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Mailbag: Sizing up NFC West coordinators

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Hugh from Monterey writes: Appreciate your insights, Mike. If you play "rank 'em" again, will you do offensive and defensive coordinators? What criteria would you use? Would it be his ability to develop and optimize talent, his creativity as a strategist for schemes or his ability as a game-day tactitian who can make the adjustments? Players get their props. Sometimes head coaches get credit for everything, How about these less heralded wizards? Thanks.

Mike Sando: The ability to "dial it up" on game day is what separates the really good coordinators in most cases. If your coordinator is going to handle those duties, I think he needs to be able to do that very well. It's easier to cover for weaknesses during the practice week. Once the game starts, though, things move quickly and the coordinator must have a feel for situations and the opponent.

This question is very relevant in the NFC West this season. Niners defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is the only returning coordinator in the division.

The Rams' Pat Shurmur will be a primary offensive play caller in the NFL for the first time. Everything I've heard about him is positive, but if he doesn't have a knack for play calling, the Rams are pretty much stuck. Steve Spagnuolo is a defensive-minded head coach. He would not take over play calling on offense. For that reason, Shurmur was his most important hire.

The 49ers are similarly relying upon Jimmy Raye's play calling. They don't have an obvious fallback option if Raye struggles on game days. Raye is Mike Singletary's most important hire.

The Cardinals are protected from losing Todd Haley because Ken Whisenhunt can call the plays and probably handle those duties well.


Kristof from Jacksonville writes: Hey Mike, big fan of the blog. Everyone has been talking about the Rams' lack of experience at receiver. Most people seem to be counting on a big season from Steven Jackson to help out but also Randy McMichael to do more. Do you think McMichael can be a difference-maker on offense? Also, what's the weakest spot for the Rams besides receiver?
Mike Sando: Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is preparing a series of pieces analyzing weak spots for every NFC West team. Look for those to run Monday and Tuesday. Depth behind Jackson seems like another potential weakness for the Rams. And I wonder what happens if Leonard Little breaks down again. Where does the pass rush come from? Is the middle of the defense strong enough to hold up against the run? Does this team have a solid No. 2 corner? The Rams are obviously in the early stages of a major rebuild. They're low on parts.

I think McMichael can catch 40-plus passes for the Rams, depending on how they choose to use him in the offense. He is a factor, for sure, if not a difference-maker in the sense a Pro Bowl-caliber player would be one.


Rich from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Do you think that, quietly behind the scenes, the NFL owners are hoping that a St. Louis buyer for the Rams will not materialize and that the team will move back to Los Angeles? It's got to be such a sore point for them that there's no NFL presence in such a huge market, and the Rams are the obvious, logical choice to go there.

Mike Sando: Some owners might logically be thinking along those lines. I don't know if they are thinking that way, but sure, they would like to have a team in Los Angeles.


Kevin from Cambridge, Mass., writes: How much you wanna bet that Joe Staley has a problem with his deal three years from now when he's dramatically underpaid [assuming he becomes what the 49ers think he will]? Why doesn't anybody learn from the Sheldon Brown, Anquan Boldin, Jason Peters, etc., scenarios?

Mike Sando: Joe Staley doesn't seem like the type of guy to complain about a contract or hold out. I think the 49ers will be fine on this one three years from now. But there's no way this deal remains intact through 2017.


Jacob from Chico, Calif., writes: I just read a rumor about the Redskins' LaRon Landry being on the trading block. I think he would make a lot of sense for the 49ers. What would the asking price be and what are the chances the 49ers would actually make a deal?

Mike Sando: Landry hasn't shown up for the Redskins' offseason workouts and he hasn't returned calls from the team. Without knowing specifics, I can't see the Redskins trading such a young and talented player. Landry would look very good in a 49ers uniform, that's for sure, but it just seems unlikely.


Jess from La Quinta, Calif., writes: I love the draft that the Hawks had this year. I look at clean and smart picks of talent, character and locker room prowess. My only concern, knock on wood, is the fate of our QB position. Matt Hasselbeck is a stud and as long as he is healthy, he will continue to be a stud. But, should he go down, I don't see Seneca Wallace really carrying the torch.

Jim Mora has certainly found ways to run an offense with a mobile QB, but wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the offense that is being installed now with our corps of solid recievers? Do you see a possible trade for a solid pocket passer in the near future, or do you think Tim Ruskell will just play out the season in hopes of an injury-free Hasselbeck, banking on a solid draft with a QB in mind next year? As always, I love your stuff Sando, keep it up!

Mike Sando: Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp says it's relatively easy to work new players into his system. The Seahawks consider that a strength of the offense. The previous system took years to master. If the new system is truly suited to work in new players, the Seahawks should be able to function decently even without Hasselbeck. Wallace is a pretty good backup when he's healthy.

I have no evidence the Seahawks are angling to trade for a quarterback at this point.


David from Sacramento writes: Would you risk putting [49ers fifth-round choice] Nate Davis on the practice squad? With the uncertainty surrounding the QB situation in San Francisco, it is probably better to keep Damon Huard on the roster in case Hill/Smith gets hurt or flat-out stinks. But I've got to believe that some teams around the league would quickly scoop up Davis. Of course, with the number of available veteran QBs still out there, the 49ers could afford to keep Davis on the roster and pick up Huard or another vet. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Some of that depends on what type of relationship a team has with the practice-squad candidate. The 49ers could always sign Davis from their practice squa
d to the 53-man roster when another team reached out to Davis, assuming Davis agreed to play along. Fifth-round quarterbacks generally earn opening-day roster spots.


Michael from Corona, Calif., writes: Hi Mike. I know Aubrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga of the 49ers played better toward the end of last season. How have they looked during the OTAs so far? I read that a couple passes were tipped by the d-line. Did one of them tip? Also, where do you think Demetric Evans, Ricky Jean-Francois and Kentwan Balmer fit into the lineup? I am assuming Franklin and Sopoaga are starting with Justin Smith. Also, when can we expect Marvel Smith on the field? I haven't heard anything on him since the signing.

Mike Sando: Justin Smith starts at right end. We know that. I thought Franklin played well enough late last season to nail down the job at nose tackle. Balmer will get some consideration in that spot. Ray McDonald will be in the mix for a starting spot at end, but his injury situation could keep him from asserting himself until a few games into the season. Sopoaga is working as the starting left end, ahead of Balmer. Evans could factor there as well.

Marvel Smith is participating in individual drills, but not team drills. I suspect we won't see much from him until training camp.


Harry from San Francisco writes: Mike, I was wondering if you could comment on what has stood out to you most while visiting the 49ers camp. Is it the attitude, or the pace of practice, or the play on either side of the ball? Thanks for your great coverage!

Mike Sando: You're welcome. I thought the energy and engagement level stood out. Lots of audible chatter and communication on the field.


Joe stationed overseas in the Army writes: Sando, I have heard a lot about the 49ers' competition at QB but what about the cornerback competition and secondary overall? Normally, we are talking about how the secondary really needs help. This year, we got some new faces, injuries and swagger. Should the Niner Faithfull expect a better year for the secondary or more of the same?

Mike Sando: I tend to expect a better season if Dashon Goldson is healthy. The 49ers cannot count on Goldson staying healthy, but his athletic ability at free safety could help out other positions.


Kyle from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Are we seeing a new trend in the NFL with the recent releasing of high dollar veterans? Are players like Torry Holt, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Greg Ellis, etc., considered disposable? Why can't some of these guys find jobs and what happened to letting them finish out their contracts until they retire?

Mike Sando: The trend is hardly new. This is what happens in the salary-cap era. Let's face it, though: These things were happening even before teams really started paying attention to the cap in the mid- and late-1990s. Joe Namath finished his career with the Rams. The 49ers traded Joe Montana to the Chiefs (during the very early stages of the cap). The bottom line is that players get old, coaching staffs change, salaries increase and teams move on.

Brooks and Harrison are probably waiting to see if they really want to continue with other teams.


Kyle from Tempe, Ariz., writes: The 49ers have two first-round draft picks next year, as you well know. I would say their most pressing needs are at quarterback and safety, two positions with potential superstars such as Taylor Mays and Sam Bradford. Do they keep both of their picks in hopes of getting a great player or use it now to land a great player who is on the trading block, such as Julius Peppers or even Vince Young?

Mike Sando: The 49ers do not know the answer to that question, nor do I. All things being equal, I think a team tries to build through the draft. Another scenario would be for the 49ers to finish this season with a decent record, then trade their two first-rounders to move into position for one of the top quarterbacks.


Nick from Portland, Ore., writes: No matter how well Matt Hasselbeck may play this season, which is the subject of much debate, it's wise to prepare for life without him. How does Mike Teel change the quarterback situation for the Seahawks, specifically the 2010 draft? The Seahawks have the first-round firepower to get a franchise QB next year. Are the Hawks hoping they hit a late-round jackpot with Teel this year? Do they flex their first-round muscle in 2010 and draft one of the big name QB's? By draft day next year, will Teel have had enough reps in practice to satisfy the Seattle front office that he is or is not their guy?

Mike Sando: Teel won't get enough reps. The Seahawks will not feel good enough about him, most likely, to consider him a starter in the near term. The pressure is off if Hasselbeck plays well this season and stays healthy. But if it's clear he is at the end, I don't see how the Seahawks can bank on a sixth-round pick at the expense of considering their options early in the draft.


Nicholas from New York writes: Sando, The CBA negotiations just started. The new players' rep is a savy lawyer. He mentioned if they got away from the cap in 2010 that they probably would never go back. As a big fan of the NFL, I'm not sure how I feel about this. The parity is a big draw for me. What teams do you think would benefit? What teams would this hurt? Would the product change? Of all the sports, the NFL has the greatest chance of staying the same uncapped [with players earning tons of dollars] system for the simple fact that if you do not go 100 percent as a player, you will get hurt. What do you think?
Mike Sando: There's nothing new about the NFLPA's stance on a cap. I expect the sides to work out an agreement that includes a cap. An uncapped year wouldn't necessarily be great for all the players. No cap would mean no minimum spending requirement. Some teams would probably spend less than they are spending now. The Jerry Joneses and Dan Snyders might spend more. Paul Allen could certainly spend more. I tend to think the NFL needs to retake control of the situation, even if it means locking out players.