Marathon mailbag: Maurice Morris vs. Julius Jones

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Doug from Eau Claire, Wis., writes: I know that preseason games and stats don't mean much, if anything, when it comes to the regular season, but with Maurice Morris averaging 4.5 YPC last year and going for 10 ypc in the preseason game against the Vikings, why is he seemingly still an afterthought when discussing the Seattle ground game? He's 28 years old and he can catch passes. Shouldn't he be the frontrunner to get the majority of carries?

Mike Sando: The perception on Morris is that he's a career backup and not suited for the starting role because he can't take the pounding. The perception exists because Morris has been a backup for his entire career, and he did not put up big numbers when given a chance to start (admittedly without the type of blocking Shaun Alexander enjoyed for most of his starting tenure). Morris has also had some injuries over the years. But he gets a chance this summer to put those perceptions to rest. His performance in the exhibition opener was a start. Jones gets the start against the Bears on Saturday.

Ethan from Simi Valley, Calif., writes: Do you see W. Jones retiring along with Holmgren? I feel the O-Line is something we're going to have to address in upcoming drafts. The running game by committee looks good. I'm worried about the kicking game. Comments?

Mike Sando: Walter Jones' health will probably dictate his retirement plans. He is feeling better now than he has in a couple of years. I see Jones playing as long as those shoulders hold up.

Clark from Hayward, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, Julius Jones has been one of the offeason's biggest question marks for the Hawks and I am anxious to see him start this Saturday. How well is he fitting into Holmgren's system so far in camp? Do you think he can be a Brian Westbrook type of player in this WCO style system?

Mike Sando: Westbrook is a special talent. I do not think Julius Jones is on that level. However, he does fit into the offense well in terms of catching the ball and picking up blitzes. The question, as I see it, is whether Jones can run the ball well enough to command most of the touches. If he's not a significantly better runner than Maurice Morris, then I see less reason for the staff to keep Jones in the game.

Branden from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Hey Mike, Looking for some more insight on the Cardinals, particularly what we can do to add some depth to our Offensive Line. We are terribly thin behind our five starters and Lyle Sendlein at Center. I know we have Elton Brown who is a relatively versatile player (able to play G and T)and he has certainly improved in the past season, but like the D-Line last year, I am worried a rash of injuries will severely impact our ability to go out and compete and win games. Are there any rumors of veteran OL who may be released that would be worth picking up? Anyone else on the roster have enough ability to be able to step in and play (ex. Elliot Vallejo?). As always, I appreciate the insight.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals need to develop younger players at the position. Brandon Keith is one example. He was the only drafted offensive lineman for Arizona this year. The team needs to draft more players at the position. Picking up veterans as stopgaps isn't going to make the line succeed over the long term. Having Russ Grimm as the line coach helps. He knows what it takes for a line to work well together. You are right about the depth, though. Another injury or two could severely impact the line.

Larry from Seattle writes: Mike, Let's pretend the Hawks place Chris Spencer on IR (which, while speculative, is certainly not out of the question). Vallos starts with virtually no back-up? A month ago, most of us would have laughed at the idea of Vallos as starter. Though he looked pretty good against the Vikes, it's still a real concern. What's worse, we don't seem to have anyone to step in if he goes down. What team out there is flush with quality centers that we might be able to trade with?

Mike Sando: NFL teams drafted six centers in 2008. The Colts drafted three of them. I keep seeing the same centers bouncing around the fringes of NFL rosters. Pat Ross is one of them. He has been in camp with Seattle. You just don't see quality centers popping free this time of year. I think Seattle is stuck.

Jon from Seattle writes: Since the hawks are looking to be deep at fullback, what do you think of weaver seeing some time at TE and schmitt stepping into the starting FB role?

Mike Sando: I think that would weaken two positions. Weaver is a threat as a runner. He has Pro Bowl potential as a fullback. He doesn't project to tight end in the NFL. Weaver is finally looking like a quality fullback. I would leave him there and let him grow into the role. Schmitt did look good in the exhibition opener, but it's one game. He probably needs more time to learn the offense.

Grant from Omaha, Neb., writes: Is Ali Highsmith as good as he looked the other night? Gerald Hayes never seems to make enough play's behind the line and would love to see someone in there who can. Is he finally the guy and if so how quick before he gets his shot at taking over that spot?

Mike Sando: Highsmith has looked good for the Cardinals. I do expect Hayes to remain the starter, though.

Kalen from Naches, Wash., writes: Hi Mike, Justin Forsett has been impressive. Would the Seahawks ever consider using him as a receiver, possibly in the slot position (or, alternatively, as a 5th receiver)? He has the athleticism, and the right size, too. I'd hate to see him get cut because of the recent injuries at the receiver position.

Mike Sando: I can't see Forsett making the transition to wide receiver. His size would not help him at that position. You wouldn't want to sacrifice a true receiver on the roster just to develop a project at the position. Forsett looks like a change-of-pace running back. If he's going to increase his value, he should do it on special teams.

Brian from Seattle writes: Hey Mike I was just wondering if there were any details on Chris Spencer's injury. I keep hearing that he hurt his back but have yet to hear anyone say what is wrong with it. I have also heard that Vallos will be the starter until Spencer returns, which may happen after the opener. It seems like no one has even reported what is actually wrong and I was wondering if you could shed some light. Thanks!

Mike Sando: I do not know the exact nature of Spencer's back injury. Sometimes back injuries are a little mysterious that way. The fact that they expected him back already tells me it's nothing structural. Matt Hasselbeck is going through something similar, it appears. He was set to practice the other day, then suddenly couldn't go. People with back injuries know the flare-ups can be unpredictable.

Ed from Arlington, Va., writes: Given everything that Alex Smith has been through, don't you find it interesting that he seemingly refuses to take the bull by the horns, and act like more of a leader and as "the guy" in San Francisco? It seems as though O'Sullivan on the mental and attitude side is what Nolan and Martz want, even if JTO isn't as physically gifted as Smith. You'd think Smith would get the message, or am I missing something?

Mike Sando: I've had the same thought, but a player can't pretend to be someone he's
not. I think Smith needs the support of the organization, starting with the head coach, to rebound and succeed. He is not getting that support.

Dugan from Coulee Dam, Wash., writes: Is it about time to give up on the idea of getting to watch Marcus Tubbs strike fear in opposing Offensive lines? What are the chances his knee issues are in the past and I finally get to enjoy our big man for a full 16? Our D-line has been very solid, and I believe a healthy Tubbs could put our D in the "NFL's best" category...is it just hopeful thinking?

Mike Sando: I should have gotten to your e-mail a couple of days ago. Marcus Tubbs' career in Seattle could be finished now that the team terminated his contract. I do think Tubbs still has a chance to resurface if the knee improves, but it's tough for large men to remain explosive after microfracture knee surgery.

David from Lynnwood, Wash., writes: Mike, with Bobby Engram's injury, why not pick up someone who knows the offense, like Koren or Darrell? I know they have been shown the door, but at least Koren has shown that he has turned the corner, something Mike always wished would happen. At the very least, it gives those two a chance to shine, maybe catch on Elsewhere. I see it as a no-risk solution to depth, with a significant upside.

Mike Sando: Darrell Jackson is property of the Broncos. He was unhappy in Seattle toward the end. There's no way the Seahawks would revisit that one. Koren Robinson's history in Seattle is more problematic. Players liked Robinson. Coaches liked Robinson. But the problems Robinson had off the field outweighed the positives. The organization went to the Super Bowl after releasing Robinson. It was time to take a stand and there's probably no going back.

Richie from Los Angeles writes: How much does the injury to Bobby Engram shift the balance of power in the NFC West, at least at the beginning of the season? I am, admittedly, a diehard Arizona Cardinals fan and it seems like they are not getting as much national hype this preseason as they have in some past years as a "sleeper" team (which is perfectly ok because they fall flat on their faces when they do get noticed). The Seahwaks have a tough schedule overall (as does Arizona), but with Engram out for perhaps the first month, defenses may find it easier to stop Seattle's thin receivng corps and unproven ground game. The Cardinals, on the other hand, seem to have a very winnable five of their first six and could get out to a quick advantage in the division. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' problems come later in the season. Look at those final seven games. They are tough. Seattle opens at Buffalo before returning home to face the 49ers. I don't see the Engram injury changing the balance of power in the division. A combination of injuries could have more of an impact. If the Seahawks are without Chris Spencer, Engram, Patrick Kerney, Red Bryant and others, then I think Seattle could fall off. Remember, too, that Matt Hasseleck is missing practices. His health is also key.

Adam from Sacramento writes: Sando... Nolan said that there aren't any quarterbacks "available" that they are interested in, but what about a guy like Chris Simms or soon to be released Josh McCown? They've gotta be better than at least 2 if not all of the 49ers current QBs. And I doubt it would take more than a 6th rounder.

Mike Sando: Your thinking sounds logical to me, but logic might not apply to this quarterback race.

Adam from Sacramento is back for more: Sando! You said the other day that it is more likely for one of the 49ers QB's to play himself out of the competition instead of playing better and separating himself... it seems to me that Smith will probably win the competition then. He's so scared to throw a pick that he holds the ball too long... he won't throw as many picks as the other 2 but he doesn't throw TD's either... your thoughts?

Mike Sando: I see no evidence that anyone on the 49ers' coaching staff is pulling for Smith. That makes me wonder what Smith has to do to win the job. Perhaps he needs a lights-out performance.

Brad from Oak Harbor, Wash., writes: We have to get a receiver, right? i mean who is gonna replace the #1 and the #2, surely not N. Burelson.... or does Holmgren think he has enough to hold down the fort?

Mike Sando: Do you see a true No. 1 receiver on the market, someone capable of stepping in and starting? I do not.

Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, What about the possibility of Reggie Smith playing some safety for the Niners? I believe he played CB and S and college and our S depth is worse than at CB.

Mike Sando: I don't see an immediate need given what Dashon Goldson has shown in camp, do you?

Kraig from Puyallup, Wash., writes: I'm particularly interested in how Seahawks depth at slot receiver is shaking out. Engram was playing flanker instead of slot because Branch is injured. Now that Engram himself is injured, Taylor seems poised to fill in for him, but at which receiving position? According to Farnsworth, Obomanu has been playing slot for the 1st team, Bumpus for the 2nd. Who else could fill that role? Payne? I'm assuming Kent is a flanker. In general, one wonders if the younger WRs (other than Obomanu) are having to learn multiple positions.

Mike Sando: Payne would seem to have the versatility to play that role.

Mayank from Philadelphia writes: Given Josh Morgan's solid performance in the 49ers' preseason game, can we expect a decent season or is it too much to expect from a rookie? Also, I saw a statistic saying that since JT Osullivan has been elevated into the QB competition, he has received 8 first team practices as opposed to 2.5 and 1.5 for the others... is O'Sullivan the 49ers true QB?

Mike Sando: I think Morgan is positioned for a decent season. At QB, the 49ers are saying this is an open competition, but their actions suggest O'Sullivan is the leader in the clubhouse.

Kenny from Phoenix writes: Do you think Ali Highsmith (undrafted rookie from LSU) will make the squad? He looked impressive in their first pre-season game.

Mike Sando: I think he has a decent chance right now. Let's see how he performs in the next couple of games.

Jonathan from Helena, Mont., writes: How is Bobby Engram being out for 6-8 weeks going to affect the Hawks, and are any of the young receivers ready to step up and fill in to be a threat?

Mike Sando: Engram's injury forces the Seahawks to diversify their offense. They need to use the running backs and tight ends more than in the past. I think Seattle should be OK getting Engram back after the first couple of games.

California Surfer from Laguna Beach, Calif., writes: Mike, Thank you for all the hard work you have done keeping us up on the NFC West and of course my 49ers. I have 2 questions. One: How well do you think Takeo Spikes will boost the 49er Defense? And from what you have seen right now who is the most capable QB the 49ers have? I am tired of Nolan saying we have three QB's that can win. Can any of them win?

Mike Sando: I'm a little skeptical about moving older players into highly physical roles. Seattle added Jamie Sharper a few years ago. Great addition, e
xcept his body wasn't up to it. How much does Spikes have left? We'll find out. As for the QB, I would have done everything possible to put Alex Smith in position to succeed. I do not think they have done that so far.

Nick from Vancouver, Wash., writes: I know it's probably too early to be asking this, but do you see the Seahawks getting a number 1 or 2 seed in the postseason? I have a hard time believing any NFC South or North division winners will be better than the Seahawks record wise. Is 11-5 reasonable?

Mike Sando: Seattle needs that divisional-round home game. I'm not sure about 11 victories, though. I could see another divisional-round road game, which makes things tough.

Marc from Lubbock, Texas, writes: I am not a seahawks fan but my question is since all the injuries to WR, do you think Joel Filani has a chance to make the team. I am a big fan of his.

Mike Sando: I think Filani will have a hard time earning a spot on the 53-man roster. There do not appear to be enough spots.