NFL Nation: Alex Gibbs

During the league's scouting combine this past week, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway gave a clear, unvarnished opinion of how the team will approach its own group of soon-to-be free agents.

That is, the team won't approach them. At least not out of the gate. At least not before those players can see if the bank accounts are greener on the other side of the fence.

"I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those," Elway said. "Especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos may turn to Orlando Franklin if left guard Zane Beadles leaves in free agency.
The Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Von Miller also poised for free agency following the 2014 season, so that will impact how the Broncos divvy up the checks this time around as well. It also means the Broncos aren't interested in starting the bidding for guys like wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno and guard Zane Beadles. And it means, unless the three don't draw much interest in the open market the Broncos have given some consideration to what they would do if they move on.

Beadles' departure would force changes in the offensive line that the Broncos are expected to take on in house. With so many needs on defense, any significant dollars spent in free agency will address issues there. The coming draft class is expected to have a heavy defensive flavor as well.

Up front Beadles has started the last 62 regular season games for the Broncos and has played in every game -- 64 in the regular season as well as six playoff games -- of his career. If he leaves as expected, the Broncos would be inclined to take another look at Orlando Franklin at guard.

While Franklin has spent his time with the Broncos at right tackle, many teams believed he would be a better guard in the NFL when he was drafted in 2011. The Broncos have worked him occasionally on the inside during practice with the idea a move would be in his future.

Franklin is a power player and with Louis Vasquez at right guard, a move to the left guard spot for Franklin would give the Broncos the kind of bulk on the inside they want in front of quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Broncos are going to play as much in three-wide receiver sets as they have in Manning's two seasons behind center they have to be able to stone-wall defenses in the middle of the field.

Manning's post-surgery throwing motion is very pronounced in the lower body and he needs a well-constructed pocket to get the ball away with his best available velocity on the throw.

Any move to guard for Franklin would mean the Broncos would also need a right tackle to replace him. And they believe that, too, can be done with the players already in their locker room. Especially with left tackle Ryan Clady on schedule to be full speed by training camp -- he recently had the pins and screws removed from his surgically-repaired foot -- the Broncos will have their best lineman back in his customary spot.

"Ryan's doing well," Elway said. "We feel very good about where he is."

Clady's return alone is the balm the Broncos need to address much of the pass protection issues they had at times. This was especially true against the more physical four-man fronts they faced this past seaosn, including in their loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. Clady's return would free them to move Chris Clark, who started for Clady after he was lost for the year in Week 2, to right tackle. The Broncos also feel optimistic enough about Vinston Painter's development to have projected him as a potential starter at right tackle in the future.

Painter, who has spent plenty of post-practice time working with offensive line consultant Alex Gibbs, was a sixth-round pick in last April's draft. The Broncos had to promote him from their own practice squad to the 53-man roster in January when the San Francisco 49ers were set to sign him.

So, the Broncos will still take a look at some guards in the draft, perhaps even a right tackle, but overall with Beadles expected to get his best offer elsewhere, they will be set to quickly respond to that departure with players already on the roster.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Mike Shanahan brings his Washington Redskins offense to Denver Sunday, the folks in the seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will certainly see a little of the league's new-age style with Robert Griffin III at quarterback.

But many will see what they’ve seen so many times before, with so many 100-yard games from so many backs, a pile of dominating wins and Mile High salutes. They will see a late-round draft pick -- Alfred Morris, Redskins’ sixth-rounder in 2012 -- working behind an offensive line with five players drilled to move as one, to fire out, all in one direction, to sweep defenders away like a windshield wiper.

They will see, once again, Mike Shanahan’s zone run game. And in an increasingly pass-happy world, Shanahan still believes there is a place for a run game.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesIt should surprise no one the Redskins have had success with late-round pick Alfred Morris.
“No. 1, you need great players,’’ Shanahan said. “You’ve got to have everybody that buys in … you’ve got to have some very unselfish wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, quarterbacks.’’

And how the Broncos, who have faced just one team that has run it more than they passed it this season, handle that will have a lot to do with how Sunday goes. They do have some inside information, however, on Shanahan's staples.

Alex Gibbs, who carries the title of Broncos offensive consultant, was a long-time Shanahan assistant in Denver, including the two Super Bowl wins during Shanahan’s tenure. Also, the quarterback behind center for those teams -- John Elway -- runs the Broncos’ football operations, so when the Redskins move from the read-option to the traditional zone run game, the Broncos will know what’s coming.

But knowing what’s coming and stopping it has always been the riddle of Shanahan’s run game. Gibbs, Shanahan and Redskins running backs coach Bobby Turner have been at the heart of it all since Shanahan was hired by Pat Bowlen in Denver in 1995.

And Turner has certainly been the under-the-radar guy of the triumvirate. The late Mike Heimerdinger, also a long-time Broncos assistant and Shanahan’s former college roommate at Eastern Illinois, routinely joked before every draft “if Bobby likes a running back then I like him a lot, too.’’

They never felt the need to like that running back in the first round. Since the start of the 1995 season the Broncos have had 18 different running backs rush for at least 100 yards in a game, 14 of those backs played for Shanahan in Denver. And none of the 14 who played for Shanahan was a first-round pick. The closest were Clinton Portis, who was a second-round selection in the 2002 draft, and Tatum Bell, a second-rounder in 2004.

But Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick (’95), Mike Anderson was a sixth-round pick (’00), Olandis Gary was a fourth-round pick (’99), Quentin Griffin was a fourth-round pick (’03), Peyton Hillis was a seventh-round pick (’08) while both Mike Bell and Selvin Young were signed as undrafted rookies in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Toss in Reuben Droughns, who was signed as a fullback after he had been released by the Lions, and it should shock that the Redskins took Morris on the draft’s third day and he went on to roll up 1,613 rushing yards last season.

“You know what you’re getting there,’’ Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has said. “It’s all discipline, one-cut running backs who don’t waste steps and they’re coaching it the same way and finding the right guys. That's hard to stop when everybody sticks to what they're supposed to do. We know what it looks like -- we used to see it every day.’’

Morris is another classic find. He showed up to the Senior Bowl in January of 2012, where the Redskins staff was coaching, as a late addition. He was almost sent home because the Washington coaches had wanted a fullback, not another running back, but Morris volunteered on the spot to play fullback. He did not get a carry in the game, but Shanahan said the coaches had seen enough to keep his name handy on the draft weekend.

Morris is currently ninth in the NFL in rushing with 472 yards, but he leads the league’s running backs at 5.2 yards per carry. Washington also figures to be the sternest test of the season for the Broncos' base defense after the Colts rode a far more balanced attack than most opponents have offered to a 39-33 win this past Sunday night.

With the Broncos having sported big leads early in most games, opposing offenses have collectively ditched the run. The Ravens threw the ball 41 more times than they ran it, the Giants 30 more times, Jacksonville 15 more times and Dallas 22 more times without a rushing attempt in the fourth quarter. In the Broncos’ only loss, the Colts had seven more passes than runs.

The Eagles, who rushed for 166 yards in a Week 4 loss to the Broncos, ran it four more times than they threw it in the game.

The Broncos expect the Redskins, who threw it 70.9 percent of the time in their 0-3 start, to operate more as they have over the past two weeks -- Washington is 2-1 in those games. Over their past three games the Redskins have run the ball on 52 percent of their offensive snaps.

“Their last couple of weeks -- well over 400 yards of total offense, over 200 yards rushing -- 45 points last week in the win, they’re obviously better,’’ Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "It looks like [Griffin] is getting healthier as the year goes on.''

“If you can run the football and the defense has to respect it, I think it gives you a big advantage once you get to the playoffs to have a chance to win,’’ Shanahan said. “ … The defense can usually take a way a one-dimensional team, but when you can do both, it really puts a lot of pressure on a defense.’’
John Elway the quarterback won two Super Bowl rings with Alex Gibbs directing his offensive line. Now, Elway the executive hopes Gibbs can help the Denver Broncos win another ring.

The Broncos have brought Gibbs out of retirement to serve as a consultant for their offensive line. He will work with offensive line coach Dave Magazu. The two have worked together in the past.

The team is bringing in Gibbs, 72, primarily to work with the younger linemen, those players who often don’t get a lot of repetitions. Gibbs will be in charge of helping them with technique.

Gibbs is known as an authority on the zone-blocking scheme. He was the Broncos’ offensive line coach from 1995 to 2003, when the team excelled using the scheme. Denver now uses more of a power-blocking scheme with some zone-blocking influences. That will not change.
Chris Myers Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireCenter Chris Myers has been a steady presence for the Texans this season.
At the core of the Houston Texans’ steady, methodical play this season in the face of a ridiculous injury list has been the offensive line.

Right tackle Eric Winston is a talker with a profile, but the rest of the group seems to revel in a degree of obscurity, no one more than center Chris Myers.

“I think he goes unnoticed for the kind of player he is,” Titans coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak said. “He understands the system, understands what he’s supposed to do and he goes out and does it. It’s not about how big and tall he is or what his measurables are. He’s efficient, and he’s successful the way he does his job.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says Myers is the second-best center in the NFL this season, behind only Nick Mangold of the Jets.

“Myers is a great technician,” Williamson said. “He’s got great movement skills. He plays the game with excellent leverage. He’s the linchpin of the best offensive line in the NFL.”

Myers was pleased to learn of Munchak’s compliment, but he clearly isn’t concerned with what people outside of team headquarters think of him, the line or the Texans.

In that regard, he’s an old-school offensive lineman. He trained under five-time Pro Bowler Tom Nalen in Denver and is perfectly happy operating quietly in the background, allowing his play to do most of his talking and pleased if his running back is getting attention.

“It just comes with the territory of being an offensive lineman,” he said. “When you get to the higher level, once you become successful in the league you learn those accolades will come when warranted.”

They should be warranted this season, with the Texans winning the AFC South despite a slew of injuries to key players.

Myers was originally a sixth-round pick by Denver in 2005, 200th overall out of Miami. He spent the first month of his first season on the practice squad, then backed up Nalen and played special teams.

The Texans traded a sixth-round pick in 2007 to get Myers after coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith moved to Houston from jobs with the Broncos. Myers became a torch-bearer for both the sort of locker room culture and offensive line scheme the Texans wanted to establish. Houston has started him in every game.

There is less noise than there used to be about the Texans' zone-blocking scheme, a philosophy that features backside cuts that put defensive linemen on the ground. A lot of defenders hate it, and many say it puts their knees at risk. But it’s a legal technique that plenty of teams use, just not, perhaps, with the regularity and proficiency of the Texans.

It’s a scheme that serves to spring one-cut-and-go backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and syncs up perfectly with the Texans’ play-action and bootleg passing attack.

“You put them all together and they are pretty darn good at what they do,” Munchak said. “The five of them together, they’ve got it going. They’ve been doing the same thing now since [offensive line coach Alex] Gibbs went in there [in 2008]. They kept the same concept, they stuck with the same system and they’ve gotten good at it.”

There is a psychological aspect to the scheme as well.

“I can’t lie, it definitely plays into the defense’s mind,” Myers said. “When you’re pounding and pounding on guys throughout the game and you keep cutting them on the backside, they can play the cuts for a long time, but at a certain point either they are going to forget about it or get tired of having to play off of it. Once you kind of grind on them, it ends up playing out in the fourth quarter.”

Left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Wade Smith, Myers, right guard Mike Brisiel and Winston make up what has been one of the league’s best and most reliable lines this season. Brisiel just finished playing in the win at Cincinnati on a broken leg and had surgery, so Antoine Caldwell will step in for a stretch.

When the line and offense are playing well, the Texans’ attack can be a beautiful operation.

“So much about the way we run the ball is tied to coordination, there is a real rhythm to this offense,” Smith said.

“To the degree that you can get five guys and in a lot of cases six guys with the tight end and then seven with the fullback on the same page and execute that coordinated effort, that’s where you start to get the big runs and the cutbacks and you start to see the success in the system. They’ve got that coordination, they’ve got that rhythm together, and I think that’s why you see us running the ball effectively.”

As the Texans make their first venture into the playoffs, there will be talk of the line’s solid play, but far more focus on the league’s top defense, Foster, receiver Andre Johnson and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.

Myers will have a great vantage point on it all, watching and working.

“Obviously his position is a natural position of leadership on the line,” Smith said. “He’s done a nice job of keeping our guys coordinated and he’s playing at a high level at this point.

“More often than not it’s a position where people don’t talk a lot, so maybe people don’t recognize how important or how strong a leadership position the offensive line commands within a team, but it’s significantly important. That’s where games are won and lost, up front.”

Observation deck: Seahawks-Chargers

August, 11, 2011
Observations from the Seattle Seahawks 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game Thursday night:

  • Losing left tackle Russell Okung to an ankle injury on the fifth offensive play ruined the night for Seattle. X-rays were negative, the team said, and it was not immediately clear how long Okung would be sidelined.
  • The Seahawks need Okung. Building up the offensive line has been Pete Carroll's top priority as the Seahawks' head coach. Carroll has sought highly acclaimed line coaches to lead the unit, going with Alex Gibbs and now Tom Cable. The team has used two first-round picks on tackles in Carroll's two seasons as coach, most recently taking a right tackle (James Carpenter) over a quarterback (Andy Dalton) in an effort to build from the inside out.
  • The offensive line struggled badly last season, so even modest success in an exhibition game counts for something. Carpenter had some rough moments in pass protection, but he helped clear the way for a third-and-1 conversion early. He played deep into the third quarter, as did right guard John Moffitt. The experience was valuable for both rookies.
  • Rookie linebacker K.J. Wright recognized a screen play quickly and tracked down the receiver for a decisive tackle. Two other Seattle rookie draft choices, linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Mark LeGree, provided bit hits. Smith chased on his play and finished strong. LeGree broke up a pass with his hit. LeGree also secured Seattle's victory by breaking up a pass in the end zone on the Chargers' final play.
  • Two more rookie notes: Defensive end Pep Levingston batted down a pass on third-and-long, while undrafted free agent Jeron Johnson broke up a pass. Johnson also made a third-down tackle in the backfield off the left edge. And he combined with LeGree on the Chargers' final play.
  • Seattle’s quarterbacks were under siege early and didn’t have many opportunities to make big plays. Tarvaris Jackson moved effectively, as anticipated, and scrambled for a first down up the middle amid heavy traffic. But the offense had no rhythm. That was expected. Jackson and other players with new contracts began practicing only one week ago.
  • Backup Charlie Whitehurst gained momentum as the third quarter progressed. His strike to tight end Dominique Byrd for a 29-yard gain stood out. What did we learn about him Thursday night? Not much. Whitehurst has produced at times during past exhibition games (214 yards, 107.0 rating in the 2010 opener). He completed 14 of 20 passes for 115 yards in this one, with no touchdowns, interceptions or sacks. His rating was 84.4.
  • Third-string quarterback Josh Portis built upon the positive impression he made early in training camp. He showed a good feel for the game, moving away from pressure and finding tight end Anthony McCoy for a 6-yard touchdown. This performance should build confidence for Portis. Coaches and teammates were enthusiastic in their support for him following the touchdown pass.

Okung's status is the note that matters most stemming from this game. If Okung misses an extended period, the line will have a harder time against teams with strong right defensive ends (Seattle faces Justin Smith and the San Francisco 49ers on the road in Week 1). The team might also have to keep a tight end near the formation for blocking help.

Adam Schein of Sirius NFL Radio and is back with his third annual NFL organizational rankings.

The Seattle Seahawks have overtaken the Arizona Cardinals for the top spot in the division based on ownership, quarterback, coach, front office, coaching staff and intangibles. Schein values each of those categories the same for the purposes of his evaluation, scoring teams on a 10-point scale and allowing, in some cases, for expected moves to influence rankings.

I had fun breaking down his second annual rankings a year ago.

The division has welcomed one new owner since last offseason. Quarterback situations remain unsettled. The Seahawks' playoff success lent credibility to coach Pete Carroll even though the team finished with a 7-9 record during the regular season. The lockout has subsequently made it tougher for teams to help themselves. Some of these grades could change based on how teams proceed during free agency, particularly in relation to the quarterback position.

A look at Schein's rankings and comments for NFC West teams, followed by my own thoughts:

12. Seattle Seahawks (37.5 of 60 points)

Schein: The facilities are state of the art. The home-field advantage with the '12th man' is significant. Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider inherited a total mess. They were super-active last season, bringing in different combinations of players, leading to a street free-agent gem like Mike Williams. Hiring Tom Cable to coach the offensive line was a great move. Seattle, finally, has a good structure in place.

Sando's thoughts: The Seahawks' ability to resolve the quarterback situation will determine whether they remain on an upward trajectory. Paul Allen is an owner with plenty of resources. He stays out of the way on football decisions. The team would benefit if Allen were more involved at the league level, but that is not his style. Qwest Field provides one of the strongest home-field advantages in sports when there's something to cheer about. Schneider seems to work well with Carroll, creating a positive front-office culture. They fared well in patching holes with Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock and Leon Washington, among others. Replacing the retired Alex Gibbs with Cable stands out as a strong recovery.

16. Arizona Cardinals (36 of 60 points)

Schein: The Cards cut pay for employees across the board during the lockout. That smells of the Cardinals in the past. But Arizona’s track record of churning out excellent drafts under Rod Graves and Steve Keim is sensational. Ken Whisenhunt is the perfect coach for the Cardinals. The stadium is beautiful. The Arizona public relations staff knows how to promote the product and is regarded as top-notch. I give the Cards only a 4 at quarterback because right now Kevin Kolb is a very educated guess. If it wasn’t for that potential, it would be a minus-4.

Sando's thoughts: Ken Whisenhunt scored eight points from Schein, more than any other coach in the division commanded. That is fair based upon the Cardinals' playoff success alone. The Cardinals have a beautiful stadium, but they're in a market heavily on transplants, making it tougher to develop the loyalty other teams enjoy. Schein's nine-point score for the Cardinals' front office reflects his high opinion of the team's recent draft classes. There have been successes, no question, but the grade appears generous. Seven of the nine players Arizona drafted in the first three rounds from 2007-09 have arguably failed to meet expectations (Beanie Wells, Cody Brown, Rashad Johnson, Early Doucet, Levi Brown, Alan Branch and Buster Davis). Other teams in the division haven't fared appreciably better, but nine points on a 10-point scale seems high under the circumstances.

19. St. Louis Rams (33.5 of 60 points)

Schein: Finally, optimism! Coach Steve Spagnuolo and QB Sam Bradford changed the culture in St. Louis. The ownership issue has become a back-burner topic.

Sando's thoughts: The Rams scored only three points from Schein for ownership. I would give the Rams the benefit of the doubt in that category based on Stan Kroenke's record as a franchise owner in other sports. Kroenke gives the Rams an experienced billionaire owner with a long history in the NFL. The other NFL owners were quick to welcome Kroenke as majority owner, a positive sign for the Rams. The front office scored only five points from Schein, but it's looking like that ranking will rise in the future. Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Rodger Saffold have become impact players as high draft choices. The team scored big in free agency with Fred Robbins last season. Long-term stadium questions persist and the Rams need to maintain their recent improvement to climb the rankings.

24. San Francisco 49ers (28 of 60 points)

Schein: It appears that the Niners have cleared redevelopment hurdles in preparation of their move to Santa Clara in 2015. And not a moment too soon. Jim Harbaugh, Jed York and Bob Lange are major upgrades for head coach, owner and PR director in recent years. The Niners have done a nice job this year with social media. Mike Singletary was a train wreck, more punchline than coach, and Harbaugh will live up to the hype.

Sando's thoughts: The 49ers scored only one point for quarterback and four for their front office in this survey. That is a bit surprising on the quarterback front given the hope San Francisco holds for rookie Colin Kaepernick. In courting Alex Smith, the 49ers might be betting too heavily on Harbaugh's coaching powers. The improvement from Singletary to Harbaugh in dealing with quarterbacks and establishing a modern offensive philosophy has to pay off. Schein gave five points to York for ownership. That score will hinge on whether York was right about Harbaugh and whether the team secures a new stadium as desired. Silicon Valley player Gideon Yu's addition to the front office seemed like an enterprising move.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 14, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft philosophy.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals expect their draft choices to address immediate needs even if the players they choose do not start right away. They pay less lip service to the "best player available" mantra than some teams.

"There is a line you walk between both of them, where you draft the best available player for your need," coach Ken Whisenhunt explained before the 2010 draft. "You always consider where your depth is, where your greatest margin of improvement is going to come, and that is kind of what we look toward when we do that."

The Cardinals put together two draft boards. One rates players on overall NFL potential. The other lists the 120 players Arizona would consider drafting, taking into account the Cardinals' needs as well.

San Francisco 49ers

General manager Trent Baalke puts an old-school emphasis on measurables in the belief that bigger, stronger athletes hold up better over the course of a season. His former boss, Scot McCloughan, shared the same philosophy, which he traced back to Ron Wolf.

I expect that philosophy to continue. It fits well with new coach Jim Harbaugh's belief in establishing a power running game to facilitate play-action opportunities.

The first three players San Francisco selected in the 2010 draft -- tackle Anthony Davis, guard Mike Iupati and safety Taylor Mays -- fit the "size matters" philosophy.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams feel good enough about the foundation they've built to tolerate more risk than they were willing to accept when GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were in the early stages of remaking the roster.

We saw that last year when the Rams used a third-round choice for cornerback Jerome Murphy and a fourth-rounder for receiver Mardy Gilyard. Murphy had been suspended from his college team for violating team rules. Gilyard was more flamboyant than most recent Rams choices. Draft analysts raised potential character concerns in both cases.

This is not to suggest the Rams have abandoned their core values. They are simply far enough along in the building process to expand their options.

Side note: Over the past two seasons, the Rams have used both first-round choices on players from the Big 12 Conference and both second-rounders on players from the Big Ten.

Seattle Seahawks

Any struggling team with new leadership will be active in addressing weaknesses.

The Seahawks have taken it to another level under coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider. These guys are energetic, aggressive and unapologetic. They would rather wheel and deal than stand pat, an approach that led to multiple trades in their first draft together.

The lockout will prevent teams from trading veteran players, limiting the Seahawks' options this year.

The team is more unified philosophically this year because offensive line coach Tom Cable shares more conventional views on prospects at his position. Cable's predecessor, Alex Gibbs, was more particular in what he wanted, affecting the overall approach.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 31, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' leadership team remains basically unchanged for a fifth consecutive offseason.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt is the face of the organization, even during the draft, in part because general manager Rod Graves keeps a low profile. Both earned contract extensions last offseason. Whisenhunt was coming off back-to-back division titles and had been to a Super Bowl at that point, so his profile within the organization was growing. One losing season hasn't changed that.

Whisenhunt, Graves, team president Michael Bidwill and player personnel director Steve Keim are the primary decision-makers. Whisenhunt appears most prominent among them.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers pulled a surprise of sorts when they named Trent Baalke general manager and made him the No. 1 personnel decision-maker in the building.

The feeling previously had been that the 49ers might have to hand over personnel power to their next head coach if they were serious about landing Jim Harbaugh or another top candidate. That did not happen. Baalke, whose profile became more prominent following Scot McCloughan's departure from the organization one year ago, will make the call during the draft.

The rapport between Baalke and Harbaugh appears much stronger, by all accounts, than the relationship between Baalke and former coach Mike Singletary. That is natural because Baalke played a leading role in hiring Harbaugh; he wasn't part of the process when the team promoted Singletary.

Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll has the final say on personnel matters. It's in his contract, but not something he flaunts. Carroll played a role in hiring John Schneider as general manager last offseason. Their personalities mesh and the two worked together well in making multiple draft-day moves in 2010.

This is the Seahawks' most comfortable front-office arrangement in recent memory, largely because Carroll and Schneider were brought in together. Each is invested in the other to a degree that did not exist when Mike Holmgren was working with Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson and Tim Ruskell over the years.

The Seahawks' decision-making process has more clarity heading into this draft now that Alex Gibbs has retired as offensive line coach. Gibbs' strong preference for a very specific type of offensive lineman affected how the team approached personnel decisions, especially at guard. His retirement has freed the team to more comfortably pursue the bigger guards its personnel department preferred.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have new ownership with Stan Kroenke purchasing a majority stake, but the day-to-day decision-makers remain in place for a third consecutive offseason.

General manager Billy Devaney takes the lead in personnel matters with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

Kroenke hasn't said whether the team will eventually hire a president. It doesn't matter heading into this draft.

The organization is coming off a transforming 2010 draft in which it landed quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Rodger Saffold with its first two choices. Two other recent high picks, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are also working out well.

That has to work in Devaney's favor as Kroenke assesses where the organization stands.

Cortez Kennedy and the Hall of Fame

February, 2, 2011
DALLAS -- All defensive tackles were not created alike. That goes for the great ones, too.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy
US PresswireFormer Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was a versatile player over his 11-year career.
Some are mostly run-stuffers, coming off the field in passing situations. Others rush the passer with little or no regard for playing the run.

Very few could dominate across all situations. Cortez Kennedy could, and did, during an 11-year NFL career that landed him a spot among the final 10 candidates for the most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Kennedy is among the final 15 modern-era finalists again this year, and I'll be presenting his case to the other selectors during our annual meeting Saturday.

Several themes have emerged during my research into Kennedy's career. I'll expand upon them here one by one, drawing upon coaches and players' first-hand knowledge.

Sheer physical dominance

Very good players sometimes enjoy great careers. Some lean heavily on savvy and preparation. Not all of them dominate physically. Kennedy generated superior power and sudden quickness from a massive lower body.

"Cortez was the most dominant interior lineman that we ever faced and certainly the very best against the run," said former Oakland Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski, an eight-time Pro Bowl choice between 1989 and 2001.

Seattle scrapped its 3-4 defense to rebuild around Kennedy at a time when Kennedy's college coach at Miami, Jimmy Johnson, was bringing his 4-3 scheme to the NFL.

"That time in football is when you really got the dominant defensive players inside," Johnson said. "The big, overpowering defensive linemen inside just disrupted everything. Cortez got teams looking for that dominant player."

There's that word again -- dominant.

"He was very dominant and could take over the game," said longtime NFL offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who coached for and against Seattle during Kennedy's career. "He just had great instincts about where the ball was and he was a pass-rusher so you would think, 'Gee, we could run screens on that guy.' But he smelled them out and he was always running into the screens."

Longtime NFL offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said offenses had to plan for Kennedy specifically or pay the consequences, or both. Gibbs coached the lines for three of Seattle's old AFC West rivals across 10 of Kennedy's 11 seasons. He was with Seattle briefly in 2010, and that is when he provided a testimonial.

"The Seahawks were a nightmare because I knew I was going to get them twice a year, and it was going to boil down to making a decision -- do I spend all my time with Cortez or do I know deal with those other guys?" Gibbs said.

Complete player

Kennedy joined John Randle, Bryant Young and Warren Sapp on the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. He was a different type of defensive tackle, opponents said. They lauded him for his versatility.

"I knew that when I was going to go play against Cortez Kennedy, it was going to be a full-meal deal, a battle," said retired Pro Bowl center Tim Grunhard, who started 164 games for Kansas City from 1990 to 2000. "I knew when I was going against Warren Sapp, when you got him, you could block him. ... At times, he lined up as wide as any tackle ever. Cortez Kennedy lined up head-on you and went man to man and dominated you."

Asked to rank Kennedy among contemporaries, Wisniewski wanted to know which tackles appeared on the all-decade team for the 1990s. I ran through the names and asked Wisniewski to put Kennedy's abilities in perspective.

"(Kennedy) had that ability to stop the run, to play with leverage and have the quickness to hit the edge of an offensive guard and split the seams to put pressure on the quarterback," Wisniewski said. "Hands down, he was a much better player against the run than a John Randle, much better than a Warren Sapp. I didn't have to play against Bryant Young as many times. He was a much lighter guy, kind of high effort, 50-50 (against run and pass alike)."

Randle is already in the Hall of Fame. Sapp and Young are not yet eligible for consideration. Each was outstanding in his own way, but Kennedy was different.

Made teammates better

Kennedy collected 14 sacks in 1992 and 58 for his career even though Seattle asked him to do so much more than rush the passer. Opponents funneled more resources toward Kennedy after that 14-sack season, creating opportunities for his teammates. Michael Sinclair, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and others benefited.

"He was such a powerful guy who could play, in essence, two gaps," Gibbs said. "He forced you to get two people on him in order to get through the seams, which gave the linebackers who played here a tremendous advantage. You couldn’t get the combinations to block him. You always tried to get one of them off and his body frame was so wide and strong that we couldn’t get there, so the linebackers made all the plays. He had a unique ability to control one and force another to free up his teammates to make a lot of plays."

Former Seahawks linebacker Terry Wooden said the same thing recently when I happened to be sitting near him on an airplane. According to Wooden, Kennedy would never seek to make a play on his own if it meant weakening the defense overall or compromising a teammate.

Durability and accolades

Kennedy played 16 games nine times, 15 games once and eight games in his only injury-shortened season. He matched Reggie White and Bruce Smith as the only defensive linemen with eight Pro Bowls during the 1990s. He went to as many Pro Bowls during the 1990s as Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas.

Kennedy was also the Associated Press' defensive player of the year on that 2-14 team, which featured one of the worst offenses in NFL history (Seattle was the only NFL team to field a top-10 defense in 1990, 1991 and 1992). Only White and Lawrence Taylor won the award previously while playing for losing teams.

According to the Seahawks, Kennedy played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps for at least his first six seasons, including 97.2 percent in 1994.

Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls. Again, though, the sack totals were never what defined Kennedy's contributions.

Grunhard put it this way: "When they are 330 pounds, at times their job is to tie you up. Their job is to clog up the middle. It is not fair when people say they are taking plays off. They are doing their jobs. There is a difference. Sometimes plays aren't designed for them to make the plays. Their job is to free up other people and he did a great job doing that. But when Cortez wanted to go and had the opportunity to go make a play, he was unstoppable. He was unblockable. That puts him in an elite level."
Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy and Hall of Famer Randy White are the only defensive tackles with at least 150 starts, 50 sacks and eight Pro Bowls
Alex Gibbs was supposed to transform the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line.

Instead, the veteran line coach retired abruptly right before the 2010 regular season, leading eventually to Tom Cable's hiring as a replacement.

Gibbs was worn out, coach Pete Carroll said, and it would not have been the first time. Gibbs' hard-charging ways had taken a toll on him in past jobs.

Left unsaid, however, was to what degree clashes behind the scenes precipitated Gibbs' retirement. Gibbs wanted specific types of players to run his scheme a very specific way. He wasn't the type to defer. It was natural to wonder to what degree personal and/or philosophical differences came into play.

Former Seahawks guard Ben Hamilton has offered his opinion via Twitter, citing "personnel disputes and butting heads" as reasons for Gibbs' abrupt departure. Hamilton played for Gibbs previously in Denver. Gibbs was the reason he signed with Seattle. Hamilton would probably have a good feel.

The reasoning behind Gibbs' departure isn't a pressing issue at this point, but Hamilton's comments provide some direction.
The NFL's busiest time of year -- known as the offseason -- will transform every NFC West team in significant ways.

The moves made Tuesday continued a transformation that began with the San Francisco 49ers replacing Mike Singletary with Jim Harbaugh.

We've seen the Arizona Cardinals fire their defensive coordinator. We've seen the Cleveland Browns hire St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as their head coach. We've seen the Rams replace Shurmur with Josh McDaniels. We've seen the Seattle Seahawks fire offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, hire Tom Cable as offensive line coach and remake other staff positions.

And it's still only January.

Five quick thoughts on matters lingering from Tuesday:
  • McDaniels and the money. Reported issues over money, whatever they were, did not doom the deal. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicated the sides had been $200,000 apart, and that McDaniels had separately sought $2 million per season from Minnesota. The settlement McDaniels worked out with the Denver Broncos removed him from their books, meaning there would be no salary offset for McDaniels' next employer. If the Broncos were still paying McDaniels, the Rams could have paid a modest wage to him and Denver would have been responsible for the difference between what the Rams were paying and what the Broncos still owed.
  • Seattle's involvement a bit murky. The Seahawks' hiring of Cable to coach their offensive line supports suspicions that McDaniels was never a serious candidate in Seattle. Whether McDaniels was using Seattle for leverage with the Rams is tough to know. But it's illogical on multiple fronts to think Seattle would have hired both Cable and McDaniels, or that the team turned to Cable only after missing out on McDaniels. That isn't how business gets done. The deal with Cable was surely in the works longer than the few hours that McDaniels emerged as a candidate.
  • Cable might have affected Bates. Let's stick with the idea that Seattle had its mind set on Cable for some time. This would make sense because the Seahawks lost their offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs, before the season. They had plenty of time to consider replacements. Cable and Gibbs worked together in Atlanta, so there would be some carryover. Cable and Bates never worked together. Adding Cable, who brings a strong personality and his own ideas, would have affected Bates. Could they have coexisted? How would Bates' strong personality and old-school demeanor fit with a line coach who allegedly punched out an underling in Oakland?
  • Robert Gallery-to-Seattle makes sense. The Seahawks need help at guard. Cable coached a pretty good one, Robert Gallery, in Oakland. Gallery can become a free agent after this season. Gallery was known to like Cable. Signing Gallery would make sense for Seattle and it could be easier with Cable on staff.
  • Arizona's inactivity is conspicuous. The Cardinals need a defensive coordinator. They are not, by all accounts, interviewing candidates at this time. That suggests they're waiting for a candidate from a team still in the playoffs. Coach Ken Whisenhunt's connections to Pittsburgh suggest the Steelers might be that team. Hiring the right coordinator is what matters. The timing is a secondary issue. But if this process doesn't go well for Whisenhunt, it's a significant setback for him and for the team.
  • Who replaces Bates? The Seahawks interviewed Minnesota Vikings assistant Darrell Bevell as a potential quarterbacks coach. Reports suggest Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave could land in Cleveland with Shurmur. Cable's hiring suggests the Seahawks will continue to favor zone blocking tactics. The Seahawks pretty much have to hire around Cable, it seems. Might Cable, as assistant head coach/offensive line, serve as a sort of running game coordinator? So many questions, so few answers. But it's early.

On a side note, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says Browns quarterbacks coach Carl Smith could be a candidate for an unspecified job with the Seahawks.
The St. Louis Rams announced Josh McDaniels' hiring as offensive coordinator just as the Seattle Seahawks were announcing Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach.

Cable's hiring gives the Seahawks' offensive line the identity it has been seeking. The team thought former line coach Alex Gibbs might provide that identity. Gibbs retired right before the 2010 season. Cable, recently fired as the Oakland Raiders' head coach, brings a strong personality and a reputation for toughness to the Seahawks.

Cable and Gibbs were with the Atlanta Falcons during the 2006 season, so there could be some carryover. On the surface, we should expect the Seahawks to continue using zone blocking tactics, but probably with larger guards than Gibbs preferred.

Having McDaniels and Cable in the same division should be fun. Cable's Raiders ran up the score during a 59-14 blowout over McDaniels' Broncos during the 2010 season. It's easier to picture Cable working for the Seahawks now that McDaniels is headed for St. Louis instead of Seattle. Having those two together on the same Seattle staff would have been interesting, to say the least.

The Seahawks had to know this. They were presumably talking to Cable before Tuesday. That's why we shouldn't assume McDaniels was the only candidate they had in mind when they fired offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates earlier Tuesday.

The Seahawks did reach out to McDaniels. They deserve criticism if they didn't have a fallback plan. It's just too early to know for sure. Coach Pete Carroll is scheduled to address reporters Wednesday. We'll have a better feel at that time.

Rams, Seahawks and Josh McDaniels

January, 18, 2011
OK, now we know the Seattle Seahawks have been speaking with Josh McDaniels about becoming their offensive coordinator.

Hiring the former New England assistant and Denver head coach would help explain why the Seahawks fired Jeremy Bates after one season as coordinator. The Seahawks' interest might also explain why talks between McDaniels and the St. Louis Rams hit a snag.

Ten quick thoughts on the matter:
  • The Rams' job could be more appealing. The Rams have Sam Bradford. The Seahawks do not. Bradford has the ability to help his next coordinator become a head coach. McDaniels has already been a head coach. He wants to be one again. Aligning himself with Bradford seems like the smart move for the long term. Not necessarily, though. More on that below.
  • The Seahawks' job could be more lucrative. ESPN's Chris Mortensen cited a source saying the Rams were taking a "conservative fiscal approach" to talks with McDaniels. It's easy to see why. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is reportedly working under a four-year, $12 million contract. The head coach's salary sets the bar for what top assistants can reasonably earn. Seattle's Pete Carroll earns significantly more than Spagnuolo, so the ceiling could be higher for assistants in Seattle.
  • McDaniels could be using Seattle. Let's say McDaniels knows Bradford is his ticket to becoming a head coach again. Let's say he wants to leverage a better deal from the Rams. Dancing with the Seahawks could help him get more from the Rams. But money does tend to talk in these matters.
  • The Rams have other options. Brad Childress is still in the running, as Mortensen noted. Also according to Mortensen, the Rams have inquired about assistants Darrell Bevell (Minnesota Vikings) and Bill Musgrave (Atlanta Falcons). The Seahawks are interviewing Bevell for their opening as quarterbacks coach. Bevell is the Vikings' offensive coordinator, but Minnesota has let him explore other opportunities.
  • This is good for NFC West rivalries. One NFC West team hiring a big-name candidate away from another NFC West team sets up a compelling storyline within the division. Carroll's old Pac-10 rivalry with new San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh added another dynamic to the Seahawks-49ers rivalry. Having McDaniels coaching against a team he spurned would add another one.
  • Seattle has to be the leading candidate. It's tough to envision the Seahawks firing Bates without having a contingency plan in place. The team must feel confident in its ability to land a suitable replacement.
  • Carroll could help repair McDaniels' image. Everyone knows McDaniels can coach, the thinking goes. His reputation took a hit on multiple fronts during his tenure as Broncos coach. The low-keyed, cheery Carroll might be in better position than the more regimented Spagnuolo to offer McDaniels the space and latitude he needs to repair his image.
  • Seattle might offer more staff flexibility. The Seahawks are without a quarterbacks coach. They lost offensive line coach Alex Gibbs just as the regular season was beginning. McDaniels might have an easier time putting together a staff to his liking if he joined the Seahawks, particularly if that "conservative fiscal approach" were a problem in St. Louis.
  • Losing McDaniels to a division rival would sting. Bernie Miklasz might have been right when he said the Rams needed to move quickly on a coordinator once Pat Shurmur left to join the Cleveland Browns. Having Seattle enter the picture gave McDaniels an option that wasn't immediately available to him until the Seahawks lost in the playoffs.
  • Week 17 is proving pivotal in retrospect. Life might be different for the Rams if they had defeated the Seahawks in Week 17 and then upset New Orleans in the divisional round, as Seattle did. Shurmur would have been busying coaching the Rams. It's possible the Browns would have gone in another direction.

Lots to think about here, and we have more going on within the division. The 49ers are making staff moves, too.

Seahawks regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 19
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

[+] EnlargeChris Clemons
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonChris Clemons had the best season of his career and led the team with 11 sacks.
Biggest surprise: The Seahawks jumped out to a 4-2 record with Leon Washington returning kickoffs for touchdowns and Mike Williams emerging as a sometimes-dominant receiving threat. Beating San Diego and winning at Chicago set Seattle apart early. I thought the Seahawks would struggle to win five games all season after entering Week 1 with fewer returning players than any team in the league. The coaching staff built a promising run defense around Red Bryant while manufacturing pressure with blitz packages featuring extra defensive backs. Blowing out NFC West favorite San Francisco in the opener set the tone.

Biggest disappointment: Alex Gibbs' sudden retirement as offensive line coach right before the regular season left the Seahawks without Pete Carroll's highest-profile assistant. It also left Seattle with another identity crisis of sorts along its offensive line. With Gibbs, the team appeared ready to commit fully to the zone-blocking principles that had worked in Denver and Houston. Without Gibbs, the Seahawks wavered in their approach. Their decision to trade incumbent starting guard Rob Sims appeared unfortunate in retrospect. He was a starting-caliber guard, but a bad fit for Gibbs' system. The team wound up running through multiple guards and playing most of the season with Stacy Andrews, who appeared even less suited than Sims for Gibbs' style of blocking. Losing first-round left tackle Russell Okung to repeated ankle injuries set back the line further.

Biggest need: Quarterback ranks No. 1 unless Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst improbably leads the team deep into the playoffs. The offensive line ranks a close second. Whitehurst has only recently received a chance to play. He hasn't had enough chances to show whether he can factor as the starter next season. He hasn't played well enough in limited reps to inspire confidence. Hasselbeck has suffered far too many interceptions, again. This is his fourth down season in the past five years. He'll be 36 in 2011 and has struggled making it through a full season healthy.

Team MVP: Chris Clemons. Bryant might have been the most important player based on how the run defense played when he was in the lineup, but Bryant didn't stay healthy long enough. Clemons quickly emerged as the Seahawks' top pass-rusher, collecting 11 sacks. He played with attitude while providing significant return in the Darryl Tapp trade.

About that trending arrow: I've got it pointing down for now because the Seahawks struggled so badly late in the season. Their victory over St. Louis for the NFC West title could help that arrow turn around. Let's see what kind of feeling surrounds the team after Saturday.

Texans regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 21
Preseason Power Ranking: 14

[+] EnlargeFoster
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireArian Foster rushed for 1,616 yards and 16 TDs this season.
Biggest surprise: Houston liked what it saw from Arian Foster late in 2009. The team believed he would feed off the motivation and opportunity it offered him in the offseason. But even plugging him into the Texans' best-case scenario, it would have been hard to envision Foster earning the NFL’s rushing title as a part of a pass-centric offense backed by a shaky defense. He burst onto the scene with 231 rushing yards against the Colts, and it stood up as the biggest rush game of the season. He carried 327 times for 1,616 yards (a 4.9-yard average) with 16 touchdowns. He was also the team’s second leading receiver with 66 catches for 604 yards and two more scores. It was an incredible season.

Biggest disappointment: The defense was not going to be the strength of the team, but it would have been hard to envision just how poorly this group was going to do. The front didn’t hurry quarterbacks enough, and they posted a collective 100.5 passer rating against the Texans. In their last 10 games, they beat only Titans rookie Rusty Smith and Jacksonville backup Trent Edwards. The veteran safeties, Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard, were ineffective against the pass and did little to offset the inexperience of the Kiddie Corps Corners -- Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin and the eventually benched Brice McCain. Jason Allen was an improvement when he came in, but not by a ton. Houston gave up 33 passing touchdowns, a number bigger than its sack total (30).

Biggest need: Defense. It starts with a replacement for defensive coordinator Frank Bush and several other new defensive assistants as the Texans are sticking with head coach Gary Kubiak. From there, whether they stick with a 4-3 or unwisely move to a 3-4 which would hurt Mario Williams, they have desperate needs. At least one penetrating defensive tackle, safeties who are comfortable in coverage and fast, and a veteran corner who could lead a young group would be big additions.

Team MVP: Foster. It’s hard to look another direction considering Andre Johnson dealt with an ankle injury all season and missed three games. Foster was steady and could have produced even more but for some questionable play-calling, particularly in the loss at Indianapolis.

Work as a unit: Fullback Vonta Leach earned a Pro Bowl spot for his work leading Foster, but none of the offensive linemen was even named an alternate to the all-star game. The group and tight ends, led by Joel Dreessen, did fine work making things happen for Foster in their first season without the offensive line coach who set up their scheme, Alex Gibbs. The pass blocking was not as good as Matt Schaub was taken down 32 times, even if a share of those were on him. If the Texans can improve there, this batch of relative unknowns could really have an impact in 2011.


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