NFC West News & Notes - 5/13/06

In today's News & Notes: Ken Hamlin takes one more important step in his journey back, the Rams re-tool their defense, Alex Smith is introduced to a new football, and the Cardinals try, once again, to live up to a lot of national hype.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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All signs point to a contract extension for Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who has guided the team to an NFC-leading 32-16 record over the last three seasons. "They have had some talks, and some real good talks," Holmgren said as the team completed its recent mini-camp. "It's ongoing and I'm feeling good about stuff, but nothing has been finalized yet, so it's a little premature still."

Agent Bob LaMonte recently spent time in Seattle meeting with team officials. They made enough progress to leave Holmgren feeling as though a deal would probably come together. "I'd like to hang around," Holmgren said. "At the end of every season, I'm drained a little bit and they gave me some time (to decide what he wants to do). That's how we're approaching it. They've had some good talks. We'll see. It takes a little time, that's all."

Holmgren came to the Seahawks in 1999 as coach and general manager. He lost the general manager title after the 2002 season. The Seahawks have the NFC's best record since Holmgren stepped down as general manager so he could concentrate more fully on coaching. He would like another chance at the general manager role, leaving some to wonder whether an extension might include an out clause allowing Holmgren to pursue such an opportunity if one came along.

"There is a lot that goes into a player's contract or a coach's contract," Holmgren said. "When I was an assistant coach, there wasn't so much in there. You just kind of did it. Now there's a little more to talk about in fairness to everybody, I think. That's what we're banging around a little bit." While Holmgren took some time off before deciding he wanted to pursue an extension, the Seahawks' interest in retaining him has not wavered since last season.

"I think Mike is a great coach," owner Paul Allen told the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune in February. "He certainly proved it once again with what happened this year (2005) and I'm optimistic an extension can be worked out."

--Free safety Ken Hamlin made it through his first mini-camp since suffering severe head injuries during a nightclub brawl last season. "It feels good," Hamlin said. "I'm grateful to be back out there." The Seahawks think Hamlin has a good chance of returning to the lineup this season. They could use his presence after suffering some losses in the secondary this off-season.

Backup free safety Marquand Manuel signed with Green Bay. Starting left cornerback Andre Dyson signed with the Jets after becoming a salary cap casualty in Seattle. The Seahawks responded by acquiring veteran safety Mike Green from Chicago and drafting University of Miami cornerback Kelly Jennings in the first round. The plan is for Jennings to start and Green to provide insurance. The team needs Hamlin back on the field to make the plan work. Otherwise the team could have depth issues in the secondary.

Hamlin, for his part, said he always planned to return even though the injuries left him with a fractured skill and a blood clot on the brain.

"It looked optimistic," he said. "I worked hard, took the advice of the medical staff and did the steps I needed to take to get back out there. It's looking good right now."

Hamlin has not taken a hit since the injury. The team practiced in shorts and shells during its May mini-camp. Another camp is scheduled for June. The hitting won't commence until training camp. That's when the Seahawks will find out whether their starting free safety can return to the field.

"I don't think I'm going to hesitate (in hitting)," Hamlin said. "I love what I do, and I don't think I'm going to change my style of play. I'm waiting for the time to happen."

NOTES, QUOTES

--If the Seahawks are penalized for having 12 men on the field this season, a federal judge won't be the one meting out punishment. That's because the Seahawks and Texas A&M agreed to settle the Aggies' lawsuit claiming Seattle infringed on its "12th Man" trademark. Neither party admitted guilt. The Seahawks, who in 1984 retired the No. 12 in honor of their fans, can continue using the description in a limited scope.

"Our fans won't really notice any change in what we do, but we have reached an agreement with Texas A&M and we're really happy that has happened," Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said. "I think at the heart of the agreement is an acknowledgement of both organizations of the tradition that one another have. Theirs certainly dates back a lot longer. They do have more alumni than we have. But we're really pleased because in '84 something happened here, and I think the 12th Man is more relevant in our world today than it's ever been."

The Seahawks credited the "12th Man" for helping them post an 8-0 home record in two of the last three seasons.

--The Seahawks plan to build a state-of-the-art team headquarters on the Renton waterfront south of Seattle. President Tim Ruskell emphasized the need for a new facility shortly after the Seahawks hired him in February 2005. He was on a boat ride with CEO Tod Leiweke and other team executives when they passed the site where the facility is to be completed in June 2008. Ruskell said he liked the property. Leiweke informed him that team owner Paul Allen already owned the land. Such is life when your owner happens to rank among the world's richest men.

"The rest was history," Leiweke said.

The Seahawks think the new headquarters will help them attract free agents who might otherwise have reservations about moving to the most geographically isolated city in the NFL. The facility will feature 51/2 fields, including one inside an 80,000-square-foot indoor facility.

"To have a new indoor facility in an area of the country that gets a little rain on occasion is really going to help, and it really enhances our off-season program," coach Mike Holmgren said.

--Like most good teams, the Seahawks benefit from a positive vibe in the locker room. For that reason, new players assimilated quickly during the team's post-draft mini-camp. "Coming off the season we had, there should be a good locker room, and there is," Holmgren said. "The new fellas entered right in and already became part of the football team. Our young guys, our draft choices, which is a big part of this camp, seeing how they would respond to things, they're great kids. I'm very happy with how it's are going so far."

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I love Hutch, but he is on a different team now. He's not part of our team. We will savor the memories we had with him, but he chose to go to a different team, and we're moving on. I still like him, a lot." -- QB Matt Hasselbeck on life without Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson, who signed with Minnesota

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks will consider adding a defensive end, cornerback, tight end and veteran backup quarterback as training camp approaches. None of the needs is urgent, but the team is considering its options.

Defensive end is a priority because there isn't much proven talent beyond starters Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher. Second-round DE Darryl Tapp and newly signed DE Chris Cooper could help.

Tight end is an issue because starter Jerramy Stevens is recovering from knee surgery and might not play until the regular season. Veteran TE Itula Mili is getting up there in age and had trouble staying healthy last season.

Adding a veteran corner would also make some sense. The team has not ruled out adding Ty Law, but only if the price is right. The team will also consider adding a veteran backup quarterback. Such a move would allow No. 2 QB Seneca Wallace to help out as a receiver or punt returner, if needed.

--The Seahawks will be without numerous players until training camp. The list includes DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder), DT Marcus Tubbs (calf), DT Rocky Bernard (knee), DE Jeb Huckeba (feet), DB Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), WR Darrell Jackson (knee), WR Jerheme Urban (foot), DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder), TE Jerramy Stevens (knee), WR Alex Bannister (clavicle), SS Michael Boulware (knee) and QB Gibran Hamdan (ankle).


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Two tidbits jump out about the Cardinals of 2005 that have influenced how the front office has gone about building the Cardinals of 2006. The biggest is this unlikely statistic for a team that couldn't score or stop the rush: The Cardinals ended the season in the top 10 on both sides of the ball -- eighth in total offense and total defense. That makes them the only NFL team that finished in the top 10 in both.

The other eye-popping note: The Cardinals had a league-high 15 players on injured reserve. The league average was 7.9 and the lowest was Pittsburgh with one. Many on the list were key players in the Cardinals defense, including Pro Bowl defensive end Bertrand Berry and middle linebacker Gerald Hayes. Of the 210 player-games missed to injury, 56 were by defensive linemen.

Those pieces of trivia help explain why the team didn't go overboard during the off-season in certain areas, especially on defense. It believes simply getting its injured players back will be the equivalent of one free agency haul. But there have been some defensive changes, most notably at the tackles and at weak outside linebacker. The new look was unveiled during a three-day mini-camp last week.

"There were many games last year were we had only had six guys on the (defensive line) roster and sometimes five guys active," coach Dennis Green said. "Guys had to play more than they should have. Hopefully we'll have eight guys, and eight guys that can really play and contribute. That will give us a chance to keep guys fresh."

One of the most interesting players is defensive tackle Kenny King, back after missing two seasons to wrist problems. He was a projected starter in 2004 before the injuries. Green envisions King as a three-position player -- under tackle and both ends -- giving the team flexibility. "I've been through a lot with my wrist but this is the best I have felt since my rookie year, so I'm excited," King said.

King is expected to push Darnell Dockett, who started his first two years in the league.

At nose tackle, where Russell Davis had been a fixture, free agent Kendrick Clancy and rookie Gabe Watson will compete. And at weak outside linebacker, where Orlando Huff did not play well last year after signing on from Seattle, the team has moved Darryl Blackstock and signed free agent Mark Brown, who started 11 games in 2005 for the New York Jets. Green has said that if Hayes returns well from his knee surgery that James Darling might also join the competition at weakside linebacker. Darling started in the middle in Hayes' absence all of last year. Hayes did not participate in mini-camp but should be ready for training camp.

--A three-day mini-camp revealed interesting possibilities for an offensive line that had only one way to go after the team posted the league's worst rushing numbers last season.
It didn't take the line long to begin the transformation, long before it knew that it would have Edgerrin James running behind it. Guard Milford Brown was signed in the first 24 hours of free agency, and it appears he will slide right in as the right-side starter, ahead of Elton Brown, who was forced to play significantly as a rookie when he wasn't really ready.

And at left guard, rookie Deuce Lutui will be a strong challenger to Reggie Wells, so strong that Wells might move to center to compete with Alex Stepanovich and Nick Leckey.
While it is true that eight starting combinations were used last season because of injuries, thwarting any attempt to establish continuity, there also were issues of underachievement and talent, especially lack of quality depth.

"The most important thing on the offensive line is building depth," said offensive quality control coach Bill Khayat. "Last year we had so many injuries and that is one thing we want to try to avoid is mixing and matching lineups."

The Cardinals' longest stretch with the same five players in the same five positions was four games.

NOTES, QUOTES

--After his first look at Matt Leinart in mini-camp, quarterbacks coach Mike Kruczek said of the first-round pick, "I was really impressed with his rhythm and the way he was able to absorb things and take them in, which is crucial for a quarterback. His execution and mechanics are actually better than I thought they would be for the first time out. He picked up on things very quickly. He is a quick study."

--The rookies return May 16 for development work.

--Among those coming off injuries who sat out mini-camp: starting middle linebacker Gerald Hayes (knee), starting left guard Reggie Wells (ankle), center Alex Stepanovich (shoulder), starting cornerback Antrel Rolle (knee), starting outside linebacker Karlos Dansby (hamstring) and fullback James Hodgins (knee).
They are all expected to be cleared for the opening of training camp.

--The turf -- Tifway 419 -- has been installed at Cardinals Stadium, which opens in August in Glendale, Ariz. The natural-grass field is in a huge tray that weighs 17 million pounds. It will be rolled into the stadium for game days on a massive track system of 542 steel wheels. That process takes about an hour. It then will be rolled back outside for watering and exposure to sunlight when not in use in the $455 million retractable-roof facility, making it available with a hard floor for convention, trade shows and other activities.
The movable field is the first of its kind in North America.

--The stadium is showing early signs of being the economic engine that was promised to be when Maricopa County voters approved a tax in 2000 to help build it. Global Spectrum, the company that manages it, will hire 2,000 people, in areas from administration to guest services.
More than 30 non-football events have been booked for the stadium's opening year.

--The greatest benefit of having the new stadium sold out for the season? "I can finally TiVo my home games now," said WR Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals haven't had a home-game TV blackout lifted since a visit from the Green Bay Packers early in 2000.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hey, there's a buzz. Now we just have to live up to it." -- QB Kurt Warner, on a television news helicopter hovering over mini-camp practices

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--DE Calvin Pace has nearly lost his roster spot several times -- after making two sacks in 16 starts as a rookie, after showing little improvement in 2004, and again in 2005 after finally showing signs of playing like a first-round pick but having his season end with a non-football injury - a cut arm suffered at home during the bye week. Now he is getting yet another chance. He has been moved to strongside linebacker behind Karlos Dansby.

--RB Roger Robinson continues to tear up NFL Europe with Frankfurt. He posted his fifth 100-yard game in a win over Rhein, becoming only the third back to have five or more 100-yard games in the league. He is one short of the record. But it is difficult to see how Robinson could fit in. Behind Edgerrin James is Marcel Shipp, the team rushing leader three of the past four years and a big body for short-yardage work, and 2005 second-round pick J.J. Arrington, to whom the team is committed financially. Arrington is coming off a disappointing rookie year.

Robinson appears to be a strong practice-squad candidate. He has 833 yards on 157 carries. The NFL Europe rushing record is 1,057, by Mike Green of Barcelona in 2001. Robinson needs 225 yards in the final two games to break it.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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After a get-together with the team's veterans the weekend before the draft, new coach Scott Linehan is greeting the rookies and some first-year players this weekend in another camp. In June, the team will have its mandatory, full-squad mini-camp. This weekend is about beginning to teach rookies the new world of the NFL. Said Linehan, "You've got to be able to get them to the next page. We'll spend a lot of time teaching them basic information: huddle procedure, play-calling, terminology, names of fronts and coverages, those kinds of things. That's really important in order to get to a certain level of comfort. ... You want to take away that anxiety."

It's one reason a lot of teams bring in the rookies alone, so that they can learn in an environment without veterans. There will be plenty of time for that in June, and when training camp begins at the end of July.

"We want to get the rookies up to speed a little bit," he said. "The first-year players will be able to help them kind of get started, how we do things, snap counts, alignments, calls, all those things. We want them to learn how we practice as a team and then how we do individual things by position, what we expect.

"I'm eager to look at all of them. Obviously, looking at our new players that we drafted and signed as free agents, but also some younger players that we didn't get to evaluate too much at the first mini-camp. I'm equally excited about both opportunities."

Two players to be watched closely will be right ends Joe Klopfenstein (second round) and Dominique Byrd (third round). Gthe trade of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna on the second day of the draft has left the Rams with little experience at the position and no true blocker.

Said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, "Expectations are high because of where we've taken them. We'll bring them along and see what they can do. It's too early to make an assumption about where they're going to be."

--One of the most low-key Rams' signings of the off-season might end up being one of their best. A second-round pick of the Vikings in 2002, Raonall Smith has designs on winning the team's starting job at strongside linebacker. "They said the strong side is open and there will be a competition for it," Smith said. "Nobody is going to be handed the starting job so it seemed like a pretty good fit. I have played the strong side; we are going to be running some mobile fronts which I am familiar with. I played WILL (weak side) in my old position in Minnesota. It just seemed like a pretty good fit to have the opportunity to play on or off the ball."

In 2003 and '04, Smith played a total of 14 games because of injuries. Last year, he managed to play in every game and started six. As a free agent, he wanted the right place.
Helping him was that Rams coach Scott Linehan was the offensive coordinator with the Vikings during Smith's first three seasons. "(I like) the opportunity," Smith said. "They have a great team here obviously. A lot of strong offensive components, they have added a lot of defensive components. The opportunity to come in here and compete for a starting job. I'm familiar with coach Linehan and some of the other coaches so it seemed like a pretty good fit."

Linehan likes the fact that Smith seems to always be around the ball. Said Linehan, "At some point in his career, Raonall had made some errors, like a lot of young players do. But he always seemed to make plays: get a ball out, recover a fumble, make a key tackle on a kickoff. He's one of those guys that has a knack." Smith is even more enthused after coming in contact with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and linebackers coach Rick Venturi.

"Obviously, everyone needs help, but having a great coaching staff like they have here with coach Venturi and coach Haslett is great," Smith said. "They have both been in the system, working with each other for 10 years so they are familiar with each other and know how to coach positions well. I think having a great staff with a lot of camaraderie can teach you the nuances of the game and make you a better player."

And, of course, he's ready to do anything, like special teams.

Said Smith, "Every linebacker has to play special teams. It's just part of the deal. Special teams is just as important as offense and defense. It's just a different phase of the game."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Because final exams have not yet occurred yet at Stanford, by rule, third-round pick Jon Alston is not in attendance at the mini-camp. Alston is expected to contribute at both linebacker and safety, depending on how fast he learns the defense.

--First-round pick Tye Hill is looking forward to his first mini-camp, but he's already champing at the bit for September to roll around. "I'm excited about getting out there and performing," Hill said. "But I can't wait until all this stuff is over, as far as mini-camps and training camp. I hate camp. I'm ready to get into the season." Hill was glad to renew acquaintances with other players.

"I know most of them," he said. "I played against (Virginia's) Marques Hagans and (Colorado's) Joe Klopfenstein. And I played with (Southern California's) Dominique Byrd and the defensive end from Indiana (Victor Adeyanju) at the Senior Bowl." As for the scrutiny he will face, Hill welcomes it.

"That comes with being a first-round draft pick," said Hill.

--Coach Scott Linehan referred to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett as "the lobby king" because of his persistence in having the Rams draft for defense. It was a joke, but Haslett got a tad defensive when told of Linehan's comment. "We had 10 draft picks, and five were offense and five were defense," Haslett said. "So it came out even."

Of course, what he didn't mention was that three of the five offensive selections came from the fifth round on, with two in the seventh round. The reality is that three of the Rams' first four choices were on defense.

Haslett knows there is a lot of work to be done.

"I think the whole defense has to play better than they played the last couple of years, especially on the run game," Haslett said. "I want our defensive team to be tough-minded and physical. But I also want them to be good (at) technique, smart, and I want them to be good tacklers. And I don't think it was a good tackling football team last year."

--General manager Charley Armey is feeling better after being briefly hospitalized during the weekend of the draft when he experienced pain in his arms and chest. It occurred around the end of the first round. He went for tests, and was back on the job the next day.

"I was just sweating and my blood pressure was high," Armey said. "They (doctors) figured I just got really dehydrated and run down a little bit because I hadn't had a lot of sleep. And my blood pressure's high, so they just wanted to be precautionary."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They took X-rays of my head, and they showed nothing." -- Rams general manager Charley Armey on tests he received during draft weekend because he experienced pain in his arms and chest


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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One of the more puzzling aspects of quarterback Alex Smith's first season in the NFL was his inability to keep his grip on the football. He fumbled 11 times in his seven starts, but on several occasions the ball slipped out of his hand. In his first two road starts, the ball squirted away from him six times, resulting in one incomplete pass, four fumbles and one botched handoff. Moreover, Smith said that some of his incomplete passes during a 9-for-22 passing performance against the Seahawks were off target because the ball slipped as he was throwing.

But thanks to a new NFL rule, Smith does not have to be at the mercy of the footballs that are handed to him when the game begins. Now, both the home and visiting teams are allowed to prepare 12 footballs to their liking to be used when their team is on offense.

"The problems I had in the past with the balls were always on the road," Smith said. "It'll be nice to travel with our own." The rule allowing the visiting team to prepare their own balls for use in games was ratified this spring at the NFL annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The suggestion was brought before the competition committee at the behest of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who rallied the support of the league's other signal-callers.

"I think enough of the quarterbacks got together and decided to do something about it," Smith said. Niners equipment manager Steve Urbaniak said he prepares the team's footballs by rubbing them with a wet towel to remove the thin slick layer that coats new footballs. He said he tried to use the same mud that major league baseball clubs use to rub balls, but it did not work as well.

"Alex took some criticism for dropping some balls, but, believe me, the rest of the quarterbacks had the same issue and they got tired of dealing with it," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It (was) the only sport that doesn't rub down the balls. Baseball rubs down the balls, basketball rubs down the balls, heck, I believe soccer rubs down the balls." However, the slick footballs might have been only part of the reason. Smith intimated last season that his mechanics were also part of the problem, as he often would rush his passing motion to get rid of the ball quickly, creating his problem.

--Niners reserve quarterback Cody Pickett has no regrets in declining the club's suggestion to go to NFL Europe for some seasoning. Vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said he, coach Mike Nolan and former offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy wanted Pickett to play football this spring. Pickett said he believes he had more to gain by studying film and working out at the club's Santa Clara practice facility.

"One thing it came to down to -- because McCarthy was pushing for it hard, I was pushing for it hard and so was Nolan -- but we're not going to send anybody who does not want to go," McCloughan said. When asked about the club's desire to send Pickett to NFL Europe, Nolan said he later changed his mind on the topic.

"He wasn't (excited) about it, but I'd have said, 'Go,' if I really felt it," Nolan said. "Yeah, I remember I changed my mind. I didn't like it. I was all for it at first, but then I changed my mind." Pickett is in competition with Jesse Palmer for the third spot on the depth chart at quarterback behind starter Alex Smith and backup Trent Dilfer. In his first two NFL seasons, Pickett has attempted just 45 passes, completing 18 for 195 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.

"So hopefully next year we can send him because I think it's valuable for a quarterback to just go play," McCloughan said of Pickett. At the time when Pickett made his decision to remain in California, he did not know McCarthy would be leaving to become Packers coach and he would have to learn a new offense under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Pickett says with the changes that have occurred, he would have felt hopelessly behind if he had spent spring in Europe. Pickett has not missed one day of the team's off-season program, which has been going for the past two months.

"I want to be here," Pickett said. "I have a chance to learn the new offense. I've had a chance to get a jump on the offense. To come back here after Europe might have been difficult because there's a lot of stuff going on here with a new offense.

"I think it's been very beneficial to be here and meet with coach Turner and (quarterbacks coach Jim) Hostler every day and get comfortable with what we're doing."

NOTES, QUOTES

--When Niners coach Mike Nolan coached safety Chad Williams with the Ravens, he called him "Pound For Pound," saying that Williams (5-foot-9, 207 pounds) was the best player on the team ... pound for pound. But now Nolan said that Williams can stand to lose a few from around the waist. "I told him, 'You're Pound for Pound, except for the 10 that are in excess,'" Nolan said. "I said, 'Those 10 we can do without.'"

--Defensive tackle Anthony Adams and safety Mike Adams, who both grew up in single-mother homes, were scheduled to join tackle Jonas Jennings in hosting 15 mothers and their children from a local domestic violence shelter at the 49ers' practice facility on Mother's Day. The group will be treated to a personal tour of the facility and a viewing of the 49ers' highlight film in the team meeting room, and will participate in a discussion with the players about the importance of mothers and why showing respect to family is so important.

In addition, each woman will receive a corsage, children's goodie bag and two complimentary tickets to the 49ers' home season opener against the Rams on September 17. "I am going to tell the kids to listen to their mothers," Adams said. "I can relate to all of them. Sometimes kids think they know it all and they need reminding that they should listen because their mothers have been there and done that. Without their mother's support, they would be lost."

--The 49ers will not hold another mini-camp before the club reports July 27 for training camp. The 49ers' first day of training camp practice is set for July 28. Instead of holding another mini-camp, Nolan said he has decided that the club's organized team activities beginning in late May will replace the usual voluntary mini-camp.

--Tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall draft pick, and outside linebacker Parys Haralson, a fifth-round selection, provided one of the more memorable moments of the three-day camp when they got in a spirited shoving match away from the ball as Davis was blocking. "They got a little excited, didn't they? That was good," Nolan said. "That's part of the deal. If you're slugging somebody all day, don't you think at some point the guy's going to slug back?"

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The difference between college and the NFL, obviously there's a vast difference. One in particular, is the quarterback position. There are a lot of really good athletes in college that play that position that could have a lot to add to the NFL, but maybe not at the quarterback position. Pittsburgh, New England or many teams in the league have shown over the years that they can utilize those people at different spots" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the position change for former Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, who is spent his first mini-camp with the 49ers as a running back

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

At the conclusion of the 49ers' three-day mini-camp, coach Mike Nolan reiterated his plan to maintain the 3-4 scheme he installed last season. Prior to the draft, the 49ers were severely lacking in outside linebackers because of the free-agent losses of starters Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Nolan said draft pick Parys Haralson and three-year veteran Corey Smith will play the position Carter held, and first-round pick Manny Lawson will take over on the other side for Julian Peterson.

Smith figures to have a much greater role than a year ago, when he recorded two tackles on defense in 14 games after winning a roster spot with an impressive exhibition season. "I would hope he'd play a bigger role this year," Nolan said. "We'll see how that goes. We're hopeful of that and we'll just have to see if he can handle it. He did a real nice job in preseason last year and then we moved him into the full-time linebacker spot, and so some of the coverage things we do took a little bit off for him. But he's doing better."

--The 49ers are hopeful recently acquired backup quarterback Trent Dilfer will be available to take part in the team's organized team activities after undergoing surgery in February to repair a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

The 49ers' OTAs are scheduled for May 29-June 15. Players are scheduled to report to training camp on July 27 at the team's Santa Clara (Calif.) practice facility. "I'm certain it's not so long that he wouldn't be here for training camp," Nolan said of Dilfer. "As far as the OTAs go, that's what I'm hopeful of. He did say that he went out the other day and started to do some drops and he said it felt good."

Seven other 49ers were held out of the team's recently completed mini-camp, but the club believes all but three of those players will be ready for the team's next round of off-field activities. Nolan said center Jeremy Newberry (right knee), safety Tony Parrish (left leg) and receiver Derrick Hamilton (left knee) probably will not get back on the field prior to training camp. Parrish had a spiral fracture that ended his season after nine games last year.

"I don't know how long his will be," Nolan said. "I'm looking for training camp. If he can do it by the OTAs, great, but I'm not banking on it. We'll see. We haven't made any decision yet."

Three players who ended the season on injured reserve and running back Frank Gore, who underwent off-season surgeries on both shoulders, are expected back during the OTAs. Running back Kevan Barlow (left knee), tackle Jonas Jennings (right shoulder) and tight end Eric Johnson (right foot) did not take part in team work at the mini-camp but are expected back on the field later this month.


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