don't really have a good option in the first tw
o rounds.

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