NFC West tour: Cardinals in a backfield bind?

Taking a look at the hot topics in the summer camps of the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West.

Loss of top rookie a blow to Cardinals at RB

The Arizona Cardinals will search for help at running back after rookie Ryan Williams suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee against the Packers in last week's exhibition game.

Williams is expected to undergo surgery soon, and he is out for the season. Doctors anticipate a full recovery, but that's a season away.

The Cardinals need help now, although coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't see it as a desperate.

Williams was backing up Beanie Wells, and Whisenhunt is a proponent of a two-back system. Wells has not been durable in his first two seasons, suffering ankle and knee injuries.

The team traded Tim Hightower to the Redskins at the beginning of camp, which was a surprise. It was obvious a running back had to go from the time the team took Williams in the second round. But it was thought the Cardinals might not make the trade until well into camp, just to cover themselves in the event of injury.

LaRod Stephens-Howling is the backup now to Wells now, but at 5-feet-7 and 185 pounds, Stephens-Howling is too small to replace Wells for an extended time.

Alfonso Smith is the only other back on the roster. As a rookie, he spent most of last season on the practice squad. Only 208 pounds, Smith isn't a physical runner, but he's improved running between the tackles and he has enough speed to get outside.

The Cardinals did re-sign William Powell, an undrafted rookie out of Kansas State who was released Aug. 2.

Coaches think he has potential, but the Cardinals need to add a running back.

Whisenhunt said filling that job could be "a process."

That suggests the player the team adds first might not be one who makes the 53-man roster. The Cardinals will monitor the waiver wire closely. The Bears' Chester Taylor makes sense, as does the Cowboys' Tashard Choice.

There are questions if those two backs figure into the plans of their current teams.

Losing Williams is a big blow to Arizona, even though he was a rookie. He had been impressive in camp, showed incredible quickness and cutting ability.

His upbeat personality had won over teammates, who surrounded him on the cart that carried him off Lambeau Field.

"The biggest thing was, we were all very excited about him," said quarterback Kevin Kolb. "We've seen some stuff he's done in the game and a lot of stuff he's done in practice and kind of kid he is.

"As an athlete, you hate to see that for any athlete, no matter if he's in green and yellow or in our colors."

Rams get dose of Vermeil inspiration

He mingled with the fans, signed autographs and took pictures on a warm morning last week, and Dick Vermeil loved every minute of it.

In town to showcase his Vermeil Wines at several events, the former Rams coach was in his element. Watching football practice, and then talking to the team afterward at the invitation of coach Steve Spagnuolo.

It was no surprise that his brief talk ended with applause from some players that were in elementary school when Vermeil's Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.

Said running back Steven Jackson as he walked off the field, "He almost cried, spoke from his heart and finished with an inspirational speech. Typical coach Vermeil."

Asked if he was inspired by Vermeil's words, Spagnuolo said, "I always am when I talk to coach. I tell you what, he hasn't lost it one bit. You can see he feels it, it's important to him, I know he's behind us 100 percent which I really appreciate. I can see it in the guys' eyes. You always look at the guys to see if they are listening when somebody is speaking to tell if they are listening or not, but they were all glued to coach."

Asked about his message, Vermeil said, "I told them this season will be about handling adversity properly, especially with their early schedule. They have to use it as a tool to get better. Just play well and things will take care of itself.

"I said the future belongs to them, and that this year's challenge with the rules the way they are is to make sure they do the best job they can do within the new restrictions of practice. It's hard to get better working less. So you've got to do a better job in less time than somebody else is doing.

"Hold yourself accountable and make every rep count."

As Spagnuolo noted, the players heard.

Said quarterback Sam Bradford, "He just talked about the new rules and how even though they were strict, some of the things we do ... the team that finds a way to do the most within the new rules is going to be the team that succeeds and the team that wins. He challenged us to find a way to do more and be the team that is able to do the most and who is able to win."

Michael Hoomanawanui thought he was listening to his tight ends coach, the always passionate Frank Leonard, after hearing Vermeil.

"He sounded like the same guy," Hoomanawanui said. "We hear that same message every day. It was like an echo."

And that message is?

Said Hoomanawanui, "About loving each other. Fighting for something. Taking the extra time to do the things you have to do to be a championship team."

Finally, linebacker James Laurinaitis talked with passion about a guy whose passion for the game will probably never die.

"He's still got it," Laurinaitis said, echoing Spagnuolo's words. "You can see the passion he has for football; you can feel the passion oozing out of him. He got emotional, talking about that certain bond on teams that's hard to describe about football. But it's there, unlike other sports.

"But mostly, he challenged us. To find our edge somewhere. Whether it's in the film room, or wherever. To be preparing when no one else is watching. That's what will make the difference."

Hill looking like a Seahawks playmaker again

Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill is back to his hard-hitting ways.

No play signified that more on Saturday against Minnesota than the 28-year-old tracking down Vikings elusive Adrian Peterson in the open field on a swing pass and driving him back into the end zone for a minimal gain.

"I feel perfect," he said. "I feel 100 percent.

"The lockout was wonderful," Hill went on, laughing. "The rest rejuvenated me a little bit, definitely. Any time you have time off from football, it helps the body. We get used to playing with little minor stuff, little stuff, but if you have time to completely heal it just shows in the game. I think it'll be a very fast league this year, just from the time off."

Not much has gone right for Hill, in his seventh season, since former Seahawks vice president Tim Ruskell franchised him three years ago, leading to a six-year, $38 million deal.

A series of embarrassing off-the-field issues led to Seahawks general manager John Schneider restructuring Hill's contract to a one-year deal worth just over $2 million for the 2010 season. Hill also struggled to stay healthy, playing in 24 of a possible 48 games the last three years.

Hill failed to stay healthy last year, suffering a heel injury while playing special teams in the second game of the year against Denver, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

"Focus on the job ... that's all I got to worry about now is playing football," Hill said. "All I've got to worry about now is football. I've got all that other stuff behind me."

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Seahawks brought Hill back on a one-year deal to play outside linebacker this season. And with veterans Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hasselbeck gone, Hill and cornerback Marcus Trufant are the only two Seahawks left from the 2005 team that advanced to the Super Bowl.

With Tatupu gone, David Hawthorne moved to inside linebacker and Hill is back at his regular outside linebacker position with the first unit, and now the veteran of the linebackers unit.

So far, Seattle coach Pete Carroll has been impressed with Hill's play.

"Leroy looks very comfortable," Carroll said. "He had a great offseason. He was really determined to get back here in great shape. I didn't get a chance to see him before and there was talk about him being such a hard-nosed, tough guy that I've heard about.

"You always want that on the defensive side and he does bring that. He's physical, he's fast, he understands the scheme, and he understands the position well. He's just going to get his timing down. He felt very good out there the first game. I think it's great to have him back. He's really helped us.

"You can never have enough tough guys on defense and it's great because he's so motivated, too. He really wants to prove a point that he belongs here and all of that, so I think we get him, again, at a good time and hopefully he can really help us out."

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