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2002 OFF-SEASON PREVIEW: NFC West

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2002 Off-season previews by division
AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
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NFC South
NFC West
NFC West
Arizona Cardinals — 2001 record: 7-9 (T-3rd in NFC East)
2001 Season Success Meter: 3
It didn't turn out to be so bad of a year in Arizona, but the question is whether they can build off this and continue moving forward. If it's up to coach Dave McGinnis, they will be aggressive in doing just that. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
David Boston, WR

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Find out if Thomas Jones can be feature RB
2. Get defensive tackle who can create push up-front
3. Add depth at CB

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Kwamie Lassiter, FS
Lassiter is one of the club¿s respected veterans at free safety and has been productive.

GO — Terry Hardy, TE
Hardy has likely seen his last days with the Cardinals at tight end as they need an upgrade of production here.

Offense: Jake Plummer finally has taken his game to another level. Plummer still has room to grow, but played more to his strengths and didn't make as many turnovers last season. They have a big decision to make at RB. Michael Pittman is a free agent and had just an ordinary season although the offensive line play was erratic at times. Thomas Jones continues to struggle, but showed some progress towards the end of the year. Perhaps Jones is ready to take the reins? David Boston had a big season catching passes from Plummer and has developed into one of the top weapons in the league because he became more disciplined. Frank Sanders is a decent number two receiver while Mar Tay Jenkins showed flashes of big-play ability. Expect a change at the tight end position where they need an all-around option to add balance to this offense, especially in the passing game. The O-line didn't play as well as expected. Pete Kendall and Leonard Davis were major upgrades, but L.J. Shelton was erratic and Anthony Clement got off to a slow start. Clement is a free agent. Davis could move to either tackle spot if the Cards make some refinements here. Defense: They weren't as bad as it could have been, but it also wasn't very good. They will plan on adding a lot of help here as they planned a year ago. Russell Davis, Barron Tanner, Marcus Bell, and Mario Fatafehi were a decent rotation in the middle that they can build from. But they need an impact tackle who can be more disruptive to complement them. On the perimeter, the Cards are happy with Kyle Vanden Bosch, although he missed a good portion of the season. Vanden Bosch is a good effort guy, but lacks the skills to anchor the front four. Expect them to find a dominant edge rusher who can make a difference. At LB, Ronald McKinnon remains a solid option in the middle and Raynoch Thompson held up well on the weakside despite their concerns over his size. Veteran Rob Fredrickson was having a good year until his knee starting acting up over the latter half of the year. They must consider drafting some help for the strong side. In the secondary, Corey Chavous rebounded with a solid year, but needs to be re-signed. Tom Knight remains injury-prone and likely won't return. David Barrett and Renaldo Hill provided some depth. Look for the Cardinals to add a cornerback or two this spring. Inside, Kwame Lassiter had another solid year, but the club continues to hedge on working out a new contract. Pat Tillman is also a free agent. The Cardinals will likely re-sign one of them and insert Adrian Wilson in the lineup. Wilson has the physical tools and athletic skills to be an impact player. Special Teams: Kicker Bill Gramatica should develop into a solid man if he keeps his feet on the ground. They must re-sign Scott Player to continue punting duties. Mar Tay Jenkins slipped a little returning kicks because he couldn't hang onto the ball at times while Arnold Jackson developed into a solid punt returner.

St. Louis Rams — 2001 record: 14-2 (1st in NFC West)
2001 Season Success Meter: 4.5
The Rams remain a firepower, but their defensive strides made them the most complete team in the league this season. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Aeneas Williams, CB

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Add depth at offensive tackle
2. Find return specialist with sure hands
3. Take down the ego

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — London Fletcher, LB & Leonard Little, DE
Fletcher and Little were key difference makers for the Rams.

GO — Az-Zahir Hakim, WR
Hakim will likely receive contract offers that are bigger than the Rams have interest in paying, which means they¿ll have some new faces behind Torry Holt and Issac Bruce.

Offense: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt remain a feared combination of weapons. Ernie Conwell was healthy for the first time in years and had a solid year at tight end. Trung Canidate showed flashes of big-play ability in the backfield, but inconsistency remains a concern. James Hodgins remains a solid lead blocker at fullback. The offensive line also remains dependable, although they may add some insurance at tackle. Expect them to focus on adding a few guys at wide receiver early in the draft. Az Hakim and Ricky Proehl are free agents while the guys they drafted in the mid to late rounds last spring turned out to be training camp busts. Defense: Brian Young made huge strides last summer after being a stiff defensive end coming out of college and established himself as a strong presence at tackle with Jeff Zgonina. Grant Wistrom had another strong season at right end while Leonard Little developed into a pass rush threat from the left side. London Fletcher had a very productive year at middle linebacker while his help on the flanks was much improved. Don Davis, Tommy Polley, and Mark Fields provided to be a very active group on the outside. The secondary also made a lot of strides. The addition of Aeneas Williams stabilized their pass coverage, but his veteran presence really glued this defense together. Dexter McCleon remains strong opposite of Williams while Dre' Bly and Jerameticus Butler provide the Rams with very good depth. Inside, the additions of Adam Archuleta and Kim Herring improved their speed at both safety spots as both made a big difference. Special Teams: It wouldn't be a surprise if they upgrade the kicking and punting spots. And they may also add another return specialist.

San Ftancisco 49ers — 2001 record: 12-4 (2nd in NFC West)
2001 Season Success Meter: 4
The 49ers continue their ascent back towards glory again, but must continue their rebuilding project carefully. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Jeff Garcia, QB

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Settle feud between Mariucci and Owens
2. Add depth at O-line
3. Get pass rusher

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Jeremy Newberry, OL
Newberry is a young home-grown product the 49ers must keep on an aging offensive line.

GO — Lance Schulters, S
The 49ers must remain careful on strong safety Lance Schulters¿ asking price, or bite the bullet and show him the door.

Offense: They remain a strong collective weapon. Garrison Hearst re-established himself as a feature back, but now must re-sign him. They did find a solid future at running back in Kevan Barlow, who has a chance to be a dynamic back for years. They must find a way to re-sign fullback Fred Beasley. Terrell Owens had another big year catching passes, but must find a way to calm tempers between him and Steve Mariucci. J.J. Stokes had a decent year, but will never play up to his contract. Tai Streets must put his game together next season, but can that happen after so many injuries? Eric Johnson emerged as a competent option at the tight end position. Overall, the passing game was productive, although another true playmaker would be a nice addition to this group. The O-line continues to find a way in getting the job done. But they must add a young tackle who can eventually emerge as their left tackle while moving Derrick Deese back inside and also develop a young guard. On top of that, re-signing center Jeremy Newberry is a priority. Defense: A solid young core is developing. Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield form a nice veteran duo inside to complement their young defense, but more depth is needed here for the long-term. Andre Carter slowly developed into a pass rush threat at right end and should emerge as a very productive guy. At left end, Chike Okeafor and John Engelberger are decent pass rushers, but hasn't been able to put together a complete season of productive play. Don't be surprised if the club adds a notable pass rusher here. At LB, Derek Smith became a steady stabilizing guy in the middle. Julian Peterson didn't make as many big plays this season, but forms a good combination on the flanks with Jamie Winborn when looking ahead. Both are very good athletes. In the secondary, Ahmed Plummer continues to develop as a very solid cover guy and Jason Webster is competent, but they need more depth here. Rashad Holman could develop into a solid nickel corner, but they must add insurance so they can matchup better against teams that feature multiple receiver sets. Zack Bronson can be scratched off my all-underrated list after a few years because he finally had a chance to show what he can do. He responded with a productive season as a centerfielder and improved in run support. Lance Schulters had a solid year at strong safety, but is a free agent. It will be interesting to see what market value they set for Schulters because they have some depth at strong safety. Special Teams: The 49ers have some decisions to make with their kicking game where kicker Jose Cortez was shaky and punter Jason Baker was adequate. Both have a chance to improve, but will they try for an upgrade at kicker? Vinny Sutterland was adequate on kick returns, but did a poor job with punts. He's definitely upgradeable.

Seattle Seahawks — 2001 record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)
2001 Season Success Meter: 3
The Seahawks missed the playoffs again, which puts Mike Holmgren on the hotseat for next season. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Chad Brown, DE

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Mature the passing game
2. Make Shaun Alexander the feature RB
3. Add another CB

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Walter Jones, T
This is a no-brainer — there¿s no question the Seahawks must re-sign Jones.

GO — Christian Fauria & Itula Mili , TE
They must find more production at tight end than Christian Fauria and Itula Mili can give.

Offense: The QB situation is the biggest issue to discuss entering the off-season. Matt Hasselbeck had a rough season in his first year as a starter. He has the tools to develop into a productive passer, but never found any comfort zone this season. Meanwhile, an experienced Trent Dilfer handled things much better and won games for them. Dilfer is a free agent who may get some firm starting offers this spring and more money elsewhere likely despite having an opportunity to start if he returns. The biggest issue facing Hasselbeck now is from a mental standpoint. Can he mentally recover in his head from this season and will he ever have the utmost confidence of the other players? These two issues are always the roughest hurdle for a young quarterback. Ricky Watters got off to a strong start before an injury ruined his season. But Shaun Alexander had a productive season in his place. Alexander still needs more consistency, but his time has come to take the reins while Watters is a free agent. If Watters can't get a firm starting offer elsewhere, Homgren will welcome him back with open arms. Fullback Mack Strong had a solid season to hold off Heath Evans. But watch for Evans to develop into a key component within the offense over the next few years. At wide receiver, Darrell Jackson continued to develop into a fine target. Bobby Engram was nothing special, but provided some veteran stability as a stopgap for some younger receivers. Koren Robinson was more productive over the latter half of the season, but he must grow up and become more consistent. If he does, he'll be a playmaker for Seattle, although his immaturity has to be a concern. James Williams began showing some big-play flashes near the end of the season. Also, keep an eye on Alex Bannister next season. At tight end, they must consider upgrading here to get more production in the passing game. Christian Fauria is an adequate effort player, but doesn't provide the balance they need. Itula Mili remains too erratic for a bigger role. The offensive line got off to a slow start, but played better as the year went on. They must re-sign left tackle Walter Jones and hope right tackle Chris McIntosh regains his health next season. Defense: They got strong play from tackles Chad Eaton and John Randle along the front four, but little else went right here. The overall defense began springing leaks against the run and couldn't generate a consistent pass rush. They must add more perimeter help next season. Lamar King played through injuries, but didn't generate much production. Michael Sinclair continued his three-year slide, but was never replaced and they paid for it dearly this season. They also need more depth along the front four. They had a productive duo at linebacker. Veteran Levon Kirkland was a stabilizer in the middle while Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons remain very productive. The secondary was a mess again with injuries and inconsistencies. Losing Shawn Springs to a suspension was disheartening and equally so when he injured himself right after his return. Ken Lucas showed glimpses, but is still inexperienced and Ike Charlton remained too raw and erratic to maintain any consistency in pass coverage, which meant Willie Williams continued his role of Wayne Fontes in the secondary. He just keeps on re-emerging as a starter when the Seahawks try to upgrade their matchup ability. In light of Springs' presence in Holmgren's doghouse, could cornerback become an priority again this spring? This time, they may look for a dependable veteran to help stabilize things. Marcus Robertson provided a solid veteran presence at free safety, but missed some time with injuries while Reggie Tongue rebounded at strong safety after struggling in 2000. Special Teams: Don't be surprised if there is a change of kickers after Rian Lindell's shaky season.

Tagged: Bears, Raiders, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Bobby Engram, Eric Johnson, Kim Herring, Adam Timmerman, Tom Nutten, Ernie Conwell, Jeff Zgonina, Marshall Faulk, Tyoka Jackson, Don Davis, Ryan Tucker, Robert Holcombe, Grant Wistrom, Leonard Little, John St. Clair, Brian Young, Kurt Warner, London Fletcher, Dre' Bly, Torry Holt, Ryan Pickett, Tommy Polley, Brandon Manumaleuna, James Hodgins, Ricky Proehl, Anthony Clement, Ronald McKinnon, Renaldo Hill, L.J. Shelton, Ray Thompson, Thomas Jones, Leonard Davis, Adrian Wilson, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Mario Fatafehi, Ahmed Plummer, Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich, Brian Jennings, Pierson Prioleau, Tyrone Hopson, Terry Jackson, Jeff Garcia, Jose Cortez, Jason Webster, Chike Okeafor, Andre Carter, Ronnie Heard, Jamie Winborn, Matt Willig, Ray Brown, Scott Gragg, Terrell Owens, Derrick Deese, Anthony Simmons, Reggie Tongue, Willie Williams, Shawn Springs, Walter Jones, Cedric Woodard, Rian Lindell, Heath Evans, Floyd Womack, Matt Hasselbeck, Itula Mili, Antonio Cochran, Ken Lucas, Alex Bannister

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