BY Doug Farrar 08:34PM 02/24/2011

Seahawks’ division opponents gearing up

Two division foes talked draft Thursday at the scouting combine. The Seahawks are next.

The media scrum at Lucas Oil Stadium / Doug Farrar, Sportspress Northwest

INDIANAPOLIS — The Seattle Seahawks have a cadre of staffers at the 2011 scouting combine; everyone from GM John Schneider to head coach Pete Carroll to a array of scouts are here, ready to “put a dollar sign on the muscle”, as Branch Rickey used to say. And while Schneider is expected to speak to the media on Friday, it was two of Seattle’s division opponents – the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers – who met with the media on the first day of action.

Rams head coach Steve Spagnoulo, fresh off a 7-9 turnaround season that featured rookie franchise quarterback Sam Bradford, spoke about the difference such a season makes as a team goes forward to prepare. “Well, I think the confidence grew,” he said. “Certainly the expectations are going to be higher. What I’m really excited about is there’s a tremendous hunger there. You get a taste of it a little bit. I said this to the team in the last meeting — you can spin it any way you want — that we like played in two playoff games. The San Francisco game in Game 15 was a must-win. And then certainly Seattle was a must-win. We won one of ’em and we lost one. So there’s some experience there and there’s a lot of hunger.”

One key to the offense moving forward is the hire of Josh McDaniels as the team’s new offensive coordinator. McDaniels never met anyone he couldn’t alienate and then trade when he was running (and ruining) the Denver Broncos, but his history as an engineer of explosive passing games comes without question. Under Pat Shurmer, Bradford’s estimable long accuracy was often wasted in a dink-and-dunk offense. Now, with McDaniels and Bradford left to get on the same page, a return to the Greatest Show on Turf isn’t out of the question in the long term.

“I mean, I wouldn’t categorize it as open or closed or whatever,” Spagnuolo said. “Josh is going to do what he’s going to do. He’s going to take the talent that we have. Use it as best he can. We’ve got a good offensive staff, guys that have been there so they know our personnel. I think that will help Josh, and as we go through this thing we’ll see which way it goes. When Pat left, we obviously were looking for an offensive coordinator. The first thing that I did, in the rolodex in my head, we tried to think of the guys that were the toughest to defend. Guys that we’d gone against. And Josh jumped right out there, luckily for us, he was available and we were able to get him.”

In San Francisco, new head coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have to worry about opening up his offense – he’s already said that he wants to run a traditional West Coast system, ostensibly bringing the 49ers back to their glory days. The question Harbaugh has to answer is whether quarterback Alex Smith is the one to run it. Smith has been through a litany of offensive coordinators since he was taken with the first overall pick in 2005, and if he isn’t a “bust” just yet, the label isn’t far away from his name.

General Manager Trent Baalke talked on Thursday about what an advantage it is to have a 15-year NFL veteran (and a quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003) at the position evaluating the quarterback rotation. “He’s not only our head coach, but he’s played the position and he’s proven that he can develop the quarterback in places he’s been, and he’s also proven in his short time in the league that he has an eye for that position. So, with that in mind, we’re going to use all of our resources.”

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the other half of the first two-brother tandem in the history of NFL head coaching, talked on Thursday about what the 49ers are getting in their new man. “He’s a proven head football coach. He did something at Stanford that is unprecedented in the history of college football. People can downplay it or look past it, but no none has ever done in college football what he did at Stanford the last four years.

“I’m proud of the type of team he built, what that team stands for, what that program meant to the players and the parents. He built a family, and it was a family that ran over people at Stanford. They pretty much took USC to the woodshed two of the last three years. Sorry, USC, but that’s a fact. I’m proud of that. That’s the way it is. This is a competitive business. I think that’s what our family is all about.”

Former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi had his own thoughts about Harbaugh’s ability to transition the offense he ran at Stanford to the NFL – he played a more cautionary tune. “I think Jim has to change his offense. I mean you can’t run “Power-O” 50 times like he did at Stanford and be effective so I think he has to change and grow offensively, which he clearly can do. So I think that’s the challenge that waits. And then there’s the gap between college and pro that has to get obviously made up. Jim’s last year in the NFL was 2003. To me, every three years the NFL dramatically changes over and over again and becomes a different league. So I think his work is challenging. It will take him a little bit of time and this offseason he can utilize the time to prepare.”

With the current labor situation up in the air as it is, preparation is a filmy concept. Once the league year turns over on March 4, and if a lockout goes into effect, Harbaugh won’t be able to talk with his players about strategy or anything else. That’s why the 49ers and Rams – along with 30 other NFL teams – are dancing as fast as they can.