The Seahawks' depth at receiver took a hit Tuesday when the team released wide receiver Jerheme Urban under terms of an injury waiver he signed upon returning to the team last month. Urban made key catches to help Seattle defeat Dallas and Arizona in recent weeks. But against the Cardinals, he reinjured the bone in his left foot where a stress fracture occurred last season. The Seahawks did not mention the injury Monday, but test results became available Tuesday and the team made the move.
Urban had been serving as the third and fourth receiver while Seattle played without starters Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram. Engram returned Sunday. Jackson is still a couple weeks away from getting back on the field. The team managed to go 4-0 without Jackson largely because Urban and the other backups exceeded expectations.
Urban suffered the original stress fracture late last season. He rehabbed hard and came back in time for spring minicamps. Urban survived the final cuts, beating out veteran Jerome Pathon, but the team released him Sept. 13. Injuries to Jackson and Engram led the team to bring back Urban on Oct. 4, and Urban responded by making plays down the field. He has averaged better than 21 yards per catch in 2005.
Engram and Joe Jurevicius are the starters. Second-year receiver D.J. Hackett also figures prominently into the rotation. Peter Warrick has remained in the background in part because coach Mike Holmgren thinks the veteran needs more time to fully recover from off-season knee surgery. Warrick could see his playing time increase, however, now that Urban is no longer available.
"Peter has maybe the best hands on our football team, and he can really snatch the ball," Holmgren said Monday. "I think his leg injury he had, I don't think he is all the way back from that, that's my opinion. But he can still play. You've seen him make plays."
Urban had been making more of them. His 22-yard reception during the final minute helped Seattle score the tying touchdown against Dallas two weeks ago. The 46-yarder against Arizona was another big play.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck has done a better job of staying calm in tense situations on the field. Hasselbeck has sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, but that hasn't happened since his poor second-half showing against Jacksonville in the season opener. The Seahawks will need him to stay calm Sunday because their game against St. Louis figures to be emotional, and the Rams are a team that can put points on the board in a hurry. A measured approach from the QB position might help Seattle withstand any ups and downs.
--QB Seneca Wallace hasn't played in recent weeks. He will not play unless starter Matt Hasselbeck is injured, or if the game's outcome has long since been decided. Wallace throws the deep ball well. He is also an outstanding runner. But his lack of height makes him not ideally suited to play the position.
--RB Shaun Alexander is on pace for about 1,900 yards this season. He has an outside shot at becoming the sixth player in league history to top 2,000 yards. Seattle faces St. Louis and San Francisco (twice) in the coming months. Alexander has put up big numbers against both teams, and he should do so again. He needs to average 131 yards per game to reach 2,000 for the season. His current pace is 119 yards per game.
--RB Maurice Morris has earned the confidence of coaches. That's important because Seattle feels OK running the ball when Alexander isn't available. An upset stomach forced Alexander to miss the end of the first half Sunday in Arizona. Morris stepped in and helped Seattle drive toward a key touchdown. A 12-yard run to the half-yard-line was part of the drive that gave Seattle a 17-6 lead going into halftime.
--WR Darrell Jackson is probably within a couple of weeks of returning to practice, coach Mike Holmgren said. The Seahawks have managed to go 4-0 without Jackson, but they miss him. The passing game hasn't been the same when faced with competent defenses. The better cornerbacks have been able to crowd Jackson's replacements, taking them out of their comfort zones.
--WR Bobby Engram took some hits against Arizona on Sunday in his first game since suffering cracked ribs a month ago. Engram seemed to hold up well. He was not a focal point of the offense, but the important thing was that the ribs were not injured more seriously. Engram is going to be sore, but he should be able to keep playing.
--WR Joe Jurevicius leads the team with five TD catches. He has been a valuable player given injuries to WR Darrell Jackson and WR Bobby Engram. The Seahawks were taking a chance on Jurevicius' recent health problems when they signed him in free agency amid little fanfare. They could not be happier with the return on their investment. Jurevicius is about as sure-handed as they come. His workmanlike approach to the game is exactly what Seattle needed at the position. The Seahawks no longer rank among the league leaders in drops and Jurevicius is a reason why.
--TE Jerramy Stevens keeps coming through with big catches for Seattle. The team is not designing plays for him at this point, in part because coach Mike Holmgren likes to let his system determine where the ball goes on a given play. But if Stevens keeps playing at his current level, his production will only increase.
--K Josh Brown had an extra point blocked Sunday, his first missed PAT in three NFL seasons. Seattle had not had missed one in more than a decade, the longest streak in the league. Brown has made all seven FG tries since missing a 47-yarder at Washington on Oct. 2.
--DE Bryce Fisher leads the team with seven sacks, putting him within two sacks of setting a career high. The Seahawks have been pleasantly surprised by Fisher's ability to rush the passer. Fisher signed with Seattle in the off-season after the Rams decided he was nothing more than a good third DE. Fisher has used that assessment as motivation this season. He should be supremely motivated Sunday when the Rams visit Qwest Field.
--DE Grant Wistrom has only two sacks in eight games, but he is avoiding widespread criticism because the team has a 6-2 record. Seattle is actually second in the league in sacks per pass play, a stunning stat for a team that has failed to mount a consistent pass rush over the years. But while Seattle has manufactured some sacks this season, the team could use more consistent pressure from Wistrom. Seattle will probably have to wait another week, however, because Wistrom faces Rams Pro Bowl LT Orlando Pace on Sunday.
--CB Marcus Trufant enjoyed one of his better games of the season Sunday. The Seahawks allowed more than 300 yards passing, but much of the damage was done after the game had been decided. Seattle softened its coverage late in the game. Trufant made aggressive plays on the ball earlier in the game. He picked off one pass intended for WR Larry Fitzgerald. Trufant also delivered some hard hits. Seattle needs him to step up this week because the Rams could have both Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce back from injuries.
The Cardinals re-signed their most productive player this season, kicker Neil Rackers, to a four-year contract Monday. Financial details weren't available but it's probably in the neighborhood of the deal signed last week by St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins. His deal, also for four years, is worth $6.4 million, including a $3 million signing bonus.
Rackers' contract likely is structured much differently. It wasn't a coincidence that the deal was done just before 4 p.m. Eastern time on Monday. That was the deadline for increasing a player's salary this year and having it count against this year's cap.
After that deadline, increases are handled like signing bonuses and prorated over the life of the contract. The Cardinals were around $4 million under the cap, so they were willing to absorb a hit this year. Rackers has made all 26 of his field goal attempts this year, shattering the team record. He also has 20 touchbacks this year, just three short of the team record he set last year.
Although the contract was signed Monday, the team didn't announce it until Tuesday, calling a press conference. The Cardinals usually haven't done that for contract extensions.
But there is a dearth of good news for this team right now. Rackers is in the midst of a Pro Bowl season, so the club seized the moment.
--DE Bertrand Berry won't need surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, and he hopes to return for the last week or two of the season. That's questionable, but the team has no plans to place him on injured reserve.
--DE R-Kal Truluck, a three-year NFL veteran, was signed to provide some depth. Truluck was cut by Green Bay at the end of training camp.
--RB J.J. Arrington suffered a sprained shoulder last Sunday against Seattle and is questionable for Sunday's game in Detroit. If he can't play, James Jackson will back up starter Marcel Shipp.
--CB Raymond Walls was re-signed after being released last week. Walls is the team's fourth cornerback.
--G Jeremy Bridges was released, giving the team an open roster spot. It's likely they'll promote defensive tackle Tim Bulman from the practice squad. The club has depth problems at defensive tackle.
--DT Langston Moore suffered a shoulder injury last week and is out for the year. He'll undergo surgery. Moore had just moved into the starting lineup ahead of Ross Kolodziej, who will assume his old spot.
--QB Kurt Warner likely will keep the starting job for Sunday's game in Detroit. Dennis Green has remained noncommittal, but it's hard to see how he can switch back to Josh McCown now. Warner was intercepted three times last week, but he also made some nice throws.
--QB Josh McCown is expected to remain as the backup to Kurt Warner for Sunday's game in Detroit. Coach Dennis Green hasn't named a starter, but it's not likely McCown will move back into the lineup.
--RB Marcel Shipp hasn't scored a touchdown since December of 2002. He played all of 2003 without scoring and missed last year with a broken leg.
--WR Anquan Boldin likely will miss at least another week with a bone bruise on his knee. Bryant Johnson will take his place.
--WR Bryant Johnson is a competent receiver but not a playmaker. Now in his third season, the former first-round pick has just three touchdown receptions.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald is a big, inviting target, but he still needs to be more precise in running his routes. Fitzgerald is just in his second year, however, and figures to improve greatly.
--WR Reggie Newhouse, re-signed just last week, is a solid third or fourth receiver. He runs good routes and has reliable hands. He just doesn't have a lot of speed.
--TE Adam Bergen is a rookie but he has good hands. He needs to get the ball more but plays sparingly. He also needs work on his blocking.
--TE Eric Edwards had a 79-yard touchdown pass called back last week. The Cardinals need to throw to the tight end more, but that's hard because they often are kept in to block on pass plays.
--K Neil Rackers has made 26 straight field goals, a team record, and all but two of those kicks have been near the middle of the goalposts. Rackers also has 20 touchbacks, three short of the team record he set last year.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
In an effort to upgrade their kick return game, the Rams dipped into Canada this week and signed running back David Allen, who has played 19 NFL games with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Allen was released by the Jaguars in the final cutdown Sept. 3, and subsequently joined the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders. He was able to leave Calgary because of a clause in his contract that gave him the right to sign with an NFL team before the CFL season was finished.
"It's a sticky deal," Allen said after visiting the Rams on Monday and signing a contract. "It leaves a bad taste as far as the timing ... It was a move that was best for me personally. I hate the fact it happened when it did but this is the reason why my contract was structured the way it was, to give me the opportunity to get back into the NFL." In his 19 NFL games, Allen has returned 52 kickoffs for a 20.0-yard average and 42 punts for an 11.1-yard average. In Calgary, he also contributed as a running back.
Added Allen, "This is my dream and I hope to do the things that I was able to do in the short time in Canada."
The 5-9, 195-pound Allen attended Liberty (Mo.) High School and Kansas State. Originally an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in 2001, he was in Minnesota's training camp in 2002 and spent time on the Jaguars' practice squad that year before being added to the active roster in 2003. Said Calgary coach Tom Higgins, "It's tough to lose somebody, but it's no different than losing him to an injury. We lost him back to the NFL. Now we have somebody to cheer for with the St. Louis Rams."
For the Rams, punt returners Shaun McDonald and Terry Fair have averaged 3.6 yards on 11 returns with a long of 14 for McDonald. Fair's long was 8 yards. On kickoff returns, Chris Johnson, Fair and Arlen Harris combined for an average of 22.4 yards on 38 returns. Johnson had a 99-yard touchdown.
--QB Marc Bulger is on track to start Sunday against Seattle after missing two full games and part of another with a shoulder injury.
--QB Jamie Martin returns to the bench after helping the Rams win two games with Marc Bulger sidelined by a shoulder injury.
--RB Steven Jackson is fresh after the bye, following his 179-yard rushing performance against Jacksonville Oct. 30.
--RB Marshall Faulk continues to contribute to the offense in a limited role because of the emergence of Steven Jackson.
--RB David Allen, released by the Jaguars Sept. 3, has joined the team as a backup running back and kick returner.
--WR Torry Holt is primed to play after missing two games because of a knee injury. Holt injured his knee Oct. 9 against Seattle, then played the next week against the Colts. However, he struggled in the fourth quarter and the decision was made to sit him down for two weeks.
--WR Isaac Bruce is closer to playing, but is still questionable for Sunday's game against Seattle. Bruce suffered a toe injury Sept. 25 against Tennessee and hasn't played since then.
--WR Kevin Curtis has taken advantage of the absence of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and has now served notice around the league of his ability. That should create more weapons for the offense with Holt and eventually Bruce returning to the field.
--TE Brandon Manumaleuna remains a seldom-used option in the passing game, but he is a big part of the blocking in the running game.
--PK Jeff Wilkins remains consistent and rarely misses a field-goal attempt. Wilkins hasn't had any 50-yard attempts this season.
--G Claude Terrell did not play against Jacksonville because of a neck injury, but was back at practice Monday. Terrell shared snaps on the first unit with Tom Nutten.
--CB Chris Johnson is back at practice after missing the Jacksonville game Oct. 30 because of a back injury.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Rookie head coach Mike Nolan is still learning what duties he needs to carry out to best serve his team on game day. When asked after Sunday's 24-6 loss to the Giants how well quarterback Cody Pickett played, Nolan answered that he really did not watch that much of Pickett's performance.
Then what the heck was he doing?
Nolan said he might miss the first part of a series because he is talking to the team's defense after a change of possession. Or a lot of times, he might be concentrating all his effort into watching the opponent's defense. "A lot of times when our offense is on the field, the way I can help the offense and (offensive coordinator) Mike McCarthy is to stare down the defense. Because as soon as the ball's snapped I can see what they're doing and I can say, 'Mike, this is what you're getting,' as opposed to watching our own players and seeing how they're executing the plays."
Nolan said that is the best way he can help the team's offense because of his expertise on the defensive side of the ball. Nolan was a long-time NFL defensive assistant before the 49ers hired him in January as head coach.
"The offensive coaches already know if a guy misses a block or if a guy makes a block or why a play worked and why it didn't," Nolan said. "My expertise is on the other side, so..." So Nolan said he will offer input to the offensive coaches along the lines of, "Here's what (the defense is) doing and why they're doing this, and this is what we need to do," Nolan said.
"It's using my strengths," Nolan added. "I already have guys to do the other jobs. I try to utilize my strengths so they can be most helpful to the offense."
Not much has worked for the 49ers offense in recent weeks. The club has scored just eight offensive touchdowns in eight games. Since Tim Rattay was benched and subsequently traded, the 49ers have gained just 234 net yards passing in four games.
--QB Alex Smith is likely to miss another game with a right knee sprain he sustained Oct. 23 against the Redskins. Smith has struggled in the 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. If Cody Pickett plays well against the Bears, Smith might not return to the lineup when he's healthy.
--QB Cody Pickett is expected to make his second NFL start on Sunday when the 49ers face the Giants. Pickett, who was the fourth-string quarterback just two weeks ago, has the best passer rating of any of the quarterbacks still on the team. He has completed 13 of 22 passes for 112 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 53.6. If he plays well Sunday against the Bears, coach Mike Nolan said he would stick with him for a while.
--QB Ken Dorsey said his sprained left ankle is feeling a lot better but he is not quite 100 percent. Coach Mike Nolan said he is inclined to start Cody Pickett again on Sunday against the Bears. Dorsey sustained an ankle sprain in his only start, a 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers on Oct. 30.
--RB Kevan Barlow could not get anything going against the Giants, gaining just 4 yards on 10 carries. He is the team leader with 424 yards rushing on 114 carries. He also has the most receptions on the team, grabbing 23 passes for 177 yards.
--RB Frank Gore gained 33 yards on just seven carries against the Giants to make a bid for more playing time over starter Kevan Barlow, who carried just 10 times for 4 yards. Gore has 271 yards rushing on 51 carries this season for an impressive 5.3-yard average.
--FB Fred Beasley sustained two torn thumb ligaments and removed himself in the third quarter against the Giants because he was having an awful day in pass protection. Beasley said the injury wore on him mentally. Twice he failed to block a blitzer who put a hit on quarterback Cody Pickett.
--WR Brandon Lloyd made a remarkable 31-yard reception that was called back due to a holding penalty. He caught just one other pass the entire game against the Giants. His production has fallen off since the 49ers traded quarterback Tim Rattay. Lloyd has just 22 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns this season, but is still the team's leading wideout.
--WR Arnaz Battle returned to action Sunday against the Giants after missing most of the previous four games with a right knee sprain. Battle had two catches for 17 yards. For the season, he is third on the team with 17 receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
--WR Johnnie Morton returned to the team's No. 3 role after being forced to start four games this season because of an injury to starter Arnaz Battle. Morton had one catch for 24 yards against the Giants. He is the team's fourth-leading receiver with 14 receptions for 162 yards.
--TE Steve Bush is the starter, but he has been ineffective as a pass target. Bush has just three catches for 21 yards.
--TE Trent Smith is considered the team's best pass catcher, but he has not shown anything so far. He has as many drops as receptions during his time with the club. He dropped an easy pass Sunday that would have gone for at least 30 yards and maybe a touchdown on the 49ers' second series of the game. Smith has three catches for 7 yards this season.
--K Joe Nedney is having a very good season for the 49ers, converting 11 of 12 field-goal opportunities, including seven of seven from 40 yards and beyond. He made a season-long 52-yarder on Sunday against the Giants.
--LB Julian Peterson appears to be back to 100 percent about 13 months after sustaining a torn Achilles' tendon. He played his best game of the season Sunday against the Giants, racking up nine tackles and a forced fumble.
--CB Ahmed Plummer, who has not played since Sept. 25 after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery, expects to return to practice on Wednesday. But coach Mike Nolan said it will be difficult for Plummer to get his starting job back with the way second-year player Bruce Thornton is playing.
--LT Jonas Jennings was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Tuesday to repair a torn labrum. Depending on the extent of the damage, the surgery could allow Jennings to return to action in less than a month, or it could sideline him for four months. Jennings signed a seven-year, $36 million deal in the off-season but has played in only three games this season.
--WR Rasheed Marshall will remain as the team's punt returner even though Otis Amey might be ready to return from a high ankle sprain. Marshall has improved greatly as a return man from the preseason when he had trouble catching the ball. He was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year last season as a quarterback at West Virginia.