Seahawks owner Paul Allen was in London on business when the team announced its two-year extension with coach Mike Holmgren. His absence from the press conference was merely a physical one, for without the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Holmgren might never have come to the Seahawks in the first place.
And he almost certainly wouldn't have stayed long enough to sign an extension through the 2008 season. Holmgren relayed his appreciation to Allen on the morning of the press conference. "I thanked him for being a great owner to me, and sticking with me," Holmgren said. "It's a volatile business. It seems that more and more, in this day and age, it is harder to find that type of relationship for a coach that an owner will kind of work with you through the bumps in the road if he believes in you.
"Clearly, he gives me that feeling. I just thanked him for that. We had a great conversation."
Holmgren's record was only 31-33 in his first four seasons with the team, matching the record that led Allen and then-president Bob Whitsitt to fire Dennis Erickson following the 1998 season. Instead of firing Holmgren, the Seahawks reduced his responsibilities, taking away his title as general manager.
The Seahawks own the NFC's best record (32-16) in the three years since Holmgren stepped down as general manager. The addition of CEO Tod Leiweke (June 2003) and president Tim Ruskell (February 2005), coupled with the re-hiring of vice president Mike Reinfeldt (March 2005) gave Holmgren the support he needed. A sense of teamwork has permeated the organization, as evidenced by Ruskell's comments about building the team to suit Holmgren.
"This team is constructed in the way that Holmgren wanted it constructed, and it's a team that is on the verge of having a long run, and a chance to do something very special, which we did last year, and of course we want to take it a step further," Ruskell said. "A big part of that is Mike Holmgren and the staff."
--One of Ruskell's first moves as team president involved drafting a letter to players outlining what he expected from them on and off the field. "We must be held accountable for our own actions, year round," Ruskell wrote in the March 2005 dispatch. Most players took the message to heart. Troubled souls, notably wide receiver Koren Robinson and right tackle Chris Terry, were sent packing right away.
Offensive lineman Wayne Hunter's turn came after Seattle-area authorities charged the 2003 third-round choice with fourth-degree assault and third-degree malicious mischief. The problems started when Hunter and his younger brother got into a fracas at a sports bar while celebrating the younger brother's 21st birthday. The Seahawks released him one day after learning of the charges. Hunter had previously been involved in a 2003 domestic-violence case that led to his suspension for one game last season.
Hunter underwent court-ordered treatment for anger-management issues following the domestic-violence case. In the latest incident, a police report alleged that Hunter and his brother knocked over a table, breaking six glasses and a plate, while Hunter tried to forcibly remove his brother from the bar. Hunter told police that his brother had become drunk and belligerent. Once his brother was in the car, Hunter allegedly returned to the bar and tossed a patron onto a shuffleboard table.
The Seahawks once had high hopes for Hunter, but injuries and off-field issues led to the former Hawaii star's demise in Seattle. The move to release him wasn't particularly painful for Ruskell, at least on a personal level, because Ruskell did not draft him.
--Holmgren has said he wouldn't mind becoming a general manager again at some point during his career, but he also relishes having someone else to sweat out all the details. Holmgren, who served as Seattle's general manager from 1999 through 2002, seems to be getting along well with Tim Ruskell. "What's relieved some of my stress is the man sitting next to me," Holmgren said of Ruskell during a recent press conference. "I can remember going on vacation in the summer, in what I called time away from the building, and I never really could recharge, it was just kind of going all the time.
"When Tim came along, and of course Tod (Leiweke, CEO) on the business side, and Mike Reinfeldt and our personnel people, I can honestly say that I feel the decisions and how we look at the football team, what our goals are, how things are going to get done, I don't worry about those things like I used to do because I know it's going to get done, and I know it's going to get done properly, and I know we're all looking at it the same way.
"That's helped me a lot, so when I do go on vacation in the summer in a couple weeks, I can go to the beach and not worry about it too much."
--Ray Rhodes, who stepped aside as defensive coordinator after suffering two mild strokes last season, was back on the field for recent minicamp practices. Rhodes' new title is defensive consultant. "He's feeling good," Holmgren said. "He got good news from his doctors. He had a big physical. He won't be the defensive coordinator anymore, but he will certainly be a big contributor to our defense."
--Ruskell continued to put his stamp on the front office with the long-anticipated hiring of Ruston Webster to a high-ranking personnel job. Webster had been director of player personnel for Tampa Bay, where he and Ruskell worked together from 1988 through 2003.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Tim (Ruskell) and Tod (Leiweke) were extraordinarily professional, and when you are working with professional people, it's not hard to get a deal done." -- Bob LaMonte, agent for Mike Holmgren.
How's this for one-on-one (or very close to it) instruction: The Cardinals have 14 coaches working with 18 rookies during their two weeks of Rookie Development Field Work that began on Monday. And after only three workouts, quarterback Matt Leinart said, "I've got a pretty good feel for the offense already. I can at least go in the huddle now and call the plays."
And that, according to Coach Dennis Green, is what this exercise is all about.
"We will use these next two weeks to give a chance for those guys to get caught up in the system and how we do things," Green said. "Then when the veterans come back June 1st they won't be as far behind as they were in the beginning of the mini-camp." The rookies were in a three-day mini-camp with veterans earlier this month, so this now is their time to ask questions without fear of embarrassment, and to learn.
"It is for us rookies to get caught up to speed, so that when we are with vets, we are running full-team, full-speed, and we know exactly what we are doing out there," said Leinart, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Southern California who landed with the Cardinals as the 10th pick in the first round of the draft in April.
"We don't want to slow the team down so that's what this whole rookie development camp is for." With the personalized coaching available to the group, there is great emphasis on fundamentals and technique. Leinart is the only quarterback in rookie camp, giving him all of the reps to get acclimated and develop, and, as Green put it, "the ability to go in and command the huddle, to make sure that when he steps in, the whole car is going to be driven the right way. So even though he's a 23-year-old rookie, he has to be ready to step in and play as a backup quarterback."
The only rookie missing is undrafted cornerback Jay McCareins of Princeton, who is prohibited by league rules from working out until next week, after his college classes end.
--He now will be hanging with Nick Leckey instead of Nick Lachey but Matt Leinart says that's just the way he likes it. To hear him tell it, he is more than happy to leave behind the fun-loving Hollywood image he developed while at USC. It may take some time for that to go away, though. Being photographed with Paris Hilton at his recent post-draft party in Las Vegas won't help him. It has caused tabloid headlines speculating on their relationship. "We're friends," Leinart said of Hilton.
All of this is very un-Cardinals-like for a franchise that has been not only been bad on the field, but boring off the field. At the very least, perhaps Leinart, who is ticketed to be Kurt Warner's backup while learning the league this season, can assist the team in getting a rate at a popular chain of hotels.
--G Deuce Lutui, who was Leinart's USC teammate and now as the Cardinals second-round pick will be with him once again, might be 6-6 inches but he weighed about 400 pounds when he arrived on the Los Angeles campus as a junior college transfer. He got down to about 380 and played right tackle as a junior, the year Leinart won the Heisman. Because Leinart is left-handed, Lutui was his blind-side protector.
Lutui continued to drop weight and moved inside to guard last season at about 340. He was instrumental in helping Reggie Bush get every inch he could out of every carry, often chasing him in search of a downfield block, and Lutui vows to continue that with Edgerrin James.
It appears that Lutui will be the Cardinals' left guard. "I'm an energetic player," Lutui said. "I like finishing."
--For a team that had the worst rushing game in the league last season and the second-worst statistically since the NFL-AFL merger, the Cardinals seemingly would welcome a running back like Roger Robinson with open arms. Robinson, signed by the Cardinals in January, last week tied an NFL Europe record with his sixth 100-yard rushing performance. Going into this weekend's regular-season finale, he needs 104 yards to break the league record for a season, 1,057 set by Barcelona's Mike Green five years ago.
The NFL Network will televise his finale with Frankfurt, which with a win over Berlin could clinch a playoff spot. "Our focus is on getting to the World Bowl and winning a championship," Robinson said. "If I can set the rushing record in the process, it will be a great accomplishment for our entire team."
With 954 yards in a truncated season (he missed one of the nine games with an injury), Robinson is in an area that no Cardinals back has been in since Adrian Murrell broke the 1,000-yard barrier in the 1998 playoff run -- the only one by the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona in 1988. But big numbers in NFL Europe do not guarantee Robinson anything. The team acquired big-ticket free agent Edgerrin James, who will be the starter at running back. The backup will be a battle between Marcel Shipp, the team rushing leader three of the past four seasons and a nice complement to James with his big body and prowess between the tackles, and J.J. Arrington, the 2005 second-round pick who is anxious to prove that he is for real after a shaky rookie season.
Robinson would have to beat veteran Damien Anderson, assuming the team carries four running backs. Robinson appears to be a strong candidate for the practice squad. Robinson is a product of Northern Arizona University, where this week the team signed a contact to return to training camp for the next three years.
Last year, the team trained in Prescott, Ariz., breaking tradition of training at NAU in Flagstaff, where'd they'd trained since they moved to Arizona. Cardinal's coaches and staff will begin arriving at NAU on July 25 with players scheduled to arrive July 30. The Cardinals will practice at the Walkup Skydome and the NAU practice fields beginning July 31.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--A.J. Schable, an undrafted rookie from South Dakota who was going to be switched to fullback, will stay at defensive end, coaches determined after being impressed with his early workouts.
Schable initially was issued jersey No. 37 but he has quickly been switched to No. 64.
--The team evidently has overhauled the two starting guard spots with free agent Milford Brown and rookie Deuce Lutui, which likely will cause LG Reggie Wells to move to center to compete with Alex Stepanovich and Nick Leckey. But it didn't do anything at the tackles, where Leonard Davis and Oliver Ross evidently will remain the starters. It did bring in veteran Lawrence Smith in for a workout this week. He started eight games for Buffalo two years ago and was on injured reserve (knee) last year. It is not yet known if the team will offer Smith a contract.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
After the draft, it appeared that change was imminent in the team's personnel department. Several candidates to head the department were interviewed, but after Ruston Webster turned down the job and went to Seattle instead, it was looking more and more like the status quo would be maintained.
That means Charley Armey will likely stay and run the scouting for the draft again. At the age of 67, it was thought Armey might retire to a home he is having built in Arizona. Club president John Shaw told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that coach Scott Linehan was pleased with the way draft preparations were handled.
"I think Scott was pleasantly surprised with the process," Shaw said. "The stacking (of the draft board). How the draft went. It pretty much went off the way it was stacked. He thought the scouts did a good job.
"We're kind of at a point where we're making changes in the organization, and often when you hire a head coach, he looks to have certain personnel people changed also. But I don't think there's an issue at all about Charley's competence. He's very good at what he does."
There were two changes made soon after the draft when veteran scouts Tom Marino and Dave Razzano did not have their contracts renewed. "We just wanted to make some changes and ... go in a different direction," Armey told the Post-Dispatch. "They're both good scouts, and they did a great job for us. We just want to add some different people."
The moves shocked both scouts, who had been with the Rams for a combined total of 20 years.
"I don't understand it," Marino said. "I've been doing this for a long time, so I must have done something right over the years. Looking back, I'm not ashamed of anything, and I'm not going to hang my head. I'll just move on to the next place."
Said Razzano, who had been with the club for 14 years, "When Charley called, honestly, I thought I was going to get a promotion. He just said, 'We're not going to renew you.' I was a little shocked, but I'll move on. I have a lot of good memories, and I made a lot of good friends."
--First-round pick Tye Hill on his first minicamp experience: "The tempo is crazy. It's high tempo. I kind of expected it, but expecting it and it actually happening are two different things. By the end of practice, I thought my lungs were going to explode.
"During the walk-through, we were actually running full speed. We were going a little too fast a little too early, and that caused a lot of fatigue." But the former Clemson cornerback showed a lot of ability and technical savvy in terms of his technique. Coach Scott Linehan liked what he saw.
"What he showed was, obviously the skill level, but (also) what you don't get to see until you're around him: the competitive side," Linehan said. "He's got a great spirit about him. He's a humble kid. He's got confidence, but he knows he's got a ways to go. He keeps his mouth shut and goes about his business and improves every day. And that's what we're looking for."
Guard Tony Palmer said of the tempo: "You make mistakes, but you don't have a lot of time to think about them. We're definitely playing at a different tempo. Definitely faster."
--Linebackers Jon Alston, a third-round pick, and Tim McGarigle (seventh), will not be available until June because the semester at their colleges -- Stanford for Alston and Northwestern for McGarigle -- are on a quarter schedule. Said Alston, "I'm disappointed that I won't be here for OTAs because I know how valuable those are for experience. But I'm going to get the tapes sent to me, and I'll have a chance to learn." McGarigle, jokingly, claimed that he and Alston said that, "If you go to a 'smart' school, you have to stick around and go to more school."
--After a rookie year in which he practiced once because of a knee injury and then had some run-ins with the conditioning coaches, offensive lineman Richie Incognito has done all the right things this year.
He has worked hard in the off-season program, lining up at guard in the April veterans minicamp, and then being at center for the rookie camp.
"He did a great job," Linehan said. "We worked him at center; I think that was good for him. The first minicamp he was trying too hard to make sure his knees were good and playing guard and had some pressure on him. This one, he had to put a lot of thought into making the calls at center. He did an excellent job and showed he can play that position. He gives us another thing to look at."
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The young group of 49ers offensive linemen can't be blamed if they look with awe at Larry Allen, who signed a two-year, $8.4 million deal with the club in March. "When you're a young kid growing up and playing football, Larry Allen was your prototypical star NFL lineman," 49ers guard/center Eric Heitmann said. "Especially for me, growing up in Texas, he's the guy every high school lineman would look up to for technique and inspiration. I've been a fan of Larry's since I was in high school."
Allen was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl 10 times during his 12-year career with the Cowboys. He was honored seven times as an All-Pro selection. Niners tackle Kwame Harris said you'd never know Allen has compiled a Hall of Fame resume because he seems to have little ego. "He was one of the first players I remember watching in middle school," Harris said. "He was probably one of the first three big-name football players I knew about. It was him, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. This is such a special opportunity to get to watch him and get to know him."
When asked if he realizes that many of his new teammates are in awe of him, Allen answered, "I don't think about that. I'm not going to hold the bags and do rookie things, but I don't think of that. I'm here to help. If they need help with something, they can come to me."
Allen, who is scheduled to earn a $100,000 bonus for taking part in the club's workout program, has attended about half of the 49ers' activities since he signed. He travels to Dallas every-other week to visit his three children. After the school year is completed later this month, everyone will move to the San Francisco Bay Area full time, and Allen is scheduled to take part in daily workouts at the 49ers' complex. "He looks good," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Nothing has led to me to believe that our expectation of him being a full-time player and playing every bit as much as he has the last couple years has been wrong."
--The 49ers offseason program has given receiver Antonio Bryant an opportunity to mesh with quarterback Alex Smith, who has just one NFL season under his belt. Bryant signed a four-year, $13.9 contract on March 14, and he began working out at the team's Santa Clara, Calif., practice facility the next week. "We've hung out," Bryant said of his rapport with Smith. "And just getting on field, we're getting better every week. Now I think full swing of things."
Bryant said the team's recently completed minicamp gave the tandem a nice opportunity to work together because of the defensive players on the field. "It's about working together and showing dependability," Bryant said. "If he puts the ball here, this is where I'll be."
--Tight end Vernon Davis obviously would like to report to training camp on time this summer, but his agent says in the grand scheme of things it makes little difference. "You're always trying to avoid a holdout, but I don't think it really matters," agent Ethan Lock said. "I know (49ers chief negotiator) Paraag Marathe is one of the smartest guys in the league. We'll get something done." Last year, Lock had a client fail to report to training camp on time because of a contract stalemate. Defensive end Erasmus James held out of Vikings training camp 10 days before reaching contract terms.
--The 49ers were rumored to have their eye on Steelers restricted free-agent cornerback Ike Taylor, who started 15 games for the Super Bowl champs. But Taylor signed his one-year tender with the club, though he would like a long-term deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2006. The 49ers say there will not be a trade.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers have four quarterbacks on their roster, and that does not include Michael Robinson, the Penn State quarterback-turned-running back that coach Mike Nolan said at some point in the future could serve as club's No. 3.
The first two spots on the depth chart look secure heading into training camp with Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer, who was acquired in a trade with the Browns for Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round draft pick. Cody Pickett, who started two games last season, appears as the favorite to win the third-string job. But Pickett will get solid competition from Jesse Palmer, who spent three games on the 49ers' roster last season but did not appear in a game. Palmer threw the ball impressively during the team's recent three-day minicamp, and might have a chance to win a job if Pickett does not make enough progress to satisfy the team's front office and coaching staff.