Chat with Mike Sando
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, we'll have ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando stopping by to talk about the latest NFL happenings.
Sando joined ESPN.com in 2007 after nine seasons covering the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. He previously covered Washington State University football and basketball for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. Mike grew up in Northern California before attending Whitworth College, graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in political studies. He lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with his wife and their two sons.
Send your questions now and join Sando on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
Seth A. (Iowa City, IA)
With Ted Ginn Jr. adding a downfield threat, thus hopefully opening up the field for Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore being a top-tier running back, is it possible the Niners will have the best offense in the division this year? Arizona is still solid, but it's mostly on speculation. No one knows how Matt Leinart, Beanie Wells and Steve Breaston will do in full-time starting roles.
Mike Sando (12:58 PM)
Yeah, that is possible. I think it comes down to one player: Matt Leinart. He doesn't have much momentum right now in terms of how he's perceived, but if he grows into the starting role, the Cardinals could still field the best offense in the division. The 49ers cannot exactly count on Ted Ginn Jr., either. He is a key variable for the 49ers. I do think Ginn's speed has the potential to help the 49ers get better matchups for Davis and Crabtree. If that happens, the 49ers will be tougher to stop.
Heath (Spokane Washington)
Just curious, I really felt that with the supplemental draft we would of at least tried for Unga, as all he cost was a 7th rounder. Why in the world would we not try when we have no punishing running back.
Mike Sando (12:59 PM)
I'll assume you're talking about the Seahawks. The supplemental draft seems to appeal more to fans than to their teams. The teams feel as though they've got their rosters pretty much set. They don't want to give away flexibility in the following draft for a player who might not even earn a roster spot this year.
I still dont see how you feel 'even better' about the 49ers taking the division. Pretty tough schedule and Alex Smith hasn't proven anything. 'Hawks 28-20 Game 1.
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
I do not feel 'even better' about the 49ers taking the division. I simply pointed out during a recent blog entry that months of calling the 49ers the logical favorite has made it easier to declare the 49ers the favorite even though nothing has changed. The 49ers couldn't win at Seattle last season. There are no guarantees they'll win there this season.
"...but only Hill's deal features guaranteed money. Seattle needs Branch, so he's safe as long as he's healthy..." Mike, I still don't see why the Seahawks NEED Branch, as opposed to not needing a Marshawn Lynch-type RB to supplant Julius Jones?!! I would think we're much safer at WR right now than RB, especially considering the money Branch will get this year.
Mike Sando (1:04 PM)
Nothing I wrote about Branch had anything to do with the situation at running back. Those are separate issues. I think the Seahawks can use every proven receiver they can get. If they did not think they needed Branch, they presumably would have released him a long time ago. That doesn't make Branch indispensable. It just means they'd be better off if he were healthy and producing for them. He has talent and ability. The price shouldn't really matter to fans. There is no salary cap, the owner is a billionaire and if he wants to pay that kind of money, no big deal.
Johnny B (Montana)
How many wins will it take to win the division? I mean how many do the niners need to win?
Mike Sando (1:06 PM)
Nine wins should be enough for the 49ers to win the division, in my opinion.
Sigmund Bloom (Austin, TX)
Regardless of who "wins" the Seattle RB job, do you expect that player to be a true feature back, or do you expect Pete Carroll to stick with his RBBC ways from USC?
Mike Sando (1:06 PM)
Running back by committee all the way.
Do you see any RB for the Cardinals gaining 1,000 rushing yards this season?
Mike Sando (1:08 PM)
Beanie Wells should have a good shot at 1,000 yards this season. He was within 207 yards last season without making a single start and without getting more than seven carries in any of the first four games. He never had more than 17 carries in a game all season.
Is Steven Jackson's back going to be a problem this coming season?
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
It's not going to help him. There's probably a higher risk factor for him this season. I suspect it'll bother him at some point, but in speaking with ESPN's injury expert, Stephania Bell, he should be able to overcome this injury through improving his core strength. He should not aggravate the injury through contact, but the injury could sneak up on him while he's sitting on an airplane or going about his off-field life. That was the feeling from Stephania. She pointed to Matt Hasselbeck's back situation. Once he addressed it through improved core strength, it wasn't a problem for him in games.
Shane (Queen Creek, AZ)
Hi Mike: In terms of the Cards' running game, the big buzz is mostly around Beanie Wells, but Tim Hightower improved his YPC by nearly a full yard last season vs. his rookie season. How important a role do you think he'll play in AZ's offense this year?
Mike Sando (1:12 PM)
Tim Hightower has been a good short-yardage runner. He has 18 touchdowns in two seasons. You're right about his per-carry average improving (from 2.8 yards as a rookie to 4.2 yards last season). I just think the writing is on the wall a little bit. They drafted Beanie Wells in the first round and his role will necessarily grow at Hightower's expense. There should still be a role for Hightower. Hightower might even start games this season. But it's a little bit of an upset, I think, if Wells doesn't become more of a focus.
Jordan Jones (Bellevue, WA)
Hey Sando, do you think that Deion Branch will be around at the end of training camp? From what I am reading, he doesn't have a very good chance at sticking around. But, in an uncapped year with no shortage of funding, what is the reasoning for not keeping him for depth and that "veteran presence".
Mike Sando (1:14 PM)
I see no reason to cut him unless he's struggling with injuries or otherwise. Teams occasionally keep as many as seven wide receivers on their 53-man rosters. Five or six is more realistic. A team can't just carry him to carry him. He's got to provide something more than a veteran presence. He needs to be a threat.
9er Lander (Santa Monica, CA)
Are you planning on doing camp tours? If so, dates?
Mike Sando (1:15 PM)
Yes, I'll hit the Seahawks' camp on July 31, then head to Arizona on Aug. 1, then to the 49ers around Aug. 4 or 5, then back to Seahawks, then off to St. Louis for Sam Bradford's first exhibition game, then to Indianapolis for the 49ers' game, then back to St. Louis for several days of Rams practices.
How do you think Bennie will hold up in a 16-game season as the primary back? You mentioned he didn't get many carries in the first four games, and no more than 17 after, but more touches also mean more risk to injury.
Mike Sando (1:19 PM)
That is a legitimate concern given his history. He did seem to become a more aggressive runner last season. He dished out more punishment than he took, and he seemed to hold up OK. He doesn't have to get 20 carries a game. Wells averaged 11 carries per game last season. He gained a little more than 4.5 yards per carry. Take him up to 15 carries per game, give him the same per-carry average and he finishes with 240 carries for 1,081 yards. I think he can do better than that.
Mike, why no love for Ray Rice in your RB "rankings." I know you follow those NFC West teams, but the guy is a beast and he will have over 2000 yards from scrimmage this year.
Mike Sando (1:20 PM)
I just haven't seen him enough.
With both First Round Offensive Lineman for the 9ers still unsigned, will they be starters this year or will they be relegated for bench duties.
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
Their signing status July 22 is irrelevant. If they missed more than a week of training camp, then you start to wonder.
Al (Wausau, WI)
Mike, do you feel the Rams will win more games in 2010 than in 2009. Might 4-12 or 5-11 be a realistic goal for them this year?
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
Yes, I think the Rams will win more than one game this season. That is pretty easy to say. I thought they were a four-win team that managed only one win last season through some unfortunate injuries to wide receivers early and offensive linemen late. The roster fell apart injury-wise just as the team seemed to be making some strides. I think the 2010 schedule is easier overall and particularly over the first six or eight weeks. Breaking in a new quarterback could be tough. I suppose the Rams could be done in by their quarterbacks. Just seems to me they should be able to win a few games this year. Now, if Steven Jackson isn't healthy, yikes.
Mr. W (Dallas)
Do you think it is wise for the Rams to go w/o getting another back to help take away some of the pounding Steven jackson will inevitably receive?
Mike Sando (1:26 PM)
No. It's a mystery why they would put so much stock in a healthy Steven Jackson when Jackson was coming off a back injury that ultimately required surgery. If Jackson isn't healthy and the Rams' running game falls apart, dooming the team to another horrible season, the front office must be accountable to that. That is not to say the Rams easily could have gone out and landed an excellent No. 2 back who fit their offense perfectly. It's not that simple. But to basically do nothing? We'll see how it works out.
Zach (Owensboro, Ky)
Hi Sando, I'm a big 49ers fan and I have been my whole life. I'm so sick of the organization hanging on to Alex Smith. Please tell me that if he doesn't perform this year is he gone? What does he have to do to stay? I hope alot?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
The 49ers have made it clear Smith must perform this season. Otherwise they would have signed him to a long-term deal. They've held off going in that direction because they cannot be sure what they have. Smith showed last offseason that he wants to stay with the 49ers and give them reasonable return on their investment. He could have pursued a job elsewhere, but instead he came back. I think the 49ers know they'll be able to re-sign him if he does have an excellent year in 2010. The harder part, I think, is deciding what to do if Smith is good but not necessarily looking like the long-term answer.
Others have criticized Pete Carroll's book tour, what do you think about it? Does the fact the revenue from the book goes to charity ( A Better LA) influence how you feel about it?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
The book was in the works before the USC sanctions came down, so that is one thing to consider. I can tell you I've had more than enough Pete Carroll at this point. He's been everywhere. The attitude he has taken toward the sanctions does show some arrogance. It's as if he's just incredulous the NCAA would have the gall to question his efforts to "do things better than they've ever been done before." The NFL season will rescue Carroll from the excess of this book tour pretty soon. I think that's a good thing for Carroll and I know it's a good thing for the rest of us. Enough already.
Do you believe that maybe the Seahawks could have a chance at maybe grabbing Logan Mankins from the patriots in return for Hill and Branch? It would help to shore up our O-line with a proven Pro Bowl player
Mike Sando (1:33 PM)
There is a fun idea. Probably unrealistic, but fun to consider.
Shane (Queen Creek, AZ)
Mike: Your thoughts on the Cards' secondary this season? Can't be any worse, can it?
Mike Sando (1:34 PM)
Oh, it can be a lot worse. The 2009 Cardinals placed three-fourths of their starting secondary in the Pro Bowl. Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle were Pro Bowlers. It can get much, much worse.
Garrison (Lubbock, TX)
Unlike other skeptics, I believe Alex Smith has had some unfortunate circumstances having to experience so many changes in offensive coordinators. This year he'll be able to run the same offense as last year with a more seasoned Crabtree. Is a 4,000 yd season a stretch?
Mike Sando (1:39 PM)
Yes, I would say 4,000 yards would be a stretch. Smith threw for 2,350 yards on 372 attempts last season. He basically played 10.5 games. That works out to 3,581 yards over 16 games. He would have to go from averaging 223.8 yards per game over 10.5 games to 250 yards over 16 games. That could be hard to do. I'd say it's a little bit of a stretch.
Jason (virginia beach)
Hey Mike, thanks for the great insight. I was just wondering about something I keep hearing that the 49ers beat Arizona twice last year with Kurt Warner, so by default they should win the division with him gone. With that logic, didn't the 49ers lose to the Seahwks in a game they had to have, so that should make the Seahawks the favorites for the division, right? Just not seeing enough to make them all out favorites yet. Should be a good season. Thanks again for all of the insight.
Mike Sando (1:42 PM)
There are no guarantees the 49ers will sweep the Cardinals again. A split is probably more likely. The 49ers are a rough-and-tumble team on defense. They were almost built to give Kurt Warner problems. I know they were built to give the Cardinals' offensive line problems. The Cardinals are shaking up their offensive line. They have a new quarterback. They have a new mix offensively. The matchups could be a little different. Remember, too, that Shaun Hill won one of those games against Arizona with some fourth-quarter heroics. Alex Smith hasn't really shown he can do that yet. It's a new season. Things will not carry over automatically from last season.
Steve D (Venice, CA)
Do you think the Seahawks and their new system may have an advantage for the first few weeks of the season? Like the Broncos last year, until teams can scout them, do they have a chance to catch everyone by surprise? Or is there just not enough talent?
Mike Sando (1:44 PM)
They had a new offensive system last season and I don't recall they catching people off-guard. I suppose it's possible. Mike Holmgren went 8-2 in his first season with the Seahawks before the league sort of caught up to Seattle.
What kind of year do you expect from Frank Gore.
Mike Sando (1:44 PM)
Frank Gore should have another good year. He should be more consistently productive as the 49ers figure out how to make Gore and Alex Smith coexist. That will be one thing to watch this season.
DiLune (Seattle, WA)
Recently, Paul Allen confirmed that he will be giving the bulk of his wealth to charity when he passes away. What does that mean for the future of the Seahawks, if anything?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
I don't think he would donate sports teams to charity. My thought would be that his sister would take over the teams and then, who knows what she might do? Allen hasn't addressed that issue, so we're left to speculate a little bit.
Shane (Los Angeles, CA)
I think you simplify the answer to Shane from Queen Creek's question. One, Rolle ended up in the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Two, Rolle was a ball-hawker for sure, but he cost just as many big plays as he made and. Three, even with three Pro Bowlers, the Cards were still among the league's worst in pass defense, because the front seven were not getting enough pressure on the QB. I think this year's Cards pass defense will finish better rank-wise even if the Cards don't have a better record.
Mike Sando (1:49 PM)
That is possible. The Cardinals got 7.0 sacks from each of their defensive ends last season. They ranked sixth in the league with 43 sacks. Minnesota had 48, Pittsburgh 47 and three teams -- Miami, Philly, San Francisco -- had 44 apiece. Sacks are not the only measure of a team's ability to pressure, but ranking sixth tells me the pass rush was not horrible. Sure, we can qualify those Pro Bowl appearances, but I stand by my answer to the question. He asked whether the pass defense could get any worse. Yes, it could get a lot worse.
What do you think the Seahawks' long-term plan is for Charlie Whitehurst, and does J.P. Losman have any chance at making the team?
Mike Sando (1:52 PM)
Losman is one of only three quarterbacks on the roster. That means he is making the team, guaranteed, unless the dynamics of the position change unexpectedly. The plan for Whitehurst will be to groom him into Matt Hasselbeck's successor. That doesn't mean the team is committed to him in that capacity at all costs. It just means he's got a chance to become that guy.
David (Portland, OR)
Mike, why haven't the Seahawks made any real efforts to address the need at pass-rusher? Are they that confident in the defensive that they have and also the hybrid OLB/DE-type rushers like Foley, Curry, Clemons? Or were there simply no options, so they're trying to make the best of what they have? Thanks,David
Mike Sando (1:54 PM)
They're trying to make the best of a bad situation after not seeing great upgrade options in the draft or free agency. They were not going to get a top pass-rusher in free agency. The draft can be a tough place to target a position at the expense of value at other positions. I understand the thinking behind their decisions to select tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas in the first round. Adding a great pass-rusher would have been preferable to taking a safety, but sometimes the fit and value do not line up the way a team would like. That seemed to be the case with Seattle.
RIO (Portland, OR)
Hey Sando, the 49ers are playing in London as a "home" game. That doesn't seem fair. Do we get any sort of benefits next year as a result?
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
You get any souvenirs the team brings back for you, but nothing more. I agree, it's a net loss for the 49ers. Let's say they had a 65 percent chance of beating the Broncos at Candlestick and a 50 percent chance of beating them in London. That is a net loss for the 49ers. And then the Bay Area fans lose out because they have one fewer home game, in essence. It's not realistic to expect fans to travel to London, after all.
Benjamin Spann (SC)
Mike, how would you rate the job that Steve Spagnuolo, Billy Devaney and Kevin Demoff have done with the Rams?
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Demoff has done a nice job with the salary cap and managing that side of things (of course, it's easy to save money when you're slashing veterans from a roster). Overall, I like their decision to go young last season. I question their decision to leave Jason Smith on the right side all last season. The team arguably hasn't done enough to protect itself at running back behind Steven Jackson. The team has sometimes subtracted from the roster without really having better options. That is part of rebuilding, too. I give them an incomplete grade. The team needs to win more games this season. And then if they hit on Sam Bradford, the grades go up quite a bit.
Mike Sando (2:01 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the chat. See you on the NFC West blog and on Facebook. Have a good one.