Around the NFC West: Crabtree's challenge

Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why there's a good chance Michael Crabtree will flourish with the 49ers. Two words: Vernon Davis. Padecky: "Remember two seasons ago when a talented 49er was criticized for being inconsistent and not a team player? Remember how we all moaned that Vernon Davis had such untapped talent that if applied properly, he would become an All-Pro? Last year Davis had the highest average-per-catch of any tight end in the NFL, 16.3 yards. He was the first tight end in 49er history to lead the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns." Padecky also holds up Crabtree's 27-game stats against those for other former 49ers receivers. More here.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up offensive free agents for the 49ers with an eye toward which ones will return. He lists Tony Wragge, Jeff Reed, Troy Smith and Brian Westbrook as players not expected back. What about Barry Sims? Barrows: "The 49ers might decide that this is the year promising Alex Boone, a one-time undrafted free agent who could end up being the steal of the 2009 class, takes over the swing tackle role from Sims. But when choosing between the proven commodity and the intriguing young player, coaches typically side with caution. That's what the 49ers did a year ago when they tapped Sims, a 13-year veteran, to take over at left tackle for injured Joe Staley."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says there are more questions than answers on defense for the 49ers. Maiocco: "The defensive coaching staff is going to be working against the clock to figure all this out -- and determine the best way to improve the 49ers' No. 24 ranking against the pass from a year ago. Do not expect new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to try to make the 49ers' defense something it is not. Would he like to employ a pressure defense like what his longtime associate Dom Capers has done in Green Bay?" If he had the right personnel, sure.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers highlights from the Rams' most recent relief trip to Joplin, Mo. Softli: "Pro scout Ray Agnew and defensive line coach Brendan Daly, along with a few others, went into the heavily impacted area called 'ground zero.' This group was responsible for removing debris from the foundation of homes and dragging the materiel curbside for removal. Other groups contributed in the call or data communication center and others went to help with the sorting of donations, including at a local Catholic church. I was assigned to the group that would head to Misti's Mission, which included Rams owners and 10-15 employees."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on Matt Williamson's recently published Top 15 list for NFC West players. Williamson did not include Steven Jackson. He offered this explanation to Balzer via email: "Jackson was actually 16th on my list. I just see him as a declining player who has taken too much of a beating over the years. It happens to every RB and I just think that time has come for Jackson. Adding a quality backup could certainly help his cause though going forward and lessening the stress on his body. But I no longer see big plays from Jackson -- which is often the first thing to go when RBs decline. I also don't see the same burst, elusiveness and acceleration."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com summarizes Jay Feely's interview with ESPN regarding the lockout. Feely, the Cardinals' veteran kicker, suggests a labor agreement isn't as close as advertised. Feely: "I do not think it is as close as some people make it out to be. There are still some issues we have to resolve. I do not think we are going to miss games. I am hopeful that we will not miss games. But there are definitely some steps that need to be taken. Rational thought needs to be the dominant force driving these negotiations." The owners have shown restraint, in my view, by not publicly leveraging the recent appeals-court ruling in their favor. That seems to be a sign that negotiations are serious and there's a good chance for an agreement.

Also from Urban: a look at the Cardinals' running backs.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Hall of Famer Steve Largent for a look back at the team's 1988 season. A wild road victory over the Raiders in the final week of the regular season delivered an AFC West title to Seattle. Largent: "Dave Krieg just couldn’t miss that day. And we needed everything he had, because the Raiders were scoring just as fast as we were."

Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly says the Seahawks are confident Max Unger can take over effectively at center.