NFC West notebook
ARIZONA CARDINALS COACH DENNIS GREEN WAS handing out first-team assignments after team organized workouts a year ago, but when the voluntary gathering ended this week, he held off on anointing anyone, a designation that would have been good only as long as it took the player to star or flub in training camp, anyway. "We only have a few guys guaranteed to make our team and that would be based on salary cap," Green said. "If we've got a guy with an $8 million acceleration, he's pretty much going to be here. But we only have five guys like that. "The rest of it, I'm open. That's the kind of program we want to establish. The best way to show you should be one of the members of the team is not just be here, but be here and do a good job." When next they meet, it will be under the cool pines at 7,000 feet elevation at training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. in six weeks. "I reminded the guys, make sure I know what you want me to know about you," Green said of what he wants upon their return. "If you are a player, make sure it is obvious to me that you are a player." Green said the biggest improvement going into camp is the offense, which has added quarterback Kurt Warner, running back J.J. Arrington, tackle Oliver Ross, guard Elton Brown and should have an improved Bobby Blizzard, and All-NFL Europe tight end. "I don't think I'll be frustrated with our offensive productivity like I was every single day last year," Green said. The Cardinals are better from top to bottom, in Green's estimation. "I don't think our special teams will give up the big play at the worst possibly time like last year," he said. IT'S STILL ONLY SHORTS and T-shirts, but Arrington has looked better in shorts and T-shirts than a great many rookie running backs Green has seen through the years. Arrington, a second-round pick from California in April, is the starter until somebody proves otherwise. Marcel Shipp is the strongest candidate to knock Arrington out of the job, but Shipp has just been cleared to return after a 10-month layoff caused by surgery on a fractured lower leg and dislocated ankle. He didn't play in 2004 after leading the team in rushing the two previous seasons. The next-most-likely challenger is veteran Troy Hambrick, who once knocked Emmitt Smith out of the job in Dallas. But Hambrick couldn't knock a 35-year-old Smith out of the job last season with the Cardinals, an indication of how Hambrick's skills have eroded, and he missed team organized workouts that ended this week while dealing with problems at home. Hambrick's absence gave Arrington an elevated platform with which to impress the coaches. And, no pun intended, Arrington ran with it. "When you get on the field with him, he's just so quick and explosive. Very few guys coming out are like that," Green said of the rookie. "He's similar to the other running backs in the league who have good balance." Josh Scobey and Larry Croom might also have something to say about the running back battle, but if they do, it would be a huge surprise. One of them might unseat Hambrick as the third back, assuming that Shipp is No. 2 - or perhaps even 1A and alternated situationally with Arrington. But Arrington has passed the first test in his quest to become a first-year starter as a feature back. WIDE RECEIVER BRYANT JOHNSON, a first-round pick in 2003, really can't be stopped. He joined a growing list of veteran NFL players who are completing their college degrees during the off-season in the league's Continuing Education Program of the NFL Player Development Department headed by Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. Johnson expects to complete his bachelor's in sociology at Penn State before training camp. "It was really important because I didn't go to school just to play football," Johnson said. "I went to school to get my degree and it was important to me, my family, and my college coach." During the past five off seasons, more than 150 players have earned their degrees through the program. FROM THE NEWS OF the Hard to Believe Dept. comes this tale related to reporters by Cardinals PR Director Mark Dalton. Team Vice President and General Counsel Michael Bidwill, vacationing in Italy, nearly was credited with a solo tackle as he attempted to help Milan police nab a fleeing suspect. Bidwill, outside his hotel, heard sirens, then saw police, with guns drawn, chasing a man down the street. Dalton said Bidwill told him by telephone that he went into a linebacker's stance to try to tackle the suspect. At that point, the man threw up his hands and surrendered, Bidwill told Dalton. The Cardinals appear to be a bit thin at middle linebacker, but naw, this isn't "Heaven Can Wait." OFFENSIVE GUARD Rolando Cantu joined Denver Nuggets forward Eduardo Najera, LPGA golfer Lorena Ochoa and Mexican medalists from the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens at breakfast with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Los Pinos, Mexico on Friday (June 17). Cantu, from Monterrey, Mexico, spent 2004 on the International Development Practice Squad. Cantu, if he makes the roster, will return with all of his teammates on Oct. 2 when the Cardinals play a "home" game against NFC West foe San Francisco in Mexico City in the first regular-season game played outside the United States. QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are probably five times better than we were when we started the process. Now we are at the point where guys are getting in the right spot, guys have a better understanding of what they are doing. We started to cut back on some of the shifting to allow guys to think a little quicker. We've still got a long way to go but for as much as we have in and the way guys are performing right now and the understanding of the system, I think we are in great shape." -- Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, upon completion of team organized workouts. ST. LOUIS RAMS THE RAMS WENT THROUGH so many left guards last season, it was difficult to keep track. From Chris Dishman to Tom Nutten to Scott Tercero to even rookie Larry Turner, it was a revolving door at the position after Andy McCollum moved back to center. But entering training camp, the Rams have their fingers crossed that an almost off-the-radar signing will solidify that spot. After three injury-filled seasons in Chicago, the Bears released Rex Tucker. Within days, he signed a one-year contract with the Rams, and was immediately inserted as the starter at left guard. Obviously, the key will be staying healthy. He was inactive for five games because of a concussion in 2000. But the last three seasons have been a nightmare. Tucker missed the final 11 games of the 2002 season because of a broken ankle. He was out for the entire 2003 season after suffering a torn tendon in his right ankle in the final preseason game. Last year, an elbow injury sidelined him for the first six games, and he then was out for the final four games because of a hamstring injury. "My injury problems were just year after year after year," Tucker said. "If I was in their (Bears) shoes I would have done the same thing. I mean here is a guy that you invest a certain thing into and all of a sudden he just starts getting injured. I just couldn't avoid it. I figured I would get hit by lightning next time. It was crazy so I didn't know what to do." Being cut by the Bears was "just the business side of the deal," Tucker acknowledged. "I love the Bears and I love all the guys there. I hope they win all their games unless they play us. It was great. I wish I would have stayed healthy. It just didn't work out that way." Rams coach Mike Martz talks glowingly of what he hopes Tucker will bring to the team. "He's an experienced veteran who's played at a high level - start there," Martz said. "He's 335 pounds. He's a guy that can stand on the line of scrimmage and slug it out with those big tackles on defense. Those are hard guys to find. Plus, he's got the athleticism to be a good pass blocker. ... He's just got to physically hold up. "I am pleased with his health. Obviously he has had some problems in years past, but I am real pleased with his progress, how well he has picked things up and from the technical aspect, his fundamentals." Tucker said learning the offense was made easier by the fact that the Bears ran a similar offense last season. He also checked with his brother before signing. Ryan Tucker, now with the Browns, started at tackle for the Rams during their 2001 Super Bowl season. "He said it was a great place to play," Rex Tucker said. "I'm just glad to be here." HE WAS HIS OLD self when the Rams went through the paces of their minicamp and concluded organized team activities. Not only had linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa ecovered from a dislocated shoulder that affected his 2004 season, but he was at his comfortable linebacker spot in the defense. It didn't appear it was going to be that way when it was announced early in the offseason that Tinoisamoa would shift to strong safety. The Rams were entering the offseason with only one safety under contract, and that player, Adam Archuleta, would be spending a good part of the early days of the offseason rehabbing a back injury. So it seemed a natural fit for the passionate Tinoisamoa to slide back to safety. For a while, he thought so, too. But it wasn't long until he was a linebacker again. "It was something we were going to try out but it just didn't work out," Tinoisamoa said of the move to safety. "I was pretty uncomfortable. At first I was more than willing, but after further review I thought it wouldn't be the best thing for me to do." As for his injury, Tinoisamoa guessed that his shoulder popped out about eight times last season. Offseason surgery corrected the problem. "They went ahead and scoped it and stuck a couple of staples in," he said. "It feels good right now." What also feels good, he said, is working with new linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne, both of whom were signed in the offseason as free agents. Asked if there were any problems adjusting to the new players, he said, "Not when they are as good as they are. Chris and Dexter are pretty good athletes. It's not been that big of an adjustment. They know the game, so it's been easy." The additions have left former starter Robert Thomas as a backup along with Trev Faulk, who started two games last season. "We look great," Tinoisamoa said. "I think we have great depth this year. It's good to know that we have guys backing up who are just as good as the starters." Tinoisamoa also believes the defense will be improved in the second year with coordinator Larry Marmie's system. "I feel a lot more comfortable, and I think that is going to be dangerous for the competition," he said. IN ANSWER TO UNINFORMED accounts that question running back Marshall Faulk's attitude regarding having Steven Jackson as the starter, coach Mike Martz said, "I think it's important for Marshall more than for Steven to have Steven take over. Marshall's role will be very significant. It's not limited. It's what he wants it to be. But it's important for Marshall to get Steven in this role so that he can mentor him and they can kind of feed off each other. "It allows us to use Marshall maybe even in a different role, too, out of the backfield. Maybe both of them in the backfield. But the whole idea here is, as soon as we made that decision, it's not an issue throughout the offseason for anybody. Marshall suggested this during the (2004) season as a way of helping Steven, so he's not always looking over his shoulder and makes one mistake and he's coming out (of the game), that kind of thing. He's just ready to do it, and Marshall's ready to have him step into that capacity. And yet, this could be a 50-50 deal throughout the season." WHEN MARTZ CANCELED AN afternoon practice at the team's recent mandatory minicamp, it turns out tight end Roland Williams contributed to the decision. Williams was with the Rams previously from 1998-2000, before being traded to Oakland in April, 2001. He was signed as a free agent in the offseason, and while looking good on the field he is also establishing himself as a leader in the locker room. After Martz met with the media after the morning practice in minicamp that particular day, Williams was waiting to talk to Martz while other players were at their lockers. One request of the coach was that the team get more time to shower after practice before the start of afternoon meetings, especially since the morning practice ran 30 minutes longer than scheduled. "I asked him for a slight modification in the schedule," Williams said. "But Mike thought we were doing so well he decided to reward us." Martz had good words to say about how Williams has looked in the offseason. "He's always caught the ball real well," Martz said. "What he's doing now that he couldn't do as well is he's running a lot better, and he looks faster than when he was here before." THE RAMS ANNOUNCED PLANS to have 15 morning practices during training camp open to the public. After deciding to train at Rams Park this year, it was initially believed open practices would be even more limited because of a lack of parking at the team's headquarters. The team's first practice will be the morning of July 28. The open practices, from 8:30-10:30 a.m., will be from July 28-Aug. 5, Aug. 8-9 and Aug. 15-18. In addition, the team will have a scrimmage at Washington University's Francis Field on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. QUOTE TO NOTE: "Rex Tucker, that type of player, is what we have not had here in years past that we can get in free agency. We just haven't been able to do that. We haven't had the money to do that, so what we have done is we have tried to rely on free agents and guys developing. We have not drafted at that position so to bring him in is pretty significant. That's what we were hoping for with Kyle Turley, but obviously that didn't work out. To find a guy like Rex that knows the system, understands what we are trying to do and come in and be one of the guys so to speak is very important." - Coach Mike Martz on the addition of OG Rex Tucker. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS THE SEAHAWKS HAVE SENT mixed messages about their desire to add a veteran quarterback to back up Matt Hasselbeck. That's probably because the team has mixed feelings on the subject. Coaches think current No. 2 QB Seneca Wallace has made great strides since his rookie season. They would like his hard work and commitment to pay off. As a bonus, Wallace has the kind of mobility that comes in handy when a team suddenly loses its starter. But there is no denying Wallace's inexperience. He has never thrown a pass in a regular-season game, and his command of the offense has been shaky until very recently. The thought of handing over the offense to such a player for more than a few plays would give any offensive coordinator reason for pause. The list of free-agent options isn't very appealing. And yet the team will probably take a veteran to training camp. Such a move would allow the veteran to learn the offense so the team could re-sign him should Hasselbeck go down during the season. "If we get a chance, we probably will (add a veteran QB)," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Sometimes you can't and I'm not just going to bring in a guy just to bring in a guy." Wallace has played well enough at minicamps to nail down the No. 2 job by a wide margin over rookie David Greene. But the Seahawks have rarely gone into a season with so little experience behind the starter. Former backup Trent Dilfer owned Super Bowl experience, but the Seahawks traded him because Dilfer wanted a shot to start. "Right now I am feeling more comfortable with (no veteran) every day," Holmgren said. "Is it my ideal situation? No." Jeff George, who played the veteran backup role for Seattle in 2002, remains unsigned. WIDE RECEIVER BOBBY ENGRAM is making a run at a starting job after four seasons as the third wheel in Seattle. Jerome Pathon might ultimately be better suited for the job given his superior speed, but the free-agent addition will have to pass Engram first. "Jerome has to get going a little bit, in my opinion," Holmgren said. "I don't think he's in great shape and our receivers run all the time. He just has to learn how we do things." Pathon, 29, signed with Seattle this offseason after three years in New Orleans. The former University of Washington star previously played three seasons with Indianapolis. He has plenty of starting experience (62 games) and seemed to perform well at the team's first minicamp. Holmgren's comments might reflect an attempt to send a message more than true dissatisfaction with Pathon's conditioning. Pathon, after all, reported to camp only five pounds heavier than his playing weight. Before chastising Pathon, Holmgren showered praise upon Engram. "I know this: When he was hurt last year, we weren't as good," Holmgren said. "I know that. And we had a pretty good team offensively." With strong running from RB Shaun Alexander and 87 catches from WR Darrell Jackson, Seattle's offense posted its second consecutive top-10 ranking despite Engram's ankle problems. After collecting 102 catches over the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Engram finished with only 36 last season. Now, at age 32, he is healthy and trying to shake the memory of a memory as painful as any ankle sprain. The Seahawks were within a touchdown of tying St. Louis in a first-round playoff game in January, but Engram couldn't quite handle a fourth-down pass in the end zone with less than 30 seconds remaining. The Seahawks lost the game and Engram gained a terrible memory. He'd like to get rid of the bad taste that still lingers. "I don't know if you totally do until the season starts," Engram said during a recent minicamp. "I've dealt with it, I'm beyond it, but it's just a part of this business. It's an awful part." Holmgren is more comfortable with Engram as a starter because free-agent addition Joe Jurevicius gives him another player with skill and savvy working the middle of the field. In the past, Engram was the only Seattle player with that kind of ability. "I don't mind going inside; I actually like going inside," Engram said. "But I also want to get a chance to make some of those plays on the outside one-on-one." THE SEAHAWKS EXPECT WIDE receiver Alex Bannister to return from a broken right clavicle in time for the regular season. Bannister missed much of last season with a similar injury. This one, suffered during June minicamps, will prevent the Seahawks' best special-teams player from participating in training camp. THE SEAHAWKS AREN'T SHOWING much interest in free-agent pass rusher Peter Boulware. A deal might yet be reached, but so far the Seahawks and other teams are wary about Boulware's attempted recovery from microfracture knee surgery. Players often need two full years of recovery time, and they almost never return at full strength. Boulware, 30, was released this offseason by Baltimore. KRAMER LARGENT, THE 19-YEAR-OLD son of the Seahawks' only Hall of Fame player, is helping out this offseason. The story is noteworthy because Steve Largent's youngest child serves as an example for others afflicted by spina bifida. Kramer Largent is working as an assistant trainer. He is transferring to the University of Tulsa, his father's alma mater, after completing his freshman year at Seattle Pacific University. His goal is to become an athletic trainer. QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is entitled to his opinion; he is the head coach. At the same time, this is offseason workouts and we still have to go out in the desert (at training camp) and run around for two or three weeks, right?" -- WR Jerome Pathon, responding to Mike Holmgren's comments that his new receiver could stand to get in better shape.
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