Mailbag: Edge and the Cards' receivers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Branden in Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: With Bryant Johnson gone, the buzz in town is Steve Breaston has been outstanding in the offseason, but with Early Doucet being drafted and a number of other receivers on the roster getting a fair shake, I am interested to see who wins that job. People seem to forget that Johnson, while a decent 3rd option, dropped a number of passes at key moments over the last few seasons that directly lead to Cardinals losses. Also, one thing the Cardinals have definitely not done over the past two seasons that he has been here is take advantage of the amazing receiving skills of Edgerrin James. Why don't they utilize him more in the offense from a passing standpoint, and is that something they will look to do more this season with a less steady 3rd receiver getting playing time? Thanks for the great blog on the NFC West!

Mike Sando: Glad to have some Cardinals fans hopping onboard. For a while there it was 49ers and Seahawks central. As to your questions, I don't think receiver is a problem for Arizona, with or without Bryant Johnson. It'll be interesting to see who develops into that third guy. Early Doucet looked the part in minicamps, but we all know better than to get fired up about most rookie receivers. I'm in Arizona now and will ask about James' role in the passing game. I'm hesitant to weigh in now without doing some homework.

Mark from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Mike Martz's offensive system is stereotyped as leaving the tight end out of the pass receiving mix. However, all of the teams Martz has fronted as either an offensive coordinator or head coach (St. Louis 1999-half of 2005, Detroit the past two years) has employed quite unspectacular receivers at the position. We're talking about Roland Williams, Ernie Conwell, and Dan Campbell here. My question is: does Martz's system actually leave tight ends in the dark, or does he have a legitimate role that has been ignored because of the lack of talent he has had in the position? As you can probably guess, I am wondering about this because I would like to know if Vernon Davis will be used primarily as a tight end with a Tony Gonzalez downfield type role (which we have never seen with Martz), or a slot receiver with a Az-Zahir Hakim/Mike Furrey type role (which would probably be miscasting Davis' talent).
Mike Sando: I think Martz has favored big blocking tight ends for his offense. He had the personnel he wanted when the Rams were at the peak of their offensive powers. Vernon Davis' production should improve as the offense improves, but I also know wide receivers and a dynamic running back -- not tight ends -- make the Martz offense take off. I've spoken to people in the league who are skeptical about whether Martz has the personnel he needs to run his offense successfully. This strikes me as a valid concern. If I were a 49ers fan, I would be excited about having Martz onboard, but also a little nervous about whether he'll change his system to suit the personnel, notably Davis.

Jibo1 from Yakima writes: Reading your blog again is a breath of fresh air from the ESPN's east coast bias. Question: Who is Spencer's backup? Tell me it's not chris gray.

Mike Sando: Chris Gray is indeed the backup to Seahawks center Chris Spencer. Both missed the afternoon practice Saturday, leaving Steve Vallos to man the position.

Mike B. from Los Angeles writes: Mike, I feel as good about the Seahawks roster as I've ever felt going into camp. Assuming they find a solid kicker, what's your estimation of the upside for this team? I'm thinking 11-5 or better with some lucky breaks.

Mike Sando: The defense has a chance to be special by Seattle standards. I also could see Seattle winning more than 10 games this season. I am most curious to see how the offensive line and running backs perform.

Tom in Sammamish, Wash., writes: Does Seahawks training camp have a different atmosphere in Holmgren's last season?

Mike Sando: Not at all. I think that's something that will hit Holmgren later in the season, but I don't think the players think about that stuff too much.

Guitarguy from California writes: sup sando, i've been a niners fan for most of my young life. and i havnt gotten a chance to see my team win. we seam to be getting the "neccesary" peices each year to get the job done but nothing good ever happens. also i liked the way shaun hill played at the end last year. will we see more of him? and how are the niners gonna be this year

Mike Sando: I have a hard time picking the 49ers among the top two teams in the division at this point. That could change, but too many questions remain unanswered. If we see a lot of Shaun Hill this season, it means the Alex Smith investment hasn't paid off. That would be a bad thing for the organization (unless Hill unexpectedly blossomed into a top quarterback at age 28.

Jesse from Portland, Ore., writes: What are your thoughts about the Seahawks' depth at linebacker? There clearly aren't many concerns about the starters, as Peterson, Tatupu, and Hill make up one of the best linebacking units in the league, but losing Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley seems to eliminate any reliable backup plan for the position. Will Herring's 'mystery condition' isn't good news either. Is the addition of D.D. Lewis enough, or is this a potential problem for the Seahawks?

Mike Sando: It's a concern if one of the starters is lost to injury. It's a problem if more than one starter is lost to injury, or if Lofa Tatupu is the one starter lost. But I'm not sure how much worse off Seattle is without Koutouvides and Bentley. Koutouvides' value was on special teams. Bentley was more valuable as a backup, and he could be missed. It's probably unfair to remember only how he struggled in the Cleveland game, but I have visions of him appearing a bit lost during that overtime defeat.

Chris from parts unknown writes: Mike, What is up with the Boldin situation? Will the Cards entertain trades especially now that Dallas is looking for a WR. The relationship is not good between Boldin and AZ. ... Same old Cards.

Mike Sando: Teams are usually willing to listen to trade offers even if they say otherwise, but I think the Cardinals would like to keep Boldin. He's under contract for three years at a good value. He's also proven to be professional in how he approaches his job. We'll have to see if his unhappiness creates a problem that needs addressing in the short term. I'm in Arizona starting today and will have a better feel after visiting Cardinals camp. As for the "same old Cards" mantra, I think the organization has a good coach in place and a better plan.

Ramswinagain from parts unknown writes: Mike, I'm a Ram Fan since i was a kid in 79', I want to know if the Rams can recapture the fear again in the OFFENSE! with AL Sauders at the helm as the O cordinator? Last year even with the injuries it seemed like the O cordinator didn'y know what to do with the players we had on offense! The Dallas GAME KILLED ME! Plenty of ops for us to score and aww! anyway, Are the RAMS Interested in WR'S Terry Glenn or Boldin or even trading for Chad Johnson..? He is the guy, I feel Chad added together with Torry Holt Could turn back the clock!, And return the GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! to STL. I would have even traded Our #1 for him! He just wants to WIN! And so do Us long time RAMS fans!

Mike Sando: 1979? Vince Ferragamo, Billy Waddy, Jack Youngblood ... ah, those were the days. The Rams have a chance to get hot on offense. It's far from a sure thing, but they have the quar
terback and sufficient weapons (with Steven Jackson) to put up points. I'll be at their camp within the week, in time to see their scrimmage on Aug. 2. They do need another receiver to emerge, and unfortunately Holt appears to be winding down (thanks to that knee issue). I think this offense needs to replenish personnel before we should expect the type of consistent production you remember from the Greatest Show on Turf days.

Jesse from parts unknown writes: Mike, With Seattle's inexperienced youth at WR and Branch possibly missing some games at the beginnning of the season, how many WR's do you think they will keep on the 53 man roster? and who? I am a BIG Ducks fan. Knowing that Kent is raw and on the bottom of the Seahawks WR totem pole. Do you think they possibly keep 6 and find a use for Kent as a KR/PR guy or possibly even leapfrogs Payne in TC? I would love to see a guy with Kent's size and athleticism on the Hawks roster if he is ready.

Mike Sando: Keeping six receivers instead of five would make sense with Deion Branch coming back from the ACL surgery. I'm just not sure if there's a spot for Jordan Kent. Right now it might look like this: Bobby Engram, Branch, Nate Burleson, Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu, Logan Payne and then Kent. Kent needs to show in exhibition games.

JW from Yucca Valley, Calif., writes: It's so great to have you back on a regular Blog, Mike! I've been a fan of your work since the early TNT days. With so many Hawk fans being elated about the drafting of FB Owen Schmitt, how is he looking in practice so far and what are his chances of unseating Leonard Weaver for the starting FB position, or even making the team? Thanks Mike!

Mike Sando: Thanks much, JW. I would be surprised if Owen Schmitt challenged for the starting job this season. He has the look of the classic special-teams guy. Seattle has kept five running backs on each of its last four opening-day rosters. Seven are in camp now: Maurice Morris, Julius Jones, Weaver, T.J. Duckett, Justin Forsett, Schmitt and David Kirtman.

WilliamBryan from parts unknown writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering if you get a chance this weekend, if you could interview Kelly Jennings and ask him how he feels about his position being "open" as Holmgren stated. I love Hobbs and hope he makes the 53 man roster but I thought Jennings was great last year (I even plan on buying a Jennings jersey). Isn't this just Holmgrens way of (keeping him motivated)?

Mike Sando: Holmgren's comments reflect Kevin Hobbs' improvement, but Kelly Jennings is the starter. Nothing has changed there. I expect Jennings to start, but Hobbs is at least in the picture. And as Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer pointed out recently, we shouldn't forget about Jordan Babineaux as a viable backup corner.

Mzuercher from Whidbey Island, Wash., writes: Hey Sando... How do you like ESPN? Is the fact that this is Holmgren's last year motivate the players enough to be a factor in the season? MZ

Mike Sando: I don't think Holmgren's status is a source of motivation, particularly this early in the season. Players have too many other things to worry about. They might feel some motivation come playoff time.

FearlessFrog from parts unknown writes: What I was wondering is why don't the Seahawks switch to a 3-4 defense? If memory serves me correctly, 3-4's feature 3 run-stuffing, two-gap defensive tackles, which free up the linebackers to make plays. It's an excellent scheme but takes a specific and elite set of personnel to make it work. The linebackers have to rank among the elite and the defensive line has to have impressive depth should someone go down with an injury. It's no secret hat the Seahawks have arguably the best starting linebackers in the NFL with Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu, and Leroy Hill. But also, our defensive line suddenly has the ridiculous depth needed to support a 3-4, with established veteran Rocky Bernard, sophomore sensation Brandon Mebane, a beast in healthy Marcus Tubbs, serviceable starter in Larry Tripplett, and potential beast in Red Bryant. I'm sure if the Seahawks were considering switching to a 3-4, some speculation would have been here by now. However, switching to a different defense takes time and its evident that even if the franchise decided to take that route, it would take a period of transition before use. So, do you think a 3-4 is possibly in Seattle's future? If so, how long do you estimate it will take before it's actually used in the regular season?

Mike Sando: The 3-4 is more than a scheme, it's a mindset. I don't think you make that type of change without hiring a defensive staff that lives and breathes the 3-4 concepts. And then you also want to have the beast of a nose tackle to anchor the 3-4. Those guys are hard to find.

Abraham from parts unknown writes: why does Alex Smith struggles more than any other young quaterbacks out there right now... just look at Eli Manning, big Ben and Philip Rivers with already playoff experience and some with a super bowl in their career in just a short time...

Mike Sando: Eli Manning got hot late in the season. He also has a much better team around him. Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers also have far better supporting casts. We can't hold Alex Smith to the same standard. It's just not fair. Give him LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, a solid offensive line and the second-most current and former Pro Bowl players in the league (14). Then let's see how Smith fares.

Chad Orth from parts unknown writes: Will Alex Smith get the start for the 49ers, and why don't the Niners go after Favre?

Mike Sando: I do think Smith will win the starting job. I do not think Brett Favre wants to play for a team that fielded the worst offense in the league last season. Nor do I think Favre would be best off learning a completely different offensive system, particularly after revealing during his retirement press conference that he really doesn't like the work part of the job.

Matt in Baltimore writes: I have a few question for you and would love your opinion... 1. Will my 49ers suck this year AGAIN? 2. Will Nolans Ravens style team work i.e. strong defense so so offense? 3. Shaun Hill and Vernon Davis were amazing to watch at the end of last season...Alex Smith doesnt seem to have the skill to utilize the talent around him. What do you think? Thanks for your time.
Mike Sando: I do not expect the 49ers to enjoy a winning season in 2007 2008. That might be asking too much given all the question marks. I do think the 49ers would improve quite a bit if they could field a so-so offense, as you put it. They fielded a so-what offense last season. Achieving offensive mediocrity might be enough to vault this team into the .500 range, a considerable improvement.

Fred from parts unknown writes: how do u think the niners will do this year

Mike Sando: I went with 7-9 the last time I was asked that question.

Dylan from Honolulu writes: Hey Mike, Do you think Vernon Davis will finally put up big numbers this year? And will Alex Smith excel in Mike Martz's system?

Mike Sando: I think Davis' numbers will improve if the overall offense improves (and I do expect that to happen). I'm not sure about Davis putting up big numbers because Martz traditionally has not valued tight ends as receivers in his offense. Davis has uncommon skills as a receiver, however, and logic suggests Martz will find a way to exploit that, particularly given that the 49ers arguably lack strong receivers. We just don't know if Martz will do that consistently in
the heat of the game. Most play callers reveal their true identities in those situations.

Austinbrown from Napa, Calif, writes: Do you think the 49ers are a contender in 2008?

Mike Sando: No.

Thomas from parts unknown writes: do u think the Cardinals are committed to Matt Leinart and if he does play up to expectations can they compete for a playoff spot?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are committed to Matt Leinart but not unconditionally. He must hold up his end in the meeting room, the film room and on the practice field. And then he needs to make that carry over onto the field. Ken Whisenhunt is not committed to Leinart unconditionally, nor should he be.

Rolando from parts unknown writes: with a healthy alex smith and a better defense to keep him on the field, can the niners have a 500 or better season?

Mike Sando: I think the 49ers can challenge for .500 if things go well. I'd be surprised if they finished with a winning record.

Michael from Houston writes: So I know the 49ers offense is a work in progress with the new offensive coordinator, the QB battle, the new wideout additions, and the patch work offensive line (aside from Joe Staley), but I was wondering what your thoughts were on the defense this year. The realist in me is looking forward to the prospect of the 49ers losing a lot of games this year, but it would be nice if they could at least keep it close and maybe force some turnovers. Is that even a remote possibility?

Mike Sando: The 49ers should have a good defense this season. I still do not see dynamic playmakers in the front seven, beyond the incredible Patrick Willis. Getting Manny Lawson back would help. Justin Smith should help. I see improvement but I'm sure they would like to have a proven pure pass rusher (lots of teams would).

Mrmchun09 from Port St. Lucie, Fla., writes: I've been a 49er fan my whole life and i remember the wonder years of the Steve Young and Jerry Rice led Super Bowl win over the Chargers. The game winning catch by Mr. No hands T.O. to beat the Packers. The Amazing come back at the arm of Garcia to beat the Giants. Through it all Bryant Young was always on the other side of the ball for us and now that hes retired its set in that those glory 49er days are over. But at the same time it seems he has passed the torch on into the hands of Willis, which i dont mind at all. So how soon do you see the 49ers realistically competeing for the West? The Confrence?? The Superbowl??? And if they make it to the top of the NFL how long do you see them staying near the top???

Mike Sando: I do not see the 49ers winning the division until they develop some continuity on offense and identify a long-term starting quarterback. Once they do those things, then we can talk about challenging within the conference and for the Super Bowl.