Around the NFC West: Training camp tour

Taking a trip around the training camps of the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West, where new quarterback Kevin Kolb and a new contract for star WR Larry Fitzgerald are the hot topics in Arizona, the Rams are anxious to see more of their top draft pick in St. Louis, and Pete Carroll continues his extreme makeover in Seattle, even if means parting ways with some distinguished veterans.


Kolb key among 39 newcomers at Cardinals camp


Everyone knew the 2011 training camp would be bizarre, given the lockout prevented any work in the offseason. The Cardinals first practices of camp met that standard. Of the 90 players on the roster, 39 are new. Coaches are still learning faces and names, so each player's helmet had his last name taped across the front.

Nineteen healthy players watched from the sideline, having signed new contracts this week, making them ineligible to practice the first few days of camp.

"I felt like I was in little league," said running back Beanie Wells, when asked about the tape on the helmets.

For coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff it was a necessity.

Despite the challenges, getting back on the field felt good, Whisenhunt said.

"All we've talked about the last few months is, 'are we going to have football?' or 'when are we going to have football,'" Whisenhunt said. "We haven't talked about draft picks...new players. All that information that is usually spread out over a couple of months hasn't been out there.

"Everybody's excited to jump back in and talk about those things."

Among the players watching was new quarterback Kevin Kolb, acquired from Philadelphia in a trade that was finalized the day before players reported to camp in Flagstaff.

Kolb couldn't take part in drills, but he did join in the offensive groupings, and talked to receivers between snaps. Part of the reason Whisenhunt like Kolb was the quarterback's work ethic. The son of a coach, Kolb has been around football since he could walk. He knows he's walking into a difficult situation.

He has to learn a new offense and doesn't have long to do it. And people are going to be judging him at every step because of how much the Cardinals gave up to get him.

"There's no doubt there is some sort of risk there," said Kolb. "There's a risk in everything that you do. I feel like it's going to turn out for the best, and I look forward to putting in plenty of work of work to make sure that happens. Nobody is going to out work me."

The acquisition of Kolb went over well with the players. They know improved quarterback play will make them a contender again in the NFC West, among the NFL's weakest divisions.

"You never want to see a guy like DRC (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) leave," said safety Kerry Rhodes. "It's a tough move but this league is a quarterback-driven league and you're not going to win in this league without a quarterback."

The Cardinals main motivation for acquiring Kolb was to win, obviously, but there is a back story to his acquisition. The team is deeply concerned that receiver Larry Fitzgerald could hit free agency after this season, and GM Rod Graves said he'll open up discussions on a potential new contract this week. The Cardinals will be willing to pay Fitzgerald whatever they need to keep him, but he'll command big money from other teams, too.

While money is important to Fitzgerald, winning is, too. He's been to the playoffs twice in seven years and he doesn't want to be known as a great player who spent his career with a bad, or average, organization.

The Cardinals had to prove to Fitzgerald that they were serious about winning, and that was a driving force behind the Kolb trade. Going with a rookie, or second-year player John Skelton, or signing a veteran such as Matt Hasselbeck, probably wouldn't have made as big an impact with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald begs off the issue, saying he would love to stay in Arizona, loves playing for Whisenhunt, etc., etc. But there's no question the Cardinals think trading for Kolb gives them a better chance of retaining Fitzgerald.

"I hope so," Whisenhunt said, "but who knows?"

Graves said he plans to begin talking to Fitzgerald's agent about a new contract this week.

"If Larry is sincere about his willingness to remain here, then I believe we'll get a deal worked out before the start of the season," Graves said, per the Arizona Republic. "He says he is (sincere) and I believe him. A lot will be said for that once we enter into our talks and see how swiftly (they go)."

The Cardinals' regular-season opener is Sept. 11.

Fitzgerald is in the final year of a four-year contract, and is scheduled to earn $10 million in 2011. He signed his current $40 million deal in 2008. The seven-year veteran worked out with new Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb over the summer, even before Kolb was acquired from Philadelphia, and has said numerous times he wants to stay with the Cardinals.

"Larry is our leader and with his help, I'd like to try to get this done before the season," Graves said.

Fitzgerald has also been lobbying for the Cardinals to sign free agent wide receiver Braylon Edwards after losing Steve Breaston. Breaston signed with the Chiefs, who are coached by former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Rams eager to see first-rounder in action


Defensive end Robert Quinn, the Rams' first-round pick, missed one practice day as his contract was finalized, and he welcomes his son into the world. However, he wasn't on the field for what would have been his first practice because of a sprained knee suffered about two months ago in what Quinn described as "defensive line drills."

Quinn watched a morning walkthrough practice, and then worked with trainer Reggie Scott on the side during the afternoon practice. Of the injury, Quinn said, "The knee is fine. Just a little tweak."

Coach Steve Spagnuolo said Quinn would be placed on the active/non-football injury list and referred to the injury as a sprain. Like fullback Brit Miller and cornerback Marquis Johnson, who were placed on active/physically unable to perform Saturday, Quinn can begin practicing whenever he passes his physical.

Spagnuolo said, "We could do it in a day, two days, three days. What we didn't want to do; you guys know these prideful guys, we are not sure where it is. So even if we put him out there and say, 'Hey look, take it easy,' they are going to go. And then all the sudden you get a setback. Reggie is going to take it day by day and assess it and see what he thinks. We'll trust Reggie's opinion on that."

Asked if he is eager to see Quinn in action, Spagnuolo said, "That's probably an understatement. Really eager. And he is eager, too. It's been a long time since he's played football with a year off last year."

Quinn said he will work hard learning the defense while he waits to get on the field. He said, "I'm taking all of the mental reps and that's all I can really do right now. I'm going to make the most out of the situation and keep a smile on my face."

He arrived in St. Louis Saturday to sign his contract, and Spagnuolo said it was a personal situation that delayed him, not the contract negotiations. It turns out he became a father Saturday, as Robert Jr. was born.

Said Quinn, "Family is first. Coaches and the Rams staff and personnel, we were really working together and like I said it was my first son and they allowed me to be there so we were working together. But as soon as he was born, I hopped on a plane and shot over here."

Asked about becoming a father and a millionaire on the same day, he said, "Well, I don't think too many people get to do that so I mean it's kind of a funny feeling. But it's one blessed day."

Carroll continuing extreme makeover in Seattle


The makeover of the Seahawks' roster continues at a rapid rate as Pete Carroll begins his second season in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle hit the ground running once free agency began, and now only 16 players remain from the roster Carroll and general manager John Schneider inherited last year.

But Carroll said not to expect the nearly 300 transactions the Seahawks burned through last year.

"We're very happy with the group of guys that we have out here, although we're still busy," he said. "It's just not going to be like it was. We were trying to figure it all out and get as much information as possible. We're not in that mode right now. We're in the competitive mode to keep getting better, but it's not going to be the 200 moves or whatever the heck it was (last year). I can't imagine that would happen."

The latest player to fall victim to Seattle's roster purge was veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu. The 28-year-old was asked to take a pay cut, and after mulling it over he decided to ask for his release instead, ending his six-year tenure with the team, which included five as the defensive captain and three Pro Bowls.

"We really feel comfortable with saying that it was mutual agreement of how to deal with it with his career and our situation and all of that," Carroll said about Tatupu moving on. "This is a professional sport. It's always business. There's always business involved in every decision that you make and there's no decision in personnel that isn't effected one way or the other in that regard."

David Hawthorne will move from outside linebacker to replace his mentor, and Leroy Hill now gets an opportunity to earn his job back.

"He meant a lot, for me especially because I came in undrafted and he kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot," Hawthorne said. "So today was a hard day for the linebackers, but we wish him the best."

The TCU product has blossomed into the Seattle's most reliable linebacker, leading the team in tackles for two straight seasons.

Tatupu's play had slipped of late because of injuries. He played all 16 games for the first time in three seasons last year. Tatupu also had surgeries on both knees in January.

Tatupu had five years and more than $25 million remaining on his contract, which includes a $4.35 million base salary for this season.

Hill was part of a salary purge last year, with team asking him to take a pay cut after signing a six-year, $38 million deal two years ago. Hill said he talked to Tatupu before he made his decision.

"We actually talked sort of all yesterday off and on," Hill said. "I've been through it and it's tough. It's a tough decision to make, and he made his decision, and like I said, you just move on."

The Seahawks were one of the major players in free agency, signing former Minnesota free agent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to a two-year, $8 million deal to be the team's starter.

Seattle also signed Jackson's good friend receiver Sidney Rice to a five-year, $41 million deal, giving the Seahawks the big-play receiver they coveted.

The Seahawks also added offensive lineman Robert Gallery on a three-year deal for some needed experience up front.

Gallery, 31, is familiar with Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable from his days in Oakland, where Cable served as the Raiders head coach.

Seattle also helped to solidify the defensive line by bringing back the team's own free agent, Brandon Mebane, on a five-year, $25 million deal, with $9 million in guaranteed money.

The Seahawks also parted ways with former Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who took the opening couple minutes of his introductory news conference in Tennessee to thank the Seahawks' organization and the fans for his 10 seasons in Seattle, and said he looks forward to making a new start with the Titans, and says he's there to win.

But Hasselbeck still was smarting a bit after the Seahawks failed to make him an offer once free agency began to keep him in Seattle.

"It's tough when the head coach and the GM call you and they say 'Hey, thanks for everything, but we're no longer interested,'" Hasselbeck said. "Yeah, it's tough. But those guys were great about it. They called me first, so I didn't have to hear about it on the television or something like that. So that meant a lot to me. So I just wished them well, and they did the same."

Hasselbeck said it was pretty emotional driving to Sea-Tac Airport on Thursday – he actually passed by the Seahawks' VMAC facility on the way and saw his former teammates out on the field practicing.

Seattle general manager John Schneider said not bringing back Hasselbeck was one of the toughest decisions he had to make. Schneider was actually part of Seattle's personnel department in Seattle when the traded for Hasselbeck with Green Bay 10 years ago.

"I was quite honestly one of four guys that helped get Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle," Schneider said. "I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the decision we made and it was really cool to watch his career here. This isn't one of those changing of the guard things, OK. I'm connected to Matt Hasselbeck as well."


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