Around the NFC West: Unit-by-unit analysis

Now that the Seattle Seahawks have joined the rest of the NFC West in looking ahead toward the 2007 offseason, we give a unit-by-unit analysis and take a player-by-player look at the current rosters of each of San Francisco's three divisional rivals and scrutinize where each stands before teams start making changes and shaping their rosters next month.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Seneca Wallace, David Greene.
Hasselbeck took a step backward during a season marked by injuries, personnel changes and dropped passes. His protection wasn't nearly as good and Hasselbeck had a hard time handling the additional challenges. His season seemed to be gaining momentum when Vikings LB E.J. Henderson slammed into his right knee, sidelining Hasselbeck for four games. Hasselbeck came back, only to break bones in his non-throwing hand. He took 34 sacks in a dozen games, 10 more than he took in a full 2005 season, and now he might need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Wallace played reasonably well for a backup when pressed into action, but some think the team would be better off with a more experienced alternative.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Shaun Alexander, FB Mack Strong. Backups -- RB Maurice Morris, FB David Kirtman. Injured reserve -- FB Leonard Weaver, FB Josh Parry.
Alexander suffered an injured left foot in the season opener, sending his season on a downward course. He played two more weeks before a crack developed in his fifth metatarsal. The injury sidelined the reigning MVP for six games, preventing him from topping 1,000 yards or adding to his string of seasons with at least 15 touchdowns. Alexander played increasingly well upon his return and finished the season as the team's most effective offensive weapon. Alexander had a hard time adjusting to a re-jiggered offensive line. He'll be much better off next season if he can stay healthy and the line can build on the continuity that started to develop late in the season. Strong is going to the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season, but he is beat up and considering retirement. The Seahawks leaned on him too heavily this season and the extra work took a toll. Strong caught far too many passes. TE Will Heller wound up replacing him for stretches late in the season because Weaver and Parry were on injured reserve. Weaver has a chance to develop as the starter next season if he continues to improve on his blocking. Morris put together a couple of 100-yard games before Alexander returned to the lineup.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Jerramy Stevens. Backups -- Will Heller, Tom Ashworth.
Stevens missed the first five games to injury and struggled with his consistency until late in the season. He remains a bit of an enigma, a talented player who hasn't put it all together. Opponents have a very hard time covering him down the field, but sometimes Stevens is his own worst enemy, coach Mike Holmgren has said. Veteran Itula Mili was basically a non-factor and the team cut him before the first playoff game. Heller proved valuable in spots but he wasn't a starting-caliber option at the position. Seattle knew that going into the season, but there wasn't much the team could do when Stevens suffered a second knee injury in training camp. Seattle needs a versatile tight end with solid blocking skills to maximize the running game. Ashworth remains primarily a backup tackle, but he was effective in the two-back, three-tight personnel group used mostly around the goal line.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch. Backups --- Bobby Engram, D.J. Hackett, Nate Burleson, Ben Obomanu.
Jackson was leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns when a toe injury ended his season early. He returned for the playoffs but was not healthy enough to be a factor. Hackett emerged as a starting-caliber player whose size helps him win at the ball downfield. Hip and ankle injuries shortened his season, one reason Seattle's passing game lacked sufficient bite in the playoffs. Branch joined the team early in the season and didn't get enough work with Hasselbeck to develop the kind of rapport they will one day enjoy. Burleson struggled to assimilate until the playoffs. He should emerge as a more productive player next season. Engram is a free agent coming off a season marked by health problems, but Holmgren loves what he brings to the team.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Walter Jones, LG Rob Sims, C Chris Spencer, RG Chris Gray, RT Sean Locklear. Backups --- RT Tom Ashworth, T/G Floyd Womack, T Ray Willis.
The line got off to a bad start when three-time Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson left in free agency. It was downhill from there. Health problems sidelined Pro Bowl C Robbie Tobeck, effectively ending his career. Injuries affected Locklear and Jones, but a lack of continuity and cohesiveness was the problem this season. Seattle went from having one of the NFL's most stable and cohesive lines to not knowing which combination would start from week to week. The team used eight combinations during the regular season after using one for the first 15 games in 2005. The upshot was this: Spencer and Sims got to play more than anyone expected, and both look like long-term starters. They are big, physical and athletic guys who could give the ground game a boost as they get more time together. Seattle will need to find a replacement for Gray, who turns 37 this offseason. Tobeck is retiring, opening up another spot. The Seahawks probably need to draft another lineman early and consider signing a veteran along the lines of Ashworth. Womack is a free agent and he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy. Ashworth proved to be valuable as a backup at tackle, but he was not comfortable playing guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Bryce Fisher, DRE Grant Wistrom, DLT Chuck Darby, DRT Rocky Bernard. Backups -- DT Russell Davis, DE Joe Tafoya. Injured reserve -- DT Marcus Tubbs, DT Craig Terrill.
The Seahawks ran low on depth after losing Tubbs and Terrill to season-ending injuries. Tubbs was more important than his status would ever suggest because he had the size and athletic ability to attract double-teams, helping teammates get one-on-one matchups. Terrill was a high-effort guy who gave the team good pass-rush pop. He was also always a threat to block field goals. Fisher and Wistrom wore down a bit during the season and Tapp wasn't always the answer when he came off the bench, particularly against the run. Seattle probably needs a starting-caliber end and another big body at tackle. Davis wound up being an important addition in free agency, proving that a team can never have too many competent defensive linemen on its roster. Tafoya is a very good special-teams player who doesn't factor into the rotation on the line.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Leroy Hill, MLB Lofa Tatupu, WLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- LB Kevin Bentley, MLB Niko Koutouvides, LB Lance Laury, LB Marquis Cooper. Injured reserve -- OLB D.D. Lewis.
Peterson was by far the most consistent linebacker, earning the third Pro Bowl berth of his career thanks to a 10-sack regular season. Peterson blossomed because the coaching staff did a good job of playing to his strengths. The team found ways to exploit Peterson's speed and pass-rushing ability instead of forcing him to conform to the system. Tatupu wasn't as consistent, but he did finish the season strong. He could use another big body in front of him, but he also needs to do a better job shedding blocks. Even so, Tatupu is heading to the Pro Bowl for the second time in two seasons, suggesting his peers recognize his value and contributions. Hill also finished strong, but injuries and a change in his role hurt his play most of the season. Hill was the player most affected by Peterson's arrival. He went from rushing the passer to covering tight ends.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Jordan Babineaux, LCB Kelly Jennings, SS Michael Boulware, FS Ken Hamlin. Backups - CB Marcus Trufant, CB Pete Hunter, CB Rich Gardner, CB Gerard Ross. Injured reserve -- LCB Kelly Herndon, S Mike Green, CB Jimmy Williams.
This group suffered from inconsistent play at safety and a rash of injuries at cornerback. Losing Trufant, Herndon and Williams in the final two weeks of the regular season made things much tougher for Seattle in the playoffs. Trufant should be fully recovered from his ankle injury in time for minicamps. Herndon's broken ankle also should be ready for next season, but Williams' torn ACL could be problematic. The Seahawks badly missed Green, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in training camp. Without Green, the team suffered multiple coverage lapses in defending the deep ball. These problems led coaches to replace Boulware with Babineaux at strong safety, but Boulware returned and played better in a revised role. Jennings proved to be good in coverage. He rarely blew assignments or made the same mistakes. Jennings is a favorite to start opposite Trufant next season. Green's return could be key. Hamlin is a free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, P Ryan Plackemeier, LS Derek Rackley, KR/PR Nate Burleson. Injured reserve -- LS J.P. Darche.
Brown earned the annual Golden Toe award from Pro Football Weekly as the NFL's best kicker/punter in 2006. He made four game-winners in the final minute, single-footedly getting Seattle into the playoffs. Plackemeier overcame some early growing pains to become a good punter with a bright future. Plackemeier changed the way he kicks on a short field, producing better inside-the-20 numbers. His averages (45.0 gross, 37-plus net) were dramatic improvements over his immediate predecessors. Burleson emerged as a sometimes-dynamic return man. His 91-yard punt return helped Seattle beat the Rams. Burleson also outplayed Bears return man Devin Hester in the divisional playoff game. His future as a return man is not certain, however, because the team wants Burleson to develop into a bigger part of the offense. Scobey was serviceable as a returner, but better on coverage teams.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Marc Bulger. Backups -- Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Bulger re-established himself as one of the league's top passers and most accurate by completing 62.9 percent of his throws for 4,301 yards, while throwing just eight interceptions. After a rocky start, Bulger managed the team's new offense well, avoiding turnovers, and played all 16 games, the first time that has happened in his career. Frerotte was valuable, helping Bulger adapt to the offense, and attempted just three passes all season. Fitzpatrick beat out Dave Ragone in training camp, and never played until the season finale against Minnesota when he took the last few snaps of the game.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- HB Steven Jackson, FB Madison Hedgecock. Backups: HB Stephen Davis, HB Kay-Jay Harris, HB Rich Alexis, FB Paul Smith. Injured reserve: HB Tony Fisher.
Jackson talked throughout the off-season about wanting the ball more, and he got it, to the tune of 346 rushing attempts for 1,528 yards. Most important was the signing of Davis, who not only spelled Jackson, but helped him run at the right pad level, minimizing runs for minus yardage. Jackson also set a club record for pass receptions by a running with 90 and led the NFC with 2,334 combined yards from scrimmage. Hedgecock did a solid job blocking, and became the fulltime starter because of a succession of injuries suffered by Smith, who missed six games, including the last three of the season. Harris played seven games, mostly on special teams, while Alexis was on the roster for three games and was inactive for each.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Joe Klopfenstein. Backups -- Aaron Walker, Dominique Byrd.
The rookie Klopfenstein's integration into the passing game was deliberate as coaches wanted him up to speed on blocking and pass protection. It is expected he'll take a big jump in 2007 from the 20 catches for 226 yards he totaled this past season, while starting all 16 games. Byrd played in just five games, but he had a 27-yard touchdown catch against Washington in the next to last game of the season. How hard he works in the off-season will likely determine how much progress he makes from his rookie year. Walker was solid as a blocker, but nothing more.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce. Backups -- Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker, Willie Ponder.
It's strange to talk about Holt having an off year when he still totaled 93 receptions for 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was hampered by a knee injury over the last month of the season, and didn't reach 1,300 yards receiving for the first time since his rookie season of 1999. Still, considering the fact that the offense struggled at times with the new system, he was still a Pro Bowl performer. Bruce slows no signs of slowing down at the age of 34 and gained 1,098 yards on 74 receptions. Curtis had just 40 receptions, and will be an unrestricted free agent. The Rams could have problems re-signing him if another team is willing to pay No. 2 receiver money. McDonald will also be a free agent, and his contributions were reduced because the offense didn't employ four receivers as it had previously under Mike Martz. Looker didn't catch a pass all season, but he is reliable depth and is also the holder for kicker Jeff Wilkins. Ponder was the best of the kickoff returners, but nothing spectacular.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Todd Steussie, LG Mark Setterstrom, C Brett Romberg, RG Richie Incognito, RT Alex Barron. Backups -- G Adam Timmerman, G/T Adam Goldberg, C/G Larry Turner, T Jeremy Parquet. Injured reserve: LT Orlando Pace, C Andy McCollum, G Claude Terrell.
The line experienced consistent shuffling all season, beginning with the season-ending knee injury suffered by McCollum in the first game. There were seven different starting combinations, with three different left tackles, four left guards, three centers and two right guards. Only Barron started all 16 games at the same position, and he led the league with 14 false starts. Still, the interior line that finished the season after Timmerman was sidelined by rib problems, was outstanding in the run game and showed improvement in pass blocking. Setterstrom and Incognito, at the least, will be difficult to get out of the lineup. It very well could be the group that enters 2007 as the starters, leaving up in the air the futures of McCollum and Timmerman. Pace will return from a torn triceps that cost him the final seven games of the season. Steussie is a free agent, and the Rams would like him to return as insurance, but he would leave if a starting job somewhere is offered. Goldberg is also a solid swingman. Terrell's Rams future is in doubt because of a wrist injury.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Leonard Little, T La'Roi Glover, NT Jimmy Kennedy, RE Brandon Green. Backups -- E Victor Adeyanju, E Eric Moore, T Claude Wroten, NT Jason Fisk.
This is the area that needs the most attention in the off-season. Little had 13 sacks from the left side, but the right side had problems. Green should be no more than a backup, and he started after Adeyanju suffered a broken bone in his forearm. Adeyanju is OK against the run, but not a threat as a pass rusher. Glover had 5.5 sacks, but was on the field too much. Wroten has to step up, so Glover can be at his best for 25-30 plays a game. Kennedy struggled with consistency on the nose, and it's unknown what his role will be in 2007, the final year of his contract. Fisk is expected to retire.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Dexter Coakley, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Brandon Chillar. Backups -- OLB Raonall Smith, MLB Isaiah Kacyvenski, MLB Jamal Brooks, OLB Jon Alston. Injured reserve -- WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Witherspoon spent the season adapting to his new position in the middle, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is convinced he will be potentially dominating in 2007. Tinoisamoa played just 11 games, and most of them came with an assortment of injuries to his elbow and hands. Coakley was solid in his stead, and could be brought back as insurance. Chillar was also solid on the strong side. Smith contributed as a hybrid linebacker/"buck" end in passing situations. Alston played in the last three games of the season, and coaches have high hopes for him to take a big step in his second season. Kacyvenski did a strong job on special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Tye Hill, RCB Fakhir Brown, SS Corey Chavous, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. Backups -- CB Ron Bartell, CB Jerametrius Butler, SS Jerome Carter, FS Dwaine Carpenter. Injured reserve: Travis Fisher.
Hill, the team's first-round pick, started 10 games, and showed steady improvement throughout the season. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Brown was solid in coverage and was fifth on the team in tackle with 76. Bartell, who shuttled between cornerback, safety and in the slot in the nickel defense, took a big step in the second half of the season, and returned an interception for a touchdown in the season finale against the Vikings. Butler hardly played all season, and will be released if there are no takers in a possible trade. Chavous was the leader on defense, and was second on the team in tackles with 118. He was beneficial in the improvement of Atogwe, who tied Little for the team lead with six forced fumbles, and began excelling in pass coverage and against the run in his second season. Carter often played safety in the nickel defense and shows promise. Fisher missed the final nine games of the season, and will likely leave as a free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jeff Wilkins, P Matt Turk, LS Chris Massey, KOR Willie Ponder, PR Shaun McDonald.
Wilkins was "money" again, missing just five of 37 field-goal attempts, while being perfect on three attempts of 50 or more yards. Turk's punting helped the coverage improve, as his net was 38.3 and he dropped 26 punts inside the 20 with just five touchbacks. Massey was as consistent as ever, although he did roll a snap on an extra point in a Monday night game against the Bears. The Rams will continue to try and get better in the return game.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Leinart. Backups -- Kurt Warner, John Navarre, Shane Boyd.
Rookie Leinart unexpectedly became the starter in Game 5 following Warner's rough start. Leinart quickly showed he belonged. He set a franchise record for passing yards by a rookie (2,547), surpassing Jake Plummer's nine-year-old mark; passed for 200-plus yards in eight of his 11 starts; his 405 yards passing at Minnesota set an NFL rookie record; became the Cardinals' first rookie QB to get a win as a starter in nine years, and is the only QB in NFL history to pass for two touchdowns in the first quarter in each of his first two starts. Leinart is under contract through 2011. The only real concern is regarding his shoulders. The right (non-throwing) popped out on a sack in the preseason finale. He suffered a sprain to the left in Game 15 and missed the season finale. Warner is under contract for 2007 and says he's likely to return. If he accepts the role, he would be an excellent backup who could continue to help Leinart grow. Navarre becomes a restricted free agent who has the tools to play somewhere, but that's unlikely to ever happen here.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Edgerrin James, FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo. Backups -- RB Marcel Shipp, RB J.J. Arrington, FB/HB John Bronson, FB/HB AJ. Schable. Injured reserve -- RB Roger Robinson.
It took James, who is under contract through 2009, three months to get his first 100-yard game with his new team. Yet by year's end, thanks to a strong finish as the team won four of its closing seven games, he became the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. He can be an every-down back but coaches gave the short-yardage/goal-line role to Shipp, an excellent backup who becomes an unrestricted free agent. Shipp is worth keeping. Third-back Arrington, for all his physical tools, has yet to show the toughness -- mentally and physically -- to be a solid pro. Ayanbadejo is more of a receiver than a blocker. The team could use a real blocking FB.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Leonard Pope. Backups -- Fred Wakefield. Injured reserve -- Adam Bergen.
Pope, under contract through 2008, was listed as the starter from midseason on as a rookie, but because of field position or personnel grouping was actually on the field for the opening offensive snap only four times. The big-body (6-7, 256) caught 16 balls for 10.1-yard average and has a world of potential but needs coaching to help him develop. He can block and he runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. Most eye-popping, though, is that at 6-7 Pope has a 37 1/2-inch vertical leap. Pope has the tools to be an incredible asset to Leinart and the running game. That creates all sorts of possibilities for him as a receiver, especially on the goal line. Wakefield becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Bergen is a better receiver than blocker.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald. Backups -- Micheal Spurlock, Todd Watkins. Injured reserve -- Troy Walters, LeRon McCoy.
Pro Bowler Boldin, under contract through 2010, with 1,203 yards joins Roy Green as the only Cardinals players ever with three 1,000-yard seasons in a career. Fitzgerald, a 2006 Pro Bowler under contract through 2009, just missed his second 1,000-yard season (946) because he was forced to the sideline for three games by hamstring injuries. He already has nine career 100-yard games, including a career-high 172 yards on 11 receptions at Minnesota. Johnson, who filled in admirably for Fitzgerald for three games at midseason and is under contract for one more season, was among league leaders in average yards per catch (18.5 yards). He grabbed a 56-yard scoring toss on the Cardinals' first offensive snap in an upset win over NFC West champ Seattle. As the No. 3 receiver, Johnson is the Cardinals' best deep threat. Walters, the fourth receiver, doubled as a punt returner but he is an unrestricted free agent.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Leonard Davis, LG Milford Brown, C Nick Leckey, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Reggie Wells. Backups -- T Brandon Gorin, G Chris Liwienski, C Alex Stepanovich, T Oliver Ross, G Elton Brown. Injured reserve: Rolando Cantu.
It took three months of juggling and lighting fires, but coaches finally found a consistent line and coaxed decent production out of it as the team won four of its last seven and Edgerrin James reached 1,000 yards despite going three months before his first 100-yard game. However, QB Matt Leinart took a hit on his shoulder in Game 15 that knocked him out of the finale. Ownership needs to open the wallet to upgrade the talent and protect its investments in Leinart and James. Davis, the second pick in the 2001 draft, never has made the Pro Bowl, giving the team pause before deciding whether to attempt to re-sign him. He becomes unrestricted. Guards Brown and Lutui are under contract through 2009. Brown finally became the mauler the team envisioned when it made him a free-agent pickup last year. Lutui stepped in as a rookie the closing half of the season and played like a second-round pick. Wells, signed through 2010, is a dependable workhorse who flourished after his move from LG to RT. Leckey becomes restricted, so the team controls his fortunes and he's unlikely to leave. The key to the future of the unit will be what happens at LT in the coming weeks.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Chike Okeafor, NT Kendrick Clancy, DT Darnell Dockett, DRE Antonio Smith. Backups -- E Chris Cooper, T Gabe Watson, T Jonathon Lewis. Injured reserve -- RE Bertrand Berry.
Berry, signed through 2008, had surgery on a triceps tear that ended his season at 10 games (six sacks). He played only eight games (also six sacks) in 2005. His ability to complete a season now becomes a concern since a career-high 14.5 sacks in a 2004 Pro Bowl season. Okeafor, signed through 2009, stepped up with 6.5 sacks in the closing five games in Berry's absence, finishing with a team-leading 8.5. Clancy, signed through 2009 as a free-agent last year, made only 29 tackles but he is a space-eater adept at occupying blockers to help the linebackers make plays. Dockett, under contract through 2011 and a starter since his rookie year in 2004, is an athletic playmaker who made 50 tackles and stood his ground more effectively after adding weight last off-season. It's a unit that must find more quality depth, though, especially at the ends, given Berry's health concerns. Watson could be a stud inside if he dedicates himself to getting in shape and playing at a lower weight to improve his quickness and durability.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Karlos Dansby, MLB Gerald Hayes, WLB Orlando Huff. Backups -- OLB Calvin Pace, MLB Monty Beisel, OLB Darryl Blackstock, OLB Brandon Johnson. Injured reserve -- MLB James Darling.
Dansby recovered from a slow start caused by thumb, toe and groin injuries to finish with 80 tackles and 8.0 sacks. He is an athletic playmaker -- the team loves to blitz him -- who is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler. The team no doubt will try to sign him to an extension in the coming year, the final one on his contract. Hayes, signed through 2011, returned from a knee injury that sidelined him all of 2005 to claim the starting job and provide more "pop" in the middle than the team has known in recent years with his big body and big hits in a team-leading 93 tackles despite missing the final two games. The weak side was the weak link, and Huff becomes a free agent. Whether the versatile and valuable Darling comes back -- he is unrestricted -- could be big. He is a veteran who has started at all three spots and played them all effectively. Beisel opened eyes with starts late in the year when Hayes was injured, but Blackstock and Johnson need to step it up to bolster depth.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Antrel Rolle, RCB Eric Green, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Robert Griffith. Backups -- CB Matt Ware, CB Robert Tate, S Aaron Francisco, S Hanik Milligan, CB Darrell Hunter. Injured reserve -- CB David Macklin, S Jack Brewer.
Look for widespread change in the secondary in 2007 at all but one spot -- that occupied by Wilson, a 2007 Pro Bowl starter. Wilson was the only player in the NFL with 5.0 sacks and four interceptions, the latter tying his career high. Wilson, signed through 2009, had two 99-yard TDs -- on returns of a fumble and an interception -- making him the only player in NFL history with two defensive TDs of 99-plus yards in a season. He becomes the fifth player since the 1970 NFL merger to record two 99-plus-yard scores in a season. The four other players all scored on kickoff returns. Wilson had set a league record among defensive backs in 2005 with eight sacks on safety blitzes. Griffith had to be talked out of retirement in 2006. He now becomes unrestricted and likely is headed for that rocking chair, to be replaced by the dynamic young Francisco, whom the team just extended for four more years. The corners were so thin and so bad that Francisco became the nickel back. Rolle, a 2005 first-round pick, is physical at the line but hasn't shown that he can run with NFL receivers. Macklin, the starter until he was injured, is aging, undistinguished and about to become unrestricted. The team's biggest need now is at corner -- finding competent starters and building quality depth.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Neil Rackers, P Scott Player, LS Nathan Hodel, KR J.J. Arrington, PR Bryant Johnson. Injured reserve -- PR Troy Walters.
Rackers, after a Pro Bowl season, missed a couple of potential game-winning kicks among the nine he missed overall -- six of the misses from beyond 50 yards. From 49 yards or closer, though, he was 27-30 and his kickoffs still put the defense in strong field position. Player is beginning to show his age, although he still put 18 of his 66 inside the 20 and didn't have one blocked as he built a 44.9-yard average (but only 34.5-yard net). They're one of the league's most formidable 1-2 kicking-game threats. Walters is an unrestricted free agent, so the team may be looking for a punt returner, a role assumed by Johnson after Walters (10.4-yard average) was injured.

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