NFL Nation: Brett Swain

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.

The Seattle Seahawks' depth at wide receiver is suddenly a little shallow, but for how long? No one seems to know.

The latest from coach Pete Carroll: Sidney Rice went to Europe for a non-surgical procedure on his knee, while Percy Harvin was in New York getting a second opinion on his sore hip (nothing new to report there).

This situation is ripe for overreaction. Harvin was running at full speed within the past week or so and did not, as far as we know, suffer a new injury. Rice has been practicing and did not, as far as we know, suffer a new injury. But at the very least, there's a chance both receivers will be managing injuries throughout the 2013 season.

Harvin missed seven games to an ankle injury last season. Rice did not miss a game in 2012 after having a surgery on each shoulder. He missed seven games in 2011 and 11 the year before that.

Rice played through knee soreness last season without missing time. He scheduled this overseas treatment previously and with the team's knowledge. The timing wasn't in relation to any aggravation of the injury. Rice was functioning as normal and practicing. The team does not expect him to miss practices or games when he returns.

Harvin and Rice figure prominently into the Seahawks' plans on offense. Their contracts also figure prominently. The chart shows projected salary-cap charges for Harvin, Rice, Zach Miller, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Golden Tate. Harvin's new deal buys him security for the next couple seasons. The team could more easily free itself from Rice's contract. Tate is entering the final year of his contract, adding another dynamic to the position.

Those are issues to resolve in the future. First, the Seahawks need to find out more about Harvin in particular, and also Rice.

Seattle currently has 12 receivers on its roster: Harvin, Rice, Tate, Doug Baldwin, Chris Harper, Stephen Williams, Jermaine Kearse, Brett Swain, Bryan Walters, Phil Bates, Greg Herd and Arceto Clark.


NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC West team?

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Offense: Top running backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams have combined for one ruptured patella tendon (Williams), one torn ACL (Mendenhall) and one shoulder surgery (Williams) during the past two seasons. Williams has played five games in two seasons. Mendenhall missed 10 games last season (one to suspension) after returning from his knee injury. So while new quarterback Carson Palmer rightly commands much of the attention heading into camp, the running backs deserve our attention as well.

Defense: Coaching change
The coaching change from Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians cost the Cardinals their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, just as the defense was gaining momentum. Arizona ranked third behind Chicago and Denver in defensive EPA last season. New coordinator Todd Bowles comes to Arizona after a difficult 2012 season with Philadelphia. Can the Cardinals sustain their recent defensive success under new leadership?

Wild card: Kitchens' health
Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens underwent emergency heart surgery in early June after experiencing chest pain during practice. Last we heard, Kitchens was recuperating and expected to return sometime during camp, perhaps on a limited basis at first. Kitchens' health is a leading issue for the Cardinals even though the team has enough depth on its coaching staff to cover for him.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Offense: Second-year second-rounders
Two second-round picks from 2012 will help determine the Rams' trajectory on offense. Receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead each started one game as a rookie. Quick played 174 snaps and caught 11 passes, two for touchdowns. Pead played 39 snaps and had 10 carries. It's time for both to become meaningful contributors. They should have increased opportunities after St. Louis parted with veterans at their positions.

Defense: Rookie safety T.J. McDonald
The Rams will want to get McDonald up to speed quickly. They did sign veteran Matt Giordano for insurance, but McDonald, a third-round choice from USC, is the player they envision in the lineup. Coach Jeff Fisher has experience putting rookie safeties into the lineup right away. Tank Williams started all 16 games as a rookie under Fisher with Tennessee in 2002. Michael Griffin started 10 games as a rookie under Fisher with the Titans in 2007. Williams was a second-round choice. Griffin was a first-rounder.

Wild card: O-line health
The Rams are young just about everywhere except along their offensive line. That's OK as long as those veterans avoid some of the injury troubles they've suffered in recent seasons. Left tackle Jake Long has had two arm surgeries the past two seasons. Right guard Harvey Dahl is coming off a torn biceps. Center Scott Wells has had two surgeries on his right knee, plus a broken foot, in the past year and a half. Tackle Rodger Saffold has had a torn pectoral and a neck injury since late in the 2011 season. The group should be healthy going into camp. Will the good health last?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Offense: Developing wideouts
Eight wide receivers have played in games for the 49ers during two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. The list -- Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., Josh Morgan, Braylon Edwards and Brett Swain -- includes zero players the team drafted and developed under Harbaugh. The team will be looking to develop young wideouts A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette while Crabtree and Manningham recover from serious injuries. Jenkins and Patton were draft choices under Harbaugh. Lockette was signed last season.

Defense: Roles on the D-line
General manager Trent Baalke has suggested the team could stand to expand its rotation on the defensive line. How will that play out once the 49ers are on the field and the coaching staff takes over? What role will newcomer Glenn Dorsey play to that end? Starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald could benefit from a little more rest now and then. They rank among the NFL leaders in total regular-season and postseason snaps played in the past couple of seasons. Smith, in particular, is hugely important to the defense's success.

Wild card: Eric Mangini
The coaching staff will have a different feel with Mangini as the new senior offensive consultant. Harbaugh has kept together his staff for two seasons, an upset for a team that has enjoyed so much success on the scoreboard and in scheming. We easily could have credited Harbaugh for staying the course in the name of continuity. Adding a coach with Mangini's profile shakes things up. It'll be interesting to see how Mangini assimilates.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Offense: James Carpenter
Carpenter's health is a key variable for the future of the offensive line. Coach Pete Carroll has indicated Carpenter should be available for the start of training camp after missing nine games last season and seven as a rookie. Drafted to play right tackle, Carpenter's future is at guard if he can get healthy, stay healthy and regain quickness. Having Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and Pro Bowl center Max Unger flanking a healthy Carpenter would give Seattle a line more like the one Carroll envisioned.

Defense: Cliff Avril's transition
Seattle will be looking to see how pass-rushing defensive ends Avril and Bruce Irvin fit at linebacker as the coaching staff promotes versatility through the front seven. Avril is particularly important in the short term because Irvin faces a four-game suspension to open the season while starting defensive end Chris Clemons continues to rehab from the torn ACL he suffered during the wild-card round last season. Carroll has hinted that Clemons could return in time for the season, but that's a best-case scenario.

Wild card: Keep it clean
All NFL players must submit to testing for performance-enhancing drugs when they report for training camp. That's significant for the Seahawks after Irvin became the fifth Seattle player since 2011 to incur a PED-related suspension. What are the chances another player tests positive?
Aaron from Chicago wants to know why the Seattle Seahawks keep acquiring personnel from his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.

"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."

Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.

Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.

John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.

For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.

Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.
One year ago, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree voiced frustration over the opportunities available to him during an overtime defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

Crabtree had finished that game with a single reception for 3 yards. No other 49ers wide receiver caught a pass that day.



"Sometimes you just gotta move the ball, man," Crabtree said from the losing locker room at Candlestick Park. "You gotta make plays. You gotta give people a chance to make plays."

Crabtree seemed to be blaming the play calling and/or quarterback Alex Smith. Mostly, he was frustrated after the most difficult defeat San Francisco had suffered in many years.

At the time, I blamed Crabtree's struggles more on the coverage Giants cornerback Corey Webster applied than on anything systemic. The way Crabtree has flourished recently with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback supports other theories.

Crabtree has 15 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games this season. He had five receptions for 28 yards and one score in two playoff games last season.

The chart compares San Francisco's overall production when targeting wide receivers in these playoffs versus the playoffs last season.

Having a more legitimate No. 2 receiver in Randy Moss has probably helped Crabtree. Injuries left the 49ers with Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings as their only receivers in the NFC title game a year ago.

Having Kaepernick in the lineup seems to be working in Crabtree's favor. Crabtree has averaged an additional 29 yards receiving per game in Kaepernick's nine starts.

The 49ers' Super Bowl opponent, Baltimore, has been tough on opposing wideouts during the playoffs. Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady completed 53.2 percent of their passes with three touchdowns, four interceptions and a 64.3 NFL passer rating when targeting wide receivers against the Ravens this postseason.

San Francisco 49ers cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Most significant move. The San Francisco 49ers' decision to keep running back Anthony Dixon played into a broader special-teams theme. Veteran fullback Rock Cartwright, once seen as a key special-teams addition following Blake Costanzo's departure in free agency, received his release. The 49ers traded another core special-teams player, safety Colin Jones, to Carolina for what was thought to be a 2014 seventh-round choice.

The 49ers' decision at quarterback was also among those I found most significant. The team kept Scott Tolzien over Josh Johnson in the No. 3 role even though Johnson played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. Johnson also outplayed Tolzien in the final exhibition game. Keeping Tolzien appealed, however, because his ceiling appears less defined. Johnson has played in the NFL without setting a sharply upward career trajectory. Colin Kaepernick's emergence as a stronger No. 2 quarterback bought some insurance for carrying a less-experienced third-stringer, perhaps.

Onward and upward: Linebacker Michael Wilhoite, offensive lineman Mike Person and safety Michael Thomas appear to be young players with futures in the NFL. Defensive lineman Matthew Masifilo impressed in the final exhibition game. The 49ers' practice squad will be an option for some of the players let go, but I won't be surprised if waiver claims from other teams get in the way. The 49ers have done a good job building talented depth throughout their roster.

The team also released Eric Bakhtiari, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Derek Hall, Joe Holland, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cam Johnson, Anthony Mosley, Kyle Nelson, Al Netter, Chris Owusu, Nathan Palmer, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Brett Swain and Kenny Wiggins.

Reuland could get another chance. It was a mild surprise, perhaps, to see Garrett Celek stick ahead of Reuland as the third tight end.

What's next: The 49ers will watch closely to see which players clear waivers. Wilhoite is one they would like to re-sign, according to his agent, but teams looking for young depth at linebacker could submit claims. The team could use another outside linebacker, at least on paper, but the 49ers got through last season with only three of them.

The 49ers are carrying only eight offensive linemen. Their swing tackle, Alex Boone, is starting at right guard. If there's an offensive tackle out there worth claiming, the 49ers could consider adding one. But two of their division rivals, Arizona and St. Louis, have greater needs and higher waiver priorities.

Camp Confidential: 49ers

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One school of thought says the San Francisco 49ers got the most they'll ever get from quarterback Alex Smith last season.

What if last season was only the beginning?

That question ran through my mind while watching Smith fire passes on time and on target during a recent three-day stay at 49ers training camp. The answer became clearer every time Smith connected with newcomers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, which was frequently. He appeared more accurate, more confident and more in command than I can ever recall seeing Smith during a training camp -- or any other time, for that matter.

"He's letting the ball go, he's making the right decisions and he's not afraid," tight end Vernon Davis said. "He's playing ball, he's having fun."

Of course, it figures a quarterback would look better throwing to proven targets than when operating without them. Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings were the only wideouts available to Smith in the NFC Championship Game last season. Williams, now fighting for a roster spot, ranked second among the 49ers' wide receivers with 20 catches during the regular season.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireThe 49ers brought in more weapons for Alex Smith to work with on offense.
Life for Smith is better now.

"If you watch our team last year, we were kind of one-dimensional as far as offense," left tackle Joe Staley said. "The passing game went through Vernon and Crabtree. The running game was Frank [Gore] and Kendall [Hunter]. We've added a lot of talent. The more weapons you have, the more versatile you can be. Our coaches are very creative."

Smith proved last season he could be a trusted extension of the 49ers' coaching staff. He threw five interceptions in 445 pass attempts, playing to the team's strengths on defense and special teams.

Smith has what offensive coordinator Greg Roman calls a "unique" ability to grasp a game's dynamics in real time for the purposes of managing risks. On the surface, that sounds like a creative way to avoid slapping the dreaded "game manager" label on a quarterback with limited skills. The 49ers don't see it that way at all. They think Smith has demonstrated all the intangibles great quarterbacks should possess: mental and physical toughness; an off-the-charts football IQ; a level head no matter the circumstances; a passion for preparation; and the ability to perform in the clutch. They see him leading an offense that wasn't as bad as advertised, one that should only get better.

"Without an offseason here, we finished 10th in the NFL in scoring [actually 11th] and fourth in time of possession," Roman said. "That is in spite of being poor on third down, which is pretty remarkable.

"We're going to be opportunistic, strike when we feel it's time to strike," he said. "The other part of it is, when we make decisions on offense, it's big picture. The offense, defense and special teams are all intertwined. But we have an offseason under our belt now and are working through our second camp together. We certainly expect a lot of ourselves this year."

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Crowded offensive backfield. Frank Gore is going to get his carries. Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James will be competing for what's left over. Their roles haven't solidified, but Hunter has enjoyed a tremendous camp. He caught my attention this week by hauling in a deep pass up the sideline, the type of play running backs rarely make. Hunter is going to play. James, as a rookie, figures to need time.

Jacobs, signed from the New York Giants, has been getting work in short-yardage situations, an area in which Anthony Dixon struggled in the postseason.

After collecting two Super Bowl rings in five seasons with Kevin Gilbride as his coordinator, Jacobs has been blown away by Roman's ability to showcase each player's individual strengths. That is a recurring theme among 49ers players.

"That is what this staff does the best," Jacobs said. "'G-Ro' is a genius, man. I've seen it, mainly these last couple days, we started doing some different things on offense, things out of different formations and basically putting the defense in sets he wants them to be in, versus what they want to be in."

Based on what he's seen, Jacobs said he thinks Gore would have six or seven Pro Bowl appearances by now, instead of three, had this 49ers staff been in place the whole time.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireAfter sitting out for a season, Randy Moss joined a revamped 49ers receiving corps.
2. Role for Randy Moss. The passing game went through Crabtree and Davis last season. Both are in the primes of their careers. Neither figures to see his role diminish appreciably. With Manningham joining the mix and rookie first-round choice A.J. Jenkins lurking, a rotational role for Moss appears likely.

The sentiments Jacobs expressed regarding Roman and the 49ers' coaching staff could be important to keeping Moss from growing frustrated. Moss never has been one to suffer fools, even perceived ones, especially if the ball stopped coming his way. He did buy into "the New England way" when the Patriots' offensive staff was at its best and the team was winning. Moss also was catching balls left and right from an all-time great quarterback back then, circumstances the 49ers will not replicate.

The question then becomes whether Moss, 35 years old and coming off an idle season, will put team goals ahead of personal ones no matter what.

Davis, probably the most emotionally authentic player on the team, said he "loves" Moss for having "a great heart" and being a selfless teammate.

"Not only has he extended some knowledge to me, he has shown me that being great requires you to work even when you've had tons of success, with people saying you're a potential Hall of Famer, first ballot," Davis said of Moss.

3. Potential sophomore slump. Aldon Smith has incurred a DUI arrest, suffered stab wounds at a party and been carted off the Candlestick Park field with a preseason hip injury since setting a franchise rookie record with 14 sacks last season. That sounds like a sure-fire recipe for a sophomore slump.

Smith has been getting around slowly with the help of a forearm crutch. Hip injuries can be terribly painful. Athletes as lean as Smith have so little padding in that area. On the positive side, Smith has bounced back quickly from injuries in the past. He missed three games after suffering a cracked fibula during the 2010-11 season at Missouri.

The 49ers are asking Smith to transition from situational pass-rusher to full-time outside linebacker. Missed practice reps could slow that transition in the short term.

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

The 49ers brought back all the important players from a team that finished 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game last season. They added weapons at receiver and running back after falling short offensively.

Both sides of the ball figure to benefit from a full offseason after scrambling to learn new schemes on the fly following the lockout.

The progress Davis showed late last season comes to mind as an extreme example. Adapting to yet another offense was tough in the beginning, but once he grasped the concepts more fully, there was no stopping him (10 receptions, 292 yards and four touchdowns over two playoff games).

Finishing 13-3 again would break from precedent, but all signs point to the 49ers as NFC West favorites.

Much will hinge on whether the offense improves, and to what degree.

The line appears in position to take a step forward. Four of the five starters played at least 92 percent of the offensive snaps last season. The new starter, right guard Alex Boone, is entering his third season with the team. The best offensive lines play together for years. This one increasingly has continuity. There's talent, too, with first-round choices in three of the five spots.

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

Niners fans should be familiar with the warning labels by now.

Injuries: The 49ers were unusually healthy last season. Alex Smith took a league-high 44 sacks and somehow started every game. He started 16 games in a regular season for the first time since 2006 and the second time in his career. The defense suffered very few meaningful injuries in 2011-12, but the hip bruise Aldon Smith suffered last week highlighted the implausibility of a repeat on that front.

Turnovers: History says San Francisco's plus-28 turnover differential will be unsustainable.

Targets on backs: The 49ers are going from hunters to hunted. Opponents will be gunning for them. Opponents will also have fuller, more accurate reads on the schemes Jim Harbaugh and staff brought to the NFL from Stanford. The unconventional shifting and personnel combinations San Francisco unleashed on opponents might not have the same effect a second time around. That might have begun to happen last season, when the 49ers proved far less dominant when facing opponents a second time.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Tarell Brown has been the best cornerback in camp. Teammates say he puts in the prep time. It shows when the 49ers do situational work. The more specific the situation, the better Brown seems to fare. Brown is also probably the 49ers' best corner in press coverage, an asset in short-yardage situations, whereas the other starting corner, Pro Bowl choice Carlos Rogers, tends to prefer off coverage.
  • Jacobs has run effectively in short-yardage situations. I did notice rookie linebacker Kourtnei Brown rocking Jacobs twice in one-on-one pass-rush drills during the team's recent Fan Fest practice.
  • When the 49ers enter their locker room from the practice field, a sign meets them with a list of five points: work hard, stay loose, stay focused, be accountable and take care of one another. The sign greeting them as they leave the locker room reads, "You are getting better or getting worse. You never stay the same."
  • Versatile corner Perrish Cox is making a strong push to unseat Chris Culliver in the nickel role. No matter what happens, Cox figures to play this season. He's made an impact on special teams as well. Seeking continued improvements in the secondary was additionally important with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees and Tom Brady on the schedule this season.
  • While Harbaugh has defended Jenkins from premature and unfair criticism, all indications point to a gradual assimilation for the receiver San Francisco selected in the first round. Veteran safety Donte Whitner: "When he gets there, I would compare him to a guy like Robert Meachem. He's not really big in stature, but he has a lot of speed. He has some quickness."
  • Safety Michael Thomas could be an undrafted free agent to watch for the 49ers this season. He knows the defense after playing for coordinator Vic Fangio at Stanford. Whitner: "If I was a betting man, at the end of the season, he'll be somewhere around this football team, whether it be on practice squad or on the 53[-man roster] because he wasn’t drafted, he’s not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy, but he has football instincts and he has football smarts. He’s around the football in practice."
  • The 49ers do a good job maximizing roster spots. They used nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga at fullback in power packages last season. Staley and Sopoaga caught passes. Bruce Miller successfully converted from college defensive end to starting fullback. Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs is the latest project. He's working as a blocking tight end and could conceivably push Nate Byham for the third roster spot at that position. Harbaugh: "He's definitely far enough along. We still don't know what that ceiling is yet."
  • The defense has a firmer grasp of Fangio's playbook entering a second season together. The team had 42 defensive calls installed when this week opened. That's not an unusual number, but Fangio should be able to call more of them with confidence.
  • Every player I spoke with -- Alex Smith, Davis, Williams, Jacobs, Staley and others -- mentioned putting team goals before individual ones. Harbaugh and staff have ingrained that mindset in players. It's a storyline to watch now that the 49ers have additional offensive weapons, a strong personality in Moss and higher expectations overall.
There are no blockers or play-action fakes to deal with when prospective NFL athletes compete at the scouting combine each February.

That helps explain why Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook could not catch San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a 78-yard touchdown run Friday night.

Officials clocked Cook at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the 2010 combine. Kaepernick ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds the following year, an outstanding time for a quarterback.

Kaepernick was already approaching full stride when Cook disengaged from the man blocking him (Brett Swain) to give chase after the 49ers' backup quarterback fooled the Vikings' defense with a designed run off play-action. That put Cook at a clear disadvantage even though he had perhaps a one-yard head start.

Still, with 70 yards remaining til the end zone, most cornerbacks would like their chances against most quarterbacks in that situation.

Kaepernick is not most quarterbacks, of course. He rushed for more than 4,000 yards at Nevada. He was one of four quarterbacks at the 2011 combine to break 4.6 seconds in the 40. Tyrod Taylor (4.51), Jake Locker (4.59) and Cam Newton (4.59) were the others.

Cook was close to catching Kaepernick near the goal line, but Kaepernick held him off with his arm and made one last cut to ensure safe travel to the end zone.

That is one fast quarterback.
Ten thoughts as NFL free agency moves through its sixth hour:
  • Red Bryant's re-signing in Seattle stands as the biggest NFC West-related signing to this point, trailed by Josh Morgan's departure from San Francisco to Washington. News on the quarterback front remains slow. If the Seahawks consider former Miami starter Chad Henne, they will not be talking big money.
  • The Chaz Schilens market should be fascinating to watch unfold over the next month. Alas, for all the hype surrounding the few big-name free agents hitting the NFL market Tuesday, lesser-known role players such as Schilens are carrying much of the conversation in this division. Schilens, a part-time starter in Oakland with 72 catches over four seasons, visited Arizona and plans to visit San Francisco.
  • San Francisco appears increasingly justified for signing Randy Moss as free-agent options dissipate. We can remove Vincent Jackson's name from the list of prominent receivers potentially under consideration; he's headed to Tampa Bay on a five-year deal. Pierre Garcon is also off the market, having joined Morgan in reaching agreement with the Redskins. The chart below shows current and recent 49ers receivers, ranked from oldest to youngest. Moss and Michael Crabtree could use some company.
  • Deals for Jackson and other wideouts stand to affect Mike Wallace's asking price, but market conditions are far less favorable for restricted free agents. Wallace, arguably the NFL's top deep threat, remains available for any team willing to make an offer the Steelers would not match. The signing team would have to part with a first-round pick. The 49ers appear less likely to do so after signing Moss.
  • Jim Thomas is pointing to Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan as the Rams' top priority at cornerback in free agency. That means the 49ers' Carlos Rogers is not the Rams' top priority at the position, despite Rogers' ties to Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. What is the market for Rogers? Might the 49ers sign him in the future? They appear to be moving on at the position, though it's too early to say for certain.
  • The Cardinals, having done well to land Daryn Colledge in free agency last offseason, are in the market for another guard. The Titans' Jake Scott is visiting, Thomas and Kent Somers note. Scott turns 31 next month and has started 120 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak for an active guard. Scott played at Idaho while Colledge, 30, was at Boise State.
  • Looks like Seattle and St. Louis have interest in Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones. The Rams would presumably have the inside track. Jones played for new Rams coach Jeff Fisher. St. Louis also has the greater need. The Rams are starting over at defensive tackle.
  • It's tough to know for sure just how hard teams are chasing after certain players. Agents tend to err on the side of overstatement while attempting to build markets for their clients. Too frequently, the same goes for contract figures. Arizona's Kevin Kolb supposedly received $21 million in "guaranteed" money last offseason, but if the Cardinals cut him this week, he'll leave with $12 million -- great money for one partial season as a starter, but not $21 million.
  • The Seahawks could not justify naming tight end John Carlson their franchise player, but re-signing him would give them very good depth at the position. The fact that Carlson visited Kansas City right away shows he's eager to check out opportunities elsewhere, however.
  • The Rams have so far held onto 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith. They could keep him, but with Houston unexpectedly releasing Eric Winston, the Rams will visit with him, Adam Schefter reports. The Rams could do much worse than having Winston and Harvey Dahl on the right side.

Now, on to the chart showing 49ers wide receivers with the team currently or in the recent past ...

File Randy Moss' scheduled workout with the San Francisco 49ers under the "no stone left unturned" category.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says the workout will take place Monday.

The 49ers nearly ran out of healthy wideouts late last season. The position remains one of great need heading into the free-agent signing period, which begins Tuesday.

Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr., Josh Morgan, Braylon Edwards, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings were among the wide receivers Alex Smith targeted last season. Signing Edwards to a modest deal before the season showed a willingness to take on a higher-profile receiver.

Moss, who recently turned 35, is eligible to sign with any team before free agency. That is because he was not under contract to any team in 2011. He caught nine passes for New England, 13 for Minnesota and six for Tennessee during the 2010 season. He recently revealed intentions to come back for the 2012 season.

Moss does not appear to have strong ties to the 49ers' offensive staff. The 49ers' special-teams coordinator and assistant head coach, Brad Seely, provides one known connection. He and Moss were together in New England.

The 49ers could be interested in gathering information on all the available receivers before free agency begins. The workout could help give them a feel for Moss' expectations and physical condition.
A few thoughts on known contract offers for restricted free agents in the NFC West:
  • The Hyphen: The Cardinals announced a second-round tender for running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, meaning any team signing Stephens-Howling would have to give Arizona a 2012 second-round choice if the Cardinals declined to match the offer. Stephens-Howling was a seventh-round pick. The fact that Arizona values him at a second-round level reflects well on him, and on the team for drafting him.
  • Amendola valued: Jim Thomas' report of a second-round tender for Danny Amendola suggests the Rams' new staff wants to keep the slot receiver. Amendola caught 85 passes in 2010, then suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the 2011 opener. He is 26 years old, has a good rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford and can contribute in the return game.
  • Secondary values: Arizona safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Greg Toler received original-round tenders. That means Johnson would fetch a third-round pick and Toler a fourth-rounder. The knee injury Toler suffered before last season suppressed his value.
  • No Max Hall: The Cardinals retained rights to exclusive-rights free agents Rich Bartel, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley and Brandon Williams. They made no offer to Max Hall, a forgotten man in the team's quarterback race. Hall was once a player the Cardinals liked for his toughness and leadership, but his days in Arizona appear finished.
  • 49ers' LB depth: San Francisco had only two RFA candidates, linebacker Larry Grant and receiver Brett Swain. The team has made no announcement on its tenders, but Grant appears likely to receive an original-round offer, pegging his value to a seventh-round pick, Matt Maiocco notes. Grant played extensively on special teams and filled it pretty well at linebacker when Patrick Willis was out. The 49ers should be able to match any offers, or they could look for depth in the draft. Looks like Swain is head headed for free agency.
  • Seahawks have three: NFL Players Association records show Seattle extending a $1.26 million tender to kicker Steven Hauschka, allowing Seattle the right of first refusal. Guard Mike Gibson and cornerback Roy Lewis are the team's other RFAs. Lewis' agent said he has not yet received word from the team, which has until Tuesday to make RFA offers.

Looks like I've finally made it through a blog post without mentioning -- wait, who wrote that headline?

First look at 49ers' 2012 free agents

February, 7, 2012
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Five of the San Francisco 49ers' projected unrestricted free agents for 2012 played right around 1,000 snaps or more last season, easily the highest figure in the NFC West.

Re-signing quarterback Alex Smith appears likely. Smith accepted the Associated Press' coach of the year award on Jim Harbaugh's behalf Saturday, the latest indication Smith remains firmly in the fold.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers has said he wants to return. His value spiked after earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. The franchise tag remains available, but the price would be lower if San Francisco used it for free safety Dashon Goldson instead. Either way, the 49ers have decisions to make in their secondary.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

Some players, notably Blake Costanzo and C.J. Spillman, played extensively on special teams. The charts show offensive and defensive snap counts only.

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The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers' injury situation featured tradeoffs Sunday.

Receiver Ted Ginn Jr., a dynamic threat in the return game when healthy, will miss the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury. The injury limited him last week.

Tight end Delanie Walker is back, however, and he'll play for the first time since breaking his jaw during a freak collision with Leroy Hill's knee at the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16. Walker led the 49ers with six receptions for 69 yards when the 49ers defeated the New York Giants in Week 10. His presence should help San Francisco in the rematch.

Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Joe Hastings and Brett Swain are the receivers active for San Francisco.

Veteran fullback Moran Norris is inactive, leaving Bruce Miller as the only fullback, with Walker and fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Justin Peelle giving the 49ers options when they go to heavier personnel groupings. Tackle Alex Boone and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga also help out as blockers at times. Defensive end Justin Smith recently came onto the field as a blocker as well.

I suspect we're going to see quite a bit of Frank Gore and fellow running back Kendall Hunter in this game. We'll see greater versatility within the two-tight end packages now that the speedy, athletic Walker is available. Walker also helps on special teams.

But with Ginn out, the 49ers will be trusting the much less experienced Williams and Hunter in the return game amid wet, potentially windy conditions.
Naming Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams inactive Sunday gives both San Francisco 49ers wide receivers extra time to heal for the playoffs.

The 49ers seemingly could have bought additional time for Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, but they made him active for the first time since Willis suffered a hamstring injury Dec. 4. That presumably means the team feels confident Willis is at no additional risk for further injury.

With Ginn and Williams out, the 49ers will rely upon less proven players, not just on offense but in the return game.

Brett Swain starts opposite Michael Crabtree at receiver, where the 49ers have only three players active -- an unusually low number that includes undrafted rookie Joe Hastings, signed Saturday from the practice squad. Ginn and Williams were the top two returns specialists. With Delanie Walker also inactive, the 49ers are very thin on pass-catchers. With two fullbacks active, we can expect plenty of "22" personnel with two backs and two tight ends, it appears.

This means we could see safety Reggie Smith returning punts, with rookie running back Kendall Hunter serving as the primary kickoff returner. The 49ers did not make a formal announcement on a change at punt returner, but coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Friday that Smith could get the call.

With a victory at St. Louis or a New Orleans defeat against Carolina, the 49ers' injured players will gain another week to heal by virtue of a first-round playoff bye. There were no surprises among the Rams' inactives Sunday. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley remain out, leaving Kellen Clemens as the starter.

What 49ers miss without Braylon Edwards

December, 19, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO — Inside linebacker Patrick Willis is inactive. Left tackle Joe Staley is active.

Edwards
Those were the San Francisco 49ers' pregame moves we could see coming.

Braylon Edwards' inactive status Monday night comes as a mild surprise. Injuries have slowed Edwards this season and his production has been inconsistent.

The chart illustrates what the 49ers might be missing -- or not missing -- with Edwards inactive. It shows quarterback Alex Smith's yards per attempt by down and overall for the five wide receivers with receptions for San Francisco this season. Smith averages only 5.5 yards per attempt when targeting Edwards, lowest among the five.

Josh Morgan is on injured reserve. Smith completed 15 of 19 passes for 220 yards when targeting Morgan this season.

Brett Swain is active as the fourth receiver for the 49ers. Ted Ginn Jr. starts for Edwards. Despite inconsistent production as a receiver, Edwards stood out for his blocking against Arizona last week. The 49ers' receivers have been strong blockers this season.

The 49ers' strength at tight end gives them options if their numbers at receiver are limited.
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