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Around The NFC West - Training Camp

Checking in on the Cardinals' divisional foes as the season approaches


From left: 49ers coach Chip Kelly, Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

The Cardinals are raring to go as training camp nears, as they aim to defend their NFC West title and make a Super Bowl run in 2016. The team's major questions have been addressed with a week to go before its first practice. Here is a look at the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams as they also prepare to get started.


Reason for optimism: The Rams paid a hefty price to move up in the draft but did secure quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, and they believe he will be a franchise cornerstone for seasons to come. The defense has been solid over the past several seasons but a subpar offense has kept them from a winning record during coach Jeff Fisher's four-year tenure. Quarterback play has been an issue, and if Goff can step in capably, he and running back Todd Gurley could be a talented duo.

Reason for concern: Goff is a rookie, and the learning curve in the NFL is steep. Even if he adapts well, the wide receiver group in Los Angeles does not have much high-end talent, which will limit the offense's effectiveness. While defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Robert Quinn are stars in the trenches, the Rams lost cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Rodney McLeod in free agency.

What's in flux: Fisher was retained heading into 2016, but there's no question he's on the hot seat. Even with a rookie signal-caller, the Rams need to show some progress or the team could be looking at a coaching change. The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003 and hope to change that in their first year back in Los Angeles.


Reason for optimism: The Seahawks only went 10-6 last season and lost in the NFC Divisional Round – a subpar season for their standards -- but allowed the fewest points in the NFL and were fourth in point-differential. The star-studded defense returns most of its playmakers and should once again wreak havoc. Russell Wilson has solidified himself as an elite quarterback, and the team has some nice receiving options in wide receiver Doug Baldwin, tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Tyler Lockett.

Reason for concern: Star running back Marshawn Lynch retired in the offseason, and while undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2015, it remains to be seen if he can keep up that pace as the featured back. The offensive line wasn't very good last year and now must replace left tackle Russell Okung and guard J.R. Sweezy, leaving plenty of question marks.

What's in flux: The Seahawks are one of the steadier teams in the NFL by virtue of their long reign among the league's best. However, the Lynch departure is big because Seattle was known for its stingy defense and the ability to play smash-mouth football on offense. If Rawls can't duplicate that production, the Seahawks may need to go to the air more in 2016.


Reason for optimism: Chip Kelly has been somewhat of a quarterback whisperer during his coaching tenure, and the presence of dual-threat signal-caller Colin Kaepernick could be a good fit. Kaepernick, though, will need to beat out Blaine Gabbert, who made some strides a year ago after struggling early in his career with the Jaguars. The defensive line has an intriguing trio of defensive ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Reason for concern: The 49ers went 5-11 last season and weren't very aggressive in free agency, which likely indicates another rebuilding year. The passing game was poor in 2015 and Kelly could have a tough time turning it around in his first season as coach. The pass-rush also needs an upgrade after only compiling 28 sacks a season ago.

What's in flux: The 49ers have a new coach, a quarterback battle and few cornerstone players as they forge the path of rebuilding a roster which was among the NFC's best just a few short seasons ago. The team was patient this offseason, choosing to build through the draft instead of free agency, and while that may pay dividends in the long run, it could also make for some growing pains. Unless Kelly has tricks up his sleeve, the 49ers are expected to be among the NFL bottom-feeders once again this year.

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