NFC West News & Notes - 8/7/06

In today's News & Notes: the Seahawks deal with the ramifications of a great defense, the Cards' new superstar assesses the offensive line, the Rams go splashing around, and San Francisco's quarterback seems to be growing up.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks advanced to Super Bowl XL largely because their defense overachieved. Seattle led the league in sacks without a dominant pass rusher. The defense tied with Cleveland at 16th in yards per game, but overcame that by dominating where it matters most - in the red zone. This year, Seattle hopes its defense can take the next step by breaking into the top 10 by closing some loopholes. That appears to be a realistic expectation based on how well the defense has performed so far during training camp at Eastern Washington University.

"We have a chance to be a very fine defensive football team," coach Mike Holmgren said.

Holmgren doesn't like it when his offense, annually among the NFL's most productive, struggles in practice. He is more understanding this year because the defense is so much better. "Our offense will be OK," Holmgren said. "But early on in most training camps, they are pretty even.

"The defense early on seems to have a little bit of an advantage, but it will just make those other guys better."

Injuries are the biggest concern on defense. Grant Wistrom, Marcus Tubbs, Rocky Bernard and Michael Boulware have been sidelined for all or part of camp. The team expects each to be ready for the regular season, but there's no way to know if they'll stay healthy. Even without them, the Seahawks are making life tough on the offense. Mike Green has stepped in nicely for Boulware at strong safety, challenging for a starting spot. Russell Davis, Chuck Darby and Craig Terrill are picking up the slack for Tubbs and Bernard at tackle. Rookie right end Darryl Tapp, a second-round pick, is getting valuable reps while Wistrom rehabs from shoulder surgery.

Meanwhile, the addition of linebacker Julian Peterson has turned a good group of linebackers into a potentially great one. Lofa Tatupu went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season. Leroy Hill had 7 1/2 sacks as a rookie part-time starter in 2005, and he appears improved so far during camp. But Peterson is the difference-maker.

"He can rush the passer, he can cover, he played some safety last year for the 49ers," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "He's a tough guy to figure out how you want to treat him. Do you want to block him with an offensive lineman, or a running back?" With Peterson onboard and the other linebackers having become a year wiser, the defense is developing a healthy rivalry with Seattle's more established offense. That comes through daily at practice and it's a good thing for all involved.

"Training camp is very much an ebb-and-flow-type situation where one day you are happy with one group and one day you are happy with the other," Holmgren said. "But the defense, we are going to have a good defense, I believe."

PLAYER NOTES

--Free safety Ken Hamlin remains under a microscope while people watch to see how he handles full-contact drills. So far, so good. Hamlin, sidelined last season after suffering a fractured skull and other injuries, hasn't really taken a big shot so far in camp. "The only people making a big deal about the pads being put on is you all," Hamlin told media. "I normally don't take big hits on my teammates, anyway, so it's not going to be changing."

Coach Mike Holmgren razzed Hamlin for dropping interceptions early in camp. "I guess your hand-eye coordination is the last thing that comes back," Holmgren said. "Then I realized, 'Wait a minute, you didn't have great hands before you got hurt.' "

--Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu takes nothing for granted, even after a rookie season that saw him wind up in the Pro Bowl. He still speaks as though there's a chance he won't make the team. "Nothing is etched in stone," Tatupu said. "Everybody is still battling for their spots. That's the whole reason we have camp."

--Tight end Mike Gomez has opened some eyes in camp by getting downfield and making catches. The free-agent addition has worked as a substitute teacher, carpet layer, landscaper and car washer. He would much prefer to play tight end for $275,000 a year. "I tell you what, I gained more and more respect for those teachers every day I went in there to work," Gomez said. "It wasn't that long ago that I was in high school, but I don't remember kids being that bad. Maybe they were giving me a hard time because we were so close in age, but it's tough, man. I give all the credit in the world to those teachers. I don't know how they do it."

--Running backs coach Stump Mitchell has been animated at camp while trying to reach rookies and veterans alike. "I think they switched the decaffeinated and the caffeinated (coffee)," Holmgren theorized. "We have two pots with different colors on them. It's early, Stump is a little sleepy, he went for the wrong one. He feels good. I love to see him like that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Put your helmets on, or you might break your nose." -- Coach Mike Holmgren, advising linemen as they set out to field punts for an extra hour of curfew.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks appear to be placing greater emphasis on special teams, for good reason. Those once-strong units have become less consistent over the last few seasons. "There are more coaches out here," LB Kevin Bentley said following a recent special-teams practice. "That way you can focus on the individual positions. "When it's one or two coaches trying to coach the entire thing, it's kind of hard to watch every position. Now you are getting on-the-field coaching instead of having to wait until the film."

Mike Holmgren, Stump Mitchell and Keith Gilbertson have been vocal while assisting special-teams coach Bob Casullo. "Just the focus, the intensity was a lot more," Bentley said. "Guys are dedicated to getting this team better."

--RB Shaun Alexander did not participate in the team portion of the Seahawks' recent scrimmage. Coaches want to protect the league MVP from potential injury during the full-contact workout.
--WR Darrell Jackson expects to return for the third exhibition game. He's behind schedule in his recovery from knee surgery.
--SS Michael Boulware could be losing ground to veteran newcomer Mike Green. Boulware has been sidelined by a knee injury. Green is an experienced player looking for an opportunity to start.
--QB David Greene faces a challenge from QB Gibran Hamdan for the No. 3 job. Both players will get chances during the exhibition season.
--TE Jerramy Stevens is ahead of schedule in his return from knee surgery. He could be back on the field before the exhibition opener against Dallas.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Mike Gomez vs. Will Heller for the No. 3 TE spot -- Heller is the better blocker, but Gomez is faster and he has been catching everything thrown his way. Gomez also deep snaps, although he'll need to improve before he can challenge veteran J.P. Darche in that department.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ryan Plackemeier and Gabe Lindstrom punted pretty evenly during the team's recent scrimmage. That battle will continue deep into camp.

--Gibran Hamdan has a chance to unseat David Greene as the third quarterback.
--Veteran newcomer Mike Green is making the most of his opportunity to run with the starters while Michael Boulware recovers from knee surgery.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Seneca Wallace -- He excelled in the red zone during the scrimmage, tossing three touchdown passes while completing all but one of six attempts. He was less steady in regular team drills, in part because he was working with the No. 2 offense.

ROOKIE REPORT: First-round CB Kelly Jennings bounced up quickly after a big collision with 250-pound FB Leonard Weaver. Some think Jennings' lack of size will betray him in the NFL.
--Coach Mike Holmgren wants FB David Kirtman to become a better student of the game. Rookies often don't know how to study at the NFL level, and Kirtman might have fallen into that category early in camp.

INJURY REPORT: CB Reggie Austin (knee), LB Isaiah Kacyvenski (quadriceps), WR Keenan Howry (hamstring), WR D.J. Hackett (hamstring), TE Jerramy Stevens (knee), DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder), WR Darrell Jackson (knee), SS Michael Boulware (knee), CB Jimmy Williams (ankle), WR Tony Brown (hamstring), WR Skyler Fulton (shoulder), DB Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), DE Joe Tafoya (shoulder), DT Marcus Tubbs (Achilles) and DT Rocky Bernard (knee) have been sidelined. All are expected to return in time for the season.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Matt Who?

As the Arizona Cardinals enter their second week of training camp, there still is no sign of rookie quarterback Matt Leinart, who was chosen 10th overall in the draft. Despite early optimism that the Cardinals and Leinart's agent, Tom Condon, would come to terms quickly, optimism waned after the opening week came and went. The preseason opener with Pittsburgh looms on Saturday. It would have been a great opportunity for Leinart to gain experience against the Super Bowl champs.

Yet many in the Cardinals camp profess to be not overly concerned about the impasse that has resulted despite the team having a specific amount left in its rookie pool -- $1.5 million -- after signing the rest of its draft class, and with players who were drafted just before and after Leinart now signed by other teams. Parameters appeared to be in place for a deal, and the team has a long track record of successful negotiations with Condon.

The impasse hasn't registered high on the panic meter because Leinart is not expected to play much this season, as he learns the team's offense and the league. In fact, it is no slam dunk that he will even be No. 2 to Kurt Warner. John Navarre, entering his third season, has improved steadily and is the apple of Coach Dennis Green's eye.

Yet if Warner were to suffer an injury and miss time -- and he has not played 16 games in a season in five years -- a battle between Navarre and Leinart no doubt would accelerate. Fans would be clamoring to see the quarterback of the future and ownership would want to begin to get some return on investment -- assuming that at some point the sides do come to terms.

Leinart, despite having recently purchased a home in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix, about a 10-minute drive from the team's Tempe training headquarters, has returned to California. Meanwhile, Warner looked sharp for a man of 35 during the opening week of practice and Navarre is getting the reps with the second unit. "I feel good. I love the game. That's the thing," said Warner, who signed a three-year contract during the off-season.

Warner's ability to survive is linked to the team improving the league's worst rushing game in 2005. The signing of running back Edgerrin James and adding guards Milford Brown and Deuce Lutui should address that weakness.

That, in turn, should be good for the health of the statuesque Warner, as he looks for Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. "The less he gets hit, the more chances he has of getting through it," Green said. "I don't know how many quarterbacks played every game last year, but you don't get very many. The guys that hit you can hurt you a little bit."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Edgerrin James either is truly impressed with the new line that he is to run behind, or he is wise enough to have begun a high-profile P.R. sales job. "It is unbelievable," James said. "We have an open line of communication and I go to the linemen and I make sure that Kurt (Warner, Cardinals QB) knows this is how the linemen are fitted. Everybody is talking to each other.

"I told them I'm going to try and make the game as easy as possible for them. I am going to set up their blocks and that is what they are not used to. When you come through the line and you set up a block it makes it so easy. I tell the linemen if you see a backer moving a certain way that is because I'm moving and when I'm moving that way, just be ready." James is especially keen on running behind massive LT Leonard Davis (6-6, 365), the second player chosen in the 2001 draft, who has struggled since moving outside from RG two years ago.

"You send me to 'Big's' (Leonard Davis) side and I might just take my time. It is sweet. This is the biggest offensive line I have ever played with," James said. "We have a lot of talent here and we have a nice chance of doing something special around here. It is just a matter of everyone coming together and actually doing it, not just everything looking good on paper." That's not going to happen much during preseason, though. Plans are to play James sparingly -- "zero, if it were up to me," he said.

The line suffered a blow during opening week, though, when RT Oliver Ross, whose performance lagged during an injury-plagued 2005, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that could sideline him as long as 10 weeks. Ross is getting a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery.

--RG Milford Brown quickly took command of his position after signing as a free agent during the off-season. "He is real physical and I think he'll be real spectacular in the run," said Coach Dennis Green. "And then he is just working real hard in the pass. He's already there with the run part. He has a real physical, wide body and comes off the ball real well."

--Green said he can't help but be amused by James' bravado. "He talks a good game," Green said. "Defensively we have a lot of guys that are good at it, and he is, too. He brings a good intensity but has a lot of fun with it and he likes being out there. That is what we really try to emphasize and that is what we have tried to do from the start. You really have to love the game. You have to love coming out onto the field and Edge has always done that."

--The Cardinals made their first substitution of the season, opting for a "mock game" that was closed to fans and news media at their new Glendale, Ariz., stadium in place of the annual intra-squad scrimmage at training camp headquarters in Flagstaff, where a multitude of fan activities had been linked to the game in previous years. "Over half of the players who will play in the preseason game (Saturday in the stadium's inaugural against Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh) have never played in pro football before, and this is a good time to get the jitters out," Green said. "It is based on timing and making sure we work with the 40-second clock. We've done two-minute offense and two-minute defense, but now we'll do it in game conditions."

--Green appears to be lighting a fire under OLB Karlos Dansby, who had a breakout season in 2005 with three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and four sacks. Dansby missed the first week of training camp while recovering from June surgery to repair ligaments in his left thumb. But according to Green, "he hasn't had a very good winter, spring or summer, to be honest with you." Responded Dansby: "I thought I did pretty good in (off-season) camps until I got hurt. And even when I got hurt, I still practiced that whole week. I had interceptions and all kinds of stuff, fumble recoveries and causing fumbles. So it was like a slap in my face, kind of." Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round pick, has moved from DE to strong-side LB and is working with the first defense in Dansby's absence.

--RB Marcel Shipp, the team rushing leader three of the past four years, is attempting to reinvent himself, knowing that his carries will be limited with James now on the scene. Shipp has gone back to his roots, volunteering for special teams to help ensure that he remains on the roster. "I'm on pretty much every special team," he said. "I'm hard core. I don't mind. That's how I made it into this league, and it's a very important part of the game."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all know how physically gifted he is. He would be the first one to tell you that as great as his year was statistically last year, he can get a lot better. When he comes to understand football better, our system better, he's going to grow and become unstoppable." -- Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, on Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald, who set a franchise record with 103 catches last season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--RT Oliver Ross, the starter, injured his right knee and could miss 10 weeks. He is getting a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery. The initial diagnosis is a meniscus tear.
--T Fred Wakefield has moved from left-side backup to share duty on the first team at RT with Jeremy Bridges while Ross is out.
--T Jeremy Bridges is sharing snaps with the Fed Wakefield at RT on the first unit while Oliver Ross recovers from a knee injury that could require surgery and might sideline Ross for as long as 10 weeks. Bridges has played mostly RG, where he was the starter a couple of years ago.
--LG Reggie Wells continues to work with the first unit. There had been speculation that he might move to C, in turn allowing rookie Deuce Lutui to move in at LG.
--LG Deuce Lutui, a second-round pick in April, is working with the second unit behind Reggie Wells.
--C Alex Stepanovich, a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2004 before a series of injuries reduced his time and effectiveness last season, is back with the first unit. There had been speculation that Reggie Wells might move from LG to push him.
--C Nick Leckey, a part-time starter last season, is taking some snaps with the first unit and is expected to challenge Alex Stepanovich for the job.
--RG Milford Brown, signed as a free agent during the off-season, is working with the first unit.
--DL Kenny King, who was working as first backup at RDE behind Bertrand Berry and at T behind Darnell Dockett, suffered a fractured hand during the opening week of camp and is out four to six weeks. That comes after King suffered a wrist injury early in each of the last two camps -- he was a starter in 2004 when he suffered the first. He hasn't played a down since 2003.
--DE Antonio Smith is working as first backup on the left side to Chike Okeafor.
--OLB Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round pick who has played DE for three seasons, has switched to strong-side OLB and is working with the first unit while Karlos Dansby recovers from thumb surgery.
--RB Diamond Ferri was signed as the fifth back for camp after NFL Europe rushing champ Roger Robinson suffered a toe injury that will sideline him for a month.
--T Kellen Davis (6-5, 303) was signed to a one-year contract. He is expected to bolster depth and could challenge for a starting job on the right side while Oliver Ross recovers from a knee injury.
--T Dante Ellington was released. He figured to be no more than a low-level depth player during camp.
--TE Ben Hall was released. A logjam has developed at the position after the drafting of Leonard Pope to compete with Adam Bergen and Eric Edwards. Hall was on the practice squad last year.
--WR Zamir Cobb was released. He was not expected to be among the top six receivers.
--FB James Hodgins (knee) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He missed all of last season. The team was hoping that the big-body (6-1, 275), who was Marshall Faulk's lead blocker when St. Louis won the Super Bowl, would be able to return to lead for Edgerrin James.
--DE Anton Palepoi (right shoulder) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He as expected to be the team's fifth DE.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: James Darling vs. Gerald Hayes for starting MLB. Not so fast on Hayes just stepping back in and taking the job. Hayes missed all of 2005 to a knee injury, and Darling moved to the middle from outside and played well enough that the coaches have decided to keep him there. There was speculation that Darling would move back outside -- to the weak side -- where Orlando Huff was disappointing last year. But not yet. Hayes first has to show that he has made a full recovery and can win the job from Darling, one of the team's veteran leaders. Hayes has bulked up to 253 and appears to be running fine on the knee.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Alex Stepanovich vs. Nick Leckey for Starting C -- There were rumblings that Reggie Wells might move over from LG -- he played C in shotgun formations last year after Stepanovich broke his hand. Stepanovich now must come back from his injuries, and as a hedge, Leckey is taking some snaps with the first team.

--Eric Green vs. Robert Macklin at RCB -- Green was forced to play before he was ready as a rookie last year but now should benefit from the experience. Macklin is a tough, yet smallish veteran, who will cling to the job like a junkyard dog -- the same way he plays the game.

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Mat Leinart, chosen 10th in the first round, remains unsigned and has not reported to training 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, is working with the second unit and could push veteran Reggie Wells for he job after Lutui becomes acclimated.
--TE Leonard Pope, a third-round pick, is big (6-8, 265), athletic, can catch and block. He is shaping up already as a strong challenger to Eric Edwards and Adam Bergen, 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, but Clancy's experience has him firmly on the first unit through the opening week of camp. The key will be Watson's mind-set.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Antrel Rolle, who missed 11 games to a knee injury last season after being chosen in the first round of the draft, made plays from the opening workout as he attempts to come back and prove his worth. "Every day he makes a big play," said Coach Dennis Green. "He is just going to be a terrific player. He can break on the ball. He is doing well." Rolle is the left-side starter.

INJURY REPORT: RT Oliver Ross, the starter, injured his right knee and could miss 10 weeks. He is getting a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery. The initial diagnosis is a meniscus tear.
--DL Kenny King, who was working as first backup at RDE behind Bertrand Berry and at DT behind Darnell Dockett, suffered a fractured hand during the opening week of camp and is out four to six weeks. That comes after King suffered a wrist injury early in each of the last two camps -- he was a starter in 2004 when he suffered the first. He hasn't played a down since 2003.
--OLB Karlos Dansby, the starting strong-side starter who has three picks and four sacks last season, missed the first week of camp while recovering from thumb surgery. He is expected to make a full recovery and may return to drills as early as this week.
--RB Roger Robinson, who set an NFL Europe season rushing record in the spring, suffered a toe injury early in the opening workout and will miss about a month. He appeared to be a long-shot to make the roster but is a strong practice-squad candidate.
--FB James Hodgins (knee) was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He missed all of last season. The team was hoping that the big-body (6-1, 275), who was Marshall Faulk's lead blocker when St. Louis won the Super Bowl, would be able to return to lead for Edgerrin James.
--DT Tim Bulman (back) is day-to-day. He is expected to add experienced depth.
--G Rolando Cantu (knee) is day-to-day. He is a long shot to make the roster.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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It was a typical first week for an NFL first-round draft pick. Some struggles, some good things and enough to show why the team invested a top pick. So it was for Rams cornerback Tye Hill, who missed the first four days of training camp, before signing July 30 and was quickly on the field the following day. The Rams were glad Hill had come to St. Louis two days before signing so he didn't have to travel after agreeing to terms.

"I knew we were close," Hill said of contract talks. "I was already missing time and I didn't want to miss anymore time due to travel. I felt it was very important for me to get into camp as soon as possible and as quick as possible, so I figured the quickest way to do that was just to be here and just wait around." In his first practice, Hill quickly learned while going against wide receiver Torry Holt. "He got me a few times today, but hey, he's a Pro Bowler, will be in the Hall of Fame, so going up against him is just going to make me better," Hill said.

Hill's arrival added to an intense competition at cornerback between holdovers Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler and free-agent addition Fakhir Brown. Asked about that depth, coach Scott Linehan said, "Obviously, the rotation is going to get more involved, but it's all to the benefit to the guys that were here. Fish and JB and Fakhir have played very solid and made great progress. That really has nothing to do with Tye; it has everything to do with them taking advantage of the reps they got. Now it's just a matter of being consistent and playing well all the time. We're going to play the best 11 and Tye knows that, so he's going to have to play at the top of his game, even though he's a rookie, to be a starter."

Overall, Linehan liked what he saw of Hill in the off-season after being drafted. "He really improved," Linehan said. "What I remember, he was pretty enamored with the fact that he made it, that he achieved his goal and he was here and was looking around and saw all these pro players he was now playing with and all those things. After about a week he looked like he fit in, and was starting to get more comfortable, and made a couple plays, a couple of nice plays on the ball here in the off-season program. He was really starting to show up. He made great progress in the off-season.

"Our biggest concern was if we had a lengthy holdout it was going to hamper that but I think he'll catch up." Hill was tested in his first week of camp, especially in a scrimmage last Saturday. He gave up some plays and then was off the field briefly after banging a shoulder that was originally injured at the Senior Bowl, but was quickly back on the field.

Said Linehan, "He had some things that weren't going well early and he came out and made a couple plays on the ball down in the red zone. We tested him a couple of times. I wanted to run a couple of things at him and see how he responded especially after he had given up a couple of things early.

"I think he responded well, but he did show his youth. First round or not, you've got to do everything right all the time. He's an accountable kid and he came back, showed his competitiveness, and did well."

PLAYER NOTES

--An interesting competition is brewing at left guard between Richie Incognito and rookie Mark Setterstrom. Incognito opened training camp working exclusively with the first unit. But in recent days, Setterstrom has been taking some of the snaps with the first group. It's no reflection on Incognito because coaches are pleased with his progress. It's more that Setterstrom has impressed with his consistency.

"Setterstrom has been a very, very pleasant surprise for a rookie," coach Scott Linehan said. "He plays at the speed of a veteran. It's not foreign ground for him to be out there playing with (the starters). If you throw him in with the ones he's going to play just like he would if he was with the third group. That's just a special trait for a young guy to be able to do that. He's a real level-headed guy that knows how to play the game. He's one of those throwback types of lineman and he's certainly got a chance as well."

At the start of camp, Incognito admittedly put a grade of a five or six on himself for technique. He knows it's what he has to work on, having not played a game since the 2003 season at Nebraska. But he competes, and that's what Linehan likes about him.

"Richie's got a great chance to really establish himself by how he performs here in the upcoming weeks," Linehan said. "He's played very well and he's competing day in and day out. He's played through some pain: He had an infected toe and he played with it. I think he's still trying to manage that, but he's really shown that he has the toughness and mental toughness to fight through it. He's really been playing pretty mistake free. That's unusual for a young guy. It does help to be working there next to Orlando (Pace) and Andy (McCollum) because when in doubt, ask the guy next to you if he knows. He's certainly given a pretty good impression so far."

--LT Orlando Pace missed a day of practice last week because of the birth of his third son. Not only did the birth get him out of the heat during the day, but Pace is also able to avoid babies crying in the middle of the night. "I planned it pretty good," Pace said. "I can sleep good at night. I'm here at night in the hotel." On a serious note, Pace likes what he sees from the team's new coaching staff.

"I feel good just to be in a fresh start with a new environment with new coaches and different schemes and different challenges," Pace said. "If you're in the same regime, you kind of get bored with it." New coach Scott Linehan is certainly glad to have Pace as his bookend left tackle.

Said Linehan, "He's the perfect ... if you were going to make one of those left tackles, he's what you're looking for. He's been out here grinding with everybody. He doesn't miss any reps. He certainly does things that you can't coach, but he's also very coachable. "He takes pride in his technique. It's a luxury for us to have a guy that young guys can watch to learn how to do the right things."

Pace also likes the fact that it appears Linehan will make a commitment to running the ball. "We're really emphasizing the run, and going after it pretty good," pace said. "It's one of those situations where we are running the ball a lot more in camp than I probably have since I have been here. Just the emphasis on the run, the technique, what the coaches want from us, you can tell it's a different regime. "I like the balance, where teams don't come into the Edward Jones Dome saying, 'They're going to pass the ball 50 times a game.' I really enjoy the balance of knowing we can run and pass."

--In the morning of a day where the Rams were scheduled to have one practice in the afternoon, coach Scott Linehan told the players they were going somewhere for a special walkthrough. It turned out they went to a local water park, and were able to swim and relax for about an hour. "It was more than anything therapy for the mind," Linehan said. "It's good for your legs to get in the water. We went down a couple of slides. That was interesting. "I saw a human chain going down a slide. Everybody came up when they went down in the water. It was a change of pace. I think it was good for mental health of the guys." Defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said he avoided the slides. "I just stayed in my inner tube and tried to rest a little bit," he said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: If you don't get the little things right, the big things won't happen. I say that all the time and it's not a phrase I coined, but it's certainly something I believe in. Listening to Troy Aikman the other day talking about going into the Hall of Fame this weekend, he was talking about the difference between the Cowboys' early Super Bowl teams and their teams at the end part of his career and he said that he felt like his later teams just didn't take care of little things like the early teams. I thought that was very prophetic, that's something that we can't lose sight of. You've got to remind yourself, coaches and players alike, when things aren't going well you've got to go back and repeat them." - Coach Scott Linehan of taking care of details in practice.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--S Ron Bartell suffered a sprained ankle in practice Aug. 3, and while he did not participate for two days, he did some running at the team's Aug. 5 scrimmage.
--LB Drew Wahlroos, who played on special teams last season, broke a bone in his hand.
--OL Blaine Saipaia started practicing four or five days earlier than expected after injured his calf before the start of training camp. Saipaia missed six days of practice.
--RB Moe Williams was signed to compete with Tony Fisher for the backup job behind Steven Jackson.
--FB Paul Smith stood out in the first week of camp and has moved ahead of Madison Hedgecock as the starting fullback.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Dave Ragone for the No. 3 QB job - Fitzpatrick outplayed Ragone in the team's scrimmage last Saturday, showing accuracy and poise. Ragone got better with work, but overthrew numerous receivers. Ragone played against the No. 2 defense, while Fitzpatrick faced the No. 3 defense, but Ragone was with the No. 2 offense.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: Matt Turk vs. Andy Groom for punting job - Turk was thought to have the distinct edge entering camp, but Groom has punted well and Turk had a minor knee injury that affected him in the first few days of camp.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: FB Paul Smith - An under-the-radar signing late in the off-season, Smith is currently the No. 1 fullback, ahead of Madison Hedgecock. Coach Scott Linehan said he likes Smith's "toughness." Linehan added, "He comes out every day and, first of all, he goes about his business and plays football with his pads on. That's what you want to see in a fullback. A fullback's role is a thankless job and he comes out every day and he tries to put it right on the numbers and put a guy on his back. Plus, he has the ability to catch the ball. He runs well enough to be a very, very good special teams player. He excelled in that role for Detroit the last couple of years."

Linehan said Hedgecock will now see some time as an H-back. "We're going start working him some not only at fullback, but put him in line. He's got the size to line up in line like a tight end and be more of a move guy, so to speak, more of an H-back type of guy. We'll experiment with that."

ROOKIE REPORT: TE Joe Klopfenstein has moved ahead of Dominique Byrd as the starting tight end. Byrd is also being used as an H-back ... WR Marques Hagans is making progress as a pass-catcher, and will likely get a look as a kickoff and punt returner in the exhibition opener against the Colts ... G Mark Setterstrom has impressed the coaches with his technique and consistency. He might get some snaps with the first unit at left guard against Indianapolis.

INJURY REPORT: S Ron Bartell is expected back soon from a sprained ankle. "I think it was considered more of a mild sprain, considerable amount of swelling, but it's down low, which is a good sign," coach Scott Linehan said. "He told me he had a high ankle sprain last year which affected him. He said it's definitely better, which is good news. I know he's relieved - we all were - that it's not one of those long-term deals."

--LB Drew Wahlroos will be able to return when the cast on his hand is smaller. Wahlroos underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand. Said Linehan, "They're going to put a pin in that; he broke the metatarsal in the hand. Some times they don't have to pin them, sometimes they do. In this case they're going to go in this evening and put a pin in there and he should, at some point, be able to at least put something over that and be able to play."


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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If the first week of training camp is any indication, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith appears to have a better supporting cast surrounding him. Lacking a go-to receiver as a rookie, Smith seems to have developed a nice on-field rapport with wideout Antonio Bryant early in their time together. The two have hooked up on several big plays during team drills, including a long touchdown in a live scrimmage.

When asked if he looked at Bryant as a "go-to" receiver, Smith did not hesitate to answer. "Absolutely," Smith said. "He's a guy who is going to compete for you. He'll get open and be in the right spot, and he'll work for the ball in the air. He's competitive when that ball's in the air, which is nice and reassuring as a quarterback. If I throw it up to him, at worst it's going to be incomplete because he's going to be so aggressive."

Bryant is clearly the team's top wide receiver. Projected starter Arnaz Battle, who was healthy for just 2 1/2 games last season, has experienced some nagging knee problems this camp. Currently, Bryan Gilmore, who has never caught more than 17 passes in a season in his six-year career, is the 49ers' No. 3. The team is interested in acquiring disgruntled Broncos receiver Ashley Lelie, but the Broncos' asking price remains too high for a player whose contract is set to expire following this season.

The 49ers have a pair of strong tight ends, in Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson, but Smith has clearly been working best with Bryant. The 49ers signed Bryant to a four-year, $13.9 million contract with a $4 million signing bonus in the offseason to replace Brandon Lloyd, who was sent to the Redskins in a trade. Bryant said he's working hard to gain Smith's confidence.

"If you got a guy who's going to stretch out and try to make plays for him all the time, he'll come to you," Bryant said. Then, invoking the former Chicago Bulls pairing of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Bryant added, "When Mike got in the gym, the first person he probably looked to dish it to was Pippen. I feel like I'm Alex's Pippen." Bryant has caught 210 passes for 3,104 yards and 16 touchdowns in his four-year NFL career. Playing on a bad Browns offense last season, Bryant managed career-highs with 69 receptions for 1,009 yards.

Although he came to the 49ers with some baggage, everybody -- from cornerbacks to fellow offensive players to coaches -- have complimented him on his work ethic and competitive nature. "If you're the quarterback, you want to go to the guy who gets open," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Antonio is a pretty aggressive, physical guy. It's important he has that relationship with (Smith) on the field."

PLAYER NOTES

--Quarterback Alex Smith likes the change of pace that offensive coordinator Norv Turner has offered. Turner is a hands-on coordinator who is not afraid to voice his displeasure with Smith when things go awry.
"It's nice to be yelled at again," Smith said. "He can get after you a little bit. It feels like I'm in college again. It's kind of nice. I think I respond well to that structure and that kind of teaching and coaching. It drives me and gets me going." Turner spent Friday and Saturday in Canton, Ohio, where he deliver a three-minute speech as Troy Aikman's presenter at his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Turner served as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for three seasons, and Aikman has credited him for making him a solid professional.

--Tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, played a factor in the 49ers' live scrimmage, but he didn't even have to touch the ball. Davis used his speed down the middle to draw safety Chad Williams' attention. Smith sold Davis as a target with a pump fake. Receiver Antonio Bryant ran past cornerback Mike Rumph down the left sideline, and Smith made the throw down the field before Williams could get over to help. The play resulted in a 50-yard touchdown to Bryant.

"There wasn't any reason for me to go blasting down the field and draw attention from the safety," Bryant said. "Vernon got the safety's attention and I coasted by Mike Rumph." The play was set up by Davis' blazing speed. Davis had a time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February. "The safety's in a bind when (Davis) is running down the middle of the field and I pump at him," Smith said. "That safety is going to jump him and leave Antonio wide open like he was."

--Defensive end Bryant Young is the rarest of players. He signed a six-year contract in March 2001, and he will actually play out the length of the deal -- making exactly $37,727,360. His performance did not diminish significantly during the course of the contract. In other words, he is still earning his money. "As you can see, the guy can still play," 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said. "He did an excellent job in the offseason of taking care of himself. He's a huge asset from the standpoint of leading by example. Just being out there, he symbolizes what we want as a whole."

Said Young, "Anything can happen but, in my mind, I was committed to playing out the contract. But in the back of my mind, I know what can happen in this game. You see guys like Ronnie Lott and Jerry (Rice) and Joe Montana, those were some of the greatest guys to play their positions, if not the best. It can happen to anybody and I knew I wasn't immune to it. I could've been in that situation as well. That was a way of keeping me humble." Young's contract expires at the end of the season. The 49ers have entered preliminary contract talks for the future. Young said he takes a one-year-at-a-time approach, so he is not thinking about 2007, yet. But if Young is willing to play another season, the 49ers almost certainly would want him back.

"There have been discussions from the standpoint of what he wants to do and what we'd like to do," McCloughan said. "We'd love to have him around. As long as he keeps showing he can play and help us win games, he's a huge asset."

--The 49ers can thank Terrell Owens for something. Running back Kevan Barlow lost about 10 pounds, down to 228, in the offseason. He said he believes the weight loss will enable him to hit the hole quicker this season. Barlow shed the weight with a steady diet of chicken, fish, including sushi, and vegetables, primarily broccoli. "I learned that from T.O.," Barlow said. "He taught me. At the beginning of my second year, he taught me about good eating habits. I picked it up from there. It was hard at first. Now, it's a lot easier."

As for his relationship with Owens, Barlow said it has not been the same since last September. After the Owens' former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, defeated the 49ers 42-3, Barlow left the field without first talking to Owens. "He took that kind of personal, so we really haven't been speaking since," Barlow said.

--Months ago, 49ers coach Mike Nolan said he made contact with the Raiders, Chargers and Cowboys to see if any of the teams would be interested in participating in a live scrimmage with his team. "No one wanted to do anything with us," Nolan said. Nolan said he spoke with Raiders coach Art Shell, but when somebody else on his staff made a follow-up call, he was told "there was no way the Raiders would."
Instead, the 49ers held a live intrasquad scrimmage. But Nolan said maybe in the future, he'll find a team willing to scrimmage.

--The 49ers have a need for more depth at receiver. They would be interested in acquiring Ashley Lelie from the Broncos, but only if the Broncos' asking price drops. The 49ers are believed to have no interest in disgruntled Raiders receiver Jerry Porter. Currently, Antonio Bryant is the only 49ers receiver who has experienced success at the NFL level. Oft-injured Arnaz Battle is penciled in as a starter, with Bryan Gilmore the No. 3. Jason McAddley has looked good in camp, and rookie Brandon Williams is trying to work himself into the mix.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When they're changing rules and you can't touch them, putting ribbons in the wide receivers' hair to keep them safe, that's tough. That's why I really like the competitive wide receivers, because they have every opportunity to win the battle if they're competitive." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers, in effect, replaced one five-year defensive lineman with another. The club signed Lance Legree, who started four of the 16 games he played for the Jets last season. The 49ers signed Legree to a one-year contract. The 49ers expect to be without five-year vet Jerry DeLoach for up to three weeks with a partially torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee. DeLoach sustained the injury in a goal-line drill on Friday.

--CB Bruce Thornton, who started 11 games at left cornerback, was released. Thornton had slipped down the depth chart this summer. His best game came in his first start when he held Colts WR Marvin Harrison to two catches for 17 yards.
--S Ben Emanuel, who started eight games at strong safety after Tony Parrish was injured last season, was waived to make room for the signing of Mark Roman.
--DL Lance Legree was signed to a one-year contract. He has started 25 of the 75 games during his career. He played four seasons with the Giants and last year with the Jets. He can play DE and NT in the 3-4 scheme.
--DL Jerry DeLoach is expected to miss up to three weeks with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee. DeLoach was signed on the eve of training camp.
--PK Luis Berlanga is the only player who has yet to report to camp. Berlanga, who's from Monterrey, Mexico, was being delayed while he waits for his working visa, team officials said.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kevan Barlow vs. Frank Gore for starting RB -- Coach Mike Nolan is holding off on naming a starter among these two players. Gore led the 49ers with 608 rushing yards on 127 carries -- or 49 fewer rushes than Barlow, who gained 581 yards. Barlow started 12 games last season. Gore has a straight-ahead running style that the coaches like. Some of Gore's statistics last season might have been a bit inflated. His 72-yard TD run against the Redskins came with two minutes remaining in a game the 49ers lost 52-17. Said Nolan about the competition, "I want to see who that guy is (going to be). I'm wide open. I'm not close at all. There's every reason not to be." Barlow missed four of the final five games of last season with a knee injury. He said he fully expects to regain his starting job. "I feel like I should be the starter, no question," Barlow said. "But I don't know what's written in ink and what's written in pencil."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Offensive lineman Adam Snyder is competing for two starting jobs simultaneously. He is pushing incumbent Kwame Harris for the job at RT, while also seeing time at RG, where Justin Smiley appears to have the inside track for the job. If Snyder is not a starter, he might work into a role as the first player off the sideline at any of the guard or tackle positions.
--With the addition of safety Mark Roman, it becomes a three-way battle for the starting FS job. Roman 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. Neither one has taken a significant lead in the competition over the other.
--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: Quarterback Alex Smith got off to a slow start in training camp, but he is showing improvement every day. Smith completed six of 10 passes for approximately 80 yards in the scrimmage, as the 49ers' first-team offense scored one touchdown in their three offensive possessions. Smith appears to have found a favorite target in Antonio Bryant. The pair teamed up for impressive deep scoring practices Friday and Saturday.

ROOKIE REPORT: TE Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick, is seeing a lot of action with the first-team offense. He has already displayed how his speed can affect the defense. He ran a deep route down the seam during the scrimmage that enabled WR Antonio Bryant to catch a 50-yard TD pass from Alex Smith. Bryant is showing progress with his blocking, too.
--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.
--OLB Parys Haralson had a strong performance in the scrimmage. Haralson is at his best when he's rushing the passer, but he's also making progress when it comes to his coverage skills.
--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. He needs show more progress to supplant veteran Bryan Gilmore as the No. 3 receiver, though.
--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. TE coach Pete Hoener has been impressed with Walker, saying, "Delanie Walker probably made one of the best transformations I've ever seen because he was purely a wide receiver at a small college, and all of a sudden, he's lead-blocking on linebackers and running power blocks, and routes from inside and routes from outside. He's done an exceptional job of picking up the system and making a transformation to that position." ... RB Michael Robinson continues to look good as he competes for a role as the third-down back. During the scrimmage he caught a pass for 7 yards and also rushed five times for about 20 yards and a touchdown.
--S Marcus Hudson is also seeing some time at CB. He has looked good and is challenging to get on the field when the 49ers go with extra defensive backs.

INJURY REPORT: WR Derrick Hamilton, a former third-round draft pick, is seeing his hopes of sticking with the club diminish by the day. In fact, it might already be too late. The 49ers have considered releasing Hamilton when he is cleared to return to practice from a hamstring injury that kept him off the field for more than a week. Hamilton missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
--DL Jerry DeLoach is expected to miss up to three weeks with a partially torn MCL.
--WR Arnaz Battle sat out the scrimmage with some swelling in his knee. Battle was bothered by the knee for all but the first 2 1/2 games of last season.
--C Jeremy Newberry is experiencing some swelling in his surgically repaired knee. If this is any indication, it will be difficult for Newberry to maintain his health and earn back his starting job.
--LB Derek Smith sat out the scrimmage because of a thigh contusion. He is not expected to miss much time.
--TE Terry Jones experienced swelling in his foot and ankle and did not practice Friday or Saturday.


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