Around the NFC West: Youngsters impressing

The Cardinals sign a Breaston burner, The Rams pick Carricker for their nose as he packs on weight, and the Seahawks see some youngsters make a strong impression in June. This and other news and notes from the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West.


Everyone knew that Steve Breaston was fast, and he proved it by being the second Cardinals drafted rookie to sign a contract.

Speed and Cardinals negotiations historically have not gone hand-in-hand. Breaston is a burner who is nearly unstoppable when he gets into the open field.

Now the blur from Michigan, who is expected to be the man to beat for kick and punt return duty, takes his 4.41-second 40-yard dash speed onto the field. Breaston signed for three years. Terms were not disclosed.

"It is exciting to see my name and number up there in one of the lockers," Breaston said. "But it is a job also; once I got on the practice field I knew it was time to work.

"I think it sunk in the first day I got here. We were out here right away working hard, and I was excited just to get out there. I was so excited to get out there that I had a couple of mess ups but everything has sunk in now. I am relaxed and I feel a part of the team."

Troy Walters averaged 10 yards a punt return last season, which isn't bad. Walters, an unrestricted free agent, has not been signed back.

J.J. Arrington, a second-round pick two years ago who still is trying to get the pro game figured out, averaged about 23 yards a kickoff return last year, OK but not great.

Breaston is expected to post even bigger numbers in both categories.

And while the Cardinals are loaded at wide receiver -- Pro Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald start, speedy Bryant Johnson, whose catches go for some of the highest yardage averages in the league, is No. 3 -- Breaston has as good a chance as anyone to land the fourth spot in the rotation.

"That is one of the pieces of the puzzle," said Breaston (six foot, 193 pounds), an All Big-Ten first team selection at Michigan. "There are a lot of talented receivers on this team. There are some things I can do that they might not be able to do and certain things they can do that I can learn from.

"Right now I'm just trying to learn from people like Anquan and Larry, the things they do and how successful they are right now at receiver. You want to come in and emulate those types of people."

Breaston's selection continued a very strong Big Ten-Pennsylvania theme to the Cardinals first draft with a coaching staff from Pittsburgh. Breaston is a former Pennsylvania high school player of the year.

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With afternoon temperatures hovering around 110 degrees in Phoenix, Cardinals third-round pick Buster Davis took part in the Salvation Army's 1st Annual Bottled Water Drive on Thursday, June 21.

The Salvation Army is collecting bottled water for its summer-long hydration project for homeless people amid the sizzling urban desert.

The Salvation Army, in conjunction with the Phoenix Police Department and Park Rangers, handed out bottled water as well as respite and safety information to those people who are potentially in distress.

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The Cardinals open the season vs. San Francisco on Monday Night Football, and they certainly won't need to be miked -- ESPN will have three Mikes in the broadcast booth.

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, hosts of ESPN Radio's popular Mike & Mike in the Morning, and ESPN analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

For years, Golic had a sports talk show on a Phoenix radio station before he joined ESPN.

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T Oliver Ross is expected to be engaged in one of the most interesting battles of training camp as he battles veteran free-agent pickup Mike Gandy and first-round draft pick Levi Brown for a starting tackle job.

The three are being cross-trained on both sides and coaches likely won't settle on where to keep the players until they've seen them in pads in training camp. Ross has played primarily on the right side during his two injury-slowed seasons with the team and he concluded organized team activities first on the depth chart at RT. Gandy was running first at LT.

But the Cardinals are expected to invest heavily in Brown and he is unlikely to sit.

Whether Brown, who worked primarily behind Ross on the right side, moves up there, or whether Brown moves to first-team on the left side where he starred in college and Gandy then moves to the right, it is going to be tough for Ross to stay in the lineup.

Ross, however, has an added advantage in having played for new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and new line coach Russ Grimm in Pittsburgh before Ross came to Arizona in 2005 as a free agent.

"So far he's been good," Grimm said. "He has a little bit of a jump because he's been through this offense three years ago. So he's a little bit familiar with it, knows some of the wrinkles. He's right on pace."

Ross agreed, adding, "I'm picking up things much faster because I really don't have to think about it. A lot of people might say there's more pressure, but there's only pressure if you put it on yourself. If you just go out and do your job, you'll do just fine."

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QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was tough. I was hurt here the first two years more than I had ever been." -- Cardinals RT Oliver Ross, who missed nine games the past two years due to an assortment of nagging injuries.

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The Cardinals moved to about $7 million under the salary cap after T Oliver Ross, battling veteran Mike Gandy and first-round draft pick Levi Brown for a starting job, agreed to a $1 million pay cut.

Ross will make $1.8 million for the upcoming season. It's a hedge by the Cardinals to avoid paying Ross starter's pay in case he does not retain a starting job. Ross however can earn back that money through incentives for performance and playing time.

Ross finished organized team workouts running with the first offense at RT, but rookie Levi Brown is expected to make a strong push when Brown gets to training camp in pads.

When Ross came to Arizona two years ago as a free agent from Pittsburgh, he signed for five years at $17.5 million, including a $3 million signing bonus and salaries of $2.8 million. The change is for 2007 only. Ross' salaries do not change in 2008 or 2009. ***** ***** *****

TE Ben Patrick, the team's seventh-round draft pick (215th overall), signed for three years. Terms were not disclosed. Patrick has been hobbled by a hamstring injury since the draft and did little more than watch mini camps and organized team activities. Patrick (6-foot-3, 252 pounds) led NCAA Division I-AA tight ends last fall at Delaware with 64 receptions for 639 yards and six touchdowns. He was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end.


Defensive lineman Adam Carriker will be one of the most-watched players when training camp opens July 27. That's assuming he has signed a contract and doesn't miss valuable time. The Rams are counting on him big-time, and defensive tackle Adam Carriker knows the pressure will be on. He lined up with the first unit at nose tackle in the team's recent minicamp.

"It was a little bit surprising," Carriker said. "I still have a long way to go. There's still training camp, there's still preseason games. Right now, I have a job, and it's my job to hold onto it. I'm a little surprised, but now that I've been blessed with that, I plan to keep it."

Carriker played mostly defensive end at Nebraska, but when the Rams selected him with the 13th pick in the first round of this year's draft, plans were announced immediately to move him inside. When nose tackle Jimmy Kennedy was traded just before the minicamp, that created the obvious spot for Carriker, who increased his weight from about 296 at the combine to 313 since the draft.

He said coaches talked to him about nose tackle prior to the draft.

He said, "Two weeks before the draft they brought me in for a visit and they asked me about it. They wanted to see what I thought about it. I'm like, 'Anyway I can help the team, that's fine with me.' I'm happy. It's all fine with me."

Coach Scott Linehan has been impressed with Carriker since the first day he reported to the Rams for their rookie minicamp two weeks after the draft.

Linehan said, "He's just old school. He comes to work, he doesn't say anything, and he always does his best. He does things with great effort and pride, and that's what you want any player to do, let alone a rookie. He has that right mindset. He's going to be a pretty special player."

As for the steady weight gain, Carriker said, "I've just gradually put on weight. Right after the combine, I wanted to put on a little bit of weight because I knew I was going to be a 3-4 end or an inside guy somewhere, depending on who took me.

"As soon as I found out the Rams took me and they wanted me to play nose guard, I tried to get up to 305 by the time I got here. I put on about five pounds in the last month that I've been here."

During camp, the Rams will try alignments where there won't have a true nose tackle, calling their inside players just right and left tackles. There will be times when nose tackle skills will be needed, but others when pass-rush ability is wanted. Carriker believe he's versatile enough to do both even with added weight.

"I can carry it well, and I can still play fast," he Carriker. "It's not going to fatigue me and bog me down."

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Second-year defensive tackle Claude Wroten, expected to be a major part of the team's defensive line, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor damage to property after a June 28 incident at Louisiana State University.

Wroten was selected by the Rams in the third round of the 2006 draft after playing at LSU. His stock dropped after an arrest for possession of marijuana in January 2006. He also failed a drug test at the league scouting combine the next month.

The incident occurred when Wroten allegedly kicked open the door of an apartment where his former girlfriend is living. The couple had broken up and Wroten wanted her to return items he had given her. When she refused, he then kicked the door open, entered the apartment and took the items.

As of July 3, Rams coach Scott Linehan said he had yet to speak with Wroten about the incident.

"Until I talk to him and get more information, I really can't comment," Linehan said. "I would assume he would get hold of me."

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DE Leonard Little, who signed a three-year contract during the 2006 regular season, said he likes the moves the team has made in the off-season.

"I think the upper management and the coaching staff have made some great moves to bring some guys in that we really, really needed," Little said. "James Hall, Dante Hall, people like that can really help the team. They made some real significant moves to help the team."

The subject of constant double-teams, Little especially likes the addition of James Hall, who will play right defensive end.

"There was a point last year where James was leading the NFL in sacks," Little said. "James has been double-teamed himself. It's going to be real interesting to see how teams are going to block us in pass (situations)."

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DT Tim Sandidge didn't play for the Hamburg Sea Devils in the NFL Europa championship game because of a knee injury. But leaving the team early allowed him to return to the States and do some conditioning work around Rams personnel.

There is a lot of competition, but Sandidge believes playing in NFL Europa will help. He was on the Rams' practice squad last season when he was signed to the Chiefs' active roster. But just before Kansas City's first playoff game, the Chiefs needed a defensive back, and Sandidge was waived. The Rams put in a claim, and was then sent to Europe.

Sandidge said there was no tear related to his knee injury, and that his time with Hamburg was well spent.

He said, "I played in about six or seven games. I felt like I went out there and did what I needed to do. I think I opened up a lot of eyes. I feel like being over there really helped me. I played a lot, got a lot of experience, and I feel like I got better."

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OT Jeremy Parquet, who was allocated by the Rams to NFL Europa, was named to the league's All-Pro team. Parquet plays for the Hamburg Sea Devils, who are in the World Bowl against Frankfurt.

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QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not worried about that. After seeing the film from last year, and I've now been in the offense for 12 or 13 practices, I've seen what goes around and the amount of offense that is there. I'm not worried about who is going to be catching the balls or how many I'm going to get." -- WR Drew Bennett, when asked if he is concerned about getting enough passes his way because of the other talent on the roster.

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The Rams agreed to terms this week with their first two draft choices. CB Jonathan Wade (third round) and WR Derek Stanley (seventh) each signed three-year deals for the league's minimum salaries.

Wade's signing bonus was unavailable, while Stanley received $27,900 to sign.

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The Rams added center Donovan Raiola to the roster. From Wisconsin, Raiola was an undrafted free agent in Rams camp last year, and was released Sept. 3. He spent this spring playing for Amsterdam in NFL Europa.

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The Rams were granted two NFL Europa bonus exemptions, which means the team will be able to have an extra two players in training camp. Along with the four exemptions they have for players that participated in NFL Europa, the Rams can have 86 signed players when camp opens July 27.

Exempt from the roster are cornerback Tye Hill and tight end Joe Klopfenstein.


Several young Seahawk players made strong impressions during the June minicamp. But as coach Mike Holmgren pointed out, they always do.

"I want to caution everyone, including my coaches, that minicamps -- compared to regular practices with pads on, and the actual games -- are quite different," Holmgren said. "We have all been excited about players running around in shorts. And then we get in to where it is for real and things change."

It's an obvious matter of motivation, Holmgren explained. For rookies and free agents, these camps provide the first chance to make an impression. Veterans, meanwhile, tend to be less enthused with minicamp competitions. So, while Holmgren was pleased with the effort of the newcomers, he was cautious about predicting major immediate impact.

"Our young players, our draft choices, I don't think there are any surprises there," Holmgren said. "I was pleased with how they practiced and I am hopeful that we have some contributors in that group this year. I think that is a possibility. It is harder when your team is a little bit better and you draft these young guys. It's harder to come in right away and make a big difference. I think there are a couple guys that we are counting on to do that."

The Seahawks' first pick in the draft, cornerback Josh Wilson of Maryland, taken in the second round, was fooled by some veteran receivers, but also showed good physical skills. He mostly worked as the third cornerback behind starters Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings.

"He has great movement," Holmgren said of Wilson. "I like his attitude; he loves to play and he could really help us ... maybe as a return guy, too."

When asked if any of the lower-profile players had jumped to his attention, Holmgren pointed out free-agent rookie receivers Joe Fernandez and Logan Payne, along with sixth-round draft pick Jordan Kent.

Fernandez, from Fresno State, is the son of former Raider Mervyn Fernandez. Payne is out of Minnesota, where he had a strong showing against quality defenders in a game against Michigan (six catches, two touchdowns and 104 receiving yards).

On draft weekend, offensive coordinator Gil Haskell raved about the selection of Kent, a former basketball player and track man from Oregon. The son of basketball coach Ernie Kent, he is tall (6-4) and athletic (25-foot long jumper), but has been slowed somewhat as he recovers from foot surgery.

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Yes, they're teammates, but that doesn't mean they don't go after each other hard during practices. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, for instance, sees an improved defense as a tougher challenge for the offense.

"They are definitely playing well," Hasselbeck said during the recent minicamp. "They are fast and they are communicating. Like us, they're making mistakes from time to time, but they are also making some big plays. It gets very competitive with our offense and our defense. Sometimes we go at it a little bit, we frustrate each other. I think in the end us competing against them, them competing against us is going to help them improve. I know it is going to help us improve."

Running back Shaun Alexander stayed in Seattle and took part in the team's offseason conditioning program ... a rarity for him.

"I'm a lot stronger right now. I feel stronger, but my weight is exactly the same," Alexander said.

Alexander is looking to return to league MVP form after missing six games last season with a broken foot. He was amused how erroneous reports from minicamp caused fans to believe that his foot was still troubling him.

"Some people were pulling me over on the side, 'Should I pick you (for fantasy football)?'" Alexander said. "But I am good to go and this is going to be a great year for our whole team."

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Having no team obligations until the start of training camp doesn't mean everybody can get away from football. At least according to Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

"The coaches take off; it's really the only vacation they get the entire year," Hasselbeck said. "For the players, this is kind of the time where we aren't here for mandatory workouts, but this is the time where we really have to hone in and get into shape and get ready for training camp. In a lot of ways training camp is a lot of tougher than actually playing in the season so we have some work to do."

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QUOTE TO NOTE: "The silver lining for us is that Darrell didn't practice a lot when he was here. We are used to practicing without him." -- Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on what minicamp was like without receiver Darrell Jackson, who was traded to San Francisco.

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A player who continues to intrigue with his potential is running back Leonard Weaver. After making the team as an undrafted free agent tight end out of Carson-Newman in 2005, Weaver missed the entire 2006 season with an ankle injury.

He's back at full speed now, and made a number of nice catches during minicamp practices. At 6-0, 250 pounds, Weaver could be the eventual replacement for veteran fullback Mack Strong.

Weaver is a more elusive runner, with better hands, but he won't take over Strong's spot until the staff is convinced he can be an effective blocker for Shaun Alexander.

"Leonard is such an amazing athlete that everybody forgot that he played at a small school and he played tight end," Alexander said. "I think this is a year where we will get to see him do a lot of stuff and help our offense out tremendously. I think he is going to do some really good things for us."

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