NFL Nation: Deuce Lutui
They were also thinking about the NFC West.
"Our division is so physical," coach Bruce Arians told reporters Thursday night, "and the thing that sets San Francisco, Seattle, and now St. Louis also, apart is their offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage are extremely good."
It's not yet clear whether Cooper will play left guard or right guard for the long term. The Cardinals can use him against NFC West interior defensive lines featuring Brandon Mebane, Michael Brockers and Justin Smith in base and/or sub packages.
"We have to match that physicality on both sides of the ball," Arians said.
Daryn Colledge, Rex Hadnot, Deuce Lutui, Alan Faneca, Adam Snyder, Rich Ohrnberger and Pat McQuistan have started at guard for the Cardinals over the past three seasons.
The Cardinals see Cooper becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player. They embraced comparisons to Larry Allen, who was recently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He has a unique skill set, maybe one of the more athletic offensive linemen I've [scouted] in the 15 years I've been in the business," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "He has tremendous feet, bend, athleticism, space skills, and the ability to pull and play on the perimeter."
Keim is in his first season as the Cardinals' GM. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State, potentially giving him special insight into the position.
Drafting a guard will never captivate the broader public, but evaluators with experience in line play can border on giddiness when they see a prospect as talented as Cooper. That was the sense in Tennessee when Titans coach Mike Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews drafted Chance Warmack, the other highly rated guard in the 2013 draft. Munchak and Matthews were Hall of Fame linemen.
"I've known Munchak and Matthews since 1996," Paul Kuharsky wrote on the AFC South blog. "I can't recall ever seeing the two low-key, business-like football men beam quite so brightly. The glow they gave off at the news conference at the Titans' headquarters after making the 10th pick made me believe it when they said there was no question Warmack was their man early on -- something virtually every coach stated Thursday night."
The feeling had to be similar for Keim in Arizona.
"I think the question was first posed to me at the combine in Indianapolis of whether I thought No. 7 was too high to take an offensive guard," Keim said. "I think that we have our answer."
The Titans project they can handle that and excel with it. We’ll have to wait and see.
What I like most about what they’ve done is this: A team with a ton of needs as the 2013 NFL year began has far fewer now.
That creates a certain draft freedom. While there are still things they need, they need them far less desperately. If a guy they really want in the draft goes off the board a couple picks before they are up, it will be less tragic.
Safety: Like it or not they are locked into Michael Griffin. So what they needed was a serious upgrade with regard to an in-the-box presence at the position who will allow Griffin to play as a center fielding free safety. Enter George Wilson and Bernard Pollard. They are veterans who are better than the options the Titans had in 2012, plus they bring leadership -- Wilson of a quieter variety, Pollard with a loud swagger. If they draft a kid to develop behind this group, that’d be fine, but it’s not a pressing need.
Guard: Andy Levitre was the best option on the market. Rob Turner and Chris Spencer are far better options than interior guys like Kevin Matthews or Deuce Lutui, who wound up playing last year. Ideally the Titans find a young stud to play right guard long term. But if the can’t get, or decide to pass on, Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper or Larry Warford they could still be OK.
Defensive end: Internally, it’s not been rated the need it was externally. They did add super-sized Ropati Pitoitua, but he doesn’t appear to be a guy who will spur the pass rush. I think they feel good about Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, and will use Akeem Ayers more as a rusher. But I’d still rank an end that can boost the pass rush as a need.
Running back: They needed a short-yardage guy to serve in a complementary role with Chris Johnson, and found a guy they liked in Shonn Greene. Darius Reynaud is back, though he’s primarily a returner. A mid- or late-round back would make sense to increase their options if Johnson’s money is an issue next year and/or to compete with Jamie Harper for a role.
Defensive tackle: They showed no interest in bringing back Sen'Derrick Marks and found the size they wanted in Hill. With Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin, that’s a nice three-pack. Karl Klug is a question mark. This is a spot where they can definitely continue to add, even if they have high hopes for Klug and DaJohn Harris.
Cornerback: The one name that surfaced as a guy they courted was Keenan Lewis, the Steeler-turned-Saint. Depth at this position is shaky. Coty Sensabaugh did OK as a rookie nickel back. But ideally the Titans would get Alterraun Verner into the slot, even if he’s starting outside in the base defense. They need a better candidate that Tommie Campbell to play outside as the second or third guy. This could now rate as one of the top needs.
Tight end: Following the breakdown in talks with Jared Cook, the team decided against using the franchise tag on him. Walker is more equipped to shift around from the backfield to the line to the slot, and the Titans want to get back to using a guy like that. No remaining need with Craig Stevens, a solid blocker, and Taylor Thompson, a second-year project, in place.
Linebacker: Depth is the issue here, especially in the middle where Colin McCarthy gets hurt. Moise Fokou might help, and ideally the main addition would be a veteran upgrade over outgoing free agent Will Witherspoon. If Ayers moves forward to rush some as a defensive end, they’ll need a quality outside guy who can cover. A need, still, for sure.
Receiver -- I wasn’t thinking it was a spot they needed to address before the draft, but they looked at a lot of guys and signed Kevin Walter. He’s a reliable route runner who can work underneath and do well against zones for quarterback Jake Locker. But Walter isn’t explosive. I expect they’d like to add a draft pick who’s a smart, quality route runner with a little more ability for yards after the catch.
The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.
Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.
"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."
The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones.
I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.
Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.
The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.
By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 214th, 220th, 241st, and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.
Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui
San Francisco 49ers
Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal
Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne
St. Louis Rams
Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson
It would have cost the Titans a tender of at least $1.323 million to retain his rights. With or without the input of Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Fame lineman, the Titans didn’t tender Kevin Matthews or interior offensive lineman Kyle DeVan.
Kevin Matthews and DeVan will become unrestricted free agents Tuesday at 4 pm ET. At that point the Titans could sign them for deals at one-year base minimum salary. The third-year base salary minimum is $630,000.
It’s time, though, for the Titans to be finished with Matthews, the project who came out of Texas A&M in 2010.
The interior offensive line is expected to be revamped with two new starting guards. As they are brought in, via free agency and/or the draft, the team is likely to move on from two expensive veterans, Steve Hutchinson and Eugene Amano.
Leroy Harris and Deuce Lutui become unrestricted free agents Tuesday.
Tyler Horn was on the practice squad at the end of last season and Chris DeGeare was on the practice squad injured list.
The Titans now have Mitch Petrus and Kasey Studdard as their interior depth.
So Tennessee doesn't only need a couple starting guards. It needs a candidate or two to compete with Petrus and Studdard for backup roles as well.
Cap Status: The Cardinals emerged from the weekend with moderate flexibility under the cap and a chance to gain additional room. Kevin Kolb's contract is counting $13.5 million against the cap, but Arizona could reduce that number significantly by releasing the quarterback or reworking his contract. Releasing Kolb would reduce his cap charge to $6 million. The team could lower the 2013 hit to $2 million after June 1 under NFL rules, but the remaining $4 million would hit the 2014 cap.
Strategy: Teams with first-year head coaches are sometimes more aggressive when taking over teams deficient in talent. That was the case for St. Louis in free agency last offseason. That was the case for Seattle in the trade market back in 2010, when new leadership took over the Seahawks. Arians and Keim seem to feel better about their talent than the leadership of those other teams felt about theirs initially. The Cardinals figure to make a few targeted strikes, but the list of available veterans isn't an impressive one. Keim and Arians have talked about relying more heavily on younger players, but Arizona needs upgrades, too.
Cap Status: The Rams have more than $15 million in salary-cap space after Steven Jackson, Wayne Hunter and Quintin Mikell left the roster. They also have a league-low 44 players, so there's work to be done. But if St. Louis needed additional room, the team has other options. For example, James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan are scheduled to earn $16 million in roster bonuses this offseason. Converting those into signing bonuses pushes most of the cap charges into the future.
Strategy: The Rams added 11 unrestricted free agents from other teams last offseason, tied with New England for most in the NFL. They signed Finnegan and Scott Wells to lucrative contracts. I would expect a slightly less aggressive approach to the market this offseason in part because the Rams' roster is in better shape. However, the freshly created cap room sets up St. Louis to go after a front-line player. The team could use another weapon on offense, for sure. And Kevin Demoff, the Rams' chief operating officer, has suggested teams are more interested in using their free-agent budgets for a smaller number of high-impact players, leading to fewer players signed for what passes as middle-class contracts worth $3 million to $4 million per year.
Cap Status: The 49ers have been tight against the cap recently, but they'll gain breathing room when the Alex Smith trade becomes official. Smith had been scheduled to earn a $1 million bonus and $7.5 million in salary. The team has found creative ways to comply with the cap, including when it packed into its 2013 budget more than $17 million in charges for Patrick Willis, lessening the hits in other years. Willis' contract is scheduled to count only slightly more than that $17.7 million over the next three seasons combined. The 49ers took a similar tack in 2009, when contracts for Justin Smith and Joe Staley combined to use more than $30 million in cap space.
Strategy: The 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency over the past several seasons. That trend should continue. San Francisco will have a league-high 12 draft choices once the Alex Smith trade is processed. The team's conservative approach to the market last offseason should net additional choices when the NFL hands out compensatory selections for teams suffering net losses in free agency a year ago. The 49ers have already identified and paid most of their core players. Now is the time for them to restock with cheaper labor through the draft, right?
Cap Status: It was fair to wonder whether the team would carry $20.7 million in combined cap charges for tight end Zach Miller ($11 million) and receiver Sidney Rice ($9.7 million). There are no indications Seattle plans to re-work those deals for cap purposes, however. The team had enough flexibility to acquire and pay Percy Harvin on a long-term contract. The number for Miller drops next season, putting the Seahawks in position to ride out the contract if he remains productive. The numbers aren't yet in on Harvin, but Seattle presumably still has cap flexibility this year.
Strategy: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Barrett Ruud and Deuce Lutui were the only unrestricted free agents Seattle signed last offseason. The team appears likely to add a veteran or two for a few million per season, perhaps on one-year deals similar to the one Jones signed a year ago. That seems to be the team's strategy in free agency recently. Young stars such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor continue to play under their rookie deals. Paying top dollar for a free agent from another team could throw off the natural order of things for Seattle on defense. The 49ers have gone through a similar phase, rewarding their own players and staying away from big-ticket free agents. However, the Harvin deal shows Seattle will make an aggressive move for a young, dynamic player.
This can be a nerve-racking time for teams and fans hoping to keep favorite players.
Using the franchise tag almost always keeps a player from leaving in free agency. Teams must balance those concerns with a player's actual value. This year, deciding against using the tag could allow good-not-great NFC West players such as Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker and Danny Amendola to reach the market and sign elsewhere.
It's tough losing key players, but for some perspective, let's revisit the list of 2012 NFC West unrestricted free agents to change teams during the UFA signing period last offseason:
- St. Louis Rams (6): receiver Brandon Lloyd, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, punter Donnie Jones, guard Jacob Bell, linebacker Bryan Kehl and defensive tackle Gary Gibson. Lloyd was a better fit in New England than he would have been with St. Louis. He caught 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns with the Patriots, starting more than 11 games in a season for the first time since 2006. The Rams did not miss any of the other UFAs signing elsewhere.
- San Francisco 49ers (6): receiver Josh Morgan, guard Adam Snyder, linebacker Blake Costanzo, safety Reggie Smith, safety Madieu Williams and guard Chilo Rachal. The 49ers could have used Costanzo in particular on special teams. Overall, though, they could live with losing these players.
- Seattle Seahawks (5): tight end John Carlson, safety Atari Bigby, quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker David Hawthorne. Keeping Carlson would have helped the offense. However, the Vikings overpaid for him, and Carlson suffered an injury that prevented Minnesota from getting an immediate return on its investment.
- Arizona Cardinals (3): cornerback Richard Marshall, safety Sean Considine, guard Deuce Lutui. The Cardinals ideally would have held onto Marshall, but they signed William Gay for much less and seemed to get by fine with him. Their defense improved. Gay was subsequently released.
St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.
That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.
With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.
2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder
Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.
St. Louis Rams
2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells
Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.
San Francisco 49ers
2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham
Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.
2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud
Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.
Right tackle David Stewart’s got a bad right knee, left tackle Michael Roos is two weeks removed from an appendectomy and center Fernando Velasco was just cleared coming off a concussion.
But they are all in the starting lineup.
It’s not a good day to be beat up on the offensive line, as the Bears' defensive front is a tough matchup.
The complete list of inactives follows.
- QB Jake Locker
- LB Patrick Bailey
- G Leroy Harris
- T Byron Stingily
- WR Lavelle Hawkins
- LB Will Witherspoon
- DT Karl Klug
- WR Alshon Jeffery
- WR Dane Sanzenbacher
- G-C Edwin Williams
- DT Matt Toeaina
- TE Brody Eldridge
- DT Amobi Okoye
- DE Cheta Ozougwu
In 1997, when the Tennessee Oilers played in Memphis, so many Steelers fans filled the Liberty Bowl for the team’s finale. Bud Adams couldn’t get over it.
He negotiated out of a second year in Memphis and got the team to Vanderbilt Stadium for its final year before the franchise’s new stadium was ready.
An hour before kickoff, LP Field is still largely empty. Of those in here, most are wearing black and gold.
As it fills up, it’ll be no surprise to see much more of the same.
The Titans are passing out pink towels as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a wise choice as they look to offset Terrible Towels of another color.
The full list of inactives for tonight:
- QB Jake Locker
- RB Javon Ringer
- LB Patrick Bailey
- OT Mike Otto
- G Deuce Lutui
- WR Lavelle Hawkins
- DT DaJohn Harris
Kenny Britt is out with an ankle injury, putting a dent into Tennessee’s pass game, which will likely have to play well in order for the Titans to pull an upset.
The Texans remain healthy, and the only inactive of note is receiver Lestar Jean. His absence means DeVier Posey could get some chances, especially if they are ahead big.
The complete list of inactives:
- OLB Colin McCarthy
- WR Kenny Britt
- QB Rusty Smith
- RB Jamie Harper
- OT Mike Otto
- G Deuce Lutui
- DT DaJohn Harris
The Titans threw it with success so they got away from the run, and then they were trying to close a big gap so they got away from it even more.
Sunday, the run blocking was poor, but so was Johnson. A back with his skills should be able to gain more than 4 yards on 11 touches no matter how bad the blocking.
It’s one game, sure. But the benefit of the doubt clock is ticking on Munchak, coordinator Chris Palmer, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews and running back coach Jim Skipper as well as on the guys they are developing.
With no offseason last year and a holdout that took Johnson to the brink of the season, the run game struggles were explained away.
An offseason with Johnson around, with guard Steve Hutchinson added to the interior mix, with meetings and installation and more meetings was supposed to fix it.
There were no signs against the Patriots that such repair has occurred.
Darius Reynaud saw some action on third down and got two carries and three catches against the Patriots, but look for Johnson to get the lion’s share of work going forward.
“I think we’ll roll with what we have,” Munchak said.
As for the possibility of benching Johnson based on lack of production, Munchak said: “Anything's possible but I don't think it's anything that's going to ever happen."
Meanwhile it appears the Titans have addressed their interior line depth. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports they’ve signed former Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui.
- Deuce Lutui appeared likely to earn a roster spot, but things changed when rookie seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy made a surprisingly quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Sweezy suddenly looks like a strong candidate to supplant incumbent John Moffitt as the starting right guard. That made Lutui expendable. Also, Lutui wasn't ideally suited for the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme. He probably would have helped most in pass protection. I think Lutui could help someone. Seems like St. Louis could stand to check him out, at least.
- Alex Barron's release makes available a veteran tackle with talent and a history of inconsistent play. I thought Barron looked good early in camp. Arizona has obvious needs at tackle. Barron is probably more talented than other players available at this time. We'll have to see if that changes as teams reduce their rosters. Barron can play both tackle spots. He's spent the past month working against Seattle's pass-rushers in practice. He has fared pretty well at times, too. Arizona faces those same pass-rushers in Week 1.
- Terrell Owens' name was on the cut list, as expected. Braylon Edwards' emergence played a role in Owens' departure.
- Cornerback Roy Lewis played nearly a quarter of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season. The team waived him with an injury designation. Lewis could land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Or, the team could reach an injury settlement with him, allowing Lewis to sign with Seattle or another team once he's healthy.
- Anthony McCoy seemed to help his cause at tight end against Kansas City on Friday night. He looks like the favorite to become the third tight end now that the team waived/injured Cameron Morrah.
- Pep Levingston and Jameson Konz also received the waived/injured designation. Levingston impressed during pass-rush drills at times, but Clinton McDonald and others have offered more.
- I'll be curious to see whether receiver Phil Bates lands on the practice squad. Also waived: tackle Edawn Coughman, cornerback Donny Lisowski, cornerback Ron Parker and running back Tyrell Sutton.
- Seattle now has 77 players on its roster, by my count. The team must reduce to 75 by Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Placing offensive lineman James Carpenter on the reserve/physically unable to perform list appears likely.
Back to watching the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos. More in a bit.
1. QB competition. John Skelton gets the start after coming off the bench to lead a 14-play, 90-yard drive to the Cardinals' lone touchdown against New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game Sunday. Skelton appeared relaxed and comfortable with the offense during that game. He kept his eyes downfield while under pressure (even while getting hit) and generally seemed unperturbed. Skelton's competition for the starting job, Kevin Kolb, faced greater pressure and appeared a little more harried before leaving with an injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said he expects Kolb to play against the Chiefs. His public comments to that effect put pressure on Kolb to play through whatever pain he's experiencing. In that context, it's important for Kolb to play and improve upon his brief showing against the Saints. A repeat of Sunday night would put Skelton in the lead.
2. Stewart Bradley's progress. The Cardinals didn't get much from Bradley last season after signing him to a five-year, $30 million deal in free agency. As a result, they leveraged a pay cut from the 28-year-old inside linebacker this offseason. Bradley has responded favorably. Against New Orleans, he appeared more comfortable in Arizona's 3-4 scheme. Bradley played freely and aggressively, a continuation of progress made late last season. Now, with incumbent starter Paris Lenon recovering from an ankle injury, Bradley should get an extended opportunity against the Chiefs.
3. Pass protection. This has been a problem area for years in Arizona. Kolb was under siege during the Hall of Fame game. The right side of the offensive line has new faces since this time last season. Brandon Keith, the starter a year ago, is out of the league. Former right guards Rex Hadnot and Deuce Lutui are gone. Jeremy Bridges and rookie Bobby Massie are the right tackles. Free-agent addition Adam Snyder is at right guard. Just about any line needs time and reps to round into form. This game gives Arizona another chance to work toward that end. Left tackle Levi Brown faces a potentially tough matchup against Chiefs pass-rusher Tamba Hali, who has 26.5 sacks over the past two regular seasons. Hali has not been a preseason phenom. He has three sacks in six career preseasons.
- Terrell Owens took a step forward in his second day practicing with the team. Most of the receivers seem to have stepped up their games since Owens became a factor with the team. Kris Durham continues to be an exception, however. The second-year receiver projected as the successor to Mike Williams, but he has struggled with drops and doesn't appear to be playing with confidence. Owens caught the ball consistently and made two notable plays. He turned around corner Byron Maxwell to free himself along the right sideline. Later, Owens beat veteran corner Marcus Trufant for a touchdown on a fade route, tipping the ball to himself and getting both feed inbounds before falling to the ground.
- No word yet from the Seahawks on a report suggesting the team might have violated rules by working Owens into practice too quickly. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL was gathering facts on the matter. The rule, according to Aiello: "Players have a 3-day acclimation period after reporting during the preseason. Day 1 is for the physical and meetings. Day 2 and 3 the player may participate, but only in helmet and shells or a padded shirt. Day 4 and for the rest of camp is in full pads." Owens appeared to wear shoulder pads Wednesday, which would have been his second day with the team, assuming he signed Tuesday.
- Guard John Moffitt left practice with an apparent arm injury. Deuce Lutui replaced him at right guard with the starters. The team had no details on the severity of Moffitt's injury. A knee injury sidelined Moffitt for much of 2011. Lutui, signed from Arizona in free agency, owns 72 starts over six seasons, but none in 2011.
- Matt Flynn shined in practice with the starters Wednesday. Russell Wilson caught my attention Thursday. His ability to hit receivers and tight ends with accuracy and while on the move stood out. He rolled left and found tight end Sean McGrath for a moderate gain on one play. McGrath has been catching the ball well, and frequently. He's a rookie from Henderson State in Arkansas.
That's the short update. I've been gathering info for the upcoming "Camp Confidential" file. One more note from Seahawks practice to come shortly.
Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: Free-agent addition Jason Jones will fit much better at defensive tackle in Seattle than he did as a defensive end with Tennessee last season. The pass rush should improve as a result. Jones' addition on a one-year contract holds promise because the Seahawks seem excited about him. The team's leadership has been right on just about every defensive player Seattle has targeted by trade (Chris Clemons), the draft (see the secondary in particular), unrestricted free agency (Alan Branch), street free agency (Brandon Browner) and position changes (Red Bryant).
Jones had a career-low three sacks for Tennessee last season. That matched the total for Anthony Hargrove, the player Jones is replacing in Seattle. Doubling that total seems like a reasonable expectation for Jones if all goes to plan.
One thing that might happen: The confidence Seattle has exhibited in its young receivers could prove too optimistic. I'm going to have it both ways on this one. A month ago, I pointed to receiver as a position where the Seahawks might have "hidden treasure" on their roster. That could be the case, but some skepticism appears warranted. Seattle has so far proven more adept at building on defense than on offense.
Mike Williams' recent release left the team with a roster spot for a veteran receiver heading toward training camp. Antonio Bryant, who participated in minicamp practices on a tryout basis last month, could get another shot. The team needs Sidney Rice in particular to become more durable. The same is true to a lesser extent for Kris Durham. Doug Baldwin's presence gives the team a proven target from the slot and on third down. Golden Tate appears on the upswing. Ricardo Lockette's blazing speed intrigues. There are still quite a few variables and unknowns at the position.
One thing we won't see: The offensive line coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider envisioned when the team used a 2011 first-round draft choice for tackle James Carpenter. The team expects Carpenter to miss training camp and open the season on the physically unable to perform list following surgery to repair a serious knee injury suffered last season. John Moffitt, a third-round choice in 2011, is also returning from knee surgery. Left tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall choice in 2010, is returning from surgery to repair a torn pectoral.
Breno Giacomini has proven to be more than adequate as Carpenter's replacement, to the point that he could remain at right tackle for the long term. Deuce Lutui's addition helps depth. However, another significant injury to Okung would set back the line tremendously.