Monday, August 16, 2010
Fallout: Westbrook picks 49ers, not Rams
By Mike Sando
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams hoped to add veteran running back Brian Westbrook. They'll have to settle for seeing him twice a year, provided Westbrook can avoid the injury problems that have limited him in recent seasons.
The San Francisco 49ers' signing of Westbrook, announced by the team Monday, came three days after 2009 third-round choice Glen Coffee shocked the team by announcing plans to retire. The 49ers' sudden need for help at the position ultimately gave Westbrook an option more attractive than finishing his career with a rebuilding team coming off a 1-15 record, although it wasn't clear the 49ers were going to add a veteran.
Westbrook would have fit better in St. Louis because his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, ran the same offense the Rams have installed with former Eagles assistant Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator. The dynamics changed, however, once the 49ers decided they would pursue a veteran replacement for Coffee (coach Mike Singletary was initially noncommittal when asked about adding a veteran, but he told reporters Sunday that the team had promising options on that front).
Singletary was clearly talking about adding Westbrook. It's a good move for the 49ers because Westbrook, if healthy, might provide a change-of-pace runner behind Frank Gore, something the team lacked even with Coffee. Rookie Anthony Dixon carried 21 times for 100 yards in the exhibition opener Sunday, but his inexperience would have been a hindrance if Gore suddenly became unavailable.
The Rams' inability to land Westbrook means they still have not addressed a perceived need for an experienced alternative to Steven Jackson, who appears full strength in training camp after undergoing back surgery earlier this offseason. The Rams aren't going to find a player with Westbrook's credentials and feel for their system, but sometimes the best moves are the ones teams do not make. Westbrook turns 31 next month and he missed eight games last season, and Rams backup Chris Ogbonnaya showed promise late last season when thrust into a more prominent role against Arizona in particular.
As much as the Rams might benefit from Westbrook's experience in the short term, they also need to develop their own young players. Ogbonnaya, like Justin Forsett in Seattle, entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft choice. The Rams will not need him much as long as Jackson remains healthy enough to produce. If Jackson falters and Ogbonnaya or any veteran they sign isn't the answer, the Rams will be an easy target for criticism on this issue.