Behind Enemy Lines – Training Camp Primer (Part 3)

Finally!!! Training camps around the league open this week and as teams prepare for four weeks of hell. .NET reporter Scott Eklund takes a look at player signings and players to watch.

St. Louis – The Rams became the first team in the NFC West to sign their first-round draft choice. On Sunday, it was announced that RB Steven Jackson, formerly of Oregon State, had agreed to a five-year deal,worth $7 million. The deal includes a $4 million signing bonus and assures that Jackson, the 24th player selected and the first RB taken in the April NFL Draft, will be in camp on time.

Last week it was reported that head coach Mike Martz was a little perturbed by Jackson’s absence and Martz didn’t hold back in his analysis of the situation.

"To think that any back is going to come in and alternate with a guy who's been an MVP and is headed for the Hall of Fame . . . without ever doing anything, is just insane," Martz said last Wednesday. "He missed all of spring, and then he was supposed to be here this (past) weekend and didn't show up. So, we're just going to move on."

Martz also seems to think it is a longshot for Jackson to see significant time.

"He's so far behind right now, whatever he can do is a bonus," Martz said. "If he can catch up, God bless him. ... All that glitz and glamour of being the No. 1 guy, he's going to have to shake that off and go to work. Whatever he does on this football team, he's going to earn every inch of it. Nothing's going to be given to him."

Also, keep an eye on the Orlando Pace situation as camp gets underway. After all of the draft choices are signed (two remain unsigned as of this writing), Pace is the number one priority for the Rams front office.

Pace’s agent, Carl Poston, has been negotiating with Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt on a multiyear contract and Martz is cautiously optimistic Pace will be in camp sooner than in 2003.

“I expect him to be at camp probably a little sooner than he was last year. I think he understands the effect it has on this team. And also, no matter how hard he thinks he's training, it's not the same. It takes awhile to get going."

With Pace and RT Kyle Turley the Rams have the best tackle tandem in the league.

Arizona – Third-year DT Wendell Bryant did not help his cause with head coach Dennis Green as he was arrested and booked on drunken driving charges in Madison, Wisconsin on June 27th. He was due to appear in court last Thursday and his status for the beginning of the season is in doubt.

Bryant has been, to this point, a huge bust as a defensive tackle. He was drafted 12th overall in 2002 and in two seasons he has started 26 games, recorded 28 tackles and only 1.5 sacks.

During the teams’ offseason mini-camps, rookie DT Darnell Dockett looked much better than Bryant and most insiders projected that Dockett could be getting a majority of snaps during the season at the “under” tackle spot.

Keep an eye on this situation.

With only one week until camp opens up the Cardinals have not signed one of their draft choices, so expect a rush of signings this week as Cardinals coaches are eager to get top draft choice Larry Fitzgerald in the fold as soon as possible.

San Francisco – DE Brandon Whiting, who was acquired from the Eagles in the Terrell Owens deal, is expected to be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery by mid-August. The team likes Whiting’s size (6’4”, 285 lbs.) because it plans to use more 3-4 sets this season. Whiting has the bulk to play end in that alignment, something the other ends on the 49er's roster do not possess.

Look for a big year from TE Eric Johnson, who missed all of 2003 with a broken collarbone. He is not a good blocker, but his speed allows him to get downfield and threaten the edges of a defense. With an inexperienced wide receiver corps and a young QB, Johnson’s abilities as an outlet receiver will be needed.

Fourth-round DT Isaac Sopoaga inked a deal over the weekend and that is good news for the Niners. Sopoaga is expected to see ample time in the teams’ defensive tackle rotation. Senior member Bryant Young, who is a ten-year veteran, and second-year player Anthony Adams are the projected starters, but Sopoaga’s strength and his ability to hold strong at the point of attack will be utilized all season.

QB Tim Rattay has made an amazing recovery from a torn groin muscle in May. Rattay has been running and is expected to see limited action during preseason. Head coach Dennis Erickson expects Rattay to start the final two preseason games and be behind center when the team takes on Atlanta at home on September 12th.

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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