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  1. #1
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    Previewing The 2009 NFC West

    Previewing the 2009 NFC West

    To understand how dramatically the scenery has shifted in the NFC West, one need only consider two words:

    Greg Manusky.

    And who, pray tell, is Greg Manusky? He's the San Francisco ***** defensive coordinator — the only one of the division's eight coordinators, offensive and defensive, who is returning to his job in 2009.

    The seven others either were fired, found other jobs or were swept out amid head-coaching changes. Thus, stability isn't exactly running rampant in the struggling division that detractors dubbed the NFC Worst in recent seasons.

    Two of the four teams have new head coaches: Steve Spagnuolo, the former New York Giants defensive coordinator, with the Rams, and Jim Mora, the previously designated successor to Mike Holmgren, in Seattle.

    Also, Mike Singletary is heading into his first full season as Niners coach after taking over for the deposed Mike Nolan at midseason last year. That leaves Ken Whisenhunt, who has been with Arizona a mere two seasons, as the "dean" of the NFC West head coaches.

    Of course, the personnel changes haven't been limited to the coaching staffs during this frenzied offseason.

    * * *

    Here's a team-by-team look at the altered landscape in the NFC West (listed in order of 2008 finish, with last year's records in parentheses):

    Cardinals (9-7)

    Despite wresting the division crown from the four-time defending champion Seahawks and an improbable march to the Super Bowl, the Big Red weren’t without their share of turmoil in the wake of the 2008 season.

    Most notably, quarterback Kurt Warner took a free-agent visit to San Francisco, where the ***** reportedly were willing to dangle $15 million for a one-year deal. Ultimately, Warner, the 38-year-old linchpin of the Cardinals’ pass-heavy attack, returned to the desert, getting $23 million for two seasons.

    Warner’s former boss, offensive coordinator Todd Haley, left to become Kansas City’s head coach. Ken Whisenhunt, formerly Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, didn’t replace Haley; instead, he named running-game and passing-game coordinators. Whisenhunt also dispatched defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis.

    Warner still has perhaps the league’s most dangerous receiving tandem, wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, at which to aim his throws. But Boldin remains unhappy with his contract situation and the team entertained trade offers, although none was deemed worthy.

    The Cards sought to balance their offense (No. 2 in passing last year, but just 25th on the ground) by snaring Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells in the first round of the draft. He figures to battle Tim Hightower, a fifth-round draftee in ’08, for the starting spot. Veteran Edgerrin James was released.

    Arizona also picked up two starters in free agency, former Rams fullback Dan Kreider and cornerback Bryant McFadden, who comes over from Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl champs.

    ***** (7-9)

    San Francisco was well on its way to a sixth losing season in a row when the ultra-intense Mike Singletary stepped in for Mike Nolan. It was thought to be a temporary move, but when the ***** went 5-4 the rest of the way, the interim tag was removed.

    Singletary jettisoned offensive coordinator Mike Martz, replacing him with former Jets running backs coach Jimmy Raye — but only after another ex-Rams coach, Scott Linehan, turned down Singletary’s offer. Raye, a 32-year NFL veteran, has been an OC seven times.

    Once Warner decided to stay with Arizona, Raye’s first chore became obvious: He must decide on a quarterback between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. Hill was 7-3 last year as the starter, but Smith is a former No. 1 overall draft choice.

    Whoever gets the job will have a glitzy new target in wideout Michael Crabtree. The former Texas Tech standout was the 10th overall pick in the draft. He’ll team with vet Isaac Bruce, who led the Niners in receiving last year and decided to return for a 16th NFL season, and Josh Morgan, who is coming off a nice rookie season.

    Determined to pound the ball on the ground under Singletary, the Niners drafted Alabama’s Glen Coffee to complement featured back Frank Gore. Two starters obtained via free agency, fullback Moran Norris and tackle Marvel Smith, should aid the running attack, too.

    Seahawks (4-12)

    In 10 seasons, Mike Holmgren guided Seattle to six playoff appearances and its only Super Bowl, in 2005. His final season of 17 as a head coach (including seven with Green Bay) was the most forgettable, however, as the injury-plagued and aging Seahawks tumbled to the franchise’s worst record in 17 years.

    Mora, the former Atlanta head coach, takes over an outfit that has made some significant additions. Veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a free-agent acquisition who has latched on to more than 90 catches in each of the last three seasons, provides a much-needed go-to wideout. And heralded rookie Aaron Curry, the fourth overall selection in the draft, is being counted on to bolster a defense that tumbled to 30th in the 32-team NFL last year from 15th in 2007.

    Still, Seattle’s hopes remain stubbornly centered on veterans whose best days probably are behind them, particularly quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney. Injuries stymied all three last year.

    If they can stay healthy, the Seahawks might be able to improve some this year. No matter what, look for Seattle to do some major shuffling during the next offseason.

    Rams (2-14)

    Rams Park was a buzz of activity in the aftermath of a second consecutive double-digit-loss campaign. The front office was overhauled, with Billy Devaney assuming the general manager’s duties, Kevin Demoff replacing Jay Zygmunt as executive director of football operations and longtime team president John Shaw’s role being reduced to senior adviser.

    Devaney hired Spagnuolo, the hottest assistant on the market. Spagnuolo, a first-time head coach, brought in two first-time coordinators: Pat Shurmur (offense) and Ken Flajole (defense).

    Then they began an assault on the roster, reducing the number of age 30-or-older players from 20 at the end of the ’08 season to only six now.

    The oldest is defensive end Leonard Little, 34. After the release of a pair of seven-time Pro Bowlers, wide receiver Torry Holt and tackle Orlando Pace, Little is the last remaining member of the Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" outfit that won the Super Bowl just 10 seasons ago.

    Other vets sent packing included linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa; wideouts Drew Bennett, Dane Looker and Dante Hall; quarterback Trent Green; safety Corey Chavous; and tight end Anthony Becht.

    In addition to getting younger, the Rams also got bigger with the additions of free-agent pickups Jason Brown, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound center, and James Butler, a 6-3, 215-pound strong safety, plus tackle Jason Smith, a 6-5, 306-first-round draftee.

    The arrival of 255-pound fullback Mike Karney, an accomplished lead-blocker, put a gleam in running back Steven Jackson’s eye. And the selection of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis in the second round of the draft allows Will Witherspoon to move back to his more natural spot on the outside.

    The Rams also hope to prosper from the return of two former starters, tight end Randy McMichael and cornerback Tye Hill. Both missed the bulk of the ’08 season with injuries.

  2. #2
    RamOfDenmark Guest

    Re: Previewing The 2009 NFC West

    Nice read. In my opinion we've done all the right things this year with regards to the new players that we have brought on board - on paper it looks like a very very solid recruting job by the new FO. It is arguable however that we could have kept some players like Tinoisamoa and Pace a while longer to ease the transition, especially seeing how we don't have an overabundance of superior talent at their positions. I can see the need for a new beginning though, and I suppose it is also in that light their dismissal should be viewed.

    We're going in the right direction, but I think it's going to take at least one more year to fix enough of the mess that Linehan/Zygmunt left behind to start winning on a regular basis.

  3. #3
    RebelYell's Avatar
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    Re: Previewing The 2009 NFC West

    The Rams are definitely moving in the right direction. If you look at teams making the transition, you need a few of those 4th round picks and later to turn into valued starters. Just look at our 1999 roster, we had several guys who really contributed that weren't expected. You need a few of those. Looking at where this roster will be in 2011 for example, imagine how much easier that transition becomes if Boller or Null becomes a quality starter in the NFL. Or if Keenan Burton becomes Hines Ward?

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