NFL Nation: Fakhir Brown
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.
Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.
Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?|
Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?
The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.
Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.
Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.
Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?
Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.
While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?|
Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.
The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.
On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.
The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.
Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.
On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.
That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.
Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.|
Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)
Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.
Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.
Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season.
If Spencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.
Camp will be a downer if ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization.
Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.
Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.
Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.
Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.
St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)|
|Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?|
Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.
Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.
None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.
Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.
The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' contract agreement with Giants free agent James Butler, confirmed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, came together amid a tough market for strong safeties.
The Rams had already invested in franchise free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell. The softening market presumably made it easier to justify adding Butler. The Rams certainly had a need at the position -- even before they
released Corey Chavous.
We can now envision a Rams secondary featuring Bartell, Butler and Atogwe as starters. Butler started 26 games for the Giants over the last two seasons.
Scouts Inc.'s profile on Butler described him as a player with "upside" and one with good on-field communication skills:
He is an interchangeable player who moves downhill quickly off pre-snap reads. He has good size and range, but is still raw in coverage. He is a competitive player with toughness, but does have some space limitations in deep zones. He shows good transitional skills, but does have some tightness in his hip rotation off speed turns. Butler looks to be more natural in short zones than deep zones. Even though he does have some straight-line range in deep zones, he has average quickness and burst when closing. He has above-average anticipation and downfield awareness.
He does have some ball skills and knows how to use his size and long arms to make plays. He shows a good knack for timing up blitzes off zone fires. As a run defender, he is reckless with his body when he attacks downhill. He is a willing insert player who plays with balance and control in run support. He displays the speed to attack alleys while maintaining leverage on the ball carrier. However, he does have a tendency to play out of control at times. Overall, Butler is an intriguing young player who should eventually move to the next level as he continues to develop.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' contract agreement with cornerback Ron Bartell ends a suspenseful few days for both parties. The Rams wanted to keep Bartell without overpaying. Bartell wanted to maximize his value as an ascending young player.
The four-year, $28 million agreement allows Bartell to claim a $7 million average, while the Rams get to keep their best young corner.
The Rams legitimately feared the cornerback market might sweep up Bartell and leave the team with few promising prospects at the position. That's why the team must be happy with this outcome.
The chart breaks down the Rams' current defensive backs, with unrestricted free agents in lighter font. The Rams still could use a strong safety to replace Corey Chavous. They have spoken with James Butler. A handful of other strong safeties remain unsigned.
With significant money invested in Bartell and franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe, the Rams might become more selective in filling out their secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams could conceivably part with every one of their unrestricted free agents this offseason.
They will try to re-sign cornerback Ron Bartell. They could bring back a few others. But when a new front office and new coaching staff inherit a team with five victories over two seasons, serious roster trimming tends to ensue.
The chart ranks the Rams' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth. Four are at least 33 years old. Four more are at least 30. Two more -- Travis Minor and Brett Romberg -- turn 30 during the 2009 season.
Bartell is clearly the Rams' most attractive UFA candidate. His case is a tough one for the Rams.
While the team would like to retain its best young talent, the coaching staff doesn't know Bartell well enough to make informed judgments about his longterm potential. And with the market for cornerbacks drying up, Bartell might command a significant contract on the open market.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The league has handed down numerous fines for players' actions in Week 8 games. Here are a few pertaining to games involving NFC West teams:
- $7,500 against Cardinals defensive lineman Antonio Smith for striking Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme in the knees;
- $5,000 against Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle for grabbing the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams by the facemask;
- $5,000 against 49ers tight end Vernon Davis for grabbing Seahawks safety Brian Russell by the facemask;
- $5,000 against 49ers running back Frank Gore for grabbing Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings by the facemask;
- $5,000 against the Patriots' BenJarvus Green-Ellis for striking Rams cornerback Fakhir Brown out of bounds.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoBernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch uses the word "ludicrous" to describe the NFL's application of the Rooney Rule in the Jim Haslett case.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are having fun at Jim Haslett's expense. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa even asked Haslett about the great job Rick Venturi is doing as defensive coordinator, the role Haslett filled until recently.
Also from Thomas: a quick look at the matchup between Rams cornerback Fakhir Brown and Patriots receiver Randy Moss.
More from Thomas: The Rams hold their own in a look at broader matchups between St. Louis and New England.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have changed their coaching plans to comply with the Rooney Rule.
Also from Coats: Travis Minor embraces a more prominent role with the Rams.
More from Coats: He leads his notebook with an item about the Patriots' depth problems at running back.
The 49ers' Web site checks in with kicker Joe Nedney for a look at the Seahawks' special teams. Seattle kicker Olindo Mare once beat out Nedney for a job.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are still struggling to limit sacks.
Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the 49ers' decision-making processes. He is not a fan.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at what Mike Singletary must do to keep his job as 49ers head coach.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says David Baas will start at left guard ahead of Adam Snyder.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee ranks NFL uniforms. The Seahawks came in 12th, followed among NFC West teams by the 49ers (14th), Rams (24th) and Cardinals (25th).
Also from Barrows: That would be Jed York stepping forward as the face of 49ers ownership.
Paul Gutierrez of the Sacramento Bee lists five potential candidates to coach the 49ers next season. Mike Holmgren heads the list.
Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers needed three-plus seasons to move 13 yards.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sees a big opportunity for Arizona if the Cardinals can find a way to beat the Panthers. It's a big game, safety Adrian Wilson acknowledges.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at the Cardinals' injury situation.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune chronicles Steve Breaston's rise to prominence in the Cardinals' offense. Breaston figures to get fewer snaps against the Panthers given Anquan Boldin's expected return.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks aren't making lineup changes with an eye to the future. They're trying to win a game.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says Holmgren wants the Seahawks to have a little fun instead of dwelling on their struggles.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune reminds us that Singletary isn't the only interim coach out there. Every coach is an interim coach in the NFL.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dane Looker will continue his Rams career despite a rare brain condition that could increase the likelihood of stroke.
Also from Coats: Rams rookie receiver Keenan Burton is anxious to get back on the field after watching Donnie Avery make big plays against the Redskins.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says newly re-signed cornerback Fakhir Brown was shocked when the team released him last month.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers tackle Joe Staley as saying he learned much from "getting beasted" by Michael Strahan last season.
Also from Crumpacker: Takeo Spikes is the first linebacker in 49ers history to pick off a pass in three consecutive games.
Also from Maiocco: J.T. O'Sullivan is the NFL's 37th-ranked passer in fourth quarters. Only Tyler Thigpen and Matt Hasselbeck rank lower.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Staley while noting David Kirtman's signing to the 53-man roster. Kirtman, the Seattle draft choice, takes the roster spot that opened when Zak Keasey went on injured reserve.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are staring at a fourth consecutive defeat, at least on paper.
Also from Brown: That would be Niners coach Mike Nolan on the hot seat.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Edgerrin James and Rod Hood missed the only practice of the bye week for Arizona. Both were excused for personal reasons.
Also from Urban: Sean Morey is one of the few players able to hold a roster spot solely on the strength of his special-teams play.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic also looks at the staying power of special-teams contributors. Even high-profile rookies Tim Hightower and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie say they love their roles on special teams.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' quarterback situation remains as stable as the stock market.
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer profiles Seahawks tight end John Carlson, a history major with backgrounds in tennis and basketball.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says right tackle Ray Willis split time in practice with Sean Locklear, who struggled against the Packers.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Bucs have a high-priced babysitter -- quarterback Jeff Garcia -- driving troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens to work every day. Stevens and Koren Robinson will be on the same field Sunday.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seneca Wallace made it through practice without complications.
Also from Williams: Look for Darryl Tapp to retake his starting job from Lawrence Jackson at right defensive end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seahawks defensive backs coach Jim Mora, who says the team will figure out how to defend big plays. Seattle is on pace to allow 68 pass plays of at least 20 yards, up from 47 last season. The Packers' Greg Jennings visits Qwest Field in Week 6. Jennings leads the NFL in receptions of at least 20 yards. He has 11, four more than any other player.
Also from Farnsworth: Coach Mike Holmgren doesn't want to hear any excuses.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Koren Robinson and Josh Wilson could see more playing time for Seattle this week. Robinson has yet to play in a game this season.
Also from Williams: Highlights from Holmgren's mid-week news conference. Holmgren weighed in on the hit that injured Matt Hasselbeck's knee.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Holmgren as saying Jim Zorn's departure isn't the reason behind Hasselbeck's poor stats this season. Holmgren points to injuries at receiver and warns against making judgments too soon.
Also from Hughes: Receiver Courtney Taylor could have signed with Denver's practice squad.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Holmgren as saying Wilson will get more work at right cornerback starting this week.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is going through growing pains as a rookie. Of course, Rodgers-Cromartie isn't the only cornerback to struggle against the Bills' Lee Evans.
Also from Urban: J.J. Arrington isn't sure if he'll keep getting snaps in the offense, but he's happy to become relevant again.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Rodgers-Cromartie is learning that speed can't cover for every mistake in the NFL.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic offers a primer for beating the Cowboys. He recommends inviting Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson to sing the national anthem.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune wonders how NFL scouts whiffed on Kurt Warner and Tony Romo, star quarterbacks who entered the NFL as free agents.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals' short-passing game might represent their new identity on offense. The team has scored 76 points in its last six quarters.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are collecting veteran castoffs, notably Ricky Manning and Jason Craft. Thomas also suggests why Fakhir Brown has yet to re-sign with the team. The collective bargaining agreement could allow Brown to collect two salaries this season, but only if he misses one game check.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says St. Louis Blues CEO Dave Checketts might have interest in purchasing the Rams.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates Dane Looker's condition.
Also from Coats: Eddie Kennison doesn't mind being cut and re-signed in quick order.
More from Coats: The Rams have made a few changes under Jim Haslett, picking up the pace of practices, but most things remain unchanged.
Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News isn't the first person to accuse 49ers coach Mike Nolan of running a "vanilla" defense.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle writes about how the 49ers drafted Kentwan Balmer and Chilo Rachal when they could have had DeSean Jackson instead. They'll have to defend Jackson when the Eagles visit Candlestick Park.
Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers' Michael Lewis gets a shot at his former team.
Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read says the Eagles' Jackson remains motivated to succeed against the teams that didn't draft him.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat provides highlights from Nolan's mid-week news conference, including the coach's belief that other players would help the 49ers more quickly than Jackson would have helped the team.
Also from Maiocco: Answers to readers' questions. He's not hearing anything on the trade front.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes that the Eagles chose Jackson with the -- get this -- 49th overall choice in the draft.
Also from Barrows: Jerry Rice mentored Jackson before the draft. The Eagles were impressed by the former Cal receiver's knowledge of the West Coast offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com traces Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to their days sharing an office as Jets assistants. The two waged heated battles on the basketball court, leaving some to wonder how they could work together. Urban also has a note about tight end Leonard Pope joining the injury report as questionable.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up Brett Favre and Kurt Warner heading into the Cardinals-Jets matchup at the Meadowlands.
Also from Somers: An update on Pope. No word on when the tight end was injured.
More from Somers: The Cardinals arrived for a game by rail for the first time in more than 50 years. They took Amtrak from Washington, D.C., to New Jersey for the game against the Jets. Linebacker Karlos Dansby: "The only train I've been on is the little bitty train that goes around the zoo. I'm glad we're taking this trip. I think it will bring us closer together."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says a road victory would enhance the Cardinals' credibility.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers safety Mark Roman, who gets a rare chance to play in front of friends and family in the Superdome.
Also from Crumpacker: A quick glance at the 49ers-Saints game.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Vernon Davis' career has never quite hit stride, and that remains the case this season.
Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers takes a closer look at key matchups in the 49ers-Saints game. Justin Smith lines up in enough places to qualify for more than one matchup.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee answers 49ers-related questions from readers, including one about the futures of Martz and quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Scott Linehan faces fourth-and-long in the fourth game of the Rams' season. There's a reference to Mike Martz, followed by this: "Regardless of the front-office problems and leadership void at Rams Park, Linehan has had three years to pick his roster. Draft picks such as Dominique Byrd, Claude Wroten, Tye Hill and Joe Klopfenstein all came under his watch. [Isaac] Bruce was released during his tenure. So was Madison Hedgecock, and now [Fakhir] Brown."
Also from Thomas: Rams guard Richie Incognito faces a difficult matchup against Bills defensive tackle Marcus Stroud.
More from Thomas: He gives the edge to Buffalo in every matchup.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Bills would rather face Trent Green than Marc Bulger. The reason: Green didn't get many snaps during the exhibition season.
Allen Wilson of the Buffalo News refers to the "Saddest Show on Turf" while mocking the Rams in his scouting report.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a look at the Seahawks' running game and the team's offensive identity. Seattle plays four of its next six games on the road.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams' release of Fakhir Brown reflects a rift between coach Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Brown and Haslett were together in New Orleans. Miklasz: "The coaches don't get along, and this was an in-your-face move by the HC. And so Rams Park is now Scram Park. As one insider put it to me: if Linehan is going down, he'll try to take others down with him."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Trent Green on the quarterback's first day as the Rams' starter under Linehan. Green uses humor to lighten the mood, suggesting reporters have shown up to discuss a local high school rivalry game.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says newly signed cornerback Jason Craft is getting ready to play immediately.
Also from Coats: Rams cornerback Tye Hill expresses shock after the team releases Brown. Hill: "I think he's one of the most underrated corners in this league. I don't know what happened. I couldn't believe it."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat gives Linehan's stated reasoning for the Rams' quarterback change. Linehan told Marc Bulger he was taking a disproportionate part of the blame because that's what quarterbacks do.
Also from Korte: Linehan's explanations for several moves on defense.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic revisits Kurt Warner's early days with the Packers in advance of the Cardinals' game against Brett Favre and the Jets. They called him "Pop" Warner back then. "Chachi" was another nickname.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown, who made his first NFL interception in Week 3. Brown dedicated the ball to his late parents.
Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers haven't beaten the Saints since 2001.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' confidence is off the charts. Frank Gore even thinks San Francisco can have the best offense in the league.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee compares the current 49ers against the 2007 version. Both had 2-1 records at this point, but the 2008 team is much more confident. "It just seems so easy now," Gore said.
Also from Barrows: Six members of the 49ers' secondary missed practice or were limited in practice.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan and Vernon Davis are trying to get on the same page. Davis wasn't shy about pointing out which passes O'Sullivan overthrew and underthrew.
Kevin Lynch of sfgate.com breaks down defensive performances in the Lions-49ers game. He ranks Justin Smith's efforts atop his list.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' next five games are against teams with a combined 11-4 record.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
- Clifton Ryan replaced La'Roi Glover at defensive tackle.
- Chris Draft replaced Quinton Culberson at strongside linebacker.
- Victor Adeyanju worked ahead of James Hall at defensive end.
Adeyanju is the Rams' best defensive lineman against the run. The Rams just allowed 245 yards rushing to Seattle in Week 3. Adeyanju's starting status in practice (at left end) might mean nothing if Leonard Little returns from a hamstring injury.
Culberson had started one NFL game before this season. Draft is a highly experienced veteran. He should also be relatively fresh.
Glover seemed perplexed by the Rams' use of a three-man line at times against Seattle. He has been a very good player for a very long time, but sometimes veterans have a hard time following along blindly when things aren't working. Glover has long been known for his relentless, all-out style. Ryan is also known as a high-effort player.
These moves, justified or not, definitely qualify as hitting the panic button. That's what teams do when they allow 763 more yards than they gain through three weeks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have benched cornerback Tye Hill. Hill and Fakhir Brown were the starting corners heading into the season. Hill has struggled. Ron Bartell became a starter when Brown rested a shoulder injury. Brown is back this week. Bartell will remain in the lineup. Hill is the odd man out, but he could play plenty because Seattle uses three-receiver personnel groupings regularly.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat checks in with Rams receiver Torry Holt on a range of subjects, from the receiver's spectacular 45-yard touchdown catch to the offensive line's inability to protect Marc Bulger so far.
Also from Korte: Second-year Rams fullback Brian Leonard started seven games last season, but he is having a hard time getting on the field.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says Takeo Spikes is becoming more comfortable in the 49ers' defense. Spikes signed with the 49ers after visiting Detroit. He gets a close-up look at the Lions this week.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers receiver Isaac Bruce pays attention to the little things, particularly when it comes to keeping his 35-year-old body in playing shape. Younger receivers are paying attention.
Also from Barrows: Fox announcer Brian Baldinger was one of the few people to predict J.T. O'Sullivan would win the starting job at quarterback for the 49ers. Baldinger based his prediction on experience watching O'Sullivan in NFL Europe.
Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers answers reader questions after providing an update from 49ers practice. The team remains concerned about Shawntae Spencer's injured knee.
Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch assesses Tim Hightower's impact as a rookie running back for the Cardinals. Woody: "Hightower graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in religion and politics. He also played a little football there. When Hightower finished at UR, he had the school record for rushing yards (3,712) and touchdowns (39)."
Tom Kowalski of mlive.com says the Lions must limit the 49ers' big plays in Week 3.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals aren't getting ahead of themselves after two victories. They're happy with Kurt Warner's solid play, but it's only two games, coach Ken Whisenhunt points out.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says Keary Colbert and Billy McMullen are the likely starting receivers for Seattle in Week 3.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' secondary remains embarrassed about its most recent performance while vowing to play better against the Rams.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are still waiting for Courtney Taylor to produce as a receiver. Taylor has impressed in practice over the last year or so, but he has struggled in games. Also, Sean Locklear participated fully in practice. The incumbent right tackle could be available Sunday. Ray Willis has played well enough for Seattle to take its time with Locklear's injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee describes 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz as borderline giddy over J.T. O'Sullivan's performance in the season opener. O'Sullivan had three turnovers, but Martz blamed receiver Arnaz Battle for running the wrong route on O'Sullivan's lone interception. Left tackle Joe Staley was responsible for allowing a fumble-forcing sack. Martz has much invested in O'Sullivan after bringing him to San Francisco from Detroit.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says Martz welcomes crowd noise as "what the league is all about" -- and he'll encounter plenty at Qwest Field on Sunday. I do not think Staley, making his second NFL start at left tackle, will welcome the crowd noise when Julian Peterson is lining up wide on third down. That is a tough combination.
Also from FitzGerald: 49ers linebacker Tully Banta-Cain was "devastated" to be named inactive for the opening game. Banta-Cain: "I thought I did enough in the preseason to get on the field."
Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read says Martz enters each game committed to getting "X" number of touches for running back Frank Gore. No other player on the roster figures into the game plan in that way, Martz said.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat also gets into the Gore factor. Martz: "Isaac [Bruce] and Vernon [Davis] and all the other guys, they're all good players and they'll have their opportunities. But [Gore is] the only guy that you go into a game and say, 'You know what? This guys needs to touch the ball 'X' amount of times.' " Martz wouldn't say how many touches Gore needs to get each game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Re-watching the Rams-Eagles game last night brought into focus the Rams' problems in the secondary. The chart, which shows the most yards given up by NFL defenders in Week 1, lists three Rams and one Seahawk among the top five.
These breakdowns, tracked by Stats LLC., can be subjective. Only the Rams know for sure which of their players were responsible for certain aspects of specific coverages. Sometimes a cornerback gives up a big play after a safety fails to help in coverage. That could have been the case with some of these plays. But a careful review can generally tell us which players failed in coverage most of the time.
How to read the chart: "Targeted" shows how many times each player had passes thrown to the players he was covering. "Burned" shows how many of these passes were completed. "Yards" shows how many yards these passes gained. "TD" shows how many produced touchdowns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Not every all-division team is the same. The one I put together for the NFC West heading into the 2008 regular season tried to respect positional integrity.
The Rams' Richie Incognito might not rank as one of the five best offensive linemen in the division, but he was a clear choice at right guard -- almost by default -- over Seattle's Rob Sims, Arizona's Deuce Lutui and San Francisco's Tony Wragge.
Positional integrity broke down at running back, where Frank Gore and Steven Jackson were simply too good to ignore. Most teams don't use traditional fullbacks extensively, anyway. Gore could probably dabble at the position on willpower alone.
The Cardinals' Reggie Wells might be one of the more underrated players in the division. He might play left tackle if the Cardinals lost Mike Gandy, a transition most guards would struggle to make.
Speaking of underrated, I had a hard time leaving Torry Holt off the team but we needed a tight end to help at fullback and beat linebackers in coverage. The Rams' Randy McMichael got the call over the 49ers' Vernon Davis, who hasn't done it long enough.
Five of the 11 defensive players come from the Seahawks, no surprise after Seattle sent four Pro Bowl starters to Hawaii from that side of the ball. All four made the list: Patrick Kerney, Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson and Marcus Trufant. Free safety Deon Grant earned a spot on the all-division team thanks to his blend of athleticism, smarts and experience.
Final Cleveland 10 Baltimore 20 Final Dallas 44 Washington 17 Final Indianapolis 27 Tennessee 10 Final Jacksonville 17 Houston 23 Final San Diego 7 Kansas City 19 Final New York 37 Miami 24 Final Chicago 9 Minnesota 13 Final Buffalo 17 New England 9 Final Philadelphia 34 New York 26 Final New Orleans 23 Tampa Bay 20 Final Carolina 34 Atlanta 3 Final Detroit 20 Green Bay 30 Final Oakland 14 Denver 47 Final Arizona 17 San Francisco 20 Final St. Louis 6 Seattle 20 Final Cincinnati 17 Pittsburgh 27