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AT A GLANCE | NFC West


Published: Mon, September 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


ARIZONA
Optimistic: Another strong draft and some key free agent acquisitions have Cardinals a trendy pick. Coach Dennis Green, in second season, brought in QB Kurt Warner to run revamped offense under new coordinator Keith Rowen. Top draft picks -- CB Antrel Rolle and RB J.J. Arrington -- are expected to start. Warner has two of league's best young receivers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Quick defense, a strength last season, should be better with free agent DE Chike Okeafor.
Pessimistic: This is a team that has had one winning season since moving from St. Louis in 1988. Offensive line remains suspect, especially on right side, where OT Oliver Ross came in as free agent. Warner, who struggled last season behind shaky line for Giants, is using three-step drop to help combat that problem. Warner must return to old form for offense to work. Cardinals need to win on road. They were 1-7 away from Sun Devil Stadium last season.
ST. LOUIS
Optimistic: Addressed deficiency at LB by signing free agents Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley. One-two punch at running back with Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk. OL bolstered by free agent Rex Tucker and first-round pick Alex Barron should provide better protection for Marc Bulger. Barron likely won't make immediate impact due to two-week holdout.
Pessimistic: Defense was weak link most of last season, capped by horrid performance in a 47-17 second-round playoff loss to Falcons, and must show that coordinator Larry Marmie's system can work. FS Adam Archuleta adjusting to switch from SS after herniated disc in back hampered him all last year. OL issues: position juggling with Tucker moved to RT, late signing of T Matt Willig, rookie Claude Terrell starting at LG.
SAN FRANCISCO
Optimistic: Can go .500 with new sense of direction for floundering franchise. Defense should be revitalized under coach Mike Nolan's new 3-4 scheme that takes advantage of talented linebackers, including returning Pro Bowler Julian Peterson. Offense can't be much worse than last season, with RB Kevan Barlow looking stronger behind better offensive line. Nolan hopes for progress from No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith, who will earn his $24 million in guaranteed money as backup to Tim Rattay for now.
Pessimistic: Niners didn't get much better on paper, and first-team offense and defense looked terrible in both early preseason games. So did Smith, who might not be ready for speed of NFL game. C Jeremy Newberry, key to shaky OL, might miss second straight season with serious knee problems. Star-crossed team also shaken by death of young OL Thomas Herrion.
SEATTLE
Optimistic: The firing of ex-president Bob Whitsitt after last season was owner Paul Allen's vote of confidence for coach Mike Holmgren. Offense remained intact, with QB Matt Hasselbeck and T Walter Jones getting long-term deals. RB Shaun Alexander is coming off franchise-record 1,696 yards rushing and 20 TDs. Defense, prone to breakdowns last year, starts fresh with DE Bryce Fisher, DT Chuck Darby, LB Jamie Sharper and CB Andre Dyson as offseason pickups.
Pessimistic: Still winless in playoffs since 1984. Despite last year's division title, lost three times to Rams. Seahawks are 0-3 in postseason under Holmgren. Time for WRs Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram (replacing the troubled Koren Robinson) to catch the ball, and underachieving Peter Warrick was added. Young defenders must prove they have matured.
Associated Press


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