In today's News and Notes: Seattle adds to an already excellent front office, the 49ers sign a player who may have a future as a coach, the Rams find rookies who impress and a veteran adjusting to a new role, and the Cardinals finally have a thousand-yard rusher...on another continent.
Tim Ruskell hit the ground running in his first year as Seahawks president. Hours after his introductory press conference in February 2005, Ruskell boarded a plane for the NFL scouting combine. He didn't have time, or much chance, to make changes in the front office.
This off-season was different. Ruskell, having settled into the role after helping Seattle to its first Super Bowl, had more time to consider his options. He wasn't looking to make wholesale changes because the Seahawks were already on solid footing in many areas.
But when given the chance to hire one of his long-time associates from Tampa Bay, Ruskell jumped at it.
Ruston Webster, 43, was named vice president of player personnel. The title makes him the No. 2 man in the personnel hierarchy, below only Ruskell himself. Webster became available after his contract with the Bucs expired this off-season.
Webster and Ruskell worked together with Tampa Bay from 1998 through the 2003 season. They are close friends. Each knows what the other likes in a player. Having Webster on board with Seattle serves to expand the comfort zone for Ruskell.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to add Ruston to our scouting operation," Ruskell said. "I've known Ruston for close to 20 years and he is as hard-working and talented a personnel man as there is in the business."
Seattle's personnel department now features Ruskell and Webster at the top, above pro personnel director Will Lewis and regional college scouting directors Mike Yowarsky and Scott Fitterer. Ruskell hired Webster and Yowarsky. Coach Mike Holmgren hired Lewis and Fitterer in the days when Holmgren doubled as general manager.
Webster spent 18 seasons with the Bucs. He worked as an area scout, pro personnel director and director of college scouting. He spent last season as director of player personnel.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck said he was surprised at how quickly newcomers have assimilated into the team this off-season. Management has done a good job of weeding out problem players, leading to a more professional environment. "A lot of times you get new guys, and you know they're good people, and you want to get to know them, but it just doesn't happen right away," Hasselbeck said. "Our new guys, it's been great. Nate Burleson is fitting in so good with our wide receivers. Tom Ashworth fits in great with our offensive line, the same with our linebackers and Julian Peterson. Everyone is really clicking, and it just feels right."
--Bloomberg News estimates that Seahawks owner Paul Allen has seen his net worth drop as low as $8.4 billion through poor investments, a far cry from the $20 billion figure that has been widely reported. According to the news service, Allen's net worth would stand near $78 billion had he simply kept the Microsoft stock he owned 20 years ago. Whether he's worth $20 billion or $8.4 billion, Allen remains the wealthiest owner in the NFL.
--NFL officiating director Mike Pereira dropped by Seahawks headquarters for a regularly scheduled discussion on officiating. Such off-season conferences are routine in the NFL, but this one carried a little more intrigue in light of allegations that poor officiating cost the Seahawks a chance to win Super Bowl XL.
According to Sports Illustrated, Holmgren made a joke when introducing Pereira to his staff. "This is Mike Pereira, fellas. He and I used to be really good friends." Most of the session dealt with rules changes for 2006. There was also time to rehash calls from the Super Bowl. That session produced nothing new. Neither Pereira nor the Seahawks changed their stance.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The lease on my boat ends in two years. Seriously, though, we have three years left, look at it that way. In this business, that in itself is a pretty good run. I can't give you a good answer to that because I think it just felt good." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on why his extension was for only two years beyond 2006.
Rushing for 1,000 yards in any league is quite an accomplishment, but when Cardinals running back Roger Robinson did it in NFL Europe to carry his team to the title game, it was not exactly like doing it against teams he could face in the NFL. So it has to be put in perspective.
Still, Robinson, a product of Northern Arizona University, cracked the four-digit barrier in nine games -- he missed one due to a concussion -- and gets his final shot at an NFL Europe defense Saturday when Robinson and Frankfurt face Amsterdam in World Bowl XIV for the league championship.
Robinson's 1,087 yards set a league season record. The old mark was 1,057 by Mike Green of Barcelona in 2001. Robinson rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of his nine appearances, breaking the NFL Europe record of six by Joe Smith of Rhein last year. "It feels great to win the rushing title," Robinson said. "The offensive line did a great job. And I'd like to thank the coaching staff for believing in me. I'm very lucky to be here, and very luck to be around the people that I'm with."
Robinson averaged 5.1 yards a carry and had four rushing touchdowns.
The Cardinals had the worst rushing game in the NFL last season, but have upgraded that with the free-agent signing of Edgerrin James. Behind James are Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington and Damien Anderson.
It appears, then, that Robinson would be no better than the team's fourth back, which makes him a candidate for the practice squad.
But after his sizzling summer, it might be hard for the Cardinals to hide him there. More than likely, somebody somewhere would sign Robinson to a 53-man regular roster as the third back.
The Cardinals have not had a 1,000-yard rusher in the regular season since Adrian Murrell gained 1,042 yards in their 1998 title run. In the past 25 seasons they've had only eight 1,000-yard rushers.
--RB Roger Robinson of Frankfurt got most of the accolades in NFL Europe after he broke the league season rushing record (1,087 yards) and league record for 100-yard games (seven) but there are other Cardinals players in World Bowl XIV with him, too.
QB Jeff Otis, son of former Cardinals FB Jim Otis, completed 48 of 91 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 72.8 this season for Frankfurt. Otis likely won't win a roster spot. The Cardinals have Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart and John Navarre ticketed to be their top three QBs. Otis' best hope is for a position on the practice squad. TE Ben Hall, of opposing Amsterdam, caught nine passes for 37 yards and a touchdown this season.
At what a couple of years ago was the team's thinnest and one of its weakest positions, Hall now faces a logjam on the roster at tight end, making him a long shot for even a practice-squad spot. The team drafted Leonard Pope in the third round, and he likely will be the starter. Eric Edwards and Adam Bergen split tight-end duties last year. Andy Stokes, John Bronson and Alex Shor also are in the mix.
--G Deuce Lutui, the team's second-round pick from Southern California, is a native of Mesa, Ariz., about 10 miles from the team's Tempe training facility. So he's accustomed to the triple-digit heat the rookies faced during their two weeks in rookie camp.
"This weather is a part of my blood," Lutui said. "I lived in and out of this weather, so it's no biggie for me. I know what it's like and what it can do. You just have to watch yourself." Lutui was the right tackle and blind-side protector of Trojans left-handed QB Matt Leinart in 2004 when Leinart, now reunited with Lutui as a Cardinals rookie, won the Heisman Trophy. Lutui last season moved inside to guard, where his blocking was instrumental in RB Reggie Bush winning the Heisman. Lutui is the likely starter at left guard for the Cardinals as a rookie, where he will protect QB Kurt Warner while Leinart learns the league, and block for RB Edgerrin James.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Personally, I thought they threw me out there to the sharks, but fortunately I got half the calls and system down and I was able to kind of be a step ahead. It helped because coming into this rookie development I feel like I am kind of being a step ahead." -- Rookie G Deuce Lutui, on his first mini-camp with veterans
ST. LOUIS RAMS
He had grown accustomed to starting during most of his career in the NFL. But at the age of 35, Todd Steussie knows he can't be choosy if he wants to keep playing. So, he signed a one-year contract with the Rams as a backup tackle behind Orlando Pace and Alex Barron, but before he knew it, there he was lining up with the first unit in minicamp at left guard because Claude Terrell was unable to practice because of a wrist injury.
"It's maybe working outside the comfort zone a little bit, but ... wherever they need me, I'm willing to go," Steussie said of playing guard.
He also understands his role as a probable backup.
"You maybe don't get to compete as much on Sunday, but I enjoy the locker room, I enjoy the guys, I enjoy the competition during the week," he said. "I had some guys that when I first got in the league were able to advance my understanding of the game a lot quicker, and if that's my role on this team, I'll be happy to do it.
"It's an opportunity to continue a career that has changed a little bit over the years. But it's still a lot of fun, and I enjoy it quite a bit."
Steussie was with Tampa Bay last season, but while playing in every game, he didn't start any. He could have stayed with the Bucs, but said, "They had a youth movement going on; the locker room was starting to look a little crowded. I saw a better opportunity here." He also liked the fact that new Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau was his position coach for two years with the Carolina Panthers.
"I've always had a lot of respect for him," Steussie said. "From the moment I played under him at Carolina, we saw eye to eye technique-wise. What he preaches is what I do." In his first 10 seasons with Minnesota and Carolina, Steussie started 159 of a possible 160 regular-season games. So, pardon him, if he admits to taking a while getting used to not starting.
"That was a humbling experience," he said. "But in a lot of ways, to be humbled is probably a positive thing in the long run. Adversity is where most of life's lessons are learned.
"I feel like I still could start if given the opportunity. But it's also a game where coaches are always looking for the younger guy to develop. And I understand that. But if I'm given the opportunity to play, I plan to make the most of it."
--Undrafted free-agent wide receiver Clinton Solomon impressed coaches at the team's rookie minicamp, and also stood out because he's 6-3, 214 pounds. Said Solomon, who went to Iowa, "I'm going to pick every person's brain that I can, stay in the playbook and learn as much as I can. What a great opportunity I have, to be around Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Just to learn from those guys, to work on technique and mechanics, I couldn't be in a better situation."
--During the recent rookie minicamp, there was a celebrity sighting at Rams Park when actor Denzel Washington toured the facility. Washington's son, John David, has been signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent. The younger Washington traveled with his father to Atlanta so he could attend hgis graduation at Morehouse College, and after missing a morning workout was back on the field for the afternoon work.
--With OTAs beginning, rookies are working out with the veterans. Rams first-round pick Tye Hill is humble, noting the veterans with experience ahead of him on the depth chart. "If I don't start, I'm not going to be mad," Hill said. "I want to play, but I can't rush it. Nobody came looking at me like I'm going to take their job or anything like that. They're veterans; they know what they're doing. I'm looking for them to give me some tutelage."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very proud of it, but that's the past," he said. "None of those tackles count in the NFL." - Rookie linebacker Tim McGarigle on the NCAA record 545 career tackles he had while at Northwestern.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Coach Mike Nolan said last season that not every veteran quarterback is suited to become a mentor to younger players. But the 49ers believe Trent Dilfer fits the profile of what they were looking for to help guide quarterback Alex Smith. After failing to acquire Dilfer in a trade last year, the 49ers finally acquired him in early May in a trade with the Browns for Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round draft pick.
"I am thrilled to work with Alex because he is such a great kid and smart," said Dilfer, who exchanged phone numbers with Smith at the Super Bowl this year. "He is a guy who is able to digest information and learn quickly from his mistakes. He has natural leadership skills, which is important to have."
Smith started seven games last season and struggled as a rookie after being taken with the top overall selection in the 2005 draft. With the acquisition of Dilfer, 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan believes the 49ers landed a player who has a great future as a coach. But Dilfer, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery, said he does not take it for granted that he'll be carrying a clipboard the entire season.
"I am prepared to come in here and perform to the best of my ability and work my tail off," Dilfer said. "By doing that, that will be mentoring Alex in itself. "Alex is the starting quarterback here. I understand that and I think he is going to be a heck of a football player in this league. Hopefully, my presence here will help speed that up. I think that's why the 49ers have brought me in here and like I told coach Nolan, I will give the 49ers the very best Trent Dilfer has to offer to win football games."
Dilfer spent just one season with the Browns. He played the second half of the season with a sore right knee that required surgery to repair a partially torn patellar tendon. He lost his starting job to rookie Charlie Frye, making him expendable to the Browns.
"I felt like I didn't finish something I started and I have a little pit in my stomach because of it," Dilfer said. "As excited as I am to be a 49er, part of me feels like I didn't accomplish everything I started in Cleveland, and it is disappointing."
--Guard Larry Allen has split his time between Northern California and Texas since signing with the 49ers. He spends a week working at the team's practice facility and then travels to Texas to spend a week with his children.After the Cowboys released him, it did not take Allen long to find a home with the 49ers. Allen finished high school in Napa, Calif., and played at Butte College in Northern California before transferring to Sonoma State in Rohnert Park, Calif.
But proximity to home is just one of the reasons Allen is feeling comfortable in his new environment, he said. The big reason is that he spent most of his career in the offense that new coordinator Norv Turner brought to the 49ers. "I've been in this offense for about seven years, from when I first got to Dallas," Allen said. "(Offensive line coach George) Warhop was there two years ago. It's the same terminology. There are a couple new things, but it's cool."
--Tight end Vernon Davis was the 49ers' first selection in the draft, but there might be more pressure on their second first-round pick to provide an immediate upgrade. Outside linebacker Manny Lawson is about the only pass-rushing threat on a team that lost Julian Peterson and Andre Carter to free agency. Lawson, chosen with the No. 22 overall pick, is being counted upon to put up good sack numbers as a rookie.
"I think he can bring a three-down presence," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's a four-down player, because I think he can help on special teams also. As far as a pass rusher, he should be able to rush on all three downs. I believe that most of his rushes will come on third down because that will be the role that he plays."
--When the 49ers selected Delanie Walker with their sixth-round draft pick, he had little idea what the team had in store for him. Although Nolan told the media that Walker would be converted from receiver to fullback, Walker said he did not find out until he reported to mini-camp nearly a week later. "I'm an athlete and a football player, so wherever they want me to play is fine with me," Walker said. Walker was a 240-pound receiver entering the draft and teams suggested he might lose some weight to make for an easier transition to the NFL. On draft day, Walker weighed 228.
"They want me to put the weight back on," Walker said.
The 49ers plan to use Walker as the "F Back" in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system. The position is actually a combination fullback/tight end/wideout position. Walker's strength is making plays with the ball in his hands, so he gives the 49ers their only real offensive threat at the F Back.
--Twenty to 24 employees of Kansas City-based HNTB Architecture Inc. will work on behalf of the 49ers' stadium project, a company spokesperson told Kansas City Business Journal. If the 49ers are able to build a new stadium, its cost could be as high as $700 million, according to the report.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of the young guys look good, as they always do in shorts. Delanie Walker looks good; Brandon Williams looks good. But when we get the pads on and they have to know the offense, sometimes it's different. I'd like to think it will look just like it did, but it doesn't." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on his impressions of some of the team's new players.