Injuries are forcing the Seahawks to explore their depth along the defensive line. This is a good thing early in camp, when guys are fresh and rookies need their reps. But at a certain point the team is going to need some of its key linemen to get back onto the field.
No one can say for sure exactly when that will happen.
Once upon a time, defensive tackles Rocky Bernard (knee) and Marcus Tubbs (Achilles) were supposed to be ready for camp. But when neither progressed well enough in rehab after the season, they underwent surgeries in May. Having surgeries so late meant neither player would be ready for the start of camp. Tubbs needs the work because he's a big man who could be prone to adding weight. The absences of defensive end Grant Wistrom will compound the problems for Seattle as the team goes into exhibition games. The team was already a bit thin at the position. Wistrom is expected back from shoulder surgery in time for the regular season, but with backup Joe Tafoya also sidelined by shoulder surgery, Seattle lacks quality bodies at an important position.
Rookie Darryl Tapp is carrying some of the extra load in camp. He looks good in pass-rush drills unless he has to work against all-world left tackle Walter Jones. It's unclear how well Tapp is going to hold up
against the run, but he could be an effective situational player right away if Wistrom returns to form.
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp breaks Aug. 24; scrimmage Aug. 5.
--Coach Mike Holmgren couldn't believe it when he found out backup tight end Brock Edwards would miss camp with a case of the mumps. "That is the first case of mumps in the United States in the last 32 years," Holmgren mused. "I'm not getting close to him, I'll tell you that. I wouldn't do any one-on-one interviews with him if I were you." In truth, Holmgren made that a moot point when Edwards was released to make room for Boise State DT Alex Guerrero, an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Chiefs on July 26.
--Linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski barely made it to training camp on time after weather problems turned a cross-country itinerary into a 24-hour adventure. Kacyvenski spent more than five hours stuck in a plane on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, leading to a series of stressful connections in Chicago and Salt Lake City. He wound up going from Binghamton, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Salt Lake City to Spokane, near where the Seahawks hold training camp. His luggage never arrived, leaving Kacyvenski to wear the same polo shirt around Eastern Washington University for the first couple days of camp.
Luckily for Kacyvenski, he had removed his NFC championship ring from his luggage shortly before boarding the plane. He slept hard upon finally making it to his dorm room at camp.
"It felt like it had 2,000-thread-count sheets or whatever," he told the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. "I actually slept awesome."
--Running back Shaun Alexander defended himself against complaints that he had broken promises to build a first-class community center in his hometown of Florence, Ky. The city slapped Alexander's associates with five citations for a series of code violations after the property fell prey to vandals and overall disrepair. "It's kind of rough right now," Alexander said. "We have to go through a bunch of city-sanctioned code things that I never knew about, so that has been rough. We also found out it's better with the city if the city gets involved. I never realized it was so hard to do some good things."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just ready to play. ... It's just another step in the practice and preparation for getting back to playing this season." -- FS Ken Hamlin, who is returning from a fractured skull.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
CB Kelly Jennings finally agreed to terms on a contract after missing the first three practice of camp. Jennings is the favorite to start at left cornerback. He arrived in camp to remain the favorite, and teammates welcomed him with open arms.
--DE Jeb Huckeba was waived after failing his pre-camp physical with stress fractures in his feet. Under new NFL rules, Huckeba can be placed on the PUP list after clearing waivers. He can then rehab with the team while not counting against the 80-man roster limit. The team also avoids placing him on injured reserve, which would presumably carry additional financial ramifications for the team.
--QB Gibran Hamdan has a chance to unseat QB David Greene as the No. 3 quarterback. Hamdan hurried back from a broken ankle suffered during NFL Europe play. Greene appears vulnerable after Holmgren said the 2005 third-round pick needs to show improvement.
--P Ryan Plackemeier has taken over the field-goal and PAT holding duties from veteran P Tom Rouen, who was released. QB Matt Hasselbeck would be the fallback option if Plackemeier struggles. The team expects Plackemeier to be the guy.
--WR Tony Brown suffered a hamstring injury during pre-camp conditioning sprints. He basically has no chance to earn a roster spot, but if he can get healthy and show some things in preseason, the practice squad would be one option.
--FS Ken Hamlin has been cleared for full-contact play, clearing the way for his return from severe head injuries suffered last season. Hamlin has been practicing without incident.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kelly Jennings vs. Kelly Herndon for starting LCB -- Jennings was late to camp after failing to sign a contract right away, but he showed enough at minicamps to remain the favorite here. Herndon is a scrapper who will fight Jennings all the way. He also made some big plays in Jennings' absence early in camp.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ryan Plackemeier and Gabe Lindstrom will battle deep into camp for the punting duties held previously by veteran Tom Rouen, who was released. Plackemeier probably has the edge.
--Mike Green could push for playing time at strong safety if Michael Boulware continues to struggle with a knee injury.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: TE Itula Mili -- He looked great out of the gates. Mili has lost weight and gotten himself back into shape following a poor 2005 season. He is getting more reps, too, with starter Jerramy Stevens recovering from knee surgery.
ROOKIE REPORT: Backup LG Rob Sims was probably the most impressive rookie early in camp. He moves well and seems to be in better shape compared to minicamps. He could push for the No. 2 spot at both guard positions.
--WR Ben Obomanu has a chance to push for a roster spot if he can catch the ball consistently. Obomanu has the tools athletically.
INJURY REPORT: Medical report -- WR Skyler Fulton (shoulder), WR Tony Brown (hamstring), DB Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder), DE Darrell Wright, WR Darrell Jackson (knee), TE Jerramy Stevens (knee), DT Marcus Tubbs (Achilles), DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder) and DT Rocky Bernard (knee) could be out until the second or third exhibition games.
Dennis Green loves the misdirection play.
Not necessarily the one on the field, but the mind games he plays with the media.
He says Matt Leinart is going to spend the year learning the game, the league and the offense from Kurt Warner, and most believe him. Warner, who signed a new contract in January, is counting on it. He doesn't want a repeat of the Eli Manning situation that Warner faced with on the New York Giants two years ago. The rookie quarterback Manning was to spend the year learning from Warner, but by mid-season Warner was on the bench and Manning was starting.
Then Green says he loves John Navarre, who has been third string for two years, and that Navarre is very much in the hunt to be No. 2 to Warner ahead of Leinart, and very few believe him. "I believe first-year players, for the most part, have to watch and learn," Green said. "Kurt still has the ability to lead us to the playoffs, particularly with a running game to go along with it.
"Matt is going to be a very good player. But I'm still very high on, and I haven't changed one bit, on the future of John Navarre. He's got everything you need to be a big-time player ... You know what? People don't believe a lot of things I say."
Leinart, the 10th pick overall in the draft, first has to come to terms. On the eve of the Cardinals' first workout, he remained unsigned. The parameters quickly are falling into place for a deal, though, and negotiations have been ongoing for more than a week. The Cardinals, who have signed all of their other rookies, have roughly $1.5 million left in their rookie pool. Overall, they remain about $11 million under the salary cap.
Additionally, two other highly drafted quarterbacks -- Vince Young, who went a few notches ahead of Leinart, and Jay Cutler, who went directly behind Leinart at the No. 11 position -- have signed their contracts.
Cutler got about $48 million over six years, including roughly $11 million in guaranteed money. Young was drafted third overall -- in the spot where many draft observers anticipated Leinart might go -- and signed for five years and $58 million, a whopping $25 million of it guaranteed.
The 10th player chosen in the 2005 draft, Lions receiver Mike Williams, got a $13.5 million, five-year contract. Of that, $9.5 million was guaranteed. Although no deal was in place, Leinart threw passes at the Cardinals' practice facility three days before the opening of camp.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Cardinals report to training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Sunday, July 30, and have their first workout the morning of Monday, 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 and practices are open to the public at no charge. If it rains -- and afternoon thunderstorms are common in Flagstaff in August -- they move workouts inside.
--After years of losing, horrible relations with players and unwarranted arrogance that bore abysmal public relations, it appeared the Cardinals were about to turn it around. They've added exciting, high-quality young players to the roster, they're moving into a state-of-the-art stadium that is sold out for the season and no doubt will be the envy of all of pro sports and they finally have a head coach with a proven track record of winning in the playoffs.
And now, just as excitement is at an all-time high, the Cardinals once again stick it to the fans. After they charged $200 to fans to get on the waiting list for season tickets (it is non-refundable but is applied to the price of the tickets when the holder's turn comes), they're now essentially shutting down training camp to that excited fan base.
The team has changed its training-camp format this year and eliminated all weekend workouts as well as the annual intra-squad scrimmage. Monday-Friday practices are open to those who can get to them.
But weekend workouts had been popular among fans from Phoenix -- about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Flagstaff -- who work and can't make it to practices during the week.
--Quarterback Matt Leinart, chosen 10th overall in the first round, and who recently bought a $2.4 million house in Ahwatukee, a 10-miunte drive from the team's training facility, worked out at the team's facility late last week while his representatives began negotiations on his contract.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The culture has changed. It's about changing the culture and creating an atmosphere. Can you win while you're doing that? I've always said yes, but it didn't happen." -- Coach Dennis Green, on entering training camp with renewed optimism about a franchise that has had one winning season since moving to Arizona in 1988, including 6 and 5 wins in Green's first two seasons.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--TE Leonard Pope, a third-round draft pick, signed a three-year contract for $1.6 million with a $575,000 signing bonus. With his size, athleticism, hands and blocking, Pope is expected to be a strong challenger to win the starting spot as a rookie.
--DT Gabe Watson, a fourth-round pick, signed a three-year contract for $1.4 million with a $345,000 signing bonus. Watson is expected to challenge free-agent Kendrick Clancy to start at nose tackle.
--SLB Karlos Dansby, who had surgery in June on his left thumb to repair a torn ligament, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He is coming off a season with three interceptions (returned two for touchdowns) and four sacks. He was among only five players in the league to have at least three sacks and three interceptions last year.
--MLB Gerald Hayes (knee), the projected starter last preseason before a knee injury wiped out his year, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His successful return might allow the team to move veteran James Darling to weak-side linebacker to address a weakness.
--CB Antrel Rolle (knee) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His rookie year was all but wiped out by the injury and the team still doesn't know exactly what it has in the 2005 first-round pick. Nevertheless, Rolle is a projected starter.
--LG Reggie Wells (ankle) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. Wells might be moved to center to compete with Alex Stepanovich, which in turn would allow rookie second-round pick Deuce Lutui to step in at LG.
--C Alex Stepanovich (shoulder) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He faces a battle for his job following a season truncated by injuries. LG Reggie Wells might move to center to push Stepanovich as the team attempts to upgrade the line after it posted the league's worst rushing statistics last season. But Stepanovich was a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2004 and was effective while playing injury-free.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Darnell Dockett vs. Kenny King for starting DT -- King was the projected starter two years ago before a wrist surgery, followed by another in 2005, sidelined him for two seasons. When King unexpectedly went down, Dockett was forced into a starting role as a rookie in 2004. Dockett since has bulked up and become a playmaker as a two-year starter. These players are too good to sit. Whichever does not win the starting job might swing to end. Both have the ability.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Alex Stepanovich vs. Reggie Wells for Starting C -- It is not yet confirmed that Wells will move from LG, where he is the two-year starter, but it is a strong possibility. Stepanovich was strong as a rookie in 2004 but shaky when injuries slowed him last season.
--Kendrick Clancy vs. Gabe Watson for starting NG -- There will be a new face in the lineup after Russell Davis went to Seattle in free agency. Clancy, a free agent, has experience. Watson, a fourth-round pick, is bigger and stronger but also raw. Watson also has to get past his reputation for taking plays off at Michigan.
--Eric Green vs. Robert Macklin at CB -- Green was forced to play before he was ready as a rookie last year but now should benefit or the experience. Griffith is a tough, yet smallish veteran, who will cling to the job like a junk-yard dog -- the same way he plays the game.
ROOKIE REPORT: All but QB Mat Leinart, chosen 10th in the first round, were signed on the eve of camp. Leinart is expected to be a backup to Kurt Warner while learning the pro game this season.
--G Deuce Lutui, a second-round pick, should be a strong challenger to step in and start.
--TE Leonard Pope, a third-round pick, is big (6-8, 265), athletic, can catch and block. He will be a strong challenger to Eric Edwards and Adam Berge, the tag-team starters last year.
--NT Gabe Watson, a fourth-round pick, has the physical tools to challenge Kendrick Clancy for the starting job. The key will be Watson's mind-set.
INJURY REPORT: SLB Karlos Dansby, who had surgery in June on his left thumb to repair a torn ligament, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He is coming off a season with three interceptions (returned two for touchdowns) and four sacks. He was among only five players in the league to have at least three sacks and three picks last year.
--MLB Gerald Hayes (knee), the projected starter last preseason before a knee injury wiped out his year, has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His successful return might allow the team to move veteran James Darling to weak-side linebacker to address a weakness.
--CB Antrel Rolle (knee) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. His rookie year was all but wiped out by the injury and the team still doesn't know exactly what it has in the 2005 first-round pick. Nevertheless Rolle is a projected starter.
--LG Reggie Wells (ankle) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. Wells might be moved to C to compete with Alex Stepanovich, which in turn would allow rookie second-round pick Deuce Lutui to step in at LG.
--C Alex Stepanovich (shoulder) has been cleared to start practice when training camp opens on Monday. He faces a battle for his job following a season truncated by injuries. LG Reggie Wells might move to C to push Stepanovich as the team attempts to upgrade the line after it posted the league's worst rushing statistics last season. But Stepanovich was a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2004 and was effective while playing injury-free.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Like many teams around the NFL, the Rams have instituted an alternating schedule of practices with two one day and one the next. Slowly, but surely, two-a-days are going the way of the dinosaur and leisure suits. Rams first-year coach Scott Linehan worked with the schedule last summer in Miami and liked it. On days where there are two practices, there is one in the morning and one in the evening. The practice with one day is in the afternoon.
"It gives coaches much more time (between practices) to be prepared," Linehan said. "It gives players much more time to recover. The players have plenty of time to get treatment. Plenty of time to eat, hydrate, go rest and get off their legs.
"I think it's really good for the players who have things they have to manage as far as a nagging (injury) problem. Or an old player who has a history of having a problem."
Linehan noted that the Dolphins had a minimum of hamstring and groin injuries last year.
"We were very, very healthy," Linehan said. "You know, maybe we were lucky. But I think it had a lot to do with how we trained, and our schedule had a lot to do with it."
Linehan admitted not being sure of the plan at first. Now, he is a believer. "I'm sold on it," he said. "I wasn't sure, I was a little skeptical of it myself going into it for the first time last year because you want to get those multiple practices in, but you're on the field a little bit longer and you really get what you want to get done and the quality of the practice seems to be much better when you stay on the schedule."
But Linehan also made it clear, there won't be a shortage of work and physical play in camp. "We're going to be in full pads the good majority of training camp," Linehan said. "The way I look at it, we can always pull back. But I think the one message that I'm sure the team will hear loud and clear is that we're going to be very physical in this camp.
"We're going to require a lot out of them as far as finding out how good a football team we are when it comes to tackling, being 'ball-secure,' being able to handle the adversity of the heat, and the soreness, and all that. I think that's a big part of what a training camp should be."
As to the belief that the risk of injury is high with pads on, Linehan offered an opposing view. He said, "I think there's more risk of injury when you're not in pads," Linehan said. "Pads are put on for protection. As soon as you start taking pads off, everybody starts taking it down a notch. If you don't play or learn to practice at full speed all the time, especially when you are a young team, you just can't turn the switch on and off.
"I think when the switch is always on, it makes it easy when you come to game day to play at the level you are expected to play at. If you don't put the pads on, you can talk the game, but you really aren't practicing what you're preaching."
--The Rams agreed to terms with cornerback Tye Hill, the 15th overall selection in April's draft, to a five-year contract Sunday. "I hope we can get him here as soon as possible," coach Scott Linehan said after Sunday's practice. "He has a long way to catch up to the other guys." Hill has missed six practices, which coincides with six installation periods. As coach Scott Linehan noted, "What we have put in so far is about what we put in through the entire off-season program, including mini-camps. He'll catch up, but it will take a while."
--Linebacker Trev Faulk's back surgery has cost him a roster spot with the Rams -- for the time being. Faulk was placed on waivers with the designation failed physical July 26, apparently ending his stay with the Rams. Faulk was not able to do much in the off-season because of the surgery, which occurred in May. Rookie Tim McGarigle and free agent Jamal Brooks will be competing for the backup middle linebacker job behind Will Witherspoon.
"I knew it was a possibility," said Faulk. "I was kind of hoping they'd put me on the PUP list. But things happen, and you've just got to roll with the punches. My rehab was going really well. I was really pushing myself, trying to get back in time for training camp, and I kind of had a setback. That hurt my chances." However, after not being claimed on waivers, Faulk ended up on the team's reserve/physically unable to perform list, which could give him a chance to practice after the sixth week of the season.
--Things were a little ragged, Rams coach Scott Linehan acknowledged, but overall he was pleased with his team's first practice of training camp Thursday morning July 27. "We installed a whole bunch of new stuff," Linehan said, "so that affected the intensity. When you put in a lot of things, it tends to paralyze you. That's why it was a lot more quiet out there than normal. They're thinking a lot, the computer is running upstairs. But that will improve with each practice."
Said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, "It was a typical first day of training camp. It's like chickens running around with their heads cut off. There was a lot of nervous energy. But this is what it's all about. We've got a lot of work ahead of us." Notable for the first day, but not surprising was that Richie Incognito worked with the first unit at left guard, and Claude Terrell only saw action as a backup to Adam Timmerman on the right side. O.J. Atogwe was the No. 1 free safety.
Much of the offensive sets featured two tight ends and two wide receivers, with rookies Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd the first-unit tight ends.
--Running back Steven Jackson raised some eyebrows when asked what is different this year from last year. Mentioning Marshall Faulk, Jackson said, "I don't have to deal with that anymore." Jackson got a bit testy when he was asked to explain that comment. "I don't want any controversy," Jackson said. "Me and Marshall are good friends, and I hope he has a speedy recovery and comes back. But what I'm saying is, I don't have to deal with the comparisons to Marshall. I'm not a Marshall Faulk running back. It's not disrespectful to him, it's not disrespectful to me; we're just two different backs."
--Coach Scott Linehan on the absence of cornerback Tye Hill from the first practice: "Every practice he misses affects his progress. But I realize it's the nature of our system and I can only focus on the players that are here."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This team isn't far removed from the greatest level in the game. I've said a number of times that with the number of veterans that are still here that have been there, the young players who are eager, and the new players from other teams, that we have the ingredients to get back to that position of being a dominant type of football team. It doesn't happen by just saying, 'Here we are - new coaches, new players.' We have to go out and earn that right over the next five or six weeks." -- Coach Scott Linehan on his confidence of what his team is capable of accomplishing.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Rams declared running back Marshall Faulk active/physically unable to perform. He still counts on the active roster. Faulk underwent knee surgery July 28 in Los Angeles, but reports in the St. Louis Post Dispatch said he might need more work on the knee because the surgery didn't go as expected.
--Signed was defensive end Matthew Rice from Penn State, who was signed after the draft by the Buffalo Bills, but released in early June.
--Tight end Joe Klopfenstein (second round) and linebacker Jon Alston (third round) signed contracts on the reporting day. Klopfenstein's is a four-year deal, while Alston signed a three-year contract.
--Bonus NFL Europe roster exemptions were given to safety O.J. Atogwe and tackle Alex Barron, giving the Rams two extra players on their roster for training camp for a total of 85 because of exemptions for wide receivers Jeremy Carter and Brandon Middleton and running back Fred Russell, who all played in NFL Europe.
--Camp opened with four quarterbacks when Jeff Smoker was released. There had been some thought that Ryan Fitzpatrick might be in jeopardy after the acquisition of Dave Ragone because quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier was a coach at Michigan State when Smoker was there. Ragone played for coach Scott Linehan at Louisville, and might have the edge over Fitzpatrick for the third quarterback job behind Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte.
--Ron Bartell is now a full-time safety. A second-round pick last season, Bartell started several games at cornerback because of injuries. Linehan said Bartell could still play on the corner, but he will be concentrating on safety. "We talked yesterday as a staff about not giving up on his ability to play corner, but I think he certainly has the physical characteristics to play both," Linehan said. "It's hard to make the transition overnight and be where you want to be. But he's such a great kid and takes so much pride in it that I know he's going to work his butt off to do whatever we ask of him. I'm sure of that."
--CB Tye Hill agreed to terms on a 5-year contract July 30 and was expected to be on the practice field the next day. Hill arrived at the team's practice facility following the afternoon practice.
--OL Blaine Saipaia is sidelined by a calf injury, and did not practice during the first four days of training camp.
--RB Marshall Faulk underwent knee surgery July 28 in Los Angeles, but might need more work on his knee. Faulk is on the physically unable to perform list, but still counts against the Rams' roster.
--DB Ron Bartell, a cornerback in 2005, his rookie season, has been switched to safety.
--LB Trev Faulk, who underwent back surgery in May, was waived/failed physical and after clearing waivers was placed on the team's reserve/physically unable to perform list.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Travis Fisher vs. Jerametrius Butler and Fakhir Brown for the starting CB jobs -- This is a very spirited competition and will get even more intense when first-round pick Tye Hills begins practicing. Brown has been the most steady, but Fisher has played well after being affected by a groin injury last season. Butler is making progress, getting back into rhythm after missing the 2005 season because of a knee injury.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: O.J. Atogwe is trying to make it difficult for anyone else to be the starting free safety. He's done well in camp, and is holding off Jerome Carter ... The same is true at left guard, where Richie Incognito is establishing himself as the starter.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Fakhir Brown -- When he was signed by the Rams in the off-season, Brown said he was coming to St. Louis to be the starter. So farm he is living up to that promise. It helps that he has played in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's system, and Brown has played with confidence.
ROOKIE REPORT: CB Tye Hill agreed to terms July 30, and was expected to be on the practice field the next day.
--TEs Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd have show improvement in the early days of camp.
--DT Claude Wroten needs to be more consistent, but has shown the ability to penetrate as a pass rusher.
--WR Marques Hagans has impressed the coaches with his steady progress after being a quarterback in college.
INJURY REPORT: Guard Blaine Saipaia did not practice for the first four days of camp. Said coach Scott Linehan, "He injured himself training about a week before. He thought it was just tight and it got worse. He came in the day before and we did a physical and we had to basically put him out of commission right now. Hopefully he'll respond to treatment. He's been aggressively treating it. It's a calf and you get that. You get an injury like that and there's a tear in there and swelling there's nothing you can do "other then rest it and treat it and try to stay in condition on the bike.
--DT La'Roi Glover did not practice on the third day of camp, but did work the next day. Said Linehan, "He dropped too much weight last practice. He got it back to where he was probably medically cleared, it just didn't make sense. You've got to manage the guys that have extreme weight loss. He does it every year. He's a guy that sweats a lot and loses a lot of water weight. He's had three good practices. He probably still lost weight out there coaching the young guys and trying to help. We just wanted to give him a break."
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Only 24 of the 72 players the 49ers had under contract at the end of the 2004 season remain with the club. The 49ers have been Nolanized.
"We're not there yet," Nolan said when asked if he has a lot fewer questions about this team that the one he took to training camp as a first-year coach. "In about a year, two, three or four, it will be easier to narrow down. What I like about this year's unit more than last year is that there is more competition right now ... and it's real."
The 49ers believe they have added better players at every position, including at quarterback. Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft returns, but Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett have all been traded since the beginning of last season.
Veteran Trent Dilfer is now the backup quarterback who will double as Smith's mentor. "He's made us better because he's better than the situation we had a year ago," Nolan said of Dilfer. If he were here a year ago, he would probably be the guy. I don't expect him to tell Alex a lot of stuff. I expect him to show Alex by example."
Jesse Palmer and Shaun Hill will compete for the No. 3 job. The 49ers finished with a 4-12 record last season in Nolan's first season as head coach, and the pundits really have no reason to believe the club will be dramatically improved this year.
Many of the 49ers players are aware that they are pegged as one of the worst teams in the league again.
"I think some guys pay attention to that and they talk about it a lot," 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. "I could care less -- good or bad -- what everybody thinks. In the end, it comes down to what we do. Because if the stories about us are good, you don't want to get cocky. And if they're bad, you don't want garbage like that to bring you down."
Camp has gotten off to a good start for the 49ers. For the first time in recent memory, the 49ers placed no players on the physically-unable-to-perform list to open camp. Moreover, all of the teams draft picks were signed and participated in the opening drills, including first-round picks tight end Vernon Davis and outside linebacker Manny Lawson.
"Those young players have to play for us, and play early," Nolan said.
CAMP CALENDAR: The 49ers break training camp on Aug. 22. They 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 remaining open practices are scheduled for 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.). To obtain tickets, fans must register online at www.49ers.com. Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
--Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer called it the biggest honor of his NFL career. Dilfer is honoring his friend John Brodie, who turns 71 in two weeks, by wearing his No. 12 jersey, which the 49ers retired in 1973. Brodie, who played 17 seasons with the 49ers, was thrilled to have Dilfer take over his old jersey number. Dilfer said he became acquainted with Brodie early in his NFL career he got to know Brodie through golf. Dilfer is also friends with former NFL quarterback Chris Chandler, who is Brodie's son in law.
Dilfer said he believes Brodie has Hall of Fame credentials. Dilfer said he plans to make a personal plea to the Hall of Fame's seniors committee in hopes of creating support for Brodie, who suffered a massive stroke in October 2000. He has impaired speech and little use of his right arm. Shortly after the 49ers acquired Dilfer in a trade from the Cleveland Browns, Dilfer said he called Brodie's daughter Diane to see if she thought her father would OK the idea of Dilfer wearing No. 12.
When asked about it Friday, Brodie said, "Good. Yeah, good."
--Niners rookie tight end Vernon Davis was quick to point out just who exactly was the boss. Davis made it clear to his agent Ethan Lock of what he expected. "I wasn't going to hold out for 10 days," Davis said. "I wasn't going to allow my agent to do that. Two days is too long. I just told him he had to get it done. That's one thing I took into consideration in that he's working for me and I'm not working for him. He's got to do what I tell him to do."
Last year, Lock's client, defensive end Erasmus James, missed the first 10 days of Vikings camp due to a contract stalemate.
--Outside linebacker Manny Lawson, chosen with the No. 22 pick, signed a reported five-year, $8.515 million contract on the eve of the first training camp practice. "My first big purchase has got to be a place to stay," Lawson said. "That's going to be hard, because I'm from Goldsboro, N.C., which is the country. I have been looking out here, and I found a townhouse for $800,000. Do you know what I could do with $800,000 back in North Carolina? I just stood there. I didn't want to touch anything in the townhouse. For $800,000, I could probably buy Goldsboro."
--Veteran Jeremy Newberry, a two-time Pro Bowl performer, is working with the second unit after missing six games last year because of a knee condition. Coach Mike Nolan said Newberry will not be elevated to first string until he proves he can remain healthy for an extended period of time. Eric Heitmann started six games at center last season, and is first in line to play there if Newberry does not hold up. Heitmann is also a factor at right guard, where he started the other 10 games.
--Second-year offensive lineman Adam Snyder is competing for two starting jobs simultaneously. Snyder is splitting time at right tackle, where he is up against Kwame Harris for the starting job, and right guard, where Justin Smiley is penciled in as tentative starter. It is conceivable Snyder could be the first player off the sideline at the four tackle and guard positions.
"That's a great position to be in," Snyder said. "If I can play anywhere on the line, you have that much more of an opportunity."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The offensive line will be one of the strengths of this football team as long as I'm here unless there are things I can't control. I'd rather have five good linemen and a so-so quarterback than one hell of a quarterback and a bad line -- without question in my mind." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the importance of developing the offensive line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Mark Roman has reached a contract agreement with the 49ers and will compete for a starting job in the 49ers' secondary. Roman, a six-year pro whom the Packers released on Thursday, considers himself a starter. Coach Mike Nolan said that attitude should help increase the competition.
--S Mike Adams might have the most to lose when from the Mark Roman signing. But Adams says he is not giving up his position without a fight. "Even if he does come in, he's got a hell of a job ahead of him," Adams said. "I've worked too hard to just to give it away. I don't pay attention to that stuff, but if he does come in and he needs help, I'll help him."
--LB David Dixon, who was not selected in the supplemental draft, signed with the club. He will play inside linebacker. He last played at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College during the 2004 season.
--QB Cody Pickett was dealt to the Texans for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Pickett might have had a difficult time making the team, and the 49ers considered moving him to another position.
--DL Jerry DeLoach, a five-year veteran, who has started 40 career games, was signed to bring depth to the line.
--WR Chris Baker, a rookie from Rutgers, was released to make roster space for Jerry DeLoach.
--K Luis Berlanga missed the first couple days of training camp with visa delays. Berlanga is a native of Monterrey, Mexico. He was the only player who did not report to camp on time.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kwame Harris vs. Adam Snyder for starting RT -- Harris has taken a big lead in the battle for the starting job, as coach George Warhop likes what Harris has to offer. Many observers believed Snyder had a good chance to unseat Harris, but Snyder is now splitting time at RT and RG. Snyder, in essence is competing for two positions, which makes it unlikely he will emerge with either job. But Snyder could become a valuable backup, a player who could be the first person off the sideline at any of the guard or tackle positions.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Incumbent Kevan Barlow, who has lost 10 pounds in hopes of enabling him to hit the holes faster, will get a challenge from Frank Gore at running back.
--With the expected addition of safety Mark Roman, he is expected to compete for the FS job against Mike Adams and Chad Williams. This is the first time that Adams has played the same position through all of the offseason.
--Shaun Hill and Jesse Palmer are competing for the No. 3 QB job.
--Jeremy Newberry and Eric Heitmann are in competition for the starting job at center. Although Newberry is working with the second team, he would likely win the starting job if he can just remain healthy. Newberry is coming off extensive knee surgery.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Antonio Bryant -- Bryant has gotten off to a great start in his first camp with the 49ers with several big catches down the field. Bryant has shown the potential to be a deep threat for Alex Smith, something the 49ers' offense lacked last season. The team is happy with Bryant, who takes over as the top wideout from Brandon Lloyd, who was traded to the Redskins in the offseason.
ROOKIE REPORT: TE Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick, is seeing a lot of action with the first-team offense. He has already showed glimpses of his speed and strength on the practice field with his ability to catch balls in traffic and turn upfield. He is expected to start from Day 1 of the season.
--OLB Manny Lawson stepped immediately into a starting role. He is getting comfortable playing in the system. Lawson is expected to put up good sack numbers as a rookie.
--WR Brandon Williams is showing good aggressiveness as a wideout and as a punt returner. Williams is good about going and getting the ball and not letting it bounce in front of him on punts.
--TE Delanie Walker is learning blocking technique after playing wideout in college. Walker took pride in blocking DBs, now he has to make the adjustment to taking on ILBs.
--RB Michael Robinson continues to look good as he competes for a role as the third-down back. Robinson was one of the team's more impressive players during the offseason program.
INJURY REPORT: For the first time in recent memory, the 49ers did not have any players on PUP to begin camp. However, on the first day of practices, WR Derrick Hamilton sustained a left hamstring injury that has him out indefinitely. Hamilton, a third-round pick in the 2004 draft, has not caught a pass in an NFL game. He missed last season due to a torn knee ligament and is considered a long shot to make the team.
--TE Onye Ibekwe missed some time with a rib contusion but is not expected to miss much time.