NFC West: Tyron Smith

The trade sending Gabe Carimi from the Chicago Bears to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shines light on the 2011 draft for offensive linemen.

I've singled out the first round because that is where the Seattle Seahawks selected James Carpenter that year.

Carpenter started immediately, only to suffer a devastating knee injury during his rookie season. He returned to play in seven games last season, but the knee held him back. Carpenter lasted seven games. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee this offseason in another attempt to right the knee.

Coach Pete Carroll called the surgery a success and said Carpenter will compete for playing time this season. There are still question marks.

Imagine how different the NFC West might look if the Seahawks had used the 25th overall choice in the 2011 draft for Colin Kaepernick instead of Carpenter. Seattle needed a quarterback at the time. Kaepernick was available and would go to the San Francisco 49ers with the 36th overall choice.

It's 20-20 hindsight now, of course. Injuries have prevented Carpenter, Carimi and fellow 2011 first-round offensive lineman Derek Sherrod from contributing much. Sherrod suffered a broken leg during his rookie season and is still fighting his way back. Carimi appeared to be on a promising path before a knee injury ended his 2011 season. Carimi underwent multiple surgeries and hasn't been the same.

Seattle went into the 2011 draft wanting to rebuild its offensive line. Carpenter was supposed to become the team's right tackle opposite 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung. Carpenter will project to guard when he returns.

NFC West penalty watch: What's trending

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
4:18
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We had a couple penalty-related questions from the NFC West chat Thursday. A few notes on those, and on related matters:

  • Arizona Cardinals: Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste leads the Cardinals with five penalties, one more than cornerback William Gay has incurred. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, who had 11 last season, has three so far. That puts him on a similar pace (9.6 over 16 games).
  • St. Louis Rams: Offensive linemen Rodger Saffold, Robert Turner and Barry Richardson have three penalties apiece. Right guard Harvey Dahl has two. The Rams rank 18th in fewest penalties with 37. They ranked tied for 25th-fewest penalties last season (131).
  • San Francisco 49ers: Offensive players incurred six penalties against the Buffalo Bills. That more than doubled the season total for the 49ers. That figure reflects penalties against players listed at offensive positions on first, second and third downs. The 10 such penalties against San Francisco are tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL. Seattle has 29, six more than any other team has through Week 5. The chart above shows the 49ers with the NFC West's fewest penalties this season. The 2011 figures for San Francisco jumped in Week 6 when officials flagged the team 17 times (15 assessed) during a victory at Detroit.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Right tackle Breno Giacomini has six penalties, three short of his total for last season. Six NFL players have more penalties than Giacomini since the start of the 2011 season. Two of them are his teammates (Brandon Browner with 23, a league high, and Russell Okung with 16). Okung has seven penalties this season, two short of his total last season.
NFC West teams have loaded up on offensive linemen over the past several seasons.

They used first-round choices for Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Jason Smith, Levi Brown, Russell Okung and James Carpenter since 2007.



Only the AFC North (eight) and NFC North (seven) have used as many first-round choices for offensive linemen over the same span.

It was a little concerning, then, to see only one NFC West player on Matt Williamson's list Insider of 15 offensive linemen with the brightest long-term futures. Iupati, entering his third season as the San Francisco 49ers' left guard, was sixth behind Jake Long, Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey.

"This is the season that Iupati will establish himself as one of the elite guards in the NFL," Williamson wrote. "A project coming out of college, Iupati has progressed well and is loaded with great tools for playing the position. He is huge, extremely powerful and nasty. Run blocking isn't a problem at all, and his pass protection has consistently improved. Iupati and Joe Staley quietly make up one of the best left sides of any offensive line in the NFL and should continue to improve going forward."

Staley, the 49ers' left tackle, earned Pro Bowl honors last season. Williamson gave Staley and Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung honorable mention outside the top 15. Williamson has previously been extremely high on Okung, but injuries have made it tougher to project Okung's fortunes for the longer term.

Williamson was projecting for the 2015 season. The seven NFC West linemen mentioned above should remain in their prime years at that time. A quick look at where each of them stands heading toward 2012 training camps:
  • Staley, 49ers: started all 16 regular-season games and two playoff games last season after missing 14 games over the previous two.
  • Iupati, 49ers: played all but four snaps last season and has started all 32 games.
  • Davis, 49ers: improved last season and should benefit some from increased familiarity with the offense.
  • Smith, Rams: Rams think he'll benefit from Paul Boudreau's coaching in what could be a make-or-break year for Smith.
  • Brown, Cardinals: improved late last season and must continue on that trajectory after receiving $7 million signing bonus.
  • Okung, Seahawks: talented and possesses a nasty temperament, but hasn't been able to stay on the field.
  • Carpenter, Seahawks: devastating knee injury threatens his 2012 season, while Breno Giacomini's emergence could relegate Carpenter to guard.

2011 Rams Week 7: Five observations

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
1:44
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Five things I noticed while watching the St. Louis Rams during their 34-7 defeat at Dallas in Week 7:
  • Rough start for center Jason Brown. The Rams wanted to establish Steven Jackson and the running game early. They were facing the NFL's top-ranked defense in rushing yards allowed, but Jackson was healthy and running with authority. The Rams have invested heavily in their offensive line, including at center, where Brown was a marquee signing in free agency a few years back. Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff won this battle early. He knocked back Brown and shed him quickly to take down Jackson for a loss on the Rams' opening drive. The Rams ran it on the next play even though it was second-and-13. Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking beat Brown on this play, bringing down Jackson for a short gain.
  • Failure at every level on 91-yard run. Tashard Choice nearly had a shot at a 98-yard touchdown run on the Cowboys' first offensive play, but safety Quintin Mikell barely tripped him up. DeMarco Murray went 91 yards for a Cowboys touchdown later in the drive. Quarterback Tony Romo facilitated the run by selling a quick pass right before handing off. Center Phil Costa blocked defensive tackle Justin Bannan, then took on weak-side linebacker Chris Chamberlain. Tight end Jason Witten erased strong-side linebacker Brady Poppinga. The fullback, Tony Fiammetta, locked up middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Safety Darian Stewart flew toward the play with no apparent purpose, skidding past Murray as if trying to beat a throw to first base. Mikell whiffed in the open field, and Murray was gone.
  • Bad luck, questionable awareness. The Rams were almost universally applauded for adding veteran depth behind Jackson at running back. Williams provided good value in the opener when an injury felled Jackson. A couple lapses in the passing game have really hurt. The first came during a Week 2 game against the New York Giants, when Williams mishandled a backwards pass and was slow to realize the play remained live. The Giants returned it for a touchdown. In this game, Williams fumbled along the sideline to ruin a perfectly executed screen as the Rams, down only 14-7, moved inside the Dallas 35-yard line. Williams was not careless with the ball, but securing it with both hands before impact might have prevented the Cowboys' Abram Elam from knocking it out. The fumble proved even more costly when Rams tackle Jason Smith injured his neck while tackling Elam.
  • Didn't see much from Chris Long. I decided to watch the Rams' defensive end exclusively on the Cowboys' seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive right after Elam's fumble recovery. Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith won all four matchups with Long on the drive, including once when he put Long on the ground, and again when he sealed a running lane near the goal line. Tight end Martellus Bennett held up fine in pass protection against Long on two other plays, including once when James Hall collected a sack from the other side of the line. Fiammetta, the fullback, picked up Long on Romo's quick touchdown pass to Witten.
  • Your 2011 Rams offensive line. At one point, I noticed Brown, the Rams' center, fall to the ground without a defender in the area. This seemed puzzling. I slowed down the play to see what happened. Brown snapped the ball and moved to his left. Right guard Harvey Dahl trailed him. Brown slowed and was in the way. Dahl shoved Brown in the back, knocking him down. Dahl did not block anyone else. Quarterback A.J. Feeley completed a pass to Michael Hoomanawanui for a first down to the other side, so everything worked out OK. But the lasting visual was seeing one Rams lineman knocking down another.

Not much more to say except, "Bring on the Saints."
Twenty-one 2011 first-round draft picks have started at least one preseason game this summer.

Seattle's James Carpenter is the only one from the NFC West to start so far. He has struggled in pass protection while showing promise in the running game. Like some other rookie offensive linemen -- Green Bay's Derek Sherrod comes to mind -- Carpenter is facing growing pains in his transition to the NFL.

Arizona's Patrick Peterson is the only player drafted among the top six overall picks without a start. He returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown Saturday night. The Cardinals like their depth at cornerback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt also tends to make rookies earn their starting spots. Greg Toler's injury could lead to increased snaps for Peterson.

The two first-round NFC West pass-rushers, Aldon Smith (San Francisco) and Robert Quinn (St. Louis), are easing into their roles. Smith has at times looked like a favorite to start right away, but he continues working with the backups. The Rams have no plans to push Quinn into the starting lineup right away. They're set at defensive end. Quinn could use seasoning after missing the 2010 season.

Three of the 11 first-rounders without starts this summer have been sidelined by injuries: Nick Fairley (Detroit), Prince Amukamara (New York Giants) and Jon Baldwin (Kansas City).

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Highlights and interpretations from Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider's recent conversation with Sports Radio 950 KJR's Mitch Levy (thanks for the assist, by the way):
  • The team plans to find its starting left guard in free agency. Addressing the quarterback situation and the defensive line will also be high priorities. Schneider said the Seahawks have multiple quarterback plans. He said there was a 50-50 chance Charlie Whitehurst would go into training camp as the starter. That was his way of not answering a question that would be difficult to answer.
  • Tackle Nate Solder was the college offensive lineman Seattle rated highest. James Carpenter, the player Seattle drafted at No. 25, was second on Seattle's list. The team saw him as a guard/tackle that would project at right tackle for Seattle. The first four offensive linemen drafted: Tyron Smith (ninth to Dallas), Mike Pouncey (15th to Miami), Solder (17th to New England), Anthony Castonzo (22nd to Indianapolis) and Danny Watkins (23rd to Philadelphia). Did the Seahawks' reach for Carpenter? Time will tell, but they obviously had him rated higher than Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod, who went 29th and 32nd, respectively. No more offensive linemen were selected until the 46th pick.
  • The Seahawks thought Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Buffalo and Cleveland liked Carpenter enough to take him early. Those teams held picks between Nos. 26 and 34. The Browns traded back to No. 26 and then forward to No. 21, where the team took Phil Taylor. Seattle had an offer for the 25th pick from Pittsburgh and used the full time allotment before staying in the spot. Schneider: "When Cleveland moved back, there were questions regarding Phil Taylor's medical. Cleveland was the other team that was really high on James. When they traded back with Atlanta, I thought they were going to stay put (at No. 26) and take James."
  • Schneider said the Mushroom Group, a collection of old-school line coaches (is there any other kind?), loved Carpenter. There wasn't much buzz about Carpenter and Schneider said he tried to keep it that way by misleading a national reporter before the draft. The reporter had asked Schneider for surprise first-round selections along the lines of Tyson Alualu, the player Jacksonville picked 10th overall in 2010. Schneider said he thought about Carpenter, but provided another name to the reporter. The Seahawks loved Carpenter's toughness and versatility. Those qualities were at a premium after the team used 11 starting combinations on its line last season.
  • It sounded like Seattle was never serious about drafting a quarterback early. Schneider: "As much respect as we had for Andy Dalton and everything, it was hard to figure out where to take this guy (Carpenter) and finally I said, 'Let's take him here.' " More on Dalton later.
  • Seattle did not feel comfortable using choices for players with off-field concerns. Schneider applauded Baltimore for taking cornerback Jimmy Smith, noting that the Ravens' locker room had enough established veterans to handle the situation. He said the Seahawks weren't in position to make such a move at this stage.
  • Minnesota called the Seahawks about moving up into the 99th slot, where the Seahawks took linebacker K.J. Wright. Schneider: "We almost made a trade with Minnesota. They called. I wanted more picks. We hadn't addressed the defensive side of the ball ... and we decided to sit there and pick K.J. Minnesota called and they were like, 'You guys, that was our guy.' " The Vikings took defensive tackle Christian Ballard at No. 106.
  • Selecting receiver Kris Durham in the fourth round drew criticism from draft analysts. Schneider differentiated between those analysts and the real ones when answering a question on the matter. Schneider: "I'm pretty sure people in the league were on top of it. A lot of people had him, some in the third, some in the fourth, fifth round, right in that area."
  • The Seahawks will be targeting 6-8 players as undrafted free agents. The team considered all of them draftable. The list includes a safety, linebacker and quarterback.
  • Schneider joked about luring Trent Dilfer out of retirement to play quarterback. Dilfer, of course, criticized the Seahawks' draft, specifically the decision to pass over Dalton. Without that pointed criticism, I doubt Schneider would have mentioned Dalton in the above-referenced comment about taking Carpenter.

On Carpenter, the pick would look like a reach if Seattle had taken him just as the run on offensive linemen was ending. But with two more tackles coming off the board right after Seattle picked, it was clear the Seahawks had him rated high enough to take at No. 25.

Blogger mock: J.J. Watt to the Rams

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
2:12
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Von Miller, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt and Mark Ingram landed in the NFC West thanks to my shrewd maneuvering in ESPN.com's Blog Network mock draft for 2011.

I'm breaking out my selections on a team-by-team basis, with explanations that hopefully will invite your points and counterpoints. Running back Mark Ingram unexpectedly landed with Seattle at No. 25.

Let's continue in reverse order, with the St. Louis Rams at No. 14.

The selection: J.J. Watt, DL, Wisconsin

Off the board: Quarterbacks Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton; defensive linemen Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Aldon Smith; cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara; outside linebackers Von Miller and Robert Quinn; receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones; and offensive lineman Tyron Smith.

The thinking: The more I consider rampant comparisons between Watt and Adam Carriker, the less solid this selection seems to be on the surface. Carriker found himself caught between positions and ultimately caught between coaching staffs after the Rams made him the 13th choice of the 2007 draft. He played 31 of 32 games, starting 25, in his only two seasons with the Rams. He also needed shoulder surgery last offseason, complicating efforts to earn a spot in the Rams' rotation. Carriker's versatility was seen as an asset when he was coming out of college. The Rams' experience with him changes the outlook for Watt. It's fair to wonder whether Watt would fit well enough into any one position to maximize his value. Could he play primarily inside, adding to the rotation at defensive tackle? Would he possess the quickness and pass-rush ability to play enough on the perimeter? Would he even remotely fit the physical mold of the defensive linemen Steve Spagnuolo's teams have drafted early in the past -- guys such as Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Jerome McDougle, Corey Simon, Jay Alford and Derrick Burgess? Those are valid questions. Watt could fit more naturally in a 3-4 scheme. The way this mock draft unfolded, however, Watt projected as a good value selection at a position where the Rams are seeking young reinforcements. The top two receivers weren't available. This was too early, it seemed, to fill needs at outside linebacker. Drafting for the offensive line seemed like a luxury for a team already set at both tackle spots. It's arguably a year early to spend such a high selection on a running back, although Ingram was available when I made this selection. Watt became the choice by default -- a big, versatile defensive lineman adding depth where coach Spagnuolo values it the most.

Odds of this happening: Outside shot. I spent the last paragraph all but apologizing for the selection. I do think there's a good chance the Rams will select a defensive lineman, however.

Around the NFC West: Bradford meets OC

February, 17, 2011
2/17/11
10:10
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are meeting at team headquarters, as expected. Thomas: "Bradford was at Rams Park on Wednesday, and according to team sources got in a workout in the weight room and said hello to the coaches. There was no indication of any lengthy meeting between McDaniels and Bradford. But at least they've met, and Bradford is back in town after spending the early part of the offseason at home in Oklahoma."

Also from Thomas: The Rams might relocate training camp because coach Steve Spagnuolo likes getting away in an effort to build camaraderie. The team has looked at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, located about 100 miles from St. Louis in Rolla, Mo. Thomas: "Missouri S&T had not come up in discussions of possible training camp sites until now. Spagnuolo and Bruce Warwick -- the Rams' assistant to the head coach for football operations -- have toured the facility. A follow-up meeting was canceled because of bad weather. Missouri S&T's football team, the Miners, competes as an independent in Division II of the NCAA. By NFL standards, the Miners' facilities are said to be so-so. Several grass fields are available but there is not an artificial turf field. The football stadium, Allgood-Bailey Stadium, seats 8,000 and also has a grass surface. Without an artificial turf field, the Rams would be more vulnerable to rain during training camp. And the Miners have a small indoor facility, 40 yards by 40 yards."

Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com provides a general update on what's happening around the facility during a relatively quiet time during the offseason. Malcolmson: "Although strength coaches aren’t permitted to direct strength and conditioning sessions, they are on hand to monitor for safety and watch over the voluntary player workouts." Strength coach Chris Carlisle says players are working out routinely.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team heads toward the draft and potential free agency hoping to upgrade its offensive line. Farnsworth: "Because the Seahawks are selecting 25th, the top candidates -- Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and USC tackle Tyron Smith -- are expected to be gone by the time they make their first pick. But it definitely helps that the O-line group is what senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan calls the best he has seen in his 16 years in the NFL; so good that as many as eight could go in the first round."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on receivers who might interest Seattle. Rang: "Wide receiver is an area of concern; they need another playmaker. But having invested the picks they have in back-to-back years in Deon Butler and Golden Tate, you’ve got to expect that these guys are going to start to contribute. To me, with the other needs on this team, to invest another pick at the receiver position is almost like a luxury pick at this point, especially considering they don’t have a third-round pick."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt likes the new structure of his coaching staff. Somers: "With [Mike] Miller's promotion, Whisenhunt's staff is set for this season, barring unforeseen developments. Ray Horton, the Steelers secondary coach, was hired as defensive coordinator. Louie Cioffi, the assistant secondary coach with the Bengals, was hired as defensive backs coach, and former Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend was hired as assistant secondary coach. Former defensive coordinator Bill Davis, secondary coach Donnie Henderson and assistant secondary coach Rick Courtright were not retained."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com casts Miller's promotion to offensive coordinator as part of a progression. Urban: "Coach Ken Whisenhunt had said after the season he expected to consider handing playcalling duties to Miller full-time, and the promotion seemingly would be a precursor."

Also from Urban: Miller rolled with Whisenhunt's joke about the head coach calling only the good plays. Miller: "He’s the head coach, so, what do they say? 'It’s good to be king.'"

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' Frank Gore plans to resume running Feb. 28 after recovering from a hip injury suffered last season. Gore: "I will be better. I will take it one day at a time. I'm just happy to say that my injury healed perfectly. And right now I'm trying to get some strength, and in another week start running."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' coaches expect to have no contact with players during a lockout, and they would not even send home written materials, including a playbook, with them under those circumstances. The Rams' Bradford previously said he expected to have playbook in hand this offseason, no matter what, but Bradford was not speaking definitively on the matter. I'm checking on what is permitted. Coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly discussed meeting with quarterback Alex Smith multiple times this offseason.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely also expects no contact with players before March 14 or until a labor agreement is in place, whichever comes later.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for thoughts on whether the 49ers need a top cornerback, a top pass-rusher or both, and in what order. Barrows: "Asked about his pass-rushers, it was interesting that Fangio cited Ahmad Brooks -- 'He played some for them last year and showed some potential' -- before starter Parys Haralson." Fangio on Haralson: "Obviously, he's a guy that has some ability, but he hasn't done it to this point. And we have to figure out why he hasn't done it on a consistent basis. Can he or can't he?"

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa-Press Democrat looks at how labor uncertainty affects the 49ers.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman plans to dig up videos showing former coach Bill Walsh installing his offense.

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