Behind enemy lines: Around the NFC West

The suspect St. Louis defense should be better now that former New Orleans coach Jim Haslett is in as the Rams' new defensive coordinator, the Arizona Cardinals need to establish a new backup to starting quarterback Kurt Warner, and Seahawks' team president Tim Ruskell has some personnel decisions to make as he attempts to continue running a tight ship in Seattle.


After a difficult season in New Orleans and being fired as head coach, Jim Haslett figured he wouldn't coach this season.

"I decided that if I didn't get a job, or the right job, that I would probably sit out a year and see if I could get back in the next year," he said.

It's why when Rams coach Scott Linehan first called Haslett, and his wife answered, Haslett's initial reaction was to say, "Tell him I'm not home."

Haslett said of Linehan's first words, "He said, 'You are probably not interested in doing this, but I figured I'd give you a call and ask you.' I said, 'What do you want?' He said, 'Are you interested in being a coordinator?' I said, 'Not really. I'm going to sit out a year and reflect on everything.'"

But Haslett then began liking what he was hearing.

"When we first started talking, I liked him," Haslett said. "I just wanted to make sure that he was going to try to do the right things to get the team back to winning. Not just offense, but playing good defense and good special teams."

Linehan and Haslett eventually met in Miami, and a deal was made. "Before I left (Florida), I said, 'I'll take the job,'" Haslett said.

Said Linehan, "Hiring Jim, it was a stroke of luck. We're not going to have him very long. He's going to be a head coach again soon."

But Haslett is not thinking about that now. He's concentrating on helping the Rams improve.

"We're going to make the defense better," Haslett said. "And we're going to try to win enough games that we get in the playoffs. That's our No. 1 goal. ... I just want to be a part of the staff that helps the St. Louis Rams win games."

Asked what he thinks of the current defensive personnel, Haslett said, "There are a few guys. If you look at (linebacker) Pisa (Tinoisamoa) and (safety) Adam (Archuleta). I think that Adam is a good football player if you use him in different situations. (Defensive end) Leonard Little has been one of the best players on this team for a long time. (Nose tackle Ryan) Pickett and a few of them are free agents. (Defensive tackle) Jimmy Kennedy, I thought he improved last year. Just those guys. I thought (linebacker Brandon) Chillar did a good job.

"Some of those guys off the top of my head. Obviously, you'd like to get a couple more, which we will work on. I do think they have some young players that you can build off of."

He insisted his defense will play hard.

"I won't tolerate guys walking to the football," Haslett said. "Everybody runs to the football. We're going to get a group of smart players who are going to do things right."

--- The Rams are still looking for a defensive line coach, and Haslett hopes it's John Pease. Pease was Haslett's defensive line coach in New Orleans, and Haslett already has former Saints assistants Rick Venturi and Willy Robinson on the Rams' staff. Robinson was the 49ers' defensive coordinator for one season in 2004.

"That's up to Scott (Linehan) and the way he wants to go," Haslett said of hiring Pease. "I know he'd like to have a younger guy. But John's a good football coach. He's probably one of the best defensive line coaches I've been around. But that's really Scott's call."

Linehan said on Feb. 15 that "we're going to be interviewing two or three candidates in the next four or five days and make sure they fit the requirements we have to coach our system and our defense."

In addition to Pease, Linehan is talking to former Vikings defensive line coach Brian Baker.


Seahawks president Tim Ruskell has taken a hard line against players with off-field problems. He flushed out wide receiver Koren Robinson and right tackle Chris Terry shortly after coming to Seattle a year ago. His moves left Seattle with a healthier locker-room atmosphere and fewer distractions.

Ruskell could have some interesting decisions along those same lines as he enters his first full offseason with the team.

Right tackle Sean Locklear faces a March court date on a domestic violence charge. Locklear emerged as more than just a promising prospect last season. He locked down the right side after the team lost RT Floyd Womack to injury. Seattle went all the way to the Super Bowl with Locklear playing a key role on one of the NFL's best lines.

The team allowed Locklear to keep playing after his January arrest. Coach Mike Holmgren said the organization would address the situation after the case was resolved.

It's unlikely the Seahawks would sever ties with a young, productive player without a prior criminal history. But Locklear's situation will be worth monitoring for those interested in seeing how tight a ship Ruskell plans to run.

The case of return specialist Josh Scobey could be more clear-cut. He pleaded guilty this week to driving while "impaired by the slightest degree" in an Arizona case from June 2005, when he was still playing for the Cardinals.

Scobey emerged last season as an outstanding coverage player on the special-teams units. He was also reasonably effective as a kick returner. But unlike Locklear, Scobey isn't a front-line player with a long future at a key position. His future with the team appears more tenuous as a result, although Scobey has proven to be a hard worker and a positive influence in the locker room.

"I'm not trying to act like I'm an angel, but that's not me," Scobey told the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. "It's not a reflection of my character. I carry a swagger on the field, but when I'm off the field, you wouldn't even know I played ball."

Ruskell will be the judge.

--- Defensive end Bryce Fisher is a Seattle-area native who felt a bond develop between the Seahawks and Northwest fans. He was impressed when more than 15,000 fans greeted the team at Qwest Field one day after Seattle lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.

"The thing that really stuck with me was when we got back, how many people were still out there cheering for us," Fisher said. "And how much this game, this team affected this city. That's something special and I really want to get a chance to finish it off right. Those people that were out there after the loss, we really got to get it done for them."

--- Cornerback Marcus Trufant returned from the Super Bowl to a life filled with sleepless nights and dirty diapers. He became a father for the first time just as Seattle was getting ready to leave for Detroit.

"I am a new dad so I am going to be up in the late hours changing diapers and all that kind of fun stuff," Trufant said. "I am just going to kick back and try and enjoy it. I am not going to do a whole lot too fast. Just try to relax."

Trufant played along when asked whether changing diapers was tougher than covering Panthers WR Steve Smith. "I would have to say changing diapers is pretty difficult," he joked. "There is a lot of screaming, kicking and fighting. It is rough."


So what happens if Kurt Warner has another year like the last four and cannot make every start because of injuries? The Cardinals now must determine who will be the backup quarterback after Warner signed a three-year deal this week just before he was to become an unrestricted free agent.

Josh McCown, the backup last season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent and undoubtedly now will test the market. He likely will go elsewhere and compete for a starting position.

"Josh is very excited about free agency and ready for this next chapter of his life," said Mike McCartney, McCown's agent. "The interest around the league has been terrific."

If McCown, as expected, lands elsewhere, the only other quarterbacks under contract are John Navarre, a 2004 seventh-round pick who has seen action in two games in two years, and Rohan Davey, who was signed last season as the third quarterback after Warner suffered injuries. Davey has seen brief action in seven games in his four-year career.

Navarre got his chance late in his 2004 rookie year and likely could have finished that season as the starter and gone into 2005 as the man to beat. But in that 2004 start at Detroit, Navarre suffered a fractured finger on his throwing hand, which ended his season.

Coach Dennis Green has raved about Navarre's work with the scout team.

"He has a chance to show what we're doing with him," Green said of the likelihood that Navarre will be Warner's backup.

The Cardinals hold the 10th pick overall in the draft and could draft a quarterback for the future. They also have a sizable chunk of space available under the salary cap and could pursue a veteran backup.

--- Although at 32 Robert Tate is beginning to become ancient by cornerback standards, the team re-signed him for a year. He started five games last season and played in eight others. He'll be a backup.

--- Just when the predators began courting Cardinals linebackers coach Frank Bush, the team warded them off by promoting him to assistant head coach/linebackers.

During his two seasons, the Cardinals defense improved from 26th overall in 2003 to 12th in 2004 and to eighth last season.

--- Want a peek into the thinking of the Cardinals' inner circle as they plot their offseason moves?

Consider this from Rod Graves, vice president of operations: "We need to improve our running game and we have to start up front."

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