Preseason Watchlist - NFC West
By Jason Wood
July 24th, 2012

Arizona Cardinals

  • Link: http://www.flagstaffarizona.org/cardinals/index.html
  • Location: Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ)
  • Dates: July 24 August 21
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Cardinals return to NAU with plenty of questions, and get an early start on training camp because of their appearance in this year's Hall of Fame game (August 5th vs. New Orleans). The last two seasons have been in stark contrast to the 2008-2009 seasons that finished with division titles. The defense was never a strong suit (even in the playoff years) under head coach Ken Whisenhunt, but the offense has fallen on hard times, too. This year is a potential make-or-break for the current regime, and they'll have to figure out if either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton are capable of running an effective NFL offense.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Sun, Aug 5 - @ New Orleans - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 10 - @ Kansas City - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 17 - vs Oakland - 10:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 23 - @ Tennessee - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - vs Denver - 11:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Do the Cardinals have a quarterback? The Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb thinking they had successfully transitioned from Kurt Warner's retirement, but injuries and inconsistency have called that into question. Arizona tried to get into the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, but picked up Kolb's option shortly thereafter. In spite of some local support for John Skelton, it would be a tremendous surprise if Kolb didn't retain the starting job. If he doesn't, it's more a condemnation of his talents than an endorsement of Skelton's.

  • How healthy are the running backs? Chris Wells ran hard last year but underwent offseason knee surgery and has been noticeably absent from offseason activities. 2nd year Ryan Williams missed his entire rookie season and has yet to return to full contact drills. LaRod Stephens-Howling has his merits, but he's ill equipped to handle more than a part-time role. Fantasy owners will be watching Williams and Wells carefully, because if both are healthy it could be a dreaded committee approach, but if either gets the full-time nod, they're likely to outperform their current average draft positions.

  • Cutting through the WR Michael Floyd hype Fantasy owners love bright shiny new things, and rookie 1st rounder Michael Floyd understandably has many excited. But early reports suggest Floyd is a bit out of shape and behind in his grasp of the offense. If Floyd doesn't make a strong impression in camp, he could easily find himself behind not only Larry Fitzgerald but also Early Doucet and Andre Roberts on the depth chart. That would make Floyd's current ADP of WR47 far too high in standard redraft leagues.

  • Monitoring the ongoing offensive line shuffling The Cardinals drafted three offensive linemen in April, and they could play prominent roles as the season wears on given the question marks of the incumbents. OT Bobby Massie should push theoretical starter Jeremy Bridges at right tackle and OG Senio Kelemete has an upside that neither free agent Adam Snyder nor Darren Colledge offer.

  • Is new defensive coordinator Ray Horton the cure for what ails the defense? The Cardinals hired Ray Horton away from the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of fixing a defense that has never finished higher than 14th (2009) in Ken Whisenhunt's tenure. The cupboard isn't bare, particularly if 3rd year NT Dan Williams is in shape and a clear starter emerges at right cornerback in camp.
  • St. Louis Rams

  • Link: http://www.stlouisrams.com/news-and-events/article-1/Rams-Announce-2012-Training-Camp-Schedule/
  • Location: ContinuityX Training Center (Earth City, MO)
  • Dates: July 24 (Rookies), July 28 (Vets) August 22
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • Outgoing head coach Steve Spagnuolo didn't leave the Rams much better off than they were when he arrived, as the Rams ranked 32nd offensively and 26th defensively in his final season. Jeff Fisher chose to take on the reclamation project after debating between St. Louis and Miami for much of the offseason, and he will be asked to completely reshape a team culture that has lost sight of its once proud accomplishments.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Sun, Aug 12 - @ Indianapolis - 1:30 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - vs Kansas City - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - @ Dallas - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - vs Baltimore - 8:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Sam Bradford a genuine franchise quarterback? It was reported that Jeff Fisher chose the Rams over the Dolphins because he believes in Sam Bradford; but that is far from enough to ease the questions. After a rookie season that had many excited, Bradford struggled in 2011 due to a combination of injuries (particularly his ankle), a lack of time in the offseason to prepare for Josh McDaniels' system, and an offensive line that gave up 55 sacks. This season Bradford holds the key to whether the Rams can make a fast turnaround or instead embark on a multi-year rebuilding phase. Fantasy owners are discounting a bounce-back season by drafting Bradford 23rd among quarterbacks. He's one of the last clear cut NFL starters to be selected, which could mean (emphasis on could) tremendous value to those who take the leap of faith based on his training camp and preseason showing.

  • Is the offensive line capable of protecting Bradford? After giving up a league-worst 55 sacks a season ago, the Rams didn't make a lot of wholesale changes on the offensive line. Rams management is hoping that the addition of center Scott Wells combined with better coaching will rectify the porous pass protection.

  • Have we written off TE Lance Kendricks too soon? Fantasy owners are fickle and 2nd year Lance Kendricks is a forgotten man in early draft returns (242nd overall, 26th TE drafted). But new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has gone on record saying that Kendricks has the opportunity to be the focal point of his passing attack; remember, Dustin Keller was a perennial top 10 fantasy TE playing in Schottenheimer's system in New York. If Kendricks impresses in camp and continues to gain the coaches' confidence, he's a sneaky sleeper pick particularly in deeper leagues.

  • A WR battle royale It seems that the Rams have been searching for a quality set of starting wide receivers for years, and this season is no different. St. Louis will field one of the most wide open battles in recent history at the position. Veterans Steve Smith, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander could find themselves starters or camp cuts depending on how the crop of youngsters Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis performs. Currently, rookie Brian Quick is the first coming off the board (WR49), but that could change as the preseason pecking order becomes clearer.

  • Will the Rams miss Gregg Williams? Jeff Fisher lured long-time defensive stalwart Gregg Williams away from the Saints to help fix a defense that has ranked toward the league's bottom in spite of a number of enticing pieces. Unfortunately Williams was the lead figure in the offseason bounty scandal and has been suspended indefinitely. Many teams would have difficulty overcoming the loss of a high profile coordinator, but Fisher has an experienced staff including Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil both have been NFL coordinators.

  • Figuring out the linebacker corps The Rams are set on the defensive line and have compelling depth in the secondary (even if the starters and backups need to be figured out in camp), but the outside linebackers are very much to be determined. Veterans Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Rocky McIntosh are the odds on favorites, but neither project as impact players. Can one of the younger OLBs push for playing time with a great camp?
  • San Francisco 49ers

  • Link: http://www.49ers.com
  • Location: Marie DeBartolo Center (Santa Clara, CA)
  • Dates: July 27 August 17
  • Open to the public? NO
  • The 49ers are one of the few teams that keep the majority of their training camp practices closed to the public. 49ers fans are probably willing to overlook that public relations faux pas if it leads to a repeat of last year's surprising 13-3 season. Head coach Jim Harbaugh established himself in just his first NFL season and now expectations are enormous for a team that many think can contend for a Super Bowl. The team returns 20 of 22 projected starters on offense and defense, not to mention most of the key backups.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Fri, Aug 10 - vs Minnesota - 9:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ Houston - 8:00 PM
  • Sun, Aug 26 - @ Denver - 4:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - vs San Diego - 10:05 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is there a "next level" for QB Alex Smith? Alex Smith gets a lot of criticism but no one can argue the way he played in last year's playoffs, nor can they question his leadership and willingness to accept Jim Harbaugh's new system. In spite of Smith's attributes, the 49ers tried hard to land Peyton Manning and only re-signed Smith after Manning chose Denver. In spite of what Harbaugh has said publicly, it's difficult to believe he has unyielding confidence in Smith's ability to deliver a Super Bowl winning season. Fantasy owners aren't buying into Smith's upside, drafting him 22nd among quarterbacks (which is five spots lower than his 2011 finish of QB17).

  • Are the 49ers planning on reducing RB Frank Gore's workload? Frank Gore is coming off his best rushing total (1,211 yards) in five years and his 12th place fantasy finish made him a solid low end RB1 and excellent RB2. Yet, many wonder whether Gore is slowing down and at risk of becoming part of a true committee, and Gore is being drafted as the 21st RB off the board. At issue is the impressive depth the 49ers have built with 2nd year Kendall Hunter, rookie LaMichael James and veteran free agent Brandon Jacobs. Watch closely for preseason indications of whether the backups will have defined roles, particularly Jacobs who has been an effective short yardage specialist in the past.

  • Is Randy Moss more than an interesting training camp sideshow? Randy Moss is 35 years old and two years removed from productive NFL play. After dancing between three teams in 2010, Moss retired and missed the 2011 season. He's back and has been on his best behavior so far even drawing praise from Jim Harbaugh who said he's been the best receiver on the roster. But the early returns are never in question, but rather whether Moss has the maturity and focus to play within the system. The 49ers are a conservative, ball control offense and Moss may still have unreasonable expectations. Fantasy owners aren't buying into Moss' return (ADP of WR41) yet, but if he generates a few big plays in preseason games, you can be sure his ADP will shoot higher.

  • Does the light switch turn on for WR Michael Crabtree? Michael Crabtree has been maddeningly inconsistent in three NFL seasons, and the clock is ticking. With Moss and Mario Manningham added to the roster, Crabtree will have more competition than ever before. If that isn't enough to light a fire under him, perhaps nothing ever will.

  • Will Boone be a boon for the offensive line? The 49ers offensive line is set save for the right guard spot, where 4th year Alex Boone is being given the first crack. If Boone can't lock down the role, a pair of 2nd year players Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person are the next in line.

  • Is Aldon Smith ready to ascend? Smith was a dynamo as a rookie, notching 14 sacks. But the 49ers used him as a situational player as Parys Haralson anchored the starting position. Smith is expected to push Haralson in camp, and if he secures the starting spot it's not hyperbole to say Smith could emerge as one of the league's best defensive players.
  • Seattle Seahawks

  • Link: http://bingtrainingcamp.seahawks.com/index.html
  • Location: Virginia Mason Athletic Center (Renton, WA)
  • Dates: July 28 August 15
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Seahawks head into their 3rd season under Pete Carroll with hopes of improving on back-to-back 7-9 records. The defense which ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards allowed is in good shape but the offense needs to make major strides (28th in yards and 23rd in points in each of the last two seasons). The biggest issue in training camp will undoubtedly be sorting through the quarterback situation.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Sat, Aug 11 - vs Tennessee - 10:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ Denver - 9:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - @ Kansas City - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - vs Oakland - 10:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Which quarterback gets control of the huddle? Pete Carroll punted Matt Hasselbeck last season in favor of Tarvaris Jackson; it's not exactly shocking that the passing game failed to improve. This offseason the team made two moves to bolster the position. The team signed Matt Flynn who most considered the 2nd best option behind Peyton Manning and then drafted Russell Wilson. Flynn will almost certainly get first crack at the job, but his contract is really a glorified one year deal which leaves the door for Wilson to get consideration later in the season, if not 2013. Flynn is one of a handful of fantasy backups that have meaningful upside if he performs well enough to lock down the job for the entire 16 game slate.

  • What becomes of RB Marshawn Lynch? Lynch re-asserted himself in 2011 and earned a hefty contract extension for his efforts. Poised to be the centerpiece of the offense, another arrest (DUI) has thrown the situation into flux. It's been speculated that Lynch's guaranteed money could be voided, and that Commissioner Roger Goodell could consider a lengthy suspension. Lynch's disciplinary outcome will play a huge role in his fantasy prospects, because absent any suspension concerns, he'll be a 1st round pick in many leagues.

  • Finding consistency at the WR position Sidney Rice is unquestionably the most talented receiver on the roster, but he's missed 17 games in the last two seasons, and had not one but two shoulder surgeries this offseason. Rice needs a healthy, productive camp in order to justify a selection in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions and yards last year, but is getting almost no attention (ADP of WR55). The backup situation is also in flux, with 2nd year Kris Durham being a deep sleeper that could become a starter in a season or two.

  • Will TE Kellen Winslow play a major role? Fantasy owners are drafting Winslow 20th among tight ends, while Zach Miller is going undrafted in 12-team leagues. Is that really wise? Winslow was deemed completely expendable by the new coaching staff in Tampa Bay, and Miller is not only the incumbent, but is younger, stronger and at this point probably more athletic. More importantly, will either TE get enough targets to have fantasy value in standard leagues?

  • Securing the right tackle position James Carpenter tore his ACL in November and is a long shot to be ready for the start of the season. Last year Breno Giacomini stepped in at the position and played well at times, but not well enough for the Seahawks to feel secure. Alex Barron was signed to compete, but it's been years since he was an effective NFL starter, too.

  • Where's the pass rush coming from? Chris Clemons may hold out in hopes of a new contract, and the Seahawks were already in need of additional pass rush after finishing with just 33 sacks in 2011. Many draft pundits felt Seattle reached for Bruce Irvin, but the coaches certainly hope he can contribute immediately.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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