Around the NFC West: Minicamp updates

Taking a look inside the camps of the 49ers' three divisional as spring minicamp action hits full stride.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals had 100 percent attendance at their recent minicamp, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy.

Receiver Anquan Boldin, who wants a new deal, didn't practice because he said he "tweaked" a hamstring just days before. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, who thinks he's underpaid, practiced but didn't seem thrilled to be there.

The Cardinals have several players who want new contracts, but all of them said all the right things. The contract problems aren't going to create dissension in the locker room, they said.

"I think when it's all said and done, we'll be intact," Boldin said.

One thing is for sure, the players' contract situations should make the Cardinals' locker room an interest workplace this fall, said running back Edgerrin James.

"I love a little controversy," James said. "You come to work and you don't know what to expect, makes you want to come to work. You don't know what the (expletive) will happen."

James thinks the situation will work out, and viewed it as a good sign that everyone showed up for minicamp.

"As long as everybody is here, they'll get it all worked out," James said. "You don't see one team where everything is going good for them. If everything was going good I'd probably get scared."

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Quarterback Matt Leinart has been dogged by the label that he's too "Hollywood" to fulfill his potential. In the subsequent two years, Leinart has done little to prove the label inaccurate.

That's why Internet photos showing him partying with young girls were so damaging. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has emphasized to Leinart that he needs to show maturity by working harder and proving that he can lead this team.

This season is critical for Leinart and he seems to know it. At the team's recent minicamp he said, "It is time for me to step up, really time for me to go out there and play. I know the business of the game, and this game is competitive and we've got another great quarterback on this roster in Kurt Warner, who is pushing me every day to get better."

The quarterback question won't go away any time soon. Warner played well last year, throwing 27 touchdown passes, so Whisenhunt's decision to start Leinart comes with some risk.

Clearly, the honeymoon is over. Fans want to see Leinart produce something other than Internet photos. Leinart knows his situation and how damaging the recent party photos have been.

Those photos, however, don't mean that Leinart isn't working hard enough. Coaches have been pleased with his commitment this offseason.

"I've seen him up here (at the team facility) at times when he didn't have to be," Whisenhunt said, "going through tape, looking at last year, looking at technique, looking at opponents."

Whisenhunt was asked if Leinart "gets it" about how hard he just work, Whisenhunt sounded hopeful.

"You never know if they get it," he said, "but he has sure shown indications that he's committed and wants to be a good player."

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Receiver Larry Fitzgerald didn't hesitate to use his 44-pound weight advantage against rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in minicamp. He pushed off and shoved the rookie a couple of times. But that wasn't done just for the rookie's benefit.

"Larry's working on getting better on some of things where he needs to be," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "One of things we've talked about before is being a little bit more physical, whether it's run after catch or some of those situations in games. So it's nice to see Larry working on some things."

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Rookie receiver Early Doucet used mutual friends to get in touch with receiver Anquan Boldin last season. Doucet models his game after Boldin, and the two spent a lot of time together at minicamp.

"It's cool having the younger guys coming in, looking up to you, but in that comes responsibility," Boldin said. "You have to carry yourself as a professional every day. Whenever you are on the practice field, same thing, you have to work that way. That's what guys really look at.

"It's always about helping the next guy," he said. "Along the line, all of us had help somewhere. Whether it's been in high school, college or at this level. To turn your back on a young kid, it's not right."

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The Cardinals' pro scouting department will be empty by the end of the month.

GM Rod Graves fired pro scout Rashaan Curry and pro scout Jim Stanley will retire at the end of May. There likely will be a restructuring in the department.

Steve Keim could receive a promotion from director of college scouting. Scout Lonnie Young might be in for a promotion. Graves also has talked to Charles Bailey, a former executive with the Jaguars, and Ted Sundquist, former Broncos general manger.

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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was happy the team could get his whole name (a combination of father's and mother's surname) on the back of his jersey.

"I thought I was going to have to pick one," he joked, "either Rodgers or Cromartie," he said.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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He might be a long shot, or maybe a "short shot" to make the team, but eyes are on running back Yvenson Bernard at the team's minicamp this weekend.

There will be a special greeting when Bernard gets together with running back Steven Jackson. After all, he passed Jackson for second place on the career rushing list at Oregon State last season.

"I learned from (him)," Bernard said. "I watched the way he read the zone offense we ran at Oregon State. Everybody can run the ball pretty much; it's doing the little things that make you a starter."

Speaking of little things, Bernard is only 5-8, but weighs 204 pounds. His height and lack of speed resulted in him not being drafted after totaling 3,862 yards. He had 1,214 last season and gained 177 yards in the team's Emerald Bowl game against Maryland. He showed he can take punishment by carrying 38 times in that game.

Coach Scott Linehan said of Bernard, "He doesn't have the home-run speed, but the guy just knows how to get yards. I wouldn't bet against the kid."

As for coming together of Jackson and Bernard, Linehan said, "We've got Oregon State East here, I guess."

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Left tackle Orlando Pace continues to work toward another comeback after missing virtually all of the 2007 season because of a torn labrum.

Pace played in just 10 games in 2006 after suffering a torn triceps, and worked hard to be back on the field for the '07 season. However, in the first half of the season opener against Carolina, he went to the sideline again. It took a while to get over the reality that another season had been lost.

"The triceps was tough, but when I did the shoulder, it was one of the toughest things I've had to handle, not only in my professional career but in my life," he said. "I was so excited about coming back and playing last year ... and I couldn't even make it through one game. It was so disappointing. It took me awhile to get over it mentally."

The Rams held their mandatory minicamp this weekend, and Pace is expected to do little. However, all signs point to him being ready to go all out when training camp begins at the end of July.
"It feels pretty good," Pace said recently. "When it first started, it was a slow process. But now it's a matter of lifting weights and getting it strong again, getting it back up to where I was.

"Once I get the strength back up, the contact ... is easy to come back."

Pace knows the importance of him being back, as well as being able to have continuity on the line. He, left guard Mark Setterstrom and right guard Richie Incognito missed a total of 40 games last season.

"I'd never seen anything like that," he said. "Every week it seemed like somebody was going down and we were on the waiver wire, getting guys to come in, guys off the street. That made it tough for us.

"As a group, you have to have guys that have played together ... at least know the first and last name of the guy that's playing next to you."

After missing 21 games the last two seasons, the 32-year-old Pace is eager to be on the field again.

"I just want to play," Pace said. "Sometimes late in their career, guys get to the point where you kind of take this game for granted a little bit. (However, the injuries have) reignited a new type of hunger and motivation for me. I just want to go out, play and be a part of the team again."

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Coach Scott Linehan likes what the Rams have done in the offseason, quickly replacing the retired Jeff Wilkins with kicker Josh Brown and signing Jacob Bell to play left guard.

But Linehan also loved the opportunity to bring in quarterback Trent Green as the backup to Marc Bulger.

Said Linehan, "What Trent brings to the team is credibility and leadership, I know he's going to help Marc a ton. And he's giving you a backup that you know you can win with."

Recently, Linehan related what Green did when the team's offseason program began in March and his flight to St. Louis was canceled.

Said Linehan, "He got three connections, and got to St. Louis at 4 in the morning -- or something crazy like that -- and was at the facility at 6 a.m. He wanted to be the first guy there. That's kind of old school. That's awesome."

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WR Derek Stanley was back in school this offseason at Wisconsin-Whitewater working toward his degree. Coach Scott Linehan knew that. What Linehan didn't know was that Stanley competed with the school's track team.

"I'll sit down and visit with him," Linehan said when told of what Stanley had done. "He and I never discussed (that); this is the first I've heard of it. That's something that probably won't be happening many times again."

Said Stanley, "I just figured a good way to get back in shape and get my speed back would be to run track. Doing track workouts and sprint workouts are essentially the same things I'd be doing back in St. Louis."

Stanley finished sixth in the long jump at the Division III championship in March, and his school was seventh.


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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram sat out the team's recently concluded four-day voluntary minicamp because he is upset about a contract that will pay him $1.7 million in his final year.

Engram set a team record last season with 94 receptions and also had a career-high 1,147 yards, but he is Seattle's third-highest paid wide receiver, behind oft-injured Deion Branch ($3.5 million) and Nate Burleson ($3.25 million).

This year, Engram will be expected to carry the bulk of the load among the receivers because Branch, who had reconstructive knee surgery in January, will miss at least part of the season, D.J. Hackett departed via free agency and the team has young wideouts with very little experience.

But the Seahawks say they are not going to negotiate a new deal or an extension for Engram, who is 35 years old.

They point out that two years ago, Engram missed nine games due to a thyroid condition, after which they gave him a two-year contract. At the time, the Seahawks wanted to give him only a one-year deal, but he insisted on two years, which they gave him. The Seahawks say they are open to negotiating with Engram once he becomes a free agent after this season.

Engram wrote a letter to coach Mike Holmgren, leaving it on his desk before one of the minicamp practices. Ostensibly, the letter explained why Engram felt he needed a new deal.

It is not unprecedented. The Seahawks recently tore up the contract of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and gave him a new six-year, $42 million deal. They also have had talks with Leroy Hill, who is in the final year of his deal.

But, the Seahawks point out, Tatupu is a 25-year-old three-time Pro Bowler whom they do not want to allow to get on the open market, while Engram is in the twilight of his career.

The Seahawks do not seem worried that Engram will fail to show up for training camp. After all, he was at the team's mandatory three-day camp prior to the voluntary camp.

"We need Bobby," Holmgren said. "He is one of our best offensive players. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. There are business decisions to be made. I hope they work it out."

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Whether Engram does or does not show up for the Seattle Seahawks' July training camp, the team still needs to make some decisions about its receiving corps.

Though the Seahawks say flanker Deion Branch is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, he most certainly will miss part of the season, and possibly a substantial chunk of it.

With D.J. Hackett signing with Carolina as a free agent, that means the team will have to find an unproven player to step in as the team's third receiver, which is used pretty often in Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense. Nate Burleson is likely to be the starting split end.

None of the candidates is heralded, with three taken in the sixth or seventh rounds and one, Logan Payne, an undrafted free agent. The team is very high on second-year receiver Courtney Taylor, who got a little playing time last season.

Taylor, from Auburn, has some size to play across the middle and the speed to stretch the field but has suffered a series of injuries. An Auburn teammate, Ben Obomanu, also got some playing time last season and is ahead of the others in terms of grasping the offense.

Payne is out of Minnesota, which did not throw the ball very often in Payne's college career. But he has great heads and runs crisp routes.

Jordan Kent is the biggest question mark. He was a track and basketball star at Oregon who has little idea how to play the game. But he has incredible speed and his pass-catching ability has dramatically improved, to the point that the coaching staff believes he can be a contributor rather than a project.

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RG Rob Sims had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will be out four to six weeks. He will miss the team's next two minicamps but should be available for training camp.

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RB T.J. Duckett, signed as a free agent in March, has relationships on the Seahawks that makes his transition from Detroit easier. He played in Atlanta for Jim Mora and with Omare Lowe and Patrick Kerney, and he went on a recruiting trip to Notre Dame with Julian Peterson before both decided to attend Michigan State.

"People don't think about this, but the hardest part about playing for four teams in four years is moving every year. Having these guys here makes it easier," Duckett said.

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OT Walter Jones, C Chris Spencer, DE Patrick Kerney, WR Deion Branch, DT Marcus Tubbs, LB Will Herring, OT Ray Willis and DT Rocky Bernard all did not participate in the team's minicamps because they are recovering from surgery.

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Thirty-seven-year-old guard Chris Gray said he considered retiring after last season. But Mike Holmgren talked him out of it. Gray will finally fill in as a backup, serving as a reserve center and reserve guard.



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