-- In keeping with the new personnel landscape brought about by the revised Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Seahawks didn't let go of any big names this June, but they did release three players – receivers Jerheme Urban and Alex Bannister, as well as 2006 undrafted free agent Garrett McIntyre, a defensive end from Fresno State. Urban and Bannister, while flashing potential at times, have both suffered through injuries in the last couple of seasons, which have limited their effectiveness. McIntyre’s card may have been punched when the Seahawks signed DE Darrell Wright.
Released by the Washington Redskins on Sept. 6, 2004, Wright played for the Cologne Centurions in 2006 as an NFLEL free agent (not allocated to any team). The 6'4", 255-pound Oregon graduate also has experience with the Dallas Cowboys. On August 5, 2003, Dallas reached an injury settlement with Wright after the player broke a bone in his left hand during practice.
-- DE Bryce Fisher's playing status will not be affected by his April 11 arrest on a domestic-violence charge. Fisher, 29, has not been in trouble with the law before and he isn't due back in court until December, and only then for a pretrial hearing.
Fisher faces a fourth-degree assault charge following a dispute with his wife. According to police, Fisher and his wife said they were fighting for control over Fisher's cell phone during an argument. Fisher said his wife was jumping on him, at which point Fisher said he placed her in an "arm-bar" hold.
Fisher's wife told police the maneuver hurt her wrist, which had undergone surgery last year. Police arrested Fisher and charged him with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor. The team declined comment on the matter.
Fisher led the Seahawks in sacks last season with nine. He has been considered a high-character person and the type of player president Tim Ruskell wants to build around.
Fisher grew up near Seattle and recently received a promotion to captain in the Washington Air National Guard. He recently joined Falcons DE Patrick Kerney, among others, on a 12-day tour of U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans.
--During his one season with the Falcons, Seahawks president Tim Ruskell saw first-hand what a new facility can do for participation in a team's offseason program. "They increased the percentage of participation from 40-50 percent all the way up to above 90 percent because it was a facility that the players wanted to go to," Ruskell said. "You started having more and more players living in the community, and they felt comfortable that even in the mandatory and voluntary camps, the participation was higher. They wanted to come down to the facility."
Seattle's new facility opens in June 2008, the final year of coach Mike Holmgren's contract. Holmgren won't have to drive across the state training camp, which will be relocated to the new waterfront facility.
"I'd just drive my boat over there," Holmgren quipped. "Instead of driving across the Cascades, it would take me about three minutes to drop the boat in and go over there. If the boat dock is with (CEO) Tod Leiweke's name on it, I could use that spot."
--Veteran LB Julian Peterson is experiencing a smooth transition. He's more comfortable in the Seahawks' scheme than the 3-4 front the 49ers are running under coach Mike Nolan. Some of the Seahawks' coaches were in San Francisco when Peterson began his career there. "It reminds me of the scheme of San Fran back when we played the 4-3," Peterson said.
Peterson misses some of his friends in San Francisco, but he also realized it was time for something new. He simply wasn't an ideal fit for Nolan's defense. "They were going in a different direction as far as rebuilding and I don't plan on playing but so many more years," Peterson said. "I don't have another seven or eight years in me to be rebuilding and trying to win a Super Bowl. Seattle is the right place to be and they are in the right predicament to try and win the bowl."
--CB Kelly Jennings is studying hard as he makes the transition from University of Miami cover corner to a player who will need more off-man skills at the next level. "It is kind of frustrating at the beginning because in college they would make a call and I used to know automatically what to do," Jennings siad. "Now I have to go out there and think again. I understand football and that is the way it goes. That means I have to get in the room and study a little bit more so I can be the same way this year."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is a bright guy. I'm hoping he got a chance to see all year how we developed as a unit and where he can fit into the defense that way. I'm encouraged. He's sharp. I think, if you can say it, he can benefit from the time off." -- Defensive backs coach Teryl Austin on free safety Ken Hamlin, who is returning from a career-threatening head injury.
Which Gabe Watson did the Cardinals get? The high-energy V-8 who didn't allow a rushing touchdown in goal-line situations while at Michigan, who made 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks from his nose tackle spot?
Those numbers, from that program, against the Big Ten and high-level out-of-conference competition the Wolverines faced would suggest that Watson is a player with first-round potential.
Or did the Cardinals get the reputed dog who does, in fact, have first-round talent but plummeted to the second day of the draft because he routinely took plays off?
The team is a long way from knowing the answer but it has begun to flesh it out. Watson has been involved in a variety of activities since the draft -- a three-day mini-camp, two-week rookie and now another brief full-team gathering. "It's a new start," Watson said. "Talking to some of the coaches, they said there are no flags against me, everything is just brand new -- clean slate and being able to start over. Everybody will have that so that is the coolest thing about it. Honestly, it's a blessing to be here. Everybody can't do it.
People would die or give an arm or a leg to be in this position. There are only a select few that make it."
Mini-camp was revealing because there were fewer players, those who were there got plenty of reps and there was strong emphasis on technique. Bad habits and laziness quickly are exposed in that environment.
And, to the extent that any opinion can be formed from action in shorts and T-shirts, the Cardinals like what they're seeing. "I know I have to just work harder than anybody else," Watson said. "Push myself when I feel like I can't do it anymore and keep going. Guys on this team talk to each other. That's something I like about this team. You see on TV that a lot of teams are separated. But on this team they put you along to be part of the team."
Since Russell Davis moved along to Seattle in free agency, the starting nose tackle spot is open. It appears to be a two-horse race between free-agent acquisition Kendrick Clancy, a third-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000, and Watson. Both are reputed run-stuffers, but Clancy has done it in the league, and the Cardinals have a better idea of what they are getting with him. So far.
--Count QB Kurt Warner among those impressed with the rookie class' progress since the first mini-camp. He was reunited with it in full-team workouts this week after the rookies had just completed their two-week camp. "Just the glimpses I get to work with those guys and watch them run routes, or have a guy like Matt (Leinart) calling plays, you can tell there is (higher comfort level)," Warner said.
"In the first mini-camp when you're coming right off the draft, it is all brand new, so there are nerves and they're trying to perform. It is completely different when you settle in and get comfortable, not even so much with the offense but just the surroundings. They need to get the feeling that they belong here and then it is time to exhale and just come out and play."
The real test will be in the rookies' next jump, though, according to coach Dennis Green. "It is important for them to understand what the league is all about and the next time we come together after these 10 days, then we're in training camp and that is a totally different atmosphere," Green said. "The guys really need to get a good feel on what it takes to be a good pro here and be ready to do it once we get to training camp."
--They may have rolling thunder in the Midwest, but in the Desert Southwest, they now have rolling field. The new retractable field at Cardinals Stadium, which opens in August in Glendale, was rolled into the building for the first time this week as the massive rail system and motors that power it were tested. John Drum, director of Cardinals Stadium operations, proclaimed the test a success.
When not in use on game days, the natural-grass field of Tifway 419 sod is rolled back outside for direct sunlight and watering, in turn allowing the cement-floor stadium to be used for a multitude of other activities.
--Head coaches, coordinators, and position coaches from the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona and Arizona State watched a team workout. "We invited them all down just for a day of football and golf," coach Dennis Green said. "They sat in on the meetings and they got a chance to come on the field and see us apply it. I think it's was a nice chance for them to come down and I hadn't met a lot of them." Coach Mike Stoops, in the process of rebuilding the UA Wildcats program, was especially grateful.
"I thought it was very interesting and informative and I really enjoyed sitting in," Stoops said.
--If undrafted rookie CB Jay McCareins doesn't make it, he is prepared for life in the real world. He missed the beginning of rookie camp to pick up his college degree -- in Economics, from Princeton. "I couldn't miss a chance to graduate from the best school in the world," he said. "I had to think realistically that football might not be my whole life."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We (on the USC defense) didn't care about the ink we got. We knew it all wouldn't have worked without us." -- CB Justin Wyatt, trying to make the Cardinals roster as an undrafted rookie, on Cardinals draft picks and former college teammates QB Matt Leinart and G Deuce Lutui getting the publicity while they all were with the top-ranked Trojans teams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Cardinals resumed voluntary organized team workouts last Wednesday. Workouts No. 7-10 are this week.
--RB Edgerrin James is excused to do his off-season work in Miami.
--CB Antrel Rolle still has the team holding its breath after the 2005 first-round pick missed 11 games as a rookie to knee surgery. He had another surgery, this time a scope job to clean out scar tissue, last month. He's still doing nothing more than work on a stationary bike and agility drills. He is expected to be cleared for the opening of training camp next month.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams weren't a very good tackling team last season, and the secondary was a big culprit. Missed tackles and bad angles contributed too many big plays in the running game. There were 14 runs last season that averaged 39.8 yards. As the Rams prepare for their mandatory minicamp June 9-11, the safeties will be totally different from last season.
Strong safety Adam Archuleta, who was effective blitzing and in the box but struggled tackling in space, left as an unrestricted free agent for Washington. He has been replaced by Corey Chavous.
After Michael Hawthorne failed last season, converted wide receiver Mike Furrey became the starter. He made some plays in the passing game, leading the team with four interceptions. However, poor angles led to the frequent site of runners getting past him for huge yardage. Furrey was not re-signed, and is in Detroit as a receiver again. Meanwhile, the current starter is O.J. Atogwe, a third-round pick in 2005 had some problems early, was bothered by a toe injury, but then showed promise in the last few games of the season.
He knows, however, that his name on the depth chart as the starter in June doesn't mean much.
"It's an honor, definitely something I'm proud of," said Atogwe. "But it doesn't stop there. I've still got to prove that I deserve that spot.
"I'm just going on my second year, so I still have a lot to learn. The more times I get on the field, it's only helping me in my development."
Atogwe was inactive for four games last season after he made two mistakes on special teams in the season opener against San Francisco. But he says he learned from that.
"I plan on having a long career," he said, "and you have to take everything with a grain of salt and just fight through the adversity ... keep the faith." So far, he has impressed the Rams' new defensive coaching staff.
"He was a highly rated player (in college)," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's been really working hard in the offseason, preparing for this opportunity, and he hasn't disappointed us. He fits what you're looking for in a safety; he's just green. The only way you're going to solve that problem is to play him."
--The Rams still have interest in veteran defensive tackles Jason Fisk and Grady Jackson. While it is believed Jackson is considerably overweight, he does have a history with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett when both were in New Orleans. After the departures of Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis in free agency, there are questions of depth behind projected starters La'Roi Glover and Jimmy Kennedy. Returning from last season are Brian Howard and Jeremy Calahan. Rookies include third-round pick Claude Wroten and undrafted free agent Tim Sandidge.
Coach Scott Linehan has high hopes for Wroten, who likely would have been a first-round pick if not for off-the-field issues that surfaced in January. "He's got great explosiveness, great get-off, plays with a great amount of energy, and he's hard to block," Linehan said. "That's why we said he was probably one of the top 15 players on film that we saw. ... We're hoping for big things from him."
--Coaches are anxious to see how the team's rookies perform at the June 9-11 mandatory minicamp that includes veterans. Only selected veterans were present at the first post-draft minicamp, although rookies have been working with the veterans during recent OTAs.
Coach Scott Linehan thought it important to show rookies the temp expected in practice, without most of the veterans present. "A lot of these guys were at places that practiced at a high level, but what's different here for them is it's like going from being an eighth grader to a freshman in high school," Linehan said. "You have to start all over and it's the same when you go to college. We talked about that. You have to take the anxiety away from that initial shock to the system.
"We want to teach them how we want to practice, not as much what we are putting in plays, but how we are going to practice."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not something that you can work on. Half the time when I do stuff, it's not even planned. It just happens. It's like instinct. I thank God for the ability that he gave me, but I don't know where it comes from." -- WR Marques Hagans on his penchant for making plays.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers owned one of the worst pass-rushes in the league last season, and arguably their two top threats from a year ago are gone. Although outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter came nowhere close to living up to the expectations the 49ers had for them, both had shown ability to rush the passer earlier in their careers.
Aside from 34-year-old defensive end Bryant Young, this 49ers defense has nobody who has experienced NFL success in getting to the quarterback. So coach Mike Nolan is relying on rookie Manny Lawson, a first-round pick from North Carolina State, to be among the team's top sack artists. "I can't say later who it's going to be because that's why we're going through this process now," Nolan said when asked whom he believes will be the team's sack leaders. "But I would like to think that Manny Lawson would be one of them."
The 49ers last year recorded just 28 sacks. Their average of one sacks every 21.6 attempts ranked 31st in the league. Young led the team with eight sacks, doing all of his damage in the first seven games of the season. Brandon Moore was second with five sacks, but he is expected to return to his role as a reserve this season with a healthy Jeff Ulbrich.
Nolan said he is expecting Young and his other defensive linemen in the club's 3-4 scheme to contribute some sacks this season. "Bryant Young is a good pass rusher, and Anthony Adams does a pretty good job," Nolan said. "We need Isaac (Sopoaga) to push the pocket a little bit more on the pass rush."
At the outside linebacker spots, Lawson will team with Corey Smith and fellow rookie Parys Haralson at a spot that is severely lacking in players who have experienced NFL success. Lawson, the No. 22 overall pick in the April draft, will fill the role vacated when Carter signed with the Redskins. Carter had 4.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, Peterson signed a lucrative deal with the Seahawks this offseason. Peterson recorded just three sacks last season, including 2.5 in the first game of the season.
"If somebody else shows up that'd be good," Nolan said. "And we have quite a blitz package on third down that we use as far as the way we try to do it."
--The 49ers hope their offensive line can actually build some cohesion this season after a season in which the club started five different combinations and the unit that practiced during the week played in only six games. "It'll be important that we all practice together because continuity is really important to be good," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
Left tackle Jonas Jennings returned to the practice field this week after starting just three games last season after signing a lucrative deal with the 49ers as a free agent. And veteran center Jeremy Newberry, a two-time NFC Pro Bowl selection, is optimistic that he will be cleared to practice in training camp and then regain his starting job for the regular season.
"I'm going to have every intention in the world to play a lot of training camp and then play every single game," Newberry told The Oakland Tribune. Newberry rarely practiced last season because of a bothersome right knee that required extensive surgery. Newberry started 10 of the first 11 games of the season but went on injured reserve in late November when it became unbearable for him to play.
--Tight end Vernon Davis, the team's No. 6 overall pick, is making quite an impression already. He got in an on-field tussle with linebacker Brandon Moore during an OTA practice one day. Two days later, he spiked the ball at the feet of safety Chad Williams after catching a touchdown pass, drawing the ire of the team's defensive players.
--Nolan offered this blunt assessment of rookie tight end Onye Ibekwe: "Certainly, he's not a very good football player, yet." But Nolan's review of Ibekwe was generally positive and uplifting for the former Long Beach State basketball player who has not played football since his sophomore year of high school.
"He's doing well," Nolan said. "He's a big, good-looking guy who weighs about 260. And he can put on another 10 in time. He's very raw. What I like about him from what I've seen so far is he's very eager to do well and make the team in some capacity. He catches the ball and he sprints another 20 yards, he runs back and gives the ball to the ball boy. He does all the things you like to see from somebody who's trying to make your club.
"He's got ability and with a little practice, maybe he can become a better football player. He has a lot of athletic ability but it's not a track meet as we all know. He's got my eye. Right now he's at the developmental stage, but I certainly respect and appreciate his work ethic."
--Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer, acquired in a trade from the Browns for Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round draft pick in 2007, has not been cleared to take part in team work. Dilfer does throw in individual drills, though. He underwent surgery in February to repair a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Dilfer passed a physical with the 49ers shortly after he was obtained. He appears on pace for a full recovery, but the 49ers have until June 15 to back out of the trade. It is highly unlikely the 49ers will void the trade.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's to be expected. When guys are competing, that's what happens. You notice a sense of urgency among our team and we have to continue with that sense of urgency. When you put that on the guys, you're going to have them compete at a higher level." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the heightened level of intensity and flared tempers during organized team activities.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers might keep four quarterbacks on their roster this season if third-stringer Cody Pickett adapts to a role in which he plays some receiver and special teams, 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. Pickett turned down an opportunity to hone his quarterback skills in NFL Europe this spring. He believes the decision has paid off because the 49ers later lost offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who became Packers head coach, and installed a new offense with coordinator Norv Turner.
Pickett is competing for the No. 3 quarterback job with Jesse Palmer, behind starter Alex Smith and backup Trent Dilfer. But Pickett might have a lot more on his plate this season. "We've met with him (about an expanded role)," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Some of the passing days, he went out and played a little wide receiver. We're trying to give him a role of 'slash.'"
Nolan said about the only way that Pickett will get a chance to play this season, barring injuries to the players in front of him, is if he can become a contributor as a spot player on offense and special teams.