NFC West report: Training camps in full swing

With the Arizona Cardinals hitting the field on Monday for their first summer practices, training camps now are in full swing throughout the NFC West. Here's everything you want to know about what's going on in the camps of the 49ers' three divisional rivals.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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For another month, the Cardinals will be able to say they go into the week undefeated. A franchise that has posted one winning mark in 18 seasons in Arizona -- and was a loser in its final three seasons in St. Louis before that -- seizes every opportunity to paint a picture of optimism.

And make no mistake, the Cardinals, despite winning only six and five games in coach Dennis Green's first two seasons in Arizona, are brimming with it as training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., gets underway.

There is good reason. The roster now is dotted with names like Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Karlos Dansby, Bertrand Berry, Adrian Wilson, Neil Rackers and Antrel Rolle.

The place isn't the NFL backwater that Simeon Rice once described. And although the won-lost record was the envy of none these past two seasons, reverse the outcome of one-score losses and the Cardinals were in the playoffs. And they were that close with a league-high 14 players on Injured Reserve.

So it is understandable why they believe this could be their year.

Yet there also remains cause for concern as they enter camp.

Have they taken enough steps to upgrade their offensive line? They're counting on two under-performing tackles from a year ago -- Leonard Davis and Oliver Ross -- to reverse their fortunes. They're hopeful that two new guards -- free agent Milford Brown and second-round pick Deuce Lutui -- upgrade the interior.

The Cardinals are counting on the line to open holes for James and improve the league's worst rushing game.

"The back can, if he is able to hit the line with a certain amount of push, make things happen, and that's the kind of back Edgerrin is," Green said. "We also had an extraordinary number of run plays last year that we had penalties on. There were some teams we looked like we could run the ball well against, and then every time we ran it we got a holding call.

"We weren't as patient with the run. I know I wasn't, because I felt if we weren't going to get it there, we were going to get it there through the air."

Who starts at both defensive tackle positions remains a mystery. Free agent Kendrick Clancy will be challenged by fourth-round pick Gabe Watson at nose. At "under" tackle, two-year starter Darnell Dockett should get a push from Kenny King, who was the starter before missing two years to wrist surgeries.

Weak-side linebacker appears troublesome. Orlando Huff was a disappointment after coming over from Seattle in free agency in 2005. Veteran James Darling, who was forced to start in the middle a year ago, might move back outside to push Huff. That move is now possible because middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has returned from a knee surgery that wiped out all of 2005.

Both cornerback positions are unproven and therefore shaky. Antrel Rolle, a 2005 first-round pick, missed most of his rookie year to a knee injury. Opposite him, it appears to be a battle between Eric Green and Robert Macklin.

At free safety, veteran Robert Griffith was persuaded to hold off on retirement for another year and give it one more shot. If there is a player on the roster ready to challenge him, he will have to emerge in camp and prove it.

"The second phase of free agency didn't happen for us," Green said. "What we didn't get was the corner. The market kind of dissolved on us. And what we didn't get was a linebacker. "We got the running back. We got the nose tackle. We got the guard. Now, we'll be looking to see if that depth is right."

And despite their optimism, they've got holes in critical areas that could once again thwart their playoff dreams.

--- Green loves the misdirection play. Not necessarily the one on the field, but the mind games he plays with the media.

He says Matt Leinart is going to spend the year learning the game, the league and the offense from Kurt Warner, and most believe him. Warner, who signed a new contract in January, is counting on it. He doesn't want a repeat of the Eli Manning situation that Warner faced with on the New York Giants two years ago. The rookie quarterback Manning was to spend the year learning from Warner, but by mid-season Warner was on the bench and Manning was starting.

Then Green says he loves John Navarre, who has been third string for two years, and that Navarre is very much in the hunt to be No. 2 to Warner ahead of Leinart, and very few believe him.

"I believe first-year players, for the most part, have to watch and learn," Green said. "Kurt still has the ability to lead us to the playoffs, particularly with a running game to go along with it. "Matt is going to be a very good player. But I'm still very high on, and I haven't changed one bit, on the future of John Navarre. He's got everything you need to be a big-time player ... You know what? People don't believe a lot of things I say."

Leinart, the 10th pick overall in the draft, first has to come to terms. On the eve of the Cardinals' first workout, he remained unsigned.

The parameters quickly are falling into place for a deal, though, and negotiations have been ongoing for more than a week.

The Cardinals, who have signed all of their other rookies, have roughly $1.5 million left in their rookie pool. Overall, they remain about $11 million under the salary cap.

Additionally, two other highly drafted quarterbacks -- Vince Young, who went a few notches ahead of Leinart, and Jay Cutler, who went directly behind Leinart at the No. 11 position -- have signed their contracts.

Cutler got about $48 million over six years, including roughly $11 million in guaranteed money. Young was drafted third overall -- in the spot where many draft observers anticipated Leinart might go -- and signed for five years and $58 million, a whopping $25 million of it guaranteed. The 10th player chosen in the 2005 draft, Lions receiver Mike Williams, got a $13.5 million, five-year contract. Of that, $9.5 million was guaranteed.

Although no deal was in place, Leinart threw passes at the Cardinals' practice facility three days before the opening of camp.

--- After years of losing, horrible relations with players and unwarranted arrogance that bore abysmal public relations, it appeared the Cardinals were about to turn it around. They've added exciting, high-quality young players to the roster, they're moving into a state-of-the-art stadium that is sold out for the season and no doubt will be the envy of all of pro sports and they finally have a head coach with a proven track record of winning in the playoffs.

And now, just as excitement is at an all-time high, the Cardinals once again stick it to the fans. After they charged $200 to fans to get on the waiting list for season tickets (it is non-refundable but is applied to the price of the tickets when the holder's turn comes), they're now essentially shutting down training camp to that excited fan base.

The team has changed its training-camp format this year and eliminated all weekend workouts as well as the annual intra-squad scrimmage. Monday-Friday practices are open to those who can get to them.

But weekend workouts had been popular among fans from Phoenix -- about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Flagstaff -- who work and can't make it to practices during the week.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals reported to training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Sunday, July 30, and had their first workout the morning of Monday, July 31. Camp ends on Aug. 17. Among the key changes are no intra-squad scrimmage and no weekend practices -- Saturdays and Sundays off, an attempt to make the Monday through Friday regimen more intense and give players' bodies time to heal. Widespread injuries were a problem last season. The team works out on the fields just east of the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at NAU and practices are open to the public at no charge. If it rains -- and afternoon thunderstorms are common in Flagstaff in August -- they move workouts inside.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The culture has changed. It's about changing the culture and creating an atmosphere. Can you win while you're doing that? I've always said yes, but it didn't happen." -- Coach Dennis Green, on entering training camp with renewed optimism about a franchise that has had one winning season since moving to Arizona in 1988, including 6 and 5 wins in Green's first two seasons.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--- TE Leonard Pope, a third-round draft pick, signed a three-year contract for $1.6 million with a $575,000 signing bonus. With his size, athleticism, hands and blocking, Pope is expected to be a strong challenger to win the starting spot as a rookie.
--- DT Gabe Watson, a fourth-round pick, signed a three-year contract for $1.4 million with a $345,000 signing bonus. Watson is expected to challenge free-agent Kendrick Clancy to start at nose tackle.
--- SLB Karlos Dansby, who had surgery in June on his left thumb to repair a torn ligament, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He is coming off a season with three interceptions (returned two for touchdowns) and four sacks. He was among only five players in the league to have at least three sacks and three interceptions last year.
--- MLB Gerald Hayes (knee), the projected starter last preseason before a knee injury wiped out his year, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His successful return might allow the team to move veteran James Darling to weak-side linebacker to address a weakness.
--- CB Antrel Rolle (knee) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His rookie year was all but wiped out by the injury and the team still doesn't know exactly what it has in the 2005 first-round pick. Nevertheless, Rolle is a projected starter.
--- LG Reggie Wells (ankle) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. Wells might be moved to center to compete with Alex Stepanovich, which in turn would allow rookie second-round pick Deuce Lutui to step in at LG.
--- C Alex Stepanovich (shoulder) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He faces a battle for his job following a season truncated by injuries. LG Reggie Wells might move to center to push Stepanovich as the team attempts to upgrade the line after it posted the league's worst rushing statistics last season. But Stepanovich was a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2004 and was effective while playing injury-free.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Darnell Dockett vs. Kenny King for starting DT -- King was the projected starter two years ago before a wrist surgery, followed by another in 2005, sidelined him for two seasons. When King unexpectedly went down, Dockett was forced into a starting role as a rookie in 2004. Dockett since has bulked up and become a playmaker as a two-year starter. These players are too good to sit. Whichever does not win the starting job might swing to end. Both have the ability.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Alex Stepanovich vs. Reggie Wells for Starting C -- It is not yet confirmed that Wells will move from LG, where he is the two-year starter, but it is a strong possibility. Stepanovich was strong as a rookie in 2004 but shaky when injuries slowed him last season; Kendrick Clancy vs. Gabe Watson for starting NG -- There will be a new face in the lineup after Russell Davis went to Seattle in free agency. Clancy, a free agent, has experience. Watson, a fourth-round pick, is bigger and stronger but also raw. Watson also has to get past his reputation for taking plays off at Michigan; Eric Green vs. Robert Macklin at CB -- Green was forced to play before he was ready as a rookie last year but now should benefit or the experience. Griffith is a tough, yet smallish veteran, who will cling to the job like a junk-yard dog -- the same way he plays the game.

ROOKIE REPORT: All but QB Mat Leinart, chosen 10th in the first round, were signed on the eve of camp. Leinart is expected to be a backup to Kurt Warner while learning the pro game this season; G Deuce Lutui, a second-round pick, should be a strong challenger to step in and start; TE Leonard Pope, a third-round pick, is big (6-8, 265), athletic, can catch and block. He will be a strong challenger to Eric Edwards and Adam Berge, the tag-team starters last year; NT Gabe Watson, a fourth-round pick, has the physical tools to challenge Kendrick Clancy for the starting job. The key will be Watson's mind-set.

INJURY REPORT
--- SLB Karlos Dansby, who had surgery in June on his left thumb to repair a torn ligament, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He is coming off a season with three interceptions (returned two for touchdowns) and four sacks. He was among only five players in the league to have at least three sacks and three picks last year.
--- MLB Gerald Hayes (knee), the projected starter last preseason before a knee injury wiped out his year, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His successful return might allow the team to move veteran James Darling to weak-side linebacker to address a weakness.
--- CB Antrel Rolle (knee) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His rookie year was all but wiped out by the injury and the team still doesn't know exactly what it has in the 2005 first-round pick. Nevertheless Rolle is a projected starter.
--LG Reggie Wells (ankle) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. Wells might be moved to C to compete with Alex Stepanovich, which in turn would allow rookie second-round pick Deuce Lutui to step in at LG.
--C Alex Stepanovich (shoulder) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He faces a battle for his job following a season truncated by injuries. LG Reggie Wells might move to C to push Stepanovich as the team attempts to upgrade the line after it posted the league's worst rushing statistics last season. But Stepanovich was a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2004 and was effective while playing injury-free.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Like many teams around the NFL, the Rams have instituted an alternating schedule of practices with two one day and one the next. Slowly, but surely, two-a-days are going the way of the dinosaur and leisure suits.

Rams first-year coach Scott Linehan worked with the schedule last summer in Miami and liked it. On days where there are two practices, there is one in the morning and one in the evening. The practice with one day is in the afternoon.

"It gives coaches much more time (between practices) to be prepared," Linehan said. "It gives players much more time to recover. The players have plenty of time to get treatment. Plenty of time to eat, hydrate, go rest and get off their legs.

"I think it's really good for the players who have things they have to manage as far as a nagging (injury) problem. Or an old player who has a history of having a problem."

Linehan noted that the Dolphins had a minimum of hamstring and groin injuries last year.

"We were very, very healthy," Linehan said. "You know, maybe we were lucky. But I think it had a lot to do with how we trained, and our schedule had a lot to do with it."

Linehan admitted not being sure of the plan at first. Now, he is a believer.

"I'm sold on it," he said. "I wasn't sure, I was a little skeptical of it myself going into it for the first time last year because you want to get those multiple practices in, but you're on the field a little bit longer and you really get what you want to get done and the quality of the practice seems to be much better when you stay on the schedule."

But Linehan also made it clear, there won't be a shortage of work and physical play in camp.

"We're going to be in full pads the good majority of training camp," Linehan said. "The way I look at it, we can always pull back. But I think the one message that I'm sure the team will hear loud and clear is that we're going to be very physical in this camp.

"We're going to require a lot out of them as far as finding out how good a football team we are when it comes to tackling, being 'ball-secure,' being able to handle the adversity of the heat, and the soreness, and all that. I think that's a big part of what a training camp should be."

As to the belief that the risk of injury is high with pads on, Linehan offered an opposing view. He said, "I think there's more risk of injury when you're not in pads," Linehan said. "Pads are put on for protection. As soon as you start taking pads off, everybody starts taking it down a notch. If you don't play or learn to practice at full speed all the time, especially when you are a young team, you just can't turn the switch on and off.

"I think when the switch is always on, it makes it easy when you come to game day to play at the level you are expected to play at. If you don't put the pads on, you can talk the game, but you really aren't practicing what you're preaching."

--- It could be a Catch-22 when it comes to the Rams' rookie tight ends.

In his remarks before the team opened training camp, Linehan acknowledged that the team is "scary young" at tight end, and then said, "We went into the draft knowing we were going to go with the youth movement at that position. They're talented guys, and you've basically just got to say you're going to do it. If you're going to draft two (tight ends), you want to put them on the field and go through the growing pains with them."

Those players are second-round pick Joe Klopfenstein and third-round pick Dominique Byrd. Both worked with the first unit at the opening of camp, and there were some struggles early. The problem is those growing pains Linehan alluded to can have disastrous results.

Asked about Klopfenstein and Byrd, quarterback Marc Bulger said after the team's very first practice, "They'll be important. They made a couple of little mistakes today. I'm not sure which one it was, but it was one of them on some protection issues. That's going to happen to rookies. It's the first day of camp and I think they have to realize that this isn't college and we're not going to baby them along. Two weeks from now we're playing Indianapolis; one mistake like they made today and your quarterback could be out for the year. So they need to understand the urgency and I think they will with time."

During the second practice, on one play Klopfenstein attempted to block defensive end Leonard Little and was tossed to the ground by Little like a rag doll.

"I'm working at it," Klopfenstein said. "I put on 20 pounds since the beginning of the summer, so I think that's going to help a lot. It's a goal of mine to be a starter, and I'm going to do everything I can to do that."

Byrd added, "It feels great just to have the opportunity to play. Some guys have veterans in front of them who have been in the league for eight, nine years. I get to come in and kind of learn on the fly. I think that'll be good for me."

Behind those two are several competitors, including Jerome Collins, who was the team's fifth-round pick last year. Others are Alex Holmes, who was with Miami last season, former 49er Aaron Walker, and Rod Trafford. One will likely win the job as the team's third tight end, and blocking will be a major part of who earns the spot.

Said Linehan, "We've got some guys here who have played some that will be pushing for the roster spots. There are only so many spots at tight end once you go to your 53-man roster, so they're really fighting for three spots and maybe one practice squad position. So it'll be a lot of fun to watch that spot. They're all very eager. And what's really great about the youth, too, is that they'll give you everything. That'll be a lot of fun to watch that one; I'm looking forward to it."

After the second day of practice, Linehan said he was pleased by their progress.

"I think the two rookies have made a lot of improvement from the first practice," Linehan said. "Both last night and today, I've noticed them more. We're still light years away in the run game and if you want to be able to run the football in this league, your tight ends have to block. If your tight ends don't block, you're going to have a difficult time running the football. They understand that and they've answered the challenge. They weren't as good last night as they were today, but they won some battles and they certainly lost some. They have to go against some pretty good players. Having to block Leonard (Little) is no easy task for a 10-year vet, let alone a rookie. But they don't back down; they're tough, they accept coaching and that's all you can ask at this point."

--- The Rams agreed to terms with cornerback Tye Hill, the 15th overall selection in April's draft, to a five-year contract Sunday.

"I hope we can get him here as soon as possible," Linehan said after Sunday's practice. "He has a long way to catch up to the other guys."

Hill has missed six practices, which coincides with six installation periods. As Linehan noted, "What we have put in so far is about what we put in through the entire off-season program, including mini-camps. He'll catch up, but it will take a while."

--- Linebacker Trev Faulk's back surgery has cost him a roster spot with the Rams -- for the time being. Faulk was placed on waivers with the designation failed physical July 26, apparently ending his stay with the Rams.

Faulk was not able to do much in the off-season because of the surgery, which occurred in May. Rookie Tim McGarigle and free agent Jamal Brooks will be competing for the backup middle linebacker job behind Will Witherspoon.

"I knew it was a possibility," said Faulk. "I was kind of hoping they'd put me on the PUP list. But things happen, and you've just got to roll with the punches. My rehab was going really well. I was really pushing myself, trying to get back in time for training camp, and I kind of had a setback. That hurt my chances."

However, after not being claimed on waivers, Faulk ended up on the team's reserve/physically unable to perform list, which could give him a chance to practice after the sixth week of the season.

--- Running back Steven Jackson raised some eyebrows when asked what is different this year from last year. Mentioning Marshall Faulk, Jackson said, "I don't have to deal with that anymore."

Jackson got a bit testy when he was asked to explain that comment. "I don't want any controversy," Jackson said. "Me and Marshall are good friends, and I hope he has a speedy recovery and comes back. But what I'm saying is, I don't have to deal with the comparisons to Marshall. I'm not a Marshall Faulk running back. It's not disrespectful to him, it's not disrespectful to me; we're just two different backs."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This team isn't far removed from the greatest level in the game. I've said a number of times that with the number of veterans that are still here that have been there, the young players who are eager, and the new players from other teams, that we have the ingredients to get back to that position of being a dominant type of football team. It doesn't happen by just saying, 'Here we are - new coaches, new players.' We have to go out and earn that right over the next five or six weeks." -- Coach Scott Linehan on his confidence of what his team is capable of accomplishing.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--- The Rams declared running back Marshall Faulk active/physically unable to perform. He still counts on the active roster. Faulk underwent knee surgery July 28 in Los Angeles, but reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said he might need more work on the knee because the surgery didn't go as expected.
--- Signed was defensive end Matthew Rice from Penn State, who was signed after the draft by the Buffalo Bills, but released in early June.
--- Tight end Joe Klopfenstein (second round) and linebacker Jon Alston (third round) signed contracts on the reporting day. Klopfenstein's is a four-year deal, while Alston signed a three-year contract.
--- Bonus NFL Europe roster exemptions were given to safety O.J. Atogwe and tackle Alex Barron, giving the Rams two extra players on their roster for training camp for a total of 85 because of exemptions for wide receivers Jeremy Carter and Brandon Middleton and running back Fred Russell, who all played in NFL Europe.
--- Camp opened with four quarterbacks when Jeff Smoker was released. There had been some thought that Ryan Fitzpatrick might be in jeopardy after the acquisition of Dave Ragone because quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier was a coach at Michigan State when Smoker was there. Ragone played for coach Scott Linehan at Louisville, and might have the edge over Fitzpatrick for the third quarterback job behind Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte.
--- Ron Bartell is now a full-time safety. A second-round pick last season, Bartell started several games at cornerback because of injuries. Linehan said Bartell could still play on the corner, but he will be concentrating on safety. "We talked yesterday as a staff about not giving up on his ability to play corner, but I think he certainly has the physical characteristics to play both," Linehan said. "It's hard to make the transition overnight and be where you want to be. But he's such a great kid and takes so much pride in it that I know he's going to work his butt off to do whatever we ask of him. I'm sure of that."

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Travis Fisher vs. Jerametrius Butler and Fakhir Brown for the starting CB jobs -- This is a very spirited competition and will get even more intense when first-round pick Tye Hills begins practicing. Brown has been the most steady, but Fisher has played well after being affected by a groin injury last season. Butler is making progress, getting back into rhythm after missing the 2005 season because of a knee injury.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: O.J. Atogwe is trying to make it difficult for anyone else to be the starting free safety. He's done well in camp, and is holding off Jerome Carter ... The same is true at left guard, where Richie Incognito is establishing himself as the starter.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Fakhir Brown -- When he was signed by the Rams in the off-season, Brown said he was coming to St. Louis to be the starter. So farm he is living up to that promise. It helps that he has played in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's system, and Brown has played with confidence.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Tye Hill agreed to terms July 30, and was expected to be on the practice field the next day; TEs Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd have show improvement in the early days of camp; DT Claude Wroten needs to be more consistent, but has shown the ability to penetrate as a pass rusher; WR Marques Hagans has impressed the coaches with his steady progress after being a quarterback in college.

INJURY REPORT:
--- Guard Blaine Saipaia did not practice for the first four days of camp. Said Linehan, "He injured himself training about a week before. He thought it was just tight and it got worse. He came in the day before and we did a physical and we had to basically put him out of commission right now. Hopefully he'll respond to treatment. He's been aggressively treating it. It's a calf and you get that. You get an injury like that and there's a tear in there and swelling there's nothing you can do "other then rest it and treat it and try to stay in condition on the bike.
--- DT La'Roi Glover did not practice on the third day of camp, but did work the next day. Said Linehan, "He dropped too much weight last practice. He got it back to where he was probably medically cleared, it just didn't make sense. You've got to manage the guys that have extreme weight loss. He does it every year. He's a guy that sweats a lot and loses a lot of water weight. He's had three good practices. He probably still lost weight out there coaching the young guys and trying to help. We just wanted to give him a break."

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Mike Holmgren has not gone soft, but he has certainly altered his approach now that the Seahawks are a good team with veteran players in key positions. Seattle's eighth-year coach has reduced the amount of hitting at training camp because most starting jobs have been won. Injuries are another concern.

"As I've gotten a little older, I probably worry about the injury thing in camp a little more than I used to," Holmgren said. "We probably won't bang as much as we have in the past. We'll have some scrimmages and some periods where I'll set it up as a game-type scrimmage, but probably not as many as I have in the past."

The Seahawks had planned to break out the pads and hit on the second day of training camp.

Holmgren pushed back those plans to another day. The team will be judicious in its hitting.

"I think now that we're a little bit more experienced in some areas of the football team I have fewer questions to answer then in the past and we'll save the banging around for the games," Holmgren said.

At least 20 of 22 starting positions have been decided. Competition remains at left corner, where rookie first-round pick Kelly Jennings is favored to beat out veteran Kelly Herndon, and there's a chance one of the defensive-tackle positions could turn over.

Most of the other battles are for roster spots, not starting jobs. As a result, Holmgren and the coaching staff don't need to see so many players battling at full speed. Instead the focus is getting a number of key players off the injured list.

Seattle went into camp with several prominent players on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Tight end Jerramy Stevens, receiver Darrell Jackson, defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and defensive end Grant Wistrom were among them. Another starter, strong safety Michael Boulware, passed his physical only to experience some problems with a surgically repaired knee.

"There is a group of them that will be ready by the second preseason game and then there's another group that will be ready hopefully by the third preseason game," Holmgren said. "There are a couple guys, like Boulware, who we will really monitor. We should have them all back, including Wistrom, by the fourth preseason game."

Even with several key players missing, the Seahawks opened camp with crisp practices befitting a Super Bowl-caliber team.

"We had such a good participation in the offseason program," Holmgren said. "I believe I know where they are and they showed it (early in camp). We didn't have a lot of mistakes and they were pretty crisp and they were concentrating. We have had a good offseason."

Holmgren did challenge players to get better, singling out MVP running back Shaun Alexander in front of the team.

"We've got the MVP in football, who set touchdown records or whatever he did, but I don't care," Holmgren said he told them. "You can get better. It's up to the player to decide how he's going to do that. I expect coaches and players -- every single person -- to improve."

--- Injuries are forcing the Seahawks to explore their depth along the defensive line. This is a good thing early in camp, when guys are fresh and rookies need their reps. But at a certain point the team is going to need some of its key linemen to get back onto the field.

No one can say for sure exactly when that will happen.

Once upon a time, defensive tackles Rocky Bernard (knee) and Marcus Tubbs (Achilles) were supposed to be ready for camp. But when neither progressed well enough in rehab after the season, they underwent surgeries in May. Having surgeries so late meant neither player would be ready for the start of camp. Tubbs needs the work because he's a big man who could be prone to adding weight.

The absences of defensive end Grant Wistrom will compound the problems for Seattle as the team goes into exhibition games. The team was already a bit thin at the position. Wistrom is expected back from shoulder surgery in time for the regular season, but with backup Joe Tafoya also sidelined by shoulder surgery, Seattle lacks quality bodies at an important position.

Rookie Darryl Tapp is carrying some of the extra load in camp. He looks good in pass-rush drills unless he has to work against all-world left tackle Walter Jones. It's unclear how well Tapp is going to hold up against the run, but he could be an effective situational player right away if Wistrom returns to form.

--- Mike Holmgren couldn't believe it when he found out backup tight end Brock Edwards would miss camp with a case of the mumps. "That is the first case of mumps in the United States in the last 32 years," Holmgren mused. "I'm not getting close to him, I'll tell you that. I wouldn't do any one-on-one interviews with him if I were you."

--- Linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski barely made it to training camp on time after weather problems turned a cross-country itinerary into a 24-hour adventure. Kacyvenski spent more than five hours stuck in a plane on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, leading to a series of stressful connections in Chicago and Salt Lake City.

He wound up going from Binghamton, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Salt Lake City to Spokane, near where the Seahawks hold training camp. His luggage never arrived, leaving Kacyvenski to wear the same polo shirt around Eastern Washington University for the first couple days of camp.

Luckily for Kacyvenski, he had removed his NFC championship ring from his luggage shortly before boarding the plane. He slept hard upon finally making it to his dorm room at camp. "It felt like it had 2,000-thread-count sheets or whatever," he told the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. "I actually slept awesome."

--- Running back Shaun Alexander defended himself against complaints that he had broken promises to build a first-class community center in his hometown of Florence, Ky. The city slapped Alexander's associates with five citations for a series of code violations after the property fell prey to vandals and overall disrepair.

"It's kind of rough right now," Alexander said. "We have to go through a bunch of city-sanctioned code things that I never knew about, so that has been rough. We also found out it's better with the city if the city gets involved. I never realized it was so hard to do some good things."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp breaks Aug. 24; scrimmage Aug. 5.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just ready to play. ... It's just another step in the practice and preparation for getting back to playing this season." -- FS Ken Hamlin, who is returning from a fractured skull.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--- CB Kelly Jennings finally agreed to terms on a contract after missing the first three practice of camp. Jennings is the favorite to start at left cornerback. He arrived in camp to remain the favorite, and teammates welcomed him with open arms.
--- DE Jeb Huckeba was waived after failing his pre-camp physical with stress fractures in his feet. Under new NFL rules, Huckeba can be placed on the PUP list after clearing waivers. He can then rehab with the team while not counting against the 80-man roster limit. The team also avoids placing him on injured reserve, which would presumably carry additional financial ramifications for the team.
--- QB Gibran Hamdan has a chance to unseat QB David Greene as the No. 3 quarterback. Hamdan hurried back from a broken ankle suffered during NFL Europe play. Greene appears vulnerable after Holmgren said the 2005 third-round pick needs to show improvement.
--- P Ryan Plackemeier has taken over the field-goal and PAT holding duties from veteran P Tom Rouen, who was released. QB Matt Hasselbeck would be the fallback option if Plackemeier struggles. The team expects Plackemeier to be the guy.
--- WR Tony Brown suffered a hamstring injury during pre-camp conditioning sprints. He basically has no chance to earn a roster spot, but if he can get healthy and show some things in preseason, the practice squad would be one option.
--- FS Ken Hamlin has been cleared for full-contact play, clearing the way for his return from severe head injuries suffered last season. Hamlin has been practicing without incident.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kelly Jennings vs. Kelly Herndon for starting LCB -- Jennings was late to camp after failing to sign a contract right away, but he showed enough at minicamps to remain the favorite here. Herndon is a scrapper who will fight Jennings all the way. He also made some big plays in Jennings' absence early in camp.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ryan Plackemeier and Gabe Lindstrom will battle deep into camp for the punting duties held previously by veteran Tom Rouen, who was released. Plackemeier probably has the edge; Mike Green could push for playing time at strong safety if Michael Boulware continues to struggle with a knee injury.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: TE Itula Mili -- He looked great out of the gates. Mili has lost weight and gotten himself back into shape following a poor 2005 season. He is getting more reps, too, with starter Jerramy Stevens recovering from knee surgery.

ROOKIE REPORT: Backup LG Rob Sims was probably the most impressive rookie early in camp. He moves well and seems to be in better shape compared to minicamps. He could push for the No. 2 spot at both guard positions; R Ben Obomanu has a chance to push for a roster spot if he can catch the ball consistently. Obomanu has the tools athletically.

INJURY REPORT: WR Skyler Fulton (shoulder), WR Tony Brown (hamstring), DB Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder), DE Darrell Wright, WR Darrell Jackson (knee), TE Jerramy Stevens (knee), DT Marcus Tubbs (Achilles), DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder) and DT Rocky Bernard (knee) could be out until the second or third exhibition games.


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