NFC West: Warrick Dunn
Dan from Toledo, Ohio, has a problem with the implication that running back Steven Jackson would have a better shot of winning a championship by leaving the St. Louis Rams.
"Nobody knows who is going to the Super Bowl, so Steven better make a good choice," Dan writes. "Who says the Rams can't win the Super Bowl this year? Who thought the Rams were going to be that good in 1999?"
Sando: The Rams are improving, but even they would likely acknowledge other teams are closer to championship form at this time. The bottom line is that Jackson would remain in St. Louis if the Rams were willing to pay him $7 million in salary. They weren't willing to pay him that much. That is why they gave him the ability to void his contract.
What Jackson thinks of the Rams is less interesting than what the market thinks of Jackson. Players seeking to discover their value sometimes do not like what they find.
Jackson is 29 years old, and his production has slipped in recent seasons. He finished last season with numbers nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2008. The difference was that he played only 12 games in 2008 and 16 games last season.
However, some accomplished backs, such as Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Watters and Warrick Dunn, remained productive at that age. Each topped 1,000 yards rushing for the final two times at ages 30 and 31. Jackson might be able to do the same if given the opportunity.
Back to the original comment from Dan regarding St. Louis possibly contending in 2013. There is every reason to expect continued improvement the Rams, even though improving from 7-8-1, their record in 2012, is tougher than improving from 2-14, their 2011 record.
Would Jackson, uninterested in a reduced role with St. Louis, accept one for a team he perceives as closer to contending for a title?
"I'm definitely going to have to [have] open ears and be open to all talks, but I don't know what teams want unless I made myself available," Jackson told "SportsCenter" on Friday. "Doing so, it was a very tough decision to leave St. Louis, but when we started talking about reduced roles and what they see me in the future with the organization, it has to fit and make sure that I could fit in the locker room as well as other players."
Mike Sando: Having a division winner with a losing record cannot overcome a one-game upset. The NFC South went 13-3 against the NFC West last season. I won't be surprised if the Dallas Cowboys exceed expectations this season in part because they're paired against this division. The NFC West needs to win non-division games more regularly to change perceptions.
This division should improve in 2011.
The St. Louis Rams were already improving. They should be better as Sam Bradford grows as a quarterback. Their defense appears solid again, and improved. Kevin Kolb improves the Arizona Cardinals even if he's only average. There's a good chance he'll be better than average with Larry Fitzgerald on his side.
The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have made easy targets this offseason because neither did much, if anything, to upgrade at quarterback. I think both teams have improved their rosters overall, however. And neither team was particularly strong at quarterback last season. It's unlikely either team will be significantly worse off at the position despite perceptions.
Matt Hasselbeck accomplished many admirable things during his time with the Seahawks, but almost none recently. His performance against New Orleans in the wild-card round was a fitting way for him to perform during his final home game as a Seahawk, but it wasn't consistent with his body of work since 2008 or an indicator of what was to come. His passer rating over the past three seasons was the lowest in the NFL by more than 10 points among the 19 quarterbacks with at least 35 starts during that span.
In San Francisco, Alex Smith will never live up to draft-day hopes, but it's reasonable to expect improvement from him under Jim Harbaugh. A significant regression would come as a surprise.
So, if the Seahawks and 49ers have upgraded their rosters overall while staying roughly the same at quarterback, how much worse will they be?
Clemster from Fort Worth wants to know which wide receivers will start for the St. Louis Rams, and what Danario Alexander's role will be.
Mike Sando: Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker are the starters, with Danny Amendola expected to see significant playing time. The Rams want their receivers to be largely interchangeable, which means we could see quite a few combinations.
Alexander survived the cut to 53 players, but I don't get the sense he enjoys much roster security, particularly if his knee continues to limit him periodically.
A reporter asked coach Steve Spagnuolo about Alexander on Monday. Spagnuolo tends to choose his words with care anyway, but his answer to this question was particularly conservative.
"He is one of the six receivers that we have right now," Spagnuolo said. "We all know what he has to overcome and battle every week, and he toughs it out. So, he is one of the guys right now."
Nolan from Bakersfield, Calif., wasn't alone in hitting the NFC West mailbag with questions about Colin Kaepernick's status with the 49ers. They thought the 49ers' newest quarterback, third-string rookie Scott Tolzien, might threaten Kaepernick based on what they showed during preseason.
Mike Sando: There were reasons Kaepernick was a second-round pick and Tolzien was not drafted. Those reasons have not changed. Kaepernick is far superior physically in just about every way. If he and Tolzien both reach their potentials, Kaepernick will be the better player. The 49ers hired Harbaugh largely because they trusted his expertise with quarterbacks. Harbaugh played a leading role in selecting Kaepernick. Picking up Tolzien off waivers should have no bearing on the team's approach with Kaepernick.
Andrew from Seattle says he's hearing more Carson Palmer comeback rumors and he wants to know what are the chances Seattle might make a move for him. Andrew sees a talented group of receivers in Seattle, including tight end Zach Miller, and he thinks Palmer could help get the most from them.
Mike Sando: At no point have I heard anything to substantiate those rumors, but they are definitely there, and not just among fans. One NFL executive I spoke with during training camps said he expected the Seahawks to make a move for Palmer, one way or another, in time for the regular season.
My sense is that people outside the organization (and probably a few inside it, as well) cannot believe a team would go into a season with Tarvaris Jackson as its starter by design. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly said this is what he plans to do. Carroll also values mobility in a quarterback. Palmer doesn't move well.
This is something we'll hear about until something happens or the trading deadlines passes. But if you're looking for real evidence that a move is likely, there is none to be found.
Casey from Phoenix asks whether Chester Taylor projects as a good compliment to Beanie Wells in Arizona.
Mike Sando: Taylor gives the Cardinals experience at the position and someone they could trust in small doses. I just see no reason to expect much from him at this stage of his career.
Age and recent production seem like reliable indicators for running backs. Taylor turns 32 this month. He averaged 2.4 yards per carry last season, the lowest single-season mark in the NFL since 1970 among players with at least 100 carries in a season.
Thirteen running backs since 2000 have rushed for at least 500 yards in a season after age 31: Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, Warrick Dunn, Fred Taylor, Lamar Smith, Curtis Martin, Antowain Smith, Garrison Hearst, Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, Mike Anderson and Terry Allen. Williams, Anderson and Smith (Emmitt) are the only ones to reach 1,000 yards.
Ryan Williams' season-ending knee injury forced the Cardinals to get older at a position where youth is served. It's clearer than ever the Cardinals need a strong season from Wells. An injury to Wells or poor play from him would leave Arizona in a difficult position.
There's already enough pressure on Kolb without adding more.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines five things to watch when the Rams face the Bengals. Thomas: "A disturbing trend from the Scott Linehan era has carried over so far into the Steve Spagnuolo regime -- namely, a lack of preseason TDs by the first-team offense. Granted, four starters were missing last week against Atlanta, and three will be out tonight, but it's time for QB Kyle Boller and the starters to find the end zone."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with backup Rams quarterback Brock Berlin, who is battling rookie Keith Null for a roster spot. The conclusion: "Null might have an edge because he was brought in by the current regime. Berlin, whose only other regular-season passes [three] came off the bench last season against Chicago, is a holdover from the Scott Linehan era. But Berlin, 28, isn't making it easy on Null. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 71 yards and a 130.7 passer rating last Friday against Atlanta. He accounted for the Rams' only touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Derek Stanley in the third quarter."
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com singles out five things to watch when the Rams face the Bengals in their next exhibition game. Better run defense tops the list.
49ers linebacker Manny Lawson singles out strong safety Michael Lewis as the crankiest player in training camp.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill as downplaying his back injury. Crumpacker: "Hill said his back problem is not related to the fractured transverse process he had in his spine at the end of the 2007 season." Also, Michael Crabtree has missed 37 practices.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers should learn plenty more about rookie quarterback Nate Davis in the coming week.
Also from Maiocco: a few more thoughts on Crabtree. Maiocco: "The deal the 49ers are offering is in the neighborhood of five years, $20 million base, $26.5 million maximum, with $16 million guaranteed. Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker, know the 49ers offer, and the 49ers are not willing to move from a deal commensurate with the No. 10 slot."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers struggled on offense without Hill or Alex Smith. Coach Mike Singletary even stopped the session to challenge the offense.
Also from Barrows: more details on just how poorly 49ers practice began. Barrows: "As you might have assumed from the earlier post day, this morning's wasn't the greatest. practice. ever for the 49ers. When the 49ers assembled for their first team drill session, Shaun Hill dropped back, fired a pass to Isaac Bruce that was nearly picked off by Manny Lawson and was done for the day. Damon Huard stepped in on the next play and his pass to J.J. Finely was intercepted by Patrick Willis."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News senses trouble ahead for the 49ers at quarterback. Kawakami: "The 49ers QB situation was sketchy all through camp, now it's injury-affected and sketchy, and in a few weeks it could be sketchy and headed to an emergency search for a long-term replacement."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Davis finished 49ers practice on a high note. Brown: "On his first snap, the rookie out of Ball State hit tight end Delanie Walker in stride for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Walker got past safety Reggie Smith on a deep route over the middle."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Jerheme Urban could start opposite Larry Fitzgerald in the Cardinals' next exhibition game after Anquan Boldin suffered a hamstring injury. Steve Breaston is already resting a knee injury, though he participated in individual drills Wednesday.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals plan to place Elliot Vallejo on injured reserve once he clears waivers. They think the offensive lineman has potential.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic examines the competitive and adversarial nature of practices pitting offense against defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby: "Oh, it's true. I am hating them right now. ... They give us a ton of different looks and they try to learn all our techniques, which is making it tough on us. We get along, but damn!"
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the battle between Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells is easily the most intriguing in Cardinals camp. Hightower: "Growing up as a kid, I studied Walter Payton so much. The way he ran back kicks, the way he was fighting for extra yards. Whatever they needed him to do, he did. That's the kind of guy I want to be. A playmaker who they don't want to take off the field."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders if the Seahawks signed Edgerrin James over, say, Warrick Dunn in part because James knows so much about the Cardinals. I do not think Dunn would be more than a situational player at this stage. James has the ability to carry more of the load if needed. I think that was the deciding factor in getting a deal done.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals are stressing accountability on defense, with an emphasis on the little things that have led to big problems.
More from Urban: Injuries at receiver open opportunities for others. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We'll get a chance to see Jerheme Urban in a starting role, we get to see Lance Long against some [starters], Early Doucet, Sean Morey. It will be a good chance to get work against a good defense and their No. 1 unit."
Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 lists five things to watch from the Cardinals in their next exhibition game. Will Wells play?
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks dismissed suggestions Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones might be headed for retirement. Jones likely had some doubts when his knee wasn't responding well early in camp. His outlook is positive following arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem.
Also from Johns: Seahawks coach Jim Mora says the team will be fine in short-yardage situations even after releasing T.J. Duckett. Mora: "Edge and Julius [Jones] and [Justin] Forsett and our passing game, we'll get it done. It's not always about having a big hammer. It's also about having a guy that kind find the crease."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says James is moving past a difficult offseason. Boling: "Andia Denise Wilson, the mother of his four children – ages 11, 7, 4 and 2 – was fighting leukemia, and James needed the time with his family. James and Wilson had known each other since junior high school, and were called 'high-school sweethearts.' Shortly after her death in April, James was waived by the Arizona
Cardinals." Said James: "Football wasn’t something I was concerned with. With what went on this offseason, I just didn’t want to blow it as a parent; I wanted to make sure I had all that under control.”
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers highlights from Seahawks practice Wednesday, including information on James' addition, Jones' status and more.
John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks the Seahawks would be mistaken if they tried to replicate the Tampa 2 defense without having the personnel to run it the way the Bucs did when they were most successful. Here is what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said when I asked him what we'll see from this defense during the regular season: "I think people will think right away when they watch us and they know about me and some of the coaches I was with, 'Oh, you know what, they are doing Tampa system.' And there is probably a lot of similarities as well as some other NFL teams have some similarities. But we have added some things, too. Maybe some things they have done in the past here and tried to break away a little bit from it. I think what differentiates it is the details of the package. The accountability, details and the coaching is what separates it." We'll see what that means.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Not as impressive.
Jones, Gore and Jackson ranked among the seven worst in the league for fumbles per rushing attempt (among players with more than 150 carries).
Something to keep in mind this season.
The Cardinals' Tim Hightower fumbled once in 143 attempts last season. Among runners with at least 100 carries, the Bengals' Chris Perry had the worst rate by far, fumbling five times in 104 attempts, or 4.8 percent of the time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Joe in the Army (overseas) writes: The blog is great. Keep up the great work. Some of the best 49er and NFC West info around. I was reading the e-mails and see the NFC West fans are getting ready and all seem to feel good about their teams. The 49ers are looking great under Iron Mike. The Cards are coming off a Super Bowl year. The Hawks seem to look strong after a injury-plagued year. The Rams ... well, let's just just say all the NFC West teams have been in that rebuilding state.
So, with at least three teams looking real good, is the NFC West finally going to get some respect? Are we done hearing about the weak west, the soft west or the NFL's worst division? I know I'm tired of hearing that.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Joe. NFC West teams need to enjoy more success against non-division opponents. The Cardinals were 6-0 in the division and 3-7 outside the division last season. Their 3-1 postseason record outside the division deserves recognition, but NFC West teams still have much to prove.
An Arizona victory over the Colts in Week 3 would help. A 49ers victory at Minnesota, also in Week 3, would help. The Seahawks visit Indianapolis in Week 4. The 49ers are home against Atlanta in Week 5. Let's see the NFC West win a few of these games before wondering why the division doesn't command respect.
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt WilliamsonThe Seattle Seahawks need to strengthen their ground game. New Seahawks head coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp had T.J. Duckett in their backfield when they all were Atlanta Falcons. Still, loyalty should go only so far.
Over the past five seasons, Duckett has 15 receptions. He rarely makes tacklers miss. Plus, even though he has been a successful short-yardage runner, he runs without a great forward lean. For being such a supposed big bruiser, Duckett has shown little ability to carry the load. In 2008, he had one game with more than eight carries. In fact, he only eclipsed a pair of carries in eight of the 16 games he played in last season.
|Joe Nicholson/US Presswire|
|Julius Jones is the likely candidate to receive the majority of the carries for the Seahawks in 2009.|
In 2009, it appears that Duckett is in line for more carries, but I really can't see why. Then again, Seattle just doesn't have many other enticing options to carry the rock. Maurice Morris factored in last season and overall, he was a good-enough complementary option. But in reality, that is what Julius Jones is as well. I will also contend that Morris had the better season.
Jones probably will get the bulk of the carries. While Duckett gets into the end zone with regularity, that is not something Jones does well.
Jones has a lifetime rushing average of 4.0 yards per carry. He is a decent receiver. His power is OK, as is his vision and elusiveness. In just about every way, he is exceedingly average.
When comparing him to the other top option runners around the league, he is flat out subpar. Jones isn't a bell cow runner who can carry the load and put Seattle's opponent away in a close game. He has been around the league now for some time and no longer has much upside to his game. Jones' tools are not bad, but they are only getting worse instead of better. He is what he is. And that isn't good enough.
Justin Forsett has shown signs of being able to stick at this level, but he clearly is not a No. 1 option. At best, he is a change of pace or specialty player.
Running backs are easy to come by. Of all the NFL positions, it could be the easiest one to find a suitable option. Seattle had a fine draft but did nothing to enhance this spot. It is certainly conceivable that they bring in a veteran off the street (Warrick Dunn, perhaps?) who has had success in this league, but right now we can only analyze who is on the roster. There isn't a No. 1 option to be found on this squad.
Seattle still is the team that I am picking to be the most improved in the league this season. If you are going to be weak at one spot, running back isn't such a terrible choice. The Seahawks could use many three-wide receiver, one-tight end sets and the onus of this offense should be placed on Matt Hasselbeck, not their core of runners.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Jay Cutler would have been "all wrong" for the 49ers. Cohn: "He is not a winner, has a losing career record: 17-20. Did you know that? You don't build a winner around a loser. He has a big mouth and he sulks. He has a reputation for being undisciplined and for coming unglued precisely when a quarterback is supposed to stay glued. Say what you will about [Shaun] Hill's limitations, he is supremely poised -- poise is his main virtue. The Broncos gave up on Cutler precisely because he's immature bordering on goofy and unstable."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation wonders if Dashon Goldson will stay healthy long enough to realize his potential as the 49ers' free safety.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with the Cardinals' cheerleading tryouts because, hey, someone has to do it. This handy photo gallery is probably setting an NFC West offseason record for page views.
Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 looks at some of the greatest fullbacks in Cardinals history. Ernie Nevers, Ollie Matson, Jim Otis and Larry Centers are part of the conversation.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams made a smart move in signing Kyle Boller as a backup quarterback. Looking ahead to the draft, Miklasz sees evidence the Rams will select an offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall choice. At the same time, can they really go into the season with Keenan Burton as a starting receiver?
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Boller's deal with the Rams, initially reported as a two-year contract, is really for one season.
Turf Show Times' Tackle Box examines the Rams' running backs while looking at available free agents and potential late-round draft prospects. The conclusion? "So, at this point, I really want the Rams to take a strong and long look at Warrick Dunn. I think with him in the fold, the Rams' offense becomes absolutely powerful. Plus, adding him takes away from our lack of experience at the WR position since you'd have the possibility of Steven Jackson, Warrick Dunn, and Randy McMichael running routes which would definitely keep defenses honest and should free up Donnie Avery deep."
Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly says Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn is "very excited" about the team's versatility at defensive tackle. Arkush echoes the general feeling that Seattle will not seriously consider a defensive tackle with the fourth overall choice in the draft. The Seahawks have not drafted a defensive tackle among the top 20 overall choices since selecting Sam Adams eighth in 1994. The team has drafted five defensive linemen in the top 10: Steve Niehaus (1976), Jacob Green (1980), Jeff Bryant (1982), Cortez Kennedy (1990) and Adams. All but Niehaus played in at least 167 regular-season NFL games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL teams routinely sign players with ties to their organizations. Those ties become more difficult to track this time of year because so many coaches and personnel people have changed teams recently. But we'll make an initial attempt here.
The Bucs' decision to release Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway and Cato June raises questions about the Seahawks' potential interest. Seahawks president Tim Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster were with the Bucs when the team drafted Brooks and Dunn. New Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was with all four released players last season.
The Raiders' recent moves -- releasing Gibril Wilson, Kalimba Edwards, Ronald Curry, Justin Griffith and Kwame Harris -- raise questions about the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. Wilson played for new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo with the Giants.
- The Rams have quite a bit invested in free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, making it unlikely they would invest heavily in Wilson. But the ties between Spagnuolo and Wilson are still worth mentioning.
- Harris played for the 49ers before signing with the Raiders. San Francisco is looking to upgrade its depth on the offensive line. The team also needs a starting right tackle. Harris would not be the answer as a starter.
- Curry played for new Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Oakland last season. The Seahawks will be looking to improve their depth at receiver. I do not know what Knapp thinks of Curry, but he would be familiar with him.
The Panthers' decision to release receiver D.J. Hackett makes available a familiar name for the Seahawks. Seattle appeared lukewarm in retaining Hackett last offseason. The interest might be cooler given changes to the Seahawks' staff. Mike Holmgren and his coaches knew Hackett, but the offense will be different under Knapp.
These are a few connections to keep in mind. Please offer up others if you have them.