Around the NFC West: Willis wasn't alone

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up the 49ers' inside linebackers. Lynch: "The best thing the 49ers do as a team is play inside linebacker. The reputed Patrick Willis remains the team's best player and largely because of his talents, the 49ers are excellent against the run. Last season may have been Willis's most challenging. Teams figured they had to run away from Willis or be devoured. Opposing offenses decide to run offensive linemen at Willis instead of running backs and his tackle total for the season dropped. Nevertheless, the 49ers dropped just two places from fourth to sixth according to profootballoutsiders.com in their effectiveness against the run. Even though Willis wasn't always making the tackle, they were still able to cage running backs. Why? Two words: Takeo Spikes." The 49ers' signing of Spikes before the 2008 season stands as one of the better low-profile moves an NFC West team has made in recent seasons. He projected as a one- or two-year stopgap initially, but Spikes has started 44 of 48 games. He's been credited with six interceptions and 16 passes defensed. At age 34, he does not appear finished.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com explains how 49ers kicker Fabrizio Scaccia can play in the Arena League during the lockout. The Cardinals' Cliff Louis is doing the same thing. Maiocco: "The players are required to report to their NFL teams when the lockout ends. The AFL is in Week 6 of their 18-game regular season. The Arena Bowl, the league championship, is scheduled for Aug. 12. Scaccia also played last fall with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Tom Gamble and Tom Rathman were there when Eastern Washington University's Taiwan Jones ran for scouts. Branch: "Jones, perhaps the draft’s most tantalizing running-back prospect, clocked 40-yard dash times that ranged anywhere from 4.28 to 4.35 seconds, according to the figures from the phalanx of scouts on hand. Perspective: On a different surface, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott had the fastest 40 (4.34) among running backs at the NFL Combine and Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke had the fastest time overall (4.28). Jones also registered some other eye-opening measurables, including a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump, five inches shy of the all-time combine record."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gives the Cardinals a "C" grade for the first-round selections they've made since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. The grade isn't any better for the second and third rounds. Somers on the first-rounders: "Levi Brown is the most controversial of the four, partly because the Cardinals passed on running back Adrian Peterson to take him. Whisenhunt defends Brown, who moved from right tackle to left in 2010, calling him an improving player. But Brown has been average, at best, and more is expected of a fifth pick. A bust? I don't say that. But more was/is expected. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took a step back last year after making great progress his first two years. A Pro Bowler in 2009, he’s been worth the first-round pick. Wells has yet to live up to expectations, but I've seen the Cardinals give up too early on other backs. A little patience could pay dividends. Dan Williams showed improvement in the latter half of the 2010 season."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com profiles new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who likes keeping people off-balance -- on the field and with the braided hair he wears. Urban: "In Horton’s world, he doesn’t want to be that predictable. He’ll drive to work various routes. If he’s playing golf, he may use a 6-iron on a particular shot and then, if a similar shot comes up again, try to 8-iron, just to see the difference. He’s also got the hair, which he started growing in Pittsburgh and -- when no one said anything -- just kept growing it, in part egged on by his players." Said Cardinals assistant DeShea Townsend: "Most coaches don’t have the good hair. That’s how I see it. This is his Samson moment."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' offensive linemen are working out together during the lockout. Thomas: "We train on Tuesdays and Thursdays together as a group. That way we get some camaraderie and cohesiveness that everybody who knows anything about football knows is important for our group. So we train together twice a week, and then most of us train there at other times during the day on a one-on-one basis [with a personal trainer]."

Also from Thomas: Draft prospects visiting the Rams hung out in the late Georgia Frontiere's posh suite at Rams Park, dining on steaks catered by Ruth's Chris. Julio Jones and Corey Liuget were among the 19 confirmed attendees.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams were better than expected at defensive end last season, including backups. Wagoner: "C.J. Ah You’s performance came as a bit of a surprise on the heels of his return from a season-ending knee injury in 2009. But he answered the bell as a third-down pass rush specialist as he was fourth on the team with four sacks and 10 quarterback hits and pressures while also showing the versatility to move inside. As a seventh-round choice, George Selvie impressed coaches with a strong preseason before he was put on the sidelines early with a foot injury. Selvie pushed through and contributed 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits while also proving solid against the run."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says former receiver Michael Bumpus is giving soccer a try. Writes Mark Gaschk of soundersfc.com: "He started playing club soccer at age 13 with Santa Monica United and played his high school soccer at Culver City High School, where he was one of the better defenders in the region and was heavily recruited. He even went to Europe with his club team, where the soccer bug had him fully enraptured. However, when it came time to decide on his future in his senior year of high school, the scholarships he was being offered to play football outweighed a scenario that would have him playing soccer and paying his own way through college."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times provides a chat transcript featuring former Seahawks coach Jim Mora. Mora says the Eagles would be a great fit for Jake Locker. Also from Mora: "I'd like to see them re-sign Matt (Hasselbeck) just because I have so much respect for him and he's such an institution here in Seattle. But I think it's irresponsible as an organization if you don't address the future at such an important position as quarterback. And I think they've tried to address the future with the signing of Whitehurst and they'll continue to do so." But he thinks selecting Locker wouldn't be a great idea for Seattle.