Around the NFC West: Camps coming to a close

As training camps come to a close in the NFC West - Arizona's already is finished, and the 49ers break camp Wednesday - here's everything you want to know about what's happening in the camps of San Francisco's three divisional rivals, including hot topics, stategy and personnel, battle fronts, players of week, rookie reports and injury reports.

=================
ARIZONA CARDINALS
=================

It apparently was only a scare, but it is the kind the Cardinals don't need.

Starting defensive right end Bertrand Berry, who missed the final eight games last season because of a torn pectoral muscle, left Saturday's preseason game at New England early because of a left knee injury and did not return.

The move, it turns out, was largely just precaution and Berry's injury is not believed to be serious, although he will have an MRI to make certain.

Some context is needed here. This is a team that was about 90 percent scar tissue by the end of last season with a league-high 14 players on Injured Reserve and another one out because of a non-football injury.

And, despite the Cardinals' hopes that it was all behind them, this preseason isn't starting out much better.

Already, starting right tackle Oliver Ross has had surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee. He is hopeful of being ready for the opener but a more realistic outlook is probably closer to Week 3.

Starting strong-side linebacker Karlos Dansby has yet to practice because of an assortment of injuries, and, on the heels of what appeared to be a breakout season with three interceptions and four sacks, Dansby has drawn the ire of coach Dennis Green.

The good news regarding Dansby is that after evaluation by a physician in Birmingham, Alabama, no surgery is recommended on a toe that Dansby says prevents him from pushing off properly. Prior to that, he had surgery in June to repair a torn thumb ligament and then early in camp suffered a groin strain.

Defensive tackle Kenny King, who was expected to be the first backup at right defensive tackle and right end, for the third straight year will miss the opener. He had surgery to remove a plate in his wrist, which he believes caused it to fracture early in camp. The plate was implanted after King missed each of the past two years following surgery on the wrist.

King will be out another six to eight weeks, but given his history -- he hasn't played a down since 2003 -- it is debatable whether the team will hold a roster spot for him. Probably nobody is happier that Berry's injury is not believed serious than tackle Darnell Dockett, who lines up beside Berry. Two seasons ago, Berry had 14.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl. Last season, he had six in eight games before being injured.

"My job got harder without him," Dockett said. "I was getting double-teamed all the time. But most important, we missed our leader."

King's injury throws the rotation and depth on the defensive line into a spin.

Dansby's thwarts development of a linebacking corps in which no position is yet set -- although his would be if he were healthy and practicing. First-team strong-side linebacker Calvin Pace and backup weak-side linebacker Darryl Blackstock are playing new positions. James Darling and Gerald Hayes are battling in the middle.

There has been speculation that Dansby could be moved to the weak side when he returns because the coaches are so happy with Pace's work in Dansby's absence.

"Pretty soon we're going to be playing real games with real records," Green said. "Not a good deal to not play in preseason games and play regular-season games. Not very smart at all."

Ross' injury sets back redevelopment of the offensive line that is attempting to rebound after the Cardinals had the worst rushing attack in the NFL last season.

--- The Cardinals brought in one of the game's premier rushers and a couple of a highly-regarded new guards -- a free agent and a second-round draft pick -- in hopes of goosing the league's worst running game.

But midway through the preseason, there have been no signs of improvement at all.

Edgerrin James, who doesn't care to play in preseason contests and has gotten the club to sign off on it, followed a debut of two carries for minus-2 yards vs. Pittsburgh with two carries for 5 yards at New England. He's not yet averaging a yard a carry in limited work and nobody seems very disturbed by it.

Key word is "seems." Behind closed doors, Green and team management have to be seething.

Free agent Milford Brown has cracked the lineup at right guard, but rookie Deuce Lutui has yet to nudge left guard Reggie Wells.

Starting right tackle Oliver Ross is recovering from knee surgery that could keep him out of the first real game or two, and that spot is being manned by a tag-team of Jeremy Bridges and Fred Wakefield.

Granted, the team has seen two decent rushing defenses -- Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh and former Super Bowl champ New England.

But if the Cardinals are to get where they want to be this year, they have to be able to run the ball against good teams.

"You'd love to go in there every game and be balanced, but you just have to take every situation as it comes," quarterback Kurt Warner said diplomatically. "We tried to force-feed some things because we wanted to get certain guys some touches, get 'Edge' some touches before he gets out. There were some things we could've done."

Against Pittsburgh, Cardinals backs rushed for 26 yards on 11 carries. Against the Patriots, it was 24 yards on 11 rushes.

"It's just not going to be there until Edge is playing the whole game," Green said. "But I think we should be doing better when he's not in there. I'm concerned. I'm concerned about every phase of the offense right now."

--- It was nice that Matt Leinart finally got to go to an NFL game.

Leinart signed a six-year, $51 million contract and then on a short week of practice, the first-round draft pick made his pro debut at New England, showing surprising acumen regarding where to go with the ball, and even more surprising mobility that he likely had all along but rarely needed to use at Southern California.

"In this day and age, you get a lot of work in April, May and June," Green said, "and, of course, he's a very talented player. He's been in a pro system. I think he'll make it up pretty quick. He'll have a chance to play in three preseason games, and I think he'll be ready when the season starts.

"The guy's real smart. We've done two-minute drills with him. We've done four-minute drills. We've done goal line, short yardage, base. We've done everything as far as a game plan is concerned, so he has a lot of information. Now what he's missed out on is this not being his second game. It was his first game."

Leinart completed four of 11 passes for 45 yards. Two of those passes were dropped by receivers. He scrambled twice for 29 yards, making him the team's leading rusher.

"I always knew I could run around, I just didn't have the opportunity at USC," Leinart said. "I didn't have to. I know here that I'm not going to have to do that a lot. But they were in two-man (zone defense), and there's no one who accounts for the quarterback in that situation. There were some big holes."

Leinart's first pass, a swing to RB J.J. Arrington, was a completion for 11 yards. Playing the final 1:09 of the first half, Leinart rallied the Cardinals to a 54-yard drive against New England's first defense that resulted in a field goal -- their only points in the 30-3 drubbing by the Patriots.

"Two-minute drill, my first series was pretty cool," Leinart said. "I felt all right. I've only been practicing for a few days, so I have to get better. It's obviously not college anymore. It's different. I'm playing the best of the best."

And if Leinart is to be believed, it was the first pro game he'd ever attended.

It didn't take the vets long to begin teasing the rookie QB, who was the last pick from the draft class of 2006 to sign a contract.

"I made sure he stayed out and signed all the fans' autographs (after his first practice) because he missed 16 days," said QB Kurt Warner. "We're pushing his buttons a little bit. His wallet is a little thicker now. He'll be able to handle it."

CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals have broken training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and returned to their Tempe training headquarters for the balance of their preseason work. They visit Chicago on Friday and close preseason play at home vs. Denver the following week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very disappointed simply because it is a long way to come and not be sharp. You don't want to travel all that way and not be sharp. I don't think I saw anybody sharp out there." -- Cardinals Coach Dennis Green on a 30-3 preseason drubbing on a cross-country trip to New England.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Garrett McIntyre signed a one-year contract, largely for camp depth. McIntyre was a three-year starter at Fresno State. He was signed as an undrafted rookie by Seattle in May and was released in June.
--OT Kellen Davis, low on the depth chart and a long shot, was released.
--G Rolando Cantu (knee), a Mexican native and among the growing number of foreign players finding a niche in the NFL, was placed on Injured Reserve, the team's first player to go on the list this season. In 2005, the Cardinals had a league-high 14 players on IR by year's end.
--OLB Karlos Dansby, the strong-side starter who had three interceptions and four sacks last season, will not need surgery on a sore toe. He received a second opinion in Birmingham, Ala. Dansby, however, has not yet returned to practice and the Cardinals are irked. Upon his return, he might be moved to the weak side because his strong-side replacement, Calvin Pace, has dazzled the coaches.
--CB David Macklin is working with the first unit on the right side opposite Antrel Rolle, continued to solidify his position ahead of veteran Robert Tate with his work against the Patriots. Macklin had a nice breakup on a deep throw by Tom Brady.
--PR-KR Micheal Spurlock took a step forward in a battle with Bryant Johnson and Todd Watkins to become the return specialist. Spurlock returned three kickoffs for 76 yards and a punt for seven yards when given his opportunity against New England.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Matt Leinart vs. John Navarre for backup QB: With Leinart now signed and at practice, the battle begins. In his debut vs. New England, Leinart at times looked sharp for a raw rookie, and at times looked exactly like a raw rookie in his pro debut. Navarre has had two lackluster appearances and now must step it up a notch if he's going to hold off the rookie first-round pick.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
--James Darling vs. Gerald Hayes for starting MLB. The competition remains robust in the most hotly contested starting position battle on the team. Each player has had his moments. Hayes, however, appears to be inching toward the job, each week getting a few more reps wit the first unit, and each week making the most of them. Darling, however, has done nothing to lose the job and continues to perform well himself. This one will be a fight to the finish, and more than likely they'll both see extensive playing time during the season.
--Micheal Spurlock vs. Bryant Johnson vs. LeRon McCoy vs. Troy Walters vs. Todd Watkins for KR-PR. Spurlock was given his chance against New England in the second preseason game and literally ran with it. Walters, however, averaged more than 15 yards a punt return in the opener against Pittsburgh. Others will get their chances in the final two preseason games. It remains a wide-open competition.

ROOKIE REPORT
--QB Matt Leinart, chosen 10th in the first round, signed a six-year, $51 million contract with $14 million guaranteed on Tuesday, and then on Saturday, in his pro debut in a 2-minute situation, led the team to its only points -- a field goal -- against New England.
--G Deuce Lutui, a second-round pick, is working with the second unit on the left side but has yet to challenge veteran Reggie Wells for the job.
--TE Leonard Pope, a third-round pick who is big (6-8, 265), athletic, can catch and block, made his first pro grab -- a 10-yard reception at New England. He is listed third on the depth chart but is expected to grow into a 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 mindset.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Matt Leinart, signed on Tuesday, was tossed into a two-minute situation against New England's formidable defense in his pro debut Saturday and promptly directed a 54-yard drive to a field goal. Most surprising were Leinart's two scrambles for 29 yards to keep it going, a trait he rarely had to use in college at Southern California, leading many to the assumption that Leinart had no wheels. He was decent with the arm, too, all things considered.

INJURY REPORT
--DE Bertrand Berry (knee), the right-side starter, left the New England preseason game in the first half and did not return. He will undergo an MRI as a precaution but the injury is not believed to be serious.
--C Alex Stepanovich, the starter who struggled through an injury-plagued 2005 after starting every game in 2004 as a rookie, suffered a chest bruise against the Patriots and did not return. The injury, however, is not believed to be serious.
--OLB Karlos Dansby (toe, thumb), the strong-side starter, got a second opinion on the toe and evidently will not need surgery. But he has yet to return to practice and the team is irked.
--RT Oliver Ross (knee), the right-side starter, had surgery on a torn meniscus and could miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season.
--DE-DT Kenny King, the first backup at under tackle and right-side DE, had surgery to remove a plate from his wrist and is out about 10 weeks. Given that he missed each of the past two seasons, there is doubt that the team will keep a roster spot warm for him.
--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.
--G Rolando Cantu (knee) became the team's first player this season to be placed on Injured Reserve.

==============
ST. LOUIS RAMS
==============

Last season, the running game was the Rams' Achilles heel - offensive and defensively. New coach Scott Linehan has made it a point of emphasis throughout the off-season and training camp for that to improve.

After the first game of the preseason, Linehan was pleased. The Rams rushed for 202 yards, while the Colts had just 38. The total for Indianapolis was the lowest for a Rams opponent in the preseason since the team moved to St. Louis in 1995.

Prior to Saturday's game against Houston, the Rams knew things might be different. The Texans had rushed for 173 yards the previous week against Kansas City, and Rams coaches were relishing the challenge, one reason being they would be seeing an offense very similar to what Denver will bring to St. Louis for the regular-season opener Sept. 10. Texans coach Gary Kubiak previously was the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

"So this will be a good test for us to see if we can stop the run," Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "It also gives us a good test because it's the same type of offense we're going to play when we play Denver."

Consider it a failed test. While running only 21 times (one of which was a late-game kneeldown) Houston totaled 143 yards in a 27-20 victory. And the Texans played without starting running back Domanick Davis.

"The biggest disappointment I had in the game was our inability to run the football offensively and stop the run defensively, something we did very well the week before," Linehan said. "You want to see consistency in this game, this business, and we certainly weren't that in that area."

Vernand Morency rushed 11 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns, one of 43 yards where he wasn't touched. Wali Lundy had 40 yards on seven attempts. Of those 18 attempts, 11 were for at least four yards and only four were one yard or less.

"We knew they were going to try and run the ball," linebacker Brandon Chillar said. "What it came down to was not executing, people getting out of their gaps, and that leads to big plays."

Conversely, Rams running backs had 22 attempts for 49 yards with only five of those carries gaining at least four yards. Eleven of the 22 runs were for one yard or less, with four of them going for minus yardage. Starter Steven Jackson had four carries for 10 yards, but three totaled just three yards. He had one run for minus-1 yard. Last season, Jackson led the NFL with 47 attempts for minus yardage.

Fourth-string running back Fred Russell had a 14-yard run, the longest of the night for the Rams, but he gained only nine yards on his other six carries.

In the final moments of the game, the Rams had first-and-goal at the Houston 2-yard line, but Antoine Bagwell gained one yard on first down and John David Washington lost one yard on second down, before two incompletions ended the threat.

"They did a good job of stopping it," Linehan said. "We're not going to just run into a wall and we are not going to bail on the run, but you have to have success throwing it so you can get back and run it better. We saw more eight-man fronts and dogs that were designed to stop the run."

Linehan acknowledged that having both fullbacks Paul Smith and Madison Hedgecock out with injuries affected the running game, but added, "There are no excuses. We just have to do better."

Linehan was also disappointed that the Rams didn't "finish" better. Not only did the final drive of the game fail, but on the final possession of the first half, backup quarterback Gus Frerotte drove the team from their own 32 to the Texans 27, but a sack and holding penalty pushed them back, and a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Remy Hamilton was partially blocked. Houston then moved for field goal with one second remaining.

"I like the way our team moved the ball, but we didn't finish," Linehan said. "We put ourselves into position, but came away with no points."

--- He had been a head coach with the New Orleans Saints only to come to St. Louis to be the Rams' defensive coordinator. But through the first three weeks of training camp, Jim Haslett was doing the silent treatment because assistant coaches were kept off-limits to the media by coach Scott Linehan.

But Haslett was illuminating Aug. 17 when the muzzle was taken off him and offensive coordinator Greg Olson by Linehan. Amazingly, the republic was still in one piece after their sessions with reporters. While the coordinators will be available weekly during the season, Linehan explained why he was doing things this way.

"Because they have a job to do," he said. "Right now, everyone will wait for them to watch film until they are done. Also, I just feel it's important, especially early in any kind of program that there's one messenger. It's not because those guys aren't competent and can't give you the information you need. That's a big part of my job description and I feel it's the role that I ought to take.

Said Haslett, "Actually, it has been refreshing. To be honest with you, not dealing with the media on a day-to-day basis and focusing on football has been good for me."

Asked about his feelings early in the process about how Linehan is handling being a head coach, Haslett said, "Scott has handled it very well. He's very intelligent, and he thinks about things before he does them. That's the way he reacts. I enjoy watching him work.

"But, I'll say this about this football team, compared to where I've been. I don't think there's a lot of problems and a lot of issues that Scott has to deal with. I know it's easier said than done because there are a lot of hidden things, but he's handled it very well."

As for how he has dealt with being in the trenches again, Haslett said, "I'm enjoying myself. It's been more than I expected, I can say that. I thought I might struggle with it because I haven't done it in six years, but being around (assistant coaches) Willy Robinson, Rick Venturi and Joe Baker, guys that I have been with before, made it an easy transition for me."

The reality will begin Sept. 10 when his goal will be to radically improve a defense that was very poor last season. Haslett said, so far, so good.

He said, "What are we? What kind of team are you going to be? Are you going to be an up-the-field, run-around team that can only play with the lead? Or can you stick in there when someone's going to stick it up -- you know -- try to grind it on you? That's what we're going to find out here in the next couple weeks. But I like what I've seen so far. I think they're a bunch of tough-minded individuals."

The Rams have blitzed often in the first two preseason games, and showed multiple looks, especially with their first unit. Haslett said this current group is "as smart and willing as any team I've been around."

"That's what we're going to be," Haslett said of mixing it up. "And I'm not going to say we're going to blitz like that every single game. But we're going to do what it takes to win games, whether it's preseason or regular season. That's kind of what we are. I come from a background where I was in Pittsburgh and played in the 3-4 where you did a lot of blitzing. ... We're also smart enough to know that if we can't get there, or if a team is running certain formations that we can't blitz, then we'll end up playing straight defense and coverage.

"We're always going to do multiple stuff. Multiple defenses. Move them around. I think the guys like it."

--- In the first preseason game against Indianapolis, the Rams had just four penalties and no false starts. Against Houston, however, there were 13 penalties, including three false starts, two defensive penalties for lining up in the neutral zone and one for being illegally downfield on a punt. The latter cost the Rams 34 yards in field position after a re-kick.

"The penalties obviously were a little bit of a problem for us," coach Scott Linehan said. "They nullified some gains. The bottom line is that the keys to winning weren't there. We weren't as smart and as aware a football team. I just don't think we played as smart and as tuned-in as a week ago."

Noting the yard differential after the penalty on the punt, Linehan said, "It's a field position game. That's as bad a turnover. I don't want us to all suddenly think we've got it figured out. I think every day we do this we want to improve in some way, but continue to handle the little things well, the details of the game. The game management situations, whether it be a coach or a player. How we tackle. How we secure the ball. All the things that we talk about, that you hear me till I'm blue in the face talk about."

-- Linehan said he isn't concerned about a first-team offense that has moved the ball, but hasn't turned it into touchdowns yet in five possessions over two games.

"Nah," he said. "I think if we had executed a couple things, I don't think there's any question we would (have scored). You want to score a touchdown. But we're moving it relatively good. I've got no concerns about how our offense is going to do once we start kind of putting it together and staying in there full time."

Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "It's preseason. If we had scored all five times, it's nothing. It doesn't mean anything until the regular season starts."

--- OL Todd Steussie started at left tackle against Houston with Orlando Pace sidelined by a leg injury.

"That's the spot I'm most comfortable with," Steussie said. "I enjoy being out with the (starters). It's nice being around some guys that have accrued some playing time and I'm not the old man hanging out with the young guys."

For most of training camp, the 13-year veteran has been practicing as a backup tackle and guard. As far as being a backup, Steussie said, "It was an adjustment at first. But I still enjoy the game, I still like being around it. And when my number's called, I get a chance to compete again. I always joke that it's better than growing up and working for a living."

Steussie has missed just two games since 1994, and works out hard in the off-season as his competitors seem to get younger. "It's always been important," Steussie said of off-season work.

"But when you're competing with guys whose birthdays are in the '83, '84 range, it's a little staggering. You realize that you have to make sure that you're taking the time to invest in the off-season, get in good shape and stay in good shape."

As for Pace, Steussie is amazed. "He's a tremendous athlete," Steussie said. "It's sometimes frustrating because he makes it look so easy. You fight your butt off and then you see him do it, and he just looks like he's floating out there."

--- OG Claude Terrell continues to be bothered by the residual affects of a wrist injury that has bothered him since last season. Coach Scott Linehan said the club is trying to get a brace for the wrist so Terrell can practice.

Asked about the diagnosis of the problem, Linehan said, "They've all come back with the same opinion that he can play with it. It might have pain. Then if it doesn't get any better by the end of the year, there's an experimental type of surgery that they can do. You'd have to ask a doctor on this one, but it does some kind of a shortening of the ligament in his wrist that could potentially make it more pain free. It's overwhelming. There's the potential to at least put some kind of brace on there and play with it. It's not going to make it worse or injure it more. That's the hold-up right now. Hopefully we'll figure out a way to get that thing padded up or braced up so he can play or he's going to have to deal with this other surgery which would obviously put him out. It's very stable and it's the pain that's in there that's causing the biggest problem."

--- PK Jeff Wilkins has not kicked at all in the first two preseason games, but could get some work in next Saturday against Kansas City.

Said Linehan, "It should be this week. I don't know if he'll go through the whole game. Usually the last preseason game is his tune-up. I'm OK with that. We've made that decision and it has worked well for him. He's managed his leg so well to this point and the proof's in how he's done in the last three or four seasons that it's worked well. I'm OK with that. I think it's a unique position and guys find out ways to get themselves ready. As long as we get the results we're looking for I have no problem with it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not an egotistical guy in any sense. You know how that is in this business -- I think everybody has one. But I enjoy the game. I enjoy the X's and O's. To be honest with you, it's something I've done my whole life. I went right from college into playing and then right from playing into coaching. I know nothing else. Some day, if that (head coaching) opportunity ever comes again, if it's the right situation and you have a chance to win, then I may do it. If not, I'm fine doing what I'm doing right now." -- Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Punter Matt Turk has continued to distance himself from Andy Groom in competition for the job. Turk averaged 54.0 yards on four kicks, and had one downed at the 5-yard line, only to have it negated by a penalty. "I thought he did great," Linehan said. "Matt's been doing real well recently. He's been really hitting it."
--FB Madison Hedgecock did not play against Houston and it's unknown when he will return because of a high ankle sprain. Hedgecock has been out for almost two weeks, and could miss another four. Said Hedgecock, "I had a little pain in the lower part, and that was from the bones being bruised. I kept trying to come back too early and kept re-injuring it. That kind of set me back. I just need to take my time with it and get it 100 percent healthy."
--WR Torry Holt will be limited for a few days after suffering a bruised sternum when he fell on the tip of the ball against the Texans. X-rays were negative. Asked when Holt will be back, coach Scott Linehan said, "We'll make that decision probably by Tuesday or Wednesday how much he does in those practices, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's not full speed by Wednesday and back at it. I think it's more just until the pain subsides. There's not a lot of swelling; it's just painful. He worked in the pool this morning, got some lifting in and he looked good."
--DE Leonard Little did not play against Houston because of a quadriceps injury, but should be back soon when swelling is controlled. Said coach Scott Linehan, "Leonard won't practice tomorrow (Monday), but he's making a lot of strides with that strained quad."
--LB Jon Alston suffered a hyperextended knee against Houston, but isn't expected to miss much practice time, if any.
--OT Orlando Pace, who has knee, ankle and hip injuries, did not play against Houston in the second preseason game, and could continue to be limited in practice this week. --FB Paul Smith has missed several days, including the game against Houston, because of a calf injury, and still isn't ready to return to practice.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Dave Ragone vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick for No. 3 quarterback job -- It's been featured before, but it remains the biggest battle on the team. Ragone played more against Houston, and led the team to two touchdowns, although both were aided by pass interference penalties. Fitzpatrick, who beat Houston last season with a stirring comeback, tried to pull it off again, but the team was stopped two yards short of the end zone in the final minute. Said Linehan, "I thought both of them played well. They had different situations than they had last week. We put Dave in first; because that's how we did with Ryan the first game, and gave him some normal game situations and I thought he performed much better. He made a couple of plays and stood in there nice and showed his ability to scramble a little bit. He made a couple of throws and moved the team. We came away with a couple of scoring drives and I though that was nice to see from Dave. "I thought Ryan did a great job in his two-minute drill. I told him he was going to go in and win the game. We were hoping to get him a couple of series. He actually did get one, but we had a three-and-out unfortunately we got a penalty on a play that put us at third and long. He primarily worked in the hurry up two-minute mode. It was nice to see him operate. I thought he looked very good running that two-minute drill. He marched us right down there. I thought he did everything we asked him to do to put us in position to win the game."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
---Brad Pyatt vs. Marques Hagans for kick return job - Both are wide receivers, and have shown moments in the kick return game. Pyatt was better than Hagans as a kickoff returner, with three against Houston for 85 yards, including one for 35 yards. Hagans had two kickoff returns for 31 yards and one punt return for 11 yards. Pyatt was tried as a punt returner for the first time and had four fair catches.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Fred Russell -- He has opened some eyes in training camp and games with his quickness and ability to make plays. Working against him is that he's just 5-7. Said coach Scott Linehan, "I think Fred's really shown that he has a unique running style and kind of a knack for it. He's hard to find. He's one of those guys that gets behind the linemen and the guys don't know where he is, and he comes popping out of there. He's one of those guys that has been a real pleasant surprise for us. We didn't know much about him because he was in (NFL) Europe during the off-season. He's really had a nice camp and I've been very happy on what he's been able to do."

ROOKIE REPORT
--CB Tye Hill continues to progress and is competing with Jerametrius Butler for the No. 1 nickel job.
--TE Dominique Byrd had a big 18-yard catch in the fourth quarter that got the Rams into position for a potential tying touchdown.
--WR Marques Hagans had a punt return for 11 yards, and made an impressive leaping 19-yard catch in the fourth quarter against Houston.
--DE Victor Adeyanju started against Houston because of an injury to Leonard Little, and struggled against the Texans' No. 1 line.

INJURY REPORT: The Rams are frustrated by the ongoing absence of OG Claude Terrell, who continues to have pain in his wrist. Terrell has had very limited work in the off-season and training camp, and could be in danger of losing his roster spot, or going on injured reserve ... LT Orlando Pace is not expected to be out long after suffering knee and ankle injuries in practice.

================
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
================

The loss of tight end Jerramy Stevens dealt a significant blow to the Seattle offense. The Seahawks still have good talent in key positions, but Stevens appeared close to becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber threat at a position where skilled receivers are still a luxury.

The fifth-year tight end will miss the first few games of the regular season after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee during a recent practice. Surgeons subsequently operated on the knee for the second time in four months, hardly what Stevens needed heading into the final season of his rookie contract.

Stevens missed the start of camp while he recovered from the first surgery. He made a positive impact upon his return midway through camp, only to fall hard on the knee after a collision with linebacker Leroy Hill. Stevens walked off the field before trainers drove him into the training room on a motorized cart.

"Having him back on the field (in camp) was fun," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "It gives our offense an element of speed at that position, stretching the field and that kind of stuff, but there's stuff that those other guys do really well too."

The starting job falls to Itula Mili, who caught 89 passes over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Mili caught only 23 passes in 2004 as Stevens asserted himself in the offense.

An intestinal blockage kept Mili off the field almost entirely last season. He played in two games but went without a reception for the first time since 1997, his rookie season. Mili did not play in a game that season; he was recovering from a severe knee injury suffered during his senior season at BYU. Mili is 33 years old. He has battled conditioning problems in recent offseasons, but this year was different.

Sensing his career was slipping away, Mili reported to camp in good shape. He missed a few practices with a sore back, but for the most part Mili has done everything the Seahawks have asked of him.

"Mili has had a great camp," coach Mike Holmgren said.

Like Stevens, Mili will never be known for his blocking. Those duties fell last season to Ryan Hannam, the tight end Seattle lost to Dallas in free agency.

Seattle replaced Hannam with several cheaper alternatives, notably former Tampa Bay tight end Will Heller. The Seahawks haven't seen enough from Heller or the other tight ends to feel comfortable moving forward without Stevens. They'll need a bounce-back year from Mili, and they'll probably need to address the position in the next draft.

The Seahawks might go into the season with only two healthy tight ends.

"That probably has to be discussed just a little bit more," Holmgren said. "That was a possibility anyway before he got hurt, so we have to see. That'll be decided right at the end when we see how the rest of the roster shapes up."

--- The Seahawks clearly made the right move when they released 2001 fist-round choice Koren Robinson a year ago.

Robinson, 26, caught 78 passes for 1,240 yards and five touchdowns during a spectacular 2002 season. His career has been in a free-fall ever since, thanks to alcohol problems compounded by poor judgment.

Holmgren swallowed hard when the Seahawks finally severed ties with Robinson in June 2005.

"When he was with us, I tried to help," Holmgren said. "I felt I kind of failed the kid somehow, but he's got to get a grip on this clearly, before something bad happens."

Robinson faces a likely jail term and one-year NFL suspension after his latest arrest, those one in Minnesota as an allegedly drunk Robinson eluded police on his way back to camp with the Vikings. "It saddens me when something like this happens," Holmgren said. "I pray for him, that he gets his life in order before something real bad happens."

Robinson resurrected his career in 2005, his first season with the Vikings. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner. The Vikings then rewarded him with a new contract. They hoped he would become their No. 1 receiver.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, proved much better off without Robinson. They signed Joe Jurevicius last season; the journeyman caught 10 touchdown passes in his lone season with Seattle. Once Jurevicius left in free agency, Seattle signed Nate Burleson away from the Vikings.

Burleson has enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular camp with the Seahawks. The team has penciled him in as the starting split end, the position once set aside for Robinson.

--- Hasselbeck pays the price whenever one of his offensive linemen misses a block. He exacts revenge whenever one of his linemen misses practice time with an injury, particularly when C Robbie Tobeck is that lineman and the injury isn't serious.

Tobeck, 36, was expected to miss about a week after surgeons removed bone chips from his left elbow.

"This is the time to make fun of Robbie," Hasselbeck said. "He's got tennis elbow right now, so he can't really retaliate.

"He's got tennis elbow but it's on his left arm, so I'm assuming he has a two-hand backhand." While Tobeck was sidelined, backup Chris Spencer got into a fight with linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski.

"It's about time we got some toughness at center, someone who will stick up for himself," Hasselbeck cracked.

--- The Seahawks canceled a recent practice and headed to the movies instead. Holmgren wanted to break up the monotony of camp. He arranged for the team to see "Invincible" in place of their regularly scheduled afternoon practice.

"They've been working really hard and we had a pretty long week," Holmgren explained. "It's just to change it up a little bit for the coaches and players, give them a little break."

--- Sister Mary Tarcisius lives in Louisiana and counts the Saints as her favorite NFL team. She has family in the Northwest, however, and the Seahawks rank a close second. So when Sister Mary dropped by Seahawks training camp recently, she left a gift for the head coach: a medal of St. Michael the Archangel.

"This is a blessed medal of St. Michael to protect you against evil refs in the Super Bowl," she wrote in a note to Holmgren.

Sister Mary went on to rip NFL officials for the job they did in Super Bowl XL.

"I'm a nun and I know football better than they do," she said.

This wasn't Sister Mary's first visit to Seahawks camp.

"Mr. Holmgren has been my friend ever since he started here and it's a very good friendship," she said. "He knows I'm a big Saints fan, but the only time I don't root for the Seahawks is when they are playing my Saints."

--- Hasselbeck was reading children's books to his daughters when they concluded that backup quarterback Gibran Hamdan bore some resemblance to Aladdin. Hamdan, one of the more good-humored players in camp, took the comparison in stride.

"I'd rather be Aladdin with a full head of hair than whatever (the balding Hasselbeck) is," Hamdan quipped.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp breaks on Thursday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Jordan Babineaux is working in the first-team nickel package since his return from shoulder surgery. Babineaux has the versatility to play cornerback or safety. Coaches want to give him as many reps as possible to get him ready for the season. They will leave him at cornerback unless a need arises at safety. First-round CB Kelly Jennings is working with the second-team defense at left corner, with Babineaux on the right side. Jennings had been playing left corner with the starting nickel defense, allowing No. 1 LCB Kelly Herndon to defend the slot. But with Babineaux in the mix, Herndon is staying on the outside in the nickel. Babinaux is the one lining up against slot receivers. Seattle has good depth in the secondary when everyone is healthy. Babineaux and Jennings figure to find their way onto the field quite a bit once the season gets going.
--TE Jerramy Stevens is out until late September or early October after tearing cartilage in his left knee.
--RCB Marcus Trufant is quietly enjoying an outstanding camp. This is the first offseason in which he didn't require surgery. He has been able to participate in all minicamps and training camp. This could be the year he realizes his first-round potential.
--DT Russell Davis probably won't play until the regular season. The team wants to be cautious with him after Davis suffered a torn plantar fascia.
--MLB Lofa Tatupu has been getting some rest after suffering a minor groin injury in practice. The team wants to be careful with Tatupu because the second-year pro is such a high-energy player. They know what he can do and want to save him for the season.
--K Josh Brown remains the only kicker in camp. That is unusual, but the team simply wasn't happy with rookie K Ryan Killeen, who was released less than 10 days into camp.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: OL Chris Spencer vs. OL Floyd Womack for the starting spot at left guard -- This was Womack's job to lose. Injuries have kept him off the field for the last week-plus. He's back on the field this week, but Spencer, a first-round pick in 2005, has played two games in his absence. The staff would like Spencer to play center, but veteran Robbie Tobeck is coming off a Pro Bowl season. Spencer has played well enough at guard to merit consideration there. Womack needs to get healthy and play well to keep the job.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
--Kelly Herndon and Kelly Jennings. Herndon is having a great camp while Jennings learns the ropes with the second unit. Right now it's tough to see Herndon losing the job by opening day.
--Mike Green and Michael Boulware. Boulware returned from his knee injury with a flourish. Green has shown he can be physical. Boulware probably keeps his job if he's healthy.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Bobby Engram is the oldest receiver on the team, but also the most dependable one. Engram has also stayed healthy after missing three games last season with cracked ribs. He is one of five receivers to participate in every practice since training camp opened in late July.

ROOKIE REPORT
--FB David Kirtman had his best week of practices from a blocking standpoint. He's still fighting for a roster spot, but at least he's starting to show he might belong.
--P Ryan Plackemeier punted well in the exhibition opener. He's the favorite to win the job that came open when Seattle released P Tom Rouen.
--DE Darryl Tapp has continued working with the starters while veteran DE Grant Wistrom eases his way back onto the field following shoulder surgery. Look for Wistrom to get more of the first-team reps as the third exhibition game approaches.

INJURY REPORT: DT Rocky Bernard (knee), DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder) and DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder) returned to practice recently. They could play against San Diego in the third exhibition game. WR D.J. Hackett (hamstring), WR Darrell Jackson (knee), DT Marcus Tubbs (Achilles), OL Floyd Womack (hamstring) and MLB Lofa Tatupu (groin) are tentatively scheduled to resume practicing this week. C Robbie Tobeck (elbow) could return after the San Diego game. DT Russell Davis (plantar fascia) is probably out until the regular season. TE Jerramy Stevens (knee) could be sidelined until early October.


Niners Digest Top Stories