NFC West News & Notes - 7/22/06

In today's News and Notes: Sean Locklear puts an incident behind him (to a point), the Rams say goodbye to Marshall Faulk (maybe), Neil Rackers hopes to kick a few less field goals (for a good reason), and Alex Smith wants a better season (because it can't get much worse...)

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks' starting right tackle heads into camp having largely shed the legal troubles that have hung over him since officials charged him with domestic-violence assault in January. Sean Locklear reached agreement with prosecutors to dismiss the charge contingent on his fulfillment of several conditions during a two-year probationary period. Locklear must perform community service, obtain an evaluation and pay court costs.

Locklear emerged last season as a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks. He went through most of training camp as a backup, only to assume the starting role when Floyd Womack suffered a triceps injury late in the preseason. Locklear played well enough to keep the job even after Womack returned to health.

Locklear's arrest was another surprise. He had previously experienced no known run-ins with the law. Details in the case were a bit sketchy. Witnesses said Locklear grabbed his girlfriend by the neck during a dispute outside a nightclub. Locklear denied grabbing her by the neck. His girlfriend did not substantiate witness accounts. Instead she helped Locklear lift a no-contact order, allowing the two to continue living together.

"Although I felt that Sean's case should be heard by a jury, Sean did not want to put his girlfriend through a public trial, and he was also concerned that the trial would be a distraction to his team on the eve of camp," attorney Jon Scott Fox said in a statement.

The statement also included an apology from the defendant. "I apologize to all involved for what happened that night," Locklear said. "I take full responsibility for my own actions and I look forward to putting this behind me in a positive manner."

Locklear probably will not discuss the matter in greater detail once training camp begins (first full practice is July 29). "The case is now closed," attorney Bill Bowman added, "and neither Mr. Locklear nor this firm will comment any further about it."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opens with the first full practice July 29; camp breaks Aug. 24. Scrimmage scheduled for Aug. 5.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Mike Holmgren has always said his best players must enjoy good seasons for his teams to realize their potential. He hasn't changed his opinion, but he has also acknowledged the importance of role players in Seattle's run to Super Bowl XL. "This team wouldn't have been where we are if it hadn't been for the Sean Locklears, the Marquand Manuels, Joe Jurevicius and the guys that have come in and substituted for a guy that has been injured," Holmgren said. "We had some injuries. Fortunately the young men that came in and played have exceeded our expectations."

Seattle needs additional role players to emerge this season. Manuel and Jurevicius are gone. Locklear is a starter.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu has better range than people seemed to realize when the Seahawks drafted him out of USC in 2005. There were several times last season when Tatupu made big plays well downfield. During a playoff game against Washington last season, Tatupu batted away a Mark Brunell pass that traveled 63 yards in the air. "It made me a little nervous to see our middle linebacker 40 yards down the field covering a wide receiver," Holmgren quipped, "so I politely buzzed (defensive coordinator) John Marshall and I said, "John, is that what you wanted?' "

--MVP running back Shaun Alexander implied only half-jokingly during Super Bowl week that he might need an $80 million contract to stay in Seattle. He signed for $62 million. That would be a record haul for a running back, but only if Alexander fulfills all eight years of the deal, which would take him well into his mid-30s. The deal pays him $23 million over the first three years and $28.5 million over the first four. Alexander turns 29 before this season. He'll be 32 in the fourth year of the deal.

--Maurice Morris has only 171 carries during his four-year career. "I haven't taken a beating," Morris said. "I'm just like an experienced rookie." Morris is stuck behind Alexander. He re-signed with Seattle during the offseason after encountering a flooded market for running backs in free agency. He has 806 yards and one touchdown, plus 21 catches for 158 yards and another score.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Mike Holmgren is smart enough to know that, 'Hey, we have a system and we have an offense, this is what we've done since the Bill Walsh days, but it's OK to have someone come in and say, 'Hey, what about doing this another way? Have you thought about this?' What that does is it prompts conversation and discussions with Mike as well as the offensive staff. It's good for our offense and healthy for us as coaches." -- Offensive line coach Bill Laveroni on the addition of offensive consultant Keith Gilbertson last season.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Karlos Dansby's progress to the next level -- Pro Bowl candidate -- took an unexpected turn when it was revealed that he had surgery to repair a torn ligament on his left thumb in June that could sideline him for the opening of training camp next week. "I should be ready to go. I may have to wear some sort of brace for a while but it shouldn't pose any problems," he said on his Web site.

Dansby is regarded as one of the league's rising young strong-side linebackers after his breakout 2005 season, in which he intercepted three passes -- taking two of them back for touchdowns, the first Cardinals player ever to do that in a season -- had four sacks, forced two fumbles and was in on 103 tackles. He was among only five players in the league to have at least three sacks and three picks last year.

While the thumb procedure was described as "minor" and is not expected to keep him out of any regular-season games, it sets an ominous tone for a team that by Week 17 last year had a league-high 14 players on Injured Reserve and another on Non-Football Injury Reserve.

How much will it set back an emerging young defense, especially with the team being scary-thin at the outside linebacker positions? Will it be a blessing in disguise, giving Dansby's backup Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round pick, more reps and experience as he converts from defensive end?

On any other team, this might be only a minor setback. But this is a team with one winning record since it moved to Arizona in 1988 and even minor setbacks become magnified.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals report to training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., on July 30 and have their first workout the morning of July 31. Camp ends on Aug. 17. ... Among the key changes are no intra-squad scrimmage and no weekend practices -- Saturdays and Sundays off, an attempt to make the Monday through Friday regimen more intense and give players' bodies time to heal. Widespread injuries were a problem last season. ... The team works out on the fields just east of the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at NAU. If it rains -- and afternoon thunderstorms are common in Flagstaff in August -- they move workouts inside.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Edgerrin James, who came to the Cardinals from the Colts in March during free agency, is set for one last hurrah in Indianapolis, in a celebrity basketball game at the Indiana Black Expo.
He has recruited another player, new Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald, a Pro Bowl WR last year.

"Everybody knows if you're on my team, you're going to ride with me," James said. Fair enough, but given the Cardinals luck with injuries, Coach Dennis Green must be wincing at the thought of his two primary offensive weapons being in a charity basketball game a week before training camp opens.

--Grass in the Arizona desert is about as rare as a Cardinals rushing touchdown -- a situation that the acquisition of Edgerrin James should correct. But... With the preseason home opener and the debut of the new stadium three weeks away, the team is touting the Great Lawn located in Sportsman's Park outside Cardinals Stadium. It has 8 acres of grass, designed for tailgating. The team plans bands, vendors and other pre-game entertainment. It encourages fans to cook out -- which until about mid-October in Arizona will not even require the use of a grill. About 1,200 trees have been planted to create shade and mitigate the intense early-season sun.

--Even K Neil Rackers hopes he doesn't have another season like his NFL-record-breaking 2005 -- because it would mean the offense once again went belly-up. The team dropped five games by seven points or fewer during a 5-11 run. But Rackers does hope to continue the high rate of consistency when he does get his chances. Rackers made 40 of 42 field goals, setting a league record and putting him in the Pro Bowl.

"I would like to continue to increase my touchback percentage. My goal is to be over 85 percent this season," Rackers said. That would require the Cardinals giving him more opportunities to kick off by scoring more touchdowns.

--As expected, the team has re-organized its college scouting department, promoting 33-year-old Steve Keim, who has been with them for eight years, to head the operation. Dave Razzano was hired as Western Region scout, replacing retiring George Boone. Jerry Hardaway continues as the team's Eastern Region college scout. The team also addressed its pro scouting operation, hiring Rashaan Curry as a pro scout to replace Rodd Newhouse.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The stadium is beautiful and the grass is even better. It is going to be a great advantage to the team. I mean you lose the wind factor on some kickoffs (in the retractable-roof facility), but it is Arizona, so indoor or outdoor it is a great place to kick." -- Cardinals Pro Bowl K Neil Rackers, after working out in the new $455 million Cardinals Stadium that debuts with a preseason game Aug. 12 vs. Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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The Rams are now planning for life after Marshall Faulk.

A saga that has lasted the entire off-season is now headed for closure with the not unexpected result that Faulk will have additional surgery next week on a problematic knee. Faulk had surgery in February on both knees, but one didn't respond as doctors hoped. This surgery, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, will be a reconstruction and Faulk would need an estimated 8-12 months of rehabilitation, making it seem unlikely he would play again.

However, coach Scott Linehan said "retirement hasn't been discussed," and that Faulk "is still a Ram," while acknowledging that Faulk won't play this season. Linehan added that Faulk "has to come to terms with whether he wants to try and play again."

That leaves open the question of how the Rams will deal with Faulk and his $2 million base salary for this season, which includes a $100,000 reporting bonus.

"It's still TBD, to be determined, right now," a club official told espn.com. "The guy has been a great player here, and you want to treat this with some (sensitivity)." Faulk could retire, which would result in him forfeiting his salary for the season. He could still be reinstated next year if he was ready to play again. The Rams could release him with the designation failed physical, but they don't seem inclined to do that.

A compromise would be for the two sides to agree to reduce Faulk's pay to the minimum salary of $810,000 this season and be placed on reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) or for the Rams to continue paying him $2 million and also place him on PUP.

However the club decides to handle the business side of the situation, they still have to deal with the reality of having a lack of depth at running back. "Now we have to consider some things and look at options if there are any," Linehan said. "When you lose a player like Marshall, you can't replace him. Depth will be a lot different. Everyone has to step up and take on a higher role."

Tony Fisher is currently the backup to starter Steven Jackson, but Fisher was signed to help as a third-down back and be instrumental on special teams.

"Fish can do it. He's done it," Linehan said. "But (to have be No. 2) would certainly affect the special teams." Linehan couldn't comment specifically about players on other teams, like Michael Bennett of the Saints, but a player like Bennett, Linehan said, is "the type of back we'd be looking at."

CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp opens July 26 with players reporting and the first practice is the next morning. There are no scrimmages scheduled with other teams. Camp breaks Aug. 20.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Rams signed the first of their 10 draft picks July 20, agreeing to terms with guard Mark Setterstrom, one of the team's three seventh-round picks. Setterstrom signed a three-year deal worth $1.109 million that includes a $29,000 signing bonus. One agent for a Rams pick said the Rams are sending the message that their rookie pool isn't large enough this year, and they are unsure how they will fit everyone under the pool of $4.88 million. However, the problem isn't only the pool, but the Rams' reluctance to be creative in fashioning contracts.

Here are the issues in play this year:

The overall salary cap went up about 20 percent, but the rookie pool increased only 5 percent. In addition, the minimum salary rose from $230,000 to $275,000, an increase of just under 20 percent. That's a problem. Consider that all picks after the first round receive a signing bonus along with minimum base salaries. The Rams have nine selections from the second through the seventh round. Thus, the 2006 base salaries alone for those nine players totals $2.475 million, a bit more than half of the entire rookie pool. With the remaining $2.41 million, the Rams have to fit in prorated signing bonuses for all 10 picks, plus the base salary for first-round pick Tye Hill. Further complicating matters is that the Rams have three third-round picks.

Many of the contracts for later-round picks have been for four years, so a somewhat larger signing bonus can be prorated over those four years. Normally, a four-year deal for a rookie is not good for the player because if they are good enough to last with the team, they sacrifice their restricted free-agent year, which comes after three accrued seasons.

The tradeoff is that those contracts will include a voidable fourth year based on reaching a certain performance level, or incentives that aren't that difficult to reach if the player contributes. The issue with the Rams is that they historically prefer "clean" deals that don't include incentives or voidable years.

Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt said not to worry.

"We're in full mode right now; it'll start happening," he said. "It's amazing how, in the end, they all get done."

--CB Tye Hill, the team's first-round pick, remains hopeful he will be in camp on time even though as of July 21 there was just one first-round choice signed in the entire league. "I expect to be in camp on time," Hill said. "I feel it's very important to be there with the rest of the guys. I want to be there the first day."

Said Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' president of football operations, "It's critical. You like to have your players in from the first day; that's always our goal. ... Obviously, these players need to start learning the system and get as many reps as they can. The way the league is now, they're going to have to contribute at some point this season, whether it's in September or later."

--Thanks to a massive storm that knocked out power to about 500,000 homes or businesses in the St. Louis area the night of July 19, Rams coaches have been working out of temporary offices at a nearby hotel because there is no power at Rams Park. The press conference Friday at which coach Scott Linehan confirmed that running back Marshall Faulk would miss the 2006 season, was held at the hotel at the same time another strong storm passed through the area.

"This is like Miami," Linehan said of the city where he worked last season. "I didn't think hurricanes made it to the Midwest. But we are all making do. It's like football; we are just readjusting our game plan."
Five minutes into the press conference, power was lost in the room, but it returned within another five minutes.

Jay Zygmunt, president of football operations, has been trying to do contracts on a cell phone or while borrowing space from an attorney friend. Said Zygmunt, "Maybe I'll be doing deals by candlelight."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The offense is going to be more controlled and more balanced. Linehan liked to go downfield a little bit more. Early in the year last year, we were throwing up balls just to be throwing it up. Now there's a reason behind a lot of the stuff we're doing." -- Dolphins WR Chris Chambers on the team's offense last season when Rams coach Scott Linehan was the offensive coordinator.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Alex Smith realizes he did not make a good first impression during his rookie season as 49ers quarterback, but he expects things to turn out like his college career. With training camp set to open later this week, Smith is excited about the prospect of making people forget that oh-so-forgettable first season in the NFL.

"I'm tremendously excited about it," Smith said. "There was so much stuff around last year, I feel like this year I'm actually back to playing football. I was still playing last year, but there was so much clutter around that it kind of lost some of the sport about it."

Smith, who was known for his athleticism and decision-making at Utah, showed few of the traits that made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft. His passer rating was a lowly 40.8. He threw 11 interceptions and one touchdown, and he rushed for just 103 yards while playing nine games, including seven starts. He said part of the problem last season was that he never got fully comfortable in the West Coast offense.

But in his second year, he now is working under a different offense, as Norv Turner has taken over as coordinator for Mike McCarthy, who left the 49ers to become Packers head coach. When the 49ers selected Smith, his former coach at Utah, Urban Meyer, predicted Smith with struggle as a rookie. He said that Smith would be "non-functional" until he learned everything about the offense. Indeed, Smith looked robotic and tentative with the 49ers.

"It's the same thing I went through at Utah," Smith said. "When I didn't know where I was going with the ball, I had those exact words said about me, that I played robotic. Because I was unsure, I was very rigid in where I wanted to go because I was such a cerebral player. I think that's what makes me a good player.

"When I'm dropping back and second-guessing myself, I think I do play that way. My athleticism doesn't come out because I'm second-guessing myself. I'm not playing. I'm playing slow, and it's very visible."

Even though Smith has been through just the offseason program, he said he feels so much better than a year ago. "I'm much more comfortable dropping back now, and say I don't even know what the defense is doing -- it's scattered -- I feel more confident now about knowing where I should go with the ball. I know the answers. Last year, everything was so new that I'd panic."

CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports on Thursday, July 27, with first practice scheduled for Friday, July 28. The 49ers will not hold a scrimmage. Nine dates are open to the public. Each of the nine open practices feature interactive games and player autograph sessions for fans The free open practices are scheduled for Saturday, July 29 (9:00 a.m.), Monday, July 31 (4:00 p.m.), Wednesday, August 2 (4:00 p.m.), Friday, August 4 (4:00 p.m.), Saturday, August 5 (3:00 p.m.), Monday, August 7 (4:00 p.m.), Wednesday, August 9 (4:00 p.m.), Sunday, August 13 (9:40 a.m.) and Tuesday, August 15 (4:00 p.m.). More than 3,000 people are expected to attend each ticketed practice. To obtain tickets, fans must register online at www.49ers.com. Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Is Jerry Rice going to play one last game with the 49ers? Well, he said on his Sirius radio show that would be his dream scenario. "The ideal scenario for me would be to sign with them and then take the football field," Rice said, laughing. "Play the game. Why not?"

Rice said he would like for any ceremony to retire his number to happen Nov. 19 when the 49ers face the Seahawks. Rice played his final NFL game with the Seahawks in 2004. But if Rice were to sign a ceremonial one-day contract with the 49ers it would likely take place in training camp when the 49ers might be better able to make a roster adjustment to account for his temporary contract.

--When the 49ers acquired backup quarterback Trent Dilfer in a trade with the Browns, he was issued No. 10. But Dilfer almost immediately had his eye on a number that has not been issued to a 49ers player since 1973. Former quarterback John Brodie, who played a club-record 17 seasons with the 49ers, had his No. 12 jersey retired in 1973, the same year in which he called it quits. Dilfer has known Brodie for several years. After Dilfer became a member of the 49ers, he called Brodie.

"I'd love to honor you by wearing your number," Dilfer said he told Brodie. "Is that all right? And he said, 'Yes! Yes!' He was all fired up." Brodie nearly died in 2000 from a massive stroke, which left him with impaired speech and limited use of his right arm. Dilfer hopes he can bring some attention back to Brodie as a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Brodie ranks second in 49ers history with 31,548 yards (behind Joe Montana) and third in touchdowns passes with 214 (behind Montana and Steve Young).

"John has been a huge influence in my life," Dilfer added. "Really, this has nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. I believe he should be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully his number coming out again will kind of get that thing rolling."

--Joe Montana attended Notre Dame, which has one of the richest football traditions in college football. The 49ers became a dynasty with him at quarterback. Now, his sons will be attending a school that boasts the most dominant football program of them all. Montana's two sons recently enrolled at De La Salle High in Concord, Calif. The school had its record win streak of 151 games snapped two years ago. Montana's eldest son, Nathaniel, decided he will not play football in his junior season, concentrating on basketball. However, freshman Nicholas Montana is a quarterback.

--The 49ers and HNTB Architecture Inc. announced a preliminary design for a possible stadium to replace dilapidated Monster Park (Candlestick) for the 2012 season. The 68,000-seat stadium can be expanded to up to 80,000 for such events as the Super Bowl, Olympic opening and closing ceremonies and World Cup soccer. However, the plan has not been given the green light, and political battles are certain to pose hurdles. Also, the club has not yet presented a financing plan for the stadium that will be built entirely with private money, according to team owner John York.

If the 49ers are unable to build the stadium in San Francisco, they say that they will try to get the project completed in about 40 miles south in Santa Clara.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Losing was frustrating; not playing well was frustrating. Especially when I know I can play so much better. Being out here at practice and knowing I can make these throws, knowing I can play at this level and be good at this level, then going out on Sundays and to not play to that potential is frustrating." -- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith on the struggles of his rookie season.


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