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Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Breaking down NFC West QB situations

By Mike Sando

Sam Bradford
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has progressed quickly.
St. Louis' Sam Bradford is the NFC West quarterback forcing analysts to re-evaluate criticisms raised before and since the 2010 NFL draft.

One of those analysts, ESPN's Trent Dilfer, recently came clean.

"If you watched his film at Oklahoma, he always played in a safe, comfortable environment," Dilfer said. "He did hardly any full-field reads. He hardly ever got through his progressions and he hardly ever climbed up in the pocket."

Dilfer saw this as a "recipe for disaster" if Bradford played extensively early in his career.

"He has proven me completely wrong," Dilfer said. "This young man is learning at a rapid rate how to play the NFL game."

Every other team in the NFC West faces legitimate quarterback questions heading into the final 12 games of the 2010 season. Some of those questions are longer-range than others. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. joined me in addressing them.

How should the Arizona Cardinals proceed?

Hall
Hall
Matt Williamson: Besides maybe Buffalo, there isn't a worse QB situation. What they do know is that Derek Anderson isn't good enough. In fact, he might not even be a suitable No. 2. So, that leaves Max Hall. Give him a shot. Maybe he blows you away. More likely, he gives you the confidence that he can be your long-term No. 2. Then, draft away.

Mike Sando: Hall isn't as wide-eyed as the typical rookie. He's 25 years old and confident. That's the only reason I'd consider starting him this early in the season and against a team as talented as the Cardinals' Week 5 opponent, New Orleans. This is where Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Chris Miller must have the right feel. They'll know whether it's too early to push Hall into the lineup.

Benching Anderson against the Chargers makes sticking with Hall easier. It's not like naming Hall the starter would undercut Anderson. That already happened against the Chargers and Whisenhunt has made it clear the best players will usually play.

When should Seattle consider starting Charlie Whitehurst?

Whitehurst
Whitehurst
Matt Williamson: In a way, the awful NFC West cripples the Seahawks here, as they are now in the thick of a playoff race -- although they are not a playoff-worthy franchise. As long as they are in it, they have to start Hasselbeck. But there is a problem. To me, they really need to know what they have in Whitehurst before the next draft. In the end, surely he will get an opportunity at some point.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks might already know they need someone other than Hasselbeck or Whitehurst beyond this season. I haven't gotten the sense Whitehurst has made a strong statement to this point. Of course, he should get some regular-season work before that determination is made. Making a change will essentially end Hasselbeck's career as a viable starter in Seattle. I think it's early for that.

Coach Pete Carroll's emphasis on turnover avoidance might have Hasselbeck playing a little too conservatively. Every coach wants to avoid turnovers. Every coach also wants his quarterback to make plays. Hasselbeck needs to make more of them. Whitehurst is more of a downfield thrower. Seattle might not have the personnel at receiver to go that route.

Should Alex Smith remain the starter for San Francisco?

Smith
Smith
Matt Williamson: I have been a Smith backer -- especially since he just has not had ample opportunity to give up on him. I would say a few more losing games/terrible performances would be enough for me, though. The problem in the big picture is that the staff and most of the offensive personnel is designed to have a power downhill running game. But the "franchise QB" is a soft-throwing spread guy who needs to operate out of the shotgun and have real defined reads. Bad combo.

Mike Sando: Perhaps I'm not giving David Carr enough credit for what he showed with the New York Giants, but I just don't see viable alternatives on the 49ers' roster. Troy Smith arrived too late in the game and hasn't gotten enough practice reps. Nate Davis? The 49ers would have to be in give-up-the-season mode to go that route.

The circumstances in San Francisco have put Smith at a disadvantage. The situation is far from ideal now. I think the 49ers are the victims of a rough early schedule. I suspect their head coach lacks the experience and emotional stability to navigate a team through tough times. No matter. Smith has never been in better position to succeed. He showed something in the New Orleans game. He needs to show much more, but I wouldn't make a quarterback change before the Week 9 bye. That would be the time to re-evaluate.

How good can Bradford be this year?

Matt Williamson: Quite good. In fact, he already is and seems to be only getting better. Sure, there will be speed bumps -- probably big, nasty speed bumps. But this kid can play. It won't happen this year, but Pro Bowls are in his future.

Mike Sando: The Rams have gotten a taste of winning. They know they have the best quarterback situation in the division. The schedule gets tougher later in the season, but I agree that Bradford will improve. Barring injuries around him, Bradford should be able to throw at least 20 touchdown passes this season. I think he'll throw fewer interceptions. The longer the Rams remain in the division race, the more strongly Bradford should factor into consideration for rookie of the year.