Around the NFC West: Alex Smith retrospective

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News looks back on Alex Smith's four seasons with the 49ers, soliciting input from a few sources: Smith, 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan, ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck and former Utah offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. Hasselbeck: "There was a time [in 2007] when quarterbacks around the league were talking about it. We were asking each other, 'Is this guy hurt or is he just mailing it in?' No one knew. Mike Nolan had essentially called him out, questioning his toughness. But whenever we talked to players from the 49ers, they were telling us, 'No, this guy is legitimately injured. The ball isn't coming out of his hand the same.' People talk about Drew Brees' rotator cuff and Tom Brady's knee, but not enough was made of Smith's shoulder."

Bill Beckner Jr. of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review checks in with 49ers rookie linebacker Scott McKillop. The fifth-round draft choice appears to be taking nothing for granted. He isn't even buying a new vehicle after signing a contract.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com draws parallels between Cardinals rookie Greg Toler and 2008 first-round choice Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Urban: "It started at the most simple level -- Toler, the rookie fourth-round draft pick is running behind DRC at left cornerback. Then again, the two were tied together in other ways. Their "HBCU" roots -- playing at a historically black college/university -- at Tennessee State and Saint Paul's, respectively. Their parallel journeys up NFL team's draft boards after college ended. Their similar size -- DRC is 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds; Toler 6-foot, 191. The thought both could eventually emerge as very good NFL cornerbacks."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams receiver Tim Carter, formerly of the Giants, sat out last season while focusing on his youth center and businesses. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "I think he's got a load of talent. He's been away from it for a year, so you've got to figure out if he can knock the rust off. But if he does that ..." Carter has 80 receptions for 1,084 yards and four touchdowns in 69 regular-season games, with 11 starts.

John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks Brandon Mebane's position change on the defensive line is a key variable for the team's run defense. Morgan: "Seattle needs Mebane to be as dominant at the three as he was at the one, and if he is, he will be the engine of this defense and earn his first Pro Bowl. If he's not, Seattle's rush defense could collapse like it did in 2006, post-Marcus Tubbs." Some of that depends up on what Colin Cole adds to the team.