The NFC West -- Position By Position

Have the Cardinals taken the title of Best Offense from the Seahawks? And have the Seahawks' efforts to rebuild their defense changed that squad entirely? Where do the 49ers and Rams fit in? has the answers.

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QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Leinart. Backups -- Kurt Warner, Brian St. Pierre.
The pressure is on Leinart to prove he was worthy of the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft. He'll be given every chance to succeed, but Warner will push him throughout the season and perhaps into the season.
The question about which player should start will linger until Leinart proves himself. Warner played well last year after taking over for the injured Leinart in game five. Warner, however, tends to get in trouble with some bad decisions and ball security. Coaches have been on Leinart to mature and improve his work ethic, and they have been pleased with his progress this offseason.

   RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- RB Edgerrin James, FB Tim Castille. Backups -- Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington, Tim Hightower, FB Terrelle Smith.
Coaches talked in the offseason about adding speed at this spot. James is hardly a burner with only four carries for 20 yards or more last year. James has excellent vision and agility, but he doesn't break many tackles or make people miss in the secondary. But he is productive and there is no one to push him for playing time.
Shipp and Arrington were only role players last year and probably won't be much more this year. Hightower, a rookie, has some decent all-around skills, but he runs a 4.6, hardly the speed guy the team was looking for. Castille, who spent last year on the practice squad, could replace Smith as the starters. Running backs coach Maurice Carthon likes Castille, but it will be hard to bench Smith, who is a devastating blocker.

   TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Leonard Pope. Backups -- Ben Patrick, Troy Bienemann, Jerame Tuman.
Pope is returning from a dislocated ankle and fractured leg, but he faces bigger obstacles. First, he needs to develop his understanding of the offense and he must become a better blocker. Don't be surprised if Patrick, a seventh-round pick last year, takes over. He had a great offseason and is the most athletic guy at that spot. Bienemann is a solid player with some upside and Tuman is a tough veteran who could block. This might be one of the most improved spots on the team in 2008.

   WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald. Backups -- Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Jerheme Urban, Jamaica Rector, Ahmad Merritt.
There is not a better starting duo than Boldin and Fitzgerald. What they lack in speed they make up for in size, strength and an uncanny ability to snatch the ball out of the air. Boldin is one of the toughest players in the NFL, and he turns into a running back once he catches the ball. Fitzgerald's size and strength make him tough to deal with outside and in jump-ball situations. He needs to gain more yards after the catch, but that's nit-picky stuff for someone who has made two Pro Bowls before his 25th birthday.
The No. 3 job is open. Breaston had a great offseason, adding some weight and strength and he looked more comfortable catching the ball. But he was a disappointment as a receiver in college, so it's hard to envision him improving greatly in one year. Doucet is a solid route runner, but he lacks speed, and that's one thing the Cardinals could use. Urban can run but he dropped some key balls last year. Rector and Merritt are quick but they need to make an impression in camp.

   OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Al Johnson, RG Deuce Lutui, RT Levi Brown. Backups -- C/G Lyle Sendlein, G/T Elton Brown, T Elliott Vallejo.
The starting unit returns intact in the same spots. That's happened only twice before since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988. The unit is set from center moving left. Johnson is smart and strong. Wells is the most consistent player on the line, and Gandy was a pleasant surprise last year. The key this year will be the development of the right side. Lutui must become more consistent, and Brown needs to prove he was worth of being the fifth overall pick in last year's draft.
There is little depth. Sendlein is a reliable center, and Brown made great strides last year. After that, it gets scary.

   DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Darnell Dockett, NT Gabe Watson, RE Antonio Smith. Backups -- E/T Bryan Robinson, NT Alan Branch, DE Calais Campbell, DE Kenny Iwebema.
Dockett enjoyed a Pro Bowl year, collecting nine sacks. But he and Smith were forced to play too many snaps. Dockett had just one sack in the final eight games and Smith wore down, too. Watson improved his conditioning last year and his stamina was much better. He was reliable but not a difference-maker.
Coaches hope Branch can develop into that kind of player. He's huge but needs technique work. Campbell and Iwebema, the second- and fourth-round picks, have some pass-rush skills and could become solid rotation players. Robinson, a 12-year veteran, is valuable because he can play two spots.

   LINEBACKERS: Starters: SOLB Chike Okeafor, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Gerald Hayes, WOLB Travis LaBoy. Backups -- OLB Clark Haggans, OLB Bertrand Berry, ILB Monty Beisel, Matt Stewart.
This is one of the deepest spots on the team. Okeafor and LaBoy will face strong challenges from Haggans and Berry. All four are good pass rushers, which will give coordinator Clancy Pendergast options in nickel packages.
Dansby and Hayes are excellent inside. Hayes is a physical thumper who can make big hits. Dansby is fast and long, and can flip a game by forcing turnovers. The depth should pay huge dividends. These positions were devastated by injuries last year, and the front office made improving depth a priority in the offseason.

   DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Rod Hood, RCB Eric Green, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Antrel Rolle. Backups -- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Ralph Brown, CB Michael Adams, S Aaron Francisco, S Matt Ware, S Oliver Celestin.
Hood and Green are solid starting corners. Green made great strides last year, and Hood is underrated. Rodgers-Cromartie will push both of them but could remain as a nickel back. Rolle moves from corner and free safety should suit him. He is smart, instinctive and can run. He should be able to make some big plays. Wilson is one of the best in the game. At 230 pounds, he can run fast enough to cover receivers. He's big enough to play against the run and he is an effective blitzer. Francisco is a capable backup, as is Ware.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: K Neil Rackers, P Dirk Johnson, LS Nathan Hodel, KR Steve Breaston, PR Steve Breaston.
Rackers has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, but he has missed too many critical kicks the past two years. He has to become better in the clutch.
Johnson is in his first year with the club. Hodel is an excellent long snapper and Breaston proved to be a threat at both return spots last year. The coverage teams, however, need to show some great improvement.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Marc Bulger. Backups -- Trent Green, Bruce Gradkowski, Brock Berlin.
One of the biggest goals for the Rams this season is to get Bulger back on track after a 2007 season that tested him physically and mentally. The arrival of Al Saunders as offensive coordinator is expected to rejuvenate Bulger, while having Green as a mentor should also help when things get tough. Still, how Bulger performs will depend largely on how well he's protected by the offensive line and whether some of the team's young receivers step up. Green's leadership is evident on a daily basis, but questions remain about his health after he suffered serious concussions each of the last two seasons. Gradkowski has some experience after starting 11 games as a rookie for Tampa Bay in 2006, and that could give him an edge over Berlin for the No. 3 job. However, Gradkowski didn't arrive until mid-June, so a big question will be how quickly he becomes comfortable with Saunders' offense and his new receivers.

   RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Steven Jackson. Backups -- Antonio Pittman, Brian Leonard, Travis Minor, Lance Ball, FB Richard Owens, FB Russ Weil.
Jackson is refraining from publicly setting any personal goals this season after he fell far short of the 2,500 combined yards he hoped for last season. He had 2,334 yards in 2006, most in the NFL, but a combination of injuries and a struggling offense curtailed his production last season. He had some offseason issues with his ankle and groin, but it is not expected to slow him when training camp opens. It seems unlikely that he will have a new contract when camp opens, so Jackson will have the added motivation of playing for a new contract. Pittman, picked up by the Rams at the start of last season after being cut by the Saints, was said to be one of the team's most improved players in the offseason. The question is whether he can be a legitimate replacement if Jackson has to miss any time. Leonard will be a hybrid tailback and fullback, but he is not the banger needed as a blocker in short-yardage situations. Minor will again try to earn a roster spot on the strength of his special teams play. Ball could be an interesting prospect, but it will take a great summer to earn a job on the roster. Owens has to prove he can block in his combination fullback/tight end role, but it remains to be seen whether it will happen. Weil is a long shot, but has a chance if he can show he can block.

   TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Steve McMichael, Anthony Becht. Backups -- Joe Klopfenstein, Dedrick Harrington, Nick Cleaver.
McMichael was under-utilized as a receiver last season, mostly because he was needed so often to help in pass protection. The addition of Becht, along with the expectation that the offensive line won't be decimated as it was last season, should lead to more productivity from McMichael. Becht's blocking should help both the running and passing game, and he is also a decent receiver. This is a key season for Klopfenstein, who struggled in his second year, but who showed excellent progress in the offseason. Harrington is a converted linebacker that has a tough road in front of him, while Cleaver has the ability to surprise, although the depth at the position will make it difficult.

   WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Torry Holt, Drew Bennett. Backups -- Donnie Avery, Dante Hall, Dane Looker, Keenan Burton, Reche Caldwell, Derek Stanley, Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams, Eric Fowler, Shaine Smith, Matt Caddell.
Holt lost his bookend receiver after the release of Isaac Bruce, but is still being counted on to be productive and lead a group that should provide some interesting camp competition for roster spots. Bennett is the presumptive starter after a disappointing 2007 season, thus he has some things to prove to the naysayers. Several other spots are up for grabs on a unit where only six will make the opening-day roster. Avery and Burton are speedy rookies, and coaches hope one or both will come out of the gate and open things up for the offense. Hall's strength is as a kick returner, but injuries doomed his 2007 season and he might end up returning only punts if he makes the roster. Stanley showed some kickoff return ability late last season and will be watched closely. Looker has always been a gamer, but he will have to make the team solely as a receiver this season because he won't be the holder for the kicker anymore. Caldwell brings experience to the group, but will be in a fight to hold off the youngsters. Hagans was a standout in the 2007 preseason and made the roster, but seemed to regress during the year. The competition could cost him a job this time.

   OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Orlando Pace, LG Jacob Bell, C Richie Incognito, RG Mark Setterstrom, RT Alex Barron. Backups -- T/G Adam Goldberg, T John Greco, T Brandon Gorin, G Roy Schuening, C Brett Romberg, C/G Dustin Fry, C/G Nick Leckey, T Rob Petitti, T Mark LeVoir, C Dominic Raiola, T Stephen Sene.
There will be many eyes on Pace all summer and for good reason. He has played a total of just 11 games the last two seasons, and the injury he suffered in the season opener last season had a deflating effect on the entire team. Healthy, he can be the linchpin for the offense. If he isn't, depth will once again be an issue. Bell was a solid free-agent addition from Tennessee, while Barron needs to show just how talented he really is. After an early offseason move to center from left guard, Setterstrom was switched to right guard late in the OTAs with Incognito going back to center, where he started 12 games in 2006. Incognito will battle Romberg for the starting job in camp, but it would be a surprise if Romberg won. There are some depth issues, especially at tackle, where Gorin, Goldberg and possibly Greco are the top backups. Greco, a third-round pick, will eventually be a guard. Gorin should be helped by being with the team throughout the offseason after being signed last September. Schuening, a fifth-round pick this year, should make the roster if 10 linemen are retained. That would squeeze out Fry and Leckey.

   DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Leonard Little, T La'Roi Glover, NT Adam Carriker, RE Chris Long. Backups -- E Victor Adeyanju, E James Hall, E Eric Moore, NT Clifton Ryan, T Claude Wroten, E C.J. Ah You, T Vernon Bryant, T Josh Thompson, T Willie Williams.
Like Pace on offense, Little will be the key to the defense's improved production. Playing on a bad toe, he had just one sack in 2007 before being placed on injured reserve and undergoing surgery. He was running well in the offseason, and if he can return to being a feared pass rusher, the whole defense will be better. The rookie Long will also be counted on to make an instant impact as a pass rusher and run defender. Hall should be a solid situational pass rusher, while Adeyanju is primed fort a breakout season. It will be tough for Moore to make the roster. The ageless Glover contributed 6.0 sacks last season, largely because he didn't have to play too many snaps. The rotation at tackle appears formidable, although what is needed is significant improvement from the under-achieving Wroten. Carriker will continue to be used in a variety of ways, starting as a nose tackle, then moving to the other tackle spot in the rotation when Ryan is on the nose. Ryan started strong as a rookie last season, but faded somewhat at the end of the season. He should be ready to handle the rigors of a 16-game schedule this year.

   LINEBACKERS: WLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, MLB Will Witherspoon, SLB Chris Draft. Backups -- SLB Quinton Culberson, MLB Tim McGarigle, OLB Chris Chamberlain, OLB David Vobora, MLB Marc Magro, OLB Vince Hall.
Witherspoon played at a Pro Bowl level last season, leading the team in sacks with 7.0 and tackles with 132. He was used more as a pass rusher after Little was injured, and it is hoped he won't be needed as much this season. His ability to go sideline to sideline is just what coordinator Jim Haslett wants in his middle linebacker. Most important to the defense is whether Tinoisamoa can stay on the field. He played just nine games last season and 11 the year before, many most of the 2006 games played despite a shoulder injury that affected his tackling. Coaches like the potential of Culberson, but the experience of Draft will likely make him the starter on the strong side, replacing Brandon Chillar, who left in free agency for Green Bay. Even with Draft starting, they want to find a way for Culberson to get some snaps. Competition for backup spots will largely depend on special teams play. A pair of seventh-round rookies, Chamberlain and Vobora, have solid shots at winning a roster spot. If they do, McGarigle end up searching for a job. Hall is an interesting talent, but he is still feeling the effects of a knee injury suffered late in his final college season.

   DEFENSIVE BACKS: CB Fakhir Brown, CB Tye Hill, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, SS Corey Chavous. Backups -- CB Ron Bartell, CB David Macklin, CB Jonathan Wade, CB Justin King, S Todd Johnson, S Eric Bassey, S Jerome Carter, CB Darius Vinnett, CB Justin McKinney.
Last season, the Rams were 3-3 when the four secondary starters above were on the field together. When they weren't, the record was 0-10. Brown is an underrated player that needs to avoid the league's substance abuse program. Hill missed eight games last season, and is coming back from difficult wrist surgery. Atogwe led the NFC with eight interceptions in 2007, and should continue to ascend. Chavous misses key tackles at times, but doesn't receive enough credit for his generally steady play and the leadership he exerts off the field with the team's young defensive backs. Depth is suspect. Bartell is a good swing defender, while Macklin has experience. Wade needs to make a move this season, and the rookie King needs to show what he can do. Johnson is very good on special teams, but can be exposed if he has to play too much in the secondary. Bassey was moved from cornerback, so it's unknown what he will do. Carter has been a big disappointment since being a fourth-round pick in 2005.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, P Donnie Jones, LS Chris Massey, KR/PR Dante Hall, KR Donnie Avery, K Justin Medlock, P Sean Douglas.
This could be one of the best kicking game combinations in the league, with Brown, Jones and Massey. Brown replaces Jeff Wilkins, who retired, and in addition to excellent field-goal efforts should improve field position with his consistent kickoffs. The return game will feature some noteworthy summer competition. Hall will be 30 in September and missed nine games last season. Avery showed some spark as a kickoff returner in offseason workouts, while Stanley did the same late last season, averaging 25.5 yards on 20 returns. If someone else can return punts, it's not out of the question that Hall's roster spot could be in jeopardy.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Alex Smith. Backups -- Shaun Hill, J.T. O'Sullivan, Kyle Wright.
Coach Mike Nolan swung the door wide open when he declared that there would be a quarterback competition before he names a starter for the 2008 season. Smith is the favorite, but he still has to prove it during the exhibition season against Hill and O'Sullivan. Smith has all the physical tools, but he has yet to put it together to play consistently in his NFL career. Hill and O'Sullivan have seen little action in their six NFL seasons, but Nolan said he has confidence in both of them, too. O'Sullivan is the classic journeyman, but Mike Martz saw something he likes. After Martz was fired as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, he made sure the 49ers signed O'Sullivan as a free agent.

   RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Frank Gore, FB Moran Norris. Backups -- RB DeShaun Foster, RB Michael Robinson, FB Zak Keasey, RB Thomas Clayton.
Martz has promised to use Gore in much the same fashion he used Marshall Faulk during their time together with the Rams. Gore had what was widely considered an off year in 2007. Still, he managed to rank sixth in the NFL with 1,538 yards from scrimmage. Foster was added this season to give the 49ers an experienced backup to keep Gore fresh. Robinson will see action, too. He will likely be teamed in the same backfield with Gore to give the 49ers a couple threats out of the backfield. It is likely that Martz will phase out the FB position, especially as Norris is coming off a disappointing season.

   TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Vernon Davis. Backups -- Delanie Walker, Billy Bajema, Cooper Wallace, J.J. Finley.
Davis has not lived up to expectations since the club selected him in 2006 with the No. 6 overall pick. Some of the time he has shown a lack of consistency. But, more often, his lack of production has been caused by the offense's overall ineptitude. Despite missing two games due to injuries and not being featured in the offense, Davis managed to catch 52 passes. Martz has a way of exploiting matchups, so Davis should give him a lot of options. This could be a breakout season for Davis if he is able to get a firm grasp of the offense. Walker also has a chance to cause some waves after hauling in just 21 passes last season. The 49ers signed Walker to a contract extension through 2012 because they view him as becoming a big part of the offense. Bajema is a blocking specialist who has not caught a pass in a couple seasons.

   WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Bryant Johnson, Isaac Bruce. Backups -- Arnaz Battle, Ashley Lelie, Jason Hill, Josh Morgan, Robert Jordan, Dominique Zeigler, Jerard Rabb, Cam Colvin.
Battle was the 49ers' most reliable receivers the past two seasons. Now, it looks as if he'll be the team's No. 3 man. The 49ers signed Johnson and Bruce as free agents to help give the team's quarterback some weapons. Johnson steps out from the shadow of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, whom he played behind most of his time with the Arizona Cardinals. Bruce, a 14-year veteran, might not have a whole lot left in his tank, but at least he knows what will be asked of him in Martz's system. Lelie, Hill and Morgan also have a chance to get into the mix, as the club figures to employ more multi-receiver sets than in the past.

   OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Joe Staley, LG Adam Snyder, C Eric Heitmann, RG David Baas, RT Jonas Jennings. Backups -- T Barry Sims, G Chilo Rachal, G Tony Wragge, OL Cody Wallace, T Joe Toledo, G Jeb Terry, T Alan Reuber, G Brian de la Puente.
The late addition of Sims as a free agent was a big piece of the puzzle for the 49ers, because they have no proven depth at tackle. Sims will compete with Jennings for the RT job. Jennings was moved from the left side because the 49ers felt as if they can't rely on him. He has missed all or parts of 32 games with injuries since coming to the 49ers three seasons ago. Because Sims and Jennings have experience on both sides, the eventual second-string RT will likely be the team's top backup at both tackle positions. Staley, a first-round pick in 2007, moves to the left side after having a largely successful season at RT as a rookie. Snyder is slated to take over for Larry Allen, where he'll line up next to Heitmann. In fact, Heitmann figures to be the only regular starter back full-time at the same spot he played a year ago. Baas is penciled in as the starter, though he is scheduled to miss most of training camp after sustaining a torn pectoral tendon while lifting weights. Wragge and Rachal, a second-round pick, could also work into the mix, depending on Baas' rehabilitation.

   DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Isaac Sopoaga, NT Aubrayo Franklin, RE Justin Smith. Backups -- E Kentwan Balmer, T Ronald Fields, E Ray McDonald, E Walter Curry, E Melvin Oliver, T La Juan Ramsey, T Joe Cohen, E Louis Holmes, T Atiyyah Ellison.
Smith is the wild card of the 49ers' defense. The club plays a 3-4, which does not fit Smith's strengths. That is why the 49ers spent the offseason working Smith at a number of different spots. Don't expect him to line up every play at DE. In fact, there might be times when he is moved to OLB to get after the quarterback. The 49ers want to take advantage of the versatility they see in Smith's game. Sopoaga signed a five-year, $20 million contract. The team moved him to DE because they believe his strength is working better in space. Franklin had an up-and-down first season with the 49ers as he struggled with injuries. Fields moves to backup NT. Balmer, the first-round draft pick, saw action during the offseason at left end behind Sopoaga. McDonald's niche could be as a nickel pass rusher.

   LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WOLB Parys Haralson, WILB Patrick Willis, SILB Jeff Ulbrich, SOLB Manny Lawson. Backups -- Dontarrious Thomas, Brandon Moore, Larry Grant, Tully Banta-Cain, Jay Moore, Roderick Green, Dennis Haley.
Willis is the centerpiece of the 49ers' defense. He is a tackling machine. But the 49ers also need to find some sack machines within this group of linebackers. Haralson and Banta-Cain will get the first shots at filling the all-important job on the weak outside. The club has to find more production out of those two than the combined six sacks of a year ago. Certainly, Lawson's return will be a help on the strong side. Lawson got off to a fantastic start last season before his season was ended after sustaining a torn ACL during a Week 3 practice. There is competition to fill the strong inside position, next to Willis. The team lacks a player who fits the profile for that position, but Ulbrich is experienced with all the inside jobs. Thomas, Moore and Grant are also in the mix to earn that starting job.

   DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Nate Clements, RCB Walt Harris, FS Mark Roman, SS Michael Lewis. Backups -- S Dashon Goldson, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Reggie Smith, CB Marcus Hudson, CB Tarell Brown, CB Donald Strickland, S Keith Lewis, CB Markus Curry, S D.J. Parker, CB Lewis Baker.
The 49ers were quite pleased with the contribution they received from Clements in his first season after signing a monster contract. Clements is far-and-away the team's best cornerback. He will generally match up against the opponent's top receiver. That means Harris on the other side will have some help over the top. Lewis also performed up to expectations in his first season with the club. He was at his best in run support. Roman is likely to get a training-camp challenge from Goldson, who appears to have a lot of play-making ability. Roman did not record an interception last season, and the 49ers would like to see him create some turnovers.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: K Joe Nedney, P Andy Lee, LS Brian Jennings, RS Allen Rossum, P Ricky Schmitt.
This area is one of the strengths of the team. Lee earned a Pro Bowl trip last season after stringing together one of the best seasons for a punter in league history. He had a gross average of 47.3 with a net of 41.0, and he also landed a league-record 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. Nedney has lost some leg strength, but he's been consistent. The only thing he lacks is a lot of opportunities with the 49ers' miserable offense. Jennings, an eight-year veteran, has been nearly perfect in his career. The 49ers would like to get more out of their return game. That is the reason they signed Rossum as a free agent.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Seneca Wallace, Charlie Frye, Dalton Bell.
The Seahawks got more production from this spot last season than in any year of Hasselbeck's career. His rating was not the highest, but because the running game abandoned him he was forced to throw more than ever before. The concern is that he played all 16 games last season with different injuries, and with another year under his belt those injuries could limit him further. Wallace once again could be used as a wide receiver, and with some concerns in that area he may get more of an opportunity this season. At least the coaching staff would feel more comfortable with that decision because Frye seems to have a good grasp of the offense after a year of watching from the sideline.

   RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Julius Jones, FB Leonard Weaver. Backups -- RB Maurice Morris, RB T.J. Duckett, RB Justin Forsett, FB Owen Schmitt, FB Dan Curran, FB David Kirtman.
This is an almost completely overhauled unit. The front office was intent on changing the position after a boatload of criticism was heaped on the soft style of Shaun Alexander last year. Behind new blocking schemes implemented by line coach Mike Solari, the staff is hoping that the acquisitions of Jones, Duckett and Schmitt can give Hasselbeck more balance in the offense. Jones, who lost his role in Dallas to Marion Barber, will be featured, but will give Mike Holmgren more options because he can catch and block, which Alexander could not. Weaver, a college tight end, also is a receiving threat out of the backfield. Duckett does not yet have a role, while Morris will back up Jones just as he did for Alexander for many years.

   TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- John Carlson. Backups -- Jeb Putzier, Will Heller, Zac Alcorn, Joe Newton.
The coaching staff is asking the rookie Carlson to step in right away and start because they feel his run-blocking ability will enable the running game to get back the swagger it once held. He also has decent hands and will be asked to catch all the underneath stuff in Holmgren's version of the West Coast offense. Heller stepped in admirably last season when Marcus Pollard was injured. Putzier is a solid veteran who can catch passes and will play a lot of special teams.

   WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Bobby Engram, SE Nate Burleson. Backups -- Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu, Logan Payne, Jordan Kent, Joel Filani, Michael Bumpus, Trent Shelton, Deion Branch.
With Branch likely to be placed on the physically unable to perform list because of a knee injury in January, the 35-year-old Engram and the inconsistent Burleson will be asked to carry the load among the receivers. Engram is wonderful at finding the seams and getting underneath, but now he will have to face more focused coverage. Burleson is the team's most explosive receiver, but he will need to run more precise routes and be more consistent to earn Hasselbeck's trust. Taylor has both the speed and the size and the talent to be a quality receiver but needs to remain healthy. The final contributor will be culled from among Obomanu, Payne and Kent.

   OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Walter Jones, LG Mike Wahle, C Chris Spencer, RG Rob Sims, RT Sean Locklear. Backups -- C Chris Gray, G Ray Willis, G Pat Murray, G Mansfield Wrotto, C Steve Vallos, T William Robinson, T Floyd Womack, T Kyle Williams.
With the additions of position coach Mike Solari and Wahle, and the re-assignment of Sims from left guard to right guard, the Seahawks are hoping to come close to replicating the success along the front that they had in their 2005 run to the Super Bowl. Walter Jones is getting older and more injury-prone, but he remains one of the game's best. Solari is going to implement zone-blocking schemes that should hide some of the weaknesses exposed last season, and he also is going to have the guards pull more often to take advantage of Julius Jones' quickness.

   DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- RE Darryl Tapp, RT Brandon Mebane, LT Rocky Bernard, LE Patrick Kerney. Backups -- E Lawrence Jackson, E Baraka Atkins, E Jason Babin, E Nu'u Tafisi, E Chris Cooper, T Marcus Tubbs, T Larry Tripplett, T Craig Terrill, T Howard Green, T Red Bryant, T Kevin Brown.
The Seahawks have what they feel is a deep rotation at both the end and tackle spots, with the rookie Jackson able to slide over the guard on passing downs to augment the pass rushing of Tapp and Kerney. Tubbs, a former first-round pick, is key because if he can recover from knee surgeries for two consecutive seasons than the Seahawks should be much improved against the run, an occasional weakness last season, including in the divisional championship game against Green Bay.

   LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Leroy Hill, MLB Lofa Tatupu, SLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- D.D. Lewis, Wesly Mallard, Will Herring, Lance Laury, Matt Castelo, David Hawthorne.
From a special teams and depth perspective, this spot was considerably weakened by the departures of Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley, and the defensive staff is not really sure what it has in Lewis and Mallard, the reason they hope their starting trio remains healthy. When it is intact, it is among the best starting units in the league, with Tatupu getting better each year, Peterson able to use his athleticism to move around the field and Hill only a notch below that. Re-signing Hill is a priority. Tatupu will be wearing the defensive radio transmitter to receive play calls from defensive coaches.

   DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Kelly Jennings, LCB Marcus Trufant, SS Deon Grant, FS Brian Russell. Backups -- CB Jordan Babineaux, CB Josh Wilson, CB Omare Lowe, CB Kevin Hobbs, CB DeMichael Dizer, S C.J. Wallace, S Mike Green, S Kelin Johnson, S Jamar Adams, S Eric Wicks.
Coached by head coach-in-waiting Jim Mora, this group feels confident it can change games after rarely getting beat by the deep ball last season. Trufant has emerged as a top-notch cover corner and Jennings isn't far behind. Grant and Russell provide veteran leadership and savvy that was missing in previous years. Babineaux is a playmaker as the nickel back. The staff would like to see an improvement from the undersized Wilson, a second-round pick.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: P Ryan Plackemeier, PK Olindo Mare, LS Tyler Schmitt, P Reggie Hodges, PK Brandon Coutu, KR Nate Burleson, KR Justin Forsett.
Plackemeier tore a pectoral muscle over the summer and may not be available for training camp, which will be used to determine if the veteran Mare or the rookie Coutu earns the right to replace Josh Brown. Mare's accuracy has waned in recent years but that has been injury-related to a point. He says he is healthy with a new workout regime and he has the stronger leg. The team used a draft pick on Coutu as a backup plan. They hope Schmitt is the long-term answer at snapper. Nate Burleson became the first player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt for more than 90 yards for a TD in the same season, but because he will be a starting receiver this year he is not likely to have full-time return duties. Those could fall to Courtney Taylor, Josh Wilson or even Seneca Wallace on occasion. Top Stories