NFL Nation: Tom Cable

McFaddenKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarren McFadden is confident he can still be a productive running back in the NFL.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Truly, over the course of Darren McFadden's star-crossed six-year career with the Oakland Raiders, the only coach to get consistent production out of the running back was Hue Jackson.

And it began with Jackson simply asking McFadden what kind of plays he liked to run upon Jackson's arrival as the Raiders' offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.

Of course, a litany of injuries turned Run DMC into Limp DMC over time and Jackson, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Tom Cable in 2010 and Oakland's head coach in 2011, sent packing by Reggie McKenzie altered things.

But with the Raiders apparently tired of being unable to count on McFadden, McFadden due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Jackson just promoted as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, might McFadden find a new home in Ohio?

“You guys know how I feel about Darren McFadden; he's still one of my favorite players,” Jackson told ESPN affiliate 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday.

“What a tremendous talent. But I really like my little guy Gio [Bernard]. He had a real good season. But I don't think you can ever have too many good backs.”

The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, a second-round draft pick from North Carolina, averaged 4.1 yards per carry for 695 yards and five touchdowns and caught 56 passes for 514 yards and three scores as a rookie this past season. But he had a costly fumble for the Bengals in their wild-card weekend loss to the San Diego Chargers.

It's also interesting to note that Bernard was selected with a pick the Bengals gained from the Raiders -- in the infamous “greatest trade in football” that sent quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland.

Of course, it was a deal engineered by Jackson himself.

And it should be noted that McFadden and Palmer never ran a single play together under Jackson as McFadden, who had been playing at a league-MVP level, was lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot before Palmer debuted.

So does Jackson still think McFadden, who missed six games this past season with an assortment of ailments, can be a game-changing player?

“I would have to be around him again but I think it's still no different with Darren,” Jackson said. “Darren is still a downhill runner, he's a one-cut runner. He has the ability to split out and catch balls and do those things but I think, with any football player, you've just got to build their confidence and let them know you believe in them and create an environment for them to be as good as they can be and normally good things happen. And I don't think it's any different with him.

“Somebody's going to get a really good football player here in the future if he doesn't stay there in Oakland and I just wish him the best.”

McFadden's agent, Ian Greengross, has represented him since the Raiders took the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up fourth overall in 2008. Greengross acknowledged his client has had injury issues, though there is a silver (and black?) lining since it's not the same injury every time.

“Unfortunately, it's always been a little knickknack of injuries here and there at different body parts,” Greengross told 95.7 The Game. “So, injury prone? Sure. I mean, unfortunately, in six years he has yet to play 16 games [in a season].”

McFadden has never appeared in more than 13 games, which he did as a rookie and in 2010. And before suiting up for the Raiders' last two games this season, he had missed 19 of Oakland's previous 39 games.

In his career, McFadden has missed 29 games with toe, knee, hamstring, toe, foot, ankle, hamstring and ankle injuries.

“I don't want to say he's unlucky, but at some point you've got to figure that he's just not going to have that bad luck,” said Greengross, who added that his agency would look into McFadden's history to see if his offseason training program should be modified. “It's not like there's one weak spot that's always being injured and will never be healthy.”

Greengross said McFadden would “certainly love” to return to Oakland but that no conversations had taken place.

“He's always been a Raider at heart, he's never looked to leave so he would certainly come back,” Greengross said. “A lot's going to depend upon the circumstances and how he sees [himself] fitting in, and how they see him fitting in. And certainly we'd probably be wise to talk to some other teams as well once free agency begins.”

Even if the Raiders did have interest, McFadden's price tag would seemingly have to be lower than the $5.8 million he made this past season, when he also had a salary-cap number of $9.6 million and ended with a second consecutive per-rush average of 3.3 yards -- equaling his career low.

But under Jackson, McFadden's average went from 3.4 the year before Jackson arrived to 5.2 and then 5.4.

“When they ran that straight power [blocking scheme], for running backs that had 200 or more carries over those two seasons in total, Darren led the league in rushing average,” Greengross said.

But since then, with the Raiders going back to more of a zone-blocking scheme in 2012 and a combo this past season? Not so much.

“As long as he gets a little hole, I know that speed is still there,” Greengross said. “Even though he hasn't been out there as much as he would have liked to be because of the injures, the one thing the injuries haven't done is taken away that speed.”

And yes, Greengross said McFadden is open to playing a complementary role.

Which brings us back to Jackson and the Bengals -- when the time is right, of course.

“I think Darren can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “If it's the Darren McFadden that I used to know, there's no question -- whether it's in Cincinnati, Oakland or San Francisco or anywhere. He's talented enough to play anywhere in the National Football League.”

But will he be healthy enough?
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- As the purportedly rested and rejuvenated Oakland Raiders come out of their bye weekend and prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one fact hovers over Oakland.

The Raiders have lost their last 10 first games after a bye -- by a combined score of 271-139.

“I think we’re all aware of that, but like I told the players today, the past has no relevance to the future,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “Any of the outcomes that have happened after a bye in the past won’t dictate how we go out and play against Pittsburgh. What’s going to dictate how we go out and play against Pittsburgh is how well we prepare during the week, and then how well … we go out and execute that plan on Sunday.”

Fair enough, but what’s that old saying about those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it?

Sure enough, a look back at the Raiders’ decade of post-bye blues reveals some interesting moments:

Nov. 2, 2003, Raiders at Detroit: Marques Tuiasosopo, Oakland’s second-round pick in 2001, makes his first NFL start and has a QB rating of 34.3 in completing six of 11 passes for 65 yards and an interception in a 23-13 loss to the Lions. “Tui” would start only one more game in his career, at the New York Jets in 2005.

Oct. 16, 2005, Raiders vs. San Diego: Randy Moss, in his first season in Oakland, went up for a Kerry Collins pass late in the first half and was hit hard by strong safety Terrence Kiel in a 27-14 loss to the Chargers. The groin injury would linger and it was the first time Moss was held without a catch in his career.

Oct. 12, 2008, Raiders at New Orleans: It was an inauspicious debut for Tom Cable as Oakland’s interim coach in the wake of the memorable overhead projector presser announcing Lane Kiffin’s firing. An ashen-faced Cable had no answers as the Saints ran all over the Raiders in a 34-3 blowout.

Nov. 21, 2010, Raiders at Pittsburgh: Richard Seymour had seen enough, so the Raiders defensive tackle went and got himself kicked out of the Raiders’ eventual 35-3 blowout loss to the Steelers. Seymour’s open-hand palm strike to the facemask of Ben Roethlisberger was as swift as it was pretty as Roethlisberger went down like a sack of Primanti Brothers sandwiches.

Oct. 14, 2012, Raiders at Atlanta: Playing their most complete game under rookie coach Dennis Allen, the Raiders were tied at 13-13 and driving for a potential winning field goal when Carson Palmer threw a 79-yard pick-six to Asante Samuel. Palmer responded by driving Oakland 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Alas, Atlanta kicked a 55-yard field goal with one second to play for the win.

So what should be expected out of Sunday’s game at the O.co Coliseum? The Raiders have won the last two meetings in Oakland -- 34-31 last season and 20-13 in 2006 -- and the last time the Steelers won in the East Bay was in 1995.

The Raiders’ main goal in their weekend break was getting healthy, while getting revived.

“I think we had a good plan in the bye,” Allen said. “I think we got some guys freshened up a little bit. Now the key is, we’ve got to focus in on the preparation. We’ve got to do the things that are necessary to go out and play well on Sunday.”

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

October, 13, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders24-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

Flashback: It was just outside this locker room, after the 2010 season finale -- in which a 31-10 Oakland victory gave it an 8-8 record, the first non-losing season since 2002 -- that coach Tom Cable uttered his infamous proclamation that the Raiders were no longer losers. I prefer to remember my encounter with the late Al Davis a hallway away. After I offered an opinion that it was a nice end to the season to finish 8-8, Davis sneered, “If that’s the world you live in.” Priceless. A few weeks later, Cable was fired.

Crowded room: The visitors locker room at Arrowhead Stadium is one of the most cramped in the NFL, awkwardly separated by a wall that makes for two cramped quarters. It’s quite a scene, reporters and players bumping into one another as reporters search for sound bites and players scramble for the shower, everyone stepping over equipment bags and dirty laundry.

Getting his work in: On the floor in the middle of the “offensive” room, meanwhile, was receiver Brice Butler, rolling his body over a Styrofoam roller.

Taking his time: Terrelle Pryor was the most sought-after interview. He also took his time getting showered and dressed. Such is the life of an NFL quarterback.

Seahawks may start two backup tackles

September, 25, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks may be without both starting offensive tackles this weekend, a scary thought going against star defensive linemen J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans' defense.

Right tackle Breno Giacomini did not practice Wednesday because of a knee problem. His status for Sunday’s game at Houston is unknown.

"His knee is sore,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday of Giacomini. “We have some more information to get to see where he is. He got nicked a little bit in the [Jacksonville] game.”

Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung is out for at least eight weeks with a torn ligament in a big toe. Paul McQuistan moved from guard to Okung’s tackle spot.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Bailey
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesRookie tackle Alvin Bailey saw action in Week 3, and could see even more this Sunday for Seattle.
If Giacomini doesn’t play, the Seahawks probably will start a rookie at right tackle -- either Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey. Bowie (6-foot-4, 330 and a seventh-round draft choice from Northeastern State in Oklahoma) likely would be the starter.

Both Bowie and Bailey (6-foot-3, 320 and undrafted out of Arkansas) played extensively in the second half last weekend after the Seahawks built a big lead against Jacksonville.

“They’ve made great progress,” Carroll said of his rookie tackles. “I went back [Tuesday] night and watched the [Jacksonville] game over again just to watch those guys and see how they’re doing. They came off the ball really well and did fine in pass protection. They did a very nice job and they’re coming along quickly.”

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable also was pleased with what he saw from his young tackles in the Jacksonville game.

“I saw some really cool stuff," Cable said. “I’m really excited about their future. I thought both those kids went in there and knocked people off the ball.

“It was a huge moment of growth for them to know they’re OK and can handle an NFL game. It’s like gold. If they have to do it, they’ll be comfortable to do what they’re capable of doing.”

But can either handle Watt?

“We don’t really focus on him,” Cable said. “We focus on doing things right.”

The backup tackles will need to do a lot of things right to stop Watt and the attacking Houston defense, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind the Seahawks.

"They will pressure us more than any team we play this season,” Carroll said of the Texans defense.

Carroll also was asked how he felt McQuistan was doing in Okung’s spot.

“Paul survived the first game [when Okung got hurt against the San Francisco 49ers] and played better in the second game,” Carroll said. “He was sharper on stuff and the communication was better. But that’s a big jump for Paul. He has played tackle in his history, but to play up to Russell Okung’s level is a lot to ask. He’s performed well so far.”

Seattle made a roster move Wednesday to add veteran offensive linemen in Jason Spitz, who was released by Jacksonville in August. Spitz, (6-foot-3, 300) played five seasons at Green Bay before spending the past two years with the Jaguars, but he was on injured reserve all last season.

Even if Seattle had both its starting tackles, it would be a big task to stop Watt, the NFL defensive player of the year last season with 20.5 sacks.

“He’s a fantastic talent,” Carroll said of Watt. “I don’t think anybody knew he would be this dominant, and I’ve heard Houston say they didn’t know that either. But he’s an extraordinary player. He’s faster than more guys his size, running a 4.6. That’s one thing that separates him. And the guys Houston has around him makes him even better.”

One of those guys is inside linebacker Brian Cushing, a player Carroll knows well. Cushing played for Carroll at USC.

“Cush was an outside guy for us,” Carroll said. “He’s one of the best guys we ever recruited as far as all-around ability. He’s a great, great player. It’s not a surprise to me that he ended up playing inside. He’s so instinctive and aggressive and wants to come at you. He lines up right behind Watt, so he’s a big issue for us, also.”

Injury updates: Defensive tackle Red Bryant (back spasms) did not practice Wednesday, but Carroll expects him back on the field Thursday.

Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (sprained ankle) did not practice, but Carroll is hopeful he can play at Houston.

“He’s going to try to go tomorrow,” Carroll said of Kearse. “He’s making a very quick recovery. We have our fingers crossed that he has a chance to play.”

Carroll said rookie fullback Spencer Ware is still out with a high-ankle sprain.

Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith returned to practice after being inactive against Jacksonville with a hamstring issue. Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Hill returned to practice on a limited basis.

Seahawks managing high expectations

September, 5, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. – Wide receiver Sidney Rice remembers the first meeting on the first day of training camp this summer for the Seattle Seahawks.

By that time, every Seahawks player had heard all the hype. They all knew their team was the buzz of the NFL. Super Bowl predictions were everywhere. And the fans in Seattle were in a Seahawks frenzy. Expectations for the 2013 season were through the roof.

But offensive line coach Tom Cable gave a symbolic message to the players on Day 1.

“When we came in for the first day of camp, coach Cable put up all those preseason rankings on the wall and all that stuff about us,” Rice said. “Then he took them all down and threw them in the trash.”

Cable let every player know right off the bat that it doesn’t mean a darn thing.

“We all know where we stand,” Rice said. “And we know what’s at stake here.”

The Seahawks are coming off an 11-5 regular season in 2012; a playoff victory at Washington followed before their run ended with a last-second loss at Atlanta.

Many experts believe the Seahawks can reach the Super Bowl with a talented young team that should improve. But how these players handle all the hype could be a factor in how things go this season.

“Obviously, we have very, very high outside expectations for this team,” said quarterback Russell Wilson. “Like I always say, you have to ignore the noise. At the end of the day, we set higher expectations than everyone else.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCoach Pete Carroll cites "the discipline of our mindset" as a Seahawks strength as kickoff approaches.
“We come to work every single game and try to bring our A-game. It’s a competition to try to be the best individually, but also as a team, collectively. So for us, we are just trying to put our best foot forward. We’re ready.”

Coach Pete Carroll is convinced his team has the right attitude to deal with the expectations.

“I think that they have responded exactly the way we wanted them to,” Carroll said Wednesday. “We just kind of let them take it in, let it wash over and not affect them.”

After a 4-0 preseason, Carroll believes the Seahawks are mentally ready to play at a high level entering the season opener on the road against the Carolina Panthers.

“We had a really successful preseason,” Carroll said. “We’ve done things just like we hoped we would do them. It’s about our guys being tuned into the things that are important, which is how we play and how we operate come game day.

“The factors outside come from the media and just the normal buildup. All that needs to be left where it is and dealt with appropriately, and that is to realize it shouldn’t affect the way that we perform. That’s the discipline of our mindset, and hopefully, we continue to do that as we get through the season. Now it really starts.”

Rice said the team will have specific goals that have nothing to do with everyone’s expectations.

“When we line up on Sunday, our main thing will be discipline,” said Rice, who missed the preseason after undergoing a procedure on his knee. “The pre-snap penalties are something we struggled with in the preseason. We want to get on top of that and not step on our own toes. We have to make opponents do things themselves and not do it for them.”

The Seahawks were undefeated at home last season, but 4-6 on the road, counting the two playoff games.

“We struggled on the road last year,” Rice said. “This year we want to own it.”

It starts Sunday in Charlotte. The expectations don’t mean a thing.
RENTON, Wash. — Seattle guard John Moffitt was traded, then not traded, then traded again, all within 24 hours.

Moffitt was dealt to the Cleveland Browns on Monday afternoon for defensive lineman Brian Sanford, but Cleveland voided the deal Tuesday afternoon, reportedly due to health concerns over a previous Moffitt knee injury.

Moffitt has been on the field throughout training camp, played in both of Seattle's preseason games and said he was in better shape than any time in his career.

Less than 30 minutes after news broke of the trade being nixed, the Seahawks had traded Moffitt to Denver for Broncos defensive tackle Sealver Siliga.

[+] EnlargeJohn Moffitt
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsAfter his trade to Cleveland was voided over a health issue, Seattle sent guard John Moffitt to Denver for defensive tackle Sealver Siliga.
Maybe both teams liked what they saw from those players in the Seahawks' 40-10 victory over Denver on Saturday night in Seattle.

Siliga, 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, is in his second season out of Utah. He had two assisted tackles against the Seahawks.

Moffitt still will need to pass a physical with the Broncos, but assuming that gets done with no problems, Seattle’s decision to trade Moffitt clears up some things:

1. Starting battles for the offensive line are over. The only real contest up front was between J.R. Sweezy and Moffitt, but obviously Sweezy won out. The other OL starters are set: Russell Okung at left tackle, Paul McQuistan at left guard, Max Unger at center and Breno Giacomini at right tackle.

Moffitt has more experience than Sweezy and might be a better player from a technique standpoint, but Sweezy has a toughness to him and a hard edge that offensive line coach Tom Cable loves, which is why he wanted to see what he could do when the team moved Sweezy to offense last season.

Sweezy was a seventh-round draft choice last year as a defensive tackle from North Carolina State. He was moved to the offensive line, partially because of an arm injury to Moffitt in training camp last season. Sweezy struggled early on, but improved as the season progressed.

Moffitt hoped to win the starting job at training camp this year, but it didn’t happen.

The only thing that could change the starting lineup on the O-line (other than an injury) is having James Carpenter back on the field and healthy. Carpenter was a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2011, but injuries have plagued his time in the NFL.

A foot injury has sidelined him so far in the preseason. If Carpenter is healthy and gets some time on the field soon, he could eventually return to a starting spot at guard, but that’s a big if at this point.

2. As they’ve shown in the past, the Seahawks aren’t afraid to move an early-round draft choice if they feel other players, not as highly touted, are doing better jobs.

Moffitt was a third-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2010. He played well his rookie season and was viewed as a possible anchor at guard for the long term, but injuries slowed his progress.

He became expendable because the Seahawks are pleased with what they’ve seen from rookies Ryan Seymour (a seventh-round pick out of Vanderbilt), Michael Bowie (a seventh-round pick from Northeastern State in Oklahoma) and Alvin Bailey (a free agent from Arkansas).

Seymour now is listed as the backup to Sweezy. Bowie and Bailey are listed at tackle, but they also can play the guard spots.

Camp Confidential: Seattle Seahawks

July, 30, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- This training camp marks the Seattle Seahawks' first since 2009 without some form of a starting quarterback competition. So comfortable, mature and in command is Russell Wilson this summer that you'd swear he's been the starter for a decade.

It's sometimes as though Wilson is 24 years old going on 42.

Wilson naturally took the driver's seat in the van Seattle players used when shuttling to the offseason practices Wilson organized in Los Angeles. While teammates joked around in the back like kids on a field trip, Wilson was their chaperone.

Asked during this camp what he knew of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick from their time together shooting a commercial and appearing at the ESPYS, Wilson, nearly 13 months Kaepernick's junior, described his rival as someone who loves football and is a good person to be around.

"Great kid," Wilson added.

Reporters can forget about prying a colorful quote from the player teammates have nicknamed "the robot" for his methodical approach to the job. Wilson has been known to favor coachspeak even inside Seattle's quarterback meeting room.

"We joke around all the time," backup Brady Quinn said. "There are some times when he'll state the obvious. We try to make sure he realizes that is a given. Like, for example, 'Hey man, guys gotta stay healthy this year.' Well, yeah. They always need to stay healthy. That's a big part of a team doing well, people not getting hurt. Times like that, you've gotta keep him on his toes, make him laugh a little bit, give him a hard time."

One year after Wilson won a three-way competition against Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson, the player receiver Sidney Rice sometimes calls "the president" is running unopposed at this Seahawks camp.

"He's a champion when he steps out there on that field, even in practice," Rice said. "I’ve seen him run, I believe, 80 yards on one play on a scramble to try to get away and get us a first down. He is going to do whatever it takes. You have seen him running down the sideline blocking for Marshawn [Lynch] numerous times. That is the kind of guy you want leading your team."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargePercy Harvin
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Vikings aren't sure what to expect from their former receiver, Percy Harvin, who is expected to be in Seattle's lineup on Sunday.
1. Percy Harvin's health. The Seahawks were already a good team before they acquired Harvin. They became a popular pick for the Super Bowl once the versatile receiver and return specialist joined their roster in March. Now, with Harvin seeking a second opinion that could lead to season-altering surgery on his sore hip, those projections seem a little more tenuous.

How Harvin will proceed from here is not clear. His sometimes rocky past in Minnesota invites questions and fuels his critics. Is he smartly erring on the side of caution, as coach Pete Carroll seemed to suggest in initial remarks about the injury? Or, is this another one of those tough-to-explain Harvin plot twists like the ones that seemed to pop up regularly during his Minnesota tenure? With Harvin set to seek that second opinion Tuesday, Carroll noted that safety Kam Chancellor played through a similar injury last season. Was he saying Harvin should do the same?

"Guys around here trust [Harvin] and believe in him," Rice said. "It's nothing like coming out here and taking days off and doing his own thing. I don’t think he’s that type of person. You get that perception from people that don’t really know what's going on, and they just hear stuff and they just create their own [impression]."

Harvin is, by all accounts, plenty tough and competitive. If this is an injury Harvin can manage, it appears he'll do so on his terms, not on the Seahawks' terms. That surely wouldn't surprise the Vikings, even though Rice, himself an ex-Viking, said his teammate is misunderstood.

2. Bruce Irvin's position. There has been some confusion, at least on my end, regarding the role Seattle envisions for 2012 first-round draft choice Irvin. The team drafted Irvin with plans to use him initially as a situational pass-rusher, and later as the successor to Chris Clemons in the "Leo" position as a stand-up rusher in Carroll's defense.

Irvin collected eight sacks as a rookie in the situational role, as planned. He'll continue to play that role within the nickel defense while adding responsibilities as an outside linebacker in base packages. It's not so much that Irvin will be playing the strong side or weak side. Rather, he'll be one of two outside linebackers positioned on the line of scrimmage in what will look like a 3-4 scheme. He'll be asked to set the edge in the running game, rush the passer, match up man-to-man or cover the flat.

First, though, Irvin will have to serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

3. Depth on the offensive line. The Seahawks drafted offensive lineman James Carpenter 25th overall in 2011 when they could have taken a quarterback such as Andy Dalton or Kaepernick. Finding Wilson a year later absolved the team from second-guessing on the quarterback front, but the Carpenter selection was still looking like a regrettable one heading into this camp. Injuries were threatening Carpenter's career, and he wasn't exactly dominant even when healthy in his rookie season.

Perceptions are beginning to change after Carpenter reported to camp in good enough shape to participate fully from the beginning. I noticed Carpenter running from one drill to the next when he could have jogged. It seemed like evidence Carpenter was feeling good and was eager to salvage his career. He's been working with the starting unit at left guard between Pro Bowlers Russell Okung and Max Unger. Adding a healthy Carpenter to the mix would upgrade the line's longer-term prospects.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Seattle has one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, best running backs and best defenses. That's a winning combination just about every time. Last season, Wilson struggled through his first few games while hamstrung by remedial game plans. He did not start to hit his stride until Week 8 at Detroit. Wilson did not break out all the way until leading 97- and 80-yard touchdown drives to win at Chicago in Week 13. That's the quarterback Seattle will have behind center from the beginning this season. That is why the Seahawks like their chances.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Potential depth issues at tight end, offensive tackle, weakside linebacker and defensive end (for now, while Clemons rehabs and Irvin faces a suspension) probably aren't serious enough to send the Seahawks plummeting into mediocrity. However, the margin for error within the NFC West figures to be small. Harvin, at his best, was supposed to put Seattle over the top. Now, the Seahawks can't be sure they'll have him for the regular season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeRed Bryant
    Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsRed Bryant, who had treatment for sleep apnea this offseason, says he has better stamina in practices.

  • Defensive end Red Bryant appears more comfortable, for good reason. Bryant had treatment for sleep apnea this offseason after former trainer Sam Ramsden, now the Seahawks' director of player health and performance, recommended testing for larger players. Bryant, who wears a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask when he sleeps, says he's feeling refreshed and has better stamina later in practices. This is a pivotal season for Bryant, who struggled with a foot injury last season after signing a $35 million extension. At Carroll's suggestion, Bryant has recommitted to his identity as a dominant run-stuffer after feeling pressure to improve as a pass-rusher upon signing his new contract.
  • Rookie fourth-round receiver Chris Harper didn't seem to be a factor in the first couple days of camp. The first time I really noticed him was when he caught a touchdown pass on the third day of practice. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the first day this summer that the Seahawks practiced in pads. Harper, oddly proportioned for a receiver at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds, relishes the physical part of the game. Some young receivers flourish in shorts and struggle in pads. Harper might have it the other way around.
  • The Seahawks claimed off waivers former Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield despite a $1.3 million salary and a history of injuries. Seattle had a middle-rounds grade on Schofield entering the 2010 draft even though Schofield was rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered in Senior Bowl practices. The Cardinals used a fourth-round pick on Schofield just ahead of the range where Seattle was considering taking him. The Seahawks are continually looking for "Leo" defensive ends in the 6-3 and 245-pound mold. Schofield, 26, fits the profile and has a chance to earn playing time in a rotational capacity while Clemons recovers from knee surgery and Irvin serves a suspension.
  • Irvin's speed showed up in practice when he chased down rookie running back Christine Michael to force a fumble some 40 yards past the line of scrimmage. Michael ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the combine. He has appeared to be one of the more explosive players in camp. Irvin caught him despite outweighing Michael by about 25 pounds, 245 to 220. Raw speed isn't the question for Irvin. He has plenty. The question is whether he can handle some of the coverage and run-stopping responsibilities associated with his evolving role.
  • Remember those offseason stories about Lynch skipping chunks of the voluntary offseason conditioning program? They're pretty much irrelevant now, as anticipated.
  • Nothing has changed the perception that Jackson will beat out Quinn for the No. 2 job behind Wilson. Trading Jackson a year ago was tough in some respects because Jackson was so popular among teammates. I see no reason for the Seahawks to make the same decision again unless Quinn vastly outplays Jackson.
  • Between the practice field and the locker room sits a cart with a laptop connected to a sensor atop a stand. The setup from GPSports allows teams to monitor player performance in real time. Team owner Paul Allen's other professional Seattle sports team, Sounders FC, has used the technology. The GPSports website says systems include a GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, heart rate sensor and a wireless transmitter. The company says its product can "accurately measure distance, speed, acceleration, heart rate, bodyload and impacts all in real time."
  • Former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams is doing what he sometimes did while with Arizona: impressing during camp by making spectacular leaping catches. Williams has the talent, but he has been unable to make it transfer to the regular season. Working with a top NFL quarterback cannot hurt. Williams arrived in Arizona the year after Kurt Warner retired.
  • Linebacker K.J. Wright has stood out in past camps, but not so much in this one, except for the big hit he delivered on rookie fullback Spencer Ware.
  • Speaking of Ware, he has some work to do before making veteran fullback Michael Robinson expendable, at least from early indications. The offense didn't look the same or as good with Robinson and tight end Zach Miller sitting out. Robinson and Lynch have a special feel for one another. Ware, more of a halfback type for most of his college career, has dropped a few passes and is still adjusting to the physical nature of the position.
  • The offseason buzz about rookie Jesse Williams possibly starting at defensive tackle seems to have subsided for the time being. Veteran Tony McDaniel and 2012 fourth-rounder Jaye Howard have stood out more.
  • Is that really assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable? He has dropped a significant amount of weight since having back surgery, and he said after one practice, "You can’t imagine how nothing hurts on me. It’s awesome."
  • Richard Sherman, although sometimes combative when facing receivers, projects unfiltered joy other times. He is the player most likely to groove along to the music Carroll plays at practice. Sherman thrilled the crowd during one practice when he picked off a pass and lateraled to Earl Thomas during the return. Football is fun to Sherman, and it shows.
  • There aren't many open passing lanes in practice against the Seattle defense. This team is stacked at cornerback. If this keeps up in preseason, and there's enough depth that it should, Seattle could be in position to trade one of its backups.
A few notes on the changing landscape at tight end for NFC West teams on this second day of NFL free agency in 2013:
  • Jared Cook's addition to the St. Louis Rams gives the team two tight ends drafted in the first three rounds. Lance Kendricks is the other. Both are 25 years old. The NFL has 11 other tight ends drafted that early and younger than 26. The list includes Arizona's Rob Housler. The group averaged 50 receptions for 573 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. Kendricks and Cook were just under those averages.
  • Delanie Walker's departure from the San Francisco 49ers did not happen in a vacuum. When the 49ers decided against naming Walker their franchise player, Walker became available to the Tennessee Titans. The Titans had an opening after Cook left Tennessee for the Rams.
  • Walker was one of five NFC West tight ends to play at least half of his team's offensive snaps last season. Vernon Davis (91.3 percent), Zach Miller (83.7), Kendricks (80.7) and Housler (61.7) were the others.
  • Housler led NFC West tight ends in receptions with 45 last season. However, the Cardinals were the only team in the NFL with no touchdowns from tight ends. The Rams and Seahawks got 11 touchdowns from tight ends in 2012 after getting zero from the position in 2010. The 49ers got eight touchdowns from tight ends in 2012.
  • Thanks to video producer Fran Duffy for passing along a link to Greg Cosell's breakdown on Cook and other free-agent tight ends this offseason. Cook has outstanding speed for the position. Walker's departure from the NFC West and Cook's addition to the Rams combine to give St. Louis the most dynamic set of receiving tight ends in the division, a major shift from the recent past.
  • Cosell's breakdown also differentiates Cook and other fleet tight ends from the less dynamic Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for Oakland last season. Myers caught my attention for his ties to Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable. The two were together on the Raiders. Seattle could use a second tight end, in my view, but with Percy Harvin joining the offense, might the Seahawks be more apt to use three wideouts than two tight ends? Harvin, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate would seemingly need to play extensively along with Marshawn Lynch and Miller. Oh, and let's not forget about fullback Michael Robinson, who has had a good thing going with Lynch over the past couple seasons.
The Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars might not be the only NFL teams considering Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for head coaching vacancies.

Seattle's division rivals from Arizona could also consider him, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Bevell enjoyed success with an older quarterback in Minnesota (Brett Favre) and with a young one in Seattle (Russell Wilson). The Seahawks tailored their offense to Wilson's strengths and ranked second to New England in touchdowns from Week 10 through the end of the regular season.

Losing Bevell would send Seattle into the market for a coordinator.

My NFC West orientation made me wonder whether former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt would make sense as a coordinator in Seattle should Bevell find work elsewhere.

Whisenhunt appears likely to get another head coaching chance at some point in the future, in my view. Spending a couple seasons working with someone as promising as Wilson would only seem to enhance his chances. Whisenhunt was a player with the New York Jets when Carroll was their defensive coordinator in the early 1990s.

I don't know whether either party would have interest or if the fit would be right. It was just something that came to mind.

Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable is heavily involved in the offensive planning for Seattle, particularly when it comes to the running game. Bevell is more involved in the passing game. Any replacement for Bevell would presumably carry a similar profile.

The Seahawks will want to stick with their zone blocking scheme. They will presumably be looking to build upon the success they enjoyed this season, not convert to a new playbook. That could affect the fit for candidates, particularly higher-profile ones.

Of course, Bevell remains the coordinator until further notice.

Bevell is from Arizona. His father was a longtime high school football coach there.

Raiders move quickly to fix offense

December, 31, 2012
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The Oakland Raiders made a quick statement about their unhappiness over a disappointing first season to the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era.

But it seems like the two men are safe.

The big move was the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Also fired were special teams coordinator Steve Hoffman, offensive line coach Frank Pollack and linebackers coach Johnny Holland. Allen made the announcement Monday.

"Decisions like this are very difficult," Allen said in a statement. "I have a great deal of respect for all of these men and I appreciate their contributions to the Oakland Raiders this season.”

Knapp’s offense was a major disappointment. Oakland did not take to Knapp’s version of the West Coast offense and the zone-blocking running scheme. Oakland was particularly poor in the red zone.

Running back Darren McFadden had a poor season under Knapp and he was never comfortable in Knapp’s scheme.

Knapp was a curious decision by Allen. He wasn’t his first choice, but he was paid well in Oakland. Knapp was the Raiders’ offensive coordinator in 2007 and ’08 and he was stripped of his duties by Tom Cable in the 2008 season.

Whoever Allen hires, expect the Raiders to try to employ a more power attack that flourished under former coach Hue Jackson. It seems to fit the team’s personnel better than Knapp’s scheme.

I think defensive coordinator Jason Tarver should be safe. If he wasn’t, he probably would have been shown the door quickly like Knapp was.

Tarver’s defense was a sieve for much of the season, but it tightened some in December. The Raiders' biggest issue on defense is talent. I think it has a good coaching base there with Allen and Tarver.

NFC West Pro Bowl analysis

December, 26, 2012
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NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: The San Francisco 49ers put nine in the Pro Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks were next among NFC West teams with five. Arizona had one. St. Louis had none. These results were not shocking.

The 49ers sent two-fifths of their starting offensive line and six members of their defense to the Pro Bowl. Tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati were natural selections on the line.

The 49ers' Frank Gore and the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch were solid choices behind Adrian Peterson at running back.

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable suggested Russell Okung was playing as well as any left tackle around. Voters apparently agreed. They named him as one of the starters, a first for Okung. Voters showed some smarts by selecting Seattle's Max Unger as the starting center. He's been very good since last season. The word must be getting around.

Patrick Peterson's struggles as a punt returner for Arizona did not keep him from becoming a first-time Pro Bowl choice at cornerback. Peterson made it only as a returner last season. He's generally been very good in pass coverage this season, although San Francisco gave him problems in a Monday night game. Peterson might not be the best corner in the NFC West, but he has had a good season overall.

NFC West defensive backs scored big for the second year in a row. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson (starter) and Seattle's Earl Thomas (backup) are the free safeties. The 49ers' Donte Whitner is the strong safety. All play for top defenses and winning teams. That probably gave them the edge over Arizona's Kerry Rhodes and St. Louis' Quintin Mikell. Defensive back play is a strength in the division.

Returner Leon Washington has helped Seattle rank among the league leaders in field position this season. He was a strong choice as the kickoff returner.

Made it on rep: I was watching to see whether Larry Fitzgerald would make it on name. He did not. The quarterback situation in Arizona isn't his fault, of course, but Pro Bowl selections Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz head a long list of receivers enjoying more productive seasons in 2012. The other players selected from the NFC West have been having good enough seasons to receive strong consideration. We can debate whether all were the best choices, but that is true every year. None of the players selected should apologize to anyone.

Some have questioned whether the 49ers' Justin Smith has been as effective this season. His sacks are down. Smith made it as a starter at defensive tackle even though he plays defensive end in the base defense. Smith was a worthy choice despite his diminished sack production, in my view. The 49ers' recent struggles without him provide supporting evidence.

Got robbed: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Cardinals linebackers Daryl Washington, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell and 49ers punter Andy Lee are four that come to mind first. The Rams put no players in the Pro Bowl despite a vastly improved record. There were no obvious oversights, however.

Sherman has arguably been the best corner in the NFL this season. He's also facing a potential four-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Voters must have held that against him. Otherwise, Sherman would have been an easy choice, even above the very deserving players selected.

Washington, who leads the Cardinals with nine sacks, should get some sort of consideration even though it's tough to say the 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were undeserving. All three are inside linebackers. Willis and Bowman are less specialized. They're plenty fast, but also able to take on blocks. Washington relies more on avoiding opposing linemen to blow up plays. He's very good at it, too. But the road to Hawaii runs through San Francisco for inside linebackers. Best of luck to anyone trying to break through.

At punter, I haven't studied New Orleans' Thomas Morstead enough to comment on his play, but the punters from San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona would have been worthy choices based on their play this season.

Campbell has been flat-out dominant at times this season. He also missed games to injury. But with the Cardinals' defense ranking among the league leaders against the pass despite no help from their own offense, Campbell had to get consideration.

Washington's Robert Griffin III beat out Seattle's Russell Wilson as a backup quarterback on the NFC squad. Wilson has closed ground recently, but voting took place a week ago. That put Wilson at a disadvantage. He would have had a better chance if voting took place this week or possibly next.

Thomas was the lone Seahawks defender. That was a bit of a surprise for a team that has allowed fewer points than any other. Chris Clemons? Brandon Mebane? It wasn't to be for Seattle's defensive line. Late-game breakdowns against Detroit and Miami didn't help. Seattle's run defense also softened as the season progressed.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
Colin Kaepernick/Russell WilsonGetty ImagesThe 49ers and Seahawks have much in common, including being led by impressive first-year starting quarterbacks -- Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.

Both teams' head coaches came from the old Pac-10 Conference. Their general managers worked together for the Washington Redskins in 2001. Their athletic young quarterbacks turned down opportunities to play baseball instead of football. Both teams have powerful running backs, highly ranked defenses and playoff aspirations.

What the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have in common will not stop them from settling their differences at CenturyLink Field in Week 16.

The 49ers already have clinched a playoff berth. They can claim a second consecutive NFC West title by defeating Seattle for a fourth consecutive time under coach Jim Harbaugh. The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a victory. They also can send a message to their more accomplished division rival from down the Pacific Coast.

The Sunday night lights await the most highly anticipated and consequential NFC West game of the 2012 season.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is here to help break it down.

Sando: Matt, let's start off with the quarterbacks. Both already rank among the league leaders in the meaningful categories. Russell Wilson leads the NFL and Colin Kaepernick ranks third in Total QBR since Week 11, when Kaepernick became a starter. Both are top eight for the season. Who has the better QB?

Williamson: Seattle. I’m really high on both. I think both are going to be legitimate starters and stars. San Francisco is a year ahead of Seattle in just about every aspect, but I feel like the opposite is true at quarterback. Wilson looks like he has started more games and is mentally further along. Fewer bad throws. So consistent. Never turns the ball over. He is way ahead of the curve. I think he is the better player, but I like both very much.

Sando: Kaepernick has only five starts. The 49ers are 4-1 in those games. They've won at New England. Their only defeat with Kaepernick starting came in overtime on the road against a St. Louis team that has somehow gone 4-0-1 against the NFC West. Kaepernick has a higher Total QBR score through his first five starts than anyone since 2008. Wilson started the season slowly, but he's leading the league in QBR over the past 10 weeks. His rookie season is lining up closely from a statistical standpoint with Drew Brees' breakout season in 2004. So, which one of these quarterbacks has the brighter future?

Williamson: I think Kaepernick's ceiling is higher. Wilson's floor is higher. I would roll the dice on Kaepernick because we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg with that guy. I really feel like we're going to see this matchup for the next 10 years.

Sando: Both teams can really run the ball. The 49ers are second and the Seahawks third in rushing yards. The 49ers have consistently stopped the run, too. Seattle was allowing only 3.3 yards per carry through Week 6, but the figure has been a league-worst 5.3 yards since then. It all started with the 49ers rushing for 175 yards against the Seahawks in Week 7. Teams haven't run on Seattle in a way that would demoralize a defense, but that could be because the offense has improved enough to cover up defensive shortcomings. That jump from 3.3 to 5.3 stands out.

Williamson: I do think that is probably the No. 1 advantage in San Francisco's favor considering it was the case the first time these teams played. The Niners confused them a lot. Not only are they bigger and stronger, able to run downhill with a big, physical offensive line, but their run game is extremely well-schemed. They use so many personnel groups and throw so much at you. People don’t talk about that enough when it comes to running games. You don't know who is whamming you, who is going to be in the backfield. They will use super-heavy sets, go empty, stuff like that.

Sando: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has alluded to that in the past. The last time these teams played, the game was on a Thursday night in San Francisco. The short week made it tougher for Seattle to prep for those unusual wrinkles in the running game. The Seahawks also have a couple of young linebackers in rookie Bobby Wagner and second-year man K.J. Wright. Those guys have additional seasoning now, plus some familiarity with the 49ers.

Williamson: The 49ers aren't the same team, either. Now you throw in the Kaepernick factor and they are extremely hard to prepare for. Seattle's personnel is still real strong. You're not going to be like, 'Hey, we're going to run at Chris Clemons.' They have solid personnel. They're not a bunch of schleps in the front seven whom the 49ers are going to push around.

Sando: It did seem like those young linebackers were vulnerable last time. The 49ers' guards, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone, can be trouble when they get their hands on a linebacker. Some of those trap plays let the guards get onto the linebackers without interference from the defensive tackles.

Williamson: Wagner is not little, Wright is not little, but neither one is a real great shedder yet. Wright is so tall that he will not win the leverage game if you get your hands on him. Wagner was simply faster than everyone at Utah State. Those guys are works in progress on that front.

[+] EnlargeMichael Crabtree
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesMichael Crabtree will be tested by Richard Sherman -- assuming the Seahawks cornerback isn't suspended.
Sando: Seattle has some depth concerns at cornerback. Brandon Browner is serving a suspension. Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant have been hurt. Richard Sherman could face a suspension at any time. Meanwhile, injuries have struck the 49ers at wide receiver. Kyle Williams is out for the season. A shoulder injury has forced Mario Manningham to miss games lately. Last time, Jim Harbaugh complained about aggressive tactics from Browner and Sherman. How do you see these matchups going?

Williamson: Michael Crabtree has really emerged as the 49ers' No. 1 receiver, but Sherman is the better player there. If they go one-on-one a high percentage of the time, that favors Seattle. As for the rest of the Niners' wideouts -- it's not like playing the Patriots. They don’t have enough weapons to really abuse you there. If they win Sherman on Crabtree, everything else is a draw.

Sando: Justin Smith's status for the 49ers is another key variable. He's the anchor of that defensive line. An arm injury forced him from the New England game. Smith did not practice Wednesday. If that injury is serious, the 49ers' line could be in some trouble. On the other side, Seattle line coach Tom Cable recently suggested his left tackle, Russell Okung, was playing as well as any left tackle around. Marshawn Lynch would seem to have the rushing yards to back that up. Your thoughts?

Williamson: I don't love Seattle's O-line. I don't think it's bad, but it is well-coached and maxed out and if I were the general manager in Seattle, I would really be tempted to take a guard or right tackle in the first round to add to the mix. It's going to be a really tough challenge against this 49ers defense. Assuming Justin Smith is playing, I don't think Lynch goes for 120. I think the trenches certainly favor San Francisco, although Max Unger, the Seahawks' center, is one of the most underrated guys out there.

Sando: Let's get right to it, Matt. Who is most likely to win this game?

Williamson: It's in Seattle, the fans will be insane, this is their Super Bowl. You could see a semi-letdown for the 49ers because if they lose, they are still fine. I hate betting against the Seahawks at home against anybody. This one is going to be even more emotional, louder, Kaepernick is young and I really like Seattle. They can make some noise in the playoffs. I feel like San Francisco is better than them, like the 49ers are one year ahead. I don't know who to pick, but I probably will pick the Seahawks.

Sando: The 49ers won in Seattle by a 19-17 score last season. Alex Smith and Tarvaris Jackson were the quarterbacks. Patrick Willis did not play for the 49ers. Seattle had a backup guard starting at left tackle. I also think the 49ers have the better team, but the venue and circumstances could give Seattle an edge.

Camp Confidential: Seahawks

August, 13, 2012
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RENTON, Wash. -- Terrell Owens' arrival at Seattle Seahawks training camp commanded national headlines.

It commanded the Seahawks' attention as well, not just on the field but in the meeting room, where coach Pete Carroll made Owens the leading man in an entertaining prank.

But when the Seahawks' first exhibition game kicked off Saturday night against Tennessee, the focus returned to where it needed to be: quarterback. For while Owens might not even earn a roster spot, let alone an important role on the team, the situation behind center will determine whether Seattle breaks from its recent 7-9 form.

The way Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson played against the Titans showed Seattle has a chance to do just that. It was only one game, and one whose outcome was meaningless. But it affirmed some of the evidence collected to this point.

Flynn, non-descript through organized team activities and minicamps, had responded favorably when Carroll gave him the first-team practice reps last week. He was sharp in practice and efficient while completing his first eight passes against the Titans. Flynn's lone interception resulted from a rookie running back failing to sell the play fake, allowing linebacker Colin McCarthy to drop into coverage without concern for the run.

Wilson, sensational for a rookie during the offseason program, hadn't stood out as much in camp. But when the lights went on Saturday night, he looked like the best player on the field. Wilson showed the pocket presence needed to move just the right distance at just the right times, extending plays. He scored on a 32-yard bootleg and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass from the pocket. Only an ill-advised interception over the middle prevented a full Wilson lovefest from breaking out. But it's early, and Wilson is just getting started.

Seattle has seen enough to think one of its new quarterbacks can provide an upgrade from Tarvaris Jackson, who remains on the roster as insurance.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Owens or Edwards? The Seahawks want a receiver with dominant size to fill the role Mike Williams played during the 2010 season. Owens is one candidate. Braylon Edwards is another. Second-year pro Kris Durham might still emerge as third, but he has struggled to gain traction in camp to this point.

Braylon Edwards
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireBraylon Edwards, on his fourth team in the past four seasons, has been impressive in camp.
Edwards has stepped up his game markedly following Owens' arrival, no coincidence. He has to realize the Seahawks aren't going to keep two veteran receivers with no value on special teams. Owens has the bigger name and better credentials, but Edwards has the inside track for a roster spot if both play well. That is because Edwards is nine years younger and could conceivably project as a factor beyond this season. It's also because Owens has been a higher-maintenance player.

Edwards was scrapping like an undrafted free agent during the game against Tennessee. He was a willing blocker -- too willing at one point, drawing a penalty. He rewarded Wilson's trust by making a strong play on the ball for that 39-yard touchdown reception. Owens will get his chance in the coming weeks. This competition is only beginning.

2. What to do with Jackson. Carroll has shown sensitivity for Jackson after the veteran quarterback played through a torn pectoral muscle last season. The grit Jackson showed won respect in the locker room. As much as the team wanted to look at Flynn and Wilson this summer, Carroll gave Jackson an equal portion of the reps through the first week of training camp.

Carrying a three-man race through the exhibition schedule would have been impractical. That is why Flynn and Wilson took the meaningful reps in practice last week. It's why Flynn and Wilson took all the snaps during the exhibition opener. Jackson represents the known. He's the baseline for a team seeking improvement at the position. Jackson, for all his toughness, wasn't effective enough when it counted last season (no touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks in the final two minutes of halves).

Jackson is scheduled to earn $4 million in salary for the 2012 season. Flynn and Wilson are going to be on the roster. They will most likely fill the top two spots. The team still likes developmental quarterback Josh Portis. Something has to give, and logic says it'll be Jackson.

3. Health concerns at tight end. The Seahawks envision running quite a few personnel groupings with two tight ends. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable values H-back types. The expectation this season was for Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow to provide Seattle with a diverse duo at the position. That still might happen, but with Miller now suffering from his fourth concussion in less than three calendar years, there are suddenly renewed health questions at tight end.

Winslow's chronic knee problems limit how frequently he can practice. While Winslow hasn't missed a game to injury over the past three seasons, he is 29 years old and doesn't figure to gain durability from this point forward, especially in light of his knee issues.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Seahawks have upgraded at quarterback and in their ability to rush the passer. Those were the two areas most responsible for holding them back in the recent past. They're also more settled on the offensive line.

How much Seattle has upgraded at quarterback remains unknown, but even if Jackson were to somehow emerge as the starter in a sort of worst-case scenario, at least he would be healthy. The Seahawks aren't asking their quarterbacks to carry the team. They want efficient play from the position. The early returns suggest Flynn can provide that, and that Wilson might be able to provide more.

Newly acquired defensive tackle Jason Jones has already improved the pass rush. Rookie first-round choice Bruce Irvin has been the most difficult player to block in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He has the speed to beat tackles to the outside. He's got better power than anticipated for a player weighing less than 250 pounds. The combination of Jones, Irvin and leading sacker Chris Clemons will be tough at home in particular.

Seattle's defense already ranked among the NFL's top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed and yards allowed per play. This was a mostly young defense on the rise even before Jones and Irvin arrived to address the pass rush.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Matt Flynn
Steven Bisig/US PresswireMatt Flynn was 11-for-13 against the Titans on Saturday night, but he is still largely untested in the regular season.
There's faith involved in projecting how well unproven quarterbacks will perform.

A year ago, division-rival Arizona was convinced Kevin Kolb would fix its problems at the position. At the very least, the Cardinals would become average at quarterback, it seemed. Surely that would be enough to make them a playoff contender once again.

Flynn might be better than Kolb, but what if he's not? What if it becomes clear a month or two into the season that Flynn, with only two career regular-season starts, isn't ready to manage an NFL offense from week to week? That's not such a stretch.

Wilson has appeal as an alternative, but how far can a team with a 5-foot-10 rookie quarterback go in an NFC featuring Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton?

Sure, the Seahawks have a powerful ground game and a potentially dominant defense, but the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, right? The five most recent Super Bowls featured Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Brees, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner as the starting quarterbacks. None was trying to decide between a player with two starts (Flynn) and a rookie third-round choice (Wilson).

Even if Flynn or Wilson emerges as viable this season, Seattle could realistically have the third-best quarterback in the division this season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The red non-contact jersey Sidney Rice wears in practice invites questions about his availability coming off two offseason shoulder surgeries. Rice seems to be moving and catching well, however. My read is that the team is being cautious, and there are no pressing concerns.
  • Rice needs to do a better job of protecting himself. He tends to land awkwardly, exposing himself to unnecessary contact. The plan was for the shoulder surgeries to enable more aggressive weight lifting, allowing Rice to strengthen his lithe frame. While the shoulders are a concern, Rice also suffered two concussions last season.
  • Seattle continues to show an uncanny ability to find important roles for obscure defensive players. Defensive end Red Bryant became a success story after converting from defensive tackle over the past couple of seasons. Clinton McDonald, a former college linebacker acquired from Cincinnati in the Kelly Jennings trade, is now a factor. McDonald stands ahead of Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch as the fourth defensive lineman in the nickel package. McDonald is backing up Mebane in the base defense.
  • Bryant's outgoing personality makes him a natural leader on defense. Mebane, his quieter teammate on the line, emerged in that area last season, after the team released veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Leroy Hill: "A lot of times in the huddle, Mebane is the one talking. It's odd because he never did that role, but last year he stepped up and people fell in behind him. ... People listen to what he's got to say."
  • Left guard John Moffitt could miss the next few weeks after requiring elbow surgery. My initial take was that his replacement, Deuce Lutui, would provide an upgrade. That could be true in pass protection especially. One question, however, is whether Lutui fits the profile for Cable's zone blocking scheme. Moffitt appears to be a better fit that way. He might be best suited for center, actually, but the team is set there with Max Unger, who recently signed a long-term extension.
  • Seattle has apparently hit on two seventh-round choices this year. Greg Scruggs has a chance to stick on the defensive line. J.R. Sweezy has improbably made a quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Seattle gave him time with its starting line against Tennessee in the preseason opener. Sweezy played surprisingly well. He projects as a good run-blocker for Cable's scheme. Rishaw Johnson is another obscure offensive lineman to watch along those lines.
  • We've made it this far without mentioning Marshawn Lynch, the offensive player Seattle relied upon most heavily last season. Rookie Robert Turbin has gotten more attention as the projected backup. The Seahawks haven't heard whether Lynch will face a suspension in relation to his pending DUI case. Teams wouldn't have to fear the ground game nearly as much if Lynch missed time.
  • Speaking of middle linebacker, rookie Bobby Wagner remains the favorite to start, in my view. He has outstanding speed and strong hands for taking on blocks when necessary. Veteran fullback Michael Robinson even compared Wagner to a young Patrick Willis. Wagner's preseason debut was a bit of an adventure, however. He overran a few plays and didn't stand out.
  • The offensive line should be fine as long as left tackle Russell Okung remains healthy. Okung was looking good early in camp one year ago, only to suffer an ankle injury during an Aug. 11 preseason game against San Diego. The torn pectoral he suffered late last season counts as a fluke. Philadelphia's Trent Cole, frustrated by Okung's edgy style, unleashed a judo move on him. The longer Okung can go without landing on the injury report, the better Seattle can feel about his long-term prospects.
  • Cornerback Walter Thurmond and offensive lineman James Carpenter could make an impact later in the season. Both are coming off serious injuries. Neither will factor early in the season. Playing Carpenter at left guard has long-term appeal. He and Okung would form a massive combination on the left side. Carpenter is still limping around with a heavy brace on his surgically repaired knee, however.
  • Carroll's extreme commitment to competition shows up in his willingness to play young players at key positions, including middle linebacker and even quarterback. The effect is felt throughout the roster. Lutui: "Rookies, first-year guys, he puts them in. I’ve never seen that on any level. That pushes the older guys. Everybody is not comfortable. Everybody is not complacent. It doesn’t matter if you have a new contract. Everybody is on an edge. You know have to better yourself. And that is good to see."
Romeo Crennel John Rieger-US PresswireRomeo Crennel looks to prove he is the long-term solution for the Chiefs.
Romeo Crennel has proved he can lead the Kansas City Chiefs in the short-term.

Now, as he begins his second tour of duty as a permanent head coach, Crennel must prove he is the answer in Kansas City for the long haul.

Although the Chiefs’ brass looked at other candidates, it really was no contest. Crennel was the choice for the job once he led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record as the interim replacement for Todd Haley, who was fired in December. Promoted from defensive coordinator, Crennel led the Chiefs to a win over the Green Bay Packers (then 13-0) in his first game.

There is no doubt Crennel, who went 24-40 as the head coach in Cleveland from 2005-2008, had the support of his players. He had won before as a defensive coordinator, he is well respected by his peers, and he is respected by his players for his above-board and his calm demeanor. He was the perfect elixir after the uneven, high-volume days of Haley.

“Romeo was the right guy for the job,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “The players love him and they played for him. But the key is, can that continue with him being the guy? Playing over your head for a coach you like can work for a few games. It can’t work over 16 games. So, now that the interim tag is off of Romeo, the question is can he prove he is the right choice for the long term?”

If recent history is any indication, Crennel’s task is not an easy one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last coach to lead his team to a winning record in his first year as the permanent coach after being the interim coach was Art Shell in 1990. He led the Raiders to a 12-4 record.

That’s a long 22 years.

Since 2000, according to Elias, seven coaches were promoted after being an interim coach, including Oakland’s Tom Cable in 2009. The best records in the first year as the permanent coach were registered by San Francisco’s Mike Singletary in 2009 and Dallas’ Jason Garrett last season. Both teams went 8-8. In total, the coaches had a combined 43-69 record.

In addition to the waning support of players, there are other reasons that interim coaches haven’t had much success on a permanent basis. Many league observers think an organization may settle to keep their interim coaches rather than paying for a new coach and his staff. As a result, the same bad habits of the previous regime can creep in.

Horton thinks Crennel's personality and the team's upward trajectory will work in their favor.

“I like Romeo’s team,” Horton said. “I think he can win. I don’t see this as a case of [Kansas City general manager] Scott Pioli settling. I think he got his top choice for the job … I just like the way this team is set up and think it has a real shot to be good right away.”

In a telephone interview this week, Shell said Crennel is entering an exciting time. He said the interim period is chaotic for a coach, but now Crennel is able to construct his own program.

Crennel added new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and several other coaches while keeping some assistants from Haley’s staff. Crennel remains the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator.

“This is his time,” Shell said. “As the interim guy, you are just holding on. Now, it’s time to set the foundation and let everyone know the way it is going to be on a permanent basis. It’s an important time.”

I think Crennel, who at 65 is the second-oldest current head coach in the NFL behind Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin, is comforted by his experience in Cleveland. He has often said this offseason that he will learn from that experience as he begins his next chapter as a head coach.

“A lot of times you don't get second chances in this business” Crennel said earlier this offseason. “You just go along and try to do the best job that you can at the job that you have. If you do that and people take notice, then they give you chances. So, I've got a second chance and I'm going to try to do it better than I did the first time around.”

The good feeling Crennel has built within the locker room remains as the Chiefs transition from the offseason program to training camp, which begins in four weeks.

“I love [Crennel], his coaching style,” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “You want to play for him. I felt great about coach Haley. I loved coach Haley as a head coach, but now with [Crennel], I absolutely love the way he goes about things and want to execute what he lays on the table -- him and the rest of the coaches -- and that’s just part of the game, wanting to play for a coach and wanting to help the team be successful. “

If it works in Kansas City in 2012, Crennel will enjoy rare immediate success for a promoted interim coach.

NFC West: More or Less

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
12:00
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AFC More or Less: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

After running the numbers, ESPN.com pro football writer John Clayton arrived at a win total for every team in the division for 2012. Is the figure too high, too low or spot on?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The 49ers return just about all the key players from the squad that went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game last season. They appear stronger on paper after adding to their offensive weaponry through the draft and free agency. Having a full offseason should also let the 49ers more fully implement and grasp schemes that were new to the team when the lockout ended a year ago.

While all signs point to another strong season for the 49ers, it's tough to win 13 games once, let alone again. Sixty-one teams went 13-3 or better from 1978 through 2010. Five won as many games the next season. Zero won more games.

San Francisco was unusually healthy on defense last season. Quarterback Alex Smith started every game despite taking 44 sacks in the regular season and seven more in the playoffs. A plus-28 turnover differential will be difficult to duplicate. The NFC West appears to be getting more competitive.

More or less? Clayton's projection seems reasonable. Ten or 11 victories feels about right. That would give the 49ers back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2000-2001.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: After ranking 23rd in points scored and seventh in points allowed last season, Seattle surprisingly used eight 2012 draft choices for defense. No team used more picks for defensive players this year. Seattle has added most of its key skill players through free agency (Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Kellen Winslow, Matt Flynn) and trade (Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington) over the last couple seasons.

The Seahawks were a quarterback upgrade away from reaching and probably surpassing .500 last season. They upgraded their depth at the position without question. Their as-yet-unnamed starter will probably fare better than incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, who played much of the 2011 season with a torn right pectoral muscle. The team has reason for optimism as a result, but there are still question marks surrounding the position.

The running game should remain strong with Tom Cable coaching the line and Lynch pounding away. Seattle will not ask its quarterback to carry the team. A strong defense will keep the Seahawks competitive. Taking that next step will require better play at quarterback, most likely from Flynn.

More or less? Clayton's expectations match my own. Seattle has been stuck at 7-9 over the past two seasons. The 2011 team did improve, however. I'd expect to see that reflected in the record.

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Nothing has come easy for the Cardinals since quarterback Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season. The starting job remains open until Kevin Kolb or John Skelton wins it. Their race is critical for the team, of course, but an improved defense figures to keep the Cardinals competitive.

All but one key defender (Richard Marshall) returns after Arizona's defense allowed 12 touchdowns over its final nine games last season. The team needs increased contributions from young outside linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield to ensure continued improvement on that side of the ball.

Arizona won seven of its final nine games last season after a 1-6 start. The Cardinals' eight total victories came by 4.25 points on average. No team since at least 1970 has won as many games in a season by so few points on average, another reminder that nothing has come easy for this team lately.

Like Seattle, Arizona is banking on improved quarterback play. Kolb is in better position to succeed now that he knows the offense. But he has to win the job, first. Skelton played well enough in fourth quarters and overtime to earn the team's trust. Kolb has ground to make up.

More or less? Kolb's disappointing first season in Arizona gives skeptics an easy reason to discount the Cardinals. There's a risk in discounting them too much. I'll project more than seven victories for Arizona.

ST. LOUIS RAMS: Coach Jeff Fisher faces the biggest rebuilding project of his career. While his Houston Oilers improved from 2-14 to 7-9 in Fisher's first full season as head coach (1995), that organization had posted seven consecutive winning seasons before its big fall. The Rams are 15-65 over their previous five seasons. They haven't finished a season .500 or better since 2004.

The last time the Rams went 2-14, in 2008, they followed it up with a 1-15 record in 2009. The other three teams to finish 2-14 from 2008-2010 improved their records. One went 4-12 the next year. Two went 6-10.

St. Louis should benefit from improved health. The team finished last season with 16 players on injured reserve, including six cornerbacks, three offensive linemen and three wide receivers. The Rams lacked sufficient depth to weather that many injuries, especially with quarterback Sam Bradford missing games or playing hurt.

Bradford, Jason Smith and Robert Quinn are three pivotal players for the Rams this season. All three are young and highly drafted. Bradford is more important than the others, but the team needs more from all three.

More or less? The projections I made last month set the Rams' over-under at 5.5 victories, behind those for San Francisco (10), Seattle (8.5) and Arizona (7.5). I'll say Clayton's figure is on the low side, but I won't say it very loudly.

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