Around the NFC West: Earl Thomas' start

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says there's much to like about Seahawks rookie safety Earl Thomas. Veteran safety Lawyer Milloy: "I’m very happy with his progress, starting with draft day. He’s got that frame of mind; he wants to be great. He’s a perfectionist, and he gets mad when he doesn’t do it the right way. A lot of what separates the great ones from the average is the mental approach, and he’s doing everything the right way." I've been struck by Thomas' willingness as a hitter. He's not big by safety standards. He's been shaken up several times this season, but he hasn't missed much time.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald looks at the Seahawks' recently improved ground game.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers notes from practice Wednesday, including one showing camaraderie among running backs.

Also from Farnsworth: a look at what Colin Cole's return could mean for the Seattle defense. The team has missed Cole and defensive end Red Bryant. Farnsworth: "Junior Siavii (for Cole) and Kentwan Balmer (for Bryant) have done admirable jobs filling in, but they’re lighter and a lot less experienced in the nuances of the Seahawks’ defense – since Balmer was acquired in a mid-August trade with the 49ers and Siavii was signed in early September. With Cole’s return, Siavii can slide out and help Balmer man the five-technique end spot, as well as rotate with Cole at nose tackle."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Cole, who explains how he suffered an ankle injury against Oakland. Cole: "You want me to go into detail? All right. I was moving to my right, 3 minutes left in the game. They were on their goal line. Really a needless thing to happen. I was going to my right, and a guy basically to my left -- their right guard -- kind of jumped on the side of my leg. I'll say he jumped on the side of my leg. There's a proper way of cut blocks, and he just took it upon himself to kind of jump on the side of my leg. But there's nothing I can do about that now. The only thing I can do is concentrate on moving forward and trying to help the team with the next few games."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Lofa Tatupu is relishing the Seahawks' playoff relevance and exciting developments in his personal life. Tatupu: "It's everything you dream of. Not to sound cliché, but it is. It's magical. In the NFL, when you're in the hunt this time of year, every little thing matters — every practice, every game, every day. It's football at its most intense. I love it. I know it hasn't looked pretty for us this year. But, really, it doesn't matter. We're right there."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt sounds much happier with Dan Williams than with Calais Campbell. Whisenhunt offered specific reasons why he thought Williams was performing well. Here is what he said regarding Campbell: "First of all, I don't like to evaluate players in-season. I don't believe in doing that. I think that, right now, there are a lot of guys on this team who haven't played the way we all thought or expected. Probably a lot of coaches haven't coaches the way we expected. That's something we'll look at after the season and evaluate. The only thing I'll say is I'm not questioning anyone's effort."

Also from Somers: New Cardinals quarterback Richard Bartel was hunting wild hogs as recently as one week ago.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on John Skelton's emergence as the Cardinals' likely starting quarterback. Boivin: "What can Skelton do? How does Larry Fitzgerald feel? Leaving Derek Anderson in, if he's healthy, feels a little bit like pushing Fitzgerald toward the door. His contract expires after the 2011 season and the team would like to begin talks on a new deal no later than the spring. Why not Skelton? His 6-foot-5, 244-pound frame screams NFL prototype. At the combine, he ran a 4.85 40, seventh-best among all quarterbacks. His vertical jump was fourth best. The Cardinals liked him enough to trade cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick to move to the fifth round. We just don't know enough."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team appears on the verge of starting three quarterbacks in a season for the sixth time since the franchise moved to Arizona. Urban: "Assuming Anderson doesn’t start, the Cardinals will use a third starting quarterback in a season for the sixth time since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988, although it has only happened once since the Cards’ playoff year of 1998. That’s when Denny Green, in his first season of 2004, briefly derailed the Josh McCown experiment with two starts for Shaun King and then one for rookie John Navarre before going back to McCown. The other four times were 1989 (Gary Hogeboom 13 starts, Tom Tupa 2; Timm Rosenbach 1), 1991 (Tupa 11, Stan Gelbaugh 3, Chris Chandler 2), 1994 (Steve Beuerlein 7, Jim McMahon 1, Jay Schroeder 8) and 1997 (Kent Graham 6, Stoney Case 1, Jake Plummer 9)."

Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders offers thoughts on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Analyst Greg Cosell: "Because of his accuracy, he will always make his receivers better in the long run. Because he's very compact, and he's very accurate. Believe me, I'm not comparing him to Tom Brady at this point in time, but I think he has attributes like that. Brady had Moss for a few years, and Moss was a certain type of player, but for the most part, Brady has not has what you would call elite receivers. And Bradford is the kind of guy -- because he's so compact and accurate, and he's exhibited such great timing and anticipation -- who can make receivers that you would not say are Top 10, better."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are scrambling at linebacker after losing Na'il Diggs for the remainder of the season. Thomas: "Rams coaches have two more practice days to sort through their options at the strongside and weakside positions. But at face value, the most logical starting combination would be David Vobora at strongside linebacker — where he started 10 times in '09 — and either Chris Chamberlain or Larry Grant at the weakside position. Chamberlain has better coverage skills than Grant, so he makes more sense against a pass-happy team such as the Saints. But complicating matters is the fact that Chamberlain suffered a right hand injury against Arizona."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams linebacker David Nixon. Coats: "A former Eagle Scout, Nixon's road to the NFL was interrupted by a two-year Mormon mission to Quito, Ecuador, after his freshman season at BYU."

Also from Coats: Bradford got advice from Drew Brees regarding shoulder surgery. Bradford said Brees' shoulder injury was far worse, however.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold has been playing well for the Rams. Saffold and the line face their toughest test of the season to this point when they visit the Superdome in Week 14. Miklasz: "How good is Saffold? Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, one of the best talent evaluators in NFL history, volunteered on his radio show Monday night that he made a mistake in not drafting Saffold at the end of the first round. The Rams picked Saffold at the top of the second round. Polian doesn't toss out compliments like that unless he's very, very, impressed. And it takes a lot to impress Polian."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com has this to say about the Rams' linebacker situation: "It appears that David Vobora will get the first shot at replacing Diggs at SLB and Chris Chamberlain will work at WIL. Chamberlain is wearing a small cast on his wrist but says no surgery will be required on small fracture. He practiced fully on Wednesday."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' secondary is dealing with quite a few injuries.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers and Seahawks took differing approaches to working new running backs into their offenses. One key difference: The 49ers already had Frank Gore, so there was less incentive to work Brian Westbrook into the offense initially. Seattle did not have a physical running back. Lynch: "Running back is one of those positions where you can come in and make an impact almost immediately. Basically, the protections and the running plays are the same, just worded differently. Just change up the terminology and you have the same playbook."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Alex Smith knows he needs to be more aggressive. One limiting factor: Smith is not aggressive by nature.

Also from Barrows: answering questions about the 49ers' quarterback situation.

More from Barrows: Mike Singletary says the 49ers' offense was limited with Troy Smith at quarterback.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says it's fitting the 49ers' top two quarterbacks have the same last name. Cohn: "Tweedle Alex allegedly gives the Niners the best opportunity to win because he knows the playbook better than Tweedle Troy, and it's always helpful in the NFL to know the playbook. Of course, Tweedle Alex also knew the playbook better when the 49ers and Tweedle Troy got run out of Green Bay. Why didn't Singletary start Tweedle Alex then? You tell me." Not that the 49ers' floundering ways have invited cynicism.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the departure of longtime assistant coach Johnnie Lynn heading into Week 14 counts as par for the course in San Francisco.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Alex Smith feels as though he's a good quarterback. Smith: "Absolutely. I have the ability to make all the throws on the field. [I'm] athletic enough that I think I can make plays with my feet when I need to. I can handle I think any playbook out there, [any] adjustments you have to make. I think I can. Have I done that consistently? To be honest, no. That's what I need to do."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary was vague when discussing Lynn's departure. Singletary: "I visited with Johnnie before he left. All I'm going to say about that is that is something I will not comment on. But Johnnie and his family will deal with it, and I lose a good friend."