Behind enemy lines: Around the NFC West

The latest news and notes from the 49ers' three divisional rivals, including the defending NFC champion Seahawks setting a team record for ticket sales, the Cardinals looking to set down a new Law in their secondary and Marshall Faulk's status in St. Louis remaining in a state of flux.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The doldrums of summer are upon us. In the Arizona desert, the temperature has been above 105 degrees for several weeks now.

So the Cardinals are to be forgiven if they entertain a few cool thoughts - one of which involves what it might be like to have Ty Law playing cornerback for them.

There certainly is a need -- but, then, name a team that believes it has too many cover corners.

The Cardinals starters more than likely will be a pair of second-year players, Antrel Rolle, who missed two-thirds of his rookie year to knee surgery, and Eric Green, who was thrown to the wolves as a rookie because of widespread injuries. Veterans Robert Macklin and Robert Tate will be nipping at their heels and there are a few street free agents and undrafted rookies attempting to give it a go.

Overall, the group is thin and it remains to be seen whether Rolle is the player the team believed he was when they made him a 2005 first-round pick, and whether he really has overcome the knee injury. He had a second surgery, an arthroscopic scar-tissue clean-up, in May, and has done virtually nothing in offseason team organized workouts, but is expected to be ready for training camp.

The Cardinals knew they needed help at corner, but it is a position that went unaddressed in free agency and the draft.

Which brings us to Law, who could restore order for them.

"We've talked a little bit," said Cardinals coach Dennis Green. "You're always looking to see if there are unique situations out there. Ty Law hasn't signed yet, and Rod Graves (Cardinals vice president of operations) has talked with his agent. We don't know what is going to happen. They have shown some interest."

But so have several other teams.

The 2005 Pro Bowl selection made 10 interceptions last season. He'd never had more. But, he has also never been older. At 32, Law is believed to want a hefty paycheck, really hefty, including a signing bonus in the area of eight figures.

The Cardinals are in great shape against the salary cap, but they'd have to weigh whether Law still could give them that kind of return on investment -- especially after their recent flops with other so-called defensive backfield stars who came to the desert, namely corner Duane Starks and safety Dexter Jackson. --- ESPN, which takes over Monday Night Football this season, has been spending a lot of time recently at the new Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals-Chicago Bears game from the $455 million facility that is to open in August will be on Monday night on Oct. 16.

Fourteen ESPN directors, producers and operations personnel were in Glendale this week exploring camera angles, where to set up indoor and outdoor studios and where to park a half-dozen production trucks.

--- Global Spectrum, operator of the new stadium, is conducted a job fair June 10 to fill 1,300 positions for the facility. The stadium is owned by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and managed by Global Spectrum. At present, it is known as Cardinals Stadium, but the signing of a naming rights contract is expected.

Work remains on schedule to complete two nearby freeway improvement projects before the Aug. 12 opening of the stadium. The debut is the Cardinals' preseason game vs. Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.

--- The Cardinals have sold out their inaugural season in the new stadium, and enthusiasm has extended beyond football. Many other events -- including a golf expo, Ford Southwest Car Show and Arizona Hospitality Expo -- already have been booked.

Not only is it new and big, but also unique. It is the only stadium in North America with a retractable roof and retractable grass playing field. On non-game days, the field is rolled outdoors for sunlight and watering, leaving inside 160,000 square feet of column-free exhibition space.

--- RB Roger Robinson, a Northern Arizona University product, was named to the All-NFL Europe League team.

He led Frankfurt to victory in World Bowl XIV after setting the league's single-season rushing record with 1,087 yards, breaking the five-year-old mark of 1,057 by Mike Green of Barcelona.

Robinson, who will have Edgerrin James, Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington in his way in his quest for a roster spot -- practice squad is very likely -- averaged 5.1 yards a carry and had four rushing touchdowns.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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The status of running back Marshall Faulk remains in doubt.

Faulk has been absent for all of the team's offseason program while rehabilitating his knees in California. In February, Faulk had what was described as "clean-up" surgery on both knees.

During a chat with espn.com in April, Faulk said his knees were "doing pretty well," and added, "I haven't done a lot but am getting into rehab now, maybe a week or two away from the rigorous portion."

However, with the team's mandatory minicamp beginning June 9, Rams coach Scott Linehan was told the day before by agent Rocky Arceneaux that Faulk would not be participating in the minicamp.

Faulk was married on May 9 in Orlando and he will be busy with activities for his foundation during the weekend. He is introducing turkey and chicken sausage (low fat) at the Taste of the Central West End (in St. Louis) along with other events that culminate with his annual golf tournament June 12.

Linehan said he was told Faulk "is nursing some issues with the knees."

As for his absence from minicamp, Linehan said, "It's important that everybody's here. But some things are out of your control."

However, there have been reports that Faulk's absence isn't totally related to his health, that he is unhappy with Linehan and doesn't want to play for the Rams anymore.

Linehan denied those stories, saying, "There are no problems, no rifts or anything like that. I know this is difficult for him."

The coach said he met with Faulk two weeks ago, and at that time Faulk said one of his knees wasn't responding as well as he'd hoped. As for Faulk not even being present at minicamp, Linehan said, "He's dealing with something bigger than being at meetings. He's trying to figure out whether he wants to do this. As a competitor, it would be tough to stand out here and watch."

The developments came only a few days after an Internet report on cbssportlinse.com said Faulk was out of shape.

"He's once again a little pudgy. OK, chunky is more like it," the report said, while not mentioning he had offseason surgery.

Still, Linehan has to be wondering if Faulk will be available when training camp opens and how effective he'll be, although he has been supportive of Faulk throughout the off-season.

*After being hired in January, Linehan said, "My hope would be that whatever is best for Marshall is what we get. I would love for him to be here. I am the biggest fan of his that he doesn't know. I don't know if it's appropriate to call him Mr. Ram, but when you think of the Rams that is who you think of. I'm just excited to meet him.

"I have to be honest with you; my boys are more excited to meet him than anybody of any place I have ever gone. I'm looking forward to meeting with him and talking to him about his future, and I sure do hope he feels comfortable with his future here, because I think the world of the guy."

*At the league meetings in March, Linehan said he planned to talk to Faulk soon to get a commitment regarding Faulk's plans to play this season.

"He hasn't told me he isn't coming back," Linehan said. "I feel he wants to play and he wouldn't be as involved as he has been in what we're doing and plan to do with the offense if that wasn't his thinking. But I will talk to him soon. I don't want any surprises."

In late April, after revealing that Faulk had undergone the surgeries, Linehan said, "I think he had some loose bodies that needed to be cleaned out. Nothing serious. The older you get, the more time it takes just to kind of get them back to 100 percent. You've got to manage them. You can't take every (practice) snap like you used to. And the off-season's different. It's like you've got to heal up first."

As for Faulk continuing to play, Linehan said, "I don't think it's changed. I know he's very positive about it. I still expect him back. I really do."

At that time, during the team's first minicamp, Linehan also said, "Marshall will probably be ready to go in June. He will be here for the OTAs and the next minicamp. I talked to him. Very good meeting the other day. He is not ready to practice. He had a conflict this weekend. He should be ready to go full-speed by the last minicamp. In fact his golf tournament is the day after, so he will be in tip-top shape ready to go.

"He was the most positive he's been with his approach. He says that he is more hungry now than he's been in a couple of years to come out and have a real productive year for us next year."

--- With only seven weeks until the start of training camp, coach Scott Linehan wanted the players to think minicamp was almost like training camp. The Rams held their final minicamp June 9-11, the first time veterans and rookies have been together except for OTAs.

"Now that our roster is close to being complete, we want to go full throttle and incorporate everything," Linehan said. "We'll have all our systems installed so that when training camp starts, we can dive right into it. Not only are we implementing our systems, but we're conditioning our players, getting them into football shape."

With virtually all of the roster attending the off-season activities, Linehan has been pleased with the work that has been accomplished.

"We'll add some wrinkles," he said, "but the assumption is that we'll have installed everything already, and then we'll test the carry-over, see how much they're able to retain. We really have to turn it up a notch." Wide receiver Dane Looker said the minicamp "will give us a little bit of a taste of what training camp will be like."

--- Defensive coaches like what they've seen from first-round pick Tye Hill during OTAs. A cornerback, Hill settled in after the first post-draft minicamp.

"The game has slowed down for him," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "That's the key with a young player. He was thinking so much that he wasn't playing as fast as we knew he could. As he's got more comfortable, you can see he's playing much faster."

--- Offensive lineman Richie Incognito has been all over the place this offseason. At the first mini-camp, he was at right guard with Adam Timmerman side lined after minor knee surgery.

At the post-draft rookie camp, he was at center. Now, with Timmerman practicing, Incognito worked exclusively at left guard as the mandatory minicamp opened Friday. In the first minicamp, Todd Steussie, normally a tackle, was at left guard.

Claude Terrell, who started 10 games at left guard last season, did not practice at the first minicamp because of a wrist injury, coupled with the fact he is out of shape. Terrell was at left guard with the third unit at Friday's first minicamp practice.

"I'm competing to win the job," said Incognito, who practiced one day last season after signing late because of a knee injury suffered at the scouting combine and hasn't played since the 2003 season at Nebraska. "It's just great to be on the field. But I can't wait to get the pads on."

--- Cornerback Jerametrius Butler, who missed the entire 2005 season because of a knee injury, has recovered from the knee problem, but missed the first day of minicamp because of a slight tear in his hamstring. Coach Scott Linehan said Butler could play if it were the regular season.

--- Linebacker Trev Faulk is still recovering from off-season back surgery. Linehan revealed for the first time that Faulk had an operation. Previously, it was said only that his back was bothering him. It is expected he will be ready for training camp.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seattle is a football town once again. After spending most of the 1990s and the early part of this decade in the shadows of the Mariners and Sonics, the Seahawks are once again the hot ticket in the Northwest. Now they have the numbers to prove it.

The team has sold 61,000 season-ticket packages for the upcoming season, with 19,000 of the sales coming since Super Bowl XL. That's a team record for sales in a single offseason.

The tickets have sold so quickly that CEO Tod Leiweke decided to put a cap on season-ticket sales for 67,000-seat Qwest Field. The team expects the remaining 6,000 tickets to sell out quickly when single-game sales commence July 29.

"The 12th Man has now become renowned throughout the NFL as the greatest fans throughout sports," Leiweke said. "A few years ago in my first season, I was disappointed in seeing opposing teams' jerseys in our stands, but it is now with great pride we will witness a sea of blue and green throughout the stadium.

"We have established a waiting list and encourage our fans to sign up, and in the future plan to unveil benefits for future season-ticket holders. We thank our 12th Man and look forward to a great 2006 season."

The team said there are already 2,000 names on the waiting list. The team renewed 97 percent of its season tickets from last season, another franchise record. That's what can happen when a team advances to the Super Bowl for the first time in its history, particularly when the marketing department knows what it is doing.

Leiweke, hired in June 2003, has done a nice job on that front.

"Tod Leiweke came in here and really re-did a lot of things and changed attitudes and worked very, very hard," coach Mike Holmgren said. "That corresponded with our team getting better." Holmgren was particularly happy to know that opposing teams' fans won't be buying up tickets in large blocks.

"The fact that they will all be Seahawk fans instead of a good block of tickets going to our visiting team, that's all very special," he said. "I couldn't be any happier for the fans and I'm very proud of the organization, too."

--- Holmgren didn't mince words when asked about the prospects of No. 3 QB David Greene.

"I don't think it's been an easy transition for David," Holmgren said. "He was such a successful college player. Then what you learn when you play that position and come into the NFL is that it is quite different. But he is a great young guy and he's working hard and he's trying real hard and I hope this training camp now he does make the progress we need to see to feel comfortable."

The team still might try to add a veteran quarterback.

--- Championship rings are always massive creations. For the Seahawks and their NFC title rings, none came bigger than the size 18½ whopper awarded to Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones. Jewelers had to bring custom-made sizing devices to accommodate the team's massive mitts.

Holmgren's size 17 was the biggest among the coaches. But according to the Tacoma News Tribune, Holmgren's late father wore at least a size 23 -- a ring bigger in diameter than a 50-cent piece.

"When I got my national championship ring from USC (after the 1967 season), I gave it to my dad," Holmgren told the paper. "He could not get it over the knuckle on his little finger. He looked like one of those dealers in Las Vegas."

--- DE Grant Wistrom expects the Seahawks to show quite a bit of improvement on defense. The team will have to get healthy up front, however. Wistrom (shoulder) is out until training camp. DT Rocky Bernard (knee) and DT Marcus Tubbs (ankle) underwent surgeries last month and might not return until camp is in progress.

The Seahawks should challenge for a top-10 defensive ranking if those players are healthy.

"We expect to be much better," Wistrom said. "Last year the defense was a question mark going into the season just because of all the young guys we had and new players. We expect to be much better."


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