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Thread: NFC West Questions
NFC West Questions
By Peter Schrager
Peter Schrager is a frequent contributor for FOXSports.com.
1. The defending NFC Champions have a new defensive coordinator and a very unique situation in regards to their offensive coordinator position. Are they going to be OK in '09?
Both Todd Haley and Clancy Pendergast will be spending the '09 season in Kansas City, but the Cardinals should be fine. The transition, like the one in Indianapolis, should be a rather smooth one with in-house promotions being the route as opposed to big-time outside hires.
In what should make for a unique — if not very rare — situation, the Cardinals will feature a three-headed monster of sorts manning the offensive coordinator position this season. Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt's longtime colleague in Pittsburgh and three-year assistant head coach in 'Zona, will now be managing the run game of the Cardinals offense, while former receivers coach Mike Miller will handle the passing game. Coach Wiz, of course, will have final say over all decisions. Prior to relinquishing play-calling duties to Todd Haley last season, Whisenhunt called the plays in Arizona. He'll likely be the man doing that once again in '09. Three-headed monster? Hell, with 38-year-old veteran Kurt Warner taking the snaps, you almost have four coaches running the offense. Too many cooks in the kitchen? I don't think so. Grimm, Miller, Whisenhunt and Warner now will be entering their third year working together. This isn't some episode of "The Real World: Arizona Cardinals," where you pair four strangers in a video room and ask for magic. These are longtime colleagues doing what they've been doing — quite successfully, I might add — for several seasons.
The Cardinals promoted from within on the defensive side of the ball, too. Bill Davis takes over as the defensive coordinator and former Defensive Quality Control Coach Matt Raich fills in for Davis as the new linebackers coach.
In Davis' first year with the Cardinals linebackers in '07, the unit flourished. All three starting LBs — Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes and Calvin Pace — had career years and recorded more than 100 tackles that season. Last year, the Cardinals defense was much improved and reached the Super Bowl.
Davis is a 3-4 guy at heart, but Arizona could end up running a variety of schemes under his guidance. Though his time in San Francisco as a defensive coordinator from 2005-06 was short lived and forgettable, there are high hopes for Davis. He returns most of the same guys he's worked with for three years on that D.
Haley and Pendergrast may be in Kansas City, but don't expect the Cardinals to burst at the seams. Both the offense and the defense are in good — and more important, familiar — hands.
2. At 35 years old and coming off microfracture surgery, is Walter Jones' reign as the best offensive tackle in the NFC officially over?
In the past two years, we've seen Jonathan Ogden retire from the NFL and Orlando Pace released by the St. Louis Rams. If there's a third player in the "greatest left tackles of the past decade" conversation, it's Walter Jones up in Seattle.
Fortunately, he's still with his original team — and for the time being, at least — still manning the left tackle spot for the Seahawks.
After what seemed like close to a dozen years of healthy, flawless football, Jones' knee got the best of him last season, causing him to miss significant time on the field. The nine-time Pro Bowler opted to undergo microfracture surgery this offseason, an interesting decision for a player who's 35 years old.
Yet, here we are in July, and Jones is expected to be starting at left tackle on opening day. During the final afternoon of Seahawks minicamp last week, Jones was running full speed and holding his own. He may be older, but this is still Walter Jones we're talking about. The four-time first-team All-Pro has too much pride to just disappear and fade into the night.
But if Jones isn't the Walter Jones that Seahawk fans have come to know, there's a formidable alternative. Seattle wisely locked up Sean Locklear to a five-year, $32 million deal with the future in mind. He'll be the successor to Jones, whenever Jones decides to hang them up. By passing on Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe in April's draft, Seattle showed their commitment and faith not only to Jones, the incumbent, but to eventual successor Locklear. You don't need to hire some young stand-up comedian to replace Jay Leno when you've got Conan waiting in the wings.
With six offensive left tackles drafted in the first round of the '08 Draft and four scooped up in the first 32 picks in '09, there's a new fresh crew of OTs making their way into the league. Walter Jones may be the last remaining stalwart of his era.
He's not ready to become a thing of the past just yet. But if those best days are, in fact, behind him, Seattle should be OK.
3. Will you recognize any of the guys playing receiver for the Rams this year?
The 1999 "greatest show on turf" season must feel like 100 years ago to Rams fans these days. Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, Ricky Proehl — these are names that evoke great memories of success and excitement. Four fantastic receivers; four recognizable faces.
As for Donnie Avery, Derek Stanley, Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton and Tim Carter? Eh, not so much.
No, that's not a list of fraternity pledges at a nearby university; it's the receiving corps in St. Louis this season. Young, bright eyed and completely unproven, Avery, Stanley, Robinson, Burton, Carter and fifth-round draft pick Brooks Foster are the top targets for Marc Bulger in St. Louis this year. The greatest show on turf? More like "a bunch of kids who happen to play football on turf."
GM Bill Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo decided to clean house at receiver this offseason. And boy, did they ever. Torry Holt? Released. Drew Bennett? Gone. Dante Hall? Wasn't brought back. The same went for Dane Looker. What's left are a bunch of kids and journeymen.
Devaney liked Laurent Robinson in Atlanta so he went out and traded late-round draft picks in exchange for him and his 42 career receptions. Tim Carter has bounced around the league a bit and was out of football in 2008. He could get big action in St. Louis.
Marc Bulger will be playing behind a rookie left tackle and passing to a bunch of wide-eyed unknown kids. Good luck.
Rams fans can only hope Steven Jackson has a career year. The Rams may need 3,000 rushing yards from him.
4. Is it time to officially write Alex Smith off as a bust?
No, not at all.
In fact, Smith's offseason progress may very well be the best story around the NFL this summer. All but written off by Niners fans after what can only be described as a nightmarish past two years, Alex Smith is on the comeback trail.
Yes, word out of ***** camp last month was that Alex Smith — yes, that Alex Smith — was throwing the best looking footballs he's thrown during his entire tenure in San Francisco. Though Shaun Hill likely will be the starting quarterback come opening day, it's still an open competition. No one could have expected that much six months ago.
More money, more problems?
Perhaps this was the case for Smith in previous seasons. Weighed down by the enormous contract he signed before his rookie year, Smith restructured his deal this offseason and will be paid back-up quarterback money over the next two years. Perhaps without the pressures and expectations linked to a massive top pick overall contract, Smith will play with a clear head and a strong arm from here on out.
Or perhaps his shoulder is finally healthy. After toughing it out and playing with a destroyed right shoulder for three games in December 2007, Smith rushed back from shoulder surgery in the last offseason. The results were hideous. Smith was throwing ducks throughout the preseason and was placed third on the depth chart. Eventually, he just shut it down for the season.
This year's offseason has been a different story. Smith's throwing the ball with zip and confidence. The haunting cloud of Mike Nolan, the coach who he publicly feuded with two years ago, is long gone. And Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator he didn't gel with last season, is nowhere to be found.
His head is clear and his shoulder is fine.
Perhaps Alex Smith's career can be salvaged after all.
5. Which highly touted rookie in the NFC West will make the biggest impact in '09?
With former NCAA offensive superstars Michael Crabtree, Jason Smith and Chris Wells all joining the NFC West this offseason, there should be no shortage of rookie talent in the division.
Alas, all those guys will take a backseat to Seattle's Aaron Curry.
In the past few years, rookie linebackers A.J. Hawk, DeMeco Ryans, Jon Beason, Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo and Keith Rivers all have emerged to make immediate impacts for the teams that drafted them. Curry should be no different.
That is, of course, unless Curry doesn't play linebacker at all. The guy former NFL GM Charlie Casserly described as the best linebacker to enter the league in 10 years could actually end up seeing some time at DE. Mike Nolan publicly noted how impressed he's been with Curry's pass-rushing skills, and Curry recently told a local Seattle radio station that he plays both linebacker and defensive end. The pass-rushing skills of Curry were critiqued throughout the lead-up to the NFL Draft. Naysayers came out of the woodwork, citing low sack totals at Wake Forest as reasons to be skeptical about Curry's all-around game.
Of course, those very critics didn't take the time to study film or become familiar with Curry's role. Jim Grobe's Wake Forest defense didn't call for Curry to rush the passer, so he rarely did. Instead, he manned the middle of the field from sideline to sideline with a ferocity rarely seen at the college level.
"I say this with reservation because it's not padded practices and it's not live," Seahawks coach Jim Mora said after a June practice, "but Aaron has an aspect of pass rush that we didn't see on the college film, because they didn't ask him to do it. We've asked him to do that a little more here, and he looks like he's a guy that athletically can do that. If he can, then that's a bonus for us."
He can and he will. Aaron Curry's the NFL's next great defensive star.
And that's from whatever spot he lines up at. Watch out for Aaron Curry in '09.
Re: NFC West Questions
JMO but the popular choice is the Cardinals to win the West because they made it to the Superbowl. They were very mediocre during the season last year and picked on the West. They had very limited exposure to injuries and will now be battling contract problems. I think the 9ers are the team to beat in a horribly weak division. It's ripe for someone to come out of nowhere and I think that will be the 9ers by a nose.
Rams are still many players away but are making the turn. I think they may be the breakout team of 2010. Seattle is still trending the wrong direction.
Re: NFC West Questions
The truth hurts.
There's going to be alot of pressure on our group of no-name receivers!!!
Re: NFC West Questions
LOTS of love for Aaron Curry. We'll see if he's the dominating force straight out of the box Schrager thinks he'll be. I wonder what Schrager thought about Vernon Gholston before the start of last season?
-07-09-2009 #5bigtiger737 Guest
Re: NFC West Questions
Perhaps it's blinded optimism, but because it's a weak west I think we have a chance to win it, but the cards are the favorite.. 9er's have yet to really prove anything. Last I checked AZ still has warner,fits and boldin.. They are the gate to the west.
-07-09-2009 #6Registered User
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Re: NFC West Questions
We're all accustomed to being dissed in these preview things but this guy goes overboard.
AZ is indeed the team to beat but their D was & still is suspect.They were a couple of spots lower last year, in fact, in their regular season ranking on defense than in '07.Sure, they got better in the playoffs but they wouldn't have even been there if not for their weak NFCW rivals. And a rookie RB with Ram castoffs Kreider & Becht blocking for him? Good luck with that, Beanie.
A new DC who sucked in SF? I'll take our chances with Spags and Flajole.
And this two OC thing; sounds a lot like The Wiz is shortening up the leash & will actually be the man at the wheel. Could work or be disastrous. Certainly nothing to be unconcerned about if you're a Cards fan.Given how specialized coaches are in the NFL, you'd think somebody else would be doing this if it were viable.
And Warner is coming off hip surgery & a year older.No way does Leinart step into his shoes.
Plenty more questions than answers there,imo, when you add the usual SB hangover effect from which almost all teams suffer.
The Hags have more problems than W. Jones' fading prowess. Hasselbeck's back, the run game, run defense,etc. I'm sure Curry will be good but he's only one player. I'm also sure they'll try to showcase his versatility but I doubt that means running the ball.
Not surprising that The Rams changeover at WR is emphasized. Holt and Bruce kept us on the NFL map for a long time. But Avery is hardly totally unproven and both SJ and Randy M have been known to catch a ball or two when healthy. Certainly an unknown whether Burton, et al, will grow up fast enough to be major contributors this season. But to barely mention the #2 pick in the draft and top FA lineman we picked up seems negligent. Never mind the great steal we got with Laurinaitis.
I think Martz and Bruce made the Whiners look better than they were last year.With a journeyman OC and Smith or Hill at the wheel, I predict a slump for the Whiners O that will turn into a collapse if Gore and/or Bruce miss time. Watch for a Crabtree camp holdout and/or sideline scandal before Week 8.
All in all, a pretty superficial mishmash of spun headline stories masquerading as analysis,imo.
Last edited by Azul e Oro; -07-10-2009 at 12:04 AM.
-07-09-2009 #7rams#1 Guest
Re: NFC West Questions
meh... under the radar much... this is ok with me.. so were the 1999 rams. 2009?? here we come
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