NFL Nation: Na\'il Diggs

Pregame notes from San Diego

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers third-year linebacker Larry English is inactive. He was not on the injury report all week, so at this point, it has to be assumed it is a coach’s decision. He was the No. 16 overall pick in 2009.

San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton (ankle) is inactive.

Rookie San Diego receiver Vincent Brown is out with a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back/returner Jordan Todman is inactive.

Veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs is inactive. He is learning the Chargers’ 3-4 system after signing last week. It may take a few weeks before he is ready to play.

San Diego Chargers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Check here for a complete list of the San Diego Chargers' roster moves.

Surprise move: There were some familiar names on the Chargers’ cut list. Defensive end Ogemdi Nwagbuo was productive last year, and he was a popular member of the team. Receiver Seyi Ajirotutu also made some plays last season when the Chargers’ receiving crew was depleted. There was also a thought that undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien would be kept after a strong summer. I’m sure the Chargers will try to put him on the practice squad.

No-brainers: In the end, receiver/returner Bryan Walters and linebacker Darryl Gamble, an undrafted rookie, were too good to cut. Anyone who paid attention to San Diego in the preseason saw these two youngsters make play after play. Now, they have jobs. Expect them both to contribute on special teams this season.

What's next: The Chargers on Saturday signed veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs. The 12-year veteran is a leader, and he could push for playing time at inside linebacker. San Diego will probably look at the waiver wire for help in the secondary, offensive line and receiver.

Chargers add linebacker Na'il Diggs

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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The San Diego Chargers made an interesting pickup Saturday, signing veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs.

He was recently cut by St. Louis. Diggs started 12 games for the Rams last year at strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He can play in a 3-4 defense and the Chargers, who run a 3-4 defense, need some veteran help at inside linebacker.

Diggs, 33, is entering his 11th NFL season. He also played with Green Bay and Carolina. He could potentially push youngster Donald Butler for a starting job. San Diego this offseason has also added veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes and safety Bob Sanders.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports newly signed veteran linebacker Kevin Bentley was cut. Veteran inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is on the bubble.
A few thoughts on NFC West rosters after calculating age ranks for NFL teams based on the rosters I maintain:
  • The chart ranks teams from oldest to youngest, excluding special-teams players who can sometimes play into their 40s. The first column shows overall rank, counting offensive and defensive players. The third and fourth columns show where teams rank on each side of the ball. These are for starters and backups. In some cases, teams might plan to release older backups on the reduction to 53 players.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Earlier in the preseason, Kevin Kolb referred to the Cardinals as a young team. They do have young players, some of whom played extensively last season and should be better for it. But the Cardinals have the sixth-oldest roster in the league overall. Vonnie Holliday (35), Clark Haggans (34), Joey Porter (34), Paris Lenon (33), Floyd Womack (32), Adrian Wilson (31), Todd Heap (31) and Nick Eason (31) are some of them. The team has also favored veteran offensive linemen, including veteran backups.

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams got older on purpose, adding seasoning to their defense through players added on one-year deals. Al Harris (36) is the oldest non-specialist on the team. James Hall (34) and Fred Robbins (34) remain valuable contributors. Both start. Rookie Robert Quinn will likely replace Hall at some point. Drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 draft could make sense, too. Some of the Rams' additions could come at the expense of incumbent veterans such as Hank Fraley (34 next month) and Na'il Diggs (33).

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have gotten younger this offseason, particularly on defense. They subtracted Takeo Spikes (34), Aubrayo Franklin (31 this week), Travis LaBoy (30), Brian Westbrook, Nate Clements (31), Brian Westbrook (32 next month), William James (32), Barry Sims (36) and Demetric Evans (32 next month).. Fulback Moran Norris (33) is their oldest non-specialist. The team has only six non-specialists in their 30s, half as many as the Cardinals have.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been getting younger by design over the past two seasons. Like the 49ers, they have only six non-specialists in their 30s, with none older than 33 (Raheem Brock). They have subtracted Sean Locklear (30), Matt Hasselbeck (36 next month), Stacy Andrews (30), J.P. Losman (30), Brandon Stokley (35), Lawyer Milloy (37), Chester Pitts (32) and Craig Terrill (31). Most general managers want to make their teams younger when starting out. In Seattle, the head coach is also amendable to that approach. But a few players such as Brock (33), Junior Siavii (32), Colin Cole (31), Marcus Trufant (30) and Atari Bigby (30 next month) have kept the Seahawks defensive ranking from sinking further. Seattle is 16th oldest on that side of the ball.

I've sprouted a couple new gray hairs just typing in some of these names. Might be time to squeeze in an afternoon workout.

Three things revisited: Rams-Colts

August, 13, 2011
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Looking back on three things discussed here heading into the St. Louis Rams' 33-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in their preseason opener Saturday:

1. A Rams victory: This was the easiest part to predict. The Colts were 4-22 in the preseason since 2005. They were without Peyton Manning. The Rams couldn't have scripted this one much better. Their new strong safety, Quintin Mikell, picked off a Colts pass early. Their new tight end, second-round choice Lance Kendricks, caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford for the game's first points. Rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn was active, hitting quarterback Dan Orlovsky to help force a punt. Even kicker Josh Brown got in on the fun, connecting on a 60-yard field-goal try.

2. Signs of separation at receiver: Nothing doing here. Kendricks produced, but he's a tight end, not a wide receiver. Danario Alexander nearly had a 3-yard touchdown reception and an acrobatic grab for a big gain. He couldn't finish either play. Bradford played into the second quarter, but never found a rhythm with his wideouts. He threw to the end zone on one play when his wide receiver, Brandon Gibson, cut off his route. The Rams are learning a new offense. It might have shown there.

3. New blood at linebacker: Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga made their debuts for the Rams. I don't have a great feel for how they played. The newly signed Ben Leber did not play. Veteran Na'il Diggs appeared to get away with pass interference. Chris Chamberlain wasn't as fortunate. Poppinga and Josh Hull were trailing a 33-yard completion to Colts tight end Tyson DeVree. Not sure what happened there.

Three things: Rams-Colts

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
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Three things to watch for in the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET:

1. A Rams victory: The Colts are 4-22 in the preseason since 2005, and now they're playing without Peyton Manning. The Colts have been a star-reliant team without as much depth through their roster. That makes it tougher for them to hold up over four quarters in games featuring backup players so prominently. The Rams' depth has been improving steadily. So, while preseason outcomes generally do not matter much, this game could be an exception. The Rams should control it most of the way. They have gone 6-2 in preseason games under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

2. Signs of separation at receiver. The Rams come into this game with 12 wide receivers on their roster and only a general idea how the top five or six will shake out. Donnie Avery and fourth-round choice Greg Salas aren't expected to play. Both are resting injuries. Mardy Gilyard also could miss the game. We know where Danny Amendola stands as the slot receiver. The Rams will be looking for Brandon Gibson to build upon a promising start to camp. They need free-agent addition Mike Sims-Walker to earn a prominent role in the offense. Sims-Walker had 14 touchdown receptions for Jacksonville over the past two seasons. No wide receiver has more than five scoring receptions for the Rams over the same span. New coordinator Josh McDaniels likes taller receivers. Nine of the 12 receivers on the roster are at least 6-foot-1. Will any come up big before the regular season?

3. New blood at linebacker. Mainstay James Laurinaitis will not play. He's resting a strained pectoral muscle. Free-agent addition Ben Leber will also sit out. He signed with the team late in the week. Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga are two linebackers to watch. Both are veterans and Poppinga is an older one (he turns 32 next month). Another veteran, Na'il Diggs, hung around on the roster even after Leber's addition. He turned 33 last month. While the Rams have new blood at linebacker, it's not young blood. Getting through this game without new injuries at the position will be important. Poppinga and Diggs missed a combined 14 games to injury last season.
NFC West teams are moving quickly to land linebackers as the signing period approaches.

A few quick updates:
  • The St. Louis Rams agreed to terms on a deal with former Houston Texans linebacker Zac Diles, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Rams have big needs at outside linebacker. Diles has started 30 games for Houston over the last three seasons. He has played both the strong and weak sides of the formation. Diles shifted from strong to weak side a couple of years ago when a broken leg ended his season and the Texans drafted Brian Cushing. Diles, 26, gives the Rams young legs and starting experience next to James Laurinaitis. As for which side he'll play, I'm not yet sure.
  • The Arizona Cardinals reached agreement with Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker Stewart Bradley. ESPN's Adam Schefter alluded to the pending agreement earlier Friday. The Cardinals released veteran inside linebacker Gerald Hayes, who has had back problems. Bradley, 27, has 28 starts over the last two seasons. He fills a clear need for Arizona, giving the Cardinals another inside linebacker to pair with second-year pro Daryl Washington.
  • Our third linebacker in the spotlight isn't new to the division. The Seahawks brought back Leroy Hill as insurance after losing Will Herring to New Orleans in free agency.

Just passing along. These additions fill needs in every case, particularly for the Rams and Cardinals. All three linebackers remain in their 20s. The Rams and Cardinals had been patching at linebacker with older players such as Paris Lenon, who played for both teams, and Na'il Diggs.
The Arizona Cardinals' running game should perk up this season if Beanie Wells revisits the hard-charging form he flashed during his rookie season two years ago.

The passion Wells showed Monday in defending his former college coach wouldn't hurt, either.

Wells, one of 11 NFC West players from Ohio State, took Jim Tressel's scandal-induced resignation hard. The third-year Cardinals runner called Tressel a "great man" who imparted life lessons upon his players. The way Wells sees things, if Tressel lied about his players' roles in the scandal, he did so only out of honor.

Wells punctuated his tweets with exclamation points, making good on his promise to "go off" while criticism against Tressel piled up.

"It's not his fault at all that he had a few go stray out of hundreds!!!" Wells wrote. "U check the success rate of the people that have been around him!!!!"

According to Wells, Tressel stepped up to help players from disadvantaged backgrounds, becoming more than just a coach to them.

Wells is among 10 current NFC West players from Ohio State, but the only one playing for the Cardinals.

All but St. Louis Rams linebacker Na'il Diggs and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nate Clements played for Tressel. The NFC West players from Ohio State: Clements, Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Alex Boone and Thaddeus Gibson from the 49ers; Jay Richardson from the Seattle Seahawks; Diggs, Jermale Hines, Larry Grant and James Laurinaitis from the Rams.

Laurinaitis reportedly used the term "sad day" to describe the events Monday. Smith was once suspended for accepting money from a booster when Tressel was coach.

Leading Questions: NFC West

February, 14, 2011
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With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC West team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

What happens to the offensive line?

We've been asking, answering and asking some more questions about the Cardinals' quarterback situation for months. Let's tap a few brain cells to discuss the guys up front.

Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui are without contracts for 2011. Left guard Alan Faneca might retire. Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off hamstring and knee injuries that shortened his first season as a starter. The Cardinals do not have fresh talent in reserve. They have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first four rounds since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. Twenty-seven teams have drafted more. As much as the team trusts assistant head coach Russ Grimm to get the most from its offensive line, Arizona could use fresh young talent for him to groom.

The Cardinals went through the 2010 season with the NFL's oldest offensive linemen, counting backups. That wouldn't matter so much if left tackle Levi Brown were meeting the Pro Bowl expectations that came with his status as a top-five overall selection in the 2007 draft. Brown was underwhelming at right tackle to begin his career and a liability at left tackle last season. His salary balloons in 2012, so this could be his last season in Arizona.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Can the defense take the next step?

The Rams allowed 328 points last season, tied for the third-lowest total since the team moved from Los Angeles for the 1995 season. They allowed seven rushing touchdowns, their lowest total since 1999 and down from 50 combined over the previous two seasons. But with starting defensive linemen James Hall and Fred Robbins turning 34 this offseason, and with questions at linebacker, the Rams' defense will not automatically go from competitive toward dominant.

Hall will be looking to become the 14th player since 1982 (when the NFL began tracking sacks as an official stat) to collect 10 sacks in a season at age 34 or older. The others: Trace Armstrong, Chris Doleman, William Fuller, Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tony McGee, Steve McMichael, John Randle, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan and Reggie White.

Robbins is coming off one of his finest seasons. He joined Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina and Ray Agnew among defensive tackles to set career highs for sacks at age 32 or older in the free-agency era (since 1993).

Getting similar production and continued good health from two older players is no given. The Rams also need to find help at outside linebacker after losing 32-year-old Na'il Diggs to a torn pectoral muscle 12 games into the 2010 season. The Rams are set at middle linebacker with James Laurinaitis, but they could stand to upgrade around him.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

How well can Jim Harbaugh coach up a quarterback?

When the 49ers' new coach needed a quarterback at Stanford, he recruited one. Andrew Luck set records and led the Cardinal to national prominence. Recruiting isn't a significant part of the equation in the NFL, so Harbaugh will have to settle for the best quarterback he can draft or otherwise acquire. He might even have to give Alex Smith a shot.

The 49ers will need Harbaugh to do what his recent predecessors could not: get good production from limited or flawed talent at the most important position.

Rich Gannon was well-established as an NFL quarterback when Harbaugh arrived as his position coach in Oakland for the 2002 season. The pairing reflected well on all parties. Gannon set career highs for completed passes, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. Gannon was already a good quarterback and the Raiders were already a good team, so it's tough to measure Harbaugh's impact.

Gannon is long since retired. Harbaugh is back in the NFL for the first time since the two were together on the Raiders in 2003. The 49ers don't have a legitimate starting quarterback under contract. Harbaugh has been meeting with Smith and keeping open his options. The stakes are high in the short term because the 49ers have enough talent elsewhere on their roster to compete for a playoff spot.

Outside expectations for Smith are so low that Harbaugh could appear heroic if he could get even a 9-7 record out of the 49ers with Smith in the lineup.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

How much more roster turnover lies ahead?

The Seahawks were fearless in overhauling their roster during their first year under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

The team added Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Chris Clemons, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, Robert Henderson and LenDale White, though Seattle parted with Vickerson, Henderson, White and 2009 regulars Deion Branch, Julius Jones, Owen Schmitt, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson, Lawrence Jackson, Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant and Seneca Wallace. The Seahawks watched a couple other starters, Nate Burleson and Cory Redding, leave in free agency.

If those were the moves the Seahawks felt comfortable making right away, I figured there would be quite a few to come after the team's new leadership watched players for a full season. And there still could be, but similar wheeling and dealing could be impractical or even impossible if the current labor standoff continues deep into the offseason.

Teams cannot make trades without a new labor agreement. They cannot know for sure whether or not a salary cap will come into play as part of any new deal. It's just tough to act as decisively as Seattle acted last offseason without knowing the rules. That's a disadvantage for Seattle and other teams with much work to do this offseason.

Rams regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
1/05/11
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 17
Preseason Power Ranking: 32

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Icon SMISam Bradford proved to be more durable than analysts predicted.
Biggest surprise: Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford took every offensive snap even though draft analysts questioned his durability coming out of college. Bradford earned the starting job and teammates' respect right away. Bradford was not perfect. He needs to continue improving as a pocket passer. An improved command of the offense and situations will allow him to make better presnap adjustments at the line of scrimmage. But all signs point to Bradford's developing more quickly than expected. He also proved to be more athletic than expected, scrambling effectively and throwing accurately on the move. The team never seriously considered letting veteran A.J. Feeley open the season as the starter. Bradford was NFL-ready.

Biggest disappointment: Injuries tore apart the receiving corps, preventing Bradford from taking the offense past its formative stages. Losing Donnie Avery to a season-ending knee injury during the exhibition season robbed the Rams of their deep threat. Mark Clayton more than filled the production void after the Rams acquired him from Baltimore, but his season-ending knee injury forced Bradford to play the final 11 games without him. Deficiencies at receiver stood out as the Rams' primary problem during their Week 17 elimination game at Seattle. The Rams didn't get much from rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard this season, adding to the disappointment.

Biggest need: Receiver isn't the only obvious need. The Rams need help at outside linebacker as they continue to build their defense under coach Steve Spagnuolo. Special-teamers David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain were starting on the outside by season's end. Both are good enough to factor into the defense as reserves. Neither should be starting for the long term. The Rams were better at the position until Na'il Diggs suffered a season-ending injury. The team was desperate enough early in the season to give Bobby Carpenter a try. The Rams need better.

Team MVP: Bradford. The Rams went 6-42 in the three seasons before they drafted Bradford. They went 7-9 in his first season. There were other reasons for the turnaround, including a favorable schedule early in the season, but Bradford was the key variable. He made those around him better, rare for a rookie.

Taking ownership: Stan Kroenke took over for Chip Rosenbloom as the Rams' majority owner. Kroenke has deeper pockets, potentially giving the Rams resources that were not previously available. How will the Rams proceed during their first offseason with Kroenke in the majority role? The unsettled labor situation complicates matters, but now is the time for the Rams to redouble their efforts. They have the right quarterback. Time to build up his supporting cast.

In-depth look at NFC West defenses

December, 23, 2010
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I've asked Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information to sift through defensive charting information for performance clues regarding NFC West teams.

Among his findings, with my thoughts as well ...

San Francisco 49ers

What they do well: The 49ers appear very stout against the run while in their base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box. The Steelers (2.8 yards per carry) and Jets (2.8) are the clear 1-2 in this area, but the 49ers come in at 3.5, third-best in the league. The NFL average is 4.4 yards.

What they do not do as well: The 49ers stay in their base 3-4 defense a league-high 21.3 percent of the time against three or more wide receivers. San Francisco has not fared well when doing so. The 49ers realize only slight gains against the run in these situations, but they allow an additional yard per pass attempt -- up to 8.1 from 7.1 -- when staying in their base 3-4 against three-plus wideouts. The 49ers also struggle in general against passes traveling at least 15 yards. Opponents have a league-high 108.7 passer rating on these throws.

My thoughts: The 49ers' pass defense hasn't been as good as expected even though the team has gotten younger and more athletic at safety. San Francisco has also faced some top quarterbacks, including Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Matt Cassel is also enjoying a strong season. Kyle Orton was playing well when the 49ers faced Denver. Sam Bradford was also more efficient back when the 49ers faced him.

Arizona Cardinals

What they do well: Arizona has been much better against run and pass when loading the box with more defenders than offenses have available to block them. Against the run, the Cardinals allow 3.3 yards per carry with a loaded box, down from 4.5 when not loaded. The Cardinals allow a lower completion percentage (52.4 vs. 63.1), passer rating (70.8 vs. 85.3), yards per attempt (6.7 vs. 7.3) and yards after the catch average (2.8 vs. 3.3) with a loaded box.

What they do not do as well: The Cardinals' inability to slow down opposing running games out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box hurts them. Arizona is, in some ways, average overall against the run, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. That number balloons to 5.2 per carry against the Cardnials' base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box, third-highest in the league (4.4 is average).

My thoughts: The Cardinals should be much better against the run after using a first-round draft choice for nose tackle Dan Williams. Williams has improved, but 36-year-old Bryan Robinson has continued to start. Any team with Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and two big safeties, notably Adrian Wilson, should hold up better against the run. The Cardinals have been weak at linebacker, compromising the defense up front and in the secondary. Campbell hasn't played as well as expected, either, and a shoulder injury has made life tougher for Dockett.

St. Louis Rams

What they do well: The Rams have been above average with their third-down passing defense when they bring in an extra defensive back, especially when the opponent's pass attempt does not go beyond the first-down marker. Using that as our criterion, the Rams are allowing a 42.5 percent completion percentage, good for third in the NFC. The league average is 47.2 percent. The Rams are allowing a 54.0 passer rating in these situations (league average is 69.9). St. Louis' extra-DB packages have also been the best in the NFC West at making sure teams do not gain first downs after catching the ball short of the first-down marker. The Rams allow 34.2 percent of completed passes short of the marker go for first downs. The NFL average is 37.3 percent.

What they do not do as well: Like the Cardinals, the Rams struggle out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box. They allow 5.18 yards per carry in these situations, right ahead of the Cardinals' 5.2 average.

My thoughts: The Rams haven't faced as many elite quarterbacks this season after going against Rodgers, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Brees and Matt Schaub when all five were enjoying monster years in 2009. That has helped. The Rams were also stronger than anticipated at linebacker until losing Na'il Diggs to a season-ending injury. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins has been stout, but the Rams need another big interior defender to pair with him. They need help at linebacker, particularly on the weak side. This defense appears well-coached.

Seattle Seahawks

What they do well: Their strongest unit appears to be their five-plus DB pass defense, with a caveat. The overall numbers aren't great, including an 84.7 passer rating, which is above the league average (81.1). But Seattle has gotten 22 of its 32 sacks when going with these "small" packages. Opponents are completing only 54.9 percent of their passes against these packages, which ranks fourth in the NFL (60.1 is average). When the Seahawks do allow completions against these packages, however, they tend to be big ones. Seattle has allowed 30 pass plays of at least 20 yards against its small sets.

What they do not do as well: Seattle has struggled against short-to-intermediate passes (those thrown 14 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage). The Seahawks are allowing a 102.4 passer rating on throws in that range, well above the NFL average of 89.2. Seattle allows 4.7 yards after the catch on these throws, a yard more than the league average and the second-highest figure in the league. If the Seahawks were just average at allowing yards after the catch, they would have allowed about 125 fewer yards on these throws.

My thoughts: The coaching staff has sometimes effectively unleashed creative blitzes with extra defensive backs. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy has led the way. But Seattle has essentially fielded three defenses this season. The first one featured Red Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane along the line, providing cover for a healthier Lofa Tatupu at middle linebacker. The second one struggled without two and sometimes three of those linemen. Tatupu's health also deteriorated. The third defense has Cole and Mebane, but no Bryant, who is on injured reserve. The Seahawks have tried to adjust. They tackled much better against the Falcons.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)


Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)


Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)


San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)


The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.
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Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, William James, Justin Green, Raheem Brock, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, David Carr, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Isaac Bruce, Charlie Whitehurst, Chris Clemons, Shaun HIll, Junior Siavii, Leroy Hill, Kevin Dockery, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rex Hadnot, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Brandon McDonald, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Ryan Neill, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Clinton Hart, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Leger Douzable, Jerome Johnson, Trumaine McBride, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Shane Andrus, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Leon Washington, Troy Smith, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Randy McMichael, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Brian St. Pierre, Ruvell Martin, Mark Clayton, Ben Hamilton, Anquan Boldin, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Chester Pitts, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Chris Baker, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Hank Fraley, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Jason Hill, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Brandon Frye, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Quinton Ganther, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Seneca Wallace, Thomas Clayton, Paris Lenon, Deon Grant, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Steve Vallos, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Anthony Becht, Na\'il Diggs, Damion McIntosh, Tyler Polumbus, Derek Walker, Louis Rankin, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Cyril Obiozor, Mike Iupati, Kevin Houser, Dan Williams, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Anthony Dixon, Anthony McCoy, Mardy Gilyard, Earl Thomas, A.J. Jefferson, Kennard Cox, Andre Roberts, Walter Thurmond, Rodger Saffold, George Selvie, Daryl Washington, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, John Skelton, Nate Byham, Eugene Sims, Jermelle Cudjo, Ricky Schmitt, Dominique Curry, Fendi Onobun, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Phillip Adams, Stephen Williams, Thaddeus Lewis, Chris Patrick, Clint Gresham, Danny Gorrer, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, LaJuan Ramsey, Roger III Allen, Ryan McKee, Ted Jr. Ginn, Tramaine Brock, Trevor Canfield

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
1:34
PM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 32

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The quivering hand pressed against Jason Brown's backside belonged to the first player chosen in the 2010 NFL draft.

Alas, the week before St. Louis Rams training camp was tough on quarterback Sam Bradford's nerves.

The No. 1 overall draft choice could not be sure when his agent and the team would reach a contract agreement, and by the time Bradford finally arrived, the other quarterbacks had a couple days' head start on him. All eyes were on the franchise savior from Oklahoma when Bradford lowered himself under center for the first time during camp.

Bradford might have appeared cool and in command from afar, but one veteran teammate had a better, uh, feel for the situation.

"You couldn't see it on his face, but I knew he was nervous because when he got under center and put his hand underneath my rear end, his hand was shaking -- it was quivering," Brown said. "And of course, I didn't say anything, but it's a very awkward feeling for me as well when someone has their hand shaking underneath your rear end."

Brown didn't say anything to Bradford because he figured the quarterback would settle down quickly. Bradford did, and he appears well on his way to earning the starting job heading into the regular season.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Scott Rovak/US PresswireSam Bradford's teammates appear to be confident the quarterback can hold his own as a rookie.
In fact, if anyone has reason to quiver at this point in camp, it's the defensive backs trying to defend passes they sometimes do not see coming -- as when Bradford laced one between Oshiomogho Atogwe and Craig Dahl before the safeties even turned around. It's not Bradford's accuracy or timing that have caught defensive backs' attention so much as the combination of those all-important quarterback traits. Early indications suggest the Rams could have the best quarterback in the division sooner rather than later.

"You see a lot of greatness in him -- what he brings, his skill set, very talented, very intelligent," Atogwe said.

Several of Bradford's teammates have experience breaking in first-round quarterbacks elsewhere. Brown (Joe Flacco), tight end Billy Bajema (Alex Smith), center Hank Fraley (Brady Quinn), defensive end James Hall (Joey Harrington), defensive tackle Fred Robbins (Eli Manning) and guard Jacob Bell (Vince Young) pointed to Bradford's maturity, intelligence, competitiveness, demeanor and accuracy.

The way they freely praised Bradford suggested genuine excitement, not the obligatory kind.

"I played with Steve McNair [in Tennessee] and with Ben Roethlisberger [at Miami (Ohio)]," Bell said, "and I thought, 'This guy, the way he throws the ball, man, I haven't seen anybody in person like that on the practice field, ever.' "

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. When will Bradford become the starter? It's an upset if Bradford isn't the No. 1 quarterback from the beginning of the regular season even though veteran A.J. Feeley remains the starter for now. Feeley and Bradford are sharing first- and second-team reps in practice. The team doesn't want to rush Bradford, but all signs point to the rookie grasping the offense quickly. The Rams think he's mature enough to handle what figures to be a rough rookie season. Why delay the inevitable if Bradford is looking good?

2. Can this team defend the pass? The Rams appeared to beef up the middle of their defense by adding Robbins, but the NFL is a passing league and the Rams could struggle to get pressure consistently. They have two pass-rushers -- Chris Long and Hall -- and their secondary has battled injuries throughout camp. Long should continue his improvement. Hall's sacks fell off to 4.5 last season as he transitioned from backup to starter. He is 33 years old. Kevin Dockery has exceeded expectations at cornerback, where rookie Jerome Murphy has also shown promise. But with Atogwe still rounding into form following injury, the secondary is a bit of a question mark.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Jerry Lai/US PresswireSteven Jackson's health remains instrumental in the Rams' success this season.
3. What happens if Steven Jackson gets hurt again? The Rams do not have a proven running threat behind Jackson, even though 2009 seventh-round draft pick Chris Ogbonnaya performed well against the Arizona Cardinals late last season. Ogbonnaya might be a good third-down back because he protects the passer well and can catch the ball, but the Rams could be in trouble if they needed a starter to replace Jackson for a few games. Jackson appears fully healthy so far, but he's coming off back surgery. Brian Westbrook's decision to sign with the 49ers hurt, but the Rams saw him mostly as a third-down back at this stage of his career, anyway. Expect the Rams to monitor the waiver wire for running backs as teams reduce to 53 players on Sept. 4.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Danny Amendola. There's enough uncertainty at receiver for this position to qualify under the "Hottest Questions" heading, but Amendola appears to have found a home as the slot receiver in the Rams' personnel groupings with more than two wideouts. Injuries forced Amendola to play multiple positions last season. Camp practices have convinced me -- and the Rams -- that Amendola's quickness can make him a threat. Said Feeley: "He has polished his game. Some of these guys discover themselves after a year of playing and realizing what they can do. The guy is a special player. The guy is going to make plays and have a lot of catches this year ... a poor man's Wes Welker trying to establish himself. He fits that mold right now. The guy is cat quick."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Offensive line continuity. The way the Rams' line struggled during the exhibition opener against Minnesota was deceiving. Rookie Rodger Saffold was making his first start at left tackle (against Jared Allen, no less). Right tackle Jason Smith had only recently returned from injury and the team knew he might wear down as the game progressed. Brown was filling in at right guard. These mitigating factors point to a broader problem: continuity. Only this week have the Rams gotten their projected starting five linemen on the field together. That must change as the Bradford era gets under way.

OBSERVATION DECK
[+] EnlargeFendi Onobun
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonTight end Fendi Onobun has made a positive impression in camp.
  • Multiple fights broke out during a recent Rams practice and that has to be a welcome sign for a team without enforcer types. The Rams have spent the past couple of years putting into place building-block players with apparently solid character. Long, Smith and James Laurinaitis qualify as "safe" draft choices along those lines. The team has now added some veteran seasoning -- think Robbins, Feeley, Na'il Diggs and Fraley -- but there's still something missing. The next step for St. Louis could be to add some players with a few rough edges. The best teams tend to have a few good players teammates fear. The Rams need more of them.
  • Jackson rehabbed from back surgery with a vengeance and he's looking strong as ever. Jackson also sounds happy. He clearly appreciates coach Steve Spagnuolo's evolving approach to training camp. Spagnuolo polled coaches and players anonymously for ideas after last season. Some complained that a tough 2009 training camp featuring live tackling left the team with weary legs heading into Week 1. Spagnuolo listened, putting limits on some of the contact and giving players more time between practices. Longer term, Spagnuolo wants to reach a point where young players know how to practice without the staff having to manufacture intensity.
  • Looks like the Rams might find a role in their offense for rookie tight end Fendi Onobun. Considered a project coming out of college, Onobun has shown he's further along than the Rams anticipated. The leaping end-zone grab he made in practice this week wasn't out of the ordinary for Onobun. Rookies often must contribute on special teams to earn spots on the 45-man game-day roster. Onobun made a positive impression as a gunner in the exhibition opener.
  • Rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard will bring needed swagger if his body holds up. Gilyard has his own style and doesn't seem to worry about what others think. He practices wearing abbreviated gym shorts over bicycle shorts for a distinctive 1980s look. Gilyard has stepped up his production in practice this week. An arm injury remains a potential concern.
  • Long appears more comfortable with himself and his status on the team. As a rookie and even last season, I sensed Long felt the pressure of being a No. 2 overall draft choice, to the point that he sometimes sounded apologetic about it while finding his way as a pro. Long showed obvious improvement late last season, however, and he appears to be asserting himself more readily. He played a prominent role in recent camp fights and called out Bajema for chipping him unexpectedly.
  • After last season, the Rams were thinking receiver Brandon Gibson might develop into an important part of their offense. They can't be so sure at this point because Gibson has missed an extended period with a hamstring injury. The Rams need Gibson to get on the field and produce during preseason. The team is cautiously optimistic about some of its prospects at receiver, but injuries were a concern last season. Donnie Avery, who bulked up this offseason to become more durable, took a hard shot in practice and came back strong the next play. Rookie free agent Dominique Curry has great size (6-foot-2, 224 pounds) and stood out at times. But I sense the Rams' fingers are crossed at this position. "If they play to their ability, we'll be OK," general manager Billy Devaney said.
  • Atogwe dropped multiple interception chances in practice, which is unusual for him. He's among the team's more conscientious players, though. Atogwe stayed after every practice I watched to work on catching passes. He was the last guy out there.
  • The Rams hoped to get something from linebacker Bobby Carpenter after acquiring him from Dallas in the Alex Barron trade. That's a tough sell at this point. Carpenter isn't working with the starters. The first time I noticed Carpenter in practice was when someone knocked him on his back.
While every NFC West team can legitimately claim to having a successful offseason on some level, I can see why ESPN's John Clayton ranked the Seahawks' offseason as the NFL's fifth best to this point.

Seattle was dealt a strong offseason hand -- two of the top 14 picks in the 2010 draft -- and the team generally made the most of it.

My quick take on NFC West offseasons to this point:

Arizona Cardinals

What went right: Nose tackle Dan Williams fell to Arizona at No. 26 in the draft. ... Nine-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, a player the team had coveted, suddenly became available. The Cardinals were able to sign him at an affordable price. ... The team got value for receiver Anquan Boldin a year before Boldin likely would have left anyway. ... Darnell Dockett reported for the post-draft camp and participated, an indication he feels the team is closer to rewarding him with a long-term deal. ... The team extended contracts for coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves, buying continuity.

What went wrong: Kurt Warner retired. ... A poorly structured contract allowed safety Antrel Rolle to get away after the first Pro Bowl season of his career. ... Linebacker Karlos Dansby signed with the Dolphins even though the Cardinals' offer was competitive. ... The Rams released Marc Bulger late enough to make it tough for the Cardinals to consider adding a player they might have otherwise signed. ... Losing Warner and Boldin deprived the team of established leadership.

The bottom line: There wasn't much Arizona could do about Warner's retirement, but that subtraction -- followed by the departures of Rolle, Dansby and Boldin -- put the team in a tough situation. The Cardinals rebounded, adding safety Kerry Rhodes, outside linebacker Joey Porter, Faneca, guard Rex Hadnot and linebacker Paris Lenon in free agency. They felt great about landing Williams in the first round of the draft, and they had a fallback plan when talks with kicker Neil Rackers went nowhere. Those moves allowed Arizona to feel better about a tough offseason.

San Francisco 49ers

What went right: The 49ers addressed obvious issues on the offensive line through the draft. ... Mike Solari, the perfect line coach for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, suddenly became available when the Seahawks fired Jim Mora after only one season. Solari is among the best in the game and he worked with Raye previously. ... The team found a way to extend Patrick Willis' contract despite hurdles put in place by the NFL labor situation. ... The Dolphins' acquisition of Brandon Marshall made Ted Ginn Jr. expendable in Miami, furnishing the 49ers with an option for their return game and possibly at receiver. ... Director of player personnel Trent Baalke, thrust into a more prominent role shortly before the draft, appeared to be a good match for coach Mike Singletary. The two had developed a rapport over the years when Singletary was a position coach, and that paid off immediately.

What went wrong: General manager Scot McCloughan left the team for personal reasons only five weeks before the draft. ... Willis required knee surgery to remove a bursa sac. ... Depending on your view of Donovan McNabb, the 49ers arguably missed a chance to add a quarterback capable of putting the team over the top. ... Linebacker Manny Lawson stayed away from minicamps and offseason workouts because he wants a new contract.

The bottom line: The paragraph on what went right vastly outweighs the paragraph on what went wrong. The 49ers must have had a pretty good offseason, then. They stayed the course through McCloughan's departure. On the field, they made continuity a high priority. They re-signed Willis and stood by quarterback Alex Smith. The decision at quarterback will largely determine whether the 49ers truly enjoyed a successful offseason, but no matter what happens, their reasoning was understandable. Smith made strides last season and the team was finally in position to keep the same quarterback and offensive coordinator together in consecutive years.

Seattle Seahawks

What went right: The draft fell favorably for Seattle, allowing the team to land left tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas in the first round. Getting Golden Tate in the second round seemed like a bonus. ... New coach Pete Carroll and new general manager John Schneider have so far worked well together. Their rapport appears uncannily strong. ... Carroll was able to land highly regarded assistant coaches, including Alex Gibbs. ... The team added depth at running back without giving up much. Leon Washington has the potential to add a needed element to the offense ... First-round bust Mike Williams showed promise during minicamps. ... Cornerback Marcus Trufant appeared healthy again.

What went wrong: The team felt compelled to hire its third head coach in less than two years. ... Age and injuries forced Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney into retirement. ... It's too early to say whether Seattle erred in adding Charlie Whitehurst, but the team arguably overspent for an untested backup quarterback. The move later prevented the Seahawks from considering Jimmy Clausen in the second round. ... Linebacker Leroy Hill suffered additional off-field problems, reducing his value to the Seahawks or any team looking to add a linebacker via trade. ... Seattle struck out in its efforts to land Marshall from the Broncos. ... Receiver Deion Branch needed another knee surgery, albeit a minor one.

The bottom line: Seattle moved aggressively to shore up weaknesses from the front office to the playing field. That's what it takes to be perceived as having a successful offseason. We should remember, however, that the Seahawks spent quite a bit of the offseason subtracting from their roster. Teams that change coaches and GMs will have roster turnover, but are the Seahawks better in the immediate term without Nate Burleson, Deon Grant, Darryl Tapp, Cory Redding, Rob Sims and even Seneca Wallace? Change comes at a price.

St. Louis Rams

What went right: The Rams had to get a quarterback and they got one in Sam Bradford. ... Bradford's shoulder checked out well enough during the offseason for the Rams to consider drafting him. ... Minority owner Stan Kroenke, a man with deep pockets and a strong track record in sports team ownership, declared his intention to keep the team in St. Louis after exercising an option to buy the franchise. ... The Rams maintained continuity of the coaching staff on offense, defense and special teams after years of turnover. Continuity was needed. ... The Rams needed veteran seasoning and they got it by adding veterans familiar with their systems. Fred Robbins, Na'il Diggs, Hank Fraley and A.J. Feeley should help even if they do not start.

What went wrong: The Rams' best player, Steven Jackson, underwent back surgery when rehabilitation alone wasn't enough to recover from a herniated disk. ... Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe's injury situation combined with two other factors -- a pending ownership change and new rules governing free agency -- to complicate the Rams' efforts to retain their former franchise player. Atogwe can become a free agent next month if the Rams do not increase their offer to him from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. ... Ownership uncertainty made it harder for the Rams to act decisively throughout the offseason. The Rams' offseason budget lacked the flexibility it would have otherwise had. Should the team have made a play for Marshall or another big-name free agent? The Rams' hands appeared somewhat tied.

The bottom line: The Rams put in place building blocks for their future, starting at quarterback. Their offseason will be judged almost entirely on whether Bradford becomes the player the Rams thought they were getting. Simple as that.

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