NFC West News and Notes - 8/9/05

Training camp is heating up as teams get ready for the preseason. Seattle looks to define depth charts on both sides of the ball, the Rams display frustration with an agent, the 49ers look to find the best in a talented running back, and Arizona tries to validate the hype in this week's NFC West News and Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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--The Seahawks still can't be sure whether their pass rush will improve significantly this season. The team has struggled to hold fourth-quarter leads in part because the pass rush hasn't been strong enough. The problem was seen as a priority going into the off-season, but Seattle made only minor changes to its pass-rushing personnel.

Grant Wistrom is healthy again and his presence at right end will provided needed energy. Wistrom is generally good for six or eight sacks, but his impact goes beyond the stats. Wistrom is a dominant disrupter against both the run and the pass when healthy, and Seattle's defense fell apart when he missed time last year due to various knee injuries. "This is probably the healthiest and best I have felt in two or three years, honestly," Wistrom said. "I feel great right now and hopefully I can feel this great throughout the season."

Wistrom missed seven games to injury last season, his first in Seattle after six with St. Louis. He finished with 3 1/2 sacks. "I am out here to play football and unfortunately, I didn't do enough of it last year," Wistrom said. "I love competition. We get to come out here and it was just a scrimmage, but it was fun and competing in front of fans always makes it a little bit better."

Seattle lost left end Chike Okeafor to Arizona in free agency. Bryce Fisher, who matched Okeafor with 8 1/2 sacks last season, is the new starter on the left side. Fisher spent the last three years with St. Louis after one season in Buffalo. The Rams viewed him as a third DE, however, and now Seattle needs him to produce like starting material.

Some criticized the Seahawks for failing to land a big-time pass rusher in free agency or the draft. The Seahawks seem to think their pass rush will benefit from a younger, more active group of linebackers. DT Marcus Tubbs and DT Chuck Darby appear ready to provide some pressure up the middle.

There is no question, however, that Seattle lacks the kind of dominant edge rusher teams often need to win playoff games. The talk that the team would acquire former Baltimore Ravens OLB Peter Boulware and convert him to a situational DE hasn't come to fruition yet. The Ravens are showing an increased interest in Boulware's services once again after their second-round pick, Oklahoma DE Dan Cody, suffered an ACL injury in his first practice as a Raven. Cody is out indefinitely.

-- The Seahawks are only beginning to sort through a muddled receiver situation in the wake of Koren Robinson's release two months ago. Darrell Jackson is a lock as one starter. He set a franchise record with 87 catches last season. Bobby Engram is looking like the favorite to start in the spot Robinson vacated. The rest of the receivers need strong camps to emerge with prominent roles.

"That pile of wide receivers will sort itself out, but it won't be until late," coach Mike Holmgren said. "You pick any one practice and one guy will stand out over another. It has been that way. It is going to be a tough call."

The Seahawks generally keep six receivers. Holmgren has said he'll hold one spot for Alex Bannister, a receiver best known for his play on special teams. Bannister is expected back from a broken collarbone in time for the regular season. Keeping Jackson, Engram and Bannister would leave only three open spots if Seattle keeps no more than six receivers.

Joe Jurevicius enjoyed a strong start to camp before returning to Seattle for undisclosed personal reasons. He was not expected to return until the team arrived back from its Aug. 12 exhibition opener at New Orleans. The time off might benefit Jurevicius by helping him avoid some of the injury problems that sidelined him in 2004. "He is a very, very good receiver," Holmgren said of Jurevicius. "He has good hands. The ball does not hit the ground. He has a good feel for things and he is big. Even if it is close with a defensive back, his body - if he can get it in there between the defender and the ball - usually he catches it."

The team seems unlikely to release D.J. Hackett, a second-year pro who spent much of last season on injured reserve. Hackett was raw coming out of Colorado, but he has shown signs of becoming the deep threat Seattle thought it had in Robinson. Hackett has too much upside to release, it would seem. "He has had a great camp," Holmgren said. "He has caught the ball very well and he is a legitimate deep threat. He gives us something there that we need."

If Jurevicius and Hackett earn roster spots alongside Jackson, Engram and Bannister, there's a chance only one spot could remain for either Jerome Pathon or Jerheme Urban. Pathon would be the safe choice given his experience as a receiver and kick returner. Urban has enjoyed a mostly solid camp, however, and he earned a roster spot in 2004. "Don't write anything on the numbers yet," Holmgren cautioned, "because it will probably change."

There is some overlap with Jurevicius and Engram. Though vastly different in physical stature -- Jurevicius is seven inches taller at 6-5 -- both are adept at working the short stuff underneath. If Engram starts, Jurevicius could fill the prominent third-down role Engram has played in recent seasons. It's too early to say exactly how those duties might be delineated, however.

"We are still working through how we are going to use them," Holmgren said. "I think it is clear that Bobby has been very productive for us. We know what he can do in our offense and he is going to continue to do those things. Now, it is our job to take advantage of their skills if they are on the field at the same time. That is the main thing. That will take some thought. They are both different looking athletes. But they are both very good at kind of the same stuff."

CAMP CALENDAR: July 29 through Aug. 20.

NOTES, QUOTES

--On Monday, the Seahawks released LB Solomon Bates. One of two Seahawk fourth-round draft picks in 2003 (the other being current incumbent backup QB Seneca Wallace), Bates had been on the bubble from the time the team drafted Lofa Tatupu this year in the second round. The projections have Tatupu battling with second-year man Niko Koutouvides for the starting MLB spot. Bates is a “’tweener” – a decent MLB who has some coverage ability, but not enough to move to the outside.

Now, he’s looking for a team with which he can stick and stay.

-- The Seahawks exercised addition by subtraction when they shipped CB Kris Richard to the Dolphins for DE Ronald Flemons. Richard never became the player Seattle envisioned when the team invested a third-round draft choice in 2002. Injuries were part of the problem, but there was also a sense that Richard wasn't aggressive enough. Flemons probably won't make the team, so it's not as though the trade netted much in return. This was just a chance to move on. "Kris was on the bubble for us and (Miami) had inquired about him several times," Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said. "We always want to keep looking at the defensive linemen and bring them in to see who can be a fit."

--Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes thinks the defensive leadership could be improved this season. "I like the leadership up front with Grant Wistrom (injured last season) and now Chartric Darby coming in from Tampa," Rhodes said. "(Darby) is a leader. He is a guy that is not going to do a lot of talking, but it's by example. And if somebody is going to talk negative around him, he's going to make them shut up."

--Mike Holmgren likes to liven up training camp by having linemen try to field punts. With his teammates watching, free-agent OL Andy King secured an extra hour of curfew for the team by making a diving grab of a boot from P Leo Araguz. "We have fun with that," Holmgren said.

--Holmgren said he expects rookie C Chris Spencer to have multiple Pro Bowls in his future. "He has great mobility and strength for a guy playing that position," Holmgren said. "You talk to people that know offensive linemen around the league and it is pretty unanimous on his potential."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is a typical Cinderella story, if you will. He is a guy who comes in and knows he doesn't have the size of like a Marcus Tubbs or the speed and strength of Rocky Bernard and some of the higher draft picks. But he has his nose in the (play)book and is never going to make a mental error. And from the time he steps onto the field, he gives it all he's got, every play. That's how he has hung around." -- Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson, on second-year DT Craig Terrill.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jerheme Urban vs. Jerome Pathon for a spot among the WR corps -- Urban has been a bit better in camp, but Pathon might be more valuable because he returns kicks, too. Urban can't afford many missteps after dropping a pass in the end zone during the team's recent scrimmage. Pathon caught a 30-yard TD pass in the same scrimmage.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: DE Bryce Fisher has overtaken DE Antonio Cochran as the starter on the left side. Cochran needs to play extremely well in exhibition games to win back the job. On Monday, Fisher knocked down All-World LT Walter Jones during a drill, which is something you rarely see. QB Gibran Hamdan had made a run at the No. 3 job, but rookie David Greene has the edge as a third-round draft choice... P Leo Araguz has been more consistent than P Chris Kluwe, but Kluwe has the stronger leg.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: LB Leroy Hill. The rookie has gotten additional playing time because of injuries to others, and he has not disappointed. The third-round pick has enough speed and play-making ability to become part of the rotation at linebacker this season.

ROOKIE REPORT: C Chris Spencer has gotten limited reps with the first unit, but veteran C Robbie Tobeck will be the starter this season. MLB Lofa Tatupu is resting a hamstring injury. DE Jeb Huckeba has a shot at earning a roster spot as a fifth-round pick.

INJURY REPORT: FS Ken Hamlin has started practicing a bit for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery. He’s doing drills, but hasn't yet seen time in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. LB Jamie Sharper (knee) is getting some rest as a precaution. RB Jesse Lumsden (hip) could return in two weeks. RB Shaun Alexander and RB Maurice Morris are resting sore hamstrings. Neither situation is serious. MLB Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) and LB D.D. Lewis (concussion) have been held out recently. DT Rashad Moore (shoulder), WR Marque Davis (hamstring), P Ryan Dutton (shin), CB Kevin House (forearm), OL Jerry Wunsch (ankle), WR Alex Bannister (collarbone), DT Cedric Woodard (knee) and DT Ron Smith (calf) remain sidelined.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Everyone knew early that Anquan Boldin has a nose for the ball. His NFL rookie-record 101 grabs in 2003 landed him on the Pro Bowl, the only rookie on either squad that season. But during the first week of Arizona Cardinals training camp, there was a collective gasp as Boldin, fresh off signing a four-year contract extension that will set ownership back millions, took a shot that resulted in a broken nose.

It comes a year after Boldin suffered a knee injury during training camp that required surgery and wiped out the first half of his season. He had minor surgery on his nose at a Prescott, Ariz. hospital and is expected to miss most of the preseason, a minimum of three games.

In the long run, it probably will help the Cardinals, who know who their top three receivers are going to be -- Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson - but need to establish Nos. 4 and 5.

While Boldin still is a relative novice in the NFL, a veteran of only 26 games, he has caught 157 passes and has seen a variety of schemes designed against him. What this latest injury will do is rob Boldin and new Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner of initial game experience together.

They'll now go into the Sept. 11 opener against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands with essentially no game experience together.

"I'm alright," said Boldin. "I'm feeling better than I thought I would. As opposed to last year, I'm doing a lot better. But I don't need any more setbacks. It is a little frustrating to not be out there, especially after going through went I went through last year, but you just have to roll with the punches."

If he becomes too depressed, Boldin can always count his money. The four-year contract extension that Boldin signed on the eve of training camp gave him a $5 million signing bonus now, and will give him another $5 million in an option bonus early next year. His salary for this season quadruples, to $1.5 million from $380,000. Next season, he will receive $1.75 million to replace the $450,000 he was to make on his initial contract.

That's a golden goose of nearly $14.5 million in the first three years.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals continue training at their makeshift camp in Prescott, Ariz., rotating on four fields offered by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute and the city of Prescott... The team was forced to move to Prescott from their longtime training headquarters in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University following an outbreak - the week before their scheduled arrival - of a virus that produced flu-like symptoms and forced several people staying in dorms that the Cardinals were to use to be hospitalized... The Cardinals break camp in Prescott on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

NOTES, QUOTES

--There was no intra-squad scrimmage this year. Instead, there was a "mock game," essentially a tribute to flag football - and appropriate for an organization that has been "mocked" for three decades now. But there are signs that that is changing under the direction of Dennis Green.

Green's call to dump the intra-squad scrimmage this year is understandable. A year ago, the Cardinals lost their leading rusher of the previous two seasons, Marcel Shipp, to a season-ending leg and ankle injury in the intra-squad scrimmage. But that was on the grabby artificial surface of the Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

This year, their camp is outdoors in Prescott, Ariz., moved on short notice two weeks ago because of an outbreak of a virus at NAU that produces flu-like symptoms and sometimes causes victims to be hospitalized. So, on the natural turf of a hurriedly converted softball field in Prescott, the Cardinals had their "mock game," and 2,000 people came to see it.

Unfortunately, it was not, as designed, injury-free, even without pads. Starting C Alex Stepanovich (hand) and DE Peppi Zellner (knee), who has lost his starting job to Chike Okeafor, left the game.

--What'll it take to put you into a winning season? Even the slickest car salesman would be taxed to help the Cardinals solve that one, given that they've had only one since moving to Arizona in 1988 (9-7, 1998).

But the Cardinals and Arizona Ford Dealers are offering the "Drive for Season Seats" SUV/season ticket promotion. Anyone who buys a 2005/2006 Explorer, Sport Trac, Escape, Expedition, Excursion or Freestyle through Sept. 5 gets two season tickets for the final season in Sun Devil Stadium and priority seating in the new retractable-roof facility that opens next year in Glendale, Arizona.

--The 63,000-seat Cardinals Stadium is 80 percent complete, according to Charlie Prewitt, project manager for Hunt Construction. "So far, we've hit every major milestone," he said. "Two years of construction under our belt and we've had no real surprises." Prewitt said that by securing steel and concrete in advance, he avoided cost increases and delivery problems in the current tight market for both. The exterior of the stadium should be complete by Christmas, and grass will be installed in the field tray by mid-April. The construction schedule calls for the building to be complete Aug. 1, 2006.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love this. We're marvelous and we're going to be a great defense. Last year nobody knew what I could do. I believe if you come out here and work hard it will all come naturally. Just play and it will all come to you." -- DT Darnell Dockett, a rookie starter in 2004 on coming back for more with upgraded teammates in several positions.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Marcel Shipp vs. J.R. Redmond and James Jackson for Nos. 2 and 3 at RB -- It's way too early to form any solid opinions about anything. The battle is wide open. Shipp, if he remains healthy, figures to land the backup spot to rookie J.J. Arrington, and could even challenge Arrington for the starting position. But Shipp, after missing all of last year with leg and ankle injuries, already is slowed by a hamstring strain and is behind. Josh Scobey and Larry Croom have been in the system a year, but have virtually no game experience. Newcomers Redmond and Jackson, who've been successful with other teams, are going to be hard to keep off the roster. Look for one of them; if not both of them, to make it Veteran Troy Hambrick, No. 2 last year and a 900-yard rusher in Dallas three years ago, is a sure bet to be cut.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: TE Adam Bergen, an undrafted rookie, suddenly is on the first team. TE Eric Edwards, who was on the first team, has a pectoral injury that will sideline him at least two weeks. Bobby Blizzard, an All-NFL Europe pick, has not stepped up to take ownership of the position. It is a very inexperienced group.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Robert Tate, rescued by Coach Dennis Green off the NFL scrap heap, intercepted a pass and took it back for a touchdown in the team's "mock game," a pad-less endeavor that replaced the intra-squad scrimmage this year to avoid losing players to injury. It capped a strong opening week by Tate, who is working with the first unit in the absence of first-round pick Antrel Rolle, who has not come to terms on a contract and is not in camp.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Antrel Rolle is not yet in camp. He has not come to terms on a contract. RB J.J. Arrington, the second-round pick, has been everything the team imagined with his speed - at least in drills against his own team. A more valid assessment will be forthcoming after his initial action in preseason games. The job is Arrington's to lose. CB Eric Green, a third-round pick, is slow out of the gate because of a hamstring injury. He is expected to push veteran David Macklin for a starting job.

INJURY REPORT: C Alex Stepanovich (hand) left the mock game. The severity of the injury is still being evaluated. He started all of 2004 as a rookie. DE Peppi Zellner (knee) was carted off from the mock game. The severity of his injury is still being evaluated, as well. He started all of last season, but has been eased off the first unit by the signing of free agent Chike Okeafor. Zellner is being counted on for high-quality experienced depth in the rotation. WR Anquan Boldin (broken nose) will miss at least the first three preseason games following minor surgery. He missed the first six games in 2004 following surgery on a knee during training camp after catching a rookie-record 101 passes in 2003. TE Eric Edwards (pectoral) is out at least a week, likely two. He was running with the first team. RB Marcel Shipp (hamstring), DE Chike Okeafor (hamstring), DT Kenny King (wrist), CB Eric Green (hamstring), RB Troy Hambrick (foot), DE Antonio Smith (thigh), DT DeVone Claybrooks (knee), WR Lawrence Hamilton (back) all are day-to-day.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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There was a certain level of confidence entering training camp that things would be different on the offensive line than they were last summer when there was constant shuffling in training camp. However, the absence of first-round pick along with some injuries, have resulted in some shakeups that have put Rex Tucker at right tackle and rookie Claude Terrell at left guard. Terrell's play prompted the move of Tucker, who was moved to tackle when Grant Williams was sidelined by a back injury.
Tucker had struggled at guard, and was actually close to being cut before Williams was hurt. But in his first few days at tackle, coach Mike Martz was pleased.

"We moved Rex Tucker to right tackle which is probably where he belongs," Martz said. "We had to wait and see if a rookie was going to transpire the way we hoped. (Terrell) has been the biggest surprise (of camp). He's doing so well, allowing us to move Rex Tucker now and see if we can't get him situated at right tackle."

Tucker has been a guard during his career with the Bears, and hadn't played tackle since college.

"It is an adjustment, but that's part of this game, you have to do it," Tucker said. "There are a lot of things: the stances, the timing, the playing in space. There are a lot of differences, but the bottom line is you have just got to go out, work the best you can and learn to block those guys."

Oddly, when Tucker's brother Ryan was with the Rams, he was moved from center to tackle, and played right tackle on the 2001 Super Bowl teams. "He has Ryan's kind of ability," Martz said of Rex. "We felt like he was going to have to play for us at guard, but having Claude come in and do what he's done is a bonus for us. Now we can take Rex and put him outside and groom him to be a right tackle. We'll see."

Tucker will get a lot of pointers in camp with the Rams having two line coaches - John Matsko and John Benton - along with the presence of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, who helps the team's linemen during the summer.

After his first practice at tackle, Tucker and Slater were on the field for an extra 20 minutes.

"What can you say, he's the best right tackle that ever played and to have him show you things that work is a big help," Tucker said. "It's great to have him give you that extra time and coach you up on things that you need to learn, things that will help you block people."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp "breaks" on Aug. 19.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Mike Martz is pleased with the transition Adam Archuleta has made from strong to free safety. At free safety, he is responsible for calling the defense's signals.
"We've challenged him with that," Martz said. "It's not enough to know what you do; now you've got to have a grasp on everything going around you. That's the next level for Adam ... I think it's fun for him, the mental part of it. He's up to the challenge. He's never studied in the past the way he needed to. Now he's all over that stuff."

As for leadership, Martz added, "He's gotten to be very verbal, which in the past he wasn't. I think that comes with his confidence level and the fact that he's in a position now that's challenging for him."

--The Rams have had just one practice a day in pads, and there is extra time between practices. In addition, when some injuries hit the offensive line and running back, the team was out of pads for three days. A practice attended by more than 4,500 fans Saturday night was also done without full pads. The team then had two days off.

Most of the injuries are not considered serious, and Martz is pleased that total injuries is down. "It's cut way down on our injuries, and the attention and the focus is way better than it's ever been," Martz said. "They're not just trying to survive practice now. We've gotten more complicated at a higher level than we've ever done (in camp) before. It's better than what I thought it'd be. Now ... let's just see how we play."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "His agent said to keep him out of (rookie camp), which is absolutely ridiculous. That really hurt him. So I'm not upset with the kid, I'm upset with the agent. I just think it's not right." - Coach Mike Martz on Roosevelt Barnes, the agent for unsigned first-round pick Alex Barron.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jeff Smoker vs. rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick for No. 3 quarterback - Fitzpatrick has caught coach Mike Martz's eye and took unexpected reps with the second unit at Saturday's night's practice. Fitzpatrick wasn't told until five minutes before practice started that he would work with the second team. "He was outstanding," Martz said. "We gave him a lot of things to think about and didn't really prepare him for this. I was very pleased with his demeanor and his control of the situation ... very pleased." As for Smoker, Martz was asked the day before Saturday's practice whether he was pleased with last year's sixth-round pick. His terse reply was, "No." After Saturday's practice, Martz said, "I'm not pleased with Jeff's mental preparation. We'll see what Ryan can do."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: P Reggie Hodges vs. himself - The rookie is the only punter in camp, and struggled in the Saturday night practice after doing well earlier. Coach Mike Martz said, "He has to do a better job. We'll see what he's got in the preseason."... WR Dante Ridgeway vs. Brandon Middleton for sixth receiver spot - Ridgeway is a rookie, while Middleton has bounced around several camps and was on the Rams' practice squad last season. Middleton has done well in camp and has a chance to make the roster if the Rams keep six receivers.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DE Brandon Green - There are open jobs for defense end depth behind Leonard Little and Anthony Hargrove, and Green has made a move. While coaches knew he had a high motor, they have been pleased with other aspects of his game. "When we brought Brandon in, we felt like that was the type of guy we were getting, but I think he is probably a little more athletic than what we anticipated," coach Mike Martz said. "In discussions on him as a staff, we have all been very pleased so far."

ROOKIE REPORT: After a shaky start of camp, TE Jerome Collins has begun to make an impression as a receiver. He played just one season at tight end at Notre Dame... Undrafted free agent CB Duvol Thompson is competing for a roster spot, and has been given an opportunity on special teams. He looks to be at least a candidate for the practice squad.

INJURY REPORT: Starting CBs Jerametrius Butler (knee) and Travis Fisher (groin) remain sidelined as a precaution... LT Orlando Pace is resting a hip flexor... TE Erik Jensen, who missed his rookie season in 2004 because of a knee injury, is out with a back injury... DT Brian Howard has missed valuable time because of a hamstring injury.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Left tackle Jonas Jennings might not be on the field to protect QB Alex Smith's blind side for the exhibition opener Aug. 13 against the Raiders. Jennings sustained a broken right hand and a torn tendon. He underwent surgery last week and is expected to miss a week of practice. Now the responsibility of looking after Smith will likely fall on the shoulders of rookie Patrick Estes, who was selected in the seventh round as a tight end. When asked last week who is No. 3 on the depth chart, Nolan asked to look at a roster. Even then, he still couldn't come up with an answer.

Rookie running back Frank Gore, selected in the third round to offer stiff competition to incumbent Kevan Barlow, is expected to miss a week with a shoulder injury. Gore sat out of the team's scrimmage, but was lobbying to get back on the field soon.
Nolan said he was not impressed with what he saw on film from Barlow last season but expects him to perform much better. "It was more from a work-ethic standpoint that I felt he needed to improve his game," Nolan said. Barlow scored the only touchdown of the scrimmage, plunging in from one yard out.

--After studying 49ers running back Kevan Barlow both of the past two seasons, new coach Mike Nolan came to the conclusion he liked the 2003 version a lot more than the newer model. As the Ravens' defensive coordinator in '03, he prepared his unit to face a hard-running Barlow, who would eclipse 1,000 yards despite making just four starts. But after taking the 49ers job, Nolan was not impressed with what he saw from Barlow in '04.

"It was more from a work-ethic standpoint that I felt he needed to improve his game," Nolan said. "When I saw him when they played us I noticed his work ethic in the game. You can tell when a guy quits on a read real fast, because if you stay with your read there will be a lot more runs that are effective. I saw things like that."

In Barlow's first year as the full-time running back after Garrison Hearst was released, he gained just 822 yards on 43 more carries. His average dropped from 5.1 to 3.4 yards per carry.

Barlow disputes Nolan's argument that he did not play hard last season. He said he felt like he was giving 100-percent effort all the time. But he does agree that he could have performed much better. "We made a lot of changes - that's not making any excuses for me, my running style or how I changed - but we're just a totally different team and have a totally different mentality," Barlow said. "If everybody had played to their potential we would've won more than two games."

Still, Nolan said there are three reasons why he expects Barlow to be better this season. The club has made upgrades on the offensive line that should produce a better run-blocking unit; running backs coach Bishop Harris should be able to do a better job of keeping Barlow focused; and Barlow must perform or he could lose his job to rookie Frank Gore, whom the team selected early in the third round of the draft.

"Those are three pretty good things," Nolan said. "I think he's doing a better job. He has his moments, but don't we all?" Barlow took himself out of practice on the first day of training camp because of heat exhaustion. Since then, he has not missed any practice time. He scored the only touchdown of the team's scrimmage Saturday evening with a one-yard plunge.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp closes at the team's Santa Clara, Calif, practice facility on Aug. 24. Most practices are closed to the general public, but there are two more dates on which fans can watch: Aug. 10 and 15.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Before breaking his right hand and missing at least a week of practices, left tackle Jonas Jennings was making an impression as the team's enforcer. Jennings has been a central figure as the 49ers show a new attitude on the practice field. Last summer, there was not one skirmish during training camp. This year, Jennings got into on-field dustups two of the first three days. On one occasion he went after defensive lineman Corey Smith, who took a swipe at quarterback Ken Dorsey.

"I'm a left tackle," Jennings said. "That's our job as offensive linemen. I don't get any incentives for that."

At 325 pounds, Jennings is not the kind of guy people want to cross. Off the field, however, he displays an easy-going personality and a loquacious style. "I'm the nicest guy in world," Jennings said. "My job description calls for me to be mean sometimes. You got to know when to kick it in and turn it off."

Coach Mike Nolan spoke with Jennings about not getting carried away with being too mean with his teammates. Nolan is trying to build a family atmosphere within the team, so he wants to see limited fisticuffs during training camp.

"He's competing and playing hard," Nolan said. "There is a point where you can go too far with it, but we've talked and he'll be fine. It's kind of like going out to the pasture. The one bull always stands alone, but he has to make his point at some point. You got some guys out there that are bulls and they make their point, but that's OK. That's not a bad thing. You just want to make sure it doesn't get out of control."

--Nolan said if anything happens to left tackle Jonas Jennings, he will not resort to moving Kwame Harris back to the position he tried his first two seasons in the league. Currently, rookie Patrick Estes, drafted in April as a tight end, is the backup left tackle. "I do not believe that would be what we'd do," Nolan said of the possibility of moving Harris. "I'm pretty certain of that one. Even if the coaches want to do it, I don't know that I'd want to do it. If a hand grenade wiped out a bunch of (tackles), maybe, but it's going to take quite a lot."

--When the morning practice ended last Wednesday with rookie cornerback Daven Holly's interception of quarterback Cody Pickett near the end zone, the entire defense responded by jumping up and down in unison and barking. But the offense would get the last laugh. Running back Frank Gore tore off a 30-yard TD run to end the afternoon session, prompting a similar display from the team's offensive players.

"I like the little kidding and ribbing with one another when they get turnovers at the end of practice," Nolan said. "That's how chemistry really comes out of your football team. I'm encouraged about that. I want to continue to encourage that. It's OK even if it's an offensive or defensive thing because they have to come together as units before they can come together as a team."

--Nolan has been primarily a defensive assistant throughout his coaching career. However, in 2001 he joined Baltimore's staff as receivers coach. "I called it my sex change," Nolan said. "But it didn't work, so I went back to defense."

--The 49ers tied a franchise-record with 14 losses last season, but they lost only four (of five games) with linebacker Julian Peterson on the field. Said the ever-optimistic Peterson, "Everybody is looking at that 2-14 from last year and thinking we're going to be a cupcake on the schedule. But we have the talent to come out and dominate."

--Nolan will meet weekly with three or four players to keep open lines of communication with the locker room. He said one of the players will be defensive end Bryant Young but hasn't yet figured out who else will be involved.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The reality is, bust your (butt) and you perform better" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on running back Kevan Barlow.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jamie Winborn vs. Andre Carter at OLB -- The team's switch to a 3-4 defense led to Carter's position change. In reality, nothing much changes for him. He will be asked to drop into coverage occasionally, but his main duty will be to rush the quarterback. Winborn's skill set is a little different. He is a good all-around linebacker whose athleticism makes him better dropping into coverage. Still, there will be a competition for playing time, though both should be counted upon to contribute.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Alex Smith, who has taken all the action with the No. 1 offense, vs. Tim Rattay, the team's starter last season, at QB... Kevan Barlow, who is coming off a disappointing season, vs. Frank Gore, who's development has been halted due to a shoulder injury, at RB... Anthony Adams, who has started to see some action at LDE, vs. Isaac Sopoaga, a second-year player who is powerful but raw, vs. Ronnie Fields, a rookie with experience playing two-gap, at NT...

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Alex Smith has impressed his teammates with his work ethic and performance on the field. Smith has been working exclusively with the No. 1 offense, and the starting job appears to be his as long as he does not get overwhelmed during the exhibition games... G David Baas is out as long as another month with a hamstring tear... G/T Adam Snyder is taking snaps at RG and could be in line for a starting job... T Patrick Estes is No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle and is likely to start the exhibition opener Aug. 13 against the Raiders after Jonas Jennings underwent surgery on a broken hand... WR Rasheed Marshall is beginning to look more comfortable at his new position. He is also improving catching punts... RB Frank Gore might miss a week with a shoulder injury, though he has been lobbying to return to action sooner... WR Marcus Maxwell, perhaps the most physically gifted of the wideouts, is opening eyes and might make a serious bid for a roster spot.

INJURY REPORT: C Jeremy Newberry (right knee) said he expects to return to limited practice the week after the 49ers' first exhibition game. Newberry, however, is uncertain whether his knee, which lacks any cartilage, will be able to hold up for the entire season... WR Derrick Hamilton, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the off-season, is very questionable to return to action this season... G David Baas (right hamstring) is out up to another month... Newberry, Hamilton and Baas are on the active/physically unable to perform list... CB Shawntae Spencer (left hamstring), WR Rashaun Woods (groin) and CB Randee Drew (left foot) have been out since Aug. 1 with their injuries. Drew is not expected back for several weeks because of a stress fracture... RB Frank Gore and FB/TE Steve Bush are out at least a week with shoulder injuries... LT Jonas Jennings underwent surgery on his hand Aug. 5 and is expected to miss a week of practice, including the team's first exhibition game... S Arnold Parker is out a couple weeks with a left shoulder injury... WR P.J. Fleck was expected to return to practice Monday after sustaining back spasms in practice on Friday and being taken by ambulance to the hospital.


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