Around the NFC West
ST. LOUIS RAMS IT WAS A STRANGE sight as the Rams opened their mandatory minicamp last Friday (June 3). That large sight was No. 76, the team's left tackle, Orlando Pace. Because of being unsigned the last two years as the team's franchise player, Pace missed all of the offseason work each year as well as training camp. This is his first minicamp appearance since 2002 after signing a long-term contract in March. "It's fun to get out there and just get the football part of it down," Pace said. His presence wasn't lost on his teammates. "I'm sure a lot more comfortable with Orlando there," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "Having him around in the offseason is also better for the entire team." Coach Mike Martz agreed on all accounts. "No. 1, physically and mentally, it gets him up to speed in a hurry," Martz said. "So in the fall, he'll start at the top of his game. No. 2, the leadership issue, particularly within the offensive line and what he can do for young players as a role model, in terms of his work ethic and skill-wise." Rookie tackle Alex Barron, who has struggled recently with his adjustment to the NFL, said Pace has been helping him, and that's a benefit in his development. "I know it's going to be a struggle, but having someone like him there to lean on is a big positive," Barron said. WIDE RECEIVER ISAAC BRUCE did not practice at the start of the team's minicamp because of an abnormality in his heart discovered during a pre-camp physical. Martz explained it as an issue with the rhythm of the heart. Further tests might not be done until Tuesday because the team's cardiac specialist is on vacation. "His physical showed just a slight abnormality," Martz said. "He had a little glitch." BARRON WAS DEMOTED OFF the first team and Darnell Alford took reps with the first unit at the start of the team's minicamp. Martz said Barron "hit a wall a few days ago and went backward. He got so overwhelmed he could hardly function. We'll let him regroup and catch his breath then throw him back in there." Martz said because there were only a couple of tackles for OTAs (organized team activities), Barron "got on overload. Whenever he's ready, he's ready." Barron was the team's first-round pick in April's draft, and had been immediately inserted as the starter at right tackle, after playing mostly left tackle at Florida State. "It's totally different, playing right tackle," Barron said. "I just have to get adjusted to it. Right now, I'm just taking it one day at a tome." QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was shocked. I'm thinking there's a problem with the machine, not me." -- WR Isaac Bruce, on being held out of minicamp because an EKG showed an abnormality in his heart. DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: S Jerome Carter (4/117). PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OG Darnell Alford; CB Dwight Anderson; LB Trev Faulk; WR Mike Furrey; FB Joey Goodspeed; RB Arlen Harris; WR Dane Looker; LB Jeremy Loyd; QB Jamie Martin; LS Chris Massey; OT Orlando Pace; OT Blaine Saipaia; P Kevin Stemke; OG Scott Tercero; LB Drew Wahlroos. PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Chris Claiborne; LB Dexter Coakley; CB Terry Fair; DE Brandon Green; S Michael Hawthorne; CB Corey Ivy; S Michael Stone; OG Rex Tucker; DE Jay Williams; TE Roland Williams. PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler; S Rich Coady; DE Bryce Fisher; OG Matt Lehr; LB Tommy Polley; P Kevin Stemke. ARIZONA CARDINALS ALTHOUGH THE 49ERS MIGHT be fired up after watching that training video of theirs, it appears the Cardinals have convinced many among the national news media that they are the team to beat for the NFC West title. Reporters from coast to coast already are waxing giddy over the moves the team has made during the two offseasons that they've been shepherded by Dennis Green. Their roster now does appear to be more solid from top to bottom. But they've been here before. Great things were expected in the Vince Tobin coaching era after they went 9-7 in 1998 and beat Dallas at Texas Stadium in a first-round playoff game. Just about everybody in possession of a pad and pencil was in training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. the following July to chronicle this up-and-coming team directed by young quarterback Jake Plummer, who'd just received an astronomical contract extension. Ker-plop. They went 6-10 in 1999 and after a 2-5 start in 2000, Tobin was gone. The media-friendly, inspirational Dave McGinnis regained the faith of the masses again after a 7-9 record in 2001 and a 4-2 start in 2002. Suddenly, the sports media world was beating a path to Tempe to chronicle the fantastic coaching job that was under way in the desert. Ker-plop. The Cardinals dropped six in a row and nine of their last 10. Then after a four-win campaign in 2003, McGinnis was gone. There is reason to be excited about a roster that has Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Bertrand Berry, Antrel Rolle, Adrian Wilson, Karlos Dansby, J.J. Arrington, Darnell Dockett, Chike Okeafor, Orlando Huff, Leonard Davis and Oliver Ross. And Dennis Green is neither Tobin nor McGinnis. Unlike each, Green was a head coach before he came to Tempe, and a successful head coach. Green's track record says he'll justify the national media's giddiness and get the job done. But the Cardinals' track record says he won't. PERHAPS THE ONLY SIGHTS more pleasing to the coaches than the return of RB Marcel Shipp (leg, ankle) after 10 months away last week was the return of LT Davis (knee) and WR Boldin (contract haggle). Boldin did not take part in mandatory minicamp in May but said upon his return to voluntary workouts that he will not hold out of training camp while agent Drew Rosenhaus and the team continue discussions on a contract extension for the prolific receiver. Davis, the team's biggest player at 6-feet-6, 366 pounds, underwent surgery in January for a knee injury suffered late in December. It was not a major surgery, but anything relating to a knee on a body as big and heavy as Davis' is cause for concern. "This is the first time Leonard has been back on the field since about the third week of December and he said he feels a lot better," coach Dennis Green said. "He worked hard also on his rehab. I think we are getting closer to a group of guys who are healthy and hopefully we can stay that way." ARIZONA'S VOLUNTARY WORKOUTS CONTINUE during the weeks of June 5 and 12. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you'll be amazed how much better we will be by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week after a few days of working together. By the time we end these 11 practices, we'll probably have some pretty good rhythm. ... We need to get a real good rhythm. We are working on a real fast pace and you get a little sloppy when you do that, but we set the bar real high and push towards that goal." -- Coach Dennis Green, regarding voluntary offseason workouts. PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Damien Anderson; OT Jeremy Bridges; RB Troy Hambrick; S Quentin Harris; DT Ross Kolodziej; QB Josh McCown; CB Robert Tate; DE Peppi Zellner. PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Ian Allen; S Robert Griffith; OT Adam Haayer; LB Orlando Huff; WR Charles Lee; DE Chike Okeafor; OT Oliver Ross; CB Ray Walls; QB Kurt Warner. PLAYERS LOST: OT Anthony Clement; TE Lorenzo Diamond; CB Renaldo Hill; TE Freddie Jones; QB Shaun King; WR Nate Poole; OT L.J. Shelton; RB Emmitt Smith; OG Cameron Spikes; CB Duane Starks; CB Michael Stone; LB Ray Thompson; DE Kyle Vanden Bosch; WR Karl Williams; LB LeVar Woods. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS DUMPING WIDE RECEIVER KOREN Robinson and cornerback Bobby Taylor positioned Seattle to sign draft choices and possibly a free agent or two. The moves left the team with between $2.5 million and $3 million of salary-cap space, with LB Peter Boulware and S John Howell on the team's radar. Boulware arrived in Seattle for a visit that gained momentum Friday. He did not receive an offer from Cleveland after visiting there, and reports suggested the Browns were concerned about Boulware's health. Boulware, 30, had proven quite durable during his first seven NFL seasons, all with Baltimore. But he missed the 2004 season after suffering knee and toe injuries, leading the Ravens to release him this offseason when the sides failed to reach agreement on a pay cut. Boulware wants to resume his career as an every-down player. The Browns and Seahawks see him more as a situational pass rusher. Those views carry vastly differing salary expectations, a hurdle that must be overcome before Boulware signs. Howell, meanwhile, seems likely to sign with Seattle in the near future. He said as much in an interview with the Tampa Tribune last month, indicating an agreement was all but in place. Howell, 27, is a special-teams standout who started six of the Bucs' final games last season. He was primarily a backup in four NFL seasons, all with Tampa Bay. Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks' new president, was a high-ranking personnel man for the Bucs when Tampa Bay drafted Howell in 2001. THE RELEASE OF TAYLOR served as a reminder of the risks associated with signing a player in decline. Taylor enjoyed a highly successful career with Philadelphia, but the Eagles knew what they were doing when they released Taylor and fellow long-time starting cover man Troy Vincent. Taylor came to Seattle as the favorite to start on the right side, but a chronic knee problem slowed him beginning in training camp. Taylor tried to gut it out but he was never effective and missed the final six games. As the Seahawks were releasing Taylor, they were courting another player who fits the profile. Boulware, a four-time Pro Bowl choice with Baltimore, is a player the Seahawks view as a potential pass-rush specialist. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know what I've got to do and they're expecting me to do that. If not, I know the consequences. ... Either you want to be in the NFL or you don't. And I do. So, I have to do everything I gotta do to stay here." -- Koren Robinson on April 30, six days before the DUI arrest that precipitated his release from the Seahawks. PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Alex Bannister; DT Rocky Bernard; SS Terreal Bierria; RB Kerry Carter; OG Chris Gray; TE Ryan Hannam; QB Matt Hasselbeck; LT Walter Jones; S Marquand Manuel; TE Itula Mili; CB Kris Richard; DE Ron Smith; C Robbie Tobeck; WR Jerheme Urban; WR Jason Willis; OL Floyd Womack. PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Kevin Bentley; DT Chartric Darby; CB Andre Dyson; DE Bryce Fisher; CB Kelly Herndon; WR Joe Jurevicius; WR Jerome Pathon; LB Jamie Sharper. PLAYERS LOST: LB Chad Brown; FB Heath Evans; MLB Orlando Huff; CB Ken Lucas; DE Brandon Mitchell; DE Chike Okeafor; WR Jerry Rice; S Damien Robinson; WR Koren Robinson; P Tom Rouen; LB Anthony Simmons; CB Bobby Taylor; OT Chris Terry.
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