Around the NFC West: most pivotal 49ers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat singles out three players who could make the difference between 6-10 and 10-6 for the 49ers: Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson and Marvel Smith. Maiocco: "You will notice that I did not include Shaun Hill or Alex Smith on the list of the team's most important players. The 49ers do need production from the passing game, to be sure. But I think the best chance of getting production from the passing game is by receiving strong play from right tackle."

Mike Lombardi of National Football Post sizes up Mike Singletary as part of a series on first-year head coaches. Lombardi: "Game management is the downfall of most first-year NFL coaches. It is not as easy as knowing when to punt or kick a field goal. It starts on Tuesday night before the game as you lay out the items your team needs to do to win the game. Since Singletary does not call plays, he must be excellent in this area. If he makes mistakes here, he'll lose the confidence of the team." Hat tip: Seahawk Addicts.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle makes a case for lighter offensive linemen, noting that teams with less weight up front have often enjoyed great success. I track weights for starting offensive lines. Here were the five heaviest lines at the end of last season: Eagles, Bills, Saints, Ravens and Cowboys. The five lightest: Broncos, Titans, Colts, Patriots, Raiders. These were based on listed weights.

NFL reporter Howard Balzer questions via Twitter whether there's anything particularly tough about the Rams' camp schedule. Balzer: "Is Rams camp schedule really as tough as some are saying? No. Huge majority of afternoon practices are one hour or one hour, 15 minutes." I noticed that as well, but one man -- coach Steve Spagnuolo -- has said he expects a tough camp, independent of the format.

VanRam of Turf Show Times says the Rams' selection of fifth-round corner Bradley Fletcher reflects a desire to promote a physical approach in the secondary.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have agreed to terms with seventh-round choice Chris Ogbonnaya.

KFFL.com offers a fantasy report on Rams receiver Keenan Burton. KFFL: "The second-year wideout has reasonable speed and is in competition to be the No. 2 receiver with newcomer Laurent Robinson. Burton is a physical receiver despite being of average stature, and he could be made into a possession receiver for the Rams."

David Dorsey of the Fort Myers News-Press checks in with former Cardinals running back Edgerrin James at a charity event in Florida. James: "There are not 32 backs out there who are better than me. I want to continue to play. I can play at a high level. I'm not saying where I want to go. It will all take care of itself."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' special teams have much room for improvement heading into the 2009 season. Who will return kicks? Beanie Wells and Steve Breaston figure to get a look.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com ventures to the fringes of the Cardinals' roster in assessing receiver Lance Long and defensive lineman Keilen Dykes. Urban: "Former OC Todd Haley, who loved Long, is coaching a Kansas City team that needs talent at receiver. Long's college coach, Sylvester Croom, is on the Rams' staff -- another team that is hurting for wideouts. Those teams could be willing to scoop Long up if the Cards don't keep him with the 53."

Also from Urban: four players who could break out for Arizona this season. Calais Campbell, Bryant McFadden, Jason Wright and Gabe Watson made the list. I wonder if Early Doucet might have a chance if circumstances warranted. Also, at what point might line coach Russ Grimm develop a young lineman into starting material?

John Morgan of Field Gulls reviews the injury situation at defensive end for the Seahawks. Will Patrick Kerney be ready for the start of training camp? Easing back into practice seems like the right way to go. Meanwhile, Lawrence Jackson mentioned having suffered a foot injury in the 2008 opener. That injury is not expected to be a factor.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Seahawks kicker Brandon Coutu has been working with kicking legend Morten Andersen this offseason. Andersen: "Kickoffs are the thing right now for him. We're trying to get more power through the kickoff, better hang time and better distance. His ball-striking on his field goals is exceptional, but in order to be a complete NFL kicker you have to both of those skill-sets. The field-goal skill-set I'm pretty confident with, and I'm adding some of the mental specific things, putting him in tough situations. If you want to play at the highest level on Sunday afternoon, you have to practice at the highest level."