NFC West: Walter Jones

Walter Jones deserves his Hall spot now

November, 22, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Walter Jones has made the 25 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a deserving honor in his first year of eligibility, but not enough.

[+] EnlargeWalter Jones
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones is one of the 25 finalists for the next class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle deserves induction without having to wait. It is no exaggeration to say that Jones may be the best left tackle to ever play the game.

Allow me to list a few reasons why:

• In 13 NFL seasons with Seattle, Jones started all 180 games he played, a remarkable achievement in itself for any lineman. Receiver Steve Largent is the only player who started more games for Seattle at 197.

• Jones was on the field at left tackle for 5,703 pass attempts, but he was called for holding only nine times. That’s only once in every 633 passes or .0016 percent.

• According to coaching statistics, Jones was beaten for a sack only 23 times. That’s less than twice a season. Some tackles get beat for a sack twice a game or more. Jones allowed his quarterback to be sacked only once in every 248 pass attempts or .004 percent of the time.

• Jones was voted into nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time Associated Press All-Pro. He also was voted to the NFL’s All Decade team for 2000-10. In 2005, Sporting News listed Jones as the best player in the NFL at any position.

• The Seahawks retired Jones’ No. 71, joining Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy as the only Seattle players to earn that honor. And former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared April 30, 2010 at Walter Jones Day across the state, which says more about the quiet giant off the field than it does about his accomplishments on the field.

Jones is going to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the time is now. He is one of the best, if not the best, to ever play the game at his position, so why make him wait?
The Seattle Seahawks' recent signing of free-agent defensive tackle Michael Bennett comes with an instructive backstory.

The story illustrates how NFL teams come to regret well-intentioned roster moves that appear shortsighted in retrospect.

Immediate needs trump long-term considerations from time to time, and that was the case for the Seahawks when they activated offensive tackle Kyle Williams from the practice squad back in October 2009.

Activating Williams wasn't the problem. Starting tackles Sean Locklear and Walter Jones were unavailable. The need at tackle was dire. But in creating room on the roster for Williams, the Seahawks took the type of risk teams across the NFL wrestle with regularly. They placed a promising young player on waivers one day before a game, hoping to re-sign him early the next week.

Bennett, then a then a promising undrafted rookie from Texas A&M, was the player Seattle released to make room for Williams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers placed waiver claims on Bennett. The Bucs' claim prevailed thanks to their 0-5 record at the time. A prospect Seattle's scouts had uncovered was gone just that fast.

The Seahawks had sacrificed a player with long-term potential for a one-game fix.

Bennett would start 28 games for the Buccaneers beginning in 2010 before Seattle signed him in free agency last week. Bennett, who had nine sacks for Tampa Bay last season, received a one-year deal reportedly worth as much as $5 million. The Seahawks think he can help their interior pass rush while providing depth at defensive end, a position hurt when starter Chris Clemons suffered a knee injury in the playoffs.

Kyle Williams started one game for Seattle, shortly after Bennett's release. He played in seven NFL games overall, starting three, and has not appeared in an NFL game since the 2009 season.

Tony Gonzalez and what might have been

January, 22, 2013
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With Tony Gonzalez leaning toward retirement after 16 NFL seasons and 1,242 receptions, I turned back the clock in my mind to 1997, the year San Francisco tried to draft the tight end from California.

The 49ers were in a wheeling and dealing mode in that 1997 draft. They came away with three players -- Jim Druckenmiller, Marc Edwards and Greg Clark -- after trading away all picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.

"While they rated [Jim] Druckenmiller as the best player available at the 26th pick, the 49ers tried to trade up for Miami's No. 15 in order to take Cal tight end Tony Gonzalez," John Crumpacker wrote at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Alas, Kansas City moved up to 13 in a trade with Houston and tabbed the Golden Bear."

Alas, indeed.

Druckenmiller would play in six NFL games, starting one. Edwards, a fullback the team envisioned in the Tom Rathman mold, started 82 of the 134 regular-season games he played. Clark, a tight end, started 39 of the 55 games he played.

As for Gonzalez? He has 237 starts in 254 games and ranks second to Jerry Rice on the NFL's list for all-time receptions. His total for receptions is 50 percent greater than the career total for any tight end. Shannon Sharpe is second with 815 receptions.

The chart ranks 1997 draft choices by most Pro Bowl appearances. Two NFC West players, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, made the list. Also in 1997, the Arizona Cardinals drafted cornerback Tommy Knight with the ninth overall choice.


Good morning.

Just realized I made it through Thursday without acknowledging Russell Wilson's selection as the NFL's offensive rookie of the month for December. We had an item on the punter of the year, but not on the rookie of the month.

Punters steal all the headlines.

Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks went 5-0 in December. Two of those five games featured game-winning drives in fourth quarters or overtime. Wilson posted a triple-digit passer rating in four of those games. He ranked second to Peyton Manning and ahead of Aaron Rodgers in Total QBR for the time period in question (Week 13 forward).

Wilson joins nine-time Pro Bowl choice Walter Jones as the only Seahawks to win offensive rookie of the month honors from the NFL.

Recapping NFC West honors to this point in the season: Note: The 49ers' Aldon Smith was also defensive player of the month for November.

Kalil shines, but Rams have other needs

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- USC tackle Matt Kalil validated his athletic credentials with a fast 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine Saturday.

Kalil
Kalil
Kalil, listed by some as a candidate for St. Louis with the second choice in the 2012 draft, unofficially needed only 4.96 seconds to cover the standard testing distance, according to the NFL. Kalil has emphasized getting bigger and stronger to improve as a run blocker, but teams will value him primarily for his athletic ability. Any offensive lineman can take pride in a 40-yard time beneath five seconds.

Kalil weighed 306 pounds, heavier than his college playing weight.

Former NFC West mainstay tackles Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, first-round picks in 1997, beat the five-second threshold easily before becoming regular Pro Bowl players. Jones clocked in the 4.65-second range coming out of college. Pace ran in the 4.85-second range and averaged 4.9 during predraft workouts.

Jones was 301 pounds coming out of Florida State. He filled out to about 325 pounds. Kalil stands 6-foot-6 and appears capable of packing on additional weight without much trouble.

I question whether the Rams would use a high choice for an offensive tackle this year. They need playmakers to boost a scoring offense that ranked last in the NFL last season. They have Rodger Saffold at left tackle and could bring back right tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009. Smith has had concussion problems. The Rams have not spoken with him about adjusting his salary, but that appears likely to happen if Smith does return.

Minnesota might be a more likely landing spot for Kalil. The Vikings pick third overall. Kevin Seifert has more on the NFC North blog.
Greg from Seattle thought Victor Cruz's first-quarter non-fumble in the Super Bowl, rendered irrelevant by a penalty for 12 men on the field, resembled the forward-progress call involving Ahmad Bradshaw that hurt San Francisco during the 49ers' game against the Giants two weeks ago.

"The only discernible difference I saw was that there were two men involved on Bradshaw's fumble two weeks ago," Greg wrote. "If this week's play had been ruled a fumble while the Niners were not permitted even to challenge, I would have been outraged. Curious to hear your perspective."

Mike Sando: I had the exact same thought, but it was a fleeting one because of the penalty. The 49ers weren't necessarily victimized by a horrible call, in my view. It seemed like one of those unlucky ones, along the lines of the chop-block call against Frank Gore in Baltimore. I disagreed with the call against Gore and thought the 49ers caught a bad break on the Bradshaw ruling. The Cruz play looked similar when watching the game live. (Update: Gore chop block was obviously at Baltimore; I mistakenly wrote Philadelphia originally).

Former NFL officiating boss Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst, offered this take: "Without this penalty, fans would have been left wondering why the play in San Francisco was ruled forward progress and this one wasn’t. In my opinion, both plays should have been ruled forward progress and not fumbles."

I dislike the forward-progress ruling when it's close. Rules require players making receptions to hold onto the ball through the conclusion of the play. Why not enforce the same standard for players running with the ball? If officials think forward progress has been stopped, then they should blow the whistle. Had the whistle blown when Bradshaw lost the ball? How about when Cruz lost the ball? If not, the play was live, right?

I'm open-minded on this, but that's how it looks from this angle.


Bruce from Port Angeles, Wash., was among several writing to express satisfaction after seeing Cortez Kennedy become the second longtime Seattle Seahawks player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He appreciated whatever work was done in presenting Kennedy's credentials to the selectors.

Mike Sando: The Mount Rushmore of Seahawks history would include Steve Largent, Kenny Easley, Kennedy and Walter Jones, in my view. Shaun Alexander deserves consideration as well, but I think those other guys were the elite of the elite in the pure ability to dominate their opponents.

Easley, Kennedy and Jones played extremely physical positions, too, so their dominance was a cut above simply by the nature of their jobs. I tend to favor candidates who flat-out dominated even when two or three opponents at a time matched up against them. Kennedy fit that criteria.

Kennedy's candidacy suffered some from the Seahawks' struggles during the 1990s. The team kept hiring offensive-minded head coaches in an effort to fix that side of the ball, going from Chuck Knox to Tom Flores to Dennis Erickson to Mike Holmgren during Kennedy's tenure.

Holmgren's arrival in 1999 led to an 8-2 start and playoff appearance that season. Kennedy had 6.5 sacks and two interceptions that year, with three of those sacks during Holmgren's return to Green Bay on the Monday night stage. Overall, Kennedy appeared in prime time only five times during his career. For that reason, many of the selectors rarely saw him play.

One key to Kennedy's enshrinement was making sure the selectors had the relevant facts and testimonials before them. Presenting Kennedy was straightforward. His credentials made it so.


Ted from San Carlos thought Wes Welker was taking far too much criticism for the pass he failed to catch with four minutes remaining in Super Bowl XLVI. He questioned whether I had even watched the game. "How could you blame Welker for that 'drop' when the pass was terrible? Brady had a wide-open Welker and made a bad pass. It would have been a GREAT catch had he caught it. This is on Brady."

Mike Sando: Welker blamed Welker. He is a credible source on the subject. The ball hit both of his hands.


Suzy from Dallas says Welker "manned up" and took the blame for missing what would have been a "miracle" catch. "When you review the tape," she wrote, "please retract your entire story (like a man)."

Mike Sando: David Tyree made a miracle catch in Super Bowl XLII. Welker has a clear opportunity to make this catch. He is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Many sources, including the Boston Globe, have described this pass for what it was, a bit behind Welker, but catchable. If Welker had made that catch, people would not be talking about it in the vein they discuss Tyree's catch. Not even close.


Andy from Syracuse was among several fans asking whether the 49ers' move to Santa Clara on game days will result in a name change.

Mike Sando: They will still be the San Francisco 49ers. Their headquarters have been in Santa Clara for years. The team's history and heritage is very important to team persident Jed York. Santa Clara is not that far away.


Darren from Vacaville, Calif., did not like reading in our recent Super Bowl losers story the word "outclassed" to describe the Los Angeles Rams during their Super Bowl defeat to Pittsburgh following the 1979 season. "This team had the feared Steelers on the ropes," he wrote.

Mike Sando: I'm going to grant you this one. I actually did not write that part of the item. Jamison Hensley and I worked on that together. He wrote the part on the Rams. I saw it and did not disagree strongly enough to talk to him about adjusting it. It was a reasonable take given the Rams' status that season as a 9-7 team without its starting quarterback, Pat Haden.

Sorry, no Arizona Cardinals questions this time. There weren't any fresh ones atop the mailbag. My flight is making its way across the country. Figured I'd better file this while the laptop battery was strong, the wireless was working, etc.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.

Where NFL teams rank in line continuity

December, 1, 2011
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NFL teams strive for continuity along their offensive lines.

Seattle Seahawks fans remember the five players largely responsible for their team's Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season. Left tackle Walter Jones, left guard Steve Hutchinson, center Robbie Tobeck, right guard Chris Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear started every game.

When the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl a few years later, the same five linemen started all season: left tackle Mike Gandy, left guard Reggie Wells, center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Deuce Lutui and right tackle Levi Brown.

Teams shuffling their lines during a season usually do so for negative reasons such as injuries or poor performance.

The chart ranks NFC West teams by percentage of offensive snaps played by the most frequently used combination of five offensive linemen this season. The Seahawks' leading five has played 26.2 percent, third-lowest in the NFL behind those for Indianapolis (19.6 percent) and Buffalo (24.1). Download full NFL rankings here.

The most frequently used five for Seattle featured left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Robert Gallery, center Max Unger, right guard John Moffitt and right tackle James Carpenter. They have played 183 snaps together. That is two more than than a group featuring the same five, but with Paul McQuistan instead of Gallery at left guard. The current group, this one featuring Gallery at left guard, McQuistan and right guard and Breno Giacomini at right tackle, has 130 snaps. Three others line combinations have at least 50 snaps.

The Houston Texans (98.9) and Denver Broncos (95.8) are the only teams to use the same five linemen on more than 85 percent of snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They rank among the NFL's top three teams in rushing yardage, with Denver's totals including 455 yards from quarterback Tim Tebow.

The 49ers' most frequently used fivesome ranks 13th at 62.8 percent. The Cardinals' primary five ranks 16th at 53.1 percent. The Rams' five ranks 29th at 34.5 percent.

San Francisco has averaged 5.1 yards per carry with Adam Snyder at right guard (418 total plays) and 3.1 per carry with Chilo Rachal in that spot (201 plays). No other frequently used combinations in the division feature such disparities. Seattle has averaged 3.6 yards per carry with its current line, down from the 4.2 and 4.3 range with the lines it used most frequently earlier in the year. Sack percentage is also up slightly.

Challenging the 49ers' divisional dominance

September, 11, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers have changed head coaches and coordinators multiple times in recent years, but there has been at least one constant.

The team keeps defeating division opponents at home.

The 49ers have won their last seven NFC West games at Candlestick Park. The average final score: 31-12.

It's something to keep in mind when the Seattle Seahawks visit later Sunday. Seattle is the most recent NFC West team to defeat the 49ers at Candlestick, back in Week 8 of the 2008 season.

Eight 49ers starters from that 2008 defeat remain in the lineup or at least part of the game plan this week: Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Parys Haralson, Isaac Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Several 49ers backups and inactive players from that game also remain with the team, including Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Alex Smith was on injured reserve and did not play that season.

The Seahawks have had almost zero carryover. Koren Robinson, Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Keary Colbert, Seneca Wallace, Jordan Kent and current 49ers assistant Bobby Engram were among their offensive starters that day. They're hoping a nearly all-new team can produce different results against the 49ers on the road.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh inherits a team that has gone 11-3 in its last 14 divisional games, home or away. Seattle has accounted for two of those three defeats, including in the 2010 opener.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals continue to take things slowly with Patrick Peterson even though the first-round pick thinks he's ready to start. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I'm glad we still have more time before the regular season, but Patrick's worked hard. He's an intelligent young man, he's very serious about getting better. We can learn a lot of things from the live situations like we saw in the game the other night and he'll get better. I don't think it's a question of 'if,' it's just a question of when it all clicks for him and it certainly seems to be moving in that direction." Whisehnunt said he wants Peterson to get a better feel for zone coverage. Peterson, the fifth player chosen in the draft, is the only player among the top six choices with no starts to this point in preseason. The two other first-round corners this year, Prince Amukamara and Jimmy Smith, have one start between them. Amukamara is injured.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates Max Hall's shoulder injury. The quarterback needs surgery and will spend the season on injured reserve.

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt remains coy regarding plans for the final preseason game.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com expects the Cardinals' starters to play in the team's final preseason game. Select players could get extended looks heading into mandatory reduction to the 53-man limit Saturday.

Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald isn't the only wide receiver on the Cardinals' roster. Some of the other guys take pride in their work as well.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the Seahawks are giving Breno Giacomini a look at right tackle in case rookie James Carpenter isn't ready for the starting role by Week 1. The two are splitting reps with the first and second units.

Also from Farnsworth: thoughts on John Carlson's season-ending injury. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks now seem set at the position entering Friday night’s preseason finale against the Raiders at CenturyLink Field, as well as the roster cut to 53 players on Saturday. Miller is the starter, with the former USC duo of Anthony McCoy and Dominique Byrd as the second and third options. McCoy is the better blocker, Byrd the better receiver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along Pete Carroll's explanation for the Carpenter-Giacomini time-share: "There's a lot to learn and there's a short time to learn it. We have to make sure that we're looking out after him, and preparing him as well as we can. He has been thrown right in, his feet are in the fire right from the first game against San Diego. He has done a lot of really good things, but it's still in progress, a process for us to figure it out and see if he will be ready for the opener."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' final preseason finale carries added meaning for the team given issues on the offensive line.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune displays a photo showing Walter Jones' bronze statue at the Seattle airport. Jones: "It’s cool. You go around to a lot of the airports and you see a lot of athletes being honored in the airports. So for me to be honored in Seattle is a great feeling."

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says James Laurinaitis returned to Rams practice after resting a pectoral injury.

Also from Nelson: Versatility is key for Rams backup offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka. Nelson: "Ojinnaka, 27, has played center, guard and tackle in the Rams' first three preseason games and said the coaches told him to be ready to play at tackle Thursday, when the Rams face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason finale."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steven Jackson's dreadlocks have been on hiatus while his hairdresser is on maternity leave.

Also from Thomas: Mike Sims-Walker is grateful to play for the Rams. Thomas: "As a newly signed veteran, Sims-Walker had to wait until the collective bargaining agreement was approved Aug. 4 before he could practice with his new team. And then he missed a couple of days after tweaking his groin in the preseason opener against Indianapolis. Time is running out for the veteran wide receiver to get tuned up for the regular season, and as fate would have it, Thursday's final tuneup is in Jacksonville, where Sims-Walker spent his first four NFL seasons."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com checks in with rookie defensive end Robert Quinn.

Also from Wagoner: Al Harris didn't want to go out following an injury-plagued season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh this way regarding Frank Gore: "Frank is a true 49er. I've said that from when I first got here. That's how I thought I would feel about Frank Gore. Now, I know how I feel about Frank Gore. The guy is awesome. Somebody should do a movie. Somebody should do the Frank Gore story, because it's an awesome story."

Also from Maiocco: The NFL has cleared the 49ers of any wrongdoing regarding Michael Crabtree's return to the practice field. Maiocco: "Crabtree has not taken part in any exhibition games in his first three NFL seasons. As a rookie, Crabtree did not sign his first contract until the first week in October. He sat out the first game, studied the playbook during the bye week and then started his first NFL game 18 day after signing his deal."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Jonathan Goodwin will start over Adam Snyder at center for the 49ers.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Crabtree did not appear close to full speed yet.
Walter Jones was the best player on the best teams in Seattle Seahawks history.

In my view, there wasn't a close second on those mid-2000s teams even though quite a few players reached Pro Bowls. One, Shaun Alexander, was league MVP.

It's fitting, then, that Jones, above all other recent Seahawks, will receive a statue in his honor at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Team and airport officials plan to unveil the statue Tuesday as part of a new Seahawks-themed restaurant at the airport.

The Seahawks made Jones the sixth player chosen in the 1997 draft even though Jones was a junior-college transfer without much experience at the highest level of college football. The team's offensive line coach at the time, Howard Mudd, initially didn't believe scouts when they said Jones clocked 4.6 seconds in a 40-yard dash before the draft.

How incredible was that time for an offensive tackle with a frame big enough to comfortably carry 320-plus pounds? Well, running back Ryan Williams and receiver Austin Pettis, both drafted by NFC West teams in the first three rounds this year, finished the 40 in 4.61 seconds at the 2011 combine.

Jones' athletic ability, durability and consistency set him apart from other tackles of his era. The athleticism in particular was freakish.

"It was one of those things where you look at the tape and you say, 'God,' " Mudd said after the 1997 draft. "Then you look at another tape and you say, 'Well, we'll see if it's for real.' Then I saw another tape and I just went, 'Wow!' "

Nearly 15 years later, Jones is going from fixture on the offensive line to fixture of another kind.

Airport tributes to legendary athletes carry some appeal. Most of us aren't going to make special trips to see statues or other tributes at local halls of fame. But if we're sitting in an airport during a layover and unable to find one of the two or three working power outlets available at some of these terminals, why not sample the local sporting flavor?

The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame has an exhibit at the airport in San Francisco. Bronze plaques honoring enshrinees appear there before finding homes near where the athletes made lasting impacts. San Francisco 49ers greats Dwight Clark and George Seifert were enshrined this year.

Visitors to the airport in Pittsburgh can find themselves face to facemask with Steelers great Franco Harris, depicted making the Immaculate Reception.

Note: In other statue-related NFC West news, Sam Bradford is getting one at the University of Oklahoma.
Wrapping up what reports suggest will be the final locked out weekend in the NFL this summer:

  • Current NFC West franchises can claim ties to seven of the 16 players enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame this weekend. The seven: Pat Tillman and Jerry Stovall from the Arizona Cardinals; Charles Haley, Randy Cross and Alfred Williams from the San Francisco 49ers; and Dexter Coakley and Mark Herrmann from the St. Louis Rams. Stovall was a three-time Pro Bowl choice for the Cardinals when the team was in St. Louis. Herrmann was a backup quarterback when the Rams were in Los Angeles.
  • [+] EnlargeFrank Gore
    Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe 49ers' Frank Gore is entering the final year of his contract.

  • Frank Gore's injured hip is in "perfect" condition, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus. Gore is entering the final year of his contract with the 49ers after missing the final five games last season. His 4.2-yard average was strong, but also tied for the lowest of his career. Gore set a career high with a 9.8-yard average as a receiver. Will the 49ers siphon off carries for rookie Kendall Hunter, a fourth-round choice?
  • Rams running back Steven Jackson has been posting updates to his Twitter account detailing his workout regimen. One of his fans won an opportunity to work out with Jackson after submitting an entertaining video as part of a contest. The video shows Jonathan Keenum sporting fake dreads while supposedly cranking out one million reps on a leg press (actually a man seated in a rocking chair).
  • The expected elimination of two-a-day practices during training camp as part of a proposed labor agreement will benefit players' bodies. It will also diminish the camp experience for those traveling long distances to watch practices. In the past, it was possible to catch five or six practices over a few days. I see less reason for teams to spend weeks away from their facilities if training camps aren't going to differ much from regular work weeks. That is only an initial impression. Teams will adapt to whatever new rules take effect. They could find other ways to maximize the time.
  • Cris Collinsworth posted thoughts on officiating after meeting with officials during their meetings in Dallas. Consider this nugget on how teams might adapt to the rule prohibiting running starts longer than five yards before kickoffs: "Expect a lot of crossing to build momentum just before the ball is kicked. The feeling is that there will be a lot of high directional kicks as teams try to pin the receiving team inside the 20."
  • Former Seahawks and 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer has put in some time coaching lately. Check out the video.
  • Retired Seattle Seahawks tackle Walter Jones pointed to the late Derrick Thomas as the toughest opponent he faced. Seattle and Kansas City were in the AFC West together for Jones' first five seasons. Jones singled out Thomas when answering fans' questions over the weekend. Jones and Thomas were named to a combined 18 Pro Bowls (nine apiece).

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. The next week appears more promising than any in the NFL since the lockout began in March.

One more note: Rams receiver Donnie Avery says he's running 40-yard times in the 4.2s and 4.3s. He also says he's able to change directions well. Sounds like Avery will be full strength when training camp opens. He's coming off season-ending knee surgery.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers will not be "major players" in free agency following the lockout, according to general manager Trent Baalke. Baalke: "Just because somebody goes out, makes a lot of acquisitions, doesn't mean all those acquisitions are going to pan out the way the media thinks they're going to pan out." The media has indeed played up some free-agent signings -- think Albert Haynesworth -- but NFL teams are the ones that have made the mistakes. Not so much lately, however. The 49ers and other teams have done a better job re-signing their own players and showing restraint in free agency. There simply haven't been many excellent players available. This offseason could be different. The pool of available players will likely be larger.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers rookie Aldon Branch isn't worried about a rookie wage scale.

Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers hope Joe Montana's name can help them get a stadium built.

Also from Padecky: Count former 49ers lineman Bob St. Clair among retired players upset with labor negotiations. He wants more protections for former players. St. Clair: "I am really lucky, luckier than most of the guys. The helmets when I played didn’t provide any protection at all. Concussions? We’d get concussions every game. I know I am having trouble with my memory. But I go to golf tournaments and I see guys I played with and against in wheelchairs, unable to walk. Dementia, crippled bodies, there’s no question it’s caused by the sport. No question."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects Chilo Rachal to face competition for the starting job at right guard. Maiocco: "Assuming center David Baas re-signs, Rachal is the 2010 starter whose position for the upcoming season is the most tenuous. Adam Snyder, the backup at right guard a year ago, helped Joe Staley organize all the work for the offensive linemen during the player-led workouts. Snyder knows the terminology and line calls as well as anyone right now."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says talk of high salary floor as part of a new collective bargaining agreement could affect how the 49ers spend money. Could the team have an easier time paying more to nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, for instance? Barrows: "Why not spend it on players you know and trust and who allow your best defensive player, Patrick Willis, to make plays? One of the issues is Willis, who signed a contract extension last year. Would re-signing Franklin mean that Franklin is making more than Willis? And if so, would that cause problems? (My guess is that Willis would have no problem with that as long as the difference is within reason. But money issues inside the locker room can be tricky)."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits the team's final season under coach Mike Holmgren. Farnsworth: "By the time the season ended, 26 players had missed a combined 163 games -- and the 14-player injured reserve list included Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney, wide receivers Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu and starting offensive linemen Chris Gray, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle and Sean Locklear. Matt Hasselbeck missed nine games, wide receiver Deion Branch eight and linebacker Leroy Hill four. So a better question might be: How did the Seahawks manage to win four games?"

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the Seahawks' struggles in pass coverage last season. Williams: "Pete Carroll wants to play more press coverage because it takes away the quick, rhythm passing game and forces the offense to make tougher throws down the field and outside the numbers. It’s one of the reasons Seattle drafted big corners in Stanford’s Richard Sherman and Clemson’s Byron Maxwell, along with bringing in Oregon State product and CFL Star Brandon Browner with a futures contract. And it’s why the Seahawks chose to trade 5-9 defensive back Josh Wilson and likely will not bring back Kelly Jennings in free agency. Carroll wants bigger, more physical corners on the perimeter that can force opposing quarterbacks to make more precise throws on the perimeter of the defense."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle offers thoughts on Sal Paolantonio's suggestion that the Redskins could have interest in Hasselbeck. Huard thinks Hasselbeck's value is rising as the lockout continues because teams will want veterans capable of running their offense on short notice. Also, the Redskins' offense is similar to the one Seattle ran last season, so Hasselbeck could step in pretty quickly. Unlike some of the other teams needing quarterbacks, the Redskins did not use a high 2011 draft choice for one. Would they commit to Hasselbeck beyond the 2011 season, and would that be enough for Hasselbeck to sign with them?

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, who has continued to pursue interests in comedy writing. Young: "Campbell said he has been working out several hours a day to be ready to roll when a labor settlement is reached and training camp opens, but he also spent time in Los Angeles visiting the set of Will Ferrell's web-based show 'Funny or Die' and meeting with the writers of 'Family Guy.'"

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com took notice when safety Adrian Wilson provided footage from a recent workout. Urban: "Wilson tweeted out a video from today’s workout. Narrated by wide receiver Stephen Williams (and with a cameo from Beanie Wells), Wilson shows his ability to rep four big plates on each side of the bar on the incline bench press. Crazy. Say the bar is 45 pounds and the plates 45 pounds each, that’s 405 pounds. Yikes. Not that it’s a shock, really. Wilson lives for the weight room. As an aside, safety Rashad Johnson, who is spotting for Wilson, looks like he’s put on significant muscle."

Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly lists Ben Leber, Barry Cofield and Quintin Mikell as players who could make sense for the Rams in free agency. Arkush: "Mikell played under Steve Spagnuolo in Philly when the head coach was an assistant with the Eagles, Cofield played under Spagnuolo in New York along with Fred Robbins and Leber has a history worth noting with Rams linebackers coach Paul Ferraro, who previously coached Minnesota's special teams. All three players could figure as potential instant starters at positions widely considered to be in dire need of more depth."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers more thoughts on Steve Largent and Walter Jones in asking fans to name the best player in franchise history. Both were highly consistent and among the very best at their positions. Both had longevity. I would give the tiebreaker to Jones based on superior talent. He was frighteningly athletic. Not that Largent would be a bad choice. Will Lewis on Largent: "The crazy thing about it, he could come off the line and be looking one way, but the body is going the other way. The body control was just amazing. And then he had those strong ankles. He could just stick his foot in the ground and then be gone. You’d be breaking one way and he’d be breaking the other way, because he could make his cuts at full speed. It was enlightening. And I had a chance to see him every day for two years because I was always the nickel or dime corner with the first defense, so the No. 1 offense was always going against the young guys in practice. So we saw plenty of Steve Largent."

Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the 1980 Seahawks.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at Seahawks rookie cornerback Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round selection. Williams: "There’s no denying that Maxwell has the physical ability to play in the NFL. At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and broad jumped 10 feet, 4 inches, all marks that placed him among the top 10 corners at February’s NFL scouting combine. Maxwell, 21, is a hard hitter and was a valuable special teams player at Clemson, finishing with 45 career special-teams tackles. But what Maxwell will have to prove is that he has fluid enough hip movement and route anticipation to remain a corner for Seattle, where he will receive some intense competition for a spot on the final roster with players who already have some experience in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s system."

Monte Poole of Bay Area News Group says Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is making an effort at self-improvement.

ESPN's John Clayton sounds skeptical when asked whether Matt Hasselbeck would want to play for the Titans. I agree, particularly if he's seeking job security beyond one season. Jake Locker projects as the Titans' likely starter in 2012. The situation in Seattle appears less settled for the long term unless the Seahawks make a bold move for another veteran quarterback this offseason.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals and other NFL teams will be slammed once a new labor agreement is in place. Urban: "It’s going to be even more work than normal too, since many reports say the teams will have 90 on the roster instead of 80 for camp, a little more leeway for injuries and such in this uncertain season. You have to figure resolving the QB situation will be at the top of the to-do list, but then which way does it go? Are the Cards able to keep guys like Lyle Sendlein, Steve Breaston and Deuce Lutui? How many undrafted free agents are going to be targeted? More important, which veteran free agents will the team chase? And where does Larry Fitzgerald’s extension fit in?"

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers would sign about 30 players if the next labor agreement included 90-man rosters for the 2011 season. About half of those 30 players would be undrafted college free agents, he estimates. Maiocco on the 49ers: "They can be expected to make an offer to Louisville quarterback and Santa Rosa native Adam Froman, who might also consider the Miami Dolphins as a landing spot. Stanford offensive linemen Chase Beeler and Derek Hall also are possible 49ers targets."

Also from Maiocco: why moving Nate Clements to safety would make no sense for the 49ers or Clements. Cornerbacks do sometimes move to safety later in their careers, but financial and personnel-related realities diminish the likelihood for such a conversion involving Clements in San Francisco heading into the 2011 season.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at one potential NFL calendar from a 49ers perspective.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Bruce Miller faces a significant transition in his move from playmaking defender in college to fullback with the 49ers. Miller: "Everything is so different on the other side of the ball. There are all brand-new terms. There are things that are common knowledge for offensive players and fullbacks that I'm just picking up. Learning these things -- the terminology -- is going to be the hardest part."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com confirms reports saying the Rams will hold training camp at their St. Louis-area headquarters for a third time in three seasons under coach Steve Spagnuolo. Wagoner: "Times and dates for this year’s camp will be announced at a later date. As has been the case the past couple of years, the Rams will have open practices for fans to attend throughout camp. Those specific days will also be announced later on." The Rams' headquarters are convenient to the airport. Fans can enjoy clear sight lines to the practice fields. On the downside, hot and humid weather often make camp less enjoyable than if the Rams secured another venue. And the setting within a business park cannot compete with what the Rams would likely encounter if they held camp at a college or university.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up the team's wide receivers. Who will start opposite Larry Fitzgerald? It might not be Steve Breaston. Urban: "That’s because Breaston is likely to end up as a free agent, and his return is cloudy. It could well depend on the level of interest Breaston has should he hit the open market. Breaston started last season as a top key target for the Cards, especially with Fitzgerald coming back from a knee injury. Then Breaston had minor knee surgery himself, and by the end of the season, his role was cut into by rookie Andre Roberts." Fitzgerald's future is obviously critical for the position. The extended lockout has prevented the team from adding a quarterback and laying the groundwork for a deal with Fitzgerald. There is still time. Getting a deal done before the season would be ideal.

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to sell tickets for their proposed Santa Clara stadium. Rosenberg: "The Santa Clara City Council late Tuesday unanimously approved a contract with New Jersey-based Legends Hospitality to sell season tickets for the $987 million stadium next to Great America. Legends said it plans to hire sales reps later this year and will start selling seats in January. They plan to launch a long-term marketing campaign, as the building is not slated to open until 2015."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson, who could become a veteran option for the 49ers based on his background with coach Jim Harbaugh. Branch: "Johnson, who has one year remaining on his contract, acknowledged Thursday his desire to reunite with Harbaugh. But his primary message at Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco was to spread the word regarding the Fam 1st Family Foundation he's created with his cousin, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are scheduled to open training camp July 28, provided the lockout ends in time. Harbaugh recently withdrew from a golf tournament scheduled for this week, just in case a labor agreement comes together quickly.

Also from Maiocco: Rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick and first-year coach Jim Harbaugh were together for a banquet in Carson City, Nev. Kaepernick: "I'm just going to lay it all on the line. It's up to Coach Harbaugh and his staff but I'm going to do all I can to get that starting spot."

Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Harbaugh's handling of the quarterback competition between Kaepernick and Alex Smith will prove telling. Padecky: "Here’s hoping Harbaugh keeps his word about the quarterback battle and leaves politics out of it. Harbaugh will go a long way in defining himself by how he treats the Smith-Kaepernick situation. And if he hasn’t felt the heavy weight of politics on his shoulders yet, Harbaugh will. He’s head coach of the 49ers. Politics is part of the job description." Harbaugh has put the focus on Smith this offseason. There are no real expectations for Kaepernick right away. That puts Kaepernick in a good position heading toward camp.

The 49ers' website details plans to commemorate the team's first Super Bowl championship with a screening of Super Bowl XVI at team headquarters July 23.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com asks fans to name the best player in franchise history. Walter Jones would probably get my vote.

Also from Farnsworth: a look at Tom Catlin's impact as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator in 1990.

More from Farnsworth: Jones was an easy choice at left tackle on the Seahawks' 35th anniversary team.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Kerry Collins' retirement from the Titans makes Tennessee a more natural landing spot for Matt Hasselbeck if the veteran quarterback does not re-sign with Seattle. Our own Paul Kuharsky thinks Hasselbeck will top the Titans' list of veteran options at the position. Hasselbeck's strong connections to the Titans' front office make the fit appealing on some levels even though it's hard to imagine Hasselbeck wanting to relocate his family to Tennessee at this stage of his career. Would the Titans offer substantially more money and security? Jake Locker projects as their starter for 2012.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams plan to hold training camp at their headquarters near St. Louis, although the team has not yet made an announcement. The Rams had considered multiple venues this offseason. The held camp at their headquarters last year. The team's facility offers easy access for fans, but hot and humid weather can make practices hard on players. Coach Steve Spagnuolo seemed to take that into account last year, drawing praise from some veteran players, notably running back Steven Jackson.

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