Behind Enemy Lines – Disputes and Changes Galore!

Veteran mini-camps are in full swing and there are notable veterans are missing from some of the Hawks' division rivals.

St. Louis - The Rams opened their veteran mini-camp without three starters from 2003. Franchise OT Orlando Pace, soon-to-be-cut QB Kurt Warner and DE Leonard Little all were missing when head coach Mike Martz and the Ram players took to the practice fields at the team's facility.

Little was excused from the mini-camp as he "clears his head", according to Martz. Little is facing a possible suspension from the league for an alcohol related traffic incident on April 24th. He is expected to join the team for workouts in June.

The team cannot negotiate with Pace and his agents until after July 15th, when teams and franchise players may negotiate long-term contracts. The signing of QB Marc Bulger to a $19 million contract makes it likely that Pace will have a prolonged holdout. Last year, during negotiations, Pace was rumored to be asking for a $20 million signing bonus. The fact that Bulger got $9 million makes it more and more likely that Pace’s demands will be in the $20 million range again.

Warner will be cut after June 1st and while most “experts” have him headed to New York to land the starting job with the Giants, Detroit has stepped up as another possible suitor. Lions management is still not completely sold on QB Joey Harrington and with a new RB in rookie Kevin Jones, and two stud WR’s in rookie Roy Williams and second-year wideout Charles Rogers, the Lions are interested in veteran leadership to guide this up-and-coming offensive talent.

Warner is still likely to head to the Big Apple but don’t be surprised if he heads up to the Motor City to team with head coach Steve Mariucci.

San Francisco – The secondary for the 49ers will see some different faces in different positions when the season kicks off in September. Starting FS Zach Bronson has been granted the right to seek a trade and has been told if none can be worked out, he will be released after June 1st. The Niners have $30 million in dead cap money and need the $1.75 million Bronson’s contract counts against the cap to sign their rookie draft choices.

The versatile Dwaine Carpenter started the final game of 2003 and the team is very high on him getting playing time in 2004. During the team’s recent mini-camp, four-year veteran Ronnie Heard was getting most of the snaps at the FS spot, but Carpenter was rotating in as well.

Since San Francisco’s safety spots are interchangeable, look for stud SS Tony Parish to get looks at FS as well, with the possibility of making a permanent switch if Bronson’s replacement struggles.

Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph are the starters at the corner spots and rookie CB Shawntae Spencer will most likely be the nickel back.

Rumph improved from his rookie season, but still has a long way to go in matching up with outside receivers. He is best suited right now for the nickel spot but with Plummer signing an extension and the team in dire straits cap-wise, no veteran starting CB will be acquired before the season.

Plummer is solid but lacks the strength to matchup against the best WR on the opposing team. He is best suited as the second corner, but he is the best that the Niners have.

One notable player who is absent from the team’s offseason program is franchise LB Julian Peterson. Since he received the franchise tag he is eligible for a $6 million contract. Even with this heft payday, it is unlikely that Peterson will report to training camp on time. He and his representatives have stated that the five-year veteran will not play without a long-term deal.

Arizona – The Cardinals are very excited about their WR corps. Enough cannot be said about the job then-rookie WR Anquan Boldin did in 2003, and the acquisition of WR Larry Fitzgerald with the third overall selection in the 2004 draft added an explosive element to the mix.

One player to keep an eye on is 2003 first-rounder WR Bryant Johnson. His 35 receptions for 438 yards and one TD fell far short of expectations. As a starter, he lacked the separation skills required to beat NFL corners and struggled to read defenses. With Fitzgerald and Boldin taking over the starting spots, Johnson will be facing nickel and dime corners and he will be working the middle of the field, where he can excel.

New head coach Dennis Green wants to use multiple receiver formations and this will give Johnson ample opportunities to exploit the single coverage he is likely to see.

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes "Behind Enemy Lines" every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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