Behind Enemy Lines – The June Minicamps

June mini-camps are a time for rookie draft choices to continue to absorb the playbook and for veterans to work out the kinks before training camp opens in July.

Arizona – At the team’s most recent mini-camp, head coach Dennis Green and his staff have been introducing the game plans for their three NFC West opponents (Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis) while getting players accustomed to game week preparations that will take place during the season.

“Coach wanted us to go through a game-week mode because we’ve never done it with this staff before and so they went with the teams we know we are going to be seeing twice every year,” said starting QB Josh McCown. “It kind of refreshes you on the guys you are going to be facing in the fall.”

Players have seemed to take to the new offseason programs and turnout for camps has been excellent.

CB Duane Starks, who missed the entire 2003 season after tearing up his knee during preseason, has been testing out his surgically repaired knee during the team’s offseason workouts. The Cardinals hope, barring any setbacks, that Starks will be ready to go to when the regular season kicks off.

“It is time for me to start getting back into the game,” said Starks. “I’ve got about a month and a half left so time is flying by. I’ve got this defense down pretty well because it is similar to what I did back in Baltimore, but I need to get my confidence back. I’m really excited about the defense and how guys have picked their games up.”

Last season, the Cardinals ranked 26th in overall defense and 29th overall against the pass. A healthy Starks will upgrade a Cardinal defensive backfield that lacks playmakers.

San Francisco – Even though they made him the largest contract offer in franchise history, 49ers brass do not expect franchise LB Julian Peterson to ink his name on the dotted line anytime soon.

Niners GM Terry Donahue did not reveal details of the contract offer, but he did say it included a $15.5 million signing bonus.

"I think we've made our intentions really clear," Donahue said. "Julian Peterson is an important part of the organization, and he is a player we would like to have here for the long term or we would have never made that kind of offer to him."

Negotiations cannot resume with Peterson until July 15…only 15 days before training camp opens.

Two rookies to keep an eye on this summer are rookie DT Isaac Sopoaga and CB Shawntae Spencer. Sopoaga will see plenty of time in the 49ers DT rotation, which includes veterans Bryant Young, Michael Landry, and Anthony Adams. Spencer has seen time with the first unit in place of Mike Rumph at the minicamps and will battle Jimmy Williams for the nickel corner spot.

To give you a picture of the Niners’ cap predicament, one should look no further than the league-high $27 million in estimated “dead money” on their payroll. “Dead money” refers to money paid to former players who are no longer on the roster, but continue to count against the salary cap of a particular team. Former QB Jeff Garcia and WR Terrell Owens account for $15 million of that money, but the 49ers hope to be out of “cap hell” by 2006 and should be able to make runs at free-agents then.

St. Louis – Ram coaches and All Pro WR Torry Holt are in agreement with their happiness over the QB situation, even without former two-time league MVP Kurt Warner who was released on June 1st.

Starting QB Marc Bulger led the team to a 12-3 record in games he started; veteran Chris Chandler has experience and seems to feel very comfortable in head coach Mike Martz’s offense; and rookie Jeff Smoker, while raw, is a good athlete and is working hard on picking up the scheme.

Holt hopes to equal or better his stats from last season and he will need the QB situation to be as settled as can be in order for that to happen. Holt caught 117 passes for 1696 yards and 12 TD’s.

In other Ram news, the team retained the services of TE Cam Cleeland for at least one more season when the six-year veteran agreed to a one-year deal. Cleeland only caught 10 passes in 2003, but he adds a big-play element (14.5 yard per catch average) to the deep middle that starter Brandon Manumaleuna doesn’t. Cleeland will push Manumaleuna during camp, but no matter which player wins out, the other will see plenty of time.

Also, the Rams signed their first 2004 draft choice, when they inked fifth-rounder S Jason Shivers, to a four-year deal worth $1.031 million dollars.

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at Top Stories