NFC West Pre-Draft News & Notes - 4/23/06

With less than a week until the 2006 draft, all four teams in the NFC West are putting together their preparations. Draft boards are defined and refined as scouting philosophies take hold and define team futures. Seahawks.NET has the latest on what the Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers are thinking before the biggest weekend of the offseason.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Tim Ruskell would rather be drafting among the top few spots. But there are advantages to the 31st spot as well. "Between 20 and 50 is usually where you don't feel like you are overpaying and the grades start coming together," Ruskell said. "In our system, a 5.9 is a solid starter in the National Football League.

"This is where the bulk of those go and that is the grade that we have the most players rated in the draft, at the 5.9 level. There are different shades of 5.9 for us. We have character grades, our hot lists, plus or minus (for scheme fit). So 5.9 is a big thing to say because it can incorporate a lot of players."

Ruskell uses the 10-point grading system he learned from Jerry Angelo and others during a 17-year career with Tampa Bay. No players have ever achieved higher than an 8.0 rating in the system, a rating Ruskell recalled applying to Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman.

The system also features A-through-F grades for football character and overall personal character. Each player also gets a plus or minus depending on how well he fits into the offensive or defensive schemes. In the final analysis, Ruskell puts a dot next to about 70 players that the team would feel comfortable drafting. These players constitute the hot list that streamlines the process on draft day.

"I adapted this system from what Jerry Angelo taught me," Ruskell said. "He brought it from the New York Giants and they got it from the Patriots. We have just added to it."

DRAFT STRATEGY:

The Seahawks hope the best cornerback available is also the best player available, but there can be no assurances for a team holding the 31st overall pick in the draft.
And Seattle, having already surrendered its third-round pick to land WR Nate Burleson, can pretty much forget about trading up in the first round.

Cornerback, safety and defensive end are the primary needs for the defending NFC champions. The crop of defensive backs is particularly deep this year, giving Seattle hope that one of the better corners will still be on the board when Seattle exercises the 31st overall pick.

Miami's Kelly Jennings is a player who could conceivably slip to Seattle amid concerns about his size. If he is there at No. 31, the Seahawks could certainly do worse. Teams generally do not take safeties in the first round, but Tennessee's Jason Allen would probably appeal to Seattle if he somehow slipped into the latter stages of the round. Allen could be gone in the first 20 picks, however.

Defensive end has been a draft need for years. The best ones are generally gone in the top dozen or so picks. Seattle hasn't drafted that high since passing on defensive end Andre Carter for a shot at wide receiver Koren Robinson. Neither player has justified his draft standing. Seattle has solid starters in Bryce Fisher and Grant Wistrom, but neither player is dominant and depth is a concern.

The draft goes longer than one round, of course. Seattle had outstanding success in the second and third rounds a year ago. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (45th overall) and linebacker Leroy Hill (98th) became impact players as rookies, with Tatupu even earning a Pro Bowl berth. "We didn't think we were going to get Leroy Hill," Ruskell said. "We thought he would be gone in the second round. He was there. That was real good."

While first-round pick Chris Spencer might become the long-term solution at center, his impact was not felt in 2005. Seattle would like to get more immediate bang for its first-round buck this year, raising an interesting question: What if the best player available is a guard or a tight end?

"We went into last year saying, 'We would like to add some players to the defense,' so what we did was we went and took a center," Ruskell quipped. "You have to stay honest to your grades. There might be some secondary or defensive line that we would like to add but having said that, it may not fall that way because everyone is saying there may be a run on the corners and there are not enough safeties.

"So, that defensive player just may not be there. But we would like to go that way if we could."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Veteran CB Ty Law might be getting a little anxious. Media reports keep suggesting Law might be on the verge of receiving offers from Seattle and other potential suitors, but so far nothing has come of the rumblings. The Seahawks appear ready to wait through the draft before deciding how aggressively they need to pursue help in their secondary.

--The Seahawks had two draft boards last year because president Tim Ruskell arrived only two months before the draft. That made things tough, although the draft went well. "Last year we weren't speaking the same language," Ruskell said. "It was the old Seahawks system, the grading scale and how they lined the board up and then what I had brought from Tampa and Atlanta.

"We had two boards going so I knew how the rankings were in correlation with the Seahawks system. This year, one system, we are all on the same page. When we talk about a player and talk about a grade I know exactly what everyone is talking about."

--The Seahawks have not been bringing many name players to team headquarters as part of their 30 allotted post-combine visits. "Some teams bring in their top picks," Ruskell said. "We try to get all that done in the all-star games and the combine in terms of our interviews so we can use those 30 visits for more of the second-day picks that we want to get a better feel for that we hadn't talked to and to recruit free agents if they should not get drafted."

Recruiting free agents is a priority because Seattle is geographically isolated from where most prospects live.

"They get to see our place and see the commitment that we have and the support that they would have here and think they would have a shot and it helps us in terms of not only the monetary deal but them wanting to come here," Ruskell said.

"We feel like we have to work a little bit harder on free agents because they are coming, in most cases, a little bit further. That is our philosophy, late-round and free agency, to help with the recruiting process."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all cheer when we get an A and we all are down when we get an F. We do this internally. We will go back three years during the draft and analyze the draft three years ago. What did we do right? What did we wrong? Where was our mistake? For the scouts, we do this to help them. Maybe it is five, but I think three is the proper time. Then you can really analyze it." - President Tim Ruskell on the grades handed out on draft day.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER:
None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: OG Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks did not match $49M/7 yrs offer from Vikings).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S John Howell.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Wayne Hunter; QB Seneca Wallace.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Shaun Alexander; CB Jordan Babineaux; LB Kevin Bentley; DT Rocky Bernard; PK Josh Brown; RB Maurice Morris; P Tom Rouen; FB Mack Strong; DE Joe Tafoya; WR Peter Warrick; CB Jimmy Williams.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Tom Ashworth; WR Nate Burleson; DT Russell Davis; S Shaunard Harts; TE Will Heller; LB Julian Peterson; DE Kemp Rasmussen.
PLAYERS LOST: DL Rodney Bailey; CB Andre Dyson; OG Steve Hutchinson; WR Joe Jurevicius; FS Marquand Manuel; LB Jamie Sharper.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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DRAFT STRATEGY:


Coming off seasons of five wins in 2005 and six in 2004, there is not an overabundance of anything on the Cardinals roster. The biggest priorities, though, are offensive line, defensive tackle, cornerback, outside linebacker, free safety and tight end. If a franchise-turning quarterback happens to still be on the board at No. 10 in the first round, the Cardinals would have to take a hard look at that, too.

"We always take the best player. We think that's the best way to operate," Coach Dennis Green said. "Free agency and trades are the best way to fill needs but what we really need (in the draft) is a good player. We need the best player that's there when we pick 10 and 42 and 71."

The Cardinals will be watching quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Vince Young carefully. Very likely one of them will be available at No. 10. While a player at another position could come in this fall and start and have a more immediate impact, a franchise quarterback who could serve them for five to 10 years might help them more over the long haul.

They will also be watching offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Winston Justice, cornerbacks Tye Hill and Jimmy Williams, defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Brodrick Bunkley, outside linebackers Chad Greenway or Ernie Sims, and even tight end Vernon Davis. Any could step in and start.

Green has waxed on about the potential of his third-year quarterback, John Navarre, who has been a third-stringer. Navarre may now become the backup with Josh McCown having moved on to Detroit in free agency.

McCown had performed admirably in extended starting duty the past three years when injuries felled starters. Given the uncertainty in depth and given starter Kurt Warner's age and recent injury history, the team would have to look hard if a strong QB miraculously remains on the board at No. 10, or if a good development prospect is there for them in the second or third round.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cardinals have been quieter than usual in the weeks leading up to the draft. They have abandoned their longtime policy of publicly parading prospects through their Tempe, Ariz., headquarters and making them available for news media interviews. They've had to do a ton of homework. Not only are they at the mercy of nine teams drafting in front of them, they also have so many needs that prioritizing those is a challenge in itself.

"It's called gamesmanship. It's kind of fun," coach Dennis Green said of the events leading up to the draft. "We did it (during free agency) with Edgerrin James. No one thought we were going to be a player in unrestricted free agency.

"A lot of it (leading up to the draft) comes down to who they visit, how many people they bring in, their physicals, who are the new additions to the staff, what's their affiliation with their former players. You try not to guess too much on the draft. They're all good players. As long as you feel good about who they are as individuals and that type of thing, then whether you get a guy who's third-ranked and you get him 10th, or if you get a guy 10 that's seventh-ranked, you're going to get a good player."

--The Cardinals aren't releasing ticket-sales figures going into their first season in their new stadium in Glendale, Ariz., but their box-office personnel have been churning and it is believed they are nearing the 40,000 mark -- which would be their most in a decade.

"We're really pumped up," coach Dennis Green said. "We're selling a lot of tickets, which is really big for us. We're going to open a stadium that's really one of the best in the National Football League. And then when we added Edgerrin James on top of that, we really created some excitement. It became clear that we're serious about how we're going to try to run out program, we're serious about the product that we're bringing to that new stadium and to the Valley. It's really kicked it up. Once we come out of the draft, I think we'll pick up even more steam."

--While the team has a multitude of immediate needs that could be addressed with the 10th pick overall in the first round, it would have to take a hard look if QBs Vince Young or Jay Cutler remain on the board, and at least one of them likely will still be there. Young, obviously was a terrific college player in bringing Texas back against USC in the national championship game, but there have been nagging questions about his future as a pro, including his throwing motion.

Green, who has a strong track record of picking and developing quarterbacks, says that wouldn't dissuade him.

"(In golf), Lee Trevino had his swing, which I guess people could say was quirky, and Arnold Palmer's you could say is like most guys who play on the weekends. Yet they won," Green said. "The intangibles are not their swing, their intangibles are how they play the game. I think that's (trying to fit all quarterbacks into one mold) a mistake in football.

"At one time, we did have quarterbacks who threw the ball a little differently. The reason they did, they weren't forced into a certain way. I think too many quarterbacks fail because they try to make them all the same. I think variation is good. The key is, how accurate are you when you throw the ball? How successful are you in leading the team?"

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's similar to the class that Miami had a few years ago, except that these guys have won a national championship. Two things: They're great competitors, they have skill for the position they play. I think that (Coach) Pete Carroll had guys playing where they can play and playing at that position." -- Cardinals coach Dennis Green, on the USC first-round draft prospects that could include Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Winston Justice and LenDale White.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--WR Az-Zahir Hakim, a free agent, and the Cardinals have mutual interest in reaching a contract agreement, but it wouldn't be until after the draft and Hakim also plans to talk to at least six other teams that might be in the market for a third receiver who can double as a punt and kickoff returner. The latter skill might be his strongest draw to the Cardinals, who have three strong receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson.
And while the sides have mutual interest, their early chats indicated that they're not in the same ballpark regarding pay.
Hakim was the third receiver in St. Louis for QB Kurt Warner, now the Cardinals starter, when the Rams went to the Super Bowl twice.

--MLB Gerald Hayes, the projected starter after missing 2005 with a knee injury, signed a one-year, restricted free agent qualifying offer of $721,600. He was the Cardinals third-round selection (70th overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Pittsburgh.

--DE Antonio Smith, a backup, signed a one-year, exclusive-rights free agent contract for about $350,000. He started eight games in 2005 after Pro Bowler Bertrand Berry suffered a season-ending injury. He was the Cardinals fifth-round selection (135th overall) in the 2004 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER:
None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Ian Allen; FB Jarrod Baxter; C Billy Conaty; OG Adam Haayer; RB James Jackson; TE Teyo Johnson; DT Ross Kolodziej; FB Harold Morrow; RB J.R. Redmond; WR/KR Reggie Swinton; DE R-Kal Truluck; CB Raymond Walls.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Damien Anderson; FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo; OT Jeremy Bridges; DT Tim Bulman; CB Dyshod Carter; S Aaron Francisco; LB Gerald Hayes; LB Isaac Keys; DT Kenny King; OL Shawn Lynch; DE Langston Moore; PK Nick Novak; DE Anton Palepoi; DE Antonio Smith; QB Kurt Warner; CB Robert Tate; OG Reggie Wells.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OG Milford Brown; DT Kendrick Clancy; RB Edgerrin James.
PLAYERS LOST: DT Russell Davis; S Quentin Harris; QB Josh McCown.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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There has yet to be a formal announcement, but it appears running back Marshall Faulk will return for another season, even after undergoing minor surgeries recently on both his knees.

"I think he had some loose bodies that needed to be cleaned out," coach Scott Linehan said. "Nothing serious. The older you get, the more time it takes just to kind of get them back to 100%. You've got to manage them. You can't take every (practice) snap like you used to. And the offseason's different. It's like you've got to heal up first."

As for Faulk continuing to play, Linehan said, "I don't think it's changed. I know he's every positive about it. I still expect him back. I really do."
On a chat with ESPN.com, Faulk was asked about his knee and said, it was "doing pretty well. I haven't done a lot but am getting into rehab now, maybe a week or two away from the rigorous portion."

While Faulk was not cleared to participate in the pre-draft minicamp, he was also absent because of a personal matter. Said Linehan, "I did talk to Marshall and he did have a conflict. He is the one person that is confirmed that has a conflict for this particular minicamp. Plus he is not cleared to do anything anyway, so I OK'd that."

DRAFT STRATEGY:

Had the Rams lost to the Dallas Cowboys on the final night of the regular season last January, they would be selecting eighth instead of 11th in the first round of the April 29 draft. If that were the case, they would have a much better idea of what direction they will go with the choice, and it would give them a better chance of landing the impact player they want, like tight end Vernon Davis or linebacker A.J. Hawk.

Their presence at No. 11 is almost in no-man's land. While there are good players, there are questions whether the value they would get there is worthwhile. It's why the Rams are considering an aggressive approach to a possible trade that would perhaps land them in the top five.

The unknown is what the price would be to get as high as they need. With numerous indications the 49ers are targeting Davis in the sixth spot, the Rams would have to get to the fifth choice to land him.

But it's also not out of the question that the Rams are considering a bold move to wind up with defensive end Mario Williams. If the Rams prove unsuccessful in moving up and let the draft come to them, which is their usual approach, there have been rumblings they will not rule out taking a quarterback if Jay Cutler slips to No. 11.

While Marc Bulger is under contract for two more seasons, he has been affected by three shoulder injuries the last two seasons. Still, it seems a longshot that Linehan would go in that direction in his first draft. The logical strategy would be to trade down, obviously if a viable partner can be found. That could have a better chance of occurring if Cutler or even Vince Young hasn't been selected.

Should the Rams end up picking at No. 11, they could go in several directions. Their best hope there is that Texas defensive back Michael Huff is available, which assumes Davis and Hawk are off the board.

While there is debate whether Huff will wind up at cornerback or safety, the reality with the Rams is they need both, which could make him an ideal fit. Fans shudder at the notion the Rams could add a defensive tackle like Haloti Ngata or Brodrick Bunkley, only because Damione Lewis and Jimmy Kennedy were each 12th overall picks and didn't live to that billing.

Kennedy still has a chance, but Lewis signed with Carolina in the early days of free agency. But the Rams need depth inside, making a first-round defensive tackle a possibility, along with a cornerback or linebacker.

No matter what happens in the first round, the Rams are expected to come out of the first day with three players from four potential positions: tight end, linebacker, defensive lineman and defensive back.

NOTES, QUOTES

--New coach Scott Linehan had a reason for scheduling his first minicamp with the Rams the weekend before the draft. After a busy offseason that has seen the arrival of 10 significant free agents, Linehan wants a good look at those players and his entire squad before making the sometimes difficult decisions that occur during the two days of the draft.

"I think that it will clearly confirm a lot of things that we already know anyway," Linehan said. "It wouldn't surprise me if we came away from this camp with a different impression of a player or two. Could be positive too. Not always a negative impression Somebody may catch our eye and be a pleasant surprise. I'm hoping anyway that is the case."

The camp is voluntary, but its approach is a basic one, according to Linehan, who said he will "introduce our systems, also introduce our style of play. Expectations. I think that you establish that with veterans, because I always feel that veterans are the backbone of the team. They support what the coaches and what the coaching staff is trying to establish. I think that it is a benefit to establish that with the older players first, because they are already in positions of leadership anyway and they are going to affect the team in a positive way if they know what it expected of them.

"How we practice, the tempo that we practice with, the energy, the enthusiasm. Those are all thing that we want to transcend down to our players, our players to younger players and things like that. I think that you have to establish that right form the beginning, because that is how you really approach the game from Day One."
--The pre-draft minicamp, of course, featured only veterans, and with some unable to participate, coach Scott Linehan had more walkthroughs than regular work on the field.

"Mainly because we don't have a lot of bodies," he said. "We don't have the rookie class in here yet, free agents, guys that aren't cleared. We are going to be servicing each other a lot. When we walk through, those guys will be able to get those mental reps. There won't be any chance of those guys involved in anything competitive. They will get limited reps, but they will get a substantial amount of mental reps and that is part of it. They have to get caught up to speed in the new system as well, even though they can't practice."

--The Rams added veteran depth behind starting tackles Orlando Pace and Alex Barron with the signing of 35-year-old Todd Steussie. "You've got to have depth," coach Scott Linehan said. "He backs up our tackle spots, but the way I look at it, he can back up four spots. He played some guard for Paul Boudreau at Carolina, and he played a little guard at Tampa, too."

Boudreau was hired by Linehan this offseason to coach the offensive line. Steussie has played 12 seasons with 190 games played and 164 starts. He was with the Buccaneers last season. Concluded Linehan, "One thing about having veterans in the line, they don't need a lot of (practice) reps because they've played. You've got a guy like (Claude) Terrell playing left guard. Well, if for some reason something happened to him. Or he wasn't playing well. Or you weren't happy with where he was. You can put a guy like Todd in there right away, and he's going to basically be like Adam (Timmerman) or Andy (McCollum).

"And if something -- God forbid -- ever happened to Orlando, I'm sure Barron could move over there (to left tackle), and Todd would probably fit in better (at right tackle)."

--Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who has not participated in the team's off-season program, was also a no-show for the team's mini-camp that began April 21. Manumaleuna had informed the team his grandmother had passed away, but that he would attend the first day of camp before leaving. As for Manumaleuna's absence from the off-season workouts, new coach Scott Linehan said, "The bottom line is this is voluntary every year. You can't make a player do it. I'm very careful about making sure we adhere to that. But there is a standard that we've got to make sure we hold our players to.

"Our job is to change the culture of the team. And if you're not here, it's hard to sell that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a big day for all of us. We've been kind of sequestered here at Rams Park doing various things from our playbook to evaluating our players, getting ready for this draft. It seems like the last two months, month-and-a-half, we have been pretty entrenched in that, so it will be good to work with the current Rams players to see where we are at. I'm real excited and I know that the coaches are." -- Coach Scott Linehan on getting players on the field for the first at the pre-draft minicamp.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER:
None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: P Bryan Barker; RB Aveion Cason; CB Terry Fair; DE Tyoka Jackson; QB Jamie Martin; OG Tom Nutten; TE Roland Williams.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): LB Jeremy Loyd.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Kevin Curtis; DE Brandon Green; CB DeJuan Groce; WR Shaun McDonald.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB Dwight Anderson; DT Jeremy Calahan; S Dwaine Carpenter; TE Jerome Collins; DE Clifford Dukes; LB Mike Goolsby.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Isaac Bruce; LS Chris Massey; OG Blaine Saipaia; QB Jeff Smoker; LB Drew Wahlroos.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Fakhir Brown; S Corey Chavous; RB Tony Fisher; QB Gus Frerotte; DT La'Roi Glover; WR Brad Pyatt; LB Raonall Smith; OT Todd Steussie; P Matt Turk; LB Will Witherspoon.
PLAYERS LOST: S Adam Archuleta; LB Chris Claiborne; S Mike Furrey; RB Arlen Harris; CB Corey Ivy; CB Chris Johnson; DT Damione Lewis; OT Matt Morgan; NT Ryan Pickett; OL Rex Tucker.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers became one of the power brokers in the draft when they acquired a second first-round pick. The club holds the Nos. 6 and 22 overall selections, which gives them plenty of options on draft day. The 49ers traded a second-round pick (No. 37 overall) and a third-round selection (No. 68) to the Broncos to get a second pick in the first round. The 49ers have 10 picks in the seven-round draft. Their other picks are in the third round (No. 84), fourth round (No. 100), fifth round (No. 140), sixth round (Nos. 175 and 192), and seventh round (Nos. 213, 236 and 254).

"We feel like we acquired more value by making the trade for this pick," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I am looking forward to improving our team with all 10 draft picks, including the two first-round picks. We will continue to build this team through the draft."

Using a widely circulated draft-pick value chart, the trade gave equal value to both the 49ers and Broncos. The No. 22 pick is worth 780 points of total value. The 37th pick is worth 530 points and the 68th pick is 250 points, totaling 780 points. The 49ers have two first-round picks for the first time since 2000 when they selected linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Ahmed Plummer. Both players were immediate starters and played well for the 49ers until their production became limited due to injuries.

The 49ers have needs at virtually every position heading into this draft. They owned the league's worst offense and the league's worst defense. Moreover, on paper their roster has not improved since the beginning of last season.

Seven veteran starters from the start of the 2005 season are no longer with the club -- linebackers Julian Peterson, Andre Carter and Jamie Winborn; cornerback Ahmed Plummer; quarterback Tim Rattay; receiver Brandon Lloyd; and fullback Fred Beasley. This offseason, the only starters the club has added are left guard Larry Allen and receiver Antonio Bryant. Veteran cornerbacks Walt Harris and Sammy Davis could compete for starting job, but appear better-suited as reserves.

DRAFT STRATEGY:

The 49ers' starting lineup is in such sorry shape that the club could have conceivably drafted starters with all five of their draft picks in the first 100 selections. But coach Mike Nolan did not want to take any chances. He wants to make sure the club gets two players who he can count on to be around a while. That is why the 49ers traded their picks in the second and third rounds to the Broncos for the No. 22 overall selection. With that selection, the 49ers are almost assured of looking to upgrade the league's worst defense.

But, first, the 49ers might look for a playmaker with their No. 6 pick to bring some life to the NFL's worst offense. Unless they make a move up in the draft, which is a possibility, the 49ers' best bet would be to select Maryland tight end Vernon Davis. The club does not need a quarterback after selecting Alex Smith with the top overall pick last year, and the defensive players that they would like should already be gone.

The 49ers would love to see defensive end Mario Williams or linebacker A.J. Hawk still there at No. 6, but that does not appear likely. Conceivably, the 49ers could package their two first-round picks to move up to No. 3 to select Williams, but there appears a good chance Williams will be the second player chosen overall.
The 49ers' offense needs a lot of help, and Davis is the kind of player who can supply it. If the 49ers chose Davis, it would give them the kind of pass-catching tight end that can help turn around an offense.

The Chiefs and Chargers have been successful with a tight end as their leading receiver. The Chiefs had the No. 1 offense in the league last season, as tight end Tony Gonzalez led the team with 75 receptions. The Chargers ranked 10th in the league, with tight end Antonio Gates catching 89 passes for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns.

If the 49ers landed Davis in the first round, they could turn most of their attention the rest of the way to defense. They would likely get a cornerback or outside linebacker with their pick at No. 22. Whichever ever way they go, they would likely be able to get the second- or third-rated player at that position with their other first-round selection.

Among the cornerbacks who could be available at No. 22 are Tye Hill, Jimmy Williams, Johnathan Joseph, Antonio Cromartie and Richard Marshall. The outside linebackers the 49ers might consider are Ernie Sims, Manny Lawson, Chad Greenway and DeMeco Ryans.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Owner John York of the 49ers has been portrayed as a skinflint since taking over the operation from his brother in law, Eddie DeBartolo. But York quietly has poured approximately $1.25 million into improvements behind the scenes at the team's Santa Clara, Calif., training facility. Last year, York spent about $250,000 on improvements to the club's weight room after seeking advice from veteran defensive lineman Bryant Young. This year, the 49ers will add a synthetic turf practice field at a cost of $1 million.

--After a long search, the 49ers hired former Browns executive Lal Heneghan to become the team's executive vice president of football operations. Heneghan, 42, brings some experience to one of the youngest and least-experienced front offices in the NFL. "I was most impressed with the communication chemistry and shared vision of the future for the team," Heneghan said. "What was most important for me was the structure and interaction that John (York), Mike (Nolan) and Scot (McCloughan) established with the 49ers. I was immediately comfortable with them and excited about the opportunities I would have to work within that structure. My goal is simple: To help everyone in the 49ers organization and the fans get the team back to the Super Bowl and to win it."

--When the 49ers were believed to be looking for a team president, Nolan had mentioned that the person hired should have the power to fire the head coach. But the job title seemed to change after Seattle executive Mike Reinfeldt turned down the 49ers' job offer. When asked if Heneghan will have the power to fire the head coach, York paused for a long time before answering.

"Um ... I don't think he will," York said. Nolan, alluding to the York's initial silence, quipped: "I hope you were taking a drink or something." York then clarified the role of Heneghan when it comes to making decisions about the head coach. "Mike reports to me and Lal reports to me, so that would be something that would be difficult."

--The 49ers were one of a reported 11 teams to be represented at George Mason basketball player Jai Lewis' workout in Alexandria, Va. Lewis recently helped lead George Mason to a surprise appearance in the Final Four. Lewis (6-foot-5, 292 pounds) could project as a tight end in the NFL.

--The 49ers announced the selection of HNTB Architecture Inc. to provide the planning and design services for the club's proposed stadium, along with Turner Construction and Devcon, which have been retained for the pre-construction management phase of the project. A 49ers spokesperson said HNTB's success on Denver's Invesco Field, home of the Broncos, was a key factor in the decision.

The 49ers confirmed the club is looking at new ways to finance its planned stadium on Candlestick Point without relying on the $100 million revenue bond narrowly approved by San Francisco voters in 1997 while was tied to a stadium-mall project. NBBJ Sports & Entertainment is the firm that developed the original plan for the

49ers' proposed stadium in '97. NBBJ was the architectural firm that built Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field and Browns Stadium in Cleveland.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We need starters. We're not just trying to build depth." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the upcoming draft.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER:
None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Marques Anderson; TE Steve Bush; DE Travis Hall; LB Saleem Rasheed.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: QB Ken Dorsey.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: S Mike Adams.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: FB Chris Hetherington; RB Maurice Hicks; TE Terry Jones; WR Jason McAddley; LB Brandon Moore; PK Joe Nedney; S Kris Richard; LB Derek Smith.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OG Larry Allen; WR Antonio Bryant; CB Sammy Davis; WR Bryan Gilmore; CB Walt Harris; QB Jesse Palmer; LB T.J. Slaughter.
PLAYERS LOST: FB Fred Beasley; LB Andre Carter; OT Anthony Clement; DE Chris Cooper; WR Brandon Lloyd; WR Johnnie Morton; LB Julian Peterson; CB Ahmed Plummer; WR Rashaun Woods.


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