Around the NFC West
ARIZONA CARDINALS AN OVERACHIEVING DEFENSE FINALLY let go late in the season last year - long after it was apparent the offense wasn't carrying its load in support. It was inevitable that there would be a mental blip, but it really became more a case of lack of talent in some spots and lack of depth overall being exposed. The addition of free-agent defensive end Chike Okeafor undoubtedly is the key off-season pick-up for the team, even though high first-round pick Antrel Rolle no doubt also will have an immediate impact at corner. With Okeafor playing opposite Pro Bowler Bertrand Berry, coordinator Clancy Pendergast now has the pieces with which to concoct more of his unpredictable schemes and game plans. Okeafor, a live-bodied athlete with a nasty on-field disposition, will be heavily involved. Adding veteran linebacker Orlando Huff, who played inside at Seattle but is on the first team outside with the Cardinals, and Rolle, who still has to master playing off a receiver, gives Pendergast more quality pieces. Three players to watch will be end Antonio Smith, linebacker Gerald Hayes and free safety Quentin Harris. Smith was the only real disappointment of the 2004 draft class but he appears to be on his way to finding a niche in rotation after making All-NFL Europe. Hayes is likely to step into the starting middle-linebacker spot after veteran Ronald McKinnon was not offered a new contract. Harris is expected to be the favorite in what shapes up as the battle of training camp at free safety with Ifeanyi Ohalete, the 2004 starter, and Robert Griffith, a veteran signed during the off-season. Pendergast also has to figure out what to do with Darnell Dockett, an effective rookie starter at under tackle, who might be better outside, and Kenny King, who would have been the under tackle had his season not been wiped out early by wrist surgery. One will start. The other is too good to sit. Pendergast no doubt is enjoying himself this summer, dreaming up groupings and ploys, now armed with a better and deeper talent pool. ALTHOUGH THE CARDINALS HAVE received high marks for their past two draft classes - four rookies started in 2004 - they continue to tweak their scouting operation. Malik Boyd comes to the desert to scout schools in the central and southeast portions of the country after two years as an assistant scout at Indianapolis. Don Corzine joins the staff to scout schools in the northeast. He was director of football operations at the University of Connecticut the past four years. Several other Cardinals scouts received new assignments in the realignment. Lonnie Young and George Boone will work the west, Bill Dekraker and Jerry Hardaway the east, and George Belu Midwest and east. Steve Keim continues to scout nationally. Veteran scouts Jim Carmody and Bob Mazie retired. THE 10-MEMBER CARDINALS CHEARLEADERS Show Team left Monday for a two-week tour of the Middle East to perform at 13 military bases as part of a USO Tour. They've been there before during their six-year existence. They have entertained troops in Bahrain, Bosnia, Egypt, Greenland, Kosovo, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. A STRIKE BY CRANE and heavy-equipment operators has hit the work site of the Cardinals new stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The stadium is to open for the 2006 Cardinals season and be host to the 2008 Super Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl, which hosts the college football title game on a rotating basis, also will move to the stadium. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 428, whose labor contract expired May 31, said it is hopeful of gaining a quick settlement. QUOTE TO NOTE: "We view Anquan as being one of our premier players and we're committed to keeping him here." - Rod Graves, Cardinals vice president of operations, on discussions with agent Drew Rosenhaus for a new contract for WR Anquan Boldin. 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; FB Harold Morrow; 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. ST. LOUIS RAMS THE MAKEOVER OF MIKE Furrey is proceeding. Furrey, switched from wide receiver to free safety in the offseason, looked comfortable and at ease during the team's recent mandatory minicamp. "He's done a good job," coach Mike Martz said. "He's getting the calls down. He's doing a lot of things back there that you wouldn't expect a guy who hasn't played back there before to do. He's prepared very well and it looks like he's been doing it his whole career. He's such an excellent football player, we have to find a way to get him on the field." That was in reference to Furrey's special teams ability, which wasn't always utilized last season when he was the team's sixth receiver. He tied for second on the team in special teams tackles with 13, despite being active for only eight games. Remembering when Martz approached him about the possible switch, Furrey said, "He was trying to find a way to get me on the field because of my special teams play and he said 'Why don't you think about it?' I just told him right there, 'Let's do it.' Whatever it takes to help the team out, whatever it takes to get out there on Sundays." He did have some experience playing defense from his days in Arena Football, where most players play offense and defense. He also said that playing receiver could help as a defensive back. "It helps with being able to read quarterbacks and receivers, and read routes and alignments," he said. "It's not as hard as offense. They give you a couple of sheets of paper rather than a big bible, like they do on offense. On defense, it's more about making sure you're in position and executing when you are in position. At that point, you just become a football player and make plays." One change was adding weight from 182 to around 200 to 205. "It took me only a couple of days of working out to fall in love with it," Furrey said. "That's what I want to do." As for gaining weight, he said, "My wife cooked a lot. I ate a lot of food potatoes, steaks. I just loaded it up three times a day for the last three months. My weight kept going up and up. The biggest thing was making sure I kept my legs underneath me, and I could still run. It has been good." After doing well in offseason camps, the next big step will be getting on the field and tackling on a consistent basis. Furrey said, "I hope to be a sound tackler. I know that is something I am going to have to do on a regular basis now, but I am not worried about it. I'm just going to go out and hit somebody and have fun." DEFENSIVE END ANTHONY HARGROVE suffered a sprained knee during the minicamp, but it is being termed a strain. "I came out too fast and the knee kind of got twisted up," Hargrove said. "I'm good, though. I've just got to let it rest a little bit and I'll be back full strength. I don't know what they're calling it, but the MRI came back clean. The ligaments and everything are fine." Asked about the tape on his leg, Hargrove said laughing, "Aw, you know. They always wrap stuff up and make it look worse than it really is." AFTER PRACTICING FOR 30 minutes longer than scheduled in a morning minicamp practice, coach Mike Martz canceled the afternoon practice and gave the team most of the afternoon off. "To take a practice and not use it indicates you're pretty pleased," Martz said. "We're way ahead of the curve from where we've been in the past," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the squad has been here most of the time (for offseason workouts), which is highly unusual for any organization. They're prepared. I can honestly say that I am pleased with the progress everywhere, which is probably a first." QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's the one thing on every squad that you try to have. If you're strong at the bottom of your roster with young players, then it's going to put a lot of pressure on the stars that you have. That makes you better." - Coach Mike Martz, on being impressed at this point with the team's depth. 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; TE Roland Williams. PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler; S Rich Coady; S Antuan Edwards; DE Bryce Fisher; OG Matt Lehr; LB Tommy Polley; P Kevin Stemke; OT Kyle Turley. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS The Seahawks' pursuit of Peter Boulware appears to have stalled amid concerns about the free-agent pass rusher's health. Seattle has yet to offer a contract to Boulware, who visited team headquarters in early June. Boulware, 30, has yet to draw much serious interest since his release from Baltimore last month. The Ravens had sought a drastic salary reduction after Boulware missed the 2004 season with knee and toe injuries. Questions about the knee continue to hurt Boulware's value as Seattle, Cleveland and Houston consider how to go about upgrading their pass rush. "I had a good visit with him, as did everyone in the building," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "He is a wonderful young guy. He is just like Michael. They are a pleasure to have around. He has some injury history, which is real. That is part of the evaluation process." Boulware would like to sign with Seattle because his younger brother, Michael, is the Seahawks' starting strong safety. The Seahawks aren't in the family-reunion business, however, and Boulware would likely have to accept a modest contract to join his brother in Seattle. The Seahawks had less than $3 million in salary-cap space after releasing WR Koren Robinson and CB Bobby Taylor. Much of that room will go toward signing draft choices. There could be enough room left over to sign a free agent, but only at the right price. Seattle's pass rush was inconsistent even before leading sacker Chike Okeafor signed with division-rival Arizona in free agency. LB Chad Brown, an effective pass rusher when healthy, also left. The Seahawks signed former Rams DE Bryce Fisher, but they failed to land an impact pass rusher in the draft. TIGHT END ITULA MILI took some heat for reporting to the Seahawks' post-draft minicamp at 290 pounds. But he was down to 277 at the voluntary cap in early June, and he plans to be back in the 260s for the season. Mili, 32, defended his approach. "When you get older, you have to be smarter with your body," he said. "You need to let your body recuperate, let it come back again, let it heal." RUNNING BACK SHAUN ALEXANDER dropped by Seahawks headquarters lately, but the sides won't negotiate until mid-July because of NFL rules governing franchise players. "We have good conversations," Holmgren said. "I am just hopeful that something gets done." HOLMGREN SOUGHT MEDICAL ATTENTION after experiencing tightness in his chest during the team's voluntary June minicamp. Tests showed no problems with his heart and Holmgren, who turns 57 this month, was back at practice after missing one day. "I think I am in pretty good shape," Holmgren said. Holmgren is taking no chances because his father died of a massive heart attack at age 48. But the coach hasn't lost his sense of humor. "My wife is a little mad at me right now," he said after returning to practice earlier than expected, "but I figured if I stayed away two days, my parking place would be gone and someone would grab my chair in my office." THE SEAHAWKS HIRED MIKE Yowarski as eastern regional director of college scouting and Mike Phair as area scout for the west. Both worked in Tampa Bay under Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks' new president. SEATTLE'S SPECIAL TEAMS SUFFERED a significant blow when WR Alex Bannister suffered a broken right clavicle during a minicamp practice. Bannister is out until September. He suffered the same injury last season. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I look forward to this time. I get really excited to be here with my teammates and work out -- the whole off-season, never mind now when the coaches (are watching) and we're out there playing and practicing. I love it and I think most of the guys feel the same way. I guess I really just don't understand where someone could be coming from when they don't want to be here." -- QB Matt Hasselbeck at the team's voluntary minicamp in early June. 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; S John Howell; 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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