NFC preseason capsules (2012 records in parentheses):
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: 49ers returned to Super Bowl for first time in 18 years, chasing sixth championship, but fell to Baltimore, with second-year coach Jim Harbaugh's team missing multiple chances from 5-yard line in waning moments. Unlike last summer, when starting lineups on both sides of ball remained nearly intact, there are new faces at prominent positions as two-time NFC West champions try to defend title in much-improved division featuring Seattle and St. Louis.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Anquan Boldin, S Craig Dahl, K Phil Dawson, QB Colt McCoy, CB Nnamdi Asoumgha.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Alex Smith, S Dashon Goldson, TE Delanie Walker, K David Akers, WR Randy Moss.
CAMP NEEDS: Third-year QB Colin Kaepernick must find groove with new wideouts in hurry. Kaepernick, A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette began that process with workouts in Atlanta during offseason. Getting more snaps will certainly help Kaepernick after he began 2012 as backup to Alex Smith. Top wideout Michael Crabtree is sidelined after surgery on torn right Achilles tendon in May, big blow to Niners. But they had already acquired Boldin from Ravens before Crabtree went down, and his role will be even greater now. Several newcomers join secondary and must be integrated into system.
EXPECTATIONS: 49ers will count on more consistency from kicking game as Dawson replaces Akers. Dawson went 29 for 31 last season in 14th year with Browns, making all 13 of attempts from 40 yards or beyond, including 7 for 7 from 50-plus. Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012. All-Pro DL Justin Smith returns from partially torn left triceps that required offseason surgery. He anchors one of league's top defenses past two seasons, aided by stars Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Carlos Rogers. With solid lines and big-time playmakers, 49ers look to get that one more victory in postseason.
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Seahawks were seconds from playing in NFC championship game in season few expected when rookie Russell Wilson became starting quarterback. Wilson proved right choice by coach Pete Carroll, and Seahawks beat Washington in wild-card round for first road playoff win since 1983. Somewhat lost in Wilson's rise and performance and antics of cornerback Richard Sherman were All-Pro seasons from running back Marshawn Lynch and safety Earl Thomas. Seattle had best scoring defense in NFL.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Percy Harvin, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Antoine Winfield, rookie DT Jesse Williams, rookie DT Jordan Hill, rookie RB Christine Michael, QBs Tarvaris Jackson and Brady Quinn.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB/KR Leon Washington, LB Leroy Hill, QB Matt Flynn, TE Anthony McCoy, DT Alan Branch, CB Marcus Trufant.
CAMP NEEDS: Improving mediocre pass rush that could be without sacks leader Chris Clemons (knee) to start season. It was offseason priority with additions of Avril, Bennett, McDaniel, Williams and Hill, coupled with move of Bruce Irvin to outside linebacker; Irvin is suspended for first four games for violating performance-enhancing drug policy. Deciding who will back up Wilson will be another training camp competition, along with settling guard positions.
EXPECTATIONS: Many feel Seahawks are in select group labeled Super Bowl contenders. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will try and build on what Gus Bradley (now Jaguars head coach) started, but with more pieces to play with. Harvin's addition to offense that averaged nearly 33 points over final nine games of season makes trying to slow down Wilson and Co. even more terrifying.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1)
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Refreshed from one-year coaching break, Jeff Fisher combined with GM Les Snead on roster makeover. Franchise shook off worst five-year stretch (15 wins) in NFL history, as league's youngest team improved from two wins in 2011, and went 4-1-1 in tough division. QB Sam Bradford had best statistical season, aided by strong showing from line. Rookies CB Janoris Jenkins and DT Michael Brockers made impact as starters, defense tied for NFL lead with 52 sacks behind big years from Chris Long and Robert Quinn, team's first duo with double-digit sacks since 2000.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jared Cook, OT Jake Long, rookie WRs Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, rookie OLB Alec Ogletree.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, S Quintin Mikell, S Craig Dahl, LB Rocky McIntosh.
CAMP NEEDS: Finding RB combination to replace Jackson's workhorse contribution among Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy. Develop chemistry between Bradford and new crop of pass catchers led by Austin. Fine-tune attack that could feature pass-catching TEs Cook and Lance Kendricks. Prepare Ogletree to start alongside team's top two tacklers, James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dumbar. Find replacements at both safety spots. Develop chemistry on new-look OL, with Rodger Saffold moving to right tackle to make room for Long.
EXPECTATIONS: Rams anticipate more growing pains from roster that has gotten even younger. Team has no winning seasons since 2003, appears poised to end drought.
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Got off to surprising 4-0 start, then lost 11 of last 12 thanks to worst offense in NFL. Quarterback and line were main culprits. Kevin Kolb had team's only success at QB, but went down with season-ending torn cartilage. Unable to pass or run effectively, Cardinals were blown out more often than not. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who directed team to Super Bowl in 2008 season, was fired, as was general manager Rod Graves.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, rookie OG Jonathan Cooper, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, rookie LB Kevin Minter, rookie S Tyrann Mathieu.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB John Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, S Rashad Johnson, ILB Paris Lenon, S Kerry Rhodes, OG Adam Snyder, CB William Gay, WR Early Doucet, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling.
CAMP NEEDS: With camp moved from Flagstaff to team's home stadium in Glendale, emphasis will be on getting players comfortable with new offensive and defensive system brought by Arians. Plenty of work ahead between Palmer and primary receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler. On defense, with top LB Daryl Washington suspended for first six games for violating league's substance abuse policy, adjustments in personnel must be made.
EXPECTATIONS: Arians, NFL Coach of the Year for work as interim boss in Indianapolis, gets at age 60 to finally run show, and he's relishing opportunity. He even brought in longtime Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore as top assistant. Cardinals aren't expected to do much in tough division, but if line can keep immobile Palmer on his feet, it could be exciting offense with downfield game Arians loves.
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