Around the NFC West: All things Hightower

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com writes about Tim Hightower's path to the NFL. Strong parental support helped Hightower get to this point.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' quarterbacks and receivers hold meetings to help stay on the same page.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic spoke with one of Hightower's former college coaches as part of a profile on the rookie running back. Former Richmond coach Dave Clawson, now at Tennessee: "Most I-AA guys are one-dimensional, but he's a really a complete back."

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says Hightower gets emotional discussing Edgerrin James, his displaced mentor.

Tom Marino of Scout.com offers midseason grades for the Cardinals, including a B-minus for the offense. He thinks the team's inability to win on the road will spell a one-and-done scenario come playoff time. If the Cardinals reach postseason, however, they figure to do so as a division winner, which means at least one playoff game at home.

Joe Staley of the 49ers' o-line gives a first-person account of his bye-week experiences, from changing a diaper for the first time to producing a horror film with teammates.

Gary Plummer of 49ers.com thinks Mike Singletary is preaching accountability and physical play heading into the second half of the season. He also thinks Frank Gore will get a few more touches per game.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz has endured a tough week following the shooting of a nephew.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle revisits the life and career of former 49ers defensive end Clark Miller, who died of a heart attack. The ultra-competitive Miller once fought with Merlin Olsen after being coaches named him a backup to Olsen in a college all-star game.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reveals Singletary's five-point formula for success over the second half of the season: total ball security, execute, dominate the trenches, create great field position and finish.

Also from Maiocco: Jason Hill sees an opportunity to establish himself as the 49ers' third receiver, and not just for the short term.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Steve Young and Trent Dilfer for an evaluation of the 49ers' quarterback situation. Young sees a franchise marked by instability. Dilfer says it's tough to choose a quarterback without first choosing an offensive identity.

Also from Barrows: handicapping the odds of returning for Shaun Hill, J.T. O'Sullivan and Alex Smith.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says even Martz isn't sure what to expect from the quarterback change.

Marino's report card for the 49ers features five "D" grades while naming Frank Gore and Patrick Willis as MVPs at midseason.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks have cleared Matt Hasselbeck to return from a back injury. They expect Hasselbeck to play against the Cardinals in Week 11, barring a setback.

Also from Farnsworth: Julian Peterson thinks the Seahawks have a better chance against the Dolphins' unconventional offense after seeing multiple teams try to stop it.

Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare, who feels pressure to perform every time he sees rookie Brandon Coutu waiting to take his job. Mare: "I would be happy if he sucked, but he's pretty good. It helps us out. We get to compete every day."

Marino's report card for the Seahawks names Hasselbeck the offensive MVP while saying the team's window has nearly closed.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Kenneth Darby is excited about making his first NFL start. The Rams aren't excited about playing without Steven Jackson.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom how to evaluate interim coach Jim Haslett.

Marino's report card for the Rams offers multiple "F" grades while listing left tackle Orlando Pace as the offensive MVP. He blamed management for failing to heed scouts' input.