Mailbag: Revisiting Gruden and 49ers

Kevin from Sylmar, Calif., writes: I love your analysis of why you think Jon Gruden might make a great choice for the 49ers if they decide to fire Mike Singletary (99 percent sure it happens, but you never know). But what I think might not be focused upon as much as it should be is the fact that he preaches strict fundamentals and will make no excuse when his players screw up. It's obvious that the Niners are lacking in the fundamentals and focus department. They have the talent they just need someone to push them to be their best.

Mike Sando: To review, my thinking on Gruden was that he would provide a badly needed offensive-minded coach after years of mishandling the quarterback situation. Gruden also values the running game, which suits the 49er's personnel. He has also won without an elite quarterback. Finally, Gruden has credibility in the Bay Area after his successful run as Oakland Raiders coach. He's a big name and that would only help the 49ers' efforts to get a new stadium built.

Your point on fundamentals is a good one. I think the 49ers lack organization under Singeltary. I was charting their game against Tampa Bay late Saturday night (get a life, I know) when I noticed the 49ers had only 10 offensive players on the field for a play late in the game. Earlier, they wasted a timeout amid apparent confusion over whether to go for it on fourth down (recurring theme). After the game, Singletary had trouble remembering that critical sequence. Not good.

All things to consider when listening to Gruden help call the 49ers' game against Arizona for ESPN on Monday night.

Brandon from Tucson, Ariz., writes: First off, love your work. I've never been more informed than I have been with your blog. My question is pretty simple. How would you rate the 49ers first round draft picks, so far this season.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Brandon. I expected the 49ers' offensive line to show greater improvement over the course of the season.

Left guard Mike Iupati, the 17th overall choice, has fared about as well as I would have expected. He has some technique issues, but he's strong and less of a concern in part because guards are easier to help out.

Anthony Davis' inconsistency at right tackle has been more problematic for two reasons. One, the 49ers traded up two spots to draft him 11th overall. Offensive linemen drafted that early would ideally step right in without significant growing pains (Rodger Saffold in St. Louis and Russell Okung in Seattle come to mind). Two, Davis plays a position more critical to overall offensive health.

The 49ers have had to shuffle their line unexpectedly twice this season, making it tougher for them to worry about protecting rookies. Iupati probably would have been better off working with Eric Heitmann at center all the way through. The 49ers have arguably failed Davis by insisting upon leaving another young player, Chilo Rachal, next to him at right guard when a veteran presence might have provided welcome steadying (particularly with Rachal struggling, by all accounts).

Will from DeWitt, Iowa writes: How much of the St. Louis Rams' resurgence can be attributed to Sam Bradford? I'm a Rams fan, but due to the lack of the Rams' games be covered on television, I haven't been able to watch Bradford play much.

Mike Sando: Bradford accounts for a significant amount of the improvement. The Rams' quarterbacks last season finished with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions over a 16-game schedule. Bradford has 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions through 10 starts.

Bradford has eight touchdown passes and one interception since Week 6. Rams quarterbacks had four touchdowns with six interceptions from Weeks 6-11 last season.

The team still has issues at receiver. Bradford has turned Danny Amendola into a clutch third-down threat. He turned Mark Clayton into one of the NFL's most productive receivers before an injury intervened. He's helping to bring along rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui. Brandon Gibson is emerging. Danario Alexander made an immediate impact with Bradford at quarterback.

As Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. put it recently, it's unusual for the rookie quarterback to bring along teammates. Usually it's the other way around.

Calvin from Tucson writes: Can you shed some light as to why the Cardinals aren't even considering playing John Skelton? Could he possibly be worse than Derek Anderson or Max Hall?

Mike Sando: Skelton is the third-stringer and the Cardinals have said he's not as far along as Hall. Your thinking is understandable. Defending Arizona's handling of the quarterback situation isn't something I'm going to do. The team has, by all accounts, botched the position. If the season spirals out of control altogether, perhaps we will see Skelton at some point.

The sobering truth for Arizona, in my view, is that the team has continued to lose even though Anderson has done a better job avoiding turnovers. Early in the season, the Cardinals had reason to think they would be much better off if they could only protect the football. They haven't seen the desired results, an indication this team might be worse overall than previously thought.

Cliff from Seattle writes: Sando! I have a question regarding the Seahawks' pass rush. Chris Clemons seems to be doing an amazing job for the Hawks at 'Leo' and you've mentioned Aaron Curry could potentially replace him (down the road). Brandon Mebane is at 3-technique and probably our most talented defensive lineman. Colin Cole is our traditional nose tackle and is playing well. Then we had/have Red Bryant/Kentwan Balmer playing 5-technique. Of the four defensive line spots, what area could we improve upon the most and focus on in the draft?

Mike Sando: First off, you're absolutely right about Chris Clemons. Great addition.You might be interested in hearing what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said this week when asked about the Seattle defense in general:

"Well, the thing that stands out to me is this No. 91, Chris Clemons. I mean that’s a guy that we immediately have to pay some attention to coming off the edge because he comes each and every play and he’s a very good pass-rusher."

I consider it high praise when an opposing quarterback mentions a lesser-known player by name. That tells you the Chiefs are very aware of the problems Clemons poses. Those problems become more acute when the Seahawks are playing at Qwest Field.

Even though Clemons is playing well, I would advise the Seahawks to seek pass-rush help in the draft if they can find it. Teams have an easier time plugging players into other positions up front. It's harder finding dynamic pass-rushers. The Seahawks are not a dominant pass-rush team with Clemons even though he is playing well for them.

Bryant's injury situation could make it important for the Seahawks to find another player at that position. The team improbably built its run defense around Bryant. Losing him has stunted the growth of this defense and forced the Seahawks to scramble/reassess.