NFC West News & Notes - 11/2/05

The Cardinals hope that their top receiver will return, the Rams get used to a new coaching approach, the 49ers try to build the confidence of a struggling O-line, and Seattle prepares to get back on the field in today's NFC West News & Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Recent speculation about running back Shaun Alexander's contract situation makes for good copy, but it's unlikely much has changed. Upon returning from the team's bye, Alexander said he hadn't even spoken with his agents in close to a week. "The last time I talked to my agents was right before I left (for the bye)," Alexander said. "I was like, 'Hey, we've got the plan, we're good. I'm going to Alabama, going to Kentucky, I'll talk to you when I get back.' I haven't called them yet. I don't know anything."

One report suggested the Seahawks and Alexander's agent had exchanged contract proposals for the first time recently. Alexander made it sound like nothing much has changed. "I trust my agents and they also know I'm a patient person," Alexander said. "I'm not really worried about whether it is there. If they offered the contract that I would want and everybody was under agreement and they were happy and I was happy and we were all happy two days ago, they would still be happy today.

"So, no big deal."

The major players in negotiations are declining comment, from Seahawks president Tim Ruskell to agent Jim Steiner. Sometimes that means things are heating up. In this case, there is no rush. Ruskell has said previously that he was taking a wait-and-see approach.

Alexander is scheduled to become a free agent in March. He is already the Seahawks' career rushing leader.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck ranks 11th in the NFL for passer rating among players with at least 200 attempts this season. His rating took a hit with a two-interception showing against Dallas before the bye, but one of those picks resulted from a dropped pass on a play in which the defensive back was pulling down WR Peter Warrick from behind. This week, Hasselbeck returns to the site of his four-interception game against the Cardinals last season.

--QB Seneca Wallace has played in two games this season, but he has thrown only one pass. His 42-yard completion against Arizona gives him a 118.8 rating on the season, second-best in the league among players with at least one pass attempt.

--RB Shaun Alexander has scored seven rushing touchdowns in his last two games against Arizona. Both of those games were at home, however. He carried only 12 times for 65 yards in his last game at Arizona. Coach Mike Holmgren didn't stick to the run in that game. He has been much more disciplined in that regard this season.

--RB Maurice Morris has 23 carries for 154 yards this season, giving him only seven fewer carries than he managed all of last season. Seattle has been able to give the ball to Morris late in games because the team has built some commanding leads.

--WR Darrell Jackson is probably another two weeks or more from returning to the lineup. He is recovering from Oct. 5 knee surgery. The team should get Jackson back for the home stretch. The team misses him only against strong defensive teams.

--WR Bobby Engram said he'll return from cracked ribs and play against Arizona on Sunday. That would be welcome news for Seattle even though the Seahawks have fared quite well offensively since losing Engram and WR Darrell Jackson a month ago. Engram gives the offense a receiver with the quickness and savvy to get open in key situations.

--WR Joe Jurevicius has become the guy QB Matt Hasselbeck looks for when he needs to complete a short pass. As a result, sometimes Jurevicius is able to beat defensive backs for big gains down the field, including a 52-yard completion earlier in the season.

--TE Jerramy Stevens is on pace to top 50 receptions this season and there are no indications that Seattle plans to work veteran TE Itula Mili back into the offense. Mili was a legitimate threat in past seasons, but he hasn't been able to get on the field since recovering from an intestinal blockage. Coach Mike Holmgren has become more comfortable going with two tight ends on game day instead of three.

--K Josh Brown is perfect on all three field-goal tries from 50-plus yards. He'll be haunted by a pair of misses from the 40-49 range, including the potential game-winning 47-yard attempt he missed at Washington. But in making the game-winning 50-yarder to beat Dallas before the bye, Brown avoided the possibility of losing confidence in clutch situations.

--FS Ken Hamlin's season officially ended Tuesday when the Seahawks placed him on the non-football injury list. Hamlin is recovering from severe head injuries suffered during an Oct. 17 brawl outside a Seattle nightclub. The team did not immediately fill Hamlin's roster spot, although DE Nathaniel Adibi was added to the practice squad, filling the spot left when the Jets claimed OL Doug Nienhuis on Monday.

--DE Bryce Fisher became a public-affairs officer in the Washington Air National Guard on Tuesday during a ceremony in Tacoma, Wash. Fisher is a captain. He also leads the Seahawks in sacks this season with five. Fisher played one of his best games against Arizona earlier this season. He had plenty of motivation because the man he replaced in Seattle, DE Chike Okeafor, is with the Cardinals now and some wondered if Fisher could fill his shoes. Okeafor has only three sacks this season. Fisher is on pace for 11.

--DE Grant Wistrom has one sack in each of his last two games after going without a sack for the first five games of the season. Seattle needs Wistrom to step up and be a leader in terms of production. Wistrom is showing signs of coming around, but he is not having a particularly strong season.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals received some good news this week when an MRI on Anquan Boldin's right knee detected only a bone bruise, not torn cartilage as team officials had feared. That means it's possible Boldin could play Sunday against Seattle, although it seems more likely that he'll miss a week or two.

The knee, which Boldin had operated on for a year, bothered the third-year receiver last week leading up to the Dallas game. It became more painful during the game, although Boldin was able to catch a 44-yard touchdown pass. "It got to the point where it really started hurting," Boldin said. "I knew something wasn't right. I couldn't explode like I wanted to. It got to a point in the second quarter where I was limping half the time."

Given his history, Boldin likely will be cautious in returning. He missed six games in 2004 after having surgery to repair the torn cartilage. In college, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

At 2-5, the Cardinals can ill afford to lose Boldin for even a game, but it's better than having him miss a more significant block of time. If Boldin can't play, Bryant Johnson will move up to the No. 2 receiver. Rookie LeRon McCoy will be No. 3, although the team re-signed Reggie Newhouse on Tuesday. Newhouse, who has been on and off the roster for the past two years, is better than McCoy, who is fast but has raw receiving skills.

PLAYER NOTES

--T Oliver Ross is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing four games with a broken hand. Fred Wakefield, who replaced him on the right side, has struggled in recent weeks, so Ross' return should be a big boost.

--CB Eric Green should return from a shoulder sprain this week. That will help the team's depth at cornerback, a problem spot the past few weeks.

--QB Josh McCown took a beating last week against Dallas, but avoided several other hits with his mobility. McCown likely will start again because of his ability to run. Kurt Warner isn't that mobile and probably would take more hits playing behind an offensive line that has trouble protecting the quarterback.

--QB Kurt Warner is healthy enough to return to the starting lineup, but he'll remain the backup for now. If starter Josh McCown struggles, coach Dennis Green won't hesitate to turn to Warner.

--RB Marcel Shipp rarely has room to run, so the lack of production from the run game is not his fault. Shipp is especially effective between the tackles.

--RB J.J. Arrington is getting a taste of what it's like to try to run behind a struggling offensive line. Arrington hasn't been able to show his quickness or speed because he's being hit in the backfield.

--WR Anquan Boldin might miss Sunday's game with a bone bruise in his right knee. Boldin played through pain last week in Dallas. Given his history of knee trouble, it's not likely he'll risk further injury by playing Sunday.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald will have at least three long passes thrown his way every game in this offense. Fitzgerald, however, isn't often left in single coverage downfield. One on one, he's tough to defend because of his size, strength and leaping ability.

--WR Bryant Johnson should play a more prominent role this week because of the knee injury to Anquan Boldin. Johnson has not been a factor in weeks but he has improved his receiving skills.

--TE Teyo Johnson is the best receiving tight end the team has, but he rarely gets the ball.

--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 22 straight field goals, extending his team record. Rackers has tremendous leg strength and coach Dennis Green isn't afraid to use him up to 55 yards or so.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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As the Rams regroup during their bye this week, interim coach Joe Vitt continues to be the talk of the town.

Vitt has instilled a no-nonsense approach to things, which was necessary with coach Mike Martz not only away from the team for the rest of the season, but perhaps for good. Vitt has also learned to be glib with the media, a chore he didn't particularly care for when he accepted this role. When asked about his role in showing a clip of the movie "Gladiator" to the team the day before Sunday's game against Jacksonville, Vitt said, "Again, I'm just going to tell you the truth. The last movie I saw was `Godfather III,' and that's the truth. I'm not a movie guy.

"(Running backs coach) Wilbert Montgomery brought that to me last Wednesday. He had kind of cut the thing up and put it together. We're always looking for things to kind of motivate our guys on Saturday. The week before was the Jimmy Valvano tape. Our guys really liked it. Our guys liked it this Saturday. The Saturday before you go out, it's a shorter practice on Saturday, now you're looking to do things to get their minds right for the game that next day."

Vitt, however, did admit he has seen "Animal House" six or seven times.

As for reports he was having an angioplasty Monday, Vitt said, "(It seemed (listening to the reports) that by this afternoon I was going to go see Christiaan Barnard in South Africa for a heart transplant. It's unbelievable." Then, asked if he is eating right, Vitt responded, "Are you? This isn't so nice what I'm looking at out here. You guys don't look like you're poster children for the Institute of Health. Don't worry about me, I'm fine."

Vitt was also asked if he had talked to Martz after the last game. He said, "Look, I'm a creature of habit. When the game was over last night I went over to Mike's house. Mike's sitting on his front porch with his Labrador retriever waiting for me to get over there. I had to start taking some medication last night at about 6 o'clock, as he did, so I couldn't spend much time there. I had to start getting these pre-meds. He had to start taking his pre-meds; he had to have a procedure done today, too. At 6 o'clock this morning he and I are in our gowns sitting in wheelchairs. We looked like grumpy old men over at the hospital. It was a sore sight."

However, aside from the jokes, Vitt's plain and simple message was evident as he talked about the loss to the Colts in his first game as interim coach, and how the team was 3-5 at that point with quarterback Marc Bulger injured.

"We played hard in the Colts game, and our guys really played with great intent," Vitt said. "I think with 6:34 left to go in the third quarter we're still winning the game. Then, the bottom started to fall out. Everyone continued to play hard, and we told them in the locker room after the game that this too shall pass. We have two games to be .500 at the bye, and that was the focus.

"Let's take one practice at a time. Let's take one quarter at a time and let the chips fall. The guys the last two weeks, their practice habits, their intent, attention to detail, buying into what we're trying to talk about, it's been marvelous."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger expects to play Nov. 13 when the Rams return from their bye to play the Seattle Seahawks. Bulger has missed the last two games after injuring his shoulder Oct. 17 against the Colts.

--QB Jamie Martin hasn't been spectacular, but he has guided the Rams to two victories the last two weeks in the fourth and fifth starts of his career.

--RB Steven Jackson's 25 carries against the Jaguars was one short of his career high, while his 179 rushing yards is a career high and the most by a Rams player since Marshall Faulk's 32-carry, 183-yard, three-touchdown game against Seattle on Oct. 20, 2002.

--RB Marshall Faulk continues to look as good as he has in a few seasons, while averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. Coaches will try to get him the ball a bit more in the second half of the season. Faulk has 46 touches (27 runs, 19 receptions) in eight games.

--WR Torry Holt plans to play Nov. 13 against Seattle when the Rams return from their bye. Despite missing two games, Holt still leads the team with 44 receptions for 638 yards.

--WR Isaac Bruce is still bothered by his injured toe, and might not be available when the Rams return from their bye Nov. 13 against Seattle.

--WR Kevin Curtis continues to emerge as a big-play threat, and exhibited his speed when he wasn't caught from behind on an 83-yard touchdown play against Jacksonville.

--TE Brandon Manumaleuna is blocking well, but continues to be an afterthought in the passing game. Manumaleuna had two catches, but for just seven yards against Jacksonville, and has six receptions for 41 yards this season.

--PK Jeff Wilkins has made 11 of 13 field-goal attempts, and all 23 of his extra points this season. Wilkins now has 298 consecutive extra points, and needs three to tie Norm Johnson for second place on the all-time list. Denver's Jason Elam holds the record with 371 straight successful extra points.

--DE Leonard Little is expected to return to St. Louis this week, as he recovers from the Oct. 17 murder of his 24-year-old brother Jermaine. The Rams hope he will be OK to play Nov. 13 against Seattle after the team's bye.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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While the evidence had not been there through most of the first six games of the season, 49ers coach Mike Nolan made it clear that he liked his offensive line. He has said he expects the line to be one of the team's strengths in the future. Friday, he delivered a message in the offensive meeting room that he was counting on that bunch of players.

"The foundation of our offense is going to be built around you," Nolan said he told the linemen. "With that foundation and with it being built around you, it's as much a mindset as it is a talent issue.

"What I was saying to them (was), it's important for the offensive line to have a big brother mindset."

The offensive line did a good job of playing the role of the protector in the 49ers' 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers. There was some pushing after whistles as 49ers linemen tried to get defensive players away from their teammates. "As an offensive lineman you don't want to get dumb penalties, and there might have been times when we were playing not to get penalties," 49ers right tackle Kwame Harris said. "Coach Nolan said, 'Don't worry about that stuff, just go out there and play. Go out there and protect your running backs, take people off the pile, don't let them chat to your running backs like they're nobodies.' "

The offensive line responded with a solid showing. The 49ers rushed for 158 yards on 39 rushes against the top-ranked run defense in the league. The line protected quarterback Ken Dorsey, though he did not have a successful day throwing the ball. It was the first time since September 2000 that the 49ers did not allow a sack or a commit a turnover in the same game.

"We have a lot of tough guys in the group, and I wanted them to know that it's OK to be who they want to be," Nolan said. "They want to be tough. There's no offensive line that doesn't want to be tough. They do want to be able to play tough and be physical."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith is likely to miss at least another game with a grade-two MCL sprain in his right knee. Smith has struggled in his first two starts of his career. He completed 23 of 50 passes for 200 yards with five interceptions, no touchdowns and a passer rating of 17.5.

--QB Cody Pickett is expected to make his first NFL start on Sunday when the 49ers face the Giants. Pickett, who was the fourth-string signal-caller just two weeks ago, played in the fourth quarter in the 49ers' 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers. He completed his only pass attempt for 10 yards, coming on a third-and-8 play. He also ran twice for 12 yards and a first down.

--QB Ken Dorsey sustained a left ankle sprain in the 49ers' victory Sunday over the Buccaneers and does not look as if he will be available for Sunday's game against the Giants. If Dorsey is unable to practice Wednesday, he probably will not start. Dorsey said an MRI examination revealed no ligament damage to the ankle, but he has a lot of swelling.

--RB Kevan Barlow ran Sunday with the kind of aggressive approach that has been lacking from his game. Barlow rushed for a season-high 101 yards on 26 carries in the victory over the Buccaneers. Barlow has rushed for 420 yards on 104 carries (4.0 average) this season.

--RB Frank Gore has proven to be a solid backup behind Kevan Barlow. Gore gained 40 yards on 10 carries against the Buccaneers. He has gained 238 yards on just 44 carries for the season, including a 72-yard TD run against the Redskins.

--FB Fred Beasley, who had a bad season last year, is playing much better as the team's lead blocker. Beasley has not carried the ball this season, and has just two catches for 12 yards.

--WR Brandon Lloyd has not gotten a lot of action since the team benched Tim Rattay and subsequently traded him to the Buccaneers. Lloyd caught just two passes for 18 yards on Sunday against the Buccaneers. Still, he leads the team with 21 catches for 387 yards and three touchdowns.

--WR Arnaz Battle has not been a factor for the 49ers since sustaining a right knee sprain on Sept. 25. Battle is one of the team's few offensive playmakers, so his absence has hurt. Coach Mike Nolan said he is hoping Battle will return to practice this week and be available for Sunday's game against the Giants. He has 15 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns this season.

--WR Johnnie Morton has started four games this season, and coach Mike Nolan thinks it has been unfair to the veteran. The 49ers signed Morton to play 15 to 20 snaps per game, but he has gotten a lot more action. Nolan said he believes Morton is beginning to wear down a little. Morton is the team's fourth-leading receiver with 13 catches for 138 yards.

--TE Steve Bush is the team's main starter, but he has been ineffective as a pass target. Bush has just three catches for 21 yards.

--TE Trent Smith, who is considered the best of the receivers at the tight end position, has not shown much when he's gotten into action. Smith failed to latch onto a couple catchable passes Sunday against the Buccaneers. He has just three catches for 7 yards in three games this season.

--K Joe Nedney has not gotten much action this season but he has done his job well when called upon. Nedney made 5 of 6 field-goal tries on Sunday, providing all the points for the 49ers in a 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers. He has made 9 of 10 field-goal tries for the season, including 5 of 5 from 40 to 49 yards.

--LB Brandon Moore made his third start of the season and recorded his first career interception. Moore has taken over for injured Jeff Ulbrich and Saleem Rasheed.

--CB Ahmed Plummer, who has not played since Sept. 25 after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery, might begin running this week. He is still at least two weeks away from returning to action, coach Mike Nolan said.

--WR Rasheed Marshall, whom the team believes will develop into a big-time playmaker, is getting his feet wet as a return man. Marshall has returned six punts with a 5.0-yard average as he takes over for Otis Amey, who has missed two games with a high ankle sprain.

--DE Bryant Young is tied for the NFL lead with eight sacks, along with Indianapolis' Robert Mathis and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch. Young is having a resurgence with the 49ers upon moving from DT in a 4-3 to DE in a 3-4. He had a combined 11 sacks in his previous four seasons.


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