NFC West News & Notes - 10/19/05

The 49ers clean out the garage in favor of the shiny new (untested) model, the Rams look to bounce back from an ignominious Monday night collapse, the Cardinals suffer another hit to their defensive depth, and the Seahawks try to make sense of a shocking incident in today's NFC West News & Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren frequently warns players to avoid the circumstances that led to free safety Ken Hamlin suffering serious injuries in a fight outside a nightclub. But a coach cannot follow players around to make sure they don't swerve into harm's way.

"As an organization and as a coach, you have to do the best you can," Holmgren said. "If I didn't talk to them a lot, then I would not be doing my job. I feel very strongly about that.

"Life is about making decisions. Where you go, who you hang out with, how you handle yourself. You have to be very careful once you become a 'celebrity' for any number of reasons. There is more responsibility that comes along with that. Sometimes you can be super careful and stuff happens anyway."

Although the facts of the case remain inconclusive - the Seattle sports information maching is currently clogged with an astonishing and disturbing amount of speculation and innuendo - Hamlin surely wishes he had been more careful while celebrating the Seahawks' 42-10 victory over Houston on Sunday night. A shoving match outside a nightclub turned ugly and Hamlin emerged with a fractured skull and bruising to his brain. He remains in serious but stable condition.

On the field, Hamlin will be replaced by fourth-year man Marquand Manuel. The word on Manuel is that while he isn't as dynamic as Hamlin, he will play the game intelligently and provide good results.

"As tough an incident as it is, we have to keep going," Holmgren said. "The players are looking at the film right now. They are going to work out at 3 p.m. If Ken could pipe in on conversation to the team, he would say that: `Hey keep going. When I heal up, I will be back.' That's what we do."

Holmgren continues to warn players about the perils of life on the town and in the spotlight. Hamlin even apologized to him during a brief conversation Monday.
"I never had any sons, I just had daughters," Holmgren said. "But I have all these young men out there. I'm sure they kind of hear it sometimes like I am their dad, and I am not their dad.

"Sometimes they say, `Enough.' They probably just don't listen anymore. When something like this does happen, typically over the years, they will apologize to me. My response is usually pretty consistent: `Thank you, but you get well.'"

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Shaun Alexander needs 55 yards to become the all-time leading rusher in Seahawks history. He is on pace to score 32 rushing TDs and gain more than 1,900 yards. Alexander is running more aggressively and with greater purpose, breaking far more tackles than in past seasons. He has also shored up his pass protection to the point that Seattle feels comfortable leaving him on the field on obvious passing downs.

--RB Maurice Morris proved Sunday night that the running attack can continue to function at a high level with him in the game. Morris carried eight times for 104 yards during the fourth quarter of Seattle's blowout victory over Houston. He showed outstanding moves in the open field. Morris is not very big and questions persist about whether he can be a featured back in the NFL.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck continues to show improved maturity in how he manages a game. He clearly learned from the mistakes he made during a dismal performance in the season-opening loss at Jacksonville. Hasselbeck still needs to become smarter about throwing away the football before he takes unnecessary sacks. He appears to be on the verge of achieving perennial Pro Bowl status, but he has to continue working on the finer points of his game.

--QB Seneca Wallace made it into the game against Houston on Sunday after Seattle was well on its way to a blowout. Wallace did not get to attempt a pass, however. His only stats were two rushes for minus-2 yards, the result of kneeling down on the final two plays. His lone career pass attempt remains a 42-yard completion to WR Peter Warrick against Arizona earlier this season.

--WR Bobby Engram is expected to return from cracked ribs following the bye week. The offense has flourished without him, but Seattle needs Engram over the long haul. Engram is a quick, sure-handed receiver who makes plays when given the opportunity. He is also a reliable punt returner, although Seattle does not want to overburden him.

--WR Peter Warrick showed he still has something left by catching passes for gains of 20 and 27 yards Sunday night. Seattle needs Warrick to step up because WR Bobby Engram (ribs) and WR Darrell Jackson (knee) remain sidelined. There are questions about Warrick's ability to bounce back from a knee injury. His performance against the Texans started to answer those questions.

--WR Joe Jurevicius is clearly benefiting from being in a high-functioning offensive system. He has four TD receptions in six games, matching the career-high he needed 15 games to reach in 2002 with Tampa Bay. Seattle's offense leads the league in yards per game and Jurevicius is taking full advantage of injuries to WR Bobby Engram and WR Darrell Jackson. He already has five receptions of 20-plus yards, matching his 10-game total with Tampa Bay last season.

--TE Jerramy Stevens already has four receptions of at least 20 yards, one short of the career high he set in 16 games last season. Stevens continues to distinguish himself as a reliable option for QB Matt Hasselbeck. Stevens has played so well that coaches have not felt compelled to activate veteran TE Itula Mili in the weeks since Mili returned from an intestinal blockage. Mili could be activated at any time, but Stevens remains the primary option at the position.

--FS Ken Hamlin faces weeks and possibly months of recovery from injuries suffered during a fight outside a Seattle nightclub in the early hours of Monday morning.

--DE Grant Wistrom has been getting fairly consistent pressure on the quarterback, but he hasn't been able to close the deal in terms of getting sacks. Wistrom made his first sack of the season Sunday night. He missed a lot of time to injury last season, one possible explanation for his slow start in 2005. Seattle does rank among the league leaders with 18 sacks, and the team is winning games. Getting more from Wistrom down the stretch could help Seattle immensely.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu is proving critics wrong in his first NFL season. Draft analysts generally criticized Seattle for using a second-round pick on Tatupu back in April. They said Tatupu was too small and lacked the speed needed to play at a high level. Tatupu has proved them wrong by leading Seattle in tackles and making plays all over the field. He has two sacks and an interception after six games.

--P Tom Rouen has dramatically upgraded the position for Seattle. The team released struggling P Leo Araguz after four games. Rouen hit the ground running and pinned St. Louis inside its 20 four times in his first game back since suffering a hamstring injury in October 2004. Rouen punted only once against Houston on Sunday and he pinned the Texans inside their 10.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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End Calvin Pace is the second defensive lineman the team has lost for the year since the season started, which will limit coordinator Clancy Pendergast's game plans. Pace suffered a severe cut on an arm during an accident at his condominium in Atlanta during the bye week. According to coach Dennis Green, Pace slipped and tried to brace himself by placing an arm against a large window. The window broke, causing a cut that required surgery. The club lost nose tackle Russell Davis earlier this year. He has undergone surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle.

Pace, a first-round pick in 2003, was the backup at both defensive end positions. In recent weeks, he took on a bigger role, playing in the five-lineman scheme implemented by Pendergast. With his pass-rushing ability, Pace was a wild-card in the alignment. He rushed up the middle or from the end, and the Cardinals were having success with the scheme.

"We have to look to see if that's still something we want to do and how we want to do it," Green said.

Antonio Smith is now the chief backup at defensive end. He's barely played in his two NFL seasons, so the team is likely to add a veteran this week. That could be Peppi Zellner, a starter last year who was cut at the end of training camp.

Pace was placed on the non-football injury list Tuesday, and there was no immediate word on whether the team would pay Pace.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Antrel Rolle is still holding out hope that he can play the last month of the season. Rolle had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and the team has yet to place him on injured reserve.

--OT Oliver Ross hopes to return from a broken hand for the Oct. 30 against Dallas. This Sunday will be the third game Ross has missed. He has been replaced by Fred Wakefield.

--CB David Macklin expects to play this week after missing a start because of a hamstring injury.

--CB Eric Green is expected to miss two more games with a shoulder sprain suffered against Carolina on Oct. 9.

--CB Raymond Walls is hopeful of playing this week after missing a game with a strained muscle in the hip and groin area.

--QB Kurt Warner thinks he'll be fully recovered from a torn groin muscle by Sunday. It seems likely, however, that Warner will serve as the backup to Josh McCown. Coach Dennis Green isn't likely to name a starter until Sunday.

--QB Josh McCown passed for 783 yards in his two starts this year, the most ever by a Cardinal in consecutive games. Coach Dennis Green isn't saying if McCown will start for a third straight game, but that seems likely.

--RB Marcel Shipp had 13 carries last week, and just five of them went for positive yardage. Shipp isn't getting much blocking up front and he tried to take too many runs outside.

--RB J.J. Arrington has become the team's third-down back. He has good speed and nifty open-field moves, but he looks tentative at times. He probably won't get the ball more than four or five times a game.

--WR Anquan Boldin, who played quarterback some at Florida State, lined up at running back a few times against Carolina and scored on a flare pass. Boldin has scored two touchdowns and had more than 100 yards receiving in the past two games.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald has gained more than 100 yards receiving in each of the past two games. Fitzgerald is versatile enough that he also plays on the punt return team.

--WR Bryant Johnson is playing a smaller role than expected. He had a good off-season but is just an afterthought in this offense.

--TE Teyo Johnson is the best receiving tight end the team has, and coaches would like to get him the ball more in the coming weeks.

--TE Adam Bergen is a rookie but he has good hands. He needs to get the ball more but plays sparingly.

--K Neil Rackers has made 18 straight field goals, a team record, and all but one of those kicks have been near the middle of the goalposts. Rackers is on a roll.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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For 17 minutes and 23 seconds Monday night, the Rams appeared on the verge of not only knocking off the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but also doing it convincingly. The Rams led the Colts 17-0 and had just stopped the Colts on third down, with kicker Mike Vanderjagt missing a 48-yard field goal. From their own 38-yard line, the Rams moved quickly to the Indianapolis 45-yard line and on 2nd-and-4, quarterback Marc Bulger went back to pass.

Bulger went through his progressions, and launched a pass to wide receiver Torry Holt. But Bulger failed to account for weakside linebacker Cato June, who had dropped back into coverage. June intercepted the pass, his fourth of the season, and returned the ball 36 yards to the Rams' 34-yard line. What was most devastating about the play for the Rams was that Bulger moved into position for a tackle, and was leveled by a block from linebacker David Thornton. Bulger landed hard on his shoulder, and left the game for good. Or bad, as it was for the Rams.

"It started off with a bad throw and it got worse," Bulger said. "I was getting blocked, I got hit, and nothing happened there, and then I think once I hit the ground is when it happened. I'll have to see the replay. I don't know if once he jumped on top of me that's when it happened, but it wasn't the hit, it was the ground."

At that point in the game, the Rams had 174 yards. With backup Jamie Martin in the game, the Rams gained just 97 yards on 25 plays until a meaningless 75-yard drive that provided their final points in a 45-28 defeat. The Rams entered the second half leading 20-14, but a Steven Jackson fumble and two Martin interceptions led to touchdowns and the rout.

The Colts started five consecutive possessions in Rams territory in the second half and ran 34 consecutive plays from the Rams' half of the field. "We went into this game knowing we had to protect the ball," interim head coach Joe Vitt. "Obviously, we didn't do that. We came out of the blocks smoking. Whenever you let a good football team like the Colts get on a run, it's tough to put your finger in the dike."

As for Bulger, there was no further information available Tuesday after he underwent an MRI. After the game, Bulger said the injury felt similar to a shoulder injury he suffered last season in a game against San Francisco. He missed two games following that injury.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger suffered what was described as a sprained shoulder in the second quarter of Monday night's game against Indianapolis. Bulger left the game and did not return. There was no update on Bulger's condition after a Tuesday MRI.

--WR Dominique Thompson was signed to the roster Monday from the Rams' practice squad. Thompson was active for the game against the Colts, but did not play.

--G Claude Terrell started on the left side against the Colts instead of Tom Nutten, but was replaced by Nutten in the second quarter.

--G Tom Nutten, who started the first five games of the season at left guard, was replaced by rookie Claude Terrell as the starter Monday night against the Colts. However, Nutten came in for Terrell in the second quarter and played the rest of the game.

--S Jerome Carter, who was added to the team's injury report with a hip injury Saturday, was not active for Monday night's game against the Colts.

--WR Isaac Bruce missed his third game Monday because of a toe injury, and is expected to miss at least one and possibly two more games.

--CB Ron Bartell was active for the first game of his career Monday night against Indianapolis, but did not play.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay was acquired by the Bucs Monday in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick. The move addresses the Bucs' quarterback shortage following a possible season-ending knee injury to starter Brian Griese. Rattay, a sixth-year veteran, lost his job to No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith after four weeks. Monday's transaction beat the 4 p.m. trading deadline.

To make room for Rattay, the Bucs released fullback Rick Razzano. Griese suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the Dolphins when linebacker Zach Thomas rolled up on him. Griese was replaced by third-year pro Chris Simms, who went 6-of-10 for 69 yards in relief. The Bucs' No. 3 quarterback, Luke McCown, also is from Louisiana Tech.

Under the best-case scenario, Simms will start against the 49ers in two weeks and try to build on the Bucs' 5-1 record, the best in the NFC. Under the circumstances, Griese's injury couldn't have come at a better time, with the Bucs heading into their bye week.

"What you have to like is how he handled the situation, how he handled the team, his calmness, how he ran the team," quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said of Simms. "Certainly, he made some nice throws coming out in the second half, completed seven in a row, and that had a huge impact. But I think it was his calmness, his confidence in feeling, hey, I'm in my third year in the system. You don't ever want it to happen like it happened, but it did.

"We always used to say if something happens early in the season, the backup quarterback is best prepared because he's had all of training camp. Now what we say is the next best thing for it to happen, if it has to happen, is during the bye. Because it gives you your second chance to get him back in the rhythm."

The 49ers' depth at linebacker - one of the reasons coach Mike Nolan decided to implement the 3-4 defense - has dwindled in recent weeks. Of the team's top six linebackers when the season started, four of them could be out of action Sunday when the 49ers face the Redskins. Former starter Jamie Winborn fell out of favor and was traded to the Jaguars for a seventh-round draft pick; starter Jeff Ulbrich is out for the season with a torn biceps; and Julian Peterson is hoping to return this week after going down with a right hamstring strain Sept. 25.

Now, Saleem Rasheed, who was slated to start in place of Ulbrich at an inside linebacker position, is expected to miss two to five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair his meniscus cartilage. Rasheed went down with a knee injury in Monday's practice. Brandon Moore will start for Ulbrich-Rasheed. Veteran Derek Smith is taking all of the injuries in stride, as he prepares to face his former team.

"All you can do is go out there, play hard and take care of your stuff," Smith said. "Whoever comes in there and plays, whether it's Brandon or Saleem, I would expect him to know the stuff and to be able to come in and do a good job."

Moore observed that practice did not stop when Rasheed was injured. That is the mentality the 49ers are trying to teach their players.

"Somebody else has to step in and learn," Moore said. Linebacker is a spot that has a lot of question marks for the 49ers in the near and distant future. Ulbrich is the only linebacker who is signed through the 2006 season. Smith, Peterson and Andre Carter are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
Peterson's case is particularly interesting. He has been the team's franchise player for the past two seasons. They have never come close to working out a long-term extension because Peterson's agents believe he should be paid like a defensive end. He recorded a career-high seven sacks in 2003.

If the 49ers do not sign Peterson to a long-term contract, they would have to pay him at least $8.745 million on a one-year deal to make him their franchise player again. Peterson played just 11 games last year after sustaining a torn Achilles' tendon, and he has missed most of the last three games due to his hamstring injury.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith will be looking for some marked improvement in his second game as the franchise's starting signal-caller. Smith has a 12.5 passer rating thus far, and his first start went very poorly. Two weeks ago against the Colts, he threw four interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked five times. With the bye week giving him additional time to prepare, the 49ers are hoping he makes good decisions and is able to keep the 49ers close against the Redskins.

--QB Ken Dorsey takes over as the backup to Alex Smith after a trade Tuesday sent Tim Rattay to the Buccaneers for a 2006 draft pick, believed to be a sixth-round selection. As the No. 3 quarterback, Dorsey has not practiced much since the beginning of the regular season. "It'll take him a few weeks to get in the flow," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said of Dorsey. "Hopefully, Alex stays strong and stays healthy and we won't have to go Ken any time soon."

--QB Cody Pickett has suited up for two straight games for use on special teams. Pickett, the team's No. 4 quarterback, has seen action on kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt return. Pickett is now the No. 3 quarterback after the 49ers traded Tim Rattay to the Buccaneers. Coach Mike Nolan said he would have to re-think whether he wants to continue to use Pickett on special teams.

--RB Kevan Barlow is coming off his best game of the season, rushing for 99 yards on 18 carries Oct. 9 against the Colts. For the season, his numbers are respectable. He has 265 yards on 64 carries for a 4.1 average. However, the 49ers have been unable to generate any kind of offense that allows them to control a game with their running attack.

--RB Frank Gore has played well when given a chance and appears to be a very good complement to Kevan Barlow. Gore has 109 yards on 25 carries. The 49ers like the way he attacks the hole. If Barlow falters, Gore could step into a more prominent role.

--FB Fred Beasley continues to be the starter, though his playing time has fallen off this season. Backup Chris Hetherington is playing approximately one-third of the plays in which the 49ers have a fullback on the field. Beasley has not carried this season. He has two catches for 12 yards.

--WR Arnaz Battle probably will not be available this week against the Redskins due to a right knee sprain that has hampered him the last two games. He remains the team's second-leading receiver with 15 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns.

--WR Brandon Lloyd has started to see some defenses pay closer attention to him, coach Mike Nolan said. After Lloyd had two straight 100-yard receiving days, the Colts put an emphasis on defending him, holding him without a catch.

--WR Johnnie Morton was the only 49ers' wideout to catch a pass in Alex Smith's starting debut Oct. 9 against the Colts. He had one reception for 13 yards. For the season, Morton has 10 receptions for 112 yards.

--TE Steve Bush is a nonfactor in the offense, with just three catches for 21 yards. Last year, TE Eric Johnson led the 49ers with 82 catches for 825 yards. The 49ers spent the bye week looking for ways to get the tight end more involved in the offense.

--TE Trent Smith has just one catch for no yards, but he might be the best receiving option on the team's roster at this position. The 49ers spent the bye week looking for ways to get Smith involved. He's also spent time working with Alex Smith, as those two have to build some sort of rapport.

--K Joe Nedney has made all of his kicks this season, but he has not been called upon much. In five games, Nedney has just three field goals.

--WR Otis Amey, the club's No. 4 receiver, has returned just six punts in the first four games, but one of them went for a 75-yard touchdown return. His average stands at 16.5, but he does not have enough returns to qualify as the league-leader.

--CB Bruce Thornton has earned his second NFL start after playing impressively in just his third NFL game. He held Colts WR Marvin Harrison to just two catches for 17 yards. Thornton also had an interception. If Thornton continues to play well, he might shift to a role as the nickel back when starter Ahmed Plummer returns in a couple weeks.

--CB Ahmed Plummer underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle three weeks ago to remove a bone chip last week. He is expected to miss at least one more game.

--LT Jonas Jennings, whom the 49ers awarded a $12 million signing bonus as an unrestricted free agent, will not play Sunday against the Redskins. The 49ers hope there is a chance he will be able to play Oct. 30 against the Buccaneers. If his torn right labrum has not improved much by then, he might opt for season-ending surgery on his shoulder.

--CB Derrick Johnson, who played well in his starting debut Oct. 2 against the Cardinals before leaving with a strained left thigh, is expected to return this week. Johnson will not start but he should see a lot of action when the Redskins go with multi-receiver formations.

--LB Saleem Rasheed will miss two to five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair meniscus knee cartilage. Rasheed was scheduled to start the remainder of the season after Jeff Ulbrich had season-ending surgery to repair a torn biceps.


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