NFC West: Zach Nash

Our two-day look at NFC West rosters concludes with projections for the Arizona Cardinals' defense and special teams.

Defensive linemen (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, David Carter, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday

Leading contenders: Ronald Talley

Longer odds: Ricky Lumpkin, Landon Cohen

Comment: The position should be a strength for the Cardinals. Campbell and Dockett have earned most of the attention. Carter stood out immediately as a rookie in training camp last year. He came out swinging and quickly moved up the depth chart at nose tackle. Carter impressed enough as a rookie for Pro Football Focus to feature him in its "Secret Superstar" series. Williams has gotten his weight down. This is a big year for him coming off a season-ending arm injury.

Linebackers (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 7.2

Safest bets: Daryl Washington, Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Stewart Bradley

Leading contenders: Reggie Walker, Quentin Groves

Longer odds: Quan Sturdivant, Marcus McGraw, Paul Vassallo, Colin Parker, Brandon Williams, Antonio Coleman, Zack Nash

Comment: Washington is an emerging star and should command more widespread respect if the Cardinals' defense continues to improve. Lenon remains an integral part of the defense. He's the link between coordinator Ray Horton and the rest of the defense. Bradley hasn't come close to unseating him. A full offseason should give Bradley a better chance to earn playing time, at least. The Cardinals are counting on Acho and Schofield to provide their outside rush. The coaching staff also wants to get pressure with its inside linebackers. Washington has shown he can make that happen.

Defensive backs (17)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.2

Safest bets: Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Jamell Fleming, Greg Toler, William Gay, Rashad Johnson

Leading contenders: A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams, James Sanders

Longer odds: Justin Bethel, Marshay Green, Blake Gideon, Eddie Elder, Crezdon Butler, Larry Parker, James Nixon

Comment: Fleming, the Cardinals' third-round choice, stood out among rookies at organized team activities and minicamps. Coach Ken Whisenhunt commended his quickness and ability to change direction fluidly. The team plans to try him in the nickel role during training camp. The other nine defensive backs listed among "safest bets" and "leading contenders" have started regular-season games in the NFL. Barring injuries, one or two players released from this group figures to play elsewhere this season.

Special teams (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Safest bets: Jay Feely, Mike Leach, Dave Zastudil

Leading contenders: none

Longer odds: Ricky Schmitt

Comment: Feely's field-goal percentage last season (79.2) was his lowest since 2004. Four of his five misses were outdoors. Arizona plays six games outdoors in 2012 (Arizona counts as indoors even though the roof can open).
Alex Smith's comments referencing Cam Newton, featured here and elsewhere, have caught the Carolina Panthers' attention.

Perhaps they have been overblown. Smith isn't the type to talk trash or disrespect an opponent. He did seem to cross a line when mentioning Newton by name in a manner that diminished Newton's accomplishments as a rookie quarterback.

"Alex smith, don't hate on Cam Bc your stats would've gotten u cut if Peyton decided to come 2 San Fran.Truth b told..That's after a 13-3 yr.," Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said through his verified Twitter account.

Smith isn't on Twitter, to my knowledge, but I would expect some sort of response or clarification from him at some point. He'll be asked about it, for sure.

As for Beason, he's naturally going to stand up for his teammate. Using the 49ers' interest in Peyton Manning against Smith served that purpose, although Manning's status as an all-time great attracted lots of teams, not just San Francisco. Beason has been a better linebacker than Smith has been a quarterback, but if the Panthers could upgrade at his position, they would consider making a move as well. It's what teams do.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Randy Moss has found friends on the 49ers' defense, not just their offense. Linebacker Patrick Willis: "He's my best fishing buddy. We went fishing a couple times now, and I've out-fished him both times. ... It's an honor to have a guy like that on our team. For people to say the things they said about him, that's in the past. All we know is what we've seen here, and that's all that counts to us. So far he's been unbelievable."

Also from Inman: Smith's thoughts on the 49ers' pursuit of Peyton Manning. Smith: "It was more strange that anything. Looking back, I’d been in constant communication the entire time with Jim (Harbaugh) and Trent Baalke, even before the season ended, about a new contract and going to get things worked out. We were doing the back and forth, them and my agent. The contract was out there. It was about getting the language right and the numbers right. Then all of a sudden, you think you’re close, free agency is approaching and the deal is about to get done, then obviously a little strange to get the Peyton Manning thing thrown in there. But the thing through all of it, Jim has always been up front with me, has never lied to me and that’s what I’ve appreciated that through all of it."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals signed free-agent linebacker Quentin Groves from Oakland. Urban: "There has been speculation the Cards will bring back Clark Haggans, who has been with the Cards since 2008. Regardless, the team probably needed to add depth at outside linebacker, where much is unproven. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield are the projected starters, but beyond that are untested veterans Brandon Williams and Antonio Coleman, along with undrafted rookies Zach Nash and Broderick Binns." Noted: Groves' signing did make me wonder whether Haggans remained in Arizona's plans at this point. But with only 2.5 career sacks and none since 2008, Groves wouldn't seem to replace what Haggans provided. Then again, Haggans had only three sacks in 16 starts last season, his lowest single-season total as a starter.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams running back Steven Jackson, who compares the team's new offense to the one it ran in 2010. Jackson: "This offense is very similar, not identical. The learning curve has not been too harsh on myself. Sam (Bradford) is looking good, our receivers, we have a deep group that is very competitive that's going to not only help us, but is also going to bring the best out of each individual guy. All in all, as an offense we're looking good. And especially Coach (Paul T.) Boudreau up front, what he's doing with the offensive line is very impressive as well." Noted: The Rams are banking on Boudreau to help Jason Smith and others realize more of their potential on the line.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers notes from the most recent organized team activities. On rookie Bobby Wagner: "The team’s second-round draft choice continues to work at middle linebacker with the No. 1 defense, and also is seeing time in the No. 1 nickel. Today, he showed why by making an impressive read and an even more athletic move to intercept a Jackson pass over the middle. Wagner’s play came in the same 7-on-7 drill where Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor jumped a Russell Wilson pass to make an interception along the sideline."

Also from Farnsworth: Kellen Winslow describes himself as the "knight in the chess game" for creating mismatches. Noted: Winslow does almost resemble a large wide receiver.

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times says Pete Carroll remains vague on the Seahawks' quarterback competition. Noted: That will continue in the absence of meaningful evidence. It's tough to get more than an early feel watching non-contact practices.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times explains why the Seahawks wanted Winslow. General manager John Schneider: "He's a guy that brings that energy and passion that fits our group and our locker room right now. Kellen is so passionate about the game. He really is all ball. And those are the kind of guys you feel like it's worth bringing into your program. He's the type of guy who wants to be great."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD