Mailbag: Hightower, Wells and the future

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Robb from Marin County writes: Bay Area postgame radio suggested that Beanie Wells could be the full-time starter for the Cardinals by Week 3 or 4. How likely of a scenario is this? Could we see a running back by committee for a bit? I'm thinking partially along the lines of fantasy implications, but I am also interested in how quickly the Cardinals would switch to a new back after upgrading Tim Hightower over Edgerring James last year.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals went back to James last season, so the commitment to Hightower is not strong. If it were, the team probably could have found another use for the first-round choice it used for Wells. I see Wells' role only increasing. Hightower seems to challenge the perimeter only when the Cardinals throw him the ball there.

Wells looks like he's close to breaking long runs. I never get that feeling with Hightower. Hightower's longest run in 151 regular-season carries covered 30 yards. James had a 35-yarder last season. Wells already has a 15-yard run despite having only seven career carries.

I also think Hightower appears better suited for a two-back offense. The Kurt Warner-led Cardinals are at their best running a one-back offense with three wide receivers and a tight end or four wide receivers with no tight end. That is my opinion, anyway. The Cardinals might not have made that determination yet, but I suspect that is where things could head once Wells shows he can handle the basics of the offense, such as not stranding Warner in the backfield while overrunning the handoff.

There still could be a role for Hightower in the longer term, even with Warner at quarterback. Arizona was effective at times with two backs and only one wide receiver on the field. It's simply not something the team will do extensively as long as wide receiver remains a strength.

Casey from Medford, Ore., writes: I, as well as many other 49er die-hards, am pretty thown by the Michael Crabtree situation. With all the coverage of Jed York's invite the other day, has there been any response from anyone in Crabtree's camp and, if not, do you feel that there will be anytime soon?

Mike Sando: There's almost no chance a player's agent would submit to that type of arrangement. One of the agent's jobs is to insulate his client from caving to emotions. If Crabtree went along with such a meeting, I would consider it a victory for the 49ers and evidence that Crabtree was starting to break. I'd be surprised if Crabtree's camp responded in a meaningful way.

Richard from Dayton, Ohio writes: Can you tell us when the Crabtree spot on Dr. Lou was recorded? Your analysis related thereto would also be appreciated. It has significantly different implications if recorded, say, two months ago, rather than last week (assuming it was taken seriously by Crabtree at all).

If recent, it could indicate a signing forthcoming, and a way for Crabtree to gain back the favor of 49ers fans, though likely still orchestrated by Parker. Thanks!

Mike Sando: That video of Crabtree was not recent. It showed tape of Crabtree asking Lou Holtz, "Dr. Lou, what advice do you give players when dealing with an agent?" The question was posted generically -- not in relation to the current contract dispute -- and appeared to be from months ago.

Joe from Pittsburgh writes: Do you ever go home at night embarrassed that you cover the St. Louis Rams? Honestly, what needs to be done to get this team a red-zone visit now and then?!

Mike Sando: The Rams need more from the passing game. Everyone knows Steven Jackson is the focal point of the offense. Donnie Avery needs to make a big play. His long reception at Washington last season helped the Rams upset the Redskins. It's also reasonable to expect the Rams to cut down on the penalties. Penalties killed drives against Seattle and put the Rams in less favorable down-distance situations. The Rams will improve. They have to.

SeahawksOwnTheWest from Seattle writes: Do you believe that there is more pressure on the 49ers to win against Seattle at home? I think all the pressure has to be on San Francisco to win at home. If Seattle comes into San Francisco and leaves with a win, that will be HUGE for the Seahawks, but if the Seahawks were to lose they would more than likely split the two games with a win at Qwest Field.

If San Francisco loses at home, you couldn't expect them to win in Seattle. This early in the season, I don't think the one-game lead in the division is as important as being able to hold down home-field advantage and steal a game or two on the road within the division, not including the Rams. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: There's not a lot of pressure on anyone in Week 2. However, I think the 49ers have more to gain from a victory because they are less established in recent seasons and they would have beaten their two primary challengers for the NFC West title in Mike Singletary's first full season as head coach.

Tanner from Southern California writes: Sando! Quick fantasy question: After Seattle shut down Steven Jackson last week, would you start Frank Gore against the Seahawks or would you rather start Larry Johnson against Oakland?

Mike Sando: You've come to the right place for fantasy advice. I'm ranking among the top 1,300 in the NFC West Gridiron Challenge. You know the 49ers will commit to Gore. You know the Seahawks have some injury concerns at linebacker and defensive tackle. Those would be good reasons to consider Gore. Larry Johnson's projected fate hinges on what you think of the Raiders' run defense, which was considered suspect heading into the season. I could justify starting either one.

Cheddar from "Sasquatch Country" writes: I'm a little surprised at Qwest Field only getting a "4 wow" factor? I dont think there is another stadium like it in the NFL (city views, water, 12th Man). How is the Texans' and Patriots' above Qwest? A retractable roof? Outdoor mall? These reasons are not valid to be over Qwest.

Mike Sando: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Qwest Field is better than either of those stadiums. I rated the NFC West stadiums. Bloggers covering other divisions rated the other stadiums. We used our own judgment independent of how the other bloggers rated stadiums. I never saw ratings for other stadiums when I rated the stadiums in the NFC West. Perhaps we will coordinate the ratings in the future. What seems like "4 wows" to me might seem like five to someone else.

Jimmy from Las Vegas writes: I don't know if you have touched on this before, but I recently discovered the Joe Show on the 49ers' Web site and now have a new appreciation for Shaun Hill. He is very funny and has great chemistry with Joe Staley, but most importantly, you can tell he gets along with everyone and that everyone likes him in that locker room. This probably played a factor in the QB decision this past offseason because I'm sure more teammates pushed for him than Alex Smith.

Mike Sando: I have seen the Joe Show featuring Joe Staley and I linked to it some time ago. The way the quarterback interacts with teammates and how teammates respond to the quarterback is indeed part of the evaluation process. Mike Singletary said from the beginning that players would know which quarterback should lead the team. Singletary said he would merely affirm that decision, which he did.

Justin from Orangevale, Calif., writes: As a 49ers fan, the whole Michael Crabtree situation has got me thinking harder about the allegations of him supposedly not wanting to play for the 49ers. I think he does not care if he plays for the 49ers, but have you or any of your fellow colleagues ever thought that maybe he just does not want to play for Mike Singletary? The coach did make him cry during the summer when he caught 'Crabs' working out when he was not cleared to. Plus, with the grueling practices that go on each week maybe Crabs is looking for a little less hostile atmosphere.

Mike Sando: The crying incident seemed overrated and misunderstood. Crabtree wanted to be out there practicing. Singletary wasn't bullying him off the field. I could buy potential dissatisfaction with the 49ers' offensive philosophy than any issues with Singletary personally. This is probably an issue between the agent and the team. Sometimes these things get done when the player finally has had enough. If that never happens, then it's pretty clear the player and agent are on the same page.

Adam from Spokane writes: I wanted your feelings on whether you think the Seahawks will finally turn into a team that finishes games with Jim Mora as coach. I don't want to disrespect Mike Holmgren, but it was infuriating watching Seattle constantly let teams back into games with ultra-conservative play after they would build a lead. I think Holmgren held back the raw talent the Hawks have/had by not letting them be aggressive.

Mike Sando: It's too early to know how the Seahawks will call plays in those situations. They put away the Rams with a 62-yard run and a few passes to the tight end. Those plays did not result from putting the hammer down as a play caller.

I do think you are onto something, however. In the past, the defensive coordinator had to worry about incurring Holmgren's wrath when opponents exploited blitzes. There's no fear of incurring the wrath when the head coach is the one ordering the blitzes. That's where having a defensive-minded head coach could result in more aggressive play defensively. Having a defensive-minded head coach has also vastly changed the way Seattle approaches practices. The team now has separate blitz periods, for example. I think the Seahawks will naturally become better coached on defense -- from the top down -- which could let them be more aggressive.

Tony from Tacoma writes: Why does ESPN not have any coverage of the Seattle Seahawks? I watched all of Sunday's football coverage and Monday Night football and there was no mention of them or how well they did in their opener. 28-0. Anybody have that big a win in their first game this year? All I heard was over and over about Farve. Feel like we get snubbed in the Pacific Northwest.

Mike Sando: I'd love to stick around to answer your question, but ESPN is sending me to San Francisco to cover the Seahawks-49ers game. Gotta catch a plane.

(5542) cheddar (sasquatch country) | colinhughes10@comcast.net 2009-09-17 20:27:00.0

sando- im a little surprised of qwest field only getting a 4 wow factor? i dont think there is another stadium like it in the nfl(city views, water, 12th man). how is the texans and patriots above qwest? a retractable roof? outdoor mall? these reasons are not valid to be over qwest.