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Thread: Around the NFC West -- Offseason Edition

  1. #1

    Around the NFC West -- Offseason Edition

    Posted Jun 30, 2015

    Kyle Odegard


    As teams take down time before training camp, a look at the Cardinals' NFC West rivals

    There are stories surrounding all of the quarterbacks in the NFC West, including the Rams' Nick Foles (left), the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick (center) and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (right).

    NFL players are enjoying their last few weeks of downtime, but training camp will be here soon enough. As the Cardinals head to University of Phoenix Stadium in late July, their NFC West counterparts will also be preparing for the season. Here is a look at some of the main storylines from around the division heading into camp:


    Weathering the retirements: The 49ers had a tumultuous offseason with the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh and several prominent free agents, but the most unexpected news was the rash of retirements. Linebacker Patrick Willis, linebacker Chris Borland, defensive tackle Justin Smith and tackle Anthony Davis all called it quits, leaving significant holes on the roster. The 49ers still have talent, but the core has changed significantly from the group which Harbaugh captained to three straight NFC championship game appearances.

    Return to health: Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett didn’t participate in offseason work as he continues to rehabilitate from the torn ACL he suffered in training camp with the Cardinals last year. He signed a two-year deal with San Francisco after getting released by the Cards this offseason and pledges to be ready for camp, where he wants to prove there’s still plenty left in the tank. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman missed all of last season with a knee injury and is also making his way back. He’s been one of the best at his position when healthy but must prove there are no lingering effects.

    New look for Kaepernick: Geep Chryst has taken over as the new offensive coordinator for the 49ers, and how well quarterback Colin Kaepernick adapts to his system could have a big impact on the team’s season. The 49ers brought in deep threat Torrey Smith at wide receiver as the passing offense hopes to improve on below-average numbers from a year ago. It’s a pivotal year for Kaepernick, who must prove he’s worth the lucrative contract extension the team doled out to him before last season.


    The Russell Wilson extension: Whether the Seahawks and their star quarterback come to a contract extension agreement before camp or not, he’s still under team control for the next two seasons. However, the issue could become a distraction at some point, as it will be a regular talking point moving forward if a new deal isn’t hammered out. While the Seahawks may not want to pay Wilson the biggest contract in the league, they almost certainly won’t let him walk and put in doubt one of the league’s potential dynasties.

    The Jimmy Graham experience: Seattle’s biggest weakness last year was its lack of receiving options, and the addition of one of the league’s best tight ends will help that cause. Graham won’t likely put up the same numbers as he did with the high-scoring Saints, but should prove to be Wilson’s most dependable pass-catching threat. The Seahawks like to run the ball, so it will be interesting to see how much blocking Graham will do when playing tight end.

    Offensive line changes: Seattle dealt Pro Bowl center Max Unger to the Saints in the Graham trade, while left guard James Carpenter departed in free agency. There weren’t any big names brought in to replace them, so the conventional thinking is that the line may take a step back. Wilson and Marshawn Lynch combine as one of the best backfield duos in the NFL, but a leaky offensive line could affect their success.


    The Nick Foles era: The Rams have a new quarterback in Foles, who was acquired from the Eagles in a trade for Sam Bradford in the offseason. Foles had an outstanding second season in Philadelphia – throwing 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions – but unsurprisingly came back to earth in 2014. If he can contribute simply average quarterback play, it will be a welcome upgrade in St. Louis after injuries and mediocre results marred Bradford’s tenure with the team.

    The Todd Gurley factor: There hadn’t been a running back taken in the first round since 2012, but that didn’t stop the Rams from choosing Gurley No. 10 overall this year, despite the fact he tore an ACL in November. It may take some time for Gurley to get to full strength, but the team believes he will become a star. If Gurley and Foles lead an offensive resurrection to combine with a stout defense, the team could improve in a hurry.

    Another weapon on the defensive front: The rich get richer, as the already-ferocious Rams defensive line added former Lions standout Nick Fairley. He joins Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Chris Long and Michael Brockers in what should be one of the top defensive lines in football. The Rams’ pass-rush got off to a surprisingly slow start in 2014 – registering only one sack through the first five games, which was an NFL record for futility – but the production went up as the season went along, and it figures to be among the NFL’s best in 2015.
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  2. #2
    Around The NFC West - Training Camp Edition

    Posted Jul 30, 2015
    Kyle Odegard


    Email @Kyle_Odegard

    What to watch for as the Cardinals' divisional counterparts get to work

    The return to health of Rams RB Todd Gurley (left), Seahawks S Earl Thomas (middle) and 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman (right) could impact the NFC West in 2015

    As the Cardinals prepare for the start of training camp at the end of this week, so too do their NFC West brethren. The main questions surrounding Bruce Arians’ squad have been addressed. Here is a look at what the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams face as the 2015 season draws near.


    Reason for optimism: While the defense only finished in the middle of the pack in most categories last season, back-to-back shutouts and an impressive performance against Peyton Manning within a four-week stretch showed its upside. Everyone of consequence from the team’s ferocious defensive line returns, and it got even deeper with the addition of Nick Fairley. Safety T.J. McDonald leads the back end, and St. Louis’ personnel on that side of the ball should keep it in most games.

    Reason for concern: The defense will need to play very well, because the offense still lacks punch. The receiving group is short on impact players, while the offensive line has several question marks. The Rams traded Sam Bradford for Nick Foles in the offseason, and if the former Eagles’ quarterback can be close to an average performer, it would represent a healthy gain at the position for the Rams, who’ve dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness at quarterback for several seasons.

    What’s in flux: The Rams drafted Todd Gurley with the tenth overall pick and believe he can be a franchise-altering running back like Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. However, he tore his ACL last year in college and is still on the road to recovery. A good sign for St. Louis is that Gurley is on the active roster to begin training camp, which may mean he’s not far from full participation in drills. Gurley’s return to full speed and his subsequent effectiveness could play a big role in the team’s fortunes in 2015.


    Reason for optimism: There has been plenty of talk about the 49ers’ potential demise, but there is still talent on the roster. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been an elusive dual threat at times, although he’s been inconsistent recently. The additions of wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Reggie Bush and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett could help ease the concern of all the departures.

    Reason for concern: While the 49ers have infused new talent, there’s no question the mass departures will result in a new look. Former coach Jim Harbaugh is now at the University of Michigan, replaced by former defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. The 49ers were up against the cap, so it wasn’t a surprise when standouts like guard Mike Iupati, running back Frank Gore and cornerback Chris Culliver left for other teams, but a rash of unexpected retirements also sapped the roster. The 49ers are a shell of the team which made three consecutive NFC championship games from 2011-2013.

    What’s in flux: The 49ers’ fortunes may be tied to their linebacking corps. Two years ago it was a dominant unit, with Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis playing at elite levels. Willis retired in the offseason, but that seemed to be OK since rookie wunderkind Chris Borland stepped up masterfully in 2014. However, Borland unexpectedly retired as well, leaving the team thinner at the position. Bowman is returning from a knee injury which kept him out all of last year. If he can again become a star, and if Smith can avoid off-field troubles and play an entire 16-game slate, this group could lead the defense. If Bowman slips and/or Smith finds more controversy, the 49ers’ defense will take a big hit.


    Reason for optimism: The core of a team which has two Super Bowl appearances and a title the past two years is back. Running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson again will lead the offense, and the addition of tight end Jimmy Graham gives Seattle a badly-needed aerial option. The defense will again begin the season looking like the NFL’s finest, with cornerback Richard Sherman and linebacker Bobby Wagner among the standouts.

    Reason for concern: Lynch was otherworldly again in 2014, rushing for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards-per-carry. The combination of an elite running game and defense has made the Seahawks one of the best teams in football the past two years, and that looks like the formula again. However, Lynch will be 29 years old this year and has 2,220 professional rushing attempts, and running backs have historically slowed down near this point in their careers. Additionally, the offensive line lost Pro Bowl center Max Unger – traded to the Saints for Graham – and guard James Carpenter, and Seattle will rely on inexpensive options to replace them. If Lynch slows down or if the offensive line cannot adequately create holes, it could be enough to drop the Seahawks from NFC favorites.

    What’s in flux: The safety position. All-Pro Earl Thomas played in the Super Bowl with a separated shoulder and torn labrum he suffered in the NFC title game. He’s currently rehabilitating, but there’s concern he may miss at least the first game of the season. If he is out for any extended period, it will shift the way the Seahawks defend opponents. Fellow Pro Bowler Kam Chancellor is healthy, but he is reportedly unhappy with his contract and could choose to hold out at the start of training camp.
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