Catchy NFC West position battles

Posted Aug. 25, 2012 @ 10 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Attention, all you NFC West enthusiasts out there in this wonderful, pro football-crazed country of ours: Believe it or not, there are other pertinent position battles in this division besides the increasingly curious QB wars currently being waged in Arizona and Seattle.

Before delving further into this premise, I have a few specific NFC West points I’d like to make, beginning with my firm belief that the NFC West is no longer the weakest division in the league. While it still can’t hold a candle to the other three divisions in the NFC, I rank it above both the AFC South and the AFC West in terms of overall quality.

Considering how long the “NFL Worst” tag had been applicable, that’s saying something.

On the other hand, I’ll be quite surprised if the NFC West delivers another playoff team in 2012 other than the 49ers, a very legitimate Super Bowl contender in my eyes.

I think both the Seahawks and Cardinals have up-and-coming, playoff-caliber defenses. But the dual uncertainty under center in Seattle and Arizona offsets whatever positives these teams have to offer.

Now back to those other position battles, with major emphasis being placed on the rather wacky situations at wide receiver that every team in the division currently seems to be experiencing.

Here’s a question worth pondering: Is there any NFC West team right now with a clear-cut pair of starting WRs?

Ideally, the Cardinals will be getting a potent 1-2 punch for a long time to come from Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the league’s most accomplished wideout, and first-round draft pick Michael Floyd, who is envisioned in the mold of former Fitzgerald complement extraordinaire Anquan Boldin.

But all signs point toward head coach Ken Whisenhunt taking his sweet time working Floyd into the starting lineup, as evidenced by Floyd’s current placement on the Arizona depth chart behind Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.

While the 49ers look like a potentially elite team in their second season under Jim Harbaugh, their situation at wide receiver continues to leave most close observers wide-eyed in confusion. The one thing you probably can say is that Michael Crabtree, the beneficiary of the best hands in football according to Harbaugh, will be one of the starters. But he is the No. 1 guy or the No. 2 guy?

Enter Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams and first-round rookie A.J. Jenkins, who has had his share of struggles, to the Niners' WR equation. Team sources have been telling PFW throughout much of the preseason that Moss has been the Niners' best wide receiver, day in and day out. But with predictions by some team observers continuing to suggest that Moss will be used solely in specially designed spot situations, I am starting to sense a growing dependence on Manningham, who has come on strong.

In Seattle, if not for the too-close-to-call competition for the starting QB job between free-agent addition Matt Flynn and too-good-to-be-true rookie Russell Wilson, the hot topic would be the battle for a WR spot between former heavyweight wideouts Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards.

It would appear Edwards, who has looked appreciably better than he looked with the Niners last season, has a leg up on Owens, who has looked shaky. But the odds could be against Edwards capturing the No. 2 WR post behind Sidney Rice in competition with Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler, Ricardo Lockette and the disappointing Kris Durham.

And then there are the Rams, who can count on the reliable Danny Amendola at one starting WR spot but have no clue as to who will end up filling the other one.

“Well, I still think there’s some tough calls,” Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told the local media the other day in reference to a WR traffic jam including, in no particular order, free-agent addition Steve Smith, holdovers Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis and rookies Brian Quick (second round) and Chris Givens (fourth round). “I think we know we've got a good core group of guys. Again, we’re still waiting for some guys to separate themselves.”

Don’t discount the resilient Gibson, an early favorite for a starting job before falling back in the pack because of a hamstring injury and just recently re-emerging with a flourish on the practice field.

There is one more NFC West position battle worth tackling in this column: Arizona’s tenuous OLT situation in the wake of Levi Brown’s season-ending torn triceps.

In the Cardinals' preseason game at Tennessee Thursday evening, no-name D.J. Young got the first crack at replacing Brown in the starting lineup and couldn’t have looked more overmatched. The situation improved significantly when D’Anthony Batiste switched over from right tackle in the second quarter. But Batiste is a journeyman with a capitol “J,” having made only four starts in six pro seasons.

Translation: It hardly would be a shock if the Cardinals’ starting left tackle for this season is playing elsewhere at the moment.