The pre-camp signing of RB Shaun Alexander, even to a one-year deal, was huge for the Seahawks. Now the team can focus on football without the distraction of another high-profile contract dispute. "We didn't need the distraction," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I thought this would happen from the beginning, anyway."
Conventional wisdom said Alexander would sign in time to collect his weekly regular-season paychecks. But most thought Alexander would miss all or part of training camp in the interim. Instead, Alexander missed only the first few days, and then only because his wife recently gave birth to the couple's second child.
"My advice to him was always to come in and sign the tender," Holmgren said. "Then it's yours and then we can keep trying to do something for the future." But the Seahawks still aren't sure whether they want to sign Alexander for the long term. The front office has yet to offer a long-term deal, and new president Tim Ruskell sounds reluctant to do so until he watches Alexander up close.
"We will talk again," Ruskell said. "I know their people (agents) real well and they are going to stay in touch with me and we will just see how that goes. You can't put a timeline on that."
Alexander's production is unquestioned. He set a franchise record with 1,696 yards rushing last season. He has never missed a game to injury. He is the only player in NFL history to score at least 15 touchdowns in four consecutive seasons. And at age 27 - he turns 28 later this month - Alexander probably has a few more productive seasons.
The Seahawks just aren't sure whether they want to pay top dollar for a player who might not be a perfect fit for the organization. Ruskell has emphasized selfless team play, criticizing those who put individual stats ahead of the team. The comments seemed to be directed at Alexander for his outburst following Seattle's victory over Atlanta in the regular-season finale.
Alexander famously accused Holmgren of stabbing him in the back for failing to help win the league rushing title (Alexander finished a yard behind Curtis Martin after Holmgren called a QB sneak for a TD in the final minutes).
The Seahawks would also like Alexander to polish his pass blocking. The team replaces him in obvious passing situations.
Ruskell will be watching closely this season to see if Alexander fits into his vision. The evidence so far suggests Alexander will be elsewhere next season. Why else would Seattle promise not to name him its franchise or transition player in 2006? "I am going to take some time and evaluate that, not just Shaun, but obviously the whole team," Ruskell said. "The fit, the scheme, what we are trying to do and going into the future."
A first-round pick from Alabama in 2000, Alexander has carried 1,347 times for 5,937 yards and 62 touchdowns in five seasons. He has also scored 10 touchdowns receiving.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck is adjusting to life without QB Trent Dilfer, who was traded to Cleveland. The two were best friends and legendary pranksters during their time together in Seattle. "It is strange," Hasselbeck said. "He screens my phone calls, he doesn't call me back. I called him recently and told him I hit our local coffee shop the people that work there were asking about him.
"He called me right back and said, 'Did they really ask about me?' I said, 'No, I made that up.' "
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks have moved CB Marcus Trufant from the left to right side. The team wants to protect Trufant's surgically repaired right shoulder. Moving him to the right side will allow Trufant to make his left shoulder dominant in tackling.
"I'm feeling good and everything is full go," Trufant said. "There is no holding back." Trufant has undergone two surgeries on the right shoulder since coming to Seattle as a first-round pick in 2003. He has yet to miss a start, but the shoulder has been a concern. "For Marcus, it seems to be an OK adjustment right now," Holmgren said. "We will see. We have to feel good about it during preseason."
--WR Bobby Shaw signed with the Seahawks as insurance after the team lost WR Alex Bannister to a broken collarbone. Shaw entered the league with Seattle as a sixth-round pick in 1998.
--C Chris Spencer has missed the first few days of camp while his agent works out a contract. Spencer's absence is not significant because the team does not expect him to play right away.
--WR Jerheme Urban looks like he's ready to become a regular target for QB Matt Hasselbeck. Urban is a big target with good hands. He is also an extremely hard worker who keeps getting better. But at 6-3, he needs to make sure defenders don't get under his pads and jam him too hard at the line of scrimmage. If Urban improves his release, he could be a factor this season.
--DT Marcus Tubbs has been the best DL in camp so far. Look for him to win a starting job in his second season. Tubbs is in better shape this year and it's showing.
--FS Ken Hamlin is not expected to return from his shoulder injury until the third preseason game. Injuries have slowed Hamlin during his two seasons in the league. He has the potential to be an impact player if knee and shoulder problems subside.
INJURY REPORT: CB Marcus Trufant is back from shoulder surgery and practicing. Also back from injuries were LG Steve Hutchinson (shoulder), TE Ryan Hannam (knee), S Marquand Manuel (wrist) and DT Rashad Moore (shoulder). FS Ken Hamlin (shoulder) hopes to return for the third exhibition game. He is not yet practicing. Others missing practice include P Ryan Dutton (shin), CB Kevin House (arm), DE LB Cornelius Wortham (in and out of practice - hamstring), WR Alex Bannister (collarbone) and DT Cedric Woodard (knee). Hamlin, Bannister and Wortham have participated in conditioning drills.
While it might be true that an army travels on its stomach, the Cardinals suspected that their army could not travel on stomach flu.
Following an outbreak of a virus that produces flu-like symptoms at Northern Arizona University - their training camp home since moving to Arizona in 1988 -- the Cardinals quickly patched together training and lodging accommodations and moved camp to Prescott, Ariz. The norovirus at NAU first appeared two weeks before the scheduled opening of Cardinals camp during a wrestling camp in which the majority of the campers, who were staying in the dormitory in which the Cardinals would have stayed, began suffering symptoms. Many required hospitalization.
Prescott is located at roughly mile-high elevation, about a 2,000-foot come-down from Flagstaff's 7,000 feet that often grabbed the uninitiated around the neck and threw them for a loss. Rookies and those who reported out of shape were the usual victims.
The elevation at Prescott is sufficient to give the players relief from the triple-digit temperatures on the desert floor back in the Phoenix area.
The opening workout was on Monday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where the team will be housed and train until Aug. 11. After their first preseason game in Tempe against Dallas, the team will move to a Prescott suites motel and train on three fields lined up by Prescott officials on very short notice - Keebler Field, Pioneer Park and Ken Lindley Field.
All practices in Prescott will be open to the public at no charge. The Cardinals break camp on Aug. 24.
"I cannot overstate our appreciation to everyone in Prescott who has bent over backwards to accommodate our team," said Rod Graves, Cardinals Vice President of Football Operations. "We've been able to quickly secure a very positive situation for our training camp."
"Since becoming aware of the situation at NAU, we spent a considerable amount of time in discussions with University officials, outside health professionals and our own medical personnel to determine the best course of action," Graves said.
"The overwhelming concern, obviously, was the health and well-being of our team. Despite what have been extraordinary efforts on the part of everyone at NAU to accommodate our team, in the end even the slightest risk of exposure was something we cannot chance. Because of that, we feel this is the most appropriate approach to take."
Following their second straight offseason of upgrading their roster under the direction of coach Dennis Green, the Cardinals are the pick of many prognosticators to win the NFC West.
--The "Sod God," Cardinals turf manager Tim Peterson, and crew quickly faced new challenges in preparing fields in Prescott, Ariz., on short notice after the team's training camp was moved from Flagstaff, Ariz., following an outbreak of norovirus.
Peterson, to his relief, found the fields in Prescott to be in workable condition. He had only to spruce them up to NFL standards. The biggest job: spreading about 400 tons of sand on the fields following aeration to provide a layer between the grass and the clay base underneath. Peterson says that should aid traction.
--A critical job opening is punt returner following the departure of veteran Karl Williams.
Among the parade of those likely to audition: first-round pick Antrel Rolle, recently signed J.R. Redmond and seventh-round pick LeRon McCoy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Anquan Boldin, who made the Pro Bowl after setting an NFL rookie record with 101 catches in 2003, signed a contract extension through 2010. A knee injury limited him to 10 games (nine starts) last season. Still, he caught 56 passes for 623 yards and one touchdown.
--RB J.J. Arrington, a second round pick (44th overall) from California who is expected to push veteran Marcel Shipp for the starting job, signed a four-year contract. At Cal last season, Arrington was the only back in the country to rush for more than 2,000 yards, topping 100 yards in every game.
--CB Eric Green, a third-round pick (75th overall) from Virginia Tech who is expected to push veteran Robert Macklin for the starting job opposite fellow rookie Antrel Rolle, signed a three-year contract.
--OLB Darryl Blackstock, a third-round pick (95th overall) from Virginia who is expected to be a strong-side backup, signed a three-year contract. As a junior last season, he led the ACC and ranked 11th nationally with 11 sacks.
--G Elton Brown, a fourth-round pick (111th overall) from Virginia who is expected to battle part-time starter Jeremy Bridges and defensive-end convert Fred Wakefield for the starting spot on the right side, signed a three-year contract. He was an All-America and regarded as the best guard in the draft by most draft gurus.
--DT Wendell Bryant, the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2002 who never lived up to his pass-rushing hype in college at Wisconsin, was released. He was among a string of recent former first-round picks who did not pan out for the team, seriously setting back their rebuilding and salary-cap management.
--DT Devone Claybrooks, who has kicked around with Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, San Francisco and Dallas since attempting to enter the league as an undrafted rookie in 2001, signed a one-year contract. He is expected to be nothing more than an extra camp body in a defensive line rotation that is deep in veterans.
--J.R. Redmond, an Arizona State product who made key receptions in the New England Patriots' closing game-winning drive against St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, signed with the team. He will be looked at as the punt returner and third back. Redmond was with Oakland the past two seasons. Phoenix fans will remember Redmond for being ASU's offensive MVP three times (1997-1999). He still ranks third in ASU history with 3,210 rushing yards during his career.
--LB Eric Johnson, a Phoenix Alhambra High product who has played five seasons with Atlanta and Oakland, signed. He will add experienced depth to a thin linebacking corps. His claim to fame was scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl for the Raiders against Tampa Bay on a blocked punt.
--RB James Jackson, the third round pick of Cleveland in 2001, signed a contract and will enter the derby for the No. 3 and possibly No. 2 running back position.
--LB Leon Joe, who is dealing with a brush with the law in the Washington, D.C. area, was cut. His appearances last season were primarily on special teams. He was arrested on June 30 on suspicion of possessing a pistol without a license.
--WR Luke Powell, who was expected to be nothing more than a training-camp body, was cut. He was in the San Diego Chargers camp in 2004 before signing with the Cardinals in January.
--LB Ron McKinnon, the team's starting middle linebacker since 1997 who was not offered another contract, signed a one-year deal with New Orleans. McKinnon made 200-tackle seasons the norm behind weak lines. He was a respected veteran in the locker room.
INJURY REPORT - All eyes will be on RB Marcel Shipp, who missed all of last season after suffering a fractured lower leg and dislocated ankle in the intra-squad scrimmage (the intra-squad scrimmage has been eliminated this year as a result). Shipp was the team's rushing leader in 2003 and 2002. ... Not only does he face the uncertainty of coming back from surgery, he now also faces a challenge from rookie RB J.J. Arrington, a second-round pick.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Evidence of where Rams running back Steven Jackson is in the second year of his career occurred when he was handed a yellow jersey for the start of training camp.
"I didn't know if it was for a photo shoot or something," Jackson said.
What it meant was that Jackson and backup Marshall Faulk are hands off in running drills.
"You get guys flying around, bumping into guys and we don't want to take a chance with them," coach Mike Martz said. "The other guys get tagged. Steven and Marshall just get touched. They have to get their run reads down, but we know what they are. The contact will come in the preseason (games)."
Jackson enters camp as the starter, and looks primed to have a huge season. "Steven is going to be a big workhorse for us," left tackle Orlando Pace said. "We are going to get him the ball, hopefully open up some big holes for him and he should have a big year."
Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "He has that attitude of all good backs that he wants the ball every time. Even in practice he is starting to be a lot more vocal in the huddle and it's great to have that."
That confidence is nothing new.
"He's been that way since he got here," coach Mike Martz said. "He has that aura about him of a guy like Marshall and Isaac (Bruce). He has that special way of carrying himself, and that quiet confidence that makes him special. I just have visions of him doing great things. I really do. I think Steven's capable of being a dominant back, ultimately. Obviously, he's not there yet.
"He has the quickness, the agility of that little guy. And he's that power runner as well. He can run through those arm tackles and be very physical. We can play power football with him down after down. He can take that punishment."
Jackson recalled the day in February he learned that Martz had named him the starter ahead of Faulk.
"I was on vacation at the time and I saw it come across on ESPN and when I did see it come across, the phone started ringing off the hook," Jackson said. "It was one of those things I was pleased to hear. I didn't expect it as soon as it was, but at the same time it gave me time to prepare mentally coming into this (camp).
"It's one of those things where now I feel I'm ready to start and pursue my dream."
But Jackson still respects the man behind on the depth chart.
"I will never forget who the starter was," he said. "People around here love him, you are going to see 28 jerseys around the stadium, around the city so I am never going to forget who I replaced, but at the same time I am going to keep moving forward. You can never know more than the teacher. I am going to keep watching him, keep asking questions. I'm only in year two, he's in year 12. I still have a lot of things I can learn from him. He's the master right now."
Early in camp, Martz has sounded like a coach who might be not quite as fast and furious as he has been in the past.
"We've retooled a lot of what we are doing in that running game from a personnel standpoint," Martz said. "It's going to be a brand new factor in our offensive effort in a major way."
And Jackson will be the focal point.
--Camp opened without first-round pick Alex Barron, who remained unsigned. "I know his agent (Roosevelt Barnes) has got an awful lot of guys he's trying to do," coach Mike Martz said. "I know Alex wants to be here. I think he's a little bit of a victim of an agent with a lot of top players, so it might take a day or two for Alex to get in here. There's really nothing that we can do about that. I'm not concerned about it."
However, three days later and Barron still absent, Martz was singing a different tune. "It's really unfortunate," Martz said. "This is my first experience with somebody not in camp and I'm not very pleased. Guys around him have signed. I believe these guys get a lot of bad advice.
"Every practice that he misses he's light years behind. He can't come back and recover that. It's just impossible. Anybody who is out of camp now is not just hurting himself, but he's hurting the football team."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Just before the start of training camp, the Rams surprisingly cut offensive lineman Scott Tercero, who underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason. Tercero filled in at several positions last season, and coaches liked his promise. However, while rehabbing from his shoulder injury, Tercero was down to about 260 pounds, and wasn't able to gain it back. Tercero's release came two days after the Rams re-signed guard Tom Nutten, who came out of retirement to sign with the team last August. Nutten underwent offseason reconstructive toe surgery, and after working out most of the offseason, thought he was healthy enough to play another season.
The Rams also signed kicker Remy Hamilton to take some of the preseason kicks from Jeff Wilkins. Hamilton was in the Bears' camp last season, and has been in the Arena Football League for seven seasons. This past season, he was named the league's kicker of the year while with the Los Angeles Avengers. Hamilton set league records for consecutive field goals with 12 and season field-goal percentage with 74.4.
--LG Claude Terrell worked his way into the starting lineup by the fourth day of training camp, replacing a struggling Rex Tucker. "I have to uphold my end of the bargain and let the coaches know they made the right call," Terrell said.
--LG Rex Tucker, who played just six games for the Bears last season, struggled early in camp and was replaced on the first unit by rookie Claude Terrell on the fourth four day of camp.
--TE Roland Williams, signed in the offseason to a one-year contract, entered training camp as the starter ahead of Brandon Manumaleuna. Williams surprised coach Mike Martz with his improvement as a blocker and receiver. Williams was with the Rams from 1998-2000.
--TE Brandon Manumaleuna is no longer the starting tight end, but he is still on the field in two-tight end formations and has also worked at fullback.
--CB Jerametrius Butler injured his knee on the second day of camp (July 29) and was expected to miss about one week. The injury is considered a minor bone bruise.
--RT Blaine Saipaia has been working with the first unit at right tackle with first-round pick Alex Barron unsigned. Saipaia also practiced at right guard with the first unit when Grant Williams got some reps at right tackle.
INJURY REPORT: CB Jerametrius Butler suffered a bruise on his knee at the end of practice on the second day (July 29) and was expected to miss about one week of work. ... RB Dusty McGrorty injured his knee in the morning practice July 29 and was also expected to be out about a week. ... RG Adam Timmerman does drill work, but is being held out of team drills as he continues to recuperate from offseason foot and shoulder surgery.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Quarterback Tim Rattay is quiet and unassuming, but that does not mean he is not competitive. Rattay entered 49ers training camp as the No. 1 starter, but it was rookie Alex Smith who took the first snaps with the starting offense.
"It is what it is," Rattay said. "We've got a long training camp, and my focus when I get a rep is to make it a positive rep."
Coach Mike Nolan said he plans to give Rattay, Smith and Ken Dorsey equal chance to practice with the first team. He would like to have a starting quarterback named after the second exhibition game, Aug. 20 against the Raiders.
Nolan had stated Rattay was No. 1 on the depth chart entering camp, so why did Smith, the first overall selection in the draft, trot out with the first unit on the first day?
"It's the simple the fact as I said when we took the quarterback, we didn't take him to sit him on the bench. At some point he'll be the guy," Nolan said. "We want to see if he can do it early."
Smith, who receives $24 million in guaranteed money from his initial contract, said he is less focused on the competition than just trying to get better each day he takes the field as a professional. "I'm not looking into where I take snaps and who I take them with," Smith said. "This camp is about trying to earn my spot."
--The 49ers might not have the services of projected starting guard David Baas, a second-round pick from Michigan, until the start of the regular season. Baas sustained a torn right hamstring July 22 while conditioning for training camp.
Baas was projected to be a starter at right guard. Nolan said the injury could sideline Baas up to six weeks. The injury has opened the door for Adam Snyder, a third-round pick from Oregon. Baas was placed on active/PUP, along with center Jeremy Newberry (knee) and receiver Derrick Hamilton (knee). The 49ers are hoping for a mid-camp return from Newberry, while Hamilton is likely out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
--In the last six seasons, nine teams have gone from last place in their respective divisions to first place. Coach Mike Nolan is counting on that kind of parity and possible swing in power for the 49ers last season. The 49ers, under the stewardship of coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue, went 2-14 last season and earned the top pick in the NFL draft. When the club reported to training camp for the first practice Saturday, the team found a banner with its stated goal just outside the looker room.
The banner reads "Win the West" with X-marks over the helmets of the Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks. "Our goal is to take command of the NFC West. Something that is a lofty goal, but by experience I think that is an attainable goal," Nolan said.
--On the first day of training camp, running back Kevan Barlow left the practice field about midway through the two-hour workout. When asked what condition forced Barlow out of practice, Nolan answered, "Heat frustration."
--Quarterback Ken Dorsey recently let a motorist off the hook after she backed into and dented "Baby," his 1996 Honda Accord. "She said she didn't have any insurance, and I told her to just go," Dorsey said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers' offensive line is in a state of flux as training camp opens. Two of the positions appear secure, with Jonas Jennings at left tackle and Kwame Harris at right tackle. But the three interior spots are wide open because of injuries. Center Jeremy Newberry underwent offseason knee surgery and the 49ers hope to have him available at some point in camp. Realistically, his chances of playing this season are 50-50. Rookie David Baas, projected to start at right guard, might miss all of camp with a torn right hamstring. So on the first day of camp, guard Eric Heitmann switched to center, with Justin Smiley playing left guard and rookie Adam Snyder at right guard.
INJURY REPORT: C Jeremy Newberry (knee), WR Derrick Hamilton (knee) and G David Baas (hamstring) were placed on active/physically unable to perform. The club is hoping Newberry will be available before the end of training camp. Hamilton might be out of the season with a torn ACL. Baas will miss up to six weeks with a torn right hamstring.