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Around The NFC West - Offseason Edition

As teams take down time before training camp, a look at the Cardinals' NFC West rivals

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There are stories surrounding all of the quarterbacks in the NFC West, including the Rams' Nick Foles (left), the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick (center) and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (right).


NFL players are enjoying their last few weeks of downtime, but training camp will be here soon enough. As the Cardinals head to University of Phoenix Stadium in late July, their NFC West counterparts will also be preparing for the season. Here is a look at some of the main storylines from around the division heading into camp:

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Weathering the retirements: The 49ers had a tumultuous offseason with the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh and several prominent free agents, but the most unexpected news was the rash of retirements. Linebacker Patrick Willis, linebacker Chris Borland, defensive tackle Justin Smith and tackle Anthony Davis all called it quits, leaving significant holes on the roster. The 49ers still have talent, but the core has changed significantly from the group which Harbaugh captained to three straight NFC championship game appearances.

Return to health: Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett didn't participate in offseason work as he continues to rehabilitate from the torn ACL he suffered in training camp with the Cardinals last year. He signed a two-year deal with San Francisco after getting released by the Cards this offseason and pledges to be ready for camp, where he wants to prove there's still plenty left in the tank. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman missed all of last season with a knee injury and is also making his way back. He's been one of the best at his position when healthy but must prove there are no lingering effects.

New look for Kaepernick: Geep Chryst has taken over as the new offensive coordinator for the 49ers, and how well quarterback Colin Kaepernick adapts to his system could have a big impact on the team's season. The 49ers brought in deep threat Torrey Smith at wide receiver as the passing offense hopes to improve on below-average numbers from a year ago. It's a pivotal year for Kaepernick, who must prove he's worth the lucrative contract extension the team doled out to him before last season.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Russell Wilson extension: Whether the Seahawks and their star quarterback come to a contract extension agreement before camp or not, he's still under team control for the next two seasons. However, the issue could become a distraction at some point, as it will be a regular talking point moving forward if a new deal isn't hammered out. While the Seahawks may not want to pay Wilson the biggest contract in the league, they almost certainly won't let him walk and put in doubt one of the league's potential dynasties.

The Jimmy Graham experience: Seattle's biggest weakness last year was its lack of receiving options, and the addition of one of the league's best tight ends will help that cause. Graham won't likely put up the same numbers as he did with the high-scoring Saints, but should prove to be Wilson's most dependable pass-catching threat. The Seahawks like to run the ball, so it will be interesting to see how much blocking Graham will do when playing tight end.

Offensive line changes:Seattle dealt Pro Bowl center Max Unger to the Saints in the Graham trade, while left guard James Carpenter departed in free agency. There weren't any big names brought in to replace them, so the conventional thinking is that the line may take a step back. Wilson and Marshawn Lynch combine as one of the best backfield duos in the NFL, but a leaky offensive line could affect their success.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

The Nick Foles era: The Rams have a new quarterback in Foles, who was acquired from the Eagles in a trade for Sam Bradford in the offseason. Foles had an outstanding second season in Philadelphia – throwing 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions – but unsurprisingly came back to earth in 2014. If he can contribute simply average quarterback play, it will be a welcome upgrade in St. Louis after injuries and mediocre results marred Bradford's tenure with the team.

The Todd Gurley factor: There hadn't been a running back taken in the first round since 2012, but that didn't stop the Rams from choosing Gurley No. 10 overall this year, despite the fact he tore an ACL in November. It may take some time for Gurley to get to full strength, but the team believes he will become a star. If Gurley and Foles lead an offensive resurrection to combine with a stout defense, the team could improve in a hurry.

Another weapon on the defensive front: The rich get richer, as the already-ferocious Rams defensive line added former Lions standout Nick Fairley. He joins Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Chris Long and Michael Brockers in what should be one of the top defensive lines in football. The Rams' pass-rush got off to a surprisingly slow start in 2014 – registering only one sack through the first five games, which was an NFL record for futility – but the production went up as the season went along, and it figures to be among the NFL's best in 2015. 



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