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Quarterback questions dominate NFC West
Quarterback questions dominate NFC West
By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com
(With NFL training camps due to open later this month, Vic Carucci has put together an eight-part series highlighting how each division shapes up in the aftermath of offseason personnel moves and organized workouts).
(July 22, 2004) -- Here's a look at the NFC West.
Most influential offseason moves
The Rams remain explosive and always will be as long as Mike Martz is the one designing their offensive philosophy and putting together their playbook. But are these the same Rams that won a Super Bowl and appeared in a second not long ago? Are they the same Rams that seemingly could score at will? Those are tough questions to answer until the season opens and we see how Marc Bulger is going to handle the starting quarterback job without Kurt Warner, who is now a New York Giant, looking over his shoulder pad. After becoming the starter in '03, Bulger showed signs of regression late in the season and into the playoffs. Just as in offseason drills, the Rams will devote a good portion of training camp to helping Bulger improve his accuracy on deep passes and stop forcing as many throws into coverage. The Rams' defensive line took a couple of significant hits with the free-agent departures of end Grant Wistrom and tackle Brian Young, and it remains to be seen how well those spots can be filled.
After beefing up their pass rush, the Seahawks' primary offseason goal was improving the NFL's 27th-ranked pass defense. They opened the vault particularly wide to acquire free-agent end Grant Wistrom. He doesn't consistently put up impressive numbers (see his 7½ sacks last year), but he is a difference-maker in so many other areas such as matching his considerable strength against the run and providing excellent spirit and leadership. First-round draft pick Marcus Tubbs should help fill the athleticism void in the middle of the Seahawks' defensive line after John Randle's retirement and pick up the run-plugging slack created by Norman Hand's departure. Second-round pick Michael Boulware was a linebacker at Florida State but has the speed and athletic ability to make an impact as a strong safety in the NFL. He started off slowly with the adjustment in early offseason workouts, but has made dramatic progress since. Seattle's secondary should receive a powerful shakeup with the addition of free-agent cornerback Bobby Taylor. Taylor can still shutdown some of the top quarterbacks in the game, or at the very least, put himself consistently in a position to make plays. Taylor has the size (6-foot-3 and 216 pounds) and long arms to hold his own against the larger and more physical receivers he will regularly see in this division. Another huge move was the decision to re-sign Darrell Jackson, the team's leading receiver last season and a hot commodity in the free-agent market, to a big contract.
This has been an offseason of sweeping change for the *****. Quarterback Jeff Garcia is gone. Where's Terrell Owens? Where's Garrison Hearst? Where's Derrick Deese? For the *****, the answers don't really matter at this point. Their focus must be on finding ways to make due with new people, beginning with Garcia's replacement, Tim Rattay. Make that a temporary replacement. Rattay can throw a better deep ball than Garcia. He plays with intelligence and shows steady leadership on the field. But after suffering a severely torn groin muscle in the offseason, Rattay is out, likely through the start of training camp. That doesn't seem to worry the 49er decision-makers much. They are confident second-year quarterback Ken Dorsey could take over and hold his own. Brandon Lloyd and Cedrick Wilson are entering camp as San Francisco's starting receivers, but that isn't necessarily a lock. First-round draft pick Rashaun Woods will have every opportunity to assume a prominent role and perhaps even push his way into the starting lineup. Woods had some struggles in the *****' first minicamp, but as he became more familiar with the offense, he performed better during later offseason workouts.
Dennis Green did not leave the relatively cushy life of an NFL television analyst merely to see how he would look stalking the sidelines in a headset again. Green is in Arizona to make the Cardinals a winner, and he intends to use every bit of the savvy and skills he has to convince his players they are not the sad sacks of the NFL. He not only has spent the offseason trying to reinforce that message, but also wants the members of one of the league's most maligned franchises to understand that they could easily be in the playoff hunt this year. Green added first-round draft pick Larry Fitzgerald to a receiving corps that already had one of the NFL's best up and coming receivers in Anquan Boldin. To get the fullest extent of their production, Green must be on target with his call to stick with unaccomplished Josh McCown as his starting quarterback. McCown had an impressive finish to the 2003 season, but still has plenty of prove. Free-agent defensive end Bert Berry should mean a significant boost to the Cardinals' pass rush. Berry doesn't have much size, but plays with remarkable passion and gives every ounce of energy on each snap. In general, Arizona's defense will emphasize speed and quickness. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast intends to have a unit that will swarm to the ball and force turnovers in bunches.
The Seahawks have a fierce, three-way battle for the starting middle linebacker spot between Solomon Bates, Orlando Huff, and fourth-round draft pick Niko Koutouvides. Bates has the edge. In last year's training camp, he made a favorable impression on coaches with his hard hitting and athleticism.
Grant Wistrom's departure has prompted a wide-open competition for his vacant right defensive end position on the Rams. The leading candidates are Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers, but veteran Sean Moran and third-round draft pick Tony Hargrove also will compete for playing time.
Karlos Dansby, the Cardinals' second-round draft pick, should push Levar Fisher hard for the starting strong-side linebacker spot. At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Dansby has much more size to tangle with the extra blocking that comes with playing the position. He is also tremendously athletic.
Trouble spots to address
Somewhere, the Cardinals must find a defense while at the same time figuring out if McCown truly is ready to lead.
Until Bulger proves, on a consistent basis, he is the right man at quarterback for the Rams, questions will linger. And he no longer has Warner around to assume some of the criticism or controversy that goes with the position. Bulger needs to establish himself as an upper-level quarterback.
Rookies to watch
It has been widely presumed that when the Rams used a first-round draft pick on Steven Jackson, they had their eye on the future -- a future in which Marshall Faulk no longer has a home in their backfield. For now, though, Jackson has managed to get on the wrong side of Mike Martz by missing some offseason workouts and falling behind in his learning the offense. There still is a chance that Jackson will get some significant carries as a rookie. He has the strength and size to power his way between the tackles while giving Faulk valuable rest.
Cardinals third-round draft pick Darnell Dockett figures to have a great chance to make an immediate impact at defensive tackle because Dennis Green's defense -- back to his early days in Minnesota -- is geared for the tackle to generate a strong pass rush up the middle.
Justin Smiley, the first of the *****' two second-round draft picks, should draw some attention for the much-needed tenacity he will bring to San Francisco's offensive line.
-07-31-2004 #2moklerman Guest
Re: Quarterback questions dominate NFC West
Didn't want to start a new thread with this info, but for those of us who are still interested in Warner's career here is a quote from someone who's been going to the NY Giants training camp:
Manning was a little wild in the afternoon, but not without making some great throws along the way. There is no question in my mind as to his arm strength, but the one thing he seems to do occasionally, is get too much hand into the ball so it's not always a clean release. His ball can have some wobble to it. Warner was impressive again. I don't think Kurt threw a bad ball in either session.
So far, from what I've read about OTA's and training camp, Warner still posesses accuracy. Of course, Matt Hasslebeck looked great in preseason games but really stunk it up when he first got his chance. But, I would rather Warner be doing well in practice than struggling.
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