NFC West News and Notes - 8/29/05

The regular season draws closer, and first cuts have already begun. Find out who has made a case for a permanent spot, and who didn't survive Round One of the roster shuffle in this week's NFC West News and Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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NOTE: The Seahawks announced the release of 14 players Monday afternoon via their official website. Seattle has 10 NFL Europe roster exemptions allowing the Seahawks to retain 75 players until the mandatory reduction to 53 players by Sunday, September 4.

The following players were waived: S Jamaal Brimmer, WR Marque Davis, DE Ronald Flemons, LS Tim Galloway, G Steven Gibbs, SS Terry Holley, G Matt Miller, TE Calen Powell, FS Junior Rosegreen and WR Jason Willis

The following veteran contracts were terminated: DE Antonio Cochran, DE Otis Leverette

The following players were waived/injury: RB Dante Brown (Shoulder), DT Ron Smith (Knee)

HOT TOPIC

The Seahawks have several Pro Bowl-caliber players on offense. Not so on defense, where a No. 26 ranking last season led to wholesale changes. That explains why Seattle cannot afford to lose DT Marcus Tubbs, who is quickly becoming the Seahawks' best player on defense.

With Tubbs on the field, the Seahawks have a shot at stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket.

Without him, this defense appears vulnerable to many of the same problems that doomed it last season.

Tubbs came close to dominating Saturday in the Seahawks' third exhibition game. The Chiefs' veteran offensive line could not stop him from collecting six solo tackles and a 10-yard sack in a little more than two quarters of work.

With Tubbs on the field, the Chiefs had trouble running even with Priest Holmes in the backfield.

With Tubbs on the sideline, Holmes' backup, Larry Johnson, ran free for a 97-yard touchdown.

"Every once in a while, you see why this team drafted Marcus in the first round," Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said. "He can be a force inside and you can name (similar) guys like Ted Washington and Grady Jackson when he was a real run-stuffer.

"And Marcus can be even more than a run-stuffer because he has athletic talents in addition to his size and strength."

The Seahawks will probably have seven new starters on defense. Tubbs is one of them. He struggled as a rookie in 2004, a season in which his mother suffered through the final months of a four-year battle with cancer. Her passing in December came as Tubbs tried to come back from an ankle injury. Early in the year, a hamstring problem slowed him.

Tubbs used the off-season to clear his mind and re-dedicate himself. He reported to training camp at about 330 pounds and emerged in the 320s. His massive presence has made all the difference for a Seattle team that released former starting DT Cedric Woodard. The other 2004 starter, DT Rashad Moore, is battling a shoulder injury and might not be a factor this season.

Tubbs and veteran DT Chuck Darby have so far proven to be an effective combination in the middle. There are questions about whether Darby can be effective as an every-down player. He has been effective working alongside Tubbs, however, and the team also values the way Darby has mentored his younger linemate.

"Chuck sees me as his little brother and I respect that," Tubbs said. "He comes from Tampa Bay, where they have had good defenses, so he knows what it takes."

The Seahawks are still learning. With Tubbs in the middle, at least they have a chance. Darby thinks his understudy will one day be ranked among the NFL's very best.

"He is a great guy, a great person and a hell of a football player with tons of talent just waiting to explode," Darby said. "At the pace he is going and (given) the things he is doing, he will most definitely be a Pro Bowl player one day."

PLAYER NOTES

--RT Floyd Womack suffered a triceps injury during the Seahawks' exhibition game Saturday night at Kansas City. Second-year pro Sean Locklear took his place, and will continue to do so as Womack is expected to be out of the lineup until Week Four of the regular season.

--WR Darrell Jackson caught seven passes for 99 yards and a touchdown Saturday night at Kansas City. It was by far his most productive outing of the exhibition season. Jackson did most of his damage against Chiefs CB Patrick Surtain, including a 36-yard touchdown grab. Jackson probably should have beaten Surtain for another 36-yard score, but the pass from QB Matt Hasselbeck sailed a bit long.

--WR Jerheme Urban helped his cause with a four-catch, 66-yard performance at Kansas City on Saturday night. This has been a difficult summer for Urban, who dropped passes in each of the first two exhibition games. But coach Mike Holmgren lauded him for stepping up big in Kansas City. Urban caught passes for gains of 24 and 27 yards.

--LB Jamie Sharper is starting to make a few more plays after a slow start to his Seattle career. Sharper dropped Chiefs RB Priest Holmes for a 2-yard loss on a first-and-goal play Saturday night. Sharper made a few nice plays against the run a week earlier against Dallas. He seems to be gaining momentum as the regular season approaches.

--K Josh Brown drew the wrath of coach Mike Holmgren after sending a pair of kickoffs out of bounds Saturday night at Kansas City. Brown nearly had a third kickoff trickle out of bounds. Brown is a good kicker, but something wasn't right against the Chiefs.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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NOTE: The Arizona Cardinals’ official website announced the release of the following six players today: linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba, cornerback Rhett Nelson, safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, tackle Alan Reuber, defensive tackle Keith Wright, and defensive end Peppi Zellner.

In addition, the team also has placed center Bill Conaty (arm), defensive tackle Kenny King (wrist) and running back J.R. Redmond (shoulder) on injured reserve.

HOT TOPIC

While coach Dennis Green and the Cardinals continue their public "we'll be fine" stance, the growing injury list at center -- where the team is down to its fourth-string player and is continuing to drag in prospects off the street -- is a source of concern with the opener closing in.

Injuries to starter Alex Stepanovich (fractured hand), Nick Leckey (ankle sprain) and Bill Conaty (bicep bruise), combined with rookie Elton Brown starting at right guard and veteran right tackle Orlando Huff just now making his Cardinals debut (knee), have made for a tough time for an offense that was the focal point of off-season transactions.

Conaty was hurriedly signed after Stepanovich suffered the injury that likely will keep him out of the opener. Last Friday at Oakland, the Cardinals were forced to start backup guard Adam Haayer at center. The result was predictable. The Cardinals had not given up a sack during their first two preseason games, but quarterback Kurt Warner went down three times and threw an interception under strong pressure.

"I don't think I have ever seen anything like that at one position, the way it has transpired here," Warner said of the plight at center. "It's good this is the preseason. It's frustrating when we're at the point where we're at. We have so many new guys. You try to jell. You try to do new things. There's so much thrown at them."

So far, Warner, signed as a free agent, and running back J.J. Arrington, drafted in the second round, have had little time or room to show their stuff.

That the Cardinals take an unblemished record into Friday's preseason finale against Denver is a tribute to the first-team defense and the play of their backups, who on two occasions have cleaned up a mess and brought the team back to narrow wins.

Green may well be correct in his "we'll be fine" assessment, but the question is when?

The Cardinals are not certain that Stepanovich or Leckey will be ready for the opener, which would force them to put a third-team or lower center on the field against the Giants on Sept. 11.

And while Brown was regarded as the best guard in the draft -- the Cardinals all but did cartwheels when they found him still on the board in the fourth round -- he is a rookie. It will take time for him to turn all that potential into production.

"We don't want to be ready right now, quite honestly," Green said. "We want to be ready the Tuesday or Wednesday before we play New York. That is when we want to be ready to go and we want to go out and play five really good games before the bye."

Meanwhile, Warner is anxious to prove that he is not washed up.

And Green is anxious to prove that 2004 was a fluke and that the "offensive guru" status upon which he built his reputation is still valid.

Patience will be a key word in the early going if the team takes some lumps.

The Cardinals are accustomed to slow starts. Not only have their rosters been loaded with dead wood (no longer the case, a significant accomplishment by Green and his staff during his first two off-seasons in Arizona), but their schedule is also front-loaded with road games to keep the team and its foes out of the early-season afternoon desert heat.

So the question becomes: If the Cardinals do not get their players back and their offense rolling until the third, fourth or fifth game, will that be too late?

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Chike Okeafor is giving the Cardinals exactly what they wanted when they signed him as a free agent last winter -- the ideal left-side pass-rushing bookend to complement Pro Bowler Bertrand Berry. Okeafor's strip of Kerry Collins for a safety against the Raiders is the type of play the team envisions frequently. "That's what we do," Okeafor said. "We stop the run and that is our meal. But when you get that quarterback, that's your dessert." With Okeafor and Berry at the ends, the Cardinals' defense is among NFL preseason leaders in sacks (12) and interceptions (five), the latter a byproduct of pressure on the quarterback. The defense has scored twice -- important to a team that is struggling on offense.

--RB Marcel Shipp is averaging a whopping 8.2 yards on his 10 carries in two appearances as he comes back from leg and ankle injuries that wiped out his entire 2004 season. He was the Cardinals' rushing leader in 2003 and 2002. While his work, largely with the second team against second-team defenses, is verification that he has made a successful recovery, initially he will be No. 2 to rookie J.J. Arrington. Shipp has been there before. In 2003 he outplayed Emmitt Smith during the preseason but was the backup, getting his chance by default when Smith suffered injuries. In 2002, Shipp outplayed first-round draft pick Thomas Jones during the preseason but again opened the season as the backup, until coaches realized that he was more effective and was given his chance at midseason. "I'm more worried about performing and getting my job done," Shipp said. "Everything was just wrong during those days,but you just have to keep your head up and focus and just wait for the next time you can get out there. There is always a chip on my shoulder. I'm just out there trying to do what I can and figure out my role on this team. I haven't played for a while so my confidence is starting to grow and I'm just going to keep moving forward from there."

--RB J.J. Arrington, who was averaging less than 3 yards per carry through two games, broke out with a 20-yard burst at Oakland. But on his other nine carries, he gained 11 yards, an indication that the speedy, slashing rookie and the line still have work to do together. Although Marcel Shipp has been impressive in his comeback from injuries, Arrington is expected to be the opening-day starter.

--RB J.R. Redmond had locked up the kickoff and punt returning jobs, causing the Cardinals to release Josh Scobey, last season's kickoff returner. Five days later, Redmond suffered a dislocated left shoulder on the game's first punt return at Oakland and was sidelined at least a month. That's causing wheels to spin. Redmond also was ticketed to be the team's third-down back. There are other capable kickoff return candidates, but no one else was really in the hunt to run back punts, which would be an issue if Redmond is not ready next week for the opener.

--RB Damien Anderson, a veteran backup who can double as a return specialist, may have landed a spot on the initial 53-man roster because of J.R. Redmond's dislocated shoulder.

--DT Darnell Dockett's chest injury caused the team to dip to the third team at the under tackle position. Backup Kenny King, hoping to come back from wrist surgery that sidelined him most of last season, re-injured it and is being evaluated. The third-string under tackle is rookie Tim Bulman, though veteran Ross Kolodziej, the No. 2 nose tackle, has played under tackle and likely would be the starter if neither Dockett nor King could play in the opener. The one area in which the Cardinals have depth and versatility is the defensive line.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald strained his right knee in the first quarter at Oakland and may sit out the preseason finale. His absence would underscore the inability of anyone to take ownership of the No. 4 receiving position.

--WR Charlie Lee, a sixth-year veteran, appears to be the leader for fourth receiver spot in a battle among Reggie Newhouse, seventh-round pick LeRon McCoy and undrafted rookies Carlyle Holiday and Dan Sheldon.

--FS Robert Griffith (groin) is giving 2004 starter Ifeanyi Ohalete one last chance to impress coaches and save his job. Griffith, acquired during the off season, had been working with the first unit.

--SS Ernest Shazor, whom the Cardinals believed was a steal as an undrafted rookie free agent, is beginning to make his mark after an inauspicious start that at times had him appearing headed for the cut list. He had a hamstring injury at Michigan that scared away teams in the draft. He went home for a short time and missed the opening of training camp to address personal issues. Now the fourth-string strong safety, Shazor is beginning to make his move following an interception in his preseason and pro debut. At the very least he becomes a strong candidate for the practice squad.

--SS Adrian Wilson (leg bruise) sat out the Oakland preseason game. Coaches will decide this week whether to risk playing the starter in the preseason finale against Denver. It's a good chance to look at other players, such as undrafted rookie Ernest Shazor.

--OLB Eric Johnson will get a good look in the preseason finale. He took a step toward making the roster as a backup when he picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for the game-winning TD against Oakland last week. He has been working behind starter Orlando Huff on the weak side.

--C Shawn Lynch was claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings and immediately becomes the backup to Adam Haayer because the team's top three centers -- Alex Stepanovich, Nick Leckey and Bill Conaty -- are injured and sidelined.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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HOT TOPIC

It turned out the move of Adam Archuleta from strong safety to free safety lasted for one preseason game.

After playing last season with an injured back, Archuleta was switched to free safety to take pressure off his back and allow him to play at a lower weight. However, after the Rams' rush defense was gashed for two 55-yard runs in their Aug. 21 preseason game against San Diego, Archuleta went back to strong safety and Michael Hawthorne was installed as the starting free safety.

Rookie Jerome Carter had started the first two preseason games at strong safety, while rookie Oshiomogho Atogwe started at free safety in the preseason opener, with Archuleta held out.

Coach Mike Martz declared the free safety spot an open competition between Hawthorne, Atogwe and converted wide receiver Mike Furrey.

"We had Adam back there at free because we didn't know if we would have a free safety arise," Martz said. "We felt like we had several candidates. I'm very pleased with some of the other free safeties so we felt like we could put Adam back at strong safety."

Martz also realized that Archuleta is more effective playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Said Martz, "When it is all said and done, Adam is probably better, particularly in our nickel package, down inside than in the back. That's what he is. He's such an instinctive and quick-read guy in the running game that we miss him being up there."

"It's going to be a good thing for us, and I think it's going to help our defense," Archuleta said. "I play strong safety. That's what I am. I love playing that position. I've always enjoyed being the guy to be able to mix it up.

"To be able to run around and just cause havoc, that's kind of my game. Being a free safety gave me an opportunity to be in on different types of plays. But now, I just like being able to fly around and just have fun. ... That's when I'm at the top of my game."

As for weighing less than he normally does, Archuleta said, "I'm a little lighter than I have been traditionally, but I played linebacker in college at 200 pounds. So I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal. Weight really doesn't affect me much. Obviously, I would like to be around 215 or 210, but what am I going to do? We're in August. This is the season. I've got to go forward."

Of the potential free safeties, Martz said of Hawthorne, "He's always around the ball. Even though he's missed some tackles, we can clean that thing up. He's around the ball, he makes a lot of plays, he has a good break on the ball, he's smart. He's progressed very well. Actually he has come further than I expected."

Martz proclaimed Furrey "the biggest surprise of camp," adding, "We put him over there because of his speed and quickness and his mentality on special teams, and it carried over to defense. He's a good tackler, he gets a great break on the ball and he has that speed. He's going to be a factor on defense, particularly in our nickel stuff."

Atogwe sat out the second preseason game because of a slight groin injury.

"People are getting shuffled around, spots are opening up, I'm in competition for the spot, but I am not really focused on starting," Atogwe said. "I'm focused on me getting better as a player. As a rookie, you are unproven. A veteran guy in the league for a while he's proven himself that he's capable of playing at a high-intensity, pressure situation.

"Throughout training camp I am just going to continue to show coach I know my assignments, I am at where I'm supposed to be at and I'm playing as well as anyone else. Hopefully that helps build the trust in him for me."

PLAYER NOTES

--S Adam Archuleta was moved back to strong safety after starting the second preseason game at free safety.

--S Jerome Carter started the first two preseason games at strong safety, but the rookie became a backup when Adam Archuleta was moved back to strong safety from free safety.

--G Tom Nutten was installed as the starter at left guard for the third preseason game against Detroit and is expected to be the starter for the season opener. Nutten was re-signed just before training camp after successfully recovering from reconstructive toe surgery.

--NT Ryan Pickett remains sidelined by back pain, for which the medical staff found no explanation after giving Pickett a battery of tests. Pickett originally suffered the injury in an Aug. 6 practice.

--DE Brandon Green was working with the first unit on the right side in practice prior to the Detroit game instead of Anthony Hargrove. Green emerged as a playmaker in the first two games, and coaches wanted to get him some snaps against the other team's starters.

--DE Anthony Hargrove suffered a slight fracture of a bone in his left hand in an Aug. 26 practice, but it was not expected to affect his playing time. Hargrove was already working with the second unit while coaches evaluated Brandon Green with the first team.

--CB Corey Ivy shed the cast he was wearing to protect a sprained wrist, and has been working with the first-team nickel defense. Ivy also practiced with the first unit in the base defense Aug. 27 when starter Travis Fisher sat out because of tightness in his back.

--CB Terry Fair is competing to make the roster as a backup defensive back and kick returner. Fair, a first-round pick with the Lions in 1998, hasn't played an NFL regular season game since suffering a broken ankle while with Carolina in September, 2002.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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NOTE: Craig Massei of SFIllustrated.com reports the ten cuts today from San Francisco: LB Andrew Williams, CB Joselio Hanson, G Paul Zukauskas, WR Javin Hunter, DE Josh Cooper, S Arnold Parker, TE Doug Zeigler, K Kirk Yliniemi, P Cole Farden and FB Brian Johnson.

HOT TOPIC

The 49ers will look to give starting quarterback Tim Rattay a lot of help this season.

The club has a dearth of proven NFL talent in the passing game. Their top returning receiver, tight end Eric Johnson, has missed almost all of training camp with a foot injury. And the 49ers are determined to be a run-oriented team.

"We're going to run the ball this year," receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "That's no secret. We're going to run the ball, so there should be a lot of one-on-one opportunities on the outside."

The 49ers owned the No. 31 rushing average in the league last season, just one season after Kevan Barlow gained 1,024 yards while starting only four games. The 49ers made some adjustments on the offensive line they believe will give them more strength to run the ball.

Barlow has maintained the starting job, holding off rookie Frank Gore through the exhibition season. Barlow gained 30 yards on nine first-half carries against the Titans last Friday.

"Obviously, we're not running the ball the way that we want to ... but we are just going to come back out and keep pushing and keep digging," Barlow said.

Rattay is capable of posting huge numbers if he has a running game and the pass protection to keep the heat off him. But he is working with an inexperienced group of receivers. Lloyd caught 43 passes last season, while starting flanker Arnaz Battle had eight receptions.

Rattay entered training camp at No. 2 on the depth chart behind rookie Alex Smith, the top overall draft pick. But Rattay showed the steady hand of a veteran while Smith looked shaky. Smith is scheduled to serve as Rattay's backup when the 49ers open the season at home Sept. 11 against the Rams.

--Quarterback Cody Pickett, a fourth-stringer, saw some action on special teams in the preseason, as coach Mike Nolan looks for a way to get the promising second-year player on the field.

"I can't think of anything I don't like about Cody Pickett," Nolan said. "Not every quarterback even wants to cover punts and play on punt return and kickoff return. It gives us another dimension. If he's able to help us in the kicking game, teams have to be aware. He can be a threat on special teams just by being a quarterback and having the possibility of an offensive play take place."

--After struggling in the first two exhibition games, the 49ers' No. 1 defense looked as if it's getting the hang of the new 3-4 scheme. In 21/2 quarters, the 49ers held the Titans to 150 yards, one third-down conversion and three points.

"I thought they did a very good job," Nolan said. "The defense as a whole was very focused during the week of practice. They wanted it in the worst way."

--Nolan said he is leaning toward having training camp at the team's year-round practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif., every summer. On taking the job, Nolan expressed skepticism about the club's previous decision to keep camp close to home. Nolan said he likes that the general public was allowed to watch practices for the first time at the team's facility. He said he was pleased with the condition of the practice fields.

"I can't even say I'm 50-50 on the fence anymore," Nolan said. "I like it here. I really do."

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Eric Johnson, the team's top offensive player last season, remains sidelined with a partially torn plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle under his right foot. Johnson has been out since Aug. 9 and has not played in a game this preseason.

--WR P.J. Fleck, who was in line to be the No. 4 wideout, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

--DE Chris Cooper is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. He had two sacks in the 49ers' first exhibition game but did not play Aug. 13 because of the injury.

--FB Brian Johnson, who had a legitimate chance to stick on the roster, underwent season-ending surgery on his right ankle.

--QB Cody Pickett, a fourth-stringer, is virtually assured a spot on the 53-man roster. But coach Mike Nolan is trying to see if he can find a way to suit up Pickett for games. Pickett is taking part in special teams on the punt, punt return and kickoff return teams in non-ballhandling roles.

--FB Tony Ficklin has moved into the backup role behind Fred Beasley. Ficklin is a converted defensive end from San Jose State. If he does not make the active roster, Ficklin will almost certainly be invited back to the practice squad.

--WR Fred Amey is making a strong bid for a roster spot. Amey, an undrafted free agent, is currently the No. 4 receiver and he might be the team's most reliable punt returner, other than starting receiver Arnaz Battle.

--NT Anthony Adams remains the starter, ahead of Isaac Sopoaga, but he is also getting a look at DE. Adams might also be used on offense as a lead blocker on short-yardage situations.


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