NFC West: Training Camp Roundup
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--Linebacker Takeo Spikes turns 34 this season, and he's in the final year of his contract. That has led to speculation that the 49ers will turn to one of their more youthful linebackers at the so-called "Ted" linebacker spot next year. But Spikes has no plans to merely fade into the background. "The way I always look at it, to be honest with you, is this: I'm the author of my own book, so when I'm ready to put down the pen and quit writing my book, that's when it's over," Spikes said. "So it's no knock against (the young linebackers), but I ain't going to hand nothing over. I never have and I never will."
--The Alex Smith-to-Vernon Davis connection has been on fire in training camp. The two hooked up on a 40-yard touchdown pass during the week, prompting Davis to holler at his quarterback as he jogged back to the huddle. "Alex, I love your ownership!" David said. "You own part of the team."
--The team took training camp on the road, holding a morning session at Cal State Monterey Bay in Seaside, Ca. The 49ers will not travel to Napa, Ca. to scrimmage the Raiders as they have in previous years because the Raiders are on their regular-season schedule.
--Rookies Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati have spent plenty of time with the first-team offensive line this week. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is happy with what he's seen so far. "They both have a physical presence about them," Raye said. "I don't see any reason why they won't continue to ascend."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a headache. I think that would be the best way to describe Jerry." -- Mike Singletary on what he remembers about playing hall-of-fame inductee Jerry Rice.
--Second-round draft pick Taylor Mays has worked his way onto the second-team defense after practicing with the third team throughout spring drills.
--The 49ers are working receiver Dominique Zeigler into the rotation at kick returner. Zeigler is a favorite of receiver's coach Jerry Sullivan, but he needs special teams value to make the roster this year.
--Just days away from their first preseason game at Qwest Field against Tennessee, the competition for the Seattle Seahawks' starting running back job is heating up.
Julius Jones continues to hold onto pole position at the top of the depth chart and has looked solid so far during training camp practices.
But nipping at his heels is third-year pro Justin Forsett. The sparkplug from Cal said he worked out at Michael Johnson's Performance Center in Dallas during the offseason to improve his speed, and so far the results have been evident during camp. Forsett appears a step or two faster breaking into the open field.
"I went down to Dallas after my wedding and worked out -- started running, and worked on some technique things," Forsett said. "I want to finish plays. Breaking it with speed, or running people over, or making people miss. Anything that's going to take my game to the next level. I want to be better every day than the day before, and better than last year."
Forsett also is learning a lot about the zone blocking scheme from new offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. The blocking scheme is a perfect fit for Forsett's running style, with his ability to cut back on a dime and get back up to top speed quickly.
"It's unbelievable -- I can do nothing but respect him, because he knows what he's talking about, and it's been proven," Forsett said about working with Gibbs. "He's had 1,000-yard rushers everywhere he's gone, so I'm happy to learn from him and just be a sponge.
"He's really big on the little things; making sure that my shoulders are parallel to the line of scrimmage, and making sure that I can see the whole field. The cutbacks -- I want those to be (right) in the zone scheme -- don't miss those. It's been good. I love the way he coaches; he makes everyone excited around him, and I'm excited to learn from him."
Now that he's healthy, a third back that has fully entered the competition is Leon Washington. The explosive running back the Seahawks received in a draft-day deal with the New York Jets participated in his first, full-contact practices this week and appears to be close to 100 percent.
Washington is returning from a compound leg fracture he suffered against Oakland last October, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
"We'll see him continue to progress, and now he'll enter the competition at the running back spot in a meaningful way," Carroll said. "We've been very patient up until now. I've been waiting for him. We know he's healthy and he's back. But he needed to feel right about it. So we've given him the time until he made the call."
Carroll also said he's been impressed with the performance of Quinton Ganther, who continues to see time at fullback as well.
--The Seahawks announced this week that wide receiver Isaiah Stanback tore his left Achilles' tendon, ending his attempt to make the roster of his hometown team. He was waived/injured.
Stanback, 25, suffered the injury while coming out of his stance during individual drills early in the team's second practice of the day.
A playmaking quarterback for the Huskies, where he finished with 4,662 total yards and 33 touchdowns, Stanback was a fourth-round selection by Dallas in the 2007 draft. He spent two seasons with the Cowboys before they let him go in final roster cuts last September.
New England signed Stanback to its practice squad two days later, and he played six games for the Patriots before he was released in March. Seattle claimed Stanback off waivers in June.
In three years in the NFL, Stanback played 16 games, starting two. He caught five passes for 46 yards. The Garfield High of Seattle product also averaged 22.7 yards on 14 kick returns.
At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, Stanback was a big receiver who offered some versatility with his ability to return kicks and also handle quarterback duties in an emergency. He appeared to be getting acclimated to his new team, and was one of 10 receivers competing for a spot on the team's 53-man roster. He is likely to land on the injured-reserve list if unclaimed.
--Seattle players talked to reporters a day after NFL official Bill Leavy admitted he made some mistakes during the 2006 Super Bowl the Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-10.
Leavy, who was in town to review rule changes for the coming season, told players the same thing he told a group of reporters on Friday -- that he blew a couple of calls late in the game.
Still, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, one of nine Seattle players still on the roster from the Super Bowl team, did not blame Leavy.
"It's a game," Hasselbeck said. "It's not a perfect science. There's a lot of human involvement there. I played some games that I remembered because I feel like I did a good job, and then I feel some other games where I have some regrets. And that goes for any sport, any player.
"I'm sure coaching is no different. And ... I'm sure officiating is the same thing."
Hasselbeck still insists players lost the game on the field that day, and the officials didn't have a role in that.
"We lost the game," he said. "Like I said, Bill Leavy, like all of our officials, is a stand-up guy. It happened a long time ago. We lost the game."
Hasselbeck said it was a good thing that he had a chance to talk with Leavy now that some time has passed.
"I think just like Seahawk fans, I myself had to sort of get to the point where I could get past everything," Hasselbeck said. "And he's a great guy. And he's actually a really good official. So it's just one of those things where, like I said, you don't have your best day as a player, same thing as a coach."
Asked if he is over the Super Bowl loss, Hasselbeck said, "I'm still a little bit upset about losing my high school championship game. There's just some games you're never going to forget. So put it on the list."
Defensive tackle Craig Terrill, who played in the game, said he appreciated Leavy's comments.
"I certainly don't have any hard feelings against him," Terrill said. "There were plenty of things that we did in that game that kept us from winning. So he can't take responsibility for us for the mistakes that we made. But I appreciated the comments."
--Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock is pleased to have tamed the demons enough to make it back to the practice field.
As they did with wide receiver Mike Williams in April, the Seattle Seahawks threw a line to the former Ohio State All-American, signing him to the 80-man roster on Thursday. To make room, Seattle released wide receiver Mike Hass (Hass re-signed when Isaiah Stanback was waived/injured).
Pitcock has not been in the NFL since abruptly retiring from the Indianapolis Colts in 2008. A third-round selection by the Colts in 2007, Pitcock had received considerable playing time as a reserve defensive tackle, finishing with 18 tackles and 11/2 sacks his rookie season.
Heading into his second season Pitcock was expected to challenge for a starting spot. However, Pitcock never reported to training camp, saying he was not ready mentally to continue playing football. He announced his retirement soon after.
Pitcock remained in Indianapolis and disappeared into the insular world of video games to escape his personal demons. Eventually, playing video games became his sole purpose in life. That's when Pitcock knew he needed help.
And he received it -- counseling for depression and anxiety -- with assistance from the NFL Players Association. He spent last season propping himself up mentally and getting back into playing shape. And after the Colts waived him earlier this week, the Seahawks decided to take a flyer on him.
Pitcock knew Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley from his time in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' coaching staff worked with him three years ago at the Senior Bowl.
Defensive line coach Dan Quinn, then defensive line coach for the Jets, also remembered Pitcock from the Senior Bowl, and thought he'd be a good fit for Seattle.
"I thought he had good, initial quickness," Quinn said. "I thought maybe he'd be a good inside rusher and stuff like that. And so when we had the opportunity to bring him in here and give him a shot and take a look, I thought he'd be good for us."
--Former Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood, re-signed by the Seahawks to add depth at the position, tore his Achilles tendon just minutes into his first practice back with the team.
The Seahawks announced that he had successful surgery to repair the tendon.
Heygood spent part of last season on Seattle's practice squad. He was waived/injured so the team could add another player to bring the Seahawks back to the 80-man roster limit.
Heygood posted that he was still in good spirits on his Twitter account.
"Didn't touch a soul this year and down for the count. Man o man life happens for a reason," he tweeted. "Thank you to everyone keeping me in your prayers. Ima be back in no time a much smarter and stronger football player."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whatever I can do to help this team win football games that's what I'm about -- to help this team win football games. We won nine games in the past two years, and that can't happen again." -- Running back Leon Washington on wanting to contribute to turning things around in Seattle.
The turnstile continues to spin at Seahawks headquarters in Renton, Wash., as general manager John Schneider made several moves this week.
Part of the personnel changes were out of necessity -- at one point this week the Seahawks only have five healthy linebackers on the roster and needed to bulk up numbers at that position for practice purposes.
Seattle also is down to eight healthy receivers with Isaiah Stanback recently suffering a torn Achilles tendon, so they might make a move in the near future to beef up that position.
--OG Gregg Peat was claimed off waivers by Seattle after Indianapolis released him. The Seahawks will kick the tires on the Oregon State University product.
--WR Mike Hass, with the odds stacked against him of making the final roster, was released but then quickly re-signed after WR Isaiah Stanback (Achilles) was waived/injured.
--DT Quinn Pitcock, after retiring at the age of 24 in 2008 from Indianapolis, the former All-American at Ohio State is looking to get things going again with Seattle signing him to a one-year deal after the Colts waived him.
--LB Anthony Heygood he suffered a torn Achilles tendon just a day after the team brought him back to camp. He had successful surgery and likely is headed to the injured reserve list.
--TE Jameson Konz, a seventh-round pick in this year's draft by Seattle, Konz suffered a hip injury and was waived/injured and passed through waivers, returning to the team.
--LS Matt Overton, the Western Washington product was let go in favor of recent pickup long snapper Clint Gresham.
--OT Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft signed a six-year, $48.5 million deal with Seattle, including $30 million guaranteed money.
--OG Adrian Martinez, an undrafted rookie free agent, was cut so the Seahawks could take a look at offensive guard Gregg Peat.
--TE Nick Tow-Arnett, signed to Seattle's 80-man roster as a free agent who played for Seahawks quarterback coach Jedd Fisch when he served as offensive coordinator at Minnesota. Tow-Arnett's last stint in the league was with Dallas.
--LB Alvin Bowen, a fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2008, Bowen spent last year on Washington's practice squad and was signed to Seattle's 80-man roster.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
--Playing in the NFL, especially for a running back, is like swimming in shark-infested waters. You never know where danger is lurking, and a runner tries his best to come out alive.
For Rams running back Steven Jackson, he got a taste of those sharks during a June trip to South Africa. He also reported to training camp in outstanding shape and appears to have put last season's back injury behind him.
Jackson had back surgery April 15, missed the team's OTAs, but was raring to go when camp started for the veterans July 31.
"I felt good," he said after his first practice. "It's been a long time. I haven't had any real true football conditioning and work until today. I've been working really, really hard with my trainer all offseason to make sure that when today came I would be able to practice and be able to pretty much participate in everything.
"The back feels good. We're going on three months now and still have another month to go (until the season starts). If I had to have the surgery, I think we did it at the right time. Everything is up. Everything is going good."
Jackson didn't practice Saturday morning (Aug. 7) or participate in the team's scrimmage that evening, but coach Steve Spagnuolo said that has been the plan.
Said Spagnuolo, "No alarms here. That was part of the program that (trainer) Reggie (Scott) and I decided way back, so he won't go in the scrimmage tonight. This gives him 48 hours right now to make sure we're OK. He'll be back on Monday, he'll be fine.
"He said to Reggie the other day that it feels exactly where it should be. He's no worse, no better. He does want to push it a little bit next week, and we'll do that. I think he's right about on track where we thought, and then knock on wood we can stay that way. We'll see what we'll do when we get to that first game (next Saturday against Minnesota), and have to make that decision."
Still, it was an upbeat Jackson as camp opened, compared to the guy that endured his back injury at the end of the 2009 season and played five of the final six games despite the pain that radiated down his leg.
"That last five, six weeks of the season was pretty painful," admitted. "But, pulling through I think I proved a lot to myself, to be able to fight through that pain and still be somewhat productive. I think I proved a lot to myself, and I'm really excited about the season and ready to get after it now."
--The Rams were hoping for some leadership and depth from defensive tackle Chris Hovan, but instead the team was quick to place him on injured reserve Aug. 6 because of a back injury.
Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "It's one of those, 'Is it going to be five days? Is it going to be three weeks? Is it going to be five weeks? We just need the guys out practicing and Chris understands that. Rather than play the waiting game, we decided to put him on IR.
"It could be one of those, it's a five-day rest deal and he bounces back but then he gets set back. You just don't know. What you don't want to do is go through three weeks of training camp and wear the other guys out because we don't have enough bodies. We just decided to go that route. Chris and I talked. He's a warrior."
--General manager Billy Devaney said "the light has gone on" for Larry Grant, who remains ahead of Bobby Carpenter on the depth chart at weak-side linebacker.
Asked about Carpenter's adjustment to the defense, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "It's taking a little while because it is a little bit different for him, but I see like even today he grabbed the jersey and I just remind him to cover with your feet. Don't be lazy and grab the jersey. He works really well with James Laurinaitis and all the other (Ohio State) Buckeye linebackers (grant and Na'il Diggs). They do; they have a good relationship, that whole group of linebackers. I think they're working pretty hard."
--Second-year running back Chris Ogbonnaya is expected to get a lot of playing time in the preseason opener Saturday against Minnesota. A seventh-round pick, Ogbonnaya was on the practice squad for most of the 2009 season before being active for the final six games and playing in the final two.
Noting one thing impressive about Ogbonnaya, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "You know what, you don't see this because you guys are probably not close enough to it. In the back when he's not even in for a rep, he's actually coaching the other guys or saying, 'Let's get going.' For a second-year guy that came in like he did and earned his way, he's starting to develop as kind of a vocal leader. He's a very smart football player. (Running backs) coach (Sylvester) Croom talks about it all the time. Just got to keep giving him the ball and keep letting him develop his running skills."
Said Ogbonnaya, "Even though I'm a young guy, having somewhat of a leadership role helps. I definitely want to help the team a lot more than I did last year. Being more vocal, especially now that I know what to do, helps everybody else get lined up and get in order.
"The older guys like it. They want me to be a little more confident, especially if I am going to be on the field. It helps the linemen. I think the linemen feed off that kind of stuff. You have somebody in your ear constantly telling you we just have to keep moving forward. It really helps."
As for what he can do on the field, Ogbonnaya said, "I know my abilities. I know that Steven (Jackson) trusts me, and I know that (fullback) Mike (Karney) trusts me to make plays and be in the right spot.
"As does coach Croom and the rest of the staff. It's my job to continue to do that and make sure that I'm doing my best in being disciplined in the offense."
--Former Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander visited the Rams Aug. 2 and is hopeful of eventually signing with the team.
Alexander had three knee surgeries during his career at Missouri, and then broke out last season with 113 receptions for 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, he suffered another knee injury during a Senior Bowl practice, underwent surgery and was cleared medically about three weeks ago. Alexander took a physical with the Rams, which he passed, but did not work out.
Said general manager Billy Devaney, "We had a really good visit with him. He's a classy, classy kid. Everybody in the building was glad to meet him. Everything we had heard about him was true. We'll continue to monitor his training, stay in touch, and see where we are as we go along."
The biggest question after rehabbing the entire offseason is how he would withstand practices. It's possible the Rams could sign him later in the summer, and hope to eventually add him to the practice squad.
"The Rams seemed like they're pretty interested, so we'll see what happens," Alexander told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I met Spags and he seemed like a good guy and seemed pretty excited to see me. I got a good vibe from everybody I met there."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm like stainless steel, man. Rustproof. But playing football is definitely something where muscle memory has to be re-acclimated. That's what I'm doing right now." -- Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe on being in training camp after missing the team's offseason work.
--CB Ron Bartell is sidelined with a sprained ankle suffered near the end of 9-on-7 passing drills Aug. 3.
--S James Butler could be sidelined for an extended period of time after suffered a sprained MCL in his knee.
--DT Chris Hovan was placed on injured reserve Aug. 6 because of a back injury suffered early in training camp.
--OG Mark Lewis was waived/injured Aug. 6 because of an ankle injury suffered in the first few days of training camp.
--LB Larry Grant continues to work with the first team at weak-side linebacker after a solid first week of training camp.
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