Behind Enemy Lines – NFC West at a glance

With the regular season underway and teams either licking their wounds or optimistic about their prospects for the new season NFC West news was fast and furious this last week.

St. Louis – In they eyes of Rams linebacker coach Joe Vitt it shouldn't come as a surprise why rookie Brandon Chillar started ahead of three-year veteran Tommy Polley. "Chillar just had a better training camp," Vitt said. "He's a big, sturdy guy with range, a good, physical player who can move and has good change of direction, and we think he's going to be a real asset to our LB corps."

Two-year veteran MLB Robert Thomas also received a generous helping of praise from Vitt as well. "He (Thomas) has been outstanding. He had a really good training camp. He didn't miss any significant time due to injury, and his maturity and understanding of recognitions really looks like it's kicked in in his third season."

Thomas flew around and made plays all over the field against the Cardinals in week one registering six tackles and making all the adjustments needed in new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie's scheme.

Standout LT Orlando Pace reported to camp a "svelte" 325 pounds, 20 pounds less than he reported to camp in 2003, by working out on his own and by eliminating fried foods and cutting down on his soft-drink intake.

"I feel light years better than I did last year," Pace said. "I feel a lot quicker, a lot fresher. That was one of the elements I dealt with last year, just trying to get the weight down."

Many insiders believe that Pace played better in the season opening win versus the Arizona Cardinals, after practicing only three days, than he played all of last year.

One other player who played better than he has in a long time was starting RB Marshall Faulk. It was rumored during the offseason that his knee was causing him some problems, but you would never have known it as Faulk ran for 128 yards on 22 carries.

"He had an outstanding coming-out party," rookie RB Steven Jackson said. "And I think he answered a lot of questions about his knee." Jackson saw limited action running for 50 yards on seven carries.

Next Game: @ Atlanta, September 19th

San Francisco – After dealing with a nagging hamstring injury during training camp, first-round selection Rashaun Woods has really begun to come on and is pushing for plenty of playing time. Woods' combination of strong hands, crisp route-running and leaping ability make him dangerous in a crowd.

Woods scored a touchdown in the preseason finale and head coach Dennis Erickson is excited with the prospect of having Woods and the acrobatic Brandon Lloyd on fade routes in goal-line situations.

The opening game of the season featured the Niners versus the Atlanta Falcons and their new head coach, former 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr.

After a sloppily played game that was won by the Falcons, Mora could only heap praise on players from both teams.

"It may sound crazy, but I was extremely proud of our defense, and I was also proud of their defense," Mora said. "Those are some guys that I coached for a long time."

Starting Niners QB Tim Rattay left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder problem after being sacked by Falcons DT Rod Coleman, but returned later to lead a torrid comeback that fell just short.

"I was pretty hazy," Rattay said. "I don't know if I got a concussion or not. ... I didn't play very well, but it's all about winning or losing, not how you played."

In a bit of bad news, the Niners likely lost third-year corner Mike Rumph to a groin injury during the game. He is currently listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Next Game: @ New Orleans, September 19th

Arizona – Third-year DT Wendell Bryant should consider himself lucky that the Cardinals are paper-thin at the defensive tackle position. He was already considered a bust after recording only 1.5 sacks in 26 career games and a DUI arrest during the offseason didn't help matters in the eyes of new head coach Dennis Green.

Now he is serving a four-game suspension and even though, due to privacy matters, it is unclear why Bryant is serving the suspension, it is not a far reach to think it is possibly more than that the DUI arrest.

Some insiders claim that Bryant had made strides this offseason under the watchful eyes of Green and defensive line coach Deek Pollard but he was still a ways off from pushing starting NT Russell Davis.

Grey-beard Emmitt Smith dusted off some of the rust and had a solid game behind a patchwork offensive line, running for 87 yards and a touchdown in his best game in two seasons.

"The way I see it, it wasn't that good of a game," Smith said. "When you turn the ball over three times, there's no way that team that turned the ball over should be winning the game."

Next Game: vs. New England, September 19th

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