NFC West: Preseason Battles & Awards
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Outside linebacker Travis LaBoy returned to practice after missing nearly two weeks with a concussion. Even without the concussion, the 49ers had been taking it easy on LaBoy's still-healing foot injury, which caused him to sit out the 2009 season. LaBoy has true pass-rush skills, including 23.5 career sacks, but he is being challenged by second-year player Diyral Briggs. A defensive end at Bowling Green, Briggs is making a nice transition to NFL linebacker as shown by an interception in last week's preseason game in Indianapolis.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Second-year player Alex Boone is pushing veteran Barry Sims to be the back-up left tackle. Boone played well on the left side against the Colts, and he has been practicing on the right side as well. Sims, meanwhile, has the coaches' trust after filling in well for injury Joe Staley in the second half of the 2009 season.
ROOKIE REPORT: While Mike Iupati played well at left guard in his first NFL game, his counterpart at right tackle, Anthony Davis, struggled. Davis seemed to be particularly troubled by the speed of Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, who easily got around the edge on Davis. The rookie and right guard Chilo Rachal also had poor communication in pass protection, a problem that must be ironed out before the season begins.
INJURY REPORT: Both WR Michael Crabtree (neck) and TE Vernon Davis (knee) were limited in practice this week and didn't play against the Vikings, but neither injury seems serious. Davis strained his knee after landing awkwardly on a pass attempt. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks was cleared to ride a stationary bicycle as he attempts to return from a lacerated kidney.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Julius Jones vs. Justin Forsett for starting RB job -- Forsett replaced Jones in the starting lineup for the second preseason game, but only gained 14 yards against Green Bay. Leon Washington is expected to get the start in the third preseason game.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Cornerback Kelly Jennings struggled in covering Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley out on the perimeter. Jennings continues to battle Josh Wilson for the starting cornerback job opposite Marcus Trufant.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: LB Tyjuan Hagler -- The six-year veteran had four tackles, an interception and a pass deflection. He could provide some depth at linebacker for Seattle if they chose to move on from Leroy Hill.
ROOKIE REPORT: Defensive end Dexter Davis continues to impress. He finished with a team-high six tackles, include a sack, forced fumble and recovery on the same play. Receiver Golden Tate has yet to get going, with just three catches for 21 yards in two games.
INJURY REPORT: Offensive lineman Chester Pitts (knee) and cornerback Josh Pinkard (knee) remain on the active PUP list, which means they still count against the 80-man roster and can be activated at any time. Linebacker Leroy Hill still is out with a sprained knee. Offensive tackle Ray Willis is scheduled to have arthroscopic knee surgery to repair an ailing knee. Cornerback Kelly Jennings suffered a hyper-extended left elbow. Offensive tackle Russell Okung has a possible, high-ankle sprain. Defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer suffered a knee and ankle injury.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Danny Amendola vs. Mardy Gilyard for slot receiver job -- Amendola is winning, but Gilyard made strides last week after returning from a forearm injury. Against Cleveland, Gilyard had three punt returns for 49 yards and three kickoff returns for 70 yards. Both will likely make the roster, and could share time at receiver and split up the return jobs.
OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: With TE Michael Hoomanawanui working at fullback, it could be a way for the team to keep four tight ends and could make Mike Karney expendable. TEs Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema are solid, and the Rams love the potential of TE Fendi Onobun.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: PK Josh Brown -- Brown didn't kick in the first preseason game after missing time with a muscle issue below his hip flexor that occurred while warming up prior to the team's Aug. 7 scrimmage. Brown was back Saturday night and made all four of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 28-yarder with 3:29 remaining in the game. Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "He was ready to go. I thought maybe we were going to have to limit the area he would have to kick field goals. He said, 'Coach I'm fine,' at the beginning of the game and he kicked them. I tell you one of those; (holder) Donnie Jones was the reason. When he got that ball it was down, and he got it back up and Josh kicked it through. The operation of center (Chris Massey)-kicker-holder was so huge. And those three guys have worked together for a long time, so it's good to have them out there."
ROOKIE REPORT: Rodger Saffold remains the starter at left tackle, and will remain there ... LB Josh Hull, a seventh-round pick, is around the ball and is solid on special teams. He is making a push to win a roster spot ... WR Dominique Curry, an undrafted free agent, is making his presence felt on special teams. ... DE George Selvie, who was having a presence as a pass rusher, missed the game against Cleveland because of a leg injury and is unlikely to play this week.
INJURY REPORT: QB Sam Bradford could end up starting Thursday night against New England with A.J. Feeley having injured the thumb on his throwing hand. In a shortened week, the Rams will just have two practices before leaving for New England on Wednesday.
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