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!
How important in deciding the division champ will the Week 1 Seahawks/49ers game be?
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
It probably has more of an effect if the Seahawks win the game. The 49ers are a better team overall right now, so if they stumble out of the gates, it helps the rest of the division. The 49ers then face the Saints in Week 2 on Monday night, followed by trips to Kansas City and Atlanta. Getting a victory in the first game would afford some breathing room.
What team in the NFC west do you think is the deepest with talent at every position?
Mike Sando (1:04 PM)
It's either the 49ers or Cardinals and I would lean toward the 49ers. They now have speed at safety, something that held them back in earlier years. They've been good enough up front to play without franchise player Aubrayo Franklin, who has become a bit of an afterthought. They are better than the Cardinals at linebacker, more proven at cornerback and now more talented along the offensive line (pending development of the rookies).
Rick (Pasadena, CA)
What do you think about the Rams defense so far? Yes I know it's crazy but I'm still sticking by my prediction that the Rams will be a top ten defense.
Mike Sando (1:07 PM)
I have a hard time with your assessment. The Rams lack depth, so injuries will affect them. Also, the offense probably will not be good enough to put the defense in favorable situations consistently. The Rams should rise in the defensive rankings based on their schedule, however. The 2009 team's first five home games featured dates with Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner. I actually think the 2010 home schedule is the key to the improvement St. Louis will show in the standings. This is something I'd like to break out on the blog shortly.
Andrew (Maple Grove MN)
Who makes the final cut at OLB? Travis LaBoy or Diyral Brigs? I watched Laboy against the Vikes, and he looked great beating Bryant McKinnie off the corner a few times. Briggs is good, but I see more explosion from LaBoy.
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
Briggs would be the better choice for the full season. LaBoy didn't make it through camp. Keeping vets on the Week 1 roster can trigger salary guarantees. Briggs looks like a good developmental player for the team. It's a tough call if it comes down to those two players. Perhaps the 49ers can justify keeping both. I just do not think the 49ers can count on LaBoy holding up physically, even if he would make them better in Week 1.
Will the Seahawks have any Pro Bowlers?
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
They could have some players worthy of that status, but they do not appear to have anyone good enough to command that status absent a winning record.
I feel like the Seahawks' defense, apart from the line, is greatly overlooked. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:14 PM)
The secondary should improve quite a bit with Marcus Trufant healthy and Earl Thomas lending his obvious coverage abilities to the safety spot. It's just tough to play defense without a strong pass rush, and no one would say Seattle is strong in that critical area.
Dan Grimm (Ojai, CA)
Do you think that Gibson is just getting a look at guard for Seattle or do you think he's actually a candidate to replace Hamilton?
Mike Sando (1:17 PM)
Ben Hamilton's value to the Seahawks is pretty limited. Alex Gibbs feels as though Hamilton's knowledge of the system can help Russell Okung play more freely. Even then, it was debatable as to whether Hamilton would play well enough to justify his position in the lineup. Now that an injury has sidelined Okung, Hamilton no longer has as much value from a coach-on-the-field standpoint. I would expect Gibson to justify his spot in the lineup, at which point the Seahawks will have to reevaluate Hamilton's value pending Okung's return.
Sando! What's with the injury bug?! Durable guy like Okung shows up and goes down almost immediately? We are very unlucky.
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
Yes, I had the same thought. Unlucky -- unless you consider Seattle lucky that the injury was not worse.
justin (scottsdale, az)
How much of Leinart's issues in preseason do you think are the lack of game-planning from the Cardinals?
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
That would be a small part of the equation. Leinart also isn't getting a chance to play extensively. The team also has some issues at receiver beyond even Larry Fitzgerald's injury. Throw in the Titans' blitzing and Kurt Warner probably would not have looked very good, either (and he did not look good in the 2009 preseason, finishing it with zero touchdowns and three picks). The difference right now is that Leinart is being evaluated -- at least by the public -- based on how he plays in these games. It's a tough evaluation to make. However, I think it's reasonable to expect a starting quarterback to look like one at some point during an offseason, and I'm not sure Leinart has looked like one to this point. He's been a little nondescript.
If the Seattle defense can generate enough of a pass rush to average between 3-4 sacks per game, could you see them getting to eight or nine wins?
Mike Sando (1:25 PM)
The Seahawks have averaged three or more sacks per game once since 1997, and that was during their 2005 Super Bowl season, when the offense put up lots of points, putting the defense in prime position to rush the passer. There is just no reasonable way to expect 48-64 sacks in a season with Nick Reed advertised as the second-best pass-rusher on the team.
Tim (Costa Mesa, CA)
How do you feel about the 49ers corner depth, particularly Nate Clements? Do you think he will have a good season? What do you feel are the 49ers' best options in the future at corner? If we had great corners, we would be the best defense in the league, in my opinion.
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
The cornerback play in San Francisco has generally been OK. The lack of speed at safety was a problem for a while, but the team has addressed that issue by putting Dashon Goldson in the lineup, developing Reggie Smith and drafting Taylor Mays. Clements looked very good in camp. Shawntae Spencer said he thought Clements had sort of reinvented himself physically. All signs point to Clements having a better season in 2010.
tom page (bellevue,wa)
Kent Somers has said there is no QB controversy, Lienart is clearly the starter. Do you think they are considering Anderson for the starting QB spot? What events would generate a QB controversy?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
Matt Leinart could lose his starting job by throwing multiple interceptions if those interceptions were clearly his fault and it was evident Leinart had lost confidence in himself. That is just my opinion. I agree with Kent's general thinking that the Cardinals have conditionally committed to Leinart and they will likely go into the season with Leinart as their starter. It changes if Leinart really messes up and Anderson looks like a better option. I do not think the Cardinals are to that point yet.
tom page (bellevue,wa)
Julius Jones did not play until the third quarter of the last preseason game, and Leon Washington is starting this week in Minnesota. Do you think Jones' roster spot is in jeopardy?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
No, I think he should be safe. The Rams would certainly be interested if the Seahawks decided to cut their starter from last season. Pete Carroll is rotating backs during preseason. Jones started the opener, Justin Forsett started the second game and Washington will start the third. There's been an emphasis on getting reps for Washington now that Washington is healthy enough to play. Jones got more reps this offseason, while Washington rehabbed from his broken leg. I asked another GM what he thought about the running back situation in Seattle and he thought there was no way they would cut Jones. I don't see how cutting Jones would make Seattle better.
Tim (Costa Mesa, CA)
A little wishful thinking here, but if Alex Smith has a good season and Aubrayo Franklin proves himself yet another time, the 49ers are going to have to re-sign/release Smith, Vernon Davis, Franklin and possibly Dashon Goldson coming off a good season. Will they have money? Shouldn't they try to sign Vernon now before a collective bargaining agreement disaster?
Mike Sando (1:35 PM)
Those would be good problems to have from the 49ers' perspective. They would franchise Vernon Davis if they did not re-sign him, but this team has taken care of young players such as Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. I see nothing stopping the 49ers from paying Davis before he becomes eligible for free agency. They could find another nose tackle if someone broke the bank for Franklin. Smith has shown he wants to stay with the 49ers. If he had a great year, the team would just pay him because he's a quarterback. Under this scenario, the team would have the tag for Goldson if necessary. I think it's manageable as long as they take care of Davis, and recent history says they will.
justin (scottsdale, az)
What are your thoughts on Bradford starting the next preseason game? Does this mean anything in terms of starting week 1?
Mike Sando (1:36 PM)
Yeah, it makes it easier to start Bradford in Week 1 if he looks the part Thursday night.
So... Matt Leinart. Everyones trashing him, jumping ship, calling for Derek Anderson, reporting the Cardinals are actually considering releasing him before the start of the season, everything under the sun after two preseason games and only a handful of drives. Leinart wants more reps, Ken Whisenhunt wants to see everyone else. Do you think Leinart sees more action against the Bears this weekend?
Mike Sando (1:40 PM)
Yes. Kurt Warner played the first half of the third exhibition game last season. The Cardinals trailed the Packers, 38-10, at the half in that game. Leinart passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, but no one was saying he had a great future -- it was only preseason, after all. Now that Leinart is starting, these preseason games are taking on added meaning for those evaluating Leinart from the outside. I've said it is more important for Leinart to inspire confidence by looking good in these games, but a little perspective is in order.
Any update on when the NFC west Gridiron league is going to start up?
Mike Sando (1:41 PM)
Yes, the Gridiron Challenge fantasy league will go live here shortly. Maybe even today.
Should I be overly concerned about Jason Smith? If he is a bust, the Rams' entire strategy falls to pieces. Please tell me he was just rusty and partially injured? Please!
Mike Sando (1:44 PM)
Overly concerned? No. Concerned? A little bit. He's had trouble staying healthy and that is not good. From what I saw last season, though, he improved as he played more. He was really shaky early in preseason a year ago. It's too early to panic.
With some newfound "team mojo" and for good reason ... can the Niners make a strong playoff run or is winning the division enough?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
Winning the division would assure the 49ers of at least one home game. That would give them a chance to advance, but the teams with elite quarterbacks tend to prevail in postseason. Peyton Manning against Drew Brees wasn't an accident. I question whether the 49ers could match the best NFC teams in quarterback play.
The defensive line is dubious, but the Seahawks other position groups are all at least average, with the WRs and LBs the strength of the team.
Mike Sando (1:48 PM)
OK, but when was the last time those linebackers played a full game together? They never have, actually. Leroy Hill was injured during the 2009 opener. He did not finish the game. He then missed an extended period. Lofa Tatupu missed most of the season and has not played in an exhibition game this season. Hill will miss the 2010 opener. Aaron Curry missed about 10 days of camp this summer after suffering a concussion. Even David Hawthorne left practice for an MRI this week.
Trever (Peoria, IL)
Do you think that the seahawks will have a problem at left tackle again this year with injuries?
Mike Sando (1:48 PM)
Okung's history tells me he plays most or all of the games this season. You do have to wonder a little bit, though, now that he's injured already.
Luke (San Jose)
Huge 49er fan! If Alex Smith gets hurt do you believe David Carr is good enough to lead this team to the playoffs and have some success once were there.
Mike Sando (1:50 PM)
I do not believe Carr would be good enough but I'm open-minded on the subject. He did play better for the Giants. Those old Houston memories have not died for me, though.
joe (st louis)
In three years, what NFC West team will have the best QB? That will be the next team in the division to compete for Super Bowl. You cannot win it with Matt Leinart, Alex Smith or Matt Hasselbeck. Go Rams.
Mike Sando (1:52 PM)
Three years? We could be talking three months if Sam Bradford develops quickly. Let's see how healthy NFC West quarterbacks stay this season. That will answer the timeline question to a degree. Your point is valid. Bradford could give the Rams' the best quarterback in the division for years to come. We cannot assume that other division teams will stand pat at the position, though.
the408 (Bay Area)
"They are better than the Cardinals at linebacker, more proven at cornerback and now more talented along the offensive line (pending development of the rookies)."-I think somewhere Cards fan just threw their screen out the window. Why do you think even with all their Pro-Bowlers in the secondary, the Cardinals haven't been able to limit teams from passing on them?
Mike Sando (1:54 PM)
Good question. Consistency? I fully acknowledge Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the best cover corner in the division, and if you watch these preseason games, you'll notice he's hitting people a lot harder now, too. Adrian Wilson has also looked great, really chasing down runners (one play in the flat against Houston was just scary). Consistency would be the issue, I think. Those guys haven't played well enough as a group consistently. Also, injuries have affected the defense, particularly late last season.
Tyler (Columbus OH)
What surprise players make it to the Pro Bowl out of the NFC West this year? Anyone under the radar set to have a great year?
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
Dashon Goldson of the 49ers could be a candidate if he gets enough chances at interceptions and the 49ers have a successful season. They play quite a few prime-time games and those can help shape perceptions. Michael Crabtree might be another candidate even though it can be hard for receivers with so many guys putting up numbers.
Will teams respect Ted Ginn enough for his speed that he can open up the middle of the field or the fact that he runs bad routes and drops too many balls relegate him to the bench?
Mike Sando (1:57 PM)
I think he'll help the team.
Who starts week one at Running back for the Seattle Seahawks?
Mike Sando (1:57 PM)
Justin Forsett would be the leader in the clubhouse.
Pending Okung's health, the WRs are a deep group and Carlson as well as Forsett are receiving threats. Hasselbeck could throw for 4000 yards and 30 TDs conceivably.
Mike Sando (1:59 PM)
Matt Hasselbeck has never thrown for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in a season. Quite optimistic of you to project that for him in the first year of a new offense at age (almost) 35. I think he would have had those numbers earlier in his career if the team wasn't so good on the ground with Shaun Alexander and that offensive line, though. Alexander was terrific in the red zone and it cost Hasselbeck a ton of short touchdown passes.
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Hey, thanks for checking out the NFC West chat this week. My pleasure all the way.