Chat with Mike Sando
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, we'll have ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando stopping by to talk about the latest NFL happenings.
Sando joined ESPN.com in 2007 after nine seasons covering the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. He previously covered Washington State University football and basketball for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. Mike grew up in Northern California before attending Whitworth College, graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in political studies. He lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with his wife and their two sons.
Send your questions now and join Sando on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
Mike Williams or Deion Branch?
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
Fans have grown weary of Branch and understandably so, but he's a probably safer bet than Mike Williams at this point. Williams is the more intriguing player because he has more physical talent. There's this feeling that he could really become something if he would just apply himself. But players who do not apply themselves for years and years cannot be trusted to do what it takes, even though Williams has, by all accounts, made a positive impression so far. If you're a Seattle fan, keep your fingers crossed on that one.
From each NFCW team, who do you think will surprisingly be cut?
Mike Sando (1:04 PM)
If we study the teams closely enough, we shouldn't be surprised very often. I think we could predict about 48 or more of the players most likely to earn spots on the 53-man roster.
blazingcards (anchorage ak.)
I'am so perplexed about this media coronation of the 49ers. This current crop has NEVER won a significant game. Meanwhile Ken Whisenhut has a 4-2 record in the playoffs. Doesn't everyone seem to be shortchanging the Cardinals coach?
Mike Sando (1:06 PM)
I've made a point to temper the 49er-related coronations by giving the Cardinals their due. People anointing the 49ers are following logic. They know the 49ers already swept the Cardinals last season and they figure Kurt Warner's retirement will cost them a few additional victories. Doesn't mean Arizona will disappear, but I do think the 49ers have a good chance this season.
Seattle Sam (Bellevue, WA)
Fullback Owen Schmitt is my wife's favorite player. Did I read correctly that you project him as the Seahawk's starter? I can't wait for the Seahawks open practices at VMAC!
Mike Sando (1:09 PM)
I thought Justin Griffith was the best fullback on the team pretty comfortably last season. I do not see a significant role for Schmitt on this team should he earn a roster spot. He's not a great special-teams player and he hasn't shown much ability to carry the football. Seattle plans to run a Mike Shanahan-style offense and that means the running backs, including the fullbacks, often should be expected to carry the ball. I just don't see how the Seahawks' current fullbacks project for the offense the team plans to run, especially when they aren't top special-teams players. I'm anxious to see how the fullback situation shakes out. It's one angle I want to investigate at training camp. Right now I'm going more off feel.
How do you think the Cardinals O-line stacks up against the 49ers D-line? Looks to me as if Arizona is a little light in the middle to go at Aubrayo Franklin with the run game.
Mike Sando (1:11 PM)
That has been a tough matchup for Arizona in recent years. I did think Beanie Wells had some success running the ball at San Francisco last season. We'll see if that carries over. Justin Smith has been a big problem for the Cardinals. Arizona is moving Levi Brown to left tackle, with Alan Faneca taking over at left guard. The matchups and overall dynamics will change this season. I still think it's a tough matchup for Arizona -- or any team.
Ian (Forest Grove, OR)
Sando! I am curious who you think has the overall best WR corps in the NFC West. Personally I think it's the 49ers with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Frank Gore out the backfield. I recognize Larry Fitzgerald is the best, but overall I think the 49ers got the edge
Mike Sando (1:13 PM)
That's a debate we've had on the blog previously and I do tend to side with the 49ers based on these factors: Davis has emerged as a big threat down the middle; Crabtree will only improve; and the Cardinals parted with Anquan Boldin.
Stats and watching the games last year proved out that Adam Snyder was one of, if not the, worst RT in the league. Why is he considered the favorite to start (even if its just for the first few weeks)? Between Davis, Sims and Boone there seem to be some other good options. They can't do worse than Snyder right?
Mike Sando (1:15 PM)
Anthony Davis needs to be the starter over there even though he's young. The question comes down to whether Davis is immediately ready to function in a tough Week 1 environment at Qwest Field. I say, play him. Alex Boone probably isn't versatile enough or good enough at any one thing to become part of the seven-man group active for game days. Barry Sims was pretty good in relief last season. He could be an option if Davis is not ready.
Mike, when you say the Niners are the favorite to win the division, you always say it's because Kurt Warner retired. But let's not forget the Niners swept Arizona last year and they were basically a Brett Favre Play of the Year and a Vernon Davis TD drop in Seattle away from winning the division last year. Arizona was the better team and deserved to win the division, but I'm not so sure they would be the favorite this year even with Warner. The Niners deserve a little more credit.
Mike Sando (1:17 PM)
You could be right, but I think it's also fair to say the 49ers could not assume a season sweep against Kurt Warner every year. With Warner, the Cardinals did beat some good teams -- the home game against Minnesota last year comes to mind. The 49ers really haven't broken through yet. This could be their year, but until they do it, a little skepticism is understandable.
Jerry (Folsom, CA)
Hey Mike, Welcome back.The Rams have 4 safeties with starting experience and while one of them (Dahl) started because those ahead of him were hurt, that still leaves 3 with starting experience. Who sits? They traded for Payne so I'm wondering if he starts over James Butler. Thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:20 PM)
The book on Kevin Payne was that he was more comfortable at strong safety than free safety while with the Bears because he's better as a hitter than in coverage. He started five games for Chicago last season. That suggests he could be a factor at the strong safety spot. I think it's too early to say how it'll shake out. We need to see how well Oshiomogho Atogwe holds up physically, too.
Will Darnell Dockett get a contract extension with the Cardinals or do you see another team signing him?
Mike Sando (1:23 PM)
The Cardinals need to sign Darnell Dockett to a contract extension. I just think it's tough letting him go. There's nothing in his current contract that is forcing the Cardinals' hand (unlike the situation with Antrel Rolle). The Cardinals need to either sign him to an extension or use the franchise tag (should one still exist) to prevent him from getting away. Dockett has pretty much done everything the Cardinals could have expected. He has become a Pro Bowl player. He works hard. He stays out of trouble. His outspoken, brash style isn't for everyone, but seems to me he's a player the Cardinals need to keep. I think they'll do what it takes to keep him.
Do you think the Rams ownership issue will be cleared up before rosters shrink? Also, do you think they will do some serious shopping?
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
Last I heard, the Rams had a chance to get something settled in August. That seems pretty likely based on what the league has said about Kroenke. As far as doing some serious shopping, it's not like they'll have tons of front-line players to choose from following final cuts. But they would presumably pick up a couple guys.
Richard (Carmel, CA)
What do you think the 9ers offensive philosophy will be this coming year. The word "balanced" has been thrown around a lot. I think you stick with a two back, under center offense for most first and second down situations, and if you face a long 3rd, go into shotgun. What cha think?
Mike Sando (1:26 PM)
Yeah, I hear what you're saying. Alex Smith needs to prove he can operate comfortably and effectively from the base offense. I think it's fine if they mix up personnel and formations on early downs as long as they continue to get production from Frank Gore. They need to be flexible. I think they'll seek more balance this year. Then it just comes down to their ability to run block.
Shane (Los Angeles, CA)
Sand-O: I think everyone understands Arizona has glaring holes in the LB corps, however, Arizona also will field the best front 3 in the division. This is going to make the LBs and secondary look better than they are. I don't automatically write off the Cards' D because of the Dansby departure. I think the Cards will have a more disciplined approach on defense this year and I would not be surprised to see them in the top-10 on D. Thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
I would be surprised to see the Cardinals in the top 10 defensively this season. Their defensive front is strong. It's probably the best defensive front in the division. I think the 49ers should be better overall defensively, though. And I think it's wise to remain a little skeptical when looking at what the Cardinals need to happen at linebacker (inside and outside). It's a transition year at that position. The Cardinals badly need one of their young guys to emerge.
Jon H. (Omaha, NE)
Hey Mike, one of the position battles out there for the Niners is the OLB spot, there has been talks of doing what they did last year, starting Manny Lawson and bringing in Ahmad Brooks on 3rd downs. I think Brooks should get the start. We've needed impact there for a long time now, we have waited and given chances to Lawson, and when healthy hes been alright, but the small time Brooks was in there last year he made an immediate impact, and I think we need to ride that momentum. Watching the games, hes very fast, explosive, a play maker. Id like to see him out there a full season. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:30 PM)
One big question is whether Ahmad Brooks would remain as effective in an expanded, altered role. There's a chance he was good because of the way the 49ers used him, and he might be less effective if the team changed the dynamics. I spoke with one NFC West coach who thought Brooks really wasn't suited for a significantly expanded role. That will be one thing to watch. How do the 49ers use Brooks and how does he fare if his role changes?
Hey Mike! How's Alex Smith looking? Any chance that he can be at least "above average" this year? I think the rest of their team is pretty set - they just need him to (and I'm going to use the dreaded phrase) "manage the game" and not lose. Any chance he can do that?
Mike Sando (1:31 PM)
Alex Smith has looked good this offseason. He appears more comfortable with the offense, a product of his increased familiarity with it. I do think he can become an above-average quarterback. He has some good weapons around him.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What is your favorite NFL team?
Mike Sando (1:34 PM)
I root for a competitive NFC West filled with compelling storylines. Would like all four teams to be .500 or better and in the hunt til the end, with two NFC West teams in the playoffs. That would make the blog more fun.
How much more important is it to have Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in camp on time than it was for Crabtree last year? It seems like any significant missed practice time for an offensive lineman could set him back a full season considering the importance of cohesion in the O-line.
Mike Sando (1:37 PM)
Michael Crabtree shocked me last season by missing the entire offseason and the start of the regular season, then performing like an old pro. Crabtree was exceptional that way. It's unrealistic to expect any other rookie to play the way Crabtree played under the circumstances. Knowing what we know about Crabtree, then, it's far more important for Davis and Iupati to get into camp on time. I would not anticipate any serious contract issues with those players. Crabtree's situation was unusual.
Sulaiman (New Jersey)
Who do you think is the fastest player in the NFC West?
Mike Sando (1:40 PM)
I would probably go with a healthy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was gaining on Chris Johnson last year toward the end of a long touchdown run. He can really open it up. Ted Ginn Jr., Donnie Avery and Josh Wilson are also quite fast. Deon Butler might be in the conversation.
codkilla (Kodiak, AK)
In your opinion does Sing have what it takes to get it done long term? He obviously is one of the best rah-rah coaches in the league. And his ability to relate to, and get the most out of our players as far as effort, is bar none. Can his game management and x' and o's come up to par as well? I like Manusky as a dynamic DC, he seems to be the only star on a staff that imo needs to be full of them, now that expectations are so high, trying harder than the other team, the Sing way, isn't going to be enough and we need to actually execute on O and ST. I'm hopeful but not confident this year, about those areas. Will he get a chance to upgrade the staff if my hope doesn't turn confidence this year?
Mike Sando (1:43 PM)
Great question. Well conceived. I think your concerns are legitimate and well stated. Greg Manusky does do a good job. Adding Mike Solari to coach the offensive line should help the line and also help offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Remember, Raye joined a staff that was already in place. His comfort level with the offensive staff probably wasn't naturally great. Solari and Raye worked together in Kansas City, so there's a comfort level there. Quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson might be someone to watch. I've generally heard good things about him.
Thomas (Leavenworth wa) [via mobile]
I don't hear any talk about T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Is he gonna get back up to 90 catches this year or is he just gonna sink like so many other receivers when they come to Seattle?
Mike Sando (1:44 PM)
My projection for him last season was in the 80-85 range for total catches. He had 79. I would think he'll be in the low 80s this season. That isn't falling into oblivion.
Why is Dan Williams already being considered a great NT? Last time I checked, the NT is a very difficult position to master, and a rookie coming in should not be getting the benefit of the doubt for his first year. If he's starting, there is no way the Cards D-Line is better than the Niners D-Line. Also...Gabe Watson, Alan Branch ring a bell? They were drafted with the belief that they would anchor that line...never happened.
Mike Sando (1:46 PM)
Dan Williams is a good prospect at nose tackle but you're right that we shouldn't jump the gun by considering him an excellent player right away.
Are you a expecting a big year from John Carlson? With a healthy Hasselbeck behind an improved O-Line, I could see Carlson and Hasselbeck being one of the more productive combos in the league. Agree?
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
The Seahawks are saying they expect Carlson to focus more on receiving than on blocking. That's an easy thing to say in the offseason, but harder to implement if your team is struggling in protection. Let's see how the Seahawks use Carlson if their pass protection struggles. I think Carlson is a very good receiving tight end. He should be able to catch 60 passes in a season.
Mike Sando (1:48 PM)
I'm going to cut off this chat about 10 minutes early this week because I've got a couple things to do before speaking with former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger on a conference call atop the hour. Thanks for joining me this week. See you on the NFC West blog and on Facebook.