Behind Enemy Lines - "Downtime"

Midway through June and on through the end of July is the only real "down period" for NFL players and coaches. However, relative inactivity does not mean that things don't happen. .NET reporter Scott Eklund has the inside scoop on the Hawks' NFC West rivals.

Arizona – Head coach Dennis Green surprised some insiders by naming 35-year-old Emmitt Smith as the starter heading into training camp. This caught people off guard a little, since three-year veteran Marcel Shipp is also available in the Cardinal backfield.

Shipp has led the Cardinals in rushing each of the last two seasons and most in and around the organization expected him to start the season as the number one back. Green, however, decided to go with experience, stating that Smith’s style of play fits better with his vision for the offense.

"With the style of play we are going to have, Emmitt Smith is now our No. 1 running back," Green said. "I think as we try to counter-punch teams, and beat them over the top with big plays, we need a back who is really good at finding seams ... and I think he fits perfectly in our three-wide receiver (offense)."

Shipp still figures to see plenty of action as the third-down back this season, while Smith will most likely see a bulk of his carries on first and second down.

In other Cardinals news, even with the presence of starter Josh McCown and backups Shaun King and John Navarre, Green signed undrafted free agent QB Chris Lewis to a contract. Lewis will battle Navarre for the number three spot or at the very least he stands a good chance of hitting the practice squad to develop further.

St. Louis – DE Leonard Little’s situation became a lot clearer last week, when Missouri law enforcement officials indicted him on charges of speeding and as a persistent offender with driving while intoxicated. Little’s lawyer indicated that he would plead not guilty to all charges.

Driving while intoxicated is typically a misdemeanor, but because Little plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 1998, when he caused an accident that killed a St. Louis woman, the charges were upped to a felony indictment.

Many inside and outside the organization have speculated that Little will likely receive a suspension from the league for the incident, but because it falls under the purview of the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies no one knows when or if that will happen.

If convicted, Little could face up to four years in jail.

In a move that might be related to Little’s status, the Rams signed unrestricted free agent Bernard Holsey away from the Washington Redskins for a one year contract. Holsey, who is a seven-year veteran, started every game for the Redskins in 2003. It is expected that Holsey’s acquisition will allow new defensive coordinator to Larry Marmie to rotate one of his tackles to an end position, thus providing the Rams with a big front-four who can stuff the run as well as get pressure on the QB.

San Francisco – Following an offseason of question marks that still remain after their final mini-camp, head coach Dennis Erickson doesn’t have a lot of answers for several key positions. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t have any question about his starting tailback, Kevan Barlow.

"He's taking over," Erickson said. "Kevan knows he's the guy now and that's made a huge difference in the offseason, it's made a huge difference in all our minicamps."

During his first three seasons in the NFL, Barlow shared time and carries with veteran RB Garrison Hearst. Hearst has moved on to an opportunity with the Denver Broncos and Barlow knows this is his chance to shine.

"I'm excited and I'm ready," Barlow said. "I'm setting some extreme goals for myself that I know I can reach."

Barlow played well at the end of the season, rushing for 433 yards and four TD’s in the final four games of the season, including two 150-yard performances. He hopes an offseason of strength and conditioning will allow him to top 350 carries, taking pressure off the Niners’ young QB’s.

In what could be considered a surprising move, the 49ers released four-year veteran RT Greg Randall after the coaches determined that some younger players had out-performed him during the team’s mini-camps.

Randall, who started all 16 games for the Houston Texans in 2003, had never missed a game due to injury. He had started in 39 of 51 games during that span and was expected to at least compete for playing time during camp.

In other camp news, projected starting cornerback Mike Rumph missed the final two days of camp with a pulled hamstring. Rest and stretching should allow Rumph to start training camp at 100%, but coaches will be keeping a close eye on his progress.

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