NFL Nation: Clancy Pendergast
They'll address those problems, at least in part, by seeking a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator. The team fired Bill Davis, its coordinator the past two seasons, in a move announced Thursday.
This marks the second time in three seasons coach Ken Whisenhunt has fired a defensive coordinator. He inherited Clancy Pendergast from Dennis Green's staff in 2007, firing him after the 2008 season.
Whisenhunt, as an offensive-minded head coach, is not in a position to take over the defense if things go wrong. That's why it's critical for him to find the right defensive coordinator.
Pendergast's defense had failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Arizona had ranked 28th in points allowed per game during the 2008 regular season.
Whisenhunt tried to hire Steelers assistant Keith Butler to replace Pendergast, but Butler remained with Pittsburgh. Whisenhunt then promoted Davis. The defense made statistical gains in 2009, but key young players regressed in 2010 as the defense failed to compensate for an even more dramatic dropoff on offense following Kurt Warner's retirement.
It's not yet clear which direction the Cardinals might go in replacing Davis. They could pursue Butler again. As Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix notes, the team could consider San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, should he become available.
The chart breaks down defensive stats for the Cardinals over the past five seasons.
Belichick’s top two lieutenants from New England’s dynasty.
A week after landing a huge coup by adding Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, Kansas City has come to terms with Romeo Crennel to guide its defense. This completes a special tandem.
The Chiefs are officially on the right track.
Crennel and Weis were a big part of New England’s Super Bowl run. They helped make Belichick’s teams special. Yes, New England has had plenty of success after Crennel (Cleveland) and Weis (Notre Dame) parlayed the Patriots’ success into head-coaching jobs following the 2004 season. No assistant in New England had as big of an impact as Weis and Crennel did.
After mostly unsuccessful runs as head coaches, both Crennel and Weis are back where they should be -- working as coordinators.
Crennel is clearly hungry to coach. He didn’t need to coach with three years left on his Cleveland contract. But he clearly wanted to reunite with Weis and the man who brought them together, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli. All three enjoyed success in New England. Crennel had other opportunities, but he was most comfortable with coaching in Kansas City.
Pioli knows that his Chiefs are a step closer to being a playoff team with Crennel in town. The Chiefs, who finished 4-12 in 2009, went to the 3-4 defense under Clancy Pendergast last season after Crennel turned down Kansas City because he was having hip surgery.
Crennel is a 3-4 master. He will help the defense take the next step. There is some decent young talent on this defense and Crennel will get more out of it. It needs to start on the defensive line where Kansas City spent the No. 5 and No. 3 overall draft picks on Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, respectively, the past two years. Both players have shown glimpses of major production, but the Chiefs need more than glimpses from both of them.
Expect Crennel to get these players to play up to their potential.
Crennel, along with Weis, will help Haley. Entering his second season as an NFL coach, Haley will benefit greatly from the leadership and expertise of his top two assistants. He now has two coaches with head-coaching experience to lean on.
Credit Kansas City for recognizing the importance of coordinators. The Chiefs are a much better organization today than they were at the end of the 209 season.
If you don’t think so, just ask Belichick.
We look at the chances of change in each AFC West city (the focus is on head coaches and coordinators):
Denver: Don’t expect any change at top. Josh McDaniels is not going anywhere, even if Denver doesn’t make the playoffs and suffers its second straight major collapse. If Denver doesn’t make the playoffs, it will be the second team in 31 years to start 6-0 and miss the postseason.
Still, McDaniels’ team has performed better than expected. The team is physical and full of energy. McDaniels seems to have a good program started.
The one potential big change could be at defensive coordinator if Mike Nolan gets another opportunity to be a head coach. But that might be a long shot this offseason. The only way the former San Francisco 49ers head coach gets a chance to take over another team is if there are more openings than expected.
Otherwise, Nolan will have to put together another strong effort next year. Nolan’s defense was lights out in the first six games. Denver was dominating opponents. The Broncos were stalwarts on third down and in the second half, two areas where you want your defense to dominate.
In the second half of the season, the defense has come back to earth some but it is still very good. It is the No. 5 ranked defense in the NFL and it is second in the league against the pass. It is much improved from last year. Nolan has done a terrific job. But he'll have to do it again to get another head-coaching job.
Kansas City: There has been some conjecture around the NFL that head coach Todd Haley could be in trouble.
Of course, that talk is fueled by the fact that the Chiefs are 3-12. Kansas City won a total of six games in the final two seasons of Herm Edwards’ tenure.
Yet, it would be surprising if general manager Scott Pioli shows Haley the door. The only way that would happen is if these two men have had a terrible working relationship that hasn’t surfaced. Both Pioli and Haley are ending their first season in Kansas City. I would be shocked if Pioli didn’t stick with Haley for at least another year.
Haley is a hard-nosed, hard-working coach. He is diligently trying to change the culture in Kansas City. He has had his share of game-management issues as a rookie head coach and the offense has been inconsistent under Haley’s guidance. Still, he needs time. He likely will get some.
There will probably be a new offensive coordinator in the fold. Haley relieved Chan Gailey of his duties shortly before the season. Haley took over. The Chiefs almost certainly will hire a new offensive coordinator.
The coach that has been most speculated about is Charlie Weis. He worked with Pioli and Haley in the past. If Weis wants the job, it might be his.
The team conceivably also could make a move at defensive coordinator. Clancy Pendergast’s unit has not been good. Kansas City is 30th in the NFL in defense. Kansas City has allowed at least 26 points in eight games this season.
Still, the Chiefs have several young players on defense and Pendergast could be given time to work with the group. The team talked to Romeo Crennel last year, but he had hip surgery and couldn’t coach in 2009. Crennel is healthy now, but the word from people who know him is that it would take a good deal to get him back to the field for 2010.
Oakland: It is inevitable there will be some speculation over the head coach in Oakland. It happens nearly every year.
Thus, it wouldn't be a shock if Tom Cable is on the hot seat. However, if the Raiders beat Baltimore on Sunday and finish 6-10, Cable could be safe. The Raiders haven’t won at least six games since 2002, which is an NFL record. Snapping the record could go a long way for Cable.
If Oakland loses Sunday, owner Al Davis could get grouchy about the situation.
Cable has been far from perfect. His play calling has been questioned and he has a 9-18 overall record in Oakland. He has not made the team a winner.
But Cable is very enthusiastic. He wants to be Oakland’s head coach. That’s a good start. If Cable stays, it wouldn't be a surprise if most of his staff remains.
You have to consider a change being a possibility because of Davis’ history. But, like he did last year, Davis eventually might figure that Cable is the best option for the team.
San Diego: Head coach Norv Turner is obviously safe. He is expected to get a new contract -- his deal expires after 2010 -- after the season.
One change could be at defensive coordinator -- but only if Ron Rivera wants there to be one.
If the Chargers make a Super Bowl run, Rivera could be an intriguing head-coaching candidate. Rivera has received interest in head-coaching jobs in the past. After another solid job as an assistant, Rivera should be attractive again.
He is a big reason why the Chargers have been so dominant. Since he took over as the coordinator at midseason last year, the Chargers are 17-6 in the regular season.
Rivera is known as a detailed-oriented leader and his players love playing for him. He could parlay San Diego’s potentially special season into a new job. The Chargers would miss him if he leaves.
|Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas
The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.
Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.
Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).
NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.
Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.
Fateful QB decisions
|Chris Keane/Icon SMI|
|Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.|
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.
Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.
|Jason Bridge/US Presswire|
|Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.|
Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.
Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.
Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:
|John Rieger/US Presswire|
|Todd Haley's familiarity with the Cowboys organization could give him an advantage.|
The Giants are going to beat the Raiders with or without Eli Manning. Who are we kidding? Coach Tom Coughlin's not going to let his team lose to a Tom Cable outfit. Steve Smith has been one of the best wide receivers in the league through four games -- and it will take more than the best cornerback in the game to slow him down. I talked to Justin Tuck on Thursday afternoon and he talked about how the Giants always seem to rally around injuries and other distractions. If Manning doesn't play, I think David Carr will be just fine. As long as he doesn't have any flashbacks of playing behind the Texans' offensive line, it shouldn't be much of a problem.
Can Jim Zorn find a way to lead his team to a win with all this turmoil going on? Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have made an interesting move in bringing in offensive consultant Sherman Lewis to help right the offensive ship. What they've done is embarrass a good man in the process. Bully for offensive coordinator Sherman Smith for saying what was on his mind once Lewis was hired. This franchise is stumbling all over itself right now. Would anyone be surprised if they lost to the Panthers on Sunday? Didn't think so.
The Beast is headed to Philly to watch Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick on the same field: I'm eager to see how many snaps Eagles coach Andy Reid gives Vick in the shotgun. My best guess is eight or nine. And I think he'll see some snaps in the red zone. How will McNabb react? We're about to find out. If it's a blowout -- as I expect it to be -- then there won't be any problem. I think poor Josh Johnson's in for a long day. He'll be scrambling for his life -- and Eagles defensive end Trent Cole will have at least two sacks. Huge day coming for Brent Celek. Write that one down, folks. Clip and save.
Could Wade Phillips' job be in jeopardy if the Cowboys lose at Arrowhead? Jerry Jones has never fired a coach during the season, but this would be a huge embarrassment. Jones said Friday that Phillips' job would not be in jeopardy if he lost to the Chiefs, but let's wait and see what happens. One of the problems is that you really don't have an interim guy who could handle things. It's not like Jason Garrett is inspiring a ton of confidence right now. I guess former head coach Dave Campo might get the nod -- and Garrett could remain as offensive coordinator. Have a head coach, defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator ever been fired at the same time during a season? I'll try to look that up for you guys. Have a tremendous weekend.
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|Todd Haley, the new coach for Kansas City, has made his players feel his presence during the offseason and training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
RIVER FALLS, Wis. --- The Kansas City Chiefs are tired.
And they should be.
Camp Haley has been no pleasure cruise.
The Chiefs, who break camp Thursday, have undergone a harsh transition from the cushy Herm Edwards days to the no-breaks, harsh methods of new coach Todd Haley. Mimicking new general manager Scott Pioli's humorless ways, Haley has not been easy on his troops.
It's all about making the Chiefs -- who have won a total of six games the past two years -- "hard to beat," Haley said.
"I think this camp had to be tough," Haley said Wednesday. "We need a mental toughness .... I've been on teams that have turned it around and each of those teams needed to get tougher."
In the offseason, Haley stressed conditioning and made his team lose weight. Then, he held a conditioning test before the start of camp. Several well-known players didn't pass, thus delaying their camp starting date. Camp practices in this idyllic Wisconsin college town have been long and hard-hitting.
Haley is often heard barking his displeasure at his team and often his media briefings smack of an unsatisfied coach.
Further getting everyone's attention, Haley broke down standout receiver Dwayne Bowe. The team's best receiver was made a third stringer. But the tough love has worked. Bowe has responded and it's been a lesson learned for the entire team.
Haley knows he has a lot of work to do with this team. The Chiefs are being reconstructed. Haley knows it's not going to be easy, but he's bent on making it work.
"I've seen good progress," Haley said. "This team is much tougher than it was a few months ago. But we have to keep on improving."
|Getty Images/AP Photo|
|Pittsburgh and Arizona meet Thursday night in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
I joined AFC North blogger James Walker and Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc. for a discussion on the Steelers' and Cardinals' chances of making return trips to the Super Bowl. The two teams meet Thursday night at 8 ET on ESPN.
James raised questions about Ben Roethlisberger's recent play through camp amid potential distractions relating to the civil suit against him. I raised questions about the Cardinals' ability to replace what they lost when offensive coordinator Todd Haley left for the Chiefs.
Jeremy and I debated the merits of Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to replace Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator. And I tried to convince James to rethink perceptions of the Cardinals as a team dealing with distractions.
In the end, we agreed on one thing: The Cardinals still must prove they can win consistently, leaving the Steelers as the team more likely to make a return trip to the Super Bowl this season, even if the path through the AFC offers more resistance.
|Christian Petersen/Getty Images and Derick Hingle/Icon SMI|
|Rey Maualuga and Tyson Jackson are two players expected to be taken in the first round of the draft who could be good fits for Denver or Kansas City.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
After dumping the 4-3 scheme used by previous regimes, the new leaders in both Denver and Kansas City are hoping for fast results by adopting the 3-4 defense. A new era begins in the AFC West.
Still, the transition might not be easy. Both teams will try to fit existing players into the system and identify new ones to add. The 3-4 defense features three defensive linemen and four linebackers as opposed to the more traditional four defensive linemen and three linebackers set.
Expect the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to try to stockpile defenders who can play in the 3-4 in the April 25-26 draft. Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson said he thinks Denver will dedicate "95 percent" of its draft class to players who can play in the 3-4. Denver is in great shape to add young talent with five picks in the first 84 choices, some as a result of the Jay Cutler trade. Kansas City has started the transition process with the additions of veteran linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas.
Who might be among the top-flight draft prospects for 3-4 schemes? Possible targets include former Boston College defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and ex-LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson. Will those players be ready to make an immediate impact in the 3-4 defense? Williamson said he believes both the Broncos and the Chiefs might have difficulty making the adjustment to the 3-4, which has long been used by the San Diego Chargers.
"The two teams are starting from scratch in a lot of ways as they try to move to the 3-4 along with San Diego," Williamson said. "They may have to slowly transition to it because it takes some of these young kids a couple of years before they can make a difference in that scheme. Not enough kids play the 3-4 in college, so it takes time. If Denver and Kansas City think they are going to get a quick fix, it may be tough. And San Diego now has more competition because two more teams in its own division will be looking for 3-4 players."
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|It's unknown how players drafted to play in a 4-3 defense, such as Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey, will perform in a 3-4.|
Williamson thinks there are some high-profile players in Denver and Kansas City who may have trouble flourishing in the new system. In Denver, Williamson pointed out linebacker D.J. Williams, who last September signed a big extension to stay in Denver. In Kansas City, Williamson believes defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is not suited for the 3-4 defense. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall draft pick last season. Williamson thinks Kansas City should try to trade Dorsey. New Kansas City coach Todd Haley, who brought creative defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast with him from Arizona, is not worried, though.
"I think he's got a lot of great versatility, especially where we are transitioning potentially to this 3-4," Haley said of Dorsey. "I think there are some roles in there for him where he could have more of an attacking role."
One reason the AFC West will be a 3-4 defense division is because of the heavy influence of the New England Patriots that has invaded the division.
Former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels replaced Mike Shanahan as head coach in Denver and brought in former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan to run the 3-4 defense that the Patriots used. Kansas City is moving to the 3-4 defense because former Patriots executive Scott Pioli is the new general manager there.
The Chargers are interested to see how the division will be affected by 75 percent of the teams using the 3-4 scheme.
"It gives you flexibility as a defense," San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said. "You can show different looks and we have found it very useful. ... We're seeing Denver and Kansas City moving to the 3-4 as they start a new beginning. It will be very interesting to see how everything works with nearly every team in the division using the scheme."
McDaniels said the key in Denver will be versatility and flexibility in the scheme. He said the speed of the 3-4 transition may depend on the personnel the team picks up in the draft.
"There are a few boards at our facility and they're put up different ways," McDaniels said. "Because I think it's really important that we see where we finish this spring, and head into training camp in terms of our personnel. I don't think we can really sit there today and say, 'That looks perfect.' In terms of playing them as a 3-4 or as a 4-3, I think we have guys that can do a lot of things. Versatility is a huge thing for what we're going to try to do on defense."
The transition will not be easy, but the process begins in earnest with the draft for both Denver and Kansas City.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Chiefs have settled on their defensive coordinator.
The team named Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator on Friday. He was fired in Arizona after the Super Bowl. He worked with new Chiefs head coach Todd Haley in Arizona, where Haley was the offensive coordinator.
Pendergast was hired several weeks ago in an unnamed role. In an unusual move, Kansas City waited before making Pendergast the defensive coordinator. It was reported that the team was waiting to hire former Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator. But his agent, Joe Linta, said last week that Crennel would not be joining the Chiefs at this time.
So Pendergast is now in charge of turning around one of the youngest and weakest defenses in the NFL. Haley believes he's up to the challenge.
"Clancy was instrumental in the Arizona Cardinals run at the end of last season that led to our appearance in the Super Bowl," Haley said in a statement released by the team. "The fact that we have experience working together along with Clancy's previous experience working with Gary Gibbs will be a big factor in our continuity as we move forward."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams will show interest in free agents Leonard Weaver and Jason Brown. Both would upgrade the Rams. Brown would dramatically upgrade the situation at center. He also thinks the Rams like Eugene Monroe over Jason Smith among the offensive tackles in the draft. Thomas: "The Rams have so many serious needs on both sides of the ball, they could truly go in several directions with that first-round pick, really anywhere other than QB, RB, punter, kicker."
Niners scout Todd Brunner liked what Connecticut cornerback Darius Walker showed during the final day of the combine. He also liked what quarterback Pat White showed.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks the 49ers might focus more on signing their own players to extensions as free agency approaches.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers might take Andre Smith at No. 10 if the massive tackle were available in that spot.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals' stalemate with Anquan Boldin could "come to a head" before the draft in April. Somers: "Still, his influence in the locker room and on the practice field is hard to overestimate. If this soap opera ends with Boldin leaving the show, no one is going to feel good about it."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team plans to stick with its basic defensive philosophy even after Clancy Pendergast's firing. That means a continuation of the hybrid looks.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind details which of the Cardinals' free agents should be re-signed. He thinks defensive end Antonio Smith will command something along the lines of a five-year, $27.5 million deal from the Cowboys, Broncos or Packers. That would probably push Calais Campbell into the lineup for the Cardinals.
Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer thinks the Seahawks should draft a left tackle in the fourth overall spot even if they can't find anyone as good as Walter Jones.
Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts is soliciting questions for an interview with Seahawks center Steve Vallos.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it's increasingly likely the Rams will release Orlando Pace and Torry Holt. Releasing Pace would reinforce the idea that the Rams might draft an offensive tackle with the second overall choice. Also, the Rams are not close to a deal with cornerback Ron Bartell. The Rams are in a bit of a tough spot with Bartell. They would like to retain their best young talent, but how much can they invest in players their coaching staff does not yet know very well?
VanRam of Turf Show Times considers Aaron Curry as a potential Rams draft choice based on the Wake Forest linebacker's versatility.
Also from VanRam: Could Gibril Wilson be the Rams' next strong safety? Money would be the key variable on that one. The Rams have already named Oshiomogho Atogwe their franchise player. That means they'll be less likely to invest significant money in the other safety spot.
Niners scout Todd Brunner says Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe validated his position as one of the top offensive tackles. Brunner: "He moved around well, had a good workout and did well in the position drills."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have serious concerns about Shaun Hill's arm strength and they wonder if defenses might be able to stack the line of scrimmage without worrying about Hill beating them with downfield throws.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gives Ken Whisenhunt's explanation for firing defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Whisenhunt talked about holding everyone accountable, including coaches, while pointing to scoring defense and red zone defense as problems.
Also from Somers: Cardinals general manager Rod Graves spoke with running back Edgerrin James this week, but the team has no immediate plans to release James. At this point, the Cardinals are better with James on their roster. They presumably would not release him without adding another back.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at the Cardinals' guard situation.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Seahawks coach Jim Mora as including offensive tackles as "impact" players, citing Walter Jones as an example. Team president Tim Ruskell previously said he was sure this draft would not produce a tackle on Jones' level.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News says Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree said he would not undergo foot surgery.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The top issues facing each team in the division:
|Rob Tringali/Getty Images|
|Will Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin be in Arizona next season? Only time will tell.|
Primary issue: Maintaining continuity. The NFC champs have already parted with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. They need to re-sign quarterback Kurt Warner so the offense can keep a very good thing going.
Warner will continue to consider retirement even while agent Mark Bartelstein begins discussions on a new contract.
Solution: The feeling is that Warner will come back as long as the Cardinals maintain a similar philosophy on offense, show diligence in upgrading their roster and follow through with a serious contract offer.
Secondary concern: Resolving the Anquan Boldin situation. Boldin keeps telling the team he wants a trade. The team has other priorities in the short term, but everyone benefits if the Cardinals can find a way to fix this situation before training camp.
Boldin has lost significant leverage since midseason. His injuries and relative lack of production in the postseason dovetailed with Larry Fitzgerald's emergence as the NFL's most dominant receiver. The Cardinals' overall team success also drains leverage from Boldin.
Solution: The Cardinals should consider trading Boldin if another team offers more than what the Cowboys paid the Lions for receiver Roy Williams. The upcoming scouting combine will provide an opportunity for the Cardinals and Boldin's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to gauge a potential market, should Arizona choose to go that route.
Primary issue: Identifying a quarterback. The 49ers have gone from Alex Smith to Trent Dilfer to Shaun Hill to J.T. O'Sullivan and back to Hill -- all in the last two seasons. Hill remains the favorite for 2009 after generally playing well in 2008, but the 49ers have postponed naming a starter while they consider their options.
|Joel Auerbach/US Presswire|
|Shaun Hill finished the 2008 season as the starting quarterback in San Francisco.|
The 49ers went through last offseason refusing to name a starter, and look at where it got them. They divided practice reps between Smith and Hill through the start of training camp, then watched O'Sullivan win an ugly race. Head coach Mike Nolan was out of work by midseason and O'Sullivan lost his job the following week.
Solution: The 49ers need to feel good enough about one of their quarterbacks to name him the starter before training camp. Hill should be the obvious choice based on current personnel. Legitimate teams name their quarterbacks before August.
Secondary issue: Upgrading the pass rush. The 49ers' defense proved more effective once Mike Singletary replaced Nolan. The late-season schedule certainly helped, but the 49ers' stronger commitment to a 3-4 scheme also paid off.
No scheme can succeed over the long term without a strong pass rush. The 49ers haven't had one since ... when? Adding the relentless Justin Smith last offseason helped, but he's more of an all-around player than an all-out pass-rusher.
Solution: Every team wants more pass-rushers. The odds are against finding an immediately dominant one in the draft. The 49ers will need to make the right choices in free agency. In Arizona, veteran Bertrand Berry helped make the Cardinals' pass rush just good enough in key situations. The 49ers, meanwhile, found themselves stuck with Tully Banta-Cain. They must do better in free agency this time.
Primary issue: Getting key players healthy. Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney are arguably the three most important players on the Seahawks. All are in their 30s and all missed significant playing time while rehabbing injuries last season.
|Wesley Hitt/Getty Images|
|Matt Hasselbeck played in only seven games for the Seahawks this past season.|
The Seahawks can contend in the NFC West again if their best players can play at a high level. They'll suffer through another disappointing season if Hasselbeck, Jones and Kerney spend too much time in the training room.
Solution: The Seahawks will need to monitor each player's practice repetitions through training camp and possibly into the season.
A renewed commitment to the running game could help shield Hasselbeck's back from additional punishment.
Kerney is making every-down money, and then some, but his surgically repaired shoulder might benefit from a situational role.
The team does expect Jones' knee to be ready for the season. Resting him through training camp could be difficult as the team installs a new offense.
Secondary issue: Upgrading the pass rush. Seattle has spent large sums and invested considerable draft capital in its linebackers and cornerbacks. The team won't get the desired return on those investments without more production from the front four.
Solution: Getting Kerney healthy would help the pass rush immediately. The Seahawks are also banking on their new coaching staff to get more from young players, including first-day draft choices Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp.
Primary issue: Rebuilding the offensive line. Last season, the Rams fooled us into thinking a healthy Orlando Pace would largely solve their problems on the offensive line. Although Pace battled injuries through part of the season, the line struggled even when he was healthy.
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Orlando Pace was forced to fight through injuries again in 2008.|
Releasing Pace to free up $6 million in needed salary-cap room would set back the line in the short term, but the Rams are rebuilding up front even if Pace stays. Left guard Jacob Bell and right guard Richie Incognito need a better center between them.
Solution: Selecting an offensive tackle among the top two choices worked out well for the Rams when they selected Pace first overall in 1997. The Rams are picking second overall this year, which means they might have a chance to draft the highest-rated tackle on their board.
Teams are best off when they can find and develop starting-caliber offensive linemen in the middle and later rounds. The Rams have failed to do that. As a result, they might need to use one or more of their earlier choices on an offensive tackle. Finding a reasonably priced veteran in free agency might also help.
Secondary issue: Strengthening the middle of the defense. The Rams allowed at least 176 yards rushing seven times last season. They allowed 109 yards rushing to the Cardinals' Tim Hightower when Arizona wasn't running the ball very well against anyone.
Solution: Get bigger at defensive tackle. La'Roi Glover gave the Rams as much as his aging knees would allow, but he was always most dangerous as a pass-rusher. The Rams need a bigger body to pair inside with Adam Carriker. Carriker has talent and plays hard, but he needs some help.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Kurt Warner's agent expects to open negotiations with the Cardinals this week.
Also from Somers: Darnell Dockett expresses surprise at Clancy Pendergast's firing.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind assesses Pendergast's tenure as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator. Hawkwind: "The ultimate black mark on his resume could be that after lowering the points allowed per game in 2004 to 20.1, his defenses gave up more points every year of his tenure."
Scott Allen of Raising Zona evaluates the Cardinals' quarterbacks for 2008. He suspects Warner was about three good games from winning MVP honors.
John Morgan of Field Gulls breaks down Ray Willis' up-and-down performance on the Seahawks' offensive line.
Also from Morgan: a look at free-agent offensive lineman Adrian Jones and how he might fit into what the Seahawks have planned offensively. Morgan: "Jones fits the [Alex] Gibbs school of zone blocking. He's athletic, quick, has good feet, but is a bit thin, doesn't overpower and though not a freeway against the bull rush, doesn't get much push himself. He's also fairly new at playing offensive line and entering an age where his athleticism and size could reach equilibrium. Most importantly though, he's essentially free."
William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts considers Michael Crabtree's potential availability to Seattle based on what might happen earlier in the first round.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' stadium upgrades will cost $30 million. The Edwards Jones Dome will get new scoreboards and video boards. Thomas: "The project includes renovations to the Rams Club in the north end zone and creation of a Premium Club in the south end zone. As part of the scoreboard renovations, fans in the Rams Club and Premium Club will be able to view the field from those areas, and it will allow some daylight in the bowl area."
VanRam of Turf Show Times asks whether the Rams should give Alex Barron another chance.
The 49ers' Web site ranks the team's best special-teams plays from 2008. Kicker Joe Nedney: "Manny Lawson's blocked field goal, recovered by Nate Clements for a touchdown against the New York Giants was the best play of the year. Manny's leap over the field goal team was unbelievable. It was the best play all year."
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News ranks the 49ers' special teams sixth in the NFL and best in the NFC West. By his measure, the Cardinals had the worst special teams in the division.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals have released a statement confirming Clancy Pendergast's firing as defensive coordinator, with the following statement from coach Ken Whisenhunt:
"Clancy is a talented coach and we appreciate all that he's contributed in his time with the Cardinals. He was one of the guys retained from the previous staff and has done a good job. But as part of the evaluation process that's done after every season, I took a look at the last two years as a whole and felt this move was necessary to help us continue the progress we've made.
"Like every decision, it comes down to what's best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win. From a timing standpoint, we wanted to be fair to Clancy and give him a chance to seek the best possible opportunity in which to continue his career. In terms of filling the position, we have some people in mind both internally and externally and will begin that process immediately."
Pendergast has been with the Cardinals since 2004. The Cardinals were a big-play defense under Pendergast. They made big plays and allowed them. Whisenhunt will be looking for more consistency on that side of the ball.
|Harry How/Getty Images|
|Arizona safety Adrian Wilson leads a strong Cardinals defense into the Super Bowl that is virtually unknown on the national stage.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Super Bowl XLIII story lines are pretty much set.
The Arizona Cardinals' high-flying offense and the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked defense are rightfully commanding significant attention.
We have Cardinals coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm facing their former team, and the various subplots involving Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Edgerrin James.
We did, and so has everyone else. We haven't heard nearly as much about the defense that has forced 12 turnovers in the playoffs.
That defense belongs to the Cardinals, not the Steelers. Expect to hear much more about these largely anonymous defenders if Arizona pulls a Super Bowl upset.
Ten things to know about that 'other' defense in Super Bowl XLIII:
Final Atlanta 7 Baltimore 29 Final Tennessee 17 Washington 19 Final Seattle 26 St. Louis 28 Final Cleveland 6 Jacksonville 24 Final Cincinnati 0 Indianapolis 27 Final Minnesota 16 Buffalo 17 Final Miami 27 Chicago 14 Final New Orleans 23 Detroit 24 Final Carolina 17 Green Bay 38 Final Kansas City 23 San Diego 20 Final Arizona 24 Oakland 13 Final New York 21 Dallas 31 Final San Francisco 17 Denver 42