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NFC West Lookaround: Updates on Cardinals, 49ers and Seahawks

How are things looking around the division?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

That collective sigh you notice hanging over the air is Rams fans feeling highly relieved that Matthew Stafford hasn’t been diagnosed with the Carson Wentz-level injury. On Monday, Stafford banged his surgically repaired thumb on a helmet and will be forced to miss a few days of practice.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that LA’s QB1 has a swollen thumb but X-rays were negative, thereby avoiding a major injury. Los Angeles will now be extra cautious with Stafford as the regular season inches closer.

Injures have been piling up around the league and the Rams can’t afford to lose their star quarterback. Already, the team has lost starting running back Cam Akers for the season so the hope would be not lose anymore players. To ensure that, be sure to knock on any nearby wood and cross everything you have until February. To help pass the time, let’s check on our buddies within the division.

A.J. Green, Rondale Moore impressing early, Hicks unhappy with Cardinals

Wide receiver A.J. Green is becoming everything the Cardinals prayed he would be after leaving the Bengals this offseason. Green had a rough three years to end his career in Cincy including 2020 where he failed to catch at least 50 percent of his targets for the first time in his career. The Redbirds are anticipating those years were simply a bump in the road for the seven-time Pro Bowler. His new teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, is beyond excited to partner with the star pass catcher whom he argues is still in his prime.

“To be honest I probably haven’t played with anyone of his caliber also,” Hopkins said. “But you know I say that and Larry’s obviously a Hall of Famer, I got to play with him later in his career. Andre Johnson, got to play with him later in his career. The reason I say that is A.J. still has a lot in the tank. The other two Hall of Famers I played with I would say were at the end of their careers.”

Another emerging weapon in Kyler Murray’s arsenal is rookie wide receiver Rondale Moore out of Purdue. Moore has practically set the practice field ablaze thanks to his speed. What has really impressed coaches and fans alike is his ability to track the ball. With that combo, opposing defensive coordinators will likely wake up in cold sweats just thinking about how to contain him. Maybe not Aaron Donald-related cold sweats just yet, but he’ll get there.

In other news, linebacker Jordan Hicks has expressed his frustration over being unable to compete for the starting job. Instead, the job was given to rookie first-rounder Zaven Collins, much to the dismay of Hicks who was a captain and playcaller for the defense last season. Hicks had already taken a pay cut to remain with the team and asked for a trade after Collins’ selection, but one never materialized for him.

Despite this drama, the Cardinals are happy to keep Hicks for the ride as a safety net for the rookie. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has stated that Collins has done well this offseason regardless of the typical ups and downs for a young player. Joseph knows the team has to be patient with any mistakes as it’s all part of the learning curve.

“You can’t put him out there and you make a couple of mistakes and you bench the kid,” said Joseph. “There may be a time when it’s too much and we sit him for a series or two, and that’s OK. But if he’s ready to play Week 1 he’s going to play, and if he struggles, we’ll have to figure it out for him.”

NFL: San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Lance and Aiyuk leading the youth movement for the 49ers

In case you didn’t know, the 49ers are in the middle of a quarterback competition. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has said he would be “very surprised” if No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance could start week one against the Detroit Lions. As of the moment, Jimmy Garoppolo is the presumed starter going forward as he’s the only one taking first-team reps, but Lance keeps exciting the fanbase thanks to dimes like this:

While a player may excite in training camp or practice, it doesn’t guarantee anything once the games actually start as Shanahan is alluding to.

“Yeah. I mean, I just think to look a lot better than the guy who’s been playing for a while and done everything in practice and in three preseason games where you’re not playing in all the games,” said Shanahan. “And I think that would be pretty tough to do so I’m not trying to put that pressure on Trey. But I mean anybody who can pull stuff off, I mean, you’re going to see it that way. Jimmy has played too good, a football. He is too good of a player and Trey’s trying to learn everything right now and soak it all in. So that’s why I’d be very surprised if he was able to do that.”

Lance appears to be quite gifted but the San Francisco faithful needs to take this hype with a grain of salt before anointing anyone as the next Joe Montana. Please give him some time and don’t forget to breathe in the process.

Another young player earning the hype during camp is wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who was the recipient of Lance’s throw above. The 49ers are trying to utilize his unique skillset to diversify his entrances into the end zone. One of these methods is by trying Aiyuk out as a punt returner. Despite having the necessary skills to be a returner, Shanahan has been hesitant to name him the starter in that role.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

“Hopefully he can prove that and get the offense down more and own that to where it doesn’t mess him up. But you know, he’s trying to prove that he’s one of our best receivers right now, so he can get out there in that way. And hopefully he can prove he is one of our best punt returners, too.”

It’s worth wondering why Shanahan is hesitant but the reason is fairly obvious. Last season, the Niners were ravaged by injuries with a whooping total of 32 players who spent time on Injured Reserve. Right now as practice is going on, it’s not worth getting players hurt in situations they aren’t as familiar with. However, with an athlete like Aiyuk, unfamiliarity with a role might not matter all that much.

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Trent Sherfield has been making an impression on his coaches and teammates with his speed and separation on the field. Mainly a special teams player, Sherfield has been receiving plenty of looks with the first-team offense due to Deebo Samuel’s leg injury. Even if Trent fails to beat out Mohamed Sanu and Jalen Hurd, San Francisco will have plenty of depth in case the injures pile up once more. If you’ve never heard of Sherfield before now, let me help you with your research as he might become the stuff of your nightmares someday when the time comes.

Damarious Randall showing Seahawks you truly can go home again

Damarious Randall has proven to the league and the Seahawks that he can be a swiss army knife at defensive back. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believes Randall has been “off to a very good start” at camp as he returns to a position he hasn’t played since 2017.

Randall was drafted in the first round of the 2015 drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Naturally a safety at heart, Damarious had a solid rookie campaign, recording four interceptions and 13 pass breakups while allowing an opponent passer rating of 87.6. He suffered injuries in 2016 and ‘17 which notably limited his effectiveness. Overall, he logged 1,733 snaps as an outside corner during his tenure with the Packers. Carroll seems to respect Randall’s potential in reaching his rookie highs with Seattle.

“He’s a beautiful athlete,” Carroll said. “He’s really fast and he’s really light on his feet. He’s got real good ball sense. I went back and watched his Packer days, you know, and checked him out there when he started up. He had a really good first go-around and then not quite as effective in the years after, and then he kinda got knocked around to safety and all that.”

The only lock thus far cornerbacks-wise for the Seahawks is D.J. Reed who mans the right half of the field. In terms of other competition for the other starting role, Seattle has brought in carryover Tre Flowers, rookie Tre Brown and free agent additions Ahkello Witherspoon, Pierre Desir and Randall.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Sticking with the secondary, defensive back Marquise Blair is getting reps at the safety and nickel spot. Blair’s second season ended prematurely after colliding with teammate K.J. Wright, so he’s betting on himself to have a monster comeback. Most likely, Marquise will be battling for the nickel spot but is more than happy to contribute wherever needed.

“I’ll do whatever,” Blair said. “I can do anything on defense, I can play any position, I think. Nickel is a package, so base package, you’ve got to play safety. They’ve still got me at strong and free, so I’m playing everywhere.”

Finally, could the NFC West be home to another dominant tight end? Sophomore tight end Cody Parkinson missed most of his rookie season with a foot injury but is ready to hit the field after working with quarterback Russell Wilson earlier in the offseason. Parkinson is 6’7 so he’s pretty easy to pick out in a crowd. If you don’t know how big of a dude he is, maybe this will put his height into perspective...

I’m just beyond thankful I’m not on the field trying to guard that giant. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying other than Tom Brady winning yet another Lombardi Trophy. Anyways, Carroll gushes that Cody has great hands and a confident pass catcher, but there’s added dimensions he could use to help boost his game even further.

“So at this time, as a receiver, we have really had no problem with what he can do; we need to develop his blocking and make him a better blocker than he was, and he’s determined to do it. He’s stronger and thicker and all that.”