NFL Nation: Walt Harris
Certainly the personnel deserves a lion’s share of blame for what’s wrong with the Houston Texans so far.
The players are the ones who compose the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, after all. They are the one’s giving up an average of 329.6 passing yards a game and 8.34 yards per pass attempt. They are the ones quarterbacks are tossing it over and between while mounting a gaudy combined passer rating of 104.0.
Still, they aren’t the only culprits here.
Coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith crafted this roster. When they trimmed it on cut day, they decided the Kiddie Corners -- starters Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin, nickel guy Brice McCain and backup Sherrick McManis -- would suffice.
The formula, however, counted on a few things that haven’t happened yet:
- Quick and steady growth by the corners.
- An improved pass rush that would force quarterbacks to hurry.
- A high-scoring offense that would mean it was OK if the opponent could mount yards and points.
After two weeks, I thought it was too early to worry. Now, however, the team still doesn’t get a check-mark on any of those.
This leaves a stand-up guy like Quin saying: “If you can’t stop it, they’re going to continue to do it. That gives us a chance to make a bunch of plays in the pass game and put on film and show the league you can’t just sit there and throw the ball on us. But it’s going to take more than one game to stop the pass until we weather the storm and get out of it.”
Let’s circle back and take on those three issues one at a time.
1) The corners are struggling, with first-rounder Jackson topping the list. It seems the Texans are asking a lot of him awfully soon. Maybe it hardens him quickly and we see a growth spurt.
In the meantime, however, when they want to scale him back as they did Sunday in the home blowout at the hands of the Giants, the alternative is to use McCain as the second corner, with McManis, a fifth-round rookie, in the nickel package.
I had no problem with the team admitting Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves were no longer useful and letting them go. But at some point after they decided to let Dunta Robinson walk (he wasn’t worth the money) and they failed to land Leigh Bodden (he may have used them to secure a deal in New England), they needed to add a veteran with the potential to be a useful reserve who can at least calm panic and be average.
Who? I don’t know. But players like Walt Harris, Ellis Hobbs, Lito Sheppard and Benny Sapp changed teams and have roles where they are. Rod Hood might have been the same sort of guy had he not gotten hurt.
One of them or someone else could have provided more than Karl Paymah, the current veteran on the bench who’s still learning the system. You need a guy who can fill in if the kids need a break and can be a resource to them -- though Quin said talking to a veteran isn’t such a huge help, that young guys simply need to learn through experience.
Barring injuries, I think it’s an architectural mistake when a team doesn’t have a reasonable mix of youth and experience at a position group. This qualifies as that.
“I can’t tell you that I have ever really sat down and said, ‘Gosh, we’ve got all young guys in this group, we need a veteran,’” he said. “Because if all the young guys are playing well, you don’t need a veteran. It’s difficult to look at it that way. ...”
“When you make a decision to go young, particularly in the secondary, you do that with the full awareness that there are going to be some growing pains. We certainly are experiencing some of those. But you do that because you are betting on the upside. And you know once you learn those lessons and get through some of those tough experiences you’re going to have a group of players that is capable of playing together for a while at a high level. I believe they’ll answer the call and we’ll play good defense.”
Players want to prove that Smith and Kubiak did the right thing, Quin said.
2) The rush got only one addition of note, tackle Earl Mitchell, a third-round pick. Connor Barwin, a rush-specialist end, was lost for the season with an injury suffered opening day, which hurt as he was in line to be the most improved player on the team.
But the Kubiak-Smith duo doesn’t appear to have done enough here either, expecting patience would pay off with growth that we simply haven’t seen.
They hope Mark Anderson or Adewale Ogunleye can catch on to what they are doing and ultimately help replace Barwin. A second rushing force to go with Mario Williams is crucial, and a better rush would offer a lot of relief to the defensive backs.
The Texans have faced very good quarterbacks so far.
Still, according to ESPN Stats & Information, they have thrown 147 passes against the Texans when they’ve rushed just four defenders, completing 111 of them for a 75.5 percentage and 1,352 yards. Those are the highest number in the league in each of those categories.
With a four-man rush, the Texans have given up eight touchdowns, a 110.1 passer rating and recorded only four sacks.
For context: The Tennessee Titans have faced 10 fewer pass attempts against their standard pressure and have 10 more sacks than Houston in those situations.
“I think Mario Williams has been great,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “Fulfilling all of his vast and amazing potential. But the rest of the crew is letting him and their terrible pass defense down.”
3) It was reasonable to expect that the Texans, who felt they’d made great strides in balancing out the offense and running in the red zone, would improve from 10th in scoring a year ago. Overly reliant on the pass, the 2009 Texans averaged just more than 24 points a game.
Matt Schaub’s got enough on his plate with his own struggles, which include an adjustment to coordinator Rick Dennison and a balky ankle for Andre Johnson.
Now as the leader of the offense, he sees his counterparts slinging the ball all over the field and has to be feeling more pressure than he should to get some crooked numbers on his side of the scoreboard.
With no major personnel change, the team’s gotten a touch less than that while allowing nearly a touchdown more a game. It’s hit 30 points in three wins.
But in two hard-to-swallow blowouts, the Texans' offense struggled. It didn't get a touchdown against Dallas until under two minutes were left. It didn’t find the end zone against the Giants until the third quarter.
“We’ve hit a couple of rough patches, but that’s expected,” Smith said. “I’ve got total confidence in our guys and that we’ll make plays and continue to play good on offense.”
Houston’s been outscored 78-40 in the first half. The offense can do more to keep the Texans in a tough game.
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.
Rookie second-round pick Terrence "Mount" Cody and veteran cornerback Walt Harris reportedly failed conditioning tests and were forced to sit out of Tuesday morning's practice.
"Part of our process is that everybody has to pass the conditioning test to be sure that they're ready to compete," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters. "We knew it was going to be hot out here. Our practices are fast, and we want to make sure guys are physically ready to practice at the pace we're practicing."
Cody fell to the Ravens in the second round, in part, because the defensive lineman battled weight issues in college. Arriving to his first training camp unable to pass conditioning drills certainly doesn't make a good first impression. Harris, 35, was signed as a free agent to add depth to a banged-up secondary.
Times have been rough in Baltimore for the past week. Ravens safety Ed Reed recently displayed his unhappiness with the organization, and top pick Sergio Kindle suffered a fractured skull after reportedly falling down two flights of stairs.
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
A sore hip bothered Kurt Warner at Arizona Cardinals camp last summer. It wasn't a big deal.
Having the right feel for each injury situation can be tough. I'm sure a surprise injury or two will become a story after NFC West teams report for training camps in late July.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (knee), St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (back), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (pectoral) are among the high-profile NFC West players coming off surgery rehabs. Their situations will bear monitoring.
The following players ended last season on injured reserve (some are no longer with NFC West teams):
Matt Ware, Mike Gandy, Justin Green, Cody Brown
San Francisco 49ers
Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt, Thomas Clayton, Jeff Ulbrich, Walt Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Curtis Taylor
Tyler Roehl, Walter Jones, Kevin Houser, Brandon Frye, Tatupu, Mike Hass
St. Louis Rams
Marc Bulger, Adam Carriker, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Eric Bassey, C.J. Ah You, Brooks Foster, Gary Gibson, Jacob Bell, Daniel Fells, Chris Massey, Bradley Fletcher, Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton
It should come as little surprise, then, to see the Seattle Seahawks retain a league-low 66.1 percent of their players from last season. It should likewise make sense to see the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings retain a league-high 94.4 percent over the same period.
But when the two-time defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals rank right behind Seattle and the Detroit Lions with a 70.2 percent retention rate, third-lowest in the league, we gain context for the magnitude of change in the desert. Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby, Bryant McFadden, Mike Gandy, Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry combined to start 107 games for the Cardinals last season. All are gone.
Not that change is always bad, even for good teams.
The Indianapolis Colts (73.0 percent retained) and Philadelphia Eagles (74.6 percent) made quite a few changes this offseason. The Colts annually field one of the NFL's youngest teams while funneling massive amounts of cash toward their star players. The Eagles sought to get younger.
Rosters throughout the league will change significantly again as teams comply with 53-man limits in September.
The chart shows how many Week 17 starters, backups and players from injured reserve remain with their 2009 teams. The retention rate divides those totals by the sum of 53 plus all players who were on IR lists in Week 17. The starter totals can be somewhat misleading for teams that rested key players before the playoffs, but the retention rates apply equally. Every team had 53 players on its roster in Week 17.
In double-checking totals, I noticed that teams have parted with 107 of the 294 players listed on IR in Week 17. That works out to 63.6 percent retention for players who were on IR, compared to 82.1 percent retention for players who were on 53-man rosters. The total retention rate -- 79.4 percent -- reflects both sets of players.
The chart breaks down totals based on rosters I have updated through moves made Thursday. I also accounted for the Denver Broncos' reported release of quarterback Tom Brandstater, who was with the team in Week 17. I'm counting unsigned franchise players (Aubrayo Franklin) and unsigned restricted free agents as still being with their 2009 teams, based on the fact that their teams hold rights to them.
Update: I adjusted the San Diego Chargers' total and the Tampa Bay Bucs' total after accounting for trades involving Tim Dobbins and Byron Leftwich, respectively. San Diego dropped two spots. Tampa Bay dropped one spot. The overall retention rate fell slightly.
NFC West thoughts
San Francisco (.833): The 49ers like their team and they have been proactive in re-signing younger players. Continuity has been a top priority and that shows in the totals. The 49ers' retention rate fell because the team has not brought back five of the seven players it listed on IR in Week 17 (Thomas Clayton, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt and Jeff Ulbrich).
St. Louis (.773): It's a little surprising, on the surface, to see the rebuilding Rams rank second only to the 49ers in retention rate within the division. The Rams made massive overhauls last offseason, however, so there were fewer moves to make in recent months. Only the Lions and Baltimore Ravens brought back more players from IR, a total that could grow if Oshiomogho Atogwe re-signs. How well some of those players recover and hold up will be important for the Rams.
Arizona (.702): The turnover in Arizona has been documented thoroughly. Only Seattle has fewer players back from Week 17.
Seattle (.661): New coach plus new general manager plus a mandate for change leaves the Seahawks with only 39 players on their roster from Week 17 (counting those listed on IR). Every other team in the league has more. The league average is 49.4 players back.
Veteran cornerbacks. The 49ers appear to be moving on without 35-year-old Walt Harris and 32-year-old Dre' Bly. Their newest corner, William James, is younger (30) and has far fewer games on his odometer. The Seahawks have not re-signed 31-year-old corner Ken Lucas, who started six games for them last season and 106 games in eight previous NFL seasons. Lucas visited the Titans this offseason, but Tennessee signed 27-year-old Rams and Falcons castoff Tye Hill. Seattle drafted cornerback Walter Thurmond, 22. The Cardinals went younger at corner this offseason by trading Bryant McFadden, 28, while hoping Greg Toler, 25, takes over for him in the lineup. The Rams got younger at the position by parting with Jonathan Wade, 26, and drafting Jerome Murphy, 23.
NFC West storylines. The banter between Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis indulged fans of both teams. Division rivalries are fun, anyway, and this is definitely a rivalry. Some 49ers fans like to point to the team's storied past while dismissing the Cardinals as a long-floundering franchise. That thinking is fine if we're on a field trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's outdated in this context. The Cardinals have won the last two division titles. They swept the 49ers in 2008. The 49ers swept the Cardinals last season. Both teams have ascending Pro Bowl-caliber players -- Dockett and Davis among them. Both have young first-round quarterbacks trying to salvage their careers. Good stuff.
Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, LB Monty Beisel, LB Bertrand Berry (retired), LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, LB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware.
Restricted free agents: SS Hamza Abdullah, WR Steve Breaston, G Ben Claxton, FB Justin Green, LG Deuce Lutui, TE Ben Patrick, TE Lyle Sendlein, TE Stephen Spach, WR Jerheme Urban, NT Gabe Watson.
Franchise player: none
What to expect: The Cardinals generally do not pursue marquee free agents from other teams. That trend figures to continue. The Cardinals have too many of their own free agents to re-sign for them to worry about chasing other teams' castoffs. We might see Arizona plug the roster with a few lower-tier free agents. They had success doing that last offseason, particularly with Becht at tight end. Dansby leads the list of 2009 starters expected to depart.
St. Louis Rams
Unrestricted free agents: QB Kyle Boller, DE James Hall, SS Clinton Hart, LB Paris Lenon, DE Leonard Little, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.
Restricted free agents: S Eric Bassey, S Craig Dahl, TE Daniel Fells, LS Ryan Neill, DT Clifton Ryan, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victory Adeyanju, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, T Alex Barron, RB Sam Gado, DT Gary Gibson, WR Ruvell Martin, G Mark Setterstrom.
Franchise player: none
What to expect: The Rams could be in the market for a veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington. Beyond quarterback, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams could use a little more seasoning in the form of veteran role players. The Rams will remain a young team, but they could add some experience. The team parted with players fitting that profile last offseason, but most had inflated salaries. The ones St. Louis adds this year figure to carry lower price tags in most cases. The Rams have said they want Little and Hall back. McMichael figures to be gone.
Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, FB Justin Griffith, LS Kevin Houser, LB D.D. Lewis, CB Ken Lucas, T Damion McIntosh, S Lawyer Milloy, DE Cory Redding, LS Jeff Robinson.
Restricted free agents: T Brandon Frye, WR Ben Obomanu, LB Lance Laury, G Rob Sims, G Chris Spencer, DE Darryl Tapp.
Franchise player: K Olindo Mare
What to expect: The Seahawks are a little difficult to figure. Their owner has the money to bankroll aggressive spending if Seattle chooses to go that route. Coach Pete Carroll surely realizes the team could use talent upgrades. The new general manager, John Schneider, comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson's aversion for free agency is well established, although Schneider has characterized himself as slightly more aggressive. The problem, of course, is finding good players on the market. Burleson will hit the market. He could return if the price is right. Carroll has said nice things about Redding, who should be affordable.
San Francisco 49ers
Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre Bly, CB Walt Harris, T Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, T Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich (retired), LB Matt Wilhelm.
Restricted free agents: LG David Baas, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Marcus Hudson.
Franchise player: NT Aubrayo Franklin
What to expect: The 49ers have largely turned their back on free agency now that they feel better about their roster. I would expect the team to lay low again when the signing period begins late Thursday night on the West Coast.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC West.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Key figures: The more than $17.7 million Arizona has paid to Dansby over the past two seasons should suffice as a parting gift if, as expected, the linebacker leaves in free agency. Dansby could be leading an exodus. Okeafor turns 34 in March and could be on his way out. Berry announced his retirement. Morey has had concussion problems. Gandy's return probably depends on whether he's willing to stay for less than the $5 million he earned last season. Safety Antrel Rolle does not appear on the list, but he would hit the market when free agency begins if the Cardinals decline to pay a $4 million roster bonus.
San Francisco 49ers
Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre' Bly, NT Aubrayo Franklin, CB Walt Harris, RT Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, LT Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich, LB Matt Wilhelm, CB Keith Smith.
Key figures: The 49ers have been proactive in re-signing their own players. That explains why relatively few big names appear on this list. The franchise tag appears well suited for Franklin, the only marquee UFA on the 49ers' list this offseason. Tagging Franklin at the $7 million franchise rate makes sense heading into labor uncertainty. Why spend lavishly on a long-term deal? Franklin has played at a high level consistently for only one season, and a lockout could keep him off the field in 2011. Re-signing Sims for depth would make sense. Ulbrich, meanwhile, has retired and joined the Seahawks' coaching staff.
Unrestricted free agents: DE Cory Redding, CB Ken Lucas, K Olindo Mare, LB D.D. Lewis, FB Justin Griffith, LT Damion McIntosh, SS Lawyer Milloy, LS Kevin Houser, LS Jeff Robinson.
Key figures: New coach Pete Carroll is on the record saying he likes what he's seen from Redding. Mare is coming off an outstanding season. Lucas has the size Seattle's new leadership wants in its cornerbacks. Milloy played for Carroll in New England. There isn't much more to say about this relatively nondescript group, and it's unclear how much the new regime will value these UFAs. Unrestricted free agency isn't the only road out of Seattle this offseason. The team will probably part with a few established players who haven't lived up to their salaries because of injuries and other factors. Patrick Kerney and Deion Branch come to mind.
St. Louis Rams
Unrestricted free agents: DE Leonard Little, DE James Hall, LB Paris Lenon, QB Kyle Boller, S Clinton Hart, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.
Key figures: Boller, 28, is the only player on the Rams' list younger than 30. Franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe and starting tackle Alex Barron become only restricted free agents under rules governing the uncapped year, explaining their absence from the Rams' UFA list. It's unclear how seriously Little and Hall figure into the team's plans for 2010. Chris Long's emergence late last season should make it easier for the team to move on without them, but the aging defensive ends did combine for 27 starts and 11 sacks last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's out: Antonio Smith, DE
Who's in: Calais Campbell, DE
Outlook: The Cardinals made no significant effort to retain Smith when the Texans stepped up with a lucrative offer. They planned for Campbell, a 2008 second-round choice, to replace him. Arizona's reluctance to overpay a 3-4 defensive end was understandable, but the move also carries risk. Smith had established himself as a solid and versatile starter.
Campbell played nearly 20 percent of the Cardinals' defensive snaps last season. He's 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, so he looks the part. Can he play? The Cardinals will find out.
Who's out: Walt Harris, CB
Who's in: Dre' Bly, CB
Outlook: Harris' career as a starting corner appeared to be waning last season, but he was the projected starter for 2009 when a knee injury sidelined him during organized team activities. Harris is probably finished for the season. His career might also be over.
Losing Harris deprived the 49ers of a respected veteran leader with a strong grasp of the team's defense. His cover skills were questionable, however, and Bly arguably represents an upgrade at the position.
The 49ers have struggled to force turnovers in recent seasons. Bly is known for his fearlessness in making plays on the ball, but Harris had more interceptions over the previous three seasons (15 to 10).
Who's out: Orlando Pace, OT
Who's in: Jason Smith, OT
Outlook: The Rams are worse in the short term without Pace, but they needed to trim bloated salaries and reshape the roster under a new coaching staff.
Smith has been getting some time at left tackle in practice after working exclusively on the right side earlier in the offseason. No mat
ter where the Rams play Smith in the short term or how slowly they bring him along, the team will presumably move him into the lineup before the regular-season opener.
Smith's youth, enthusiasm and athletic ability should help the offensive line develop a fresh identity. Pace was declining and increasingly injury prone. Releasing him and drafting Smith made sense for a rebuilding team.
Who's out: Bobby Engram, WR
Who's in: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR
Outlook: Engram's contributions were significant over the years, but Houshmandzadeh provides an upgrade, albeit at a much higher price.
Houshmandzadeh is younger and more physically imposing than Engram. And while Engram's rapport with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was significant, his familiarity with Mike Holmgren's offense no longer mattered once the team installed a new system.
Houshmandzadeh has caught more passes for fewer yards per reception in recent seasons. He expects to catch about 85 passes for the Seahawks this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
It's unclear how much Bly will play for the 49ers after San Francisco reached an agreement with him Thursday following Harris' likely season-ending knee injury. His presence gives the 49ers another experienced cornerback and a potential starter, depending on what Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer show this summer.
Bly turns 32 Friday. Harris turns 35 in August. Bly, released by the Broncos in February, has been a full-time starter since 2002. Harris has been a full-time starter since 1996. Bly has fewer miles and more speed. Harris was more experienced and far more versed in the 49ers' defensive system, though Bly will have three full months to learn the defense before San Francisco needs him in a game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have no interest in former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress. Miklasz: "When new head coach Steve Spagnuolo was hired, he stressed the four pillars of his leadership, the four pillars that would rebuild the franchise: (1) Faith; (2) Character; (3) Core Values; (4) Team. Does that sound like Plaxico Burress to you?" Burress could be facing jail time.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says bouncing between nose tackle and three-technique tackle hasn't helped first-round choice Adam Carriker. Thomas: "Carriker's first two seasons were slightly disappointing, but in his defense he was bouncing around [from] NT to UT. He's more suited for UT, or 3-technique, it seems, and if he's left there, he might come around pretty quickly. [Clifton] Ryan has been pretty solid in the middle. The rest of the rotation is pretty much up in the air at this point. Rookie Darell Scott probably will be in there, and Orien Harris, too. As for [Claude] Wroten, I expect the Rams to release him as soon as he's reinstated. Of course, I could be wrong about that. But he doesn't seem to fit the Spags profile."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Spagnuolo is stressing penalty reduction. Also: "Larry Grant worked with the first unit at strongside LB on Tuesday. That spot is open following the release of veteran Pisa Tinoisamoa. With second-round draftee James Laurinaitis still with the No. 2 unit, Chris Draft was at MLB with the ones."
Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have reached agreement with Santa Clara on financing for a new stadium. Mayor Patricia Mahan: "I believe we have negotiated as far as we can, and we are ready to bring it to the public." The public could get a look at the deal next week.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle sizes up the 49ers' stadium efforts this way:"In this corner, there is Jed York, born to the purple and working on behalf of mom and dad to get the Santa Clara deal moving. In the other, there is Carmen Policy, Eddie DeBartolo's old wing man, working on behalf of Lennar, the folks who are trying to make the 49ers a new home at Hunters Point if the Santa Clara thing collapses. And in the middle -- leaning toward Jed -- is Eddie, who is about to be inducted into the 49ers' Hall of Fame, largely on Jed's initiative. We're sure the development is entirely coincidental and meritorious."
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' other receivers seem to be embracing first-round choice Michael Crabtree, viewing him more as a threat to opponents than to their own playing time. If veteran Isaac Bruce is concerned, it's not showing. He has skipped the voluntary workouts to this point.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers players keep getting hurt during organized team activities (OTAs). Crumpacker: "The early diagnosis on [Walt] Harris was a sprained knee, with further evaluation to come. The 49ers are not deep at cornerback. Behind Harris on the depth chart is Tarell Brown and after him, there's Shawntae Spencer, who is coming off a 2008 knee injury that cost him 14 games."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the best-case scenario for Alex Smith and the 49ers would be for Shaun Hill to open the 2009 season as the starter. I think that depends on how the quarterbacks look during the offseason, specifically during the exhibition games. Is there a chance Smith wins the job and plays well for 16 games? Also, just to be clear, the 49ers also have no interest in Burress.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' depth at receiver is being tested with Bruce away, Crabtree rehabilitating a foot injury and Jason Hill suffering a sprained ankle in practice.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says new Cardinals running back Jason Wright is embracing the opportunity in Arizona. Wright: "It's an offense that puts players in the best position to win. It's an attacking offense, aggressive and it's not reactive. I love that about this offense. It's forward moving and it's very efficient. In fact, I was amazed during our first minicamp at how many completions there were and how few dropped balls and mental errors I saw. That's really rare. But they've got something really crisp going on."
Also from McManaman: Karlos Dansby expresses confidence in the Cardinals' ability to reach a long-term agreement with him.
Carrie Watters of the Arizona Republic details Arizona's failed bid to land the 2013 Super Bowl. New Orleans was more than a sentimental favorite.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Sean Morey, Kenny Iwebema, Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor did not attend OTAs Monday. Urban expects them to show up later.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up Cardinals sixth-round choice Will Davis. Hawkwind: "It wouldn't be surprising at all, given the current depth at OLB, for Davis to spend the season on the practice squad. He has zero experience in space [and] his transition to OLB will be more difficult than second round pick Cody Brown. When you add in that he also needs to get stronger and possibly drop some weight, a year on the practice squad seems to make sense. If he does find his way onto the roster, it'll likely be because he's made a name for himself on special teams."
Gregg Bell of the Associated Press says Bryan Pittman's agent confirmed the long-snapper's contract agreement with the Seahawks.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says vice president Joe Biden, speaking at Wake Forest's commencement, pointed to Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry as reason for optimism. Biden: "As a student of history, it's the history behind me and the people in front of me that give me such a degree of optimism. ... It's about Aaron Curry, a scrawny freshman linebacker recruited by only two schools, who worked his rear off, became a Top 5 pick, and is walking off this stage into an opposing NFL backfield. Aaron, I heard you wanted to go to law school -- you were considering going to graduate school. I also heard that your fellow draftees have taken up a collection encouraging you to go. So I'm sure there's a scholarship there if you want it."
John Morgan of Field Gulls outlines 10 keys for the Seahawks on defense. Darryl Tapp's emergence tops the list.
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Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals face a historic opportunity at Carolina.
John Faherty of the Arizona Republic says more than 1,000 fans showed up at the airport to send off the Cardinals.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Anquan Boldin remains questionable after testing his injured hamstring in practice Friday.
Also from Somers, with Bob McManaman: Arizona's rushing attack is averaging an additional 27 yards per game over the last two games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are considering ways to use safety Antrel Rolle on offense.
More from McManaman: a look at the Cardinals' team chemistry. Also, the Cardinals led the NFL with 17 forced fumbles this season, while Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams hasn't lost one all season.
More from Somers: Keeping an extra wide receiver active could keep defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema from playing.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals and Panthers can't take much from their Week 8 meeting. Too many things have changed.
The 49ers' Walt Harris and Parys Haralson are picking the Panthers to beat the Cardinals. Haralson: "Jake Delhomme is a successful quarterback and I don't think that Arizona defense can shake him like they did the rookie last week. They've got a strong defense that can get pressure, but that Carolina oline is a physical bunch."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says hiring Scott Linehan as the 49ers' offensive coordinator would make more sense than hiring the other known candidates.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee singles out Linehan as the favorite to win the job as 49ers offensive coordinator.
Also from Barrows: Clyde Christensen's candidacy doesn't seem to mesh with Mike Singletary's emphasis on running the football.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks are closer to naming a defensive coordinator. Head coach Jim Mora will run the defense, however. Farnsworth: "Once a defensive coordinator is hired, the rest of the staff can be completed -- a process [general manager Tim] Ruskell said he would ideally like to have done before the coaches leave for the Senior Bowl practices, which begin in 10 days."
John Morgan of Field Gulls warns against reading too much into the comments Ruskell made to reporters during the week. A year ago, Ruskell suggested the team had no plans to release Shaun Alexander.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times says former Lions coach Rod Marinelli is no longer a consideration to become the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. My understanding is that Seattle was talking to Marinelli about joining the staff, but not necessarily as coordinator. The thought was that Marinelli might coach the defensive line.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests Winston Moss and Jim Fassel might not be serious candidates for the Rams' head-coaching job. He wonders if the Patriots' Josh McDaniels qualifies as the first legitimate outside candidate. Thomas: "Described as smart and calculating, McDaniels will be picky and selective when it comes to a head-coaching job. As part of that evaluation process he will look more to the structure of a club's front office and the ownership situation than perhaps some other candidates."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks Mike Martz's offensive philosophy stands in contrast to Jim Haslett's intent to make the Rams a run-oriented team. Miklasz: "I give Haslett credit for coordinating such a terrific campaign, reinventing himself on the fly to convince many fans and much of the St. Louis sports media that he's the right man for the job, and that he had absolutely nothing to do with the last three seasons of Rams football. The spin is precious."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat gives the Rams' linebackers a "D" grade for their performance during the 2008 season.
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David Fucillo of ninersnation.com wonders if he just witnessed the worst-coached fourth quarter in football history.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat blames the 49ers' defeat on offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Specifically, Martz refused to run the ball when leading by nine points in the fourth quarter.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers reached a new low under Mike Nolan when they gave away the game against the Eagles.
Gary Peterson of the Contra Costa Times says "you had to be there to smell" what the 49ers did in the fourth quarter.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes cornerback Walt Harris as saying the 49ers are on the verge of turning things around. But Crumpacker sees the season "slip-sliding" away after the 49ers allowed 23 fourth-quarter points.
Also from Crumpacker: Nolan loses both replay challenges in costly fashion, and other notes.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says tight end Delanie Walker played fullback after an injury sidelined Zak Keasey. The injury could be serious. Lynch thinks Walker could continue in the role. For what it's worth, the Lions recently released Moran Norris, the player Keasey beat out for a roster spot.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wonders if the 49ers' season is a lost cause after the most recent defeat.
Also from Maiocco: Nolan gathered the team in the locker room to tell them the season was a long way from being over.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee hands out postgame grades. He gives an "A" to Joe Nedney, Ray McDonald and the special teams.
Also from Barrows: The 49ers ditched their "Big Sub" package on defense, among other changes, and things went well -- until the fourth quarter.
More from Barrows: Nolan's ill-fated challenge of a field-goal try was wide left.
Ailene Voison of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers abandoned Frank Gore when they needed him most.
Chrissy Mauck of 49ers.com quotes Nolan as saying the defense has replaced the offense as the 49ers' weakest link.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News offers up a postgame report card. Nolan and the coaching get a D-minus.
Also from Brown: The 49ers have now given up more points than any team in the league.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News said the 49ers had no answers after this one. As for throwing the ball while leading in the fourth quarter? "I'm not the coach, and I don't make the calls," Gore said.
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Gary Plummer of the 49ers' radio team says the 49ers' defensive players aren't trusting one another, leading to big plays. He draws on personal experience in saying Eagles running back Brian Westbrook won't be effective if he plays through a rib injury. And he says the 49ers' defensive front gets pushed around when it plays a 3-4. Interesting stuff.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz in defense of tight end Vernon Davis. Martz says Davis helps create opportunities for teammates.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Davis is frustrated after catching only five passes through five games. Fellow tight end Delanie Walker also has only five catches.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider quotes Manny Lawson as saying the 49ers are simplifying their defense. Some of the coverages had gotten a little complicated, with cornerback Walt Harris playing safety and giving up that deep ball to Randy Moss.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' defense lacks an identity after five games.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says veteran Cardinals running back Edgerrin James is mentoring rookie Tim Hightower.
Also from Urban: Cardinals cornerback Eric Green busts on rangy rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for eating only mashed potatoes and cookies. "That's why he's 125 pounds," Green said. Rodgers-Cromartie weighs more than that, but he's about as skinny as NFL players come.
More from Urban: Former Cardinals offensive lineman Leonard Davis returns to the desert as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says it would be a shame for the Cardinals if Dallas fans packed University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 6.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are bracing for the Cowboys' ground game. "Big-boy pads" are needed.
Also from Somers: Do not expect Anquan Boldin to play against the Cowboys.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals need to win some games before they complain about fans selling tickets, particularly in rough economic times.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cowboys' circus is coming to town.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seattle receiver Koren Robinson for a scouting report on Packers receiver Greg Jennings, a big-play threat with the potential to hurt the Seahawks' struggling defense.
Also from Farnsworth: Newly signed quarterback Travis Lulay was eating at a steakhouse in Missoula, Mont., when the Seahawks called.
Michael Steffes of Seahawks Addicts takes a look at the team's problems in pass coverage.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Seahawks safety Deon Grant as saying defensive players are trying to do too much instead of trusting one another.
Also from Hughes: Missing practice again means Matt Hasselbeck hasn't been able to develop a rhythm with an ever-changing group of Seattle receivers.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks aren't happy with their production in the return game.
Also from O'Neil: Seattle needs more from Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who hasn't played for a losing team in 18 years.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times suggests Robinson might make his 2008 receiving debut for the Seahawks against his former team.
VanRam of Turf Show Times says the Rams need a massive makeover on defense, with emphasis on linebacker, safety and cornerback.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jim Haslett expects to do a better job as a head coach in his second shot at the job. As Saints coach, Haslett said he erred in sticking with struggling quarterback Aaron Brooks when Jake Delhomme was on the bench.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says second-year defensive lineman Adam Carriker is learning a new technique. He is playing less nose tackle and more 3-technique, which means he can focus more on getting up the field.
Also from Coats: Steven Jackson, on pace for 80 receptions, wants more production in the ground game.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat also checks in with Jackson.
Also from Korte: New Rams tight end Daniel Fells has suffered from "some sort of a virus" this week.
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The 49ers might not have a place on the field for the player they drafted first overall in 2005, but they regularly stock their lineup with first-round choices from other teams.
Five projected 49ers starters entered the NFL as first-round draft choices for other teams. This figure counts the recently signed Takeo Spikes, who is expected to eventually supplant Jeff Ulbrich on the depth chart.
The other NFC West teams are carrying a combined three starters fitting the same description: Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney (Falcons), Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson (49ers) and Cardinals running back Edgerrin James (Colts).
The 49ers and Rams each have only four projected starters from their 2005 and 2006 draft classes. The Cardinals and Seahawks have six apiece. The difference is significant.
Tampa Bay, Washington, Oakland and the New York Jets have joined the 49ers in building lineups checkered with first-round choices from other teams. Indianapolis almost never finds its starters from another team's draft classes, regardless of the round (defensive end Raheem Brock, a seventh-round choice of the Eagles, is the only Colts starter drafted by another team).
The 49ers rank among the league leaders in retaining their own draft choices -- their roster features 35 such players -- but only 10 of them are projected starters. The league average is more than 12. Indianapolis has 17. New England and San Diego have 14. Arizona leads the NFC West with 15. The Rams and Seahawks each have 12.
San Francisco can pump up those numbers by developing its younger players. None of this team's second-round draft choices is scheduled to start this season (Justin Smiley left for the Dolphins). Rookie receiver Josh Morgan, a sixth-round choice, looks like a future starter. Developing rookie defe
nsive lineman Kentwan Balmer and second-year receiver Jason Hill will be important. And everything changes if Alex Smith emerges as more than J.T. O'Sullivan's backup.