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Around The NFC West: Training Camp

Posted Jul 12, 2017

Taking a look at the Cardinals' divisional counterparts as training camp draws near

New NFC West faces include 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan (left), Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy (middle) and Rams coach Sean McVay.

The Cardinals will begin training camp a week before their NFC West counterparts due to their inclusion in the Hall of Fame game. It won’t be long before the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks hit the field as well. There seems to be a wide gulf between the two top teams and the two bottom ones in the division heading into 2017, with the Seahawks and Cardinals pushing for the playoffs while the Rams and 49ers rebuild. Here is a look at where the Cardinals’ divisional counterparts stand as they get ready for camp:

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Reason for optimism: The Rams have a young, bright new coach in Sean McVay, who will aim to revive a moribund offense, and he tabbed Wade Phillips as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Los Angeles still has some impressive pieces on defense, led by star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and an offense which features high draft picks at quarterback (Jared Goff) and running back (Todd Gurley). The Rams also added star left tackle Andrew Whitworth in free agency.

Reason for concern: While Goff and Gurley are talented, they have yet to fulfill their potential. Gurley’s troubles can be tied to stacked defensive fronts, and he should be a threat if teams can’t sell out to stop him. That’s contingent on Goff becoming a better quarterback after struggling mightily as a rookie. While there is plenty of time to turn it around, more growing pains are expected in his second year, which is why the Rams aren’t projected to win many games.

What’s in flux: Donald is one of the premier players in the NFL, and is hoping for a commensurate salary now that the team is allowed to give him an extension. While he has been noncommittal about a training camp holdout, if it happens, it would be a big storyline. The Rams need their defense to dominate in order to be competitive in 2017, and Donald is the headliner of that group.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Reason for optimism: The 49ers also have a new coach in Kyle Shanahan, who is fresh off a Super Bowl appearance as the offensive coordinator of the high-flying Falcons offense. They tabbed John Lynch as general manager, and while he entered without any experience, Lynch was lauded for the haul he got in trading the No. 2 overall pick to the Bears on draft day. The defensive line holds some intrigue, with DeForest Buckner leading the way.

Reason for concern: San Francisco has a journeyman at quarterback in Brian Hoyer and a roster mostly devoid of impact pieces. The 49ers had one of the worst offenses in the NFL a season ago and gave up the most points per game on defense. While the team made a flurry of moves in free agency, they are not likely to move the needle enough after a 2-14 campaign.

What’s in flux: It will be interesting to see how much turnover there is as the season moves along. Carlos Hyde is the 49ers’ starting running back, but the front office traded up to grab Joe Williams in the draft and may want to see what he can do with significant carries. Quarterback C.J. Beathard was a third-round pick, and while Hoyer is in line to start, the new regime may want to get a look at the young signal-caller if the playoffs are out of the question later in the year.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Reason for optimism: Russell Wilson dealt with leg injuries for much of 2016 but is healthy, and the defense should be among the best in the NFL again. The Seahawks added running back Eddie Lacy in free agency, and an improved running game would help out Wilson. Seattle looks primed to again be one of the best teams in the NFC.

Reason for concern: The offensive line was poor a year ago and is expected to be the team’s Achilles’ heel once again. Luke Joeckel was signed in free agency, but he hasn’t yet lived up to his billing as a No. 2 overall pick. Even if Joeckel pans out, he is only one piece on the line that needs improvement everywhere. The Seahawks’ ceiling won’t be as high as it desires if the offensive line can’t keep opposing defenders out of the backfield.

What’s in flux: Not too much, as this is the most stable team in the division. The Seahawks had minimal losses in free agency and will head into 2017 with the core that has led the way for the past several years. The stars on defense are getting older, but still playing at a high level. The Seahawks are expected to be in the Super Bowl hunt once again.

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