I write for SB Nation's West Regionals Newsdesk on Fridays (covering Arizona, L.A., the Bay Area, and Seattle) and because it's a slow day around here, and because there's nothing going on, I thought I'd pass along a few things I've put together over there on the NFL because, well, I feel like it.
NFL.com's Around the League gang -- Gregg Rosenthal, Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler and Brian McIntyre -- recently took time to create rankings for the best divisions in football (no easy task when you actually sit down to try it), and not surprisingly, the NFC West did not emerge on top. However, the NFL.com bloggers did give the Seahawks' division their due respect, noting, "Despite its consistently low ranking, the NFC West has made strides. The gap between, say, the NFC East and NFC West has closed dramatically. The NFC West would have been dead last, often by a wide margin, for much of the past decade. It's a division on the rise with the San Francisco 49ers,Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals all possessing good defenses."
This is something that's been emerging the past couple of seasons and is exciting for fans of the respective four teams. They mention the 49ers, Seahawks, and Cardinals above as having good defenses, but even the Rams, largely out of the discussion still at this point, have the makings of something special under new HC Jeff Fischer. In terms of a comparable division in the NFL, I could see the NFC West eventually start to look like the AFC North, with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati duking it out every season with solid defenses and smashmouth offenses. It's still early, of course, but I'm looking forward to the day when the NFC West has a similar 'tough' reputation.
--- It's about that time of the offseason where news is slow, players are away on vacation, and teams aren't doing much in terms of making moves or changing depth charts. As we approach training camp, it's as good as a time as any to hand out 'offseason grades' prior to the frantic shuffling we'll inevitably see in the next couple of months prior to Week 1's kickoff.
The high-profile move here was getting QB Matt Flynn in free agency. However, we're not even sure if Flynn will beat outTarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson for the starting gig. Seattle needs the surprising Bruce Irvin draft pick to pay off. DT Jason Jones may wind up being the most important pick-up and keeping Red Bryant was key, but the defense may not be able to replace David Hawthorne. Grade: B-minus
Now, though I might be a little more optimistic than SI is on the prospects of Matt Flynn and Bruce Irvin, it is an offseason of unknowns for the Seahawks. A lot (A LOT) depends on how well Flynn can play early on and if he struggles and fails to win the starting job, many will judge the Seahawks harshly for their decision to bring him in. Similarly, if Irvin is a slow starter (which may happen even though I do believe he'll have a good NFL career), the Seahawks will probably get a little heat for what many in the media deemed a 'reach' pick at 15.
Still, I think many of their moves have the potential to provide great things for the Seahawks. With Irvin and Jones acting as two new dynamic pass rushers for the Seahawks plus rookie Bobby Wagner taking the departed David Hawthorne's place in the middle of the defense -- a top-10 defense without their contributions in 2011 -- we could see a lot of improvement as a whole for that side of the football.
With a potentially more efficient offense under Matt Flynn's direction, longer drives, more points, even an incremental improvement on the offensive side of the ball could mean exponential improvement on the defense as well. Every year, one or two teams flip the script and go from a 5 or 6 win team to a 9 or 10 win team, and I could see the Seahawks surprise some people. Overall though, a B-minus grade is about right for their offseason, pending some actual results from the unknowns in Irvin, Jones, and Flynn, who are, in some eyes, big gambles.
--- If you follow Seahawks football, you already know: there is a three-way quarterback competition going into training camp and there is no clear front-runner (if you ask this coaching staff). Incumbent Tarvaris Jackson has played well enough in the practices, mini-camps, and OTAs to hold on to his position to receive the 'first snaps' come next week's start of training camp, but in reality, that distinction matters little. Each player, Jackson, Matt Flynn, and Russell Wilson, are liable to receive equal reps until (hopefully) someone separates themselves from the pack.
SI's Don Banks weighed in on the situation, and put his chips on free agent acquisition Matt Flynn emerging as starter. Per Banks:
Logic tells us free-agent addition Matt Flynn is in the driver's seat in Seattle, ahead of both 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson and rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson. But Flynn's meager track record -- two NFL starts -- means there's no reason to anoint him the clear-cut No. 1, so Carroll didn't. He wants Flynn to work and earn the job in the preseason, because it'll count for more in the locker room if he does. That's just the way the NFL works.
The QB storyline will consume all the oxygen in Seattle's training camp, but in reality, it's Flynn's job to lose. If the Seahawks were happy with Jackson, they wouldn't have signed Flynn and spent their highest pick on a quarterback in 10 years by taking Wilson. And despite Carroll's infatuation level with Wilson's potential, the smart and resourceful rookie figures to be a Wildcat package option this year, with a better chance of beating out Jackson for the backup job than truly pushing Flynn for the starting gig. Unless he falls on his face(mask) in August, Flynn should be the last man standing under center in Week 1.
Thankfully, training camp starts July 28th for the Seahawks, a week from tomorrow. Soon enough, we'll have a clearer picture of who will end up on the top of the depth chart at QB for Seattle.
--- One of the San Francisco 49ers' main goals over the offseason was to add weaponry at receiver. They made several moves, signing steady veteran Mario Manningham and drafting A.J. Jenkinsin the first round. One move though, that has been scoffed at by some, and ignored by others, could actually pay the most dividends for the Niners in 2011 - the signing of free agent Randy Moss.SportsIllustrated's Don Banks recently wrote that the emergence, or not, of Randy Moss will be one of the biggest storylines for San Francisco's upcoming training camp. Per Banks:
Will Randy Moss run a go route to renewed relevance in San Francisco? -- Earlier this month, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh called Moss his team's "best receiver right now,'' but there are a few different ways to take that compliment. Was the "right now'' qualification the key phrase, given that it's July and there are no games scheduled until August? Was it an attempt to stroke Moss' ego and fire up the likes of fellow San Francisco receivers Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins? Or was it Harbaugh just being Harbaugh, laying it on thick at times and going all cryptic at others?
The opportunity in San Francisco is certainly there for Moss. He's on a good team, as he requires in order to give maximum effort, there's an obvious need for more downfield passing with the 49ers, and he might just have been humbled a bit by his journeyman experience of 2010 and his one-year retirement in 2011. The mental part of the game has always mattered greatly with Moss, but he's 35 now, so he has to re-prove his physical skills, too. Are his legs still elite? Can he separate and jump like the Moss of old? He's going to have to show more than just his strong minicamp work this spring to beat back the doubters and return to prominence once more.
With early reports indicating that A.J. Jenkins might take a little time to get up to NFL speed, Randy Moss could emerge as the Niners' top deep threat. It's a role that he's mastered in the past, -- he's known by some as the greatest deep threat receiver ever -- and if he's hungry, and can keep his head on straight, he'll give opposing defensive coordinators and players alike headaches. The move has flown under the radar a bit league-wide because most assume Randy will just end up being Randy, but if he can buck the recent trend, the Niners will have a steal on their hands.