Behind Enemy Lines – NFC West offseason

Teams within the division continue to evaluate their talent and prepare for offseason workouts.

Arizona – Head coach Dennis Green has made it no secret that he will not tolerate players who report out of shape. The offseason conditioning program, while "optional", is considered by Green to be invaluable to players staying in shape and not missing time during training camp with pulled muscles.

Two players who could find themselves on the outside looking in are offensive tackles L.J.. Shelton and Anthony Clement. Either one or both of them could be gone before the June minicamps if Green determines the two veterans aren't putting out the effort he demands of his players.

Shelton spent the entire season in Green's doghouse as he reported to minicamp last spring overweight and out of shape. Shelton had undergone ankle surgery and gained weight while letting the injury heal. Clement started the first month of the season but then gave way to the more athletic Shelton. A knee injury sidelined Shelton for the rest of the season and Green has noted the Shelton has been working out at the team's practice facility more diligently than last year.

Another player who will need to have a good offseason is DE Calvin Pace. Green wants Pace to add bulk and improve his strength so he can hold up against the run and Green was unhappy the Pace worked out on his own last offseason.

ESPN NFL Columnists John Clayton and Chris Mortensen are both reporting the Future Hall-of-Fame RB Emmitt Smith, who played the last two season's for the Cardinals will call it quits this week, possibly announcing his decision this Thursday in Jacksonville.

During the season Smith, who is 35 and will be a free agent when his contract expires in March, mused that he may return or sign with another team because he felt the best he had in several seasons.

"I will, in some way, shape or form," said Smith who has made it clear he wants to retire as a Dallas Cowboy. "There's always a chance (of not playing in 2005). Somebody has got to want me, and if they don't want me, then what? ... I want to play. I want to do what I want to do."

There is a chance that Smith may sign a short-term contract with the Cowboys and end his career soon thereafter.

St. Louis – The sparks have continued to fly between RT Kyle Turley and head coach Mike Martz, all but assuring that Turley has played his last down as a Ram.

Turley has continued to bad-mouth his coach to the press since a much publicized verbal confrontation at team headquarters late in the season. Turley had been on injured reserve rehabbing a neck injury that some close to the team feel is career ending.

The loss of Turley means that the Rams again will be shuffling their offensive line yet again in hopes of finding a solid pass-blocking right tackle. Inexperienced Blaine Saipaia didn't embarrass himself as the starter at right tackle, but his size and skill set make him more suitable for guard. The team is considering moving Saipaia to left guard and Scott Tercero to right tackle. Tercero has the footwork and athleticism to play right tackle, but the Rams need to bring in someone else to challenge him, be it through the draft or the free agent market.

One key addition to the coaching staff is new secondary coach Kurt Shottenheimer. Schottenheimer brings an established resume, one that includes stints with three NFL clubs as a defensive coordinator, and he has plenty of experience running the mixed coverages that are the new staple of the St. Louis coverage scheme.

Schottenheimer and special teams coach Bob Ligashesky are the only new additions to the staff, the least amount of turnover under Martz, who will be entering his sixth season as head coach.

San Francisco – Head coach Mike Nolan continues to fill out his coaching staff hiring former New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy to coach the Niners offense.

McCarthy vows to bring the West Coast system back to the franchise that made it so trendy. He learned the nuances of the West Coast offense from Paul Hackett, and he gained more insight during two years as a Chiefs assistant while Joe Montana finished his career there.

McCarthy will need better offensive line play and upgrades at most positions, especially at quarterback and wide receiver. He inherits an offense that ranked among the league's worst in 2004 and strayed from the system that Bill Walsh once made so dynamic. Although he didn't run a West Coast system the past five years as coordinator of the Saints productive offense, McCarthy is fond of its flexibility in terms of personnel, something the 49ers will need as they battle depth problems and try unearthing new talent.

FB Fred Beasley is among those excited that the basic West Coast system will be emphasized once again. Beasley, a 2003 Pro Bowler, had been concerned his services as a dominant lead blocker might not be needed if the 49ers brought in more of a pass-heavy scheme. He called McCarthy's hiring "music to his ears," which bodes well for team morale since he has evolved into one of its most vocal veteran leaders.

On the injury front, C Jeremy Newberry is on pace to recover from a injury plagued 2004 season. He is recovering nicely from the surgery to his right knee and his back problems have eased enough to allow him to lift weights and do cardiovascular work.

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


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