NFC West report: Training camps winding down

Hot topics, team notebooks, strategy and personnel, battle fronts, players of the week, rookie reports and injury reports from the training camps of the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seahawks quarterback Seneca Wallace has three more preseason games to prove himself worthy of the No. 2 role behind Matt Hasselbeck. Wallace will be the top backup no matter how he plays, but the Seattle coaching staff would like to see a convincing performance.

Wallace played reasonably well during the team's exhibition opener against Dallas, but breakdowns around him prevented the offense from reaching the end zone during a 13-3 defeat.

"I thought Seneca was one of the bright spots, actually," coach Mike Holmgren said. "When he had a chance to throw and when he had a chance to do some things, he did some things that were OK. He's fine."

Holmgren has considered using the athletic and elusive Wallace at another position in addition to quarterback. Wallace caught a 28-yard pass against Carolina in the NFC title game. He has also returned punts in practice over the last couple of seasons, but never in a game.

The plan is to leave Wallace exclusively at quarterback because the Seahawks do not have an experienced backup on their roster. The team remains lukewarm over the efforts of would-be third quarterbacks Gibran Hamdan and David Greene. Neither is getting many reps while the staff readies Hasselbeck and Wallace for the season ahead.

Holmgren sounds resigned to entering the season without a veteran passer behind Hasselbeck. The team was able to land Trent Dilfer during its 2001 training camp, but the current free-agent quarterbacks are less appealing. Wallace would remain the No. 2 passer even if Seattle added a veteran to the mix.

"I don't to minimize the position, you need one," Holmgren said of the No. 3 quarterback's role. "They don't get a lot of reps so my message to them is, 'Make them count.' There's not a lot to choose between the two (Hamdan and Greene) of them right now."

Wallace completed 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards against the Cowboys. His rating was 84.7, but the Cowboys sacked him four times.

"I did some good things, and I did some bad things, but it felt pretty good for the first game," Wallace said.

Wallace is one of the fastest players on the team, but he carried only once, gaining three yards. So much has been made of Wallace's scrambling ability that the former Iowa State star sometimes goes out of his way to prove his merits as a pocket passer. Holmgren said he wouldn't mind if Wallace cut loose every so often.

For the time being, Wallace is focusing on other aspects of his game.

"I'm just trying to get better as far as all the stuff I do at the line of scrimmage, making checks and doing those things," Wallace said. "That is the main thing."

--- Jerramy Stevens moved well and caught the ball consistently during his first practices since a disappointing performance in Super Bowl XL. The fourth-year tight end is practicing no more than once per day as he eases back into things following knee surgery in April. For now the focus remains on the passes that slipped through Stevens' fingers during the biggest game of his life.

"Obviously, it was disappointing for the team and for me personally," Stevens said. "That's something you have to deal with as an athlete. It's not going to go as you plan it every game." Stevens got open almost at will during the 21-10 loss to the Steelers, catching the Seahawks' only touchdown pass. The Seahawks thought they could use Stevens to exploit Pittsburgh.

"I think we were correct in our thinking," Holmgren said. "When you plan and you point toward a player, they have to step up and make those plays, whether you're handing the ball to Shaun Alexander or passing the ball to Darrell Jackson or whoever it is." Holmgren went on to describe Stevens as "a good guy who has come a long way since he's been with us. He had a good season, and one of the reasons we were in the Super Bowl was because of Jerramy Stevens."

Stevens caught a career-high 45 passes last season, but he dropped at least three in the Super Bowl. Now Stevens must prove he can bounce back from an embarrassing performance. "If you're playing this sport, almost every play you're getting hit in the mouth," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Now, how do you handle that? You've got to get back up. I would expect him to bounce back.

"If players can't bounce back from a thing like that, they don't last too long." Stevens is only now entering the prime of his career. He is trying to use the Super Bowl as a learning experience.

"I probably tried too hard," he said. "That was probably some of the reason I didn't play the way I usually do. So, you try to mature and grow from that and keep pushing forward. It was rough, but it's something behind me and I'm using that as fuel to go forward."

--- Holmgren periodically makes linemen field punts at training camp in exchange for an extra hour of curfew. If the linemen catch an agreed-upon number of punts, the entire team benefits. Holmgren provided a comical twist when he had assistant coaches field punts instead of the players. Jim Zorn and Teryl Austin caught their punts. Bill Laveroni and Zerick Rollins muffed theirs. It all came down to one man: special-teams coach Bob Casullo. The punt sailed far over his head, forcing the 54-year-old assistant to become a center fielder.

Casullo ran through support staff and around water coolers before laying out to make a diving fingertip grab. "There was no doubt in my mind," Casullo said. "I just made it a little tricky for the crowd."

Holmgren couldn't believe it. "Was that unbelievable?" Holmgren asked. "I told the team, 'If you're in this game long enough and you think you've seen everything, you're wrong, there's always something that can blow your mind.' And that blew my mind."

Casullo had fun with it. "They all perceived me as an unathletic Italian, but I fooled them all," he quipped. "I hope there's a cardiologist in the training room."

--- Kicker Josh Brown has occasionally signed Matt Hasselbeck's name for autograph seekers who mistake the players with rapidly receding hairlines. "I don't promote forgery by any means," Brown told the Tacoma News Tribune, "but it was to the point where I had to stop the hassle." Linebacker Niko Koutouvides and Lofa Tatupu were once mistaken for Joe Jurevicius and Itula Mili. Center Robbie Tobeck is also a frequent victim of mistaken identity.

"Just the other day some guy says, 'You're Grant Wistrom, right?' " center Robbie Tobeck said. "And some other guy goes, 'No, that's not Wistrom. That's Steve Hutchinson.' "

--- MVP running back Shaun Alexander said he expects the defense to continue its improvement this season. Several starters are currently recovering from off-season surgery. All are expected to return in time for the regular season. The addition of Julian Peterson in particular has added to the overall speed.

"I think this year's team would beat last year's team pretty good," Alexander said. "Our defense is just better. ... People are going to be surprised how good our defense is."

--- Alexander has happy feet this season after switching his Nike cleats from Speed TDs to Air Zoom Super Bads. He said his feet bothered him last season, although it was impossible to tell by looking at the stat sheet. Alexander finished with 1,880 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns.

"I couldn't get the fit on a shoe that I liked," Alexander said. "I had four shoes I wore just in games, and then different ones in practice. This year they made sweet ones for me."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp breaks Aug. 24.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Seahawks are going through camp with only one kicker after the team released USC rookie Ryan Killeen following a poor performance in the scrimmage. Veteran kicker Josh Brown is getting all the reps in practice and preseason games. Team president Tim Ruskell is quick to make personnel moves when he thinks a player isn't contributing as expected. Killeen barely made it through a week of camp when his pink slip arrived.
--TE Jerramy Stevens is moving well and catching the ball consistently since returning to the practice field following April knee surgery. He's working once per day and did not participate in the preseason opener because the team wants to guard against a setback.
--OL Chris Spencer worked at both guard spots in the preseason opener, but he did not work at center. Seattle is shorthanded at guard after losing starter Floyd Womack to a hamstring injury. Spencer has a chance to win a starting job at guard.
--OL Floyd Womack is expected to return in the next few days after suffering a hamstring injury before the first preseason game. Womack has a history of injuries. As a result, the Seahawks cannot count on him being ready this season.
--QB Seneca Wallace performed capably but without much fanfare during the preseason opener. Coaches will give him the bulk of the reps throughout preseason because they want him to become better prepared as the No. 2 quarterback. Wallace lacks regular-season experience.
--WR Maurice Mann overcame an inconsistent start to camp by catching four passes for 49 yards in the preseason opener. He's still a long shot to earn a roster spot, but he improved his chances. A lot will depend on how many receivers the Seahawks keep.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ryan Plackemeier vs. Gabe Lindstrom at punter. Plackemeier handled punting duties in the preseason opener. He delivered with a solid performance that included three punts downed inside the 20. Plackemeier entered camp as the favorite and that has not changed to this point. His performance against Dallas was important because Plackemeier did not enjoy a strong scrimmage.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
--Kelly Herndon and Kelly Jennings at left cornerback. Seattle isn't too worried about which player starts. Both are going to be on the field extensively.
--Mike Green and Michael Boulware at strong safety. Boulware is the incumbent but Green has made a push for the job while Boulware misses time with a knee injury.
--Kevin Bentley and D.D. Lewis at outside linebacker. Lewis started at linebacker last season. Bentley seemed to play better in the first preseason game. Neither is going to start, but both should play quite a bit on special teams.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Maurice Mann overcame an inconsistent start to camp by catching four passes for 49 yards in the preseason opener. He's still a long shot to earn a roster spot, but he improved his chances. Much depends on how many receivers the Seahawks keep.

ROOKIE REPORT
--CB Kelly Jennings made no significant mistakes against Dallas in the preseason opener. He gave up some plays but was in good position most of the time.
--FB David Kirtman did not distinguish himself against the Cowboys. He still has time.
--DE Darryl Tapp has gotten extended reps with the No. 1 defense because Grant Wistrom remains sidelined. Tapp looks like he could be effective in a situational role.

INJURY REPORT: CB Reggie Austin (knee), LB Isaiah Kacyvenski (quadriceps), WR Keenan Howry (hamstring), WR D.J. Hackett (hamstring), DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder), WR Darrell Jackson (knee), SS Michael Boulware (knee), CB Jimmy Williams (ankle), WR Skyler Fulton (shoulder), DB Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder), DT Marcus Tubbs (Achilles) and DT Rocky Bernard (knee) have been sidelined. All are expected to return in time for the season.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Gerald Hayes was eager to come back and make his mark when he saw his season end before it began last year.

Knee surgery in training camp forced Hayes, the projected starter at middle linebacker for the Cardinals, onto injured reserve, and veteran James Darling performed well in his place. So well that Darling, not Hayes, went into training camp in 2006 first on the depth chart despite Hayes having made a full recovery.

But in the preseason opener against Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in the debut game of Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., Hayes made his case with the second unit. Hayes had an interception to end a Pittsburgh threat in the red zone, forced a fumble and was the team's leading tackler with seven.

It might not be enough to nudge Darling out of the lineup yet, but Hayes relished making the emphatic statement that he'd set out to make.

"I've been waiting too long for this," Hayes said. "I've had to be patient for a long time and this year I'm going to take things as they come."

Darling, one of the veteran leaders of the defense, has proven to be a tough man to dislodge, whether in this middle linebacker battle with Hayes, which is shaping up as one of the most competitive job fights on the team, or at outside linebacker, where Darling started two years ago.

The Cardinals are struggling at the outside positions, especially on the weak side where free agent Orlando Huff was a disappointment after signing in 2005.

On the strong side, Karlos Dansby had a breakout season and finished in an elite group with at least three interceptions and three quarterback sacks. But since then, he and coach Dennis Green haven't seen eye-to-eye on Dansby's off-season work. Dansby has done very little during training camp, first recovering from thumb surgery in June, then straining a groin, and now returning to Alabama to get a second opinion on a sore toe that he says prevents him from pushing off properly.

The happy accident in all this is that Calvin Pace has wowed the coaches in his move from defensive end to Dansby's strong-side position.

And now with Hayes evidently returning to form, Darling could, indeed, swing to the weak side to push Huff.

Pace has performed so well on the strong side that coaches are saying that if/when Dansby is back in the fold, he, too, might be moved to the weak side.

While the outside positions shake themselves out, it is full-speed ahead in the middle for Hayes. "It is good to have him back because we have high expectations of him," said linebackers coach Frank Bush. "He is a bigger linebacker (6-1, 253) so we expect to get some bigger hits inside. So far, so good. He is progressing nicely. He is moving around well and he is not favoring the knee at all. He is getting the quickness back. He is getting his explosiveness back. We are happy with where he is right now."

There was an indicator of things to come in Thursday morning's practice in Flagstaff, Ariz. from Hayes, a third-round pick in 2003. He made an interception in practice. "I'm feeling more and more comfortable with each practice," Hayes said.

--- Evaluations were mixed in the preseason opener on the work of the offensive line, the unit most under the microscope on a team that was dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2005. Quarterbacks Kurt Warner and John Navarre had plenty of time to throw. But as was the case last season, when the team's horrendous rushing output combined with the league's leading passing attack, the Cardinals got away from the run perhaps more than they had intended against Pittsburgh.

Running back Edgerrin James carried only twice -- for minus-2 yards -- as he observed his personal belief that he need not spend undue time in preseason appearances. He has gotten the club to buy into it. J.J. Arrington, a 2005 second-round pick who is coming off a disappointing rookie year, got most of the work behind the first line, but had only 11 yards in six carries to show for it.

That's eight carries for 9 yards from the top two backs behind the first-team line -- not the sort of "improvement" the team is looking for. Veterans Leonard Davis and Reggie Wells -- the latter holding off rookie Deuce Lutui at guard -- remained the left-side starters. Center Alex Stepanovich is back with the first team after injuries truncated 2005 for him. He had started 16 games as a rookie in 2004.

On the right side, free-agent pickup Milford Brown was at right guard and Jeremy Bridges stepped in a right tackle in place of injured Oliver Ross. Fred Wakefield also got extensive work with the first unit at right tackle. The good news regarding the knee injury to Ross, who had surgery last week, is that the meniscus tear is not as serious as first believed. His return time frame has been halved to five weeks from the initial projection of 10 weeks. Ross will miss the opener and perhaps Week 2 but should return early in the season.

Bridges is a former starter at right guard who was released early last season. As injuries mounted, the team signed him back in October and he made seven appearances, including three starts. Wakefield played in 15 games last season, his initial campaign after switching from defensive left end, where he had started.

"You have to be able to play a lot more than one position," said Bridges. "It's no problem because you come to camp in great shape and you prepare for this even if you are not getting the reps you want to get. When it is your time you get the job done." That is especially true on a team that may have no more than seven or eight offensive linemen active on Sundays.

--- RB Edgerrin James (two carries, minus-2 yards) had little to no impact on the preseason opener on the field, but the free-agent pickup who is expected to rejuvenate the Cardinals' last-place rushing attack had his presence felt in another way. The Cardinals are wearing black shoes this season, at the insistence of James.

"If you look good, you feel good," James said. "And if you feel good, you play good. Now we're coordinated."

--- With negotiations ongoing with first-round pick Matt Leinart, backup QB John Navarre got most of the action in the preseason opener. And he did not exactly make the best of the situation, firing two interceptions. "Just OK," was the best coach Dennis Green could offer on Navarre's work.

--- Eight former players, coaches and executives were installed into the Cardinals' Ring of Honor in their new stadium during a ceremony prior to their debut game against Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. They are:
--Charles W. Bidwill, Sr., inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, bought the franchise in 1933, helped usher the league through difficult early financial crises and assembled the 1947 NFL championship team.
--Jimmy Conzelman, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964, was a player and later coached the Cardinals to the 1947 NFL championship.
--John "Paddy" Driscoll, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, led the Cardinals to the 1925 NFL championship and was All-NFL six times.
--Marshall Goldberg was a key member of the Cards' 1947 NFL championship team and original member of their "Dream Backfield" with Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman.
--Dick "Night Train" Lane, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974, set the NFL record with 14 interceptions as a rookie and was named to seven Pro Bowls.
--Ollie Matson, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, was All-NFL 1954-57 and in six seasons with the Cards did not miss a game.
--Ernie Nevers, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, scored a record 40 points (six touchdowns, four conversions) in a game against the Bears on Thanksgiving Day, 1929, and was all-NFL five seasons. That's the oldest record in the NFL book.
--Charley Trippi, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, signed for a then-mind-boggling $100,000 during the AAFC-NFL war in 1947 and scored two touchdowns in the Cardinals' 1947 NFL championship game win over Philadelphia.
--Later this season, Hall of Famer Larry Wilson (Sept. 10 vs. San Francisco), Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf (Oct. 16 vs. Chicago), and Pat Tillman (Nov. 12), who left the team and was killed in Afghanistan two years ago while on active duty as a U.S. Army Ranger, will be added to the ring.

--- Cardinals head trainer John Omohundro marked a milestone for longevity that may never be broken. Saturday's preseason opener against Pittsburgh was his 775th game with the team over a 40-year career, 35 of them as head trainer. Omohundro has worked with many of the names in the team's initial list inducted into the Ring of Honor at new Cardinals Stadium. "It is very gratifying to see all the great names on the pillars of the stadium," Omohundro said. "I just hope the years continue to pile up and I continue to enjoy them."

--- The team, in a moving ceremony two nights before the debut game, christened the Steve Schoenfeld Press Box at new Cardinals Stadium, in honor of the former Arizona Republic NFL writer who was killed in 2000 by a hit-and-run driver. Schoenfeld was a former president of the Pro Football Writers. Floor-to-ceiling reproductions of several of Schoenfeld's columns, features and game stories are mounted on panels at the entry to the press box. Panels also are on a press box wall in memory of Arizona Republic beat writer Lloyd Herberg, who died of cancer in 1994; TV reporter Steve Pascente, who was killed in a traffic accident in Washington while covering a Cardinals game against the Redskins in 1994, and Bill Denney, regarded as the dean of Phoenix TV sportscasters during a 29-year career, who died of cancer in 2000.

--- A capacity crowd of 63,400 saw the Cardinals 21-13 preseason opening win over Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in the debut game of Cardinals Stadium. That is roughly 35,000 more than the typical crowds they'd drawn on hot summer nights for preseason openers while playing in Sun Devil Stadium, their home for 18 years. "It is such a rush just coming though the doors because you felt the air conditioning 15 feet before you entered the building," said Tom Langdon, a season ticket holder for 17 years. "It was awesome."

Added LT Leonard Davis, "It was exciting to go out and feel like you have a home field advantage. We were fired up for the pregame warm-ups and them come of the guys went out and we could hear them out there. We hadn't had that before."

CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff ends Thursday (Aug. 17). 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. After Thursday, the team will complete preseason training at its facility in Tempe.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It wasn't a debut, it was an obligation. In the preseason, I don't care about stats. I only care about health and not making mistakes. So it was a big day for me." - RB Edgerrin James, on his two carries for minus-2 yards in his debut - er, initial obligation with the Cardinals.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--OLB Karlos Dansby, the strongside starter who had three interceptions and four sacks last season, is having a sore toe examined in Birmingham, Ala. He has done very little in camp, first recovering from June thumb surgery, then suffering a groin strain, and now the mysterious toe injury. Upon his return, he might be moved to the weak side because his strongside replacement, Calvin Pace, has dazzled the coaches.
--OLB Calvin Pace already is on the verge of winning the strongside position in his debut year there after switching from DE. The 2003 first-round choice had been a flop at end but coaches have raved about his work at his new position. He was the starter in the preseason opener.
--NT Langston Moore is still ahead of rookie Gabe Watson on the depth chart, behind starter Kendrick Clancy. Moore started the Pittsburgh game while Clancy recovers from a groin strain.
--NT Gabe Watson, a rookie, has drawn praise from coaches even though he is No. 3 on the depth chart behind Kendrick Clancy and Langston Moore in the early going. "He is a big guy that can run," coach Dennis Green said of Watson. "Rarely do you see a guy of his size (6-3, 340) that doesn't lag behind, and he doesn't. He can run with all of the other guys so I think he is going to be a good player."
--RT Oliver Ross, the starter, had surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee but the recovery time is going to be about half of the initial projection. Ross is expected to be out about five weeks, down from 10 in initial estimates.
--RT Jeremy Bridges is working with the first unit while Oliver Ross recovers from knee surgery. Ross is expected back in about five weeks.
--DT-DE Kenny King had surgery to remove a plate from his wrist and could miss 10 weeks, more than initially believed. That comes on the heels of King having surgery on his wrist each of the last two preseasons and missing them both. He hasn't taken a snap since 2003, and the patience of Coach Dennis Green is beginning to wear thin. King was the projected starter in 2004 when he suffered the first wrist injury. He suffered a fractured hand early in this training camp, blaming the plate in his wrist. "I'm not sure what it means at all," Green said. "I've been here three years. He's had two weeks of work." King had been the first backup at DT and DE behind Bertrand Berry on the right side.
--FB John Bronson is drawing raves from the coaches as a blocker in his move from TE. He threw the lead block on a scoring run by Diamond Ferri against Pittsburgh. Bronson made the move after James Hodgins was placed on the physically unable to perform list, and to relieve a growing logjam at TE.
--RB J.J. Arrington is running with the second team, ahead of veteran Marcel Shipp and behind Edgerrin James. Arrington got most of the work in the preseason opener, but results were akin to his disappointing rookie season when he lost the starting job to Shipp. Arrington gained 11 yards on six carries against the Steelers.
--CB David Macklin is working with the first unit on the right side opposite Antrel Rolle, ahead of veteran Robert Tate.
--CB Eric Green, who was forced to start as a rookie before he is ready, has been moved from the right side to the left, behind starter Antrel Role.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: J.J. Arrington vs. Marcel Shipp at backup RB. Arrington, disappointing last year as a rookie second-round pick, lost the starting job to Shipp. They both got knocked down a notch when the team signed free agent Edgerrin James. Now they're battling to be James' backup. Arrington was listed ahead of Shipp going into the preseason opener, but after Arrington gained only 11 yards on six carries behind the first line and Shipp gained 13 yards in six carries and caught a 12-yard pass, the battle appears to be tight. Shipp was the Cardinals' rushing leader three of the past four seasons.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: LeRon McCoy vs. Troy Walters vs. Todd Watkins at fourth WR. They all have speed but they're all inexperienced. Walters may have the early edge because he also can return punts - a 15.3-yard average vs. Pittsburgh.

ROOKIE REPORT
--QB Matt Leinart, chosen 10th in the first round, remains unsigned and has not reported to training 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, is working with the second unit and could push veteran Reggie Wells for the job after Lutui becomes acclimated.
--TE Leonard Pope, a third-round pick, is big (6-8, 265), athletic, can catch and block. He is listed third on the depth chart but is expected to grow into challenger to Eric Edwards and Adam Bergen, 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, but Clancy's experience has him firmly on the first unit early with Langston Moore listed second, ahead of Watson, who is on the third level. The key will be Watson's mind-set.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Kurt Warner completed nine of 13 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh's first-team defense in the preseason opener, looking confident and sharp behind protection in which a hand wasn't placed on him. That helped the Cardinals exorcise their inability to convert on third down and score in the Red Zone that thwarted them last season.

INJURY REPORT:
--NT Kendrick Clancy (groin), the starter, saw only limited duty in relief in the opener. Langston Moore started in his place. The injury is not believed to be serious.
--OLB Karlos Dansby (toe, thumb), the strongside starter, is having the toe evaluated in Birmingham, Ala. His status for Saturday's preseason game at New England is not yet known.
--RT Oliver Ross (knee), the right-side starter, had surgery on a torn meniscus and is out about five weeks.
--DE-DT Kenny King, the first backup at under tackle and right DE, had surgery to remove a plate from his wrist and is out about 10 weeks.
--RB Roger Robinson, who set an NFL Europe season rushing record in the spring, suffered a toe injury early in the opening workout and will miss about a month. He appeared to be a long shot to make the roster but is a strong practice-squad candidate.
--FB James Hodgins (knee) was placed on the physically unable to perform list. He missed all of last season. The team was hoping that the big body (6-1, 275), who was Marshall Faulk's lead blocker when St. Louis won the Super Bowl, would be able to return to lead for Edgerrin James.
--DT Tim Bulman (back) is day-to-day. He is expected to add experienced depth.
--G Rolando Cantu (knee) is day-to-day. He is a long shot to make the roster.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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For new Rams coach Scott Linehan, much of the off-season and preseason is about selling a team on his way of doing things.

So while the team is a long way from opening the season Sept. 10 against Denver, beating Indianapolis 19-17 in the preseason opener was a start. Most notably, the Rams had only four penalties in the game and one turnover.

"Anything we're selling it certainly makes it more gratifying to see it put to good use in a competitive environment," Linehan said. "No question. That's what you want to have. Our ability to go out and practice what we preach was certainly the highlight for us as a team. And we've got to continue to build on that.

"It's always good to win. I am more happy for our coaches and our players. With all of their hard work, it's important to get a good start. What we are trying to do, what we are saying, all of those things it helps when you win to get those points across. It's always good to get the first one under your belt."

Linehan is such a stickler for detail, he and special assistant Jeff Horton spent three or four hours at the Edward Jones Dome in June looking at everything from where the coaches would talk at halftime to where chairs would be placed.

"We kind of went through how everything works," Linehan said. "Got the tour. Where we park. Where our locker rooms are. ... Where the coaches go. Where you put your chairs. Where the offense sits. Where you put the grease board. Where the coordinators and the head coach meet at halftime. Where I meet with officials. That's all planned."

Asked about a plan for chairs, Linehan said, "Believe it or not we do. We've got a map for it." As much as anything, the coach was happy that his pre-planning, including who was responsible for getting the right people in the game in certain situations, went well. That can be especially chaotic in the preseason when there are 80-plus players dressed instead of 45.

"We're doing everything exactly as planned," Linehan said. "We're making adjustments as to when we go out for warm-ups. When we come in. When we do all that. It's all a process." That prompted another question about the chairs. Asked whether they were they were supposed to be, Linehan smiled and said, "They were right in line, buddy. You're killing me on the chairs."

What pleased Linehan is that he felt he belonged after his first game, albeit a preseason one, as a head coach. When reminded he had said he would be nervous before the game, Linehan gently reminded the reporter that wasn't accurate.

"I think I said butterflies. That's different. I don't know that I'm a nervous person. I just get excited. Butterflies are good. Once you kick off, of course it was an onside kick, but once you kick off it's gone. I was probably no different than anybody else out there."

--- When the Rams traded for quarterback Dave Ragone in June, it looked like Ryan Fitzpatrick might be in trouble. Ragone has been around longer than Fitzpatrick, and most important, he played at Louisville when Linehan was an assistant coach there. However, so far, Fitzpatrick has impressed far more than Ragone, and it will be tough for Linehan to make any other decision than keep the second-year signal-caller from Harvard.

Asked early in camp whether it's unfair to believe Ragone had the advantage in the competition because of his prior relationship, Linehan said, "I think that's totally unfair. I wouldn't call it an advantage; it's a good thing for both of us because I'm familiar with what Dave can do and Dave will only get better and better. It's unfair to Ryan because I think Ryan's playing very well. It's a great battle and a very healthy battle. They're two great, great kids that are competing and they're very good friends already. It's way too early to say what's going to happen there."

After one scrimmage and one preseason game, it appears Fitzpatrick has the distinct edge. He had the benefit of being with the team throughout the off-season, while Ragone wasn't acquired until June when the off-season was over. Against the Colts, Ragone seemed more comfortable than he had been in practices, but he also threw a costly interception ion the end zone in the third quarter on a second-and-11 play from the Colts' 15-yard line.

"I tried to look him off," Ragone said. "I should have dumped it down. I should have been smarter down there. You learn from your mistakes. That play is done with. I can't take it back.

"You go from here. It's still early. I wasn't going to make the team in this preseason game and hopefully I'm not off the team after this preseason game."

Ragone completed 7 of 11 passes for 80 yards, while Fitzpatrick was 8-of-11 for 51 yards. Each showed the ability to run. Ragone had a 9-yard scramble, while Fitzpatrick froze a Colts linebacker with a pump fake and stutter step, running for 19 yards. "I needed to show game management," Fitzpatrick said. "I felt great, very comfortable. From last preseason to this preseason, I feel like I've come a long way."

Linehan said it's still too early to predict the winner. "The intangible qualities of Fitz are great, plus he has the ability to move and run," Linehan said. "My background with Dave, I know what kind of a competitor he is and his talent will continue to show more and more as he gets more comfortable with what we're doing. There are a lot of similar things we did with him in college, but the terminology is quite different for him. So basically, he's learning everything new until he gets that down. It'll be a lot of fun watching those two guys compete."

--- Noted actor Denzel Washington, father of Rams running back John David Washington, was in attendance for the game against the Colts. John David, rookie free agent, played in the fourth quarter and rushed for 15 yards on four carries with a long run of 8 yards. Denzel said he talked to Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who told him, "You've got a good kid." That "was great to hear," Denzel said. "I'd love to someday be known as the father of John David Washington."

Denzel and his wife were on the sideline before the game, not to play the be-seen game, but because his wife has a ritual of touching the field and saying a prayer before her son's games. They and three other children watched the game from the suite of owner Georgia Frontiere.

--- As the Rams returned to the practice field Saturday following their 19-17 win over the Colts Thursday, a few starters were absent. Safety Corey Chavous experienced a death in his family, while linebacker Will Witherspoon was with his wife for the birth of his child. In addition, guard Richie Incognito did not practice because of a virus. Incognito did some light work in drills.

Commenting on Chavous, Linehan said, "It happened prior to Thursday, he arranged it, and he went back yesterday (Friday). The funeral was today and he'll be back for tomorrow afternoon's practice."

As for Witherspoon, Linehan said, "They were going to induce (labor). I've been through that three times and hopefully that's all going well. He was hoping that we'd have news by now, but I haven't heard. He was hoping to be back and planned to be back tomorrow as well."

Said Linehan of Incognito, "He has a respiratory virus that's going around and he felt very ill today, so we just held him out of practice. He felt good enough to come out and watch some, but he wasn't well enough to practice."

--- Colts general manager Bill Polian was surprised at the number of times the Rams blitzed in the preseason opener and by the multiple defenses employed. He made those comments on the air during halftime of the team's radio broadcast. The following day, Colts coach Tony Dungy said, "That's the way those guys are going to play; we knew that going in. You can't ask them, 'Don't run your defense.' We usually like it when people blitz us."

Said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, "The days of staying vanilla in the preseason are long gone. I was talking to (former Cowboys quarterback Troy) Aikman before the game and he was saying when he played preseason, everybody played basic zone defense. The Rams blitzed seven guys on the first play and did it again a couple of plays later and, really, throughout the game." When told of Polian's comments, Rams coach Scott Linehan said, "You didn't see 85 percent of coach (Jim) Haslett's blitzes tonight. That's how we play. Some teams are a vanilla-type of team and we're going to be multiple.

"We're not where these other teams are with their teams. We've got things we've got to work on things. We've got to get better at it in our preseason games. We've got to use them for that reason."

Remembering that the Colts opened the game with a successful onside kick, Linehan said, "Multiple defenses, blitzing and onside kicks. I don't know how you can be critical of either one."

--- The game against the Colts was on national TV on Fox, but it was blacked out in the St. Louis area because it failed to sell out. The Rams sold about 1,500 fewer season tickets this year than in 2005 after the 6-10 season. The team has still sold 58,000 season tickets.

Linehan said winning will bring the fans back. "It's our job to put a great product on the field," he said. "The bottom line is, when you play well and start doing some pretty fun things out there, they will come."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I liked our ability to run the ball and stop the run. It's an easier game when you're able to do those two things. Tonight was a good step." - Coach Scott Linehan on the win over Indianapolis.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Anthony Hargrove suffered a sprained knee in the first preseason game against the Colts, but was back on the field for the team's first practice after the game.
--CB Jerametrius Butler missed the game against the Colts because of a hamstring problem that bothered him in the off-season. Butler practiced in the first workout after the game.
--TE Aaron Walker, formerly of the 49ers, has moved up to be the second-team tight end, mostly because of his blocking ability.
--TE Dominique Byrd, the team's third-round pick, is in a battle for the third-string job with Jerome Collins.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Dominique Byrd vs. Jerome Collins for No. 3 tight end job. With Aaron Walker ascending up the depth chart at tight end, the current battle on the roster is between Collins and the rookie Byrd. "Walker's been really consistent," Linehan said. "He's blocked well and been a more-than-adequate pass receiver when called upon. He's protected the passer. That's really what a tight end has got to do. If we want to be able to run the ball and have that balance, our tight ends are going to have to be blockers attitude-wise first. When people come up and try to stop the run, then it's easier to get the tight ends the ball in the passing game. I think Jerome has done a nice job as well. Right now, we are looking at Joe and Aaron as the one and two and then Collins and Byrd right now are battling for that third spot. It's still real early just like it is for all the positions. The tight end spot, I'm going to keep a close eye on." About Byrd, a third-round pick this year, Linehan said, "Dominique needs to progress and improve to deserve the reps he needs. He'll get a few more looks this week in practice. I'd be surprised if he doesn't play quite a bit more in this next game. It's still very early in that battle."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
--Matt Turk got a leg up in the punting derby over Andy Groom with a high and booming 54-yard punt that was returned for no yards and a 42-yard pooch punt that was downed at the 2-yard line.
--Not that there was any competition for the kicking job, but free agent Remy Hamilton might have hurt himself in terms of being looked at by other teams when he hit the upright on a 37-yard field-goal attempt and was wide left on a 48-yard try. He did hit a 33-yarder. Hamilton did all the kicking while Jeff Wilkins took the night off.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DE Matthew Rice. Signed just before camp started after being released by the Bills, the undrafted free agent had three sacks against the Colts. They came in the second half with the Rams' No. 3 defense going against the Colts' third-stringers. "He had a good showing in his first game," Linehan said. "That's what is great about the preseason. It was primarily the (third-string) out there against their (third-string), and he certainly showed he belonged. He produced. This is a who-produces-and-who-doesn't-produce business." Since the game, Rice has been hearing about the sacks from his teammates. "Anytime I turn a corner, I hear something about a sack or sackmaster," Rice said. "It's funny because I'm a humble guy. I'm constantly hearing it. They say when you get to the league, you get a big head. While everybody's pumping my head up. I'm trying to lay low, and everybody keeps saying things about the sacks." He realizes it will be difficult to make the roster, but the practice squad is always a possibility. "Just do all I can do," he said. "Practice hard. Make adjustments with any mistakes I make. I've decided to take each day as a new day. Being a free agent, there is no guarantee that you'll have a next day practicing."

ROOKIE REPORT:
--CB Tye Hill had some ups and downs, but generally played well in the preseason opener. With CB Jerametrius Butler out, Hill played with the first-team nickel unit and then was a corner with the second team.
--Joe Klopfenstein is starting at tight end.
--WR/KR Marques Hagans had two punt returns for 21 yards and two kickoff returns for 47 yards against the Colts.
--DE Victor Adeyanju and DT Claude Wroten each showed quickness and strength. Adeyanju showed a good bull rush as well, while Wroten's quickness resulted in some penetration on passing plays.

INJURY REPORT
--DRE Anthony Hargrove suffered a sprained knee against the Colts, but was back on the practice field two days later.
--CB Jerametrius Butler did not play against the Colts because of a slight hamstring injury and practiced two days later.


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