Around the NFC West: Catching up to 49ers

Changing coaching staffs heading into a lockout was supposed to set back the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Instead, the team won nine of its first 10 games, finished 13-3 and came within an overtime defeat of reaching the Super Bowl.

Having a full offseason should help the 49ers prepare even better for 2012, but opponents should also have a better idea what to expect from coach Jim Harbaugh and staff.

We might have seen this taking place as the 2011 season progressed. The 49ers' division opponents fared considerably better in rematches against the 49ers than when facing them for the first time. But with all three rematches played away from Candlestick Park, venue also came into play as a key factor. The New York Giants were the only other team to face San Francisco twice last season, losing the first meeting before winning the second one. Both were close games at Candlestick.

This will be a storyline to monitor for the upcoming season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects general improvement from the 49ers on offense, except at running back, where he expects a "slight dip, based on another year of wear and tear on Frank Gore, who turns 29 in May and has been the team's every-down back for six seasons."

Also from Maiocco: setting expectations for the 49ers on defense. Maiocco on the cornerback situation: "Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are back as the starters, with Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock as the backups. It's difficult to believe that Rogers, as an eighth-year player, can be much better than he was a year ago. But Brown, Culliver and Brock should improve with a full offseason of work."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes that the 49ers have 20 starters under contract beyond the 2012 season. Branch: "NaVorro Bowman will be a free agent after the 2013 season. I’m guessing the 49ers, as they did with Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis, will attempt to work out a long-term deal with Bowman before he hits free agency. Bowman will earn base salaries of $540,000 and $570,000 in 2012 and 2013, respectively."

Nick Eaton of seattlepi.com says Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a role in an upcoming movie featuring Lee Majors, Gary Busey, Margot Kidder and Edward Furlong. Eaton: "Lynch will be playing 'mob security guard' -- officially credited as a 'goon' -- in a film called 'Matt’s Chance' from local production house Mirror Images. Lynch will be in Seattle this week for a three-day shoot at the iMusic club in Lower Queen Anne, said Nate Riley, producer and marketing director for Mirror Images."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune had this to say during a recent chat: "I believe Pete Carroll when he says there will be open competition, but I think it will be structured in such a way that Matt Flynn has the upper hand, both in practice and in games. They will do their best to make sure that Flynn looks good. You can't pay him $8 million in guaranteed salary this season and let him hold a clipboard. That makes no sense. They have two years to figure out if he's the franchise quarterback of the future, and the only way that happens is to see how he plays on the field."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have met expectations for a mostly quiet offseason. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, speaking right after the season: "You don't anticipate a lot of changes. We have a lot of young players and you're going to be together."

Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog spells out details of Daryn Colledge's contract restructuring. The team converted base salary to signing bonus, pushing some of the cap charge into future years.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated shares contents from a letter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent to St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams regarding reinstatement from a bounty-related suspension that will last at least one season. King: "Sounds like if Williams makes some come-clean speeches to high school and college football teams around the country at the NFL's behest, he'll be back in the game in 2013 -- assuming the Rams will still employ him. That's likely, but not certain."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks whether Williams can effectively transition away from what has been his identity in the NFL. Miklasz: "Williams has built his career on cultivating an aggressive, attacking and violent mindset within his defense. ... Having been domesticated and deprogrammed, will Williams be able to motivate players the same as he did before? Can a formerly hard-edged coach still get the same results if he dramatically softens those edges? Legit questions." Noted: Williams has never done contrition well. This transition would seem to be problematic.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides the latest on Rams owner Stan Kroenke's attempt to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thomas: "Owning the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Rams would violate cross-ownership rules. But if Kroenke should move the Rams to LA, he would be in compliance with cross-ownership rules because the Dodgers and the Rams would be in the same market. And this, obviously makes Rams fans even more antsy about the future of the team in St. Louis given the current stadium lease situation at the Edward Jones Dome."