NFC West Notes

Taking an updated look through the 49ers' divisional rivals in Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

That Kurt Warner goes to training camp the starting quarterback for the Cardinals isn't a scoop.

But if he proves to be the Kurt Warner of old rather than an old Kurt Warner, now that would be a scoop.

Sure, the Cardinals made the appropriate noise when they signed Warner for a year at $4 million as an unrestricted free agent about how he would come in and compete with Josh McCown for the job.

Nobody really believed it then - probably not even Warner or McCown - and Coach Dennis Green decided to end the charade this week by announcing that Warner is the starter.

Until he does something that makes Green's skin crawl. Green, remember, is notorious for his quick hook with quarterbacks.

Nobody knows that better than McCown, who had the team ready to move to .500 and perhaps challenge for a playoff berth when on the eve of a game at Carolina he was surprisingly yanked in favor of Shaun King. McCown was 6-7 in his 13 starts in 2004. King, now departed, and John Navarre combined for an 0-3 mark in their starts.

Warner is Green's fourth starting quarterback -- and Green has coached only 16 games with the club.

"My mindset going in was that I wanted to earn a starting position at some point, so I never really thought of it any other way," Warner said. "I know what goes into that position. I know what I still have to prove."

So what, if anything, does Warner have left?

Warner, 33, has expressed how highly motivated he is to prove that his game still is of a caliber that can put fear into the heart of a defense, and that Tom Coughlin and Co. jobbed him with the New York Giants last year - although Warner had to know that Eli Manning was going to be the man after what the Giants paid to get the rookie.

So Warner has his chance. He'll work behind a rebuilt line that appears to have greater toughness. He has run support from a dart of a back who gained 2,000 yards in college last year. He doesn't exactly have Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce outside, but Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald aren't bad, with strong support from No. 3 wideout Bryant Johnson, the fastest of the bunch.

So if Warner can grip the ball, not only does he have a chance to make his point to all of his critics, he'll have a chance to give the Cardinals a grip on their first playoff berth since 1998.

JUST AS IMPORTANT AS learning the Xs and Os on the field and proper locker room decorum for the rookies was learning how to live life off the field as a pro football player during rookie camp.

They were introduced to the league's Player Development Program. Former WR Anthony Edwards heads the program for the Cardinals.

"My job is to open their eyes about tomorrow because sooner than later it is going to come," Edwards said.

Among the topics: managing money and completing degrees, including an NFL program that coves the cost of players who go back to school to complete their degrees.

NOT ALL P.R. and public-appearance functions are the domain of backups and practice-squad players. Front-liners WR Larry Fitzgerald and QB Kurt Warner are representing the team at the 45th Annual Pop Warner Scholar All-American Banquet in Anaheim, Calif.

The Cardinals are the NFC recipient of the 2005 Pop Warner NFL Team of the Year for having "demonstrated unparalleled commitment to the development of youth football in their surrounding areas."

It is the second time in three years the Cardinals have been the NFC recipient.

WIDE RECEIVER CHARLESS LEE, who was with Tampa Bay the past three seasons, has signed a one-year contract. He was a 2000 seventh-round pick by Green Bay, where he spent his first two pro seasons. Lee has punt-return skills, as well, and that job is wide open.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

When he was with the Rams for his first go-round, tight end Roland Williams was a go-to guy when it came to the media.

Not that it had anything to do with football, but Williams never met a camera or a microphone he didn't like.

He played three seasons for the Rams from 1998-2000, including the winning Super Bowl year, but was traded to Oakland after the 2000 season. That was the first for Mike Martz as head coach, and it was known that Martz didn't always take a liking to Williams' personality or his penchant for penalties at key times.

But times change, and after playing for Oakland and Tampa Bay, Williams was released by the Raiders early this offseason. He quickly came back to the Rams on a 1-year deal.

At the time of the signing, Martz said Williams "was a terrific point-of-attack tight end for us. (He) makes us bigger and stronger in the running game."

It was quickly learned that Williams hadn't forgotten how to talk. Let's not forget he received his degree from the school of communications at Syracuse University.

Asked about whether he might challenge defensive lineman as the team's most-often quoted player, Williams said, "I love Tyoka. But I think that more is better. It's not either/or, it's more. You guys take what you can get and run with it."

Asked what he can provide the team, Williams said, "I come in being an eight-year veteran who's won Super Bowls and made a few bucks and loves football and wants to win. And so whatever Mike wants me to do, whether he wants me to be a cheerleader on the side and be a consultant, or he wants me to go out and start or play fullback or ...

"I won't play quarterback and I won't play wideout, but outside of that, whatever Mike wants me to do, I'll go out and gladly do it. You won't hear any complaints out of me."

Concerning what's different about him now, he said, "I'm definitely a lot smarter. I've been around the block a few times. When we go out there and play, everything that happens, it's not my first rodeo, it's not my first game, it's not my first playoff game, it's not my first Super Bowl. Everything that we do, I've done before. And that gives you a little bit more confidence, and you're able to keep your mind more consistent and poised throughout the season ... And I think I'm just nicer, too."

Mostly, Williams can't wait to play again in the Rams' offense and block for running back Steven Jackson.

"The boy is big, and runs strong and hard," Williams said. "That's why they call him the 'Train.' We want to bring the juice back to the dome. I think I can help ... bring back some of the old excitement. Hopefully when you see this year's package, you guys will love it and say, 'Man, Ro's brought some positive things to the team.'"

ROOKIE CORNERBACK RONALD BARTELL, the team's second-round draft pick, has a tattoo on his arm that includes the entire verse of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Bartell said it was in memory of his grandmother, who passed away when he was 12.

"This way, I can always carry it around with me," he said.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks are becoming Role Player Central, passing on high-priced free agents to sign lesser-known players expected who fit the criteria established by new president Tim Ruskell.

Former Tampa Bay safety John Howell could become the next addition. The four-year veteran said he expects to sign with Seattle once the Seahawks clear salary-cap space in June.

"I wouldn't say it's a completely done deal yet," Howell told the Tampa Tribune. "I mean, the Bucs could come back and make me a better offer. But if that doesn't happen, I'll sign with Seattle on June 1. That's the plan."

The Seahawks are expected to clear cap room by releasing cornerback Bobby Taylor and possibly reworking contracts or releasing others. Howell will come cheaply by NFL standards. He's a special-teams standout with limited starting experience.

Howell would become a favorite for the third safety job in Seattle. Perhaps more importantly, he would bolster a special-teams unit that faltered badly last season.

In the bigger picture, Howell fits the Ruskell profile, which makes sense; Ruskell was the Bucs' top college scouting man when Tampa Bay drafted Howell in 2001. Howell is known as a hard-working team player and a solid citizen off the field. Ruskell is emphasizing those traits as he puts his stamp on the Seattle organization.

"It's not only the rating and ability level but the guy that you are bringing in that will determine if he's going to reach that grade that you give him," Ruskell said. "His character and his football character and his personal character will tell you if he's going to reach that, not just the grade itself."

If Howell signs, he'll join a list of free-agent additions that already includes defensive end Bryce Fisher, linebackers Jamie Sharper and Kevin Bentley and cornerbacks Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon.

THE SEAHAWKS ARE EXPECTED to step up their pursuit of free-agent LB Peter Boulware in the near future. Much will depend upon Boulware's contract expectations. If he expects starting-caliber pay for a four-time Pro Bowl player in his prime, Seattle won't be a viable option. But if the former Baltimore pass rusher is willing to take a modest salary for a shot at playing with his younger brother, a deal could come together. Michael Boulware is the Seahawks' starting strong safety.

QUARTERBACK MATT HASSELBECK SAID there's only so much players can do when it comes to making sure teammates are fully committed to the cause. "I know that I'm going to do everything that's in my power that I can do," he said, "but at the end of the day, each guy has to decide for himself what's his level of commitment going to be to the team. Hopefully we'll get enough guys that felt he same way about it."


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