Around the NFC West: Seahawks in crisis mode?

Taking a trip around the NFC West to take a look at the hot topics in the training camps of the 49ers' three divisional rivals.


Arizona Cardinals


The Cardinals wouldn't mind adding a veteran receiver, but they don't see the desperate need that many of their fans do.

Steve Breaston departed via free agency for Kansas City, leaving the starting spot opposite Larry Fitzgerald open. That seemed to leave a need for a "speed" receiver who can stretch the field to take some pressure off Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals did show interest in a handful of veterans, but were looking for bargains.

They negotiated with Braylon Edwards before he went to the 49ers. Showed some interest in Malcolm Floyd before he re-signed with the Chargers. And they had some mild interest in trading for the Bills' Lee Evans.

In the end, however, they made none of those deals, backing up their public assertions that they were happy with the corps of receivers.

It's a gamble because other than Fitzgerald, none of the receivers has much experience. But coaches think the position is deep in talent.

Andre Roberts, the second-round pick in 2010, is starting now and trying to hold off Early Doucet for the starting job.

Chansi Stuckey, a free agent from the Jets, has a chance to play, but he will be challenged by others. Stephen Williams, an undrafted rookie a year ago, again is playing well in camp and has the size (6-feet-5) and speed to make plays deep.

"It's something we're not worried about," Williams said of the No. 2 receiver's job. "We just worry about what we can handle in-house. We know what we have. We have great receivers and we're young, too."

Roberts played well in the second half of last season, and coaches think he has the speed to make plays downfield. But he hasn't done it.

Doucet, a third-round pick in 2008, has suffered injuries in his previous three training camps. When he's been healthy, he's proven he can be effective, especially working from the slot.

Rookie DeMarco Sampson, a seventh-round pick, has looked like a veteran in camp. He runs good routes and has good hands. Sampson missed two college seasons because of injuries, so he's older and seems mature. He'll contend with Max Komar for the fifth or sixth receiver's spot.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't stressing about the No. 2 receiver's job, partly because he thinks the title is a misnomer. The Cardinals use multi-receivers sets a lot, and different plays will feature different receivers, Whisenhunt said.

"There are a lot of times where we'll tailor specific packages to fit the individual strengths of the receiver," he said.

The No. 2 receiver is less a concern than in past years partly because the team has threats at tight end for the first time in years. When healthy, Todd Heap is one of the finest receiving tight end in the game.

Jeff King is known more for his blocking, but has been a productive receiver at times in his career.

The bottom line is the Cardinals are ready to give some of their young receivers a chance. They think they've bolstered the position over the last two years, and bringing in a veteran will only delay the development of young players, such as Roberts, Doucet, Williams, Sampson and Komar.

St. Louis Rams


The after-effects of the signing of unrestricted free-agent linebacker Ben Leber were felt the next day when the Rams placed linebacker David Vobora on waivers.

The Rams didn't need the roster spot for Leber after they waived wide receiver Jared Jenkins. However, salary-cap space was another matter. Leber signed a one-year contract for $1.25 million, almost the identical figure of Vobora, who had signed his restricted free-agent tender of $1.2 million.

The team did not see if Vobora would accept a pay cut to the minimum $600,000 salary for players with three accrued seasons.

Said Vobora, "Spags (coach Steve Spagnuolo) and (general manager) Billy Devaney handled it very well. I appreciate that and that they have always been class to me. They just called me up this morning and said they wanted me to get an opportunity now rather than when the 53 cut comes (Sept. 3).

"They are going in a different direction as you can see. That linebacker room is getting more and full by the day."

Leber became the 12th unrestricted free agent the Rams have signed and the third linebacker. He joins Brady Poppinga and Zac Diles, who also signed one-year contracts with the Rams, in that linebackers room. Leber started 10 games for the Minnesota Vikings last season, and has experience on both the strong and weak sides.

Other linebackers competing for jobs are Na'il Diggs, who started 12 games on the strong side last season before suffering a torn pectoral muscle; Chris Chamberlain, Bryan Kehl, Josh Hull, seventh-round pick Jabara Williams and undrafted free agent Pete Fleps. Chamberlain started six games on the weak side last season, while Kehl started one on that side.

Hull suffered a torn ACL in the season opener and missed the remainder of the season, but has been working with the first unit at middle linebacker the last two days with James Laurinaitis out with a strained pectoral muscle.

Vobora had returned to practice Thursday (Aug. 11) after missing time because of a concussion suffered at the end of the previous week. That didn't help his situation in addition to not being able to practice for the first five days of training camp before the collective bargaining agreement was ratified last Aug. 4.

Vobora said he hopes to be with a new team quickly and said there could be interest from other NFC West teams.

He said, "I'm excited about the change, excited to see where it takes me. I truly believe my best football is ahead of me. I'm excited to get another opportunity and make the most of it just like I did here."

Leber is the ninth of the Rams' 12 free agents to sign a one-year deal.

The new arrivals have been noticed by players, including quarterback Sam Bradford.

"I think it is nice to see our front office make moves like that," Bradford said. "More than anything, when they bring guys in who are strong players it just creates competition at those positions. I think competition is what makes everyone better. I think you've seen it or at least I've seen it in our camp. The positions that they have brought in extra guys and where there are more guys in camp right now than there are going to be when the season gets here. Those guys are competing. They realize every day that they are fighting for their job."

Asked about who gives him competition, Bradford smiled and said, "Everyone in that room pushes me. I want to be better. I learn from my mistakes, I learn from everyone else what they do right and what they do wrong. Just because I'm the No.1 guy doesn't mean I don't get pushed. I think all three guys in the quarterback room push me. Even coach (Josh) McDaniels, I feel like he's done a great job keeping me motivated and keeping me striving to get better."

Seattle Seahawks


Just two weeks into training camp, the Seattle Seahawks are in crisis mode.

The team's cornerstone offensive tackle Russell Okung suffered a left ankle injury for the third time in a year during the team's first exhibition game at San Diego.

The second-year pro limped off the field after the fifth play of the game. And after having trainers evaluate him on the sidelines, the Oklahoma State product was carted into the locker room.

However, the Seahawks may have dodged a bullet. Initial X-rays came back negative, and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said he's hopeful Okung will only be out a couple weeks, and back in time for the team's regular-season opener against the 49ers in San Francisco on Sept. 11.

"Russell's not nearly as bad as it looked," Carroll said. "He's walking around fine. He's not in a boot. We're not talking about how long yet, but it's nothing like the ones he's had.

"And so I don't know if we can call it mild or not, but he was out walking around. And he's moving, and doing the toe raises and stuff. So he's way more active than he was at any time early in the other ankle injuries that he had. We're feeling pretty positive that something's going to come out, and within the next couple weeks we'll be in pretty good shape."

Okung suffered a high ankle sprain on his right leg in the second exhibition game last August, causing him to miss the rest of the exhibition schedule and the first three games of the regular season.

Okung then suffered a high ankle sprain on his left leg three weeks later, Oct. 24 against Arizona, and missed three more games.

Fourth-year pro Tyler Polumbus replaces Okung in the starting lineup at left tackle -- something he's familiar with. Polumbus started five games there last season with Okung out.

"Unfortunately for Russell it was a little bit of deja vu," Polumbus said. "We went down this road a little bit last year, so I got an opportunity to play some last year. So this is my role right now, and when my number is called I've got to be ready to go."

Okung's injury impedes offensive line coach Tom Cable's effort some cohesion with an offensive line that went through 10 different starting offensive line combinations last year.

The Seahawks will start two rookies on the right side in first-round pick James Carpenter at right tackle and third-round pick John Moffitt at right guard.

Third-year pro Max Unger has been anointed the starting center after missing all of last season with a toe injury last year, and Oakland free agent pickup Robert Gallery serves as the veteran of the group.

But none of the starting five has played together in meaningful game.

So is Carroll concerned about Okung missing reps?

"No, he's already well into it," Carroll said. "He's done very well. He's had a great camp so far and he studied really hard in the offseason when he had his chance, so I think it's just a normal setback for a guy that has a sprained ankle. We have guys that can play and jump right in at the left tackle spot, they've played for us before, but we certainly want to get him back as soon as possible."


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