-- Although the Seahawks have Matt Hasselbeck firmly entrenched as their starting quarterback, and backup Seneca Wallace gained valuable experience during the four games Hasselbeck missed due to a knee injury last year, coach Mike Holmgren is still looking for a veteran signal caller. To that end, the team recently welcomed former Texans quarterback David Carr for a two-day visit. Carr, the first overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, was released by Houston after five seasons of mediocre play behind a series of horrible offensive lines. Carr eventually signed with Carolina, due to the reportedly fluid starting situation with Jake Delhomme. Carr will have more of a chance to play there.
In a wide-ranging Friday interview with Seattle radio station KJR, Holmgren detailed the reasoning behind the decision to interview other quarterbacks. “Dave had a great visit with us,” Holmgren said. “He came in a couple of days ago, and he was going to go on a little bit of a tour, but it really narrowed down to Carolina and Seattle. Any time we bring in a free agent, I am not going to sugar-coat anything, and I’m not going to lie to him. Because, all of a sudden, if you sign him, and what you tell him doesn’t happen, you have an unhappy player and it’s a bad deal. We’re going to be really upfront about everything with David, or any quarterback that comes in here in that Matt Hasselbeck is our quarterback. Now, these are the situations, this is why I think it would be a good place – we sold him on that, and I believe he liked that. I think Carolina – I don’t know this for sure, but he got a real nice contract; that’s one, and I think they talked to him about being the starter there. Now, we’ll see what happens, but that’s what you do in recruiting. We choose to do it a different way.”
The decision had nothing to do with Wallace’s abilities as a quarterback; Holmgren said that Wallace “is good enough to play in this league”. But the young quarterback’s amazing athleticism has his coach thinking about different options. “I talked to Seneca about this before David even visited,” he said. “I thought Seneca did a good job for us last year, and he got better as a quarterback. What’s interesting, and what I’ve tried to think about over the last couple of years, is getting him on the field in other situations. I think he could be an outstanding pass receiver for us – he is that talented a man. He could return punts for us and do a good job there, perhaps freeing up someone else – (Bobby) Engram, (Nate) Burleson, to concentrate on other areas. The thought process behind bringing in a David Carr or anyone else is to have the assurance that if something were to happen to Matt, that you could use Seneca to play those other positions because you have a quarterback that can go in the game and play. Until that happens, until we sign another guy like that, I can’t use Seneca in those other areas where he could help our team. So, that’s why we’re looking.“
-- As a franchise, the Seahawks were excited about being invited to represent the NFL in China. As a football team, the Seahawks knew the proposed trip would place unwanted demands on their time. The NFL cannot take away the initial invitation, but the league did postpone its first game in China until at least 2009. The Seahawks should be better rested heading into the regular season as a result. Playing a game in China would have forced the team to report early to training camp. There would have been a fifth exhibition game. There would have been the 10,000-mile round-trip flight. Training camp would have been disjointed. Players would have needed several days to decompress upon returning.
And the extra preseason game might have left the Seahawks more vulnerable to injury, particularly with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck coming back from surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The Seahawks had been scheduled to open the preseason with an Aug. 2 home game against New England. They would have then traveled to Beijing to face the Patriots in a "China Bowl" matchup.
CEO Tod Leiweke and others in the organization were proud of the invite. They have worked to raise the Seahawks' profile in league circles, and going to China was considered progress. The postponement wasn't a reflection on the Seahawks so much as it reflected difficulties in organizing the event. The league was feeling the pinch as it prepared for a regular-season game in London. And there were reports that officials in China were running behind schedule in preparing the stadium for a showcase event.
The bottom line for Seattle is that the team is in better position to effectively prepare for the upcoming season.
The team plans to hold training camp at its Seattle-area headquarters, and not across the state, for the first time in about a decade. The decision was made to facilitate the China trip, but the Seahawks are expected to follow through with those plans even though they won't be going to Beijing.
--The draft is an inexact science, leaving plenty of room for interpretation. When coach Mike Holmgren was an assistant in San Francisco, most teams thought Aundray Bruce would become a Pro Bowl regular. Some members of the 49ers thought so, too, but Holmgren recalled longtime scout Tony Razzano insisting Bruce would never pan out. Holmgren reminds himself of the story as a counter measure when college prospects flash exceptional skills at individual workouts.
"Aundray Bruce was the first pick in the draft, and (longtime 49ers scout) Tony Razzano was right," Holmgren said. "Because (Bruce) didn't make plays in games. He was this perfect measurables guy, everything you wanted. He played in the NFL, but a first-round pick you think is going to go to the Pro Bowl all the time."
--Speaking of first-round picks, the Seahawks don't have one this year. They traded theirs to New England for receiver Deion Branch. It's too early to declare a winner in this swap given that Branch is still settling into a new offense and the Patriots haven't even selected a player with the 24th overall pick. "I thought he came in and gave us great leadership," Holmgren said of Branch. "He ingratiated himself to his teammates. He is a hard worker. I can't say anything bad about him. Plus, he's a really good football player. And so he came in and had what I would call a very good season. I think after a year with us, and how we do things, because every team does things a little differently, he'll really be, we're counting on him to be, even better."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Mike's a good guy. Some of his ... nah, I won't say anything." - Coach Mike Holmgren, in reference to a question about NFL officiating director Mike Pereira.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Defensive tackle: The draft is considered strong at the position. Seattle needs a reliable big body given that 2004 first-round pick Marcus Tubbs is recovering from microfracture knee surgery. When healthy, Tubbs is a 330-pound space eater with the quickness to blow up plays. Seattle probably won't find a similar talent without a first-round pick, but the team could use more size inside.
2. Offensive line: Seattle failed to land the marquee guard it sought in free agency. The team brought back Floyd Womack and Chris Gray as insurance, and one of them could start at right guard. The Seahawks will draft one or more interior offensive linemen. They need to develop another young prospect to join Rob Sims and Chris Spencer.
3. Defensive end: Signing Patrick Kerney in free agency helped, but the Seahawks are still a man short at the position. They released Grant Wistrom, who appears headed for retirement. Coaches prefer to go with a rotation to keep players fresh. Bryce Fisher logged too many snaps last year. A little more size wouldn't hurt, but team president Tim Ruskell seems to like the smaller guys with speed.
With versatile veteran offensive lineman Mike Gandy under contract now, what do the Cardinals do with the fifth pick in the draft? Depending on which mock draft you believe, they may get a shot at running back Adrian Peterson (they have Edgerrin James and a strong backup in Marcel Shipp); defensive end Gaines Adams (they have two capable pass rushers in Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor, but both are now 30), or left tackle Joe Thomas (Gandy might be a better guard than tackle, anyway, and Oliver Ross certainly won't be any better at left tackle than the under-achieving Leonard Davis was).
If it comes down to who can change a game faster -- and for the kind of money this draft position will command, the player selected had better be a game-changer -- the answer is a star running back.
A year ago, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk got a $37.5 million deal over six years from Green Bay in the fifth slot of the first round. About $16 million of that was guaranteed. The Cardinals can't afford to miss here. It would hurt the development of the team if they don't land a strong contributor and it would cripple them against the salary cap for years.
Peterson's recent slide in the mock drafts could be the carefully orchestrated work of a team that hopes to dissuade a competitor higher in the order from picking Peterson. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't necessarily buying it, though.
"The one thing you have to be careful about is if there is a player of that caliber available, you've got to look at him, especially a running back, guys who are going to touch the ball that much," Whisenhunt said. The Cardinals haven't exactly been a rushing juggernaut. Last season, James was their first back to crack 1,000 yards since Adrian Murrell in 1998. So how much might they run now with Whisenhunt in charge? About 60 percent, he guesses. And he figures they'll get roughly 1,000 offensive snaps.
"I said, 'Edgerrin, you're not going to carry the ball 580 times, you can't do it,'" Whisenhunt said. "He said, 'OK coach, OK coach, but you have to give me my carries.' I said, 'Edgerrin, you're going to get your carries. You're a good back.'"
But there's nothing wrong with having two of them.
However, the players on the left side of the offensive line are, essentially, stopgap. Pencil in Ross at left tackle and Gandy at left guard. They'd be capable for a year or two. But it's a competition that should be no match for Thomas if he is as good as advertised. The Cardinals would be gambling on another rookie tackle if they took Thomas -- and they just lost an expensive gamble on Davis, the second pick in the 2001 draft who never became a Pro Bowler and recently left for Dallas as a free agent.
Gandy isn't exactly cheap, but at least he is a proven commodity. His three-year contract includes a $2.4 million signing bonus. His 2007 salary is only $600,000 but if he makes his mark, a year from now he'll get a roster bonus of $2.5 million and his salary jumps to $3.5 million. But that wouldn't necessarily cause the Cardinals to pass on Thomas. They could cut Gandy and save most of that. But if Gandy is still around in 2009, he'd get a $5 million salary.
By then, the Cardinals will know how much football James, Gandy, Berry and Okeafor have left. And they'll also know if they botched another high pick at No. 5 in the 2007 draft, when they no doubt picked the player to replace one of them.
--The signing of Mike Gandy gives the Cardinals a versatile, proven offensive lineman to plug in on the left side. Although Gandy was a 16-game starter for Buffalo last season at LT, the spot vacated in the Cardinals lineup by free agent Leonard Davis' move to Dallas, Gandy might be even better at LG, where Milford Brown has yet to take ownership of the spot for the Big Red. The Cardinals like the idea of attempting to re-energize Oliver Ross by moving him to LT from RT. The new staff coached him when he was in Pittsburgh and they like him. They're convinced they can coax productive play from him again. If the Cardinals draft Wisconsin LT Joe Thomas, then very likely two among Gandy, Ross and Brown will go to the bench. If nothing else, that would improve the quality and versatility of the backups. Brown was the starting RG two seasons ago. He lost the job to rookie Deuce Lutui last season.
--The Cardinals should be a well-rested crew going into the regular-season opener on Monday night at San Francisco based on their light preseason travel that was announced this week. The preseason opener is at Oakland, a 90-minute flight. That is followed by home games vs. Houston and AFC West champ San Diego. The preseason finale is at Denver, another 90-minute flight. Coincidentally, it marks the fourth straight postseason that the Cardinals have concluded vs. the Broncos. But there are no tiring preseason cross-country trips this year.
--Business has been brisk at the Cardinals new weight room under the direction of new strength and conditioning coach John Lott, a 12-year NFL assistant who is in his first with the Cardinals.
Even QBs Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner have been in to work in the off-season conditioning program at the facility. New coach Ken Whisenhunt has asked all the players to take part in the program in Tempe.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Edgerrin is full of energy and full of ideas, and that's a good thing. We've talked, and he has been a successful player in the league with a successful team. I respect that. When we spoke, he told me a date he will be in ... and he already has the calendar mapped out for the off-season. I said, 'Bring it in, and we'll talk about it.' And that's all I can ask for." -- Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt, on RB Edgerrin James' preference to do the bulk of his off-season work at home in Florida when Whisenhunt has asked his players to do most of it in the new weight room at their Tempe training complex.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Cornerback: 2005 first-round pick Antrel Rolle has been disappointing thus far and it has been an embarrassingly bad tag team opposite him. The Cardinals did not get an interception from a starting corner until Game 12. One member of the tag team, David Macklin, this week signed with Washington. The Cardinals have signed unrestricted free agent Roderick Hood for five years but they need at least two more corners to give them flexibility and depth. They'll likely snag one with a first-day pick, but there are none worthy of selection with their No. 5 pick overall in the first round.
2. Left tackle: Although QB Matt Leinart is a lefty, making the RT his blind-side protector, LT remains a critical position after starter Leonard Davis, a career underachiever, went to Dallas as an unrestricted free agent. Six years into his career, Davis, the second pick overall in 2001, has yet to make the Pro Bowl. The team signed veteran Mike Gandy, a 16-game starter at LT for Buffalo in 2006, but he's a better G than T. If Joe Thomas is there, the Cards would have to give him strong consideration at No. 5 overall in the first round.
3. Defensive end: With former Pro Bowler Bertrand Berry working from the right side and team sacks leader Chike Okeafor from the left, this wouldn't on the surface appear to be a key need. But Berry, 30, has played only 18 games the past two seasons after his 14.5-sack Pro Bowl season in 2004. He had 12 sacks in those 18 games in 2005 and 2006 but his ability to get through a season now becomes a concern. Okeafor also is 30, although he tied his career high with 8.5 sacks. Depth is an issue. Gaines Adams would be a great fit for them at No. 5 overall in the first round.
--The team still needs to find a starting WLB. Orlando Huff, the starter for a couple of years, has been a disappointment and now he is an unrestricted free agent. There are no candidates worthy of selection with the Cardinals' No. 5 pick overall in the first round, but there are some first-day draft prospects who will get a hard look.
--The Cardinals' one nagging shortcoming in free agency was their inability to land a veteran TE to play with Leonard Pope, who goes into his second pro season. The team whiffed on the best prospect, Reggie Kelly, who re-upped in Cincinnati. It is unlikely that the team would use a high pick on another TE. They'll be more likely to bide their time and continue watching the waiver wire right up to opening day of the season to find a vet to pair with Pope. Signing blocking FB Terrelle Smith also has taken some of the sting out of lacking a veteran TE.
--Mike Gandy, a 16-game starter at LT for Buffalo last season, signed for three years. While he has plenty of experience at a position that is open since LT Leonard Davis signed with Dallas, Gandy actually might be plugged in at LG. The team is talking about moving Oliver Ross to LT from the right side and it could draft LT Joe Thomas. Gandy, however, is a versatile experienced veteran who has played at a high level -- just the sort of player who will improve one of this team's glaring weaknesses. He was Chicago's third-round pick in 2001 out of Notre Dame.
--DE Antonio Smith, who has seen considerable playing time as a rotation player, was re-signed for two years. He played in all 16 games (eight starts) last season, making 29 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. He was the Cardinals' fifth-round pick in 2004.
--OL Chris Liwienski, an experienced, versatile, veteran lineman, signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent. Liwienski was a valuable rotation player as the line made late-season progress over the closing five games and enabled Edgerrin James to reach 1,000 rushing yards after a slow start.
--CB David Macklin, a starter most of the last three seasons, signed with Washington as an unrestricted free agent. Macklin was a member of an ineffective tag team that started opposite Antrel Rolle and may have seen his fate when the Cardinals signed veteran Roderick Hood.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
In 2006, with an offense that had the reputation of being more run-oriented than it had been behind Steven Jackson, the reality is somewhat different. The Rams were third in the NFL in pass attempts with 592 behind only Green Bay (630) and Detroit (596). They were also third in completions with 371, just one behind both Detroit and New Orleans.
Yet, quarterback Marc Bulger had just eight interceptions, and Jackson accounted for 90 of the receptions. Now, the offense has added another weapon with the addition of tight end Randy McMichael.
In the seven seasons that former coach Mike Martz ran the offense, tight ends averaged 33 receptions per season for an average of 346 yards. Last year, Rams tight ends caught 29 passes for 333 yards. Most notably, the team record for catches in a season by a tight end is 49 by Pete Holohan in 1990. Marlin McKeever holds the record for yardage with 582 in 1964
With Miami last season, McMichael had 62 receptions and 640 yards. His addition gives the Rams five players -- Torry Holt, 93; Jackson, 90; Isaac Bruce, 74; McMichael, 62 and Drew Bennett, 46 - that combined for 365 catches in 2006. Will there be enough balls for quarterback Marc Bulger to throw? Bulger likes the problem, if it is one.
"We throw the ball a ton; it's not like we have one guy that will get all of the balls," Bulger said. "Isaac and Torry have both been getting a lot of balls throughout their career. There will be balls to go around."
As for the addition of McMichael to the corps, Bulger said, "It's going to be nice to have all of those guys. That should take care of the Cover 2 problems we had with Isaac and Torry being double-covered." McMichael agreed, saying, "It's going to be fun. One thing about it is you won't be able to double-cover anybody. You won't be able to roll coverages. I know a lot of teams try to take Torry away from us, but we have so many weapons now that will free him up even more I think."
Asked about this being the best group he's seen since being with the team from 2001, Bulger said, "(It is) since I have been playing. That first year was pretty good in '01. With Steven, even without the addition of Drew, you could say that because Steven had 90 catches and improved throughout the year. And now with the addition of McMichael, we definitely have the most talent on our side of the ball we've had since I have been playing."
But what happens when players come back to the huddle telling the quiarterback they were open. Smiling, Bulger said, "I have heard guards tell me they've been open before, so there's nothing I haven't heard."
Commenting on the notion of keeping all the receivers happy, coach Scott Linehan said, "I think we have improved our football team with the offensive players we've added. That's exciting for us. I think you can never have enough quality football players on your team. There's not a player on the team that will be unhappy if we are having success on the field."
--The agent for OG Claude Terrell claims that the wayward lineman will soon report for the team's off-season conditioning program. "He's been in constant contact with the organization," agent Kennard McGuire told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He has some family situations that he has to resolve. He had some things that were unexpected that he had to take care of." Terrell started 10 games as a rookie in 2005, but he injured his wrist late in the season. He was unable to participate on an extended basis in the off-season program, and then practiced rarely in training camp.
Placed on injured reserve in late August, it was announced that Terrell would have surgery. However, he left St. Louis for his home and never the operation. Now, he has been a no-show for the first three weeks of conditioning work. Still, McGuire insisted, "He's coming in as soon as he can. As soon as he gets things squared away, St. Louis is his first trip."
--CB Jerametrius Butler also has not attended the off-season program. Butler played in just six games last season and was inactive for nine as he became buried on the team's depth chart. It was expected that Butler would be released at the start of the league year, but he hasn't been and is believed the Rams are hoping they can acquire a draft pick for him. Butler's agent, Robert Fayne, said Butler has not asked to be traded. As for being away from Rams park, Fayne said, "He's working out diligently twice a day in Dallas to prepare for the 2007 season. I expect him to be with the Rams in '07."
--One of the Rams' four preseason games will be on national TV. That will be an Aug. 18 game (the second week of the preseason) against San Diego on CBS. Other dates have yet to be announced, but the Rams will play at Minnesota in Week 1, at Oakland in Week 3 and home against Kansas City in Week 4.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm shocked that he hasn't signed yet. I think teams were concerned that he was healthy. He's healthy as can be. He feels great. And someone's going to get an All-Pro-caliber guard." - Agent Mark Bartelstein on former Rams guard Adam Timmerman.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Defensive tackle: The Rams have been trying to get this right for several years. Jimmy Kennedy was only adequate at nose tackle last season after Ryan Pickett left in free agency for Green Bay. His backup, Jason Fisk, is expected to retire and was only a stopgap anyway. Kennedy doesn't seem cut out to play on the nose, so an upgrade there is necessary.
2. Defensive end: This area was helped with the acquisition of James Hall, but he won't be healthy until training camp because of a shoulder problem and he is 30 years old. Even with a healthy Hall, the Rams have to add more quickness to their pass rush, and the draft this year is deep with quality defensive ends.
3. Wide receiver/cornerback: The front-line players at these positions are fine, but some age is creeping in, especially at wide receiver. The Rams selected cornerback Tye Hill with their first-round pick last season, and it would not be a surprise to see them dip into that area again in the opening round.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Running back Frank Gore reported last week to the 49ers' off-season workout program and promised his newfound riches will not change his commitment to the game. "I love to play the game," said Gore, whose five-year contract extension could pay him $28 million. "It's not about the money with me. I am happy I have it and that I am secure. I love the game. No one is going to have to worry about me slacking off. I love competing."
Gore did not have the opportunity to workout much a year ago, as he underwent extension surgeries on both shoulders after his rookie season. He required about four months of rehabilitation in the off-season. This year, he said his focus is on eliminating turnovers and increasing his speed in the open field. Gore fumbled seven times last season, losing six of them.
Gore said he has been working with his speed coach at the University of Miami (Fla.), in hopes of finding the end zone on more of his runs in which he breaks into the clear. Several times he was caught from behind during last season while rushing for a 49ers-record and NFC-leading 1,695 yards. "If I could have found a way to finish my long runs, I would have probably led the league and scored more touchdowns," Gore said. "Instead of getting three points, we would have gotten seven points."
He said he played last season at 215 pounds and would like to drop about five pounds. While at the Pro Bowl in February, Gore said he spoke to San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson about how he was able to remain so fresh even late in the season.
"I think I can probably finish my runs better at that weight," Gore said. "I asked L.T. how I could stay fresh during the year, because I told him when I watched film on him, he was always fresh. He told me had played at 220 in the years before, but he played at 215 this year. He told me how he ate healthy all through the year and I am going to try and do the same thing." Gore averaged 5.4 yards on his 312 carries, which ranked seventh all-time in yards-per-carry for a running back with at least 300 attempts in a season. Barry Sanders (twice), O.J. Simpson (twice), Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton rank ahead of Gore.
--The 49ers did not have to sign running back Frank Gore to a contract extension after just his second year in the league. The team could have controlled his rights for the next three seasons with the use a high tender as a restricted free agent and the franchise tag. "I thought about it, but I know that coach Nolan likes the type of guys who work hard and do the right thing both on and off the field," Gore said. "I knew they would take care of me."
--The 49ers have not been publicizing the news that they are giving a tryout to a 43-year-old English teacher at Andover College in Maine who dreams of playing in the NFL. Obviously, Jim Davis faces impossible odds of landing an invite to training camp, but that has not prevented him from pursuing a dream. There have been reports the 49ers are flying Davis to the 49ers' practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif., for a tryout, but club officials say Davis is going to meet a 49ers' scout in New Jersey for a workout. Davis was a contestant on a reality show called, "The Great American Dream Vote." His dream was to be the oldest rookie in the NFL. He made it to the final before the show was canceled. He did not play football in college and spent 10 years in the Marines.
--The 49ers are rumored to be entertaining trade offers for starting guard Justin whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season. But the club said that they are not shopping the players. "He's our starting guard," a team spokesman said. "We would listen to any offer on anybody, other than Frank Gore and Alex (Smith). We're not actively trying to trade him." Smiley and the 49ers have been unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension. He had a strong season, helping Gore rush for a franchise-record 1,695 yards, but the 49ers have been unwilling to pay him the kind of money he is seeking. The 49ers also prefer linemen bigger than Smiley, who is 6-3, 300 pounds. The 49ers might also receive some inquiries into the services of starting tackle Kwame Harris, a former first-round draft pick whose contract also expires at the end of this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels good. It feels great. When I was coming up I had to go through a lot. I got a chance to be a starting back and proved to people that I could it. The hard work paid off." -- 49ers running back Frank Gore after signing a contract extension that could pay him $28 million over five seasons.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Wide receiver: The team's No. 3 receiver, Bryan Gilmore, played all 16 games with three starts but managed only eight catches. The 49ers cut ties with starter Antonio Bryant but signed Ashley Lelie. They need another capable receiver to give the offense some options.
2. Nose tackle: The 49ers have made the commitment to play a 3-4 defense, so they signed Ravens free agent Aubrayo Franklin to play the nose. Still, the team needs more players who can be an anchor at this position. Otherwise, if Franklin were unavailable, they'd be back in the same position they've been in the past couple years.
3. Defensive end: The 49ers can easily find a starter at this spot in the draft, perhaps with their first pick if Nebraska's Adam Carriker gets the call. The team figures that veteran Bryant Young will be a starter at one of the spots, but there is no clear-cut favorite for the other spot.