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 Sando (1:03 PM)
Good morning/afternoon. Glad to be here. Let's get rolling.
What NFC West team will have the biggest advantage and what team will be at the biggest disadvantage when the lockout is ended?
Mike Sando (1:05 PM)
I'll cover this situation in greater detail when the lockout finally does end. Right off, though, the St. Louis Rams will have the greatest advantage because their quarterback is returning and they have the greatest degree of staff continuity despite changing offensive coordinators. The San Francisco 49ers have some advantages from a talent standpoint, but the lockout has hurt them the most because they've gone through such a significant coaching turnover. They are the only team in the division with a new head coach. They have new coordinators and a mostly new staff.
Vijesh (Phoenix, AZ)
Hey Mike, lots of people are talking about the Packers and Redskins (if they sign Nnamdi Asomugha) having the top secondaries in the league. Why arent the Cardinals, assuming they keep Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?
Mike Sando (1:08 PM)
Mostly because Adrian Wilson and Rodgers-Cromartie are coming off rough seasons, and the Cardinals haven't been very good on defense. Those are the key factors in shaping perceptions. Arizona's secondary will look good on paper, but Wilson and Rodgers-Cromartie must have bounce-back seasons.
Steve (San Jose)
Hey Sando, how genuine do you think the 49ers are when they speak of a quarterback competition? I'm actually looking forward to watching preseason games this year to see how they perform, but even if Colin Kaepernick is better than Alex Smith, would it really be wise to start him Week 1? They could do the reverse of a few years ago: Smith wins competition, starts a few games, Colin is brought in, and then Smith is shipped off to the Lions.
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
Yeah, they'll want to ease Kaepernick into the starting role. I see Smith opening the season as the starter unless Kaepernick is better by leaps and bounds, not just in practices but in the preseason games.
I noticed Leroy Hill on your Facebook page. Any chance Seattle re-signs him for cheap, or are they pretty much done with him?
Mike Sando (1:11 PM)
I suspect they are pretty much done with him, but let's see what options are out there for Hill. I don't think he's going to command much money given his injury troubles and off-field history.
Good morning, Mike. Would you gamble on Crabtree as a No. 2 receiver on your fantasy team?
Mike Sando (1:14 PM)
Yeah, I would think Michael Crabtree would put up good enough numbers to justify the risk. His numbers weren't horrible last season. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said he thought the new offense would suit Crabtree. The quarterback situation there is a concern, so you should keep that in mind when it's your turn to draft. If there's another similar prospect from a team with a superior quarterback, you might weigh that as part of the equation.
Shane (Los Angeles, CA)
If James Harrison has talked himself out of Pittsburgh, isn't Arizona a logical landing spot? They need a pass rusher badly, and while I am not sure they would want the Harrison baggage, he definitely fills a need.
Mike Sando (1:16 PM)
That would be a sensational scenario for the Cardinals. Yes, Ray Horton's presence in Arizona would make the Cardinals a natural fit. Ken Whisenhunt's presence would be another factor. I just have a hard time believing a team would part with such a productive player under these circumstances. It's not like Harrison ran afoul of the law. He ran his mouth. Big difference.
Matt (Santa Barbara)
I've heard a lot about the 49ers defense switching to more of an aggressive 3-4 style. Unless they land a talented corner to allow them to lock down the opposition's top receiver, I can see them doing worse than their already poor pass defense last season. Do you think Vic Fangio can properly insert his new system when several of last year's starters are expected to level via free agency?
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
Those are valid concerns, Matt. Right before jumping into the chat, I posted an item to the NFC West blog looking at how teams performed when sending added pressure against opposing quarterbacks. The 49ers had serious issues when their pressure did not produce sacks (opponents posted a passer rating around 118 on first-and-10 plays when the 49ers sent more than four pass-rushers). Remember, when Fangio was under Dom Capers in Houston, the Texans used a high pick for Dunta Robinson, who they projected as a shut-down corner. They also wanted to build around Jason Babin as a Kevin Greene-type pass-rusher. You can bet Fangio wants to upgrade at corner, but it wasn't feasible for the 49ers early in the 2011 draft once Patrick Peterson went to the Cardinals.
Andrew (Heat Wave in Minny)
I'm a huge fan of Ray McDonald. I don't know why, but I am. When he re-signs, where does he project in the 49ers plans?
Mike Sando (1:23 PM)
It's early to answer that question. We need to see what happens with Aubrayo Franklin and how the 49ers address nose tackle. Isaac Sopoaga could wind up playing more on the nose, affecting the rotation. I like McDonald's story. He has no business playing at a high level in the NFL based on his injury history. It's great to see guys fight through and persevere.
Bobby (Disappointed, West Coast)
Pretty disappointed that the Hawks didn't come away with a single ESPY award considering that we really could have won any of those that we or our players were nominated for. Whether it's scheduling of games, or less importantly, winning awards, no one will really remember next year. There is always the East Coast bias.
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
I thought Marshawn Lynch had the best play and should have won that award, but I understand why the Abby Wambach header goal appealed. And if Lynch had made that run for the New York Giants, who knows, perhaps it would have held up better.
Steve Pop (Raleigh, NC)
What do you think the Seahawks strategy will be this season? Will Marshawn Lynch gain 1,000 yards? Will Hasselbeck have a good year?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
Lynch averaged 71.8 yards per game over a six-game stretch ending with the Seahawks' victory over New Orleans in the wild-card round. That type of production would project to about 1,150 yards over a 16-game season. I think it's reasonable to expect improved play from the offensive line and a strong commitment to the run in a post-Jeremy Bates offense (I am not faulting Bates for his approach, but rather acknowledging Pete Carroll's intent to run the ball more as one reason the team changed coordinators). Justin Forsett will command some touches, too, so that could affect Lynch's totals. I think Lynch has a decent shot at 1,000 this season, but I'd take the under if forced to bet. Matt Hasselbeck has not had a good year in some time. I don't expect him to suddenly start having good years, based on his age and supporting cast. But the new offensive system would suit him.
Scott (Northglenn, CO)
Does a Smith/Kaepernick platoon hurt Vernon Davis' numbers, or would you expect an inexperienced QB to rely on their TE even more?
Mike Sando (1:36 PM)
I like this question and was thinking along these lines when formulating a Vernon Davis item for Friday. Alex Smith has thrown a disproportionately high percentage of his touchdown passes to Vernon Davis. I've crunched some numbers on this over the years and can make this general statement: Few quarterbacks with "X" number of touchdown passes over the last several seasons have thrown such a high percentage of them to one tight end. Some of this traces to the strong rapport between these players. Some could also reflect an offense that has not been dynamic. As much as Jim Harbaugh values the tight end in his scheme, he and Greg Roman will look to install a dynamic attack. Succeeding on this front could funnel more passes to other players. That is one thing to consider for the longer term. I still tend to think Davis' talent commands a high-profile role, and his big-play ability means he'll continue scoring touchdowns. Harbaugh also wants a run-oriented offense, so the play-action threat should be there. As far as your question specifically, yeah, a platoon would likely disrupt the offense, including Davis. But they do probably need to get some reps for Colin Kaepernick this season. Think of it this way: If an offense is getting strong play from its starter, why take him off the field? I'd be surprised if Smith played well enough over an extended period to justify keeping Kaepernick out of the huddle.
Scott (Northglenn, CO)
What are your thoughts on Earl Thomas' ability. Do you like him better than Louis Delmas, T.J. Ward, Eric Berry?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
Those are fun players to analyze. You'll want to check out the AFC North blog from last month for Matt Williamson's analysis on Ward (Breaking down safeties: Cleveland). Williamson thinks Ward will never be much of a pure coverage player. I haven't seen Ward much, but I'll take Williamson's word on that one. Let's remove Ward from the equation. Delmas stands out to me as exceedingly physical, based on what I've seen. I love the presence he brings to the secondary. Thomas and Berry seem like different players athletically.
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
Hold on a second please. Got a call I had to take. Back in a sec!
Mike Sando (1:53 PM)
OK, back. We'll go overtime on this one.
Bobby (Salem, OR)
Starting to get nervous about hearing the talk of potentially going back to litigation if we dont get the rookie wage scale figured out in the next day or so. We aren't the owners giving in at this one request when they have essentially made the players cave in just about every instance?
Mike Sando (1:57 PM)
Here is one theory to consider: The court rulings have given the owners leverage. The key at this point is working out an agreement on the owners' terms that allows the players' representatives to claim some victories as well. The owners' original proposal on the wage scale was Draconian. I mean, they really went for it. So, in the end, the owners will likely come off that stance while still securing a better situation on an issue that veteran players were amenable to adjusting anyway. I just don't see the rookie wage scale being a deal killer. Now, I've also thought there was a decent chance the lawyers could foul this up. But it does sound like an agreement is in the works. Again, the key will be finding ways to paint this as a compromise even though the owners will likely get most of what they want, because they have the leverage. That is my take, anyway. It could have gone the other way had the players prevailed in the courts, but so far, most of the important legal rulings have turned out as expected initially -- in the owners' favor.
Scott (Northglenn, CO)
Can you tell me how much interest the Cards have in bringing Alan Branch and Gabe Watson back? Should a 4-3 team be interested in either?
Mike Sando (1:59 PM)
You'd have to ask Ray Horton. I don't know the answer to that question. I wouldn't want to bank on either player. They've been too inconsistent.
So, is Kevin Kolb getting traded to the Cards or Hawks? Did the Hawks really offer a first- and third-round pick for a backup QB?
Mike Sando (2:02 PM)
Who said Seattle offered that much for Kevin Kolb? I think the Eagles would take that offer, but I do not think Seattle would part with that much. There's a feeling among some teams that Kolb could be pretty good, but not good enough to justify breaking the bank for him in terms of compensation. I'd lean toward Arizona based mostly on what Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has said about the Cardinals' interest in him. But it's still going to be a fluid situation. No done deals.
Do you see Mark Clayton being the Rams No. 1 wide receiver this season? He looked great until the injury last year.
Mike Sando (2:03 PM)
That's a little bit of a stretch based on Clayton's injury and the numbers at receiver. I don't see a true No. 1 receiver on the roster. I'd give Clayton a decent shot at reemerging as the threat he instantly became last season, but the Rams will probably be healthier at the position. They'll have more options. That could dilute the opportunities for Clayton, who faces challenges of his own.
Chioke Hassan (Baltimore,Md)
Did the Rams honor Merlin Olsen last year?
Mike Sando (2:05 PM)
Yes, they honored him during a Dec. 20 game at the Edward Jones Dome. Olsen was still alive, but failing, and he could not attend.
Is this Frank Gore's last season with the 49ers? What's the deal with Anthony Dixon getting up to 250 pounds? Might he see time at fullback?
Mike Sando (2:08 PM)
Gore is entering the final season of his contract with the 49ers. There are no guarantees the team will bring him back. Gore is at that point in his career where running backs tend to begin declining. He has had some injury problems. The team drafted Kendall Hunter in the fourth round this season, identifying him as more than just a change-of-pace guy. The writing is on the wall for Gore heading into this season. I have a hard time envisioning the 49ers giving him a lucrative extension based on the likelihood of an older running back producing at a high level consistently.
Mike Sando (2:09 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the NFC West chat this week. My pleasure, as always.