NFC West News and Notes - 8/16/05

The first 2005 preseason game is in the books for every NFL team, and the NFC West - seen last season as the league's weakest division - currently hosts four undefeated squads. How did the Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers begin their years on the right path? You'll find the answers in this week's NFC West News and Notes.


The Seahawks have suffered through some dreary performances in exhibition openers. The last two years have been more impressive, perhaps a reflection of improved depth.

Seattle's 34-15 victory over New Orleans won't matter once the season begins. But the Seahawks received fresh evidence of improvement in a few key areas.

The DT combination of Marcus Tubbs and Chuck Darby proved quite effective. Darby shot the gaps to defeat double teams. He disrupted one early play so completely that MLB Niko Koutouvides was able to force a fumble by Saints RB Deuce McAllister. SS Michael Boulware recovered deep in Saints territory, leading to the game's first touchdown.

Seattle also received strong play at the backup QB position, an area of concern given Seneca Wallace's lack of regular-season experience. The Seahawks also were pleased by the strong running of RB Kerry Carter, RB Marquis Weeks and FB Leonard Weaver.

"It was a good start," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I asked them to do a couple things. One, play with great effort and emotion, and I think they did that. Two, I asked them to be disciplined and not make mistakes, and we have some work to do there.

"But it's the first preseason game and it's kind of expected. I really was pleased with the effort of the team."

Seattle opened the 2004 exhibition season with a 21-3 victory over Green Bay. This year, Wallace did most of the damage against New Orleans. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. He added another score on a 24-yard run. He led four scoring drives as Seattle scored 20 unanswered points.

Darby's strong play set the tone early.

"It was nice to start out in the red zone like that," QB Matt Hasselbeck said, "but we weren't as crisp as we need to be.

"It was probably good. Now the coaches can get on us and we can really pay more attention to detail and not make as many mistakes."

CAMP CALENDAR: July 29 through Aug. 20.


--Strength coach Mike Clark has gotten the Seahawks' attention with a more active approach to warmups. Players have nicknamed him "The Colonel" for his energetic approach.

"Coming back this year, they are not paying me to play, they are not even paying me to practice," C Robbie Tobeck said. "They are paying me to do the Colonel's warmup. The stretch used to be a nice, relaxing time where you sit on the ground a touch your toes a couple times. But now it is more of what they call an active stretch. You are stretching but you are moving while you are stretching."

--Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell took over play-calling duties from coach Mike Holmgren during the second half of Seattle's 34-15 victory over New Orleans in the exhibition opener. The Seahawks held a 24-3 lead at halftime. Their yardage advantage was 229-86. "I'm trying to get the rust off my play calling too," Holmgren said. "We had a little bit of a lead the first half and Gil has to prepare himself to do that, so we'll do that on occasion in the preseason."

--Newly signed DT Cleveland Pinkney is barely a shade taller than 6 feet. That puts him in the same height range as starting DT Chuck Darby, proving that Seahawks president Tim Ruskell is OK with shorter interior linemen. "I'd love for our guys to be 6-6 and 380 and run 4.2 (seconds in the 40-yard dash)," Ruskell said. "But there is some credence to the philosophy that you are going to play under (the opponent's) pads and get leverage if you are a shorter inside defensive lineman."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was certainly an emphasis talking to the coaches. We've got to get better there. We've got to be more athletic. We've got to run faster, we need a guy that can run the defense. Those kinds of things were relayed to me and I buy into that wholeheartedly." -- Seahawks president Tim Ruskell on the overhauling the personnel at the linebacker position.


--RB Shaun Alexander has returned to practice after resting a sore hamstring. He carried three times for 18 yards during the first exhibition game. Alexander should be 100 percent heading into the regular season.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu is expected to return from a hamstring injury in the coming days. The team fully expects the rookie to challenge for a starting job. MLB Niko Koutouvides played well in the first exhibition game while Tatupu rested his injury.

--LB Jamie Sharper started the exhibition opener despite missing a few practices leading up to the game. Sharper, 30, is getting some rest in camp because the team is concerned about his knees.

--WR Jerheme Urban has hurt his stock by dropping passes. Less than a week after dropping a potential TD pass in the Seahawks' scrimmage, Urban dropped a 27-yard pass in the exhibition opener. "We're looking for consistency," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We're looking to catch the ball every time. They can't drop the ball. We had a couple drops or Seneca's numbers would have been even better."

Jerramy Stevens vs. Itula Mili for the starting TE job -- Stevens has been the better player in practice by a wide margin, but he dropped a pass in the exhibition opener. Mili is known as a slow starter who saves his best for the regular season. Stevens still has to prove he can produce over an entire season.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: MLB Niko Koutouvides will have some competition once Lofa Tatupu returns from a hamstring injury this week. ... LS J.P. Darche was already a lock to keep his job when his lone competitor in camp, Tim Galloway, rocketed a punt snap out of the end zone for a safety in the exhibition opener.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Seneca Wallace. The Seahawks seem less apt to sign a veteran backup after Wallace's strong showing in the first exhibition game. The difference for Wallace this year is that he understands the offense. That allows him to react instead of having to think about every aspect of every play.

"He is really a fine passer," coach Mike Holmgren said. "That gets overlooked because he is quick and he can run. His touchdown run was really something. He threw some very, very good passes."

The team was ready to sign a veteran backup if Wallace faltered. Starter Matt Hasselbeck is the only quarterback on the team with regular-season playing experience. The coaching staff is a bit out of its comfort zone after spending four seasons with veteran Trent Dilfer on the roster.

The pressure was on Wallace in the opener.

"I think I wanted to come out, get my first completion and keep it rolling and keep pressing the tempo," the third-year passer said. "Warren Moon said something to me a couple days ago. He was just like, 'Hey, man, there is no pressure. You just keep doing the same thing you did out in practice and camp, and just carry it over to the game.'"

Moon provides color commentary on the Seahawks' preseason TV broadcasts. He shifts to the radio booth during the regular season. His advice for Wallace seemed to pay off. Wallace appeared calm and relaxed even when the Saints blitzed.

Wallace hurt the Saints with the deep ball, completing consecutive passes of 33 and 28 yards. The latter completion resulted in a 28-yard scoring strike to Jerome Pathon. The first deep ball found second-year pro D.J. Hackett, who has emerged as a deep threat in camp.

"He has been really good with the go routes," Wallace said, "and I knew when I had him out there I would have a shot."

Wallace, 25, was a fourth-round choice from Iowa State in 2003. Critics suggested Wallace was too short at 5-feet-11. They said his run-oriented game wouldn't be a good fit for the West Coast offense. Three years later, Wallace is showing signs of proving the critics wrong. He played well in the preseason a year ago. And this summer, with the team whispering about the possible need for a veteran, Wallace is taking his game to another level.

"It's just the start for him because he is going to play a lot in the preseason," Holmgren said. "We have to get him ready to play in games if it's necessary. But he did good."

ROOKIE REPORT: C Chris Spencer showed good athleticism in his preseason debut. He helped Seattle rack up 216 yards rushing against the Saints. ... Also against the Saints, third-round 2005 draft pick LB Leroy Hill collected a sack and forced a fumble on the same play.

FS Ken Hamlin, who underwent shoulder surgery this offseason, is becoming more involved in practice. The team thinks he might be able to play in the third exhibition game. CB Andre Dyson suffered a stinger in the first quarter of Friday's game against the Saints. He practiced on Sunday, but was held out and received treatment on Monday. OLB Leroy Hill is out ten days with a sprained knee suffered in practice on Sunday morning. LB Jamie Sharper (knee) continues to get some extra rest at camp. The team is playing it safe with LB D.D. Lewis, who has yet to return from a concussion. RB Jesse Lumsden (hip) remains at least a week away from returning. RB Shaun Alexander is back after resting a sore hamstring. RB Maurice Morris (hamstring), DT Cedric Woodard (knee), MLB Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), DT Rashad Moore and DT Ron Smith (calf) are starting to cycle into conditioning drills and practices this week. WR Marque Davis (hamstring) is back at practice. WR Alex Bannister is out until the regular season. OL Jerry Wunsch (ankle) was placed on injured reserve.


Coach Dennis Green's biggest rebuilding project has been the offensive line, where a total makeover has taken place since he arrived a year ago January. He likes what he sees now in starters Leonard Davis, Reggie Wells, Alex Stepanovich, Jeremy Bridges (who will be challenged by rookie Elton Brown when Brown conquers his hamstring woes) and Oliver Ross.

But for the remainder of the preseason, it will be an exercise in depth development. Bridges is going it a lone at right guard because of Brown's early injury.

Stepanovich, who started at center all of last season as a rookie, had surgery on a hand broken during the mock game - a padless substitute for the annual intra-squad scrimmage that was designed to eliminate injuries, and Ross has a knee strain.

Nick Leckey, in his second season, replaces Stepanovich.

Ian Allen is working in Ross' spot at right tackle with the first unit.

Their preseason debut was - no pun intended - passable. Quarterback Kurt Warner was not sacked in a win over Dallas. But they were not tested on the ground. The team had six rushes in the first half.

Leckey caught a break in his debut because Dallas' dominating defensive tackle Jason Ferguson was injured and did not play.

Initially, the Cardinals are emphasizing their shifts, motions and timing between Warner and the receivers to strengthen the passing game.

The real gauge of where they are offensively will be when they shift their focus to the running game.

That is when they will know to what extent the line injuries may be inhibiting their offensive development.

The Cardinals continue training at their makeshift camp in Prescott, Ariz. ... The team was forced to move to Prescott from their longtime training headquarters in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University following 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.


-- The "magnanimous" Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, continues to make good on his charitable offer to Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill at the time of NFL realignment three years ago. Bidwill was punchy about being booted out of the NFC East, and especially about losing a home game with the Cowboys, typically the Cardinals' largest home draw.

Of course, that was because Cowboys games came into the Phoenix TV market for years before the Cardinals arrival and Phoenix is almost like a second home for Jones team - and thus an appearance at Sun Devil Stadium often is almost like a Cowboys home game.

Nevertheless, Jones promised Bidwill, whose team now plays in the NFC West, that he would bring the Cowboys to Arizona for a preseason game every season in which they were not scheduled to play a regular-season game.

But, alas, the glow of the Cowboys' glory years has faded, and so, apparently, has the memory and affection of fans in Phoenix. The stadium was barely half full, 36,787.

-- DE Calvin Pace, still stinging from having been replaced a year ago by free agent Bertrand Berry, who went on to a Pro Bowl year in his 2004 Cardinals debut, had two sacks against the Cowboys' third string in the fourth quarter - or double the total of Pace's 2003 rookie season in 16 starts, which caused the team to sign Berry last year.

--The Cardinals had four sacks overall, including one by Berry on Drew Bledsoe against the Cowboys' first unit, and one by newcomer Chike Okeafor, who will start on the left side opposite Berry in an effort to beef up the pass rush.

-- In a logjam among inexperienced tight ends, rookie Adam Bergen opened some eyes with an 18-yard grab in the preseason debut.

It's a scramble at the position. Eric Edwards, the most experienced of the tight ends who started camp on the first unit, has a torn pectoral and may miss the remainder of preseason.

Bobby Blizzard, an All-NFL Europe choice who figured to have a good shot at the job, so far has all but fallen off the radar.

-- RB J.R. Redmond took the lead in the punt-returner derby, averaging 15 yards, including a 22-yarder.

Redmond, in the mix for second or third back, also returned a kickoff 48 yards back on his home turf at Sun Devil Stadium, where he played in college at Arizona State.

"It's totally different here. Down training in Miami, I was just trying to get my body used to running and working under pressure. Here it is a totally different environment. It's a team and I need to be here with my guys. That was my main focus, to hurry up and get this process over with so I could be out here with my guys." - Rookie CB Antrel Rolle, on ending a week-and-a-half-long contract holdout.


Veteran J.R. Redmond took a giant step toward claiming the punt return job that became vacant when Karl Williams was not re-signed. Redmond had a 22-yard return, as well as a 48-yard kickoff return in the preseason opener. ... Undrafted rookie Dan "Seabiscuit" Sheldon, a 5-foot-8 dynamo who is battling Redmond, had a 13-yard punt return in the preseason opening win over Dallas.

-- TE Adam Bergen, an undrafted rookie, grabbed an 18-yard pass from Kurt Warner in a scoring drive and has solidified his spot on the first team. ... TE Eric Edwards, who was on the first team, has a pectoral tear that will sideline him at least two weeks. ... Bobby Blizzard, an All-NFL Europe pick, has dropped off the radar.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Kurt Warner, signed during the off-season as a free agent, completed 14 of 19 for 151 yards and a TD -- and was not sacked -- in little more than a quarter in the preseason-opening win over Dallas, serving notice that perhaps he still can play at a level reminiscent of his days in St. Louis.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Antrel Rolle broke up a third-down pass in the end zone with the second defense against Dallas, forcing the Cowboys to take a field goal. Rolle is expected to move up to the first unit this week. He missed 15 practices during a contract holdout. ... RB J.J. Arrington, the second-round pick, had a seven-yard spurt in very limited action against Dallas in the preseason opener, but it was enough for him to show that his speed and moves are as advertised. He did, however, fumble on a hard hit on his fourth carry. ... CB Eric Green, a third-round pick, is slow out of the gate because of a hamstring injury. He has not yet pushed veteran David Macklin for the starting job as expected.

INJURY REPORT: RB James Jackson (shoulder) and FB James Hodgins (ankle) were injured in the preseason opener. ... Neither is believed to be serious. ... Hodgins is a former starter who missed 2004 to an injury. ... Jackson was recently acquired and is in the hunt for No. 2 or No. 3 RB.

WR Anquan Boldin (broken nose), RB Marcel Shipp (knee), C Alex Stepanovich (hand), T Oliver Ross (knee), DE Peppi Zellner (sprained knee), DT DeVone Claybrooks (knee), TE Eric Edwards (pectoral tear), RB Troy Hambrick (foot), all missed the preseason opener and remain day to day.


Last season, the Rams' defense was one of the worst in the NFL with 15 takeaways. The year before the Rams led the NFL with 46 takeaways. There was an omen for what happened last season, when they had just one takeaway in four preseason games.

That changed in the preseason opener against the Bears, when the defense had three takeaways. The stage was set on the first play from scrimmage when new linebacker Chris Claiborne batted down a pass from quarterback Rex Grossman.

In the first quarter, the Bears gained just 25 yards and had one first down.

"I felt like during this game the defense was ahead of us," coach Mike Martz said. "I was excited and anxious to see them play. Twenty-five yards and one first down, that's pretty dramatic. I'm very pleased with that defense. I think the (new) linebackers made a significant difference."

But Martz still had some words of caution. "We've played one quarter of football with the '1s,'" he said. "I mean, what can you say? But I'm happy with it. Who knows where it's going to go from here, but it's a good start. That's it."

Said second-year defensive end Anthony Hargrove, "We're trying to come out this year and show that we've improved on defense. And as you can see, the first half we were real stout. And then our defense was in position to win the game for us (at the end), and that's what they did."

Noting the turnovers, linebacker Dexter Coakley said, "Defensively we went out there and swarmed the ball. The first unit got out there pretty good (and) the second unit came in and played pretty solid. There's some things to clean up. It was a good first start."

"There's been a lot more stressing of takeaways, just because our turnover ratio was low last year," cornerback DeJuan Groce said. "We've just been working on it in practice."

Groce started at cornerback with Jerametrius Butler out with a knee injury, while rookies safeties Jerome Carter and Oshiomogho Atogwe also started. Carter has been a starter since camp opened at strong safety. Atogwe started because Adam Archuleta was held out since he is recovering from a back injury. Archuleta is expected to play this week against San Diego.

Groce recovered a fumble, Atogwe intercepted the final pass of the game and cornerback Corey Ivy also contributed an interception.


--Rookie left guard Claude Terrell started and played the entire game in the team's preseason opener against the Bears. A fourth-round pick, Terrell was installed as the starter early in training camp and has done nothing to lose the job since.

Asked about playing Terrell so much, coach Mike Martz said, "We want Claude to play. He's gonna have to get used to playing at this level. He needs to go out and play. We've always done that with rookies. We did that with Torry Holt. I think it's important for him to know the stamina that he's going to have to have to play an entire game on the offensive line."

Said Terrell, "It felt good. I know what an NFL game feels like now. I'll have to take care of my body so I can make it through this long season. I was nervous as I don't know what before. But after that first collision, I was good to go. I enjoyed it. We'll go back and look at the film and see what needs to be improved and go from there."

As for that nervousness, he added, "I couldn't sleep last night, so I took a nap during the day today, and I was out like a baby. On the ride over here, I was nervous, but as soon as the game got going and we got in a flow, I was good. This is what I've been doing all my life."

--To protect themselves, the Rams signed veteran punter Bryan Barker the day before the exhibition opener against Chicago. Barker punted last season for Green Bay and is entering his 16th season. The consistency of rookie punter Reggie Hodges has been an issue, and the Rams want to make sure they have someone if those problems persist.

"I think that after watching Reggie and his inconsistency we have got to protect ourselves," Martz said. "I like Reggie and I think he has got great potential, but in terms of a punter I am a frontrunner all the way. He has got to deal with that type of pressure and if he can't deal with it, we'll move on. I think he will, but I would be remiss as a head coach if I didn't protect our interests at that position with another guy.

"We are going to be patient with him all the way up until the Kansas City game (Sept. 2). "We'll just see what happens. He'll have plenty of opportunities. Every punt that he makes out here is scrutinized and until he gets used to that fact and is punting every kick like he is punting in a game then he is going to be inconsistent. We are trying to get that message across to him."

Hodges continued his inconsistency against the Bears, averaging 39.8 yards for his six punts.

"He didn't do as well as I hoped he would," Martz said. "But I think that hopefully he can learn from this."

Said Barker, "Training camp is all about competition, and I would imagine that my presence here is to add to that mix a little bit, give a little competition to the kid. This is a game of handling situations, and we'll see how he handles that situation."

As for his age (41 years old), Barker said, "Am I 41? (Kicker) Jeff Wilkins and I were talking ... we were together 12 years ago in Philadelphia, and we don't feel anywhere near our age. I feel good, I feel healthy, I still enjoy it, I had a lot of fun last year, and apparently people still call me. As long as they call, I'll keep doing it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I pay, since I'm a finance major, I save the receipt so I can get the tax deduction." -- Rookie OG Claude Terrell on having to buy four dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts for his fellow offensive linemen.


John Parrella vs. Brian Howard for backup DT - The arrival of Parrella resulted in Howard's hamstring suddenly getting better. Parrella has a lot of years and experience on Howard, but the Rams still believe Howard can develop into a solid player in the rotation. Howard has also gotten some reps in camp at defensive end.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: The competition continues between quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job. Fitzpatrick was in the game against Chicago before Smoker and looked poised and confident. "It was actually kind of weird," he said. "I'm not a big nervous type of guy when I get into games, but you would think with my first-ever NFL game ... but I was fine out there. I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable behind the center, with the offense, learning more. So, it was good."

Noting coach Mike Martz's concerning problems with mental preparation, Smoker said, "He's the head coach, and he comments on what he sees. If he expects more from me, then that's what I have to give. ... I feel like I have to pick up the pace and I have to do well this preseason."

DE Brandon Green - He helped secure the game for the Rams against the Bears with a late sack, and had two other pressures that helped stop Chicago drives. He would have had two other sacks, but on one, the Bears quarterback threw an incompletion as he was only inches from the ground, and on the other, there was an intentional grounding call. Green is competing for an open job as one of the team's backup ends. "It felt good to be able to contribute, to be able to stop a drive," he said. "I thought I played pretty poorly early on, so I needed to come through in the end there." The Rams knew Green had a high motor when he was signed in the offseason, but coach Mike Martz said, "When we brought Brandon in, we felt like that was the type of guy that we were getting. But he's probably a little more athletic than what we anticipated."

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Ron Bartell (second round) played extensively against the Bears and stood up well in coverage. ... WR Dante Ridgeway (sixth round), after struggling some in practice, had one reception for 19 yards against the Bears, but had another catch wiped out because he went out of bounds before the reception ... Fullback Madison Hedgecock played on several special teams units. ... Undrafted free-agent CB Duvol Thompson had a nice pass defense against WR Mark Bradley.

INJURY REPORT: The Rams came out of the game against the Bears "clean," according to coach Mike Martz ... The Rams entered their first game against the Bears with only eight players injured: CB Jerametrius Butler (knee), RB Dusty McGrorty (knee), TE Erik Jensen (back), tackles Orlando Pace (quad), Grant Williams (back) and Matt Morgan (neck) and linebackers Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Louis Ayeni (calf).


The 49ers' offensive line was targeted for major changes when the new regime had a chance to analyze the club's 2-14 season from a year ago. Although the 49ers began the exhibition season without the services of four starters on the offensive line, some of those players are expected back shortly.

The line was considered the worst part of the 49ers last season. It did not open holes in the run game, and it surrendered 52 sacks.

"There were a lot of issues that went on here last year that wasn't any of my business," said 49ers offensive line coach George Warhop, in his 10th NFL season as an assistant. "We felt we needed to add some depth, which we did. We felt we needed to increase competition, which we did. We felt we needed to strengthen our tackle positions."

The 49ers signed free-agent Jonas Jennings from the Bills to become the starting left tackle. Kwame Harris, who struggled at left tackle, was switched to the right side, where he played at Stanford.

Even before the new folks arrived on the scene, the 49ers started placing more emphasis on the line. They have selected four offensive linemen - Harris, Justin Smiley, David Baas and Adam Snyder - in the first three rounds since 2003. In the previous 24 years, the 49ers selected just six offensive linemen in the first three rounds.

The major knock on the offensive line last season was a multitude of technique breakdowns that never got corrected under coach Gregg Smith, a longtime Dennis Erickson assistant. Guard Justin Smiley, who said he has a special bond with Smith, said Warhop's tutelage has enabled him to be more fundamentally sound.

"Coach Warhop has brought a technical side that maybe coach Smith didn't have as much," Smiley said. "Coach Smith was more of the old school. He was unbelievable at coaching veterans, guys who have played for a while.

"I needed to be fine-tuned and polished up and coach Warhop has been a great asset. He helped me work on proper footwork and technique and things you need to be good at."

Warhop is a details-oriented coach who believes that most breakdowns on the offensive line can be corrected.

"In my opinion most sacks occur because an offensive lineman makes a technical mistake, not because he gets beat by a defensive lineman," Warhop said. "If we can decrease our mistakes - from a set standpoint or how we use our hands - it'll increase our chances of keeping our quarterback clean."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp closes at the team's Santa Clara, Calif, practice facility on Aug. 24. Most practices are closed to the general public.


--Kirk Reynolds, the former 49ers director of public relations who lost his job this summer as a result of the controversial training videos from previous years, resurfaced last week in Canton, Ohio, as a personal assistant to Hall of Fame inductee Steve Young.

--Receiver Rashaun Woods was injured most of training camp last season with various pulled muscles. Again, he has been sidelined due to a groin pull. Woods did not play in the 49ers' exhibition opener and certainly is no higher than No. 7 on the depth chart.

Yet, it appears to be a given that Woods will remain with the team. If the 49ers released the 2004 first-round draft pick, they would have to be ready to absorb a salary-cap hit of nearly $2.5 million.

--Linebacker Julian Peterson made his return after missing 11 games last season with a torn Achilles. "I was feeling really good to get some of that old rust off," Peterson said. "I got that first anxiety of being in a game all over again. It was great after that first hit."

--Coach Mike Nolan won his first replay challenge. Originally, officials ruled Raiders punter Shane Lechler was not down by contact after he appeared to run for a first down after a bad snap. But, upon further review, it was determined Saleem Rasheed tackled Lechler to stop him shy of the first down.

--Back when the 49ers hit the practice field for the first time for a minicamp in April, it was noticed that none of the players wore the "SF" decals on the sides of their helmets.

Although there were other practical reasons why decals were not placed on the helmets during the offseason, Nolan also said it was a way for players to know that no spot on the roster was guaranteed. "They have to earn them," he said.

On Friday, the day before the 49ers' first exhibition game, the decals were on the helmets for the first time.

"They've earned their stripes," Nolan said. "(But) I guess we could take them off again."

--Quarterback-turned-receiver Rasheed Marshall saw his first significant time at his new position but did not catch a pass. Still, Marshall, the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year last season as a quarterback at West Virginia, said he is feeling more comfortable running routes and catching passes in the NFL.

"It's coming along, I feel like I'm getting better every day," Marshall said. "Every day I feel like I'm faced with a different obstacle, but I'm learning different something new every day."

Marshall, a fifth-round draft pick, should earn a spot on the 53-man roster because of his athleticism and versatility. The 49ers selected him as a receiver, even though he played just two snaps at that position in the Gridiron Classic, a college all-star game. Prior to that, the last time he lined up at receiver was for a few plays his sophomore year of high school.

"I've been a quarterback since I stepped onto the field," he said.

--Even though outside linebackers Jamie Winborn and Andre Carter have completely different styles, Nolan said the two players are interchangeable.

"We will have to change the structure around them a little bit, but it still works," Nolan said. "It works and that's the beauty of it. You got a guy who can rush (Carter) and one who can drop (Winborn). Jamie has some pass-rushing ability. It's a lot better on the back than it is on the tackle, but nonetheless he has some of that ability."

"If we light it up, they'll say, 'Wow, that 3-4.' If it doesn't light it up, they'll say, 'What is wrong with that 3-4?'" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on how the fans will react to the club's new defensive scheme.


Isaac Sopoaga vs. Anthony Adams vs. Ronnie Fields at NT - Adams is the starter but there is some doubt whether his body type allows him to be the kind of presence on the nose that a team running a 3-4 defense needs. Adams has also seen some time recently at defensive end. Sopoaga, a raw second-year player who missed his entire rookie campaign with a bad back, looked good in the team's exhibition opener. Sopoaga held the point of attack and recorded two tackles. Fields, a rookie, was drafted as a true two-gap defensive lineman.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Alex Smith, who will remain as the No. 1 guy for at least another week, vs. Tim Rattay, who appears to be a reliable security blanket if Smith struggles, at QB; Kevan Barlow, who is coming off a disappointing season, vs. Frank Gore, who has missed a week of workouts due to a shoulder injury, at RB; Jamie Winborn, a versatile player whose athleticism allows him to do a lot of different things, vs. Andre Carter, a converted DE who is more comfortable in a one-point stance, at OLB.

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Alex Smith struggled in the exhibition opener, completing just 3 of 9 passes for 25. But, obviously, not all of it was Smith's fault. He was pressured a great deal, as his makeshift offensive line struggled against the Raiders' first unit. ... G David Baas is out another couple weeks with a hamstring tear. ... G/T Adam Snyder is taking snaps at RG and could be in line for a starting job. He played well in his starting assignment at RT ... LT Patrick Estes started in the team's first exhibition game. Estes has made an impressive transition after spending last season as Virginia's backup TE. In addition to the position change, Estes is also playing with a broken left hand. ... WR Rasheed Marshall is beginning to look more comfortable at his new position. He is also spending a lot of time working on catching punts, with varying degrees of success. Marshall did not catch any passes or return any punts in the exhibition opener. ... RB Frank Gore might miss another week with a shoulder injury. ... WR Marcus Maxwell, perhaps the most physically gifted of the wideouts, opened a lot of eyes with his play prior to sustaining a heel injury. Depending on how Maxwell performs in the exhibition season, the 49ers might be forced to keep him on the roster. Maxwell (6-4, 205) combines good size with tremendous speed. ... CB Derrick Johnson had an impressive debut with two interceptions, including one he returned 87 yards for a touchdown. Johnson and fellow rookie Daven Holly have shown a lot of progress in their first camps.

Running back Frank Gore (shoulder), tight ends Eric Johnson (foot) and Steve Bush (shoulder), offensive linemen Jonas Jennings (hand), Justin Smiley (calf), David Baas (hamstring) and Jeremy Newberry (knee), receivers Rashaun Woods (groin) and Derrick Hamilton (knee), and defensive backs Shawntae Spencer (hamstring) and Arnold Parker (shoulder) did not play in the exhibition opener due to injuries. Only Baas, Newberry and Hamilton could be out several more weeks. Seven players appeared on the team's injury report following the game, all of whom are listed as probable for Saturday's game against the Broncos: safety Dwaine Carpenter (shoulder), linebacker Derek Smith (lower leg cut), cornerback Rayshun Reed (ankle), receiver Fred Amey (concussion), guard Adam Snyder (knee bruise), receiver P.J. Fleck (shoulder) and defensive lineman Tony Brown (hand). Top Stories