NFC West News & Notes

As minicamps begin and the draft picks get their first taste of the NFL experience, excitement runs high. For the 49ers, it's a completely new receiver corps. The Rams may have the man who can help solve their defensive line problems. The Seahawks have an aggresive approach in the secondary, and the Cardinals are going with a power running game in 2007.


The Seahawks' offensive line famously lost one first-round draft choice when Steve Hutchinson left in free agency 14 months ago. The line opened its post-draft mini camps without another first-round pick.

Chris Spencer, chosen in 2005 and expected to start in 2007, has encountered complications during shoulder rehab. The team hopes he won't need another surgery, which might put him on the sideline into the regular season.

"Right now we are resting him," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We are hopeful he doesn't need another surgery. I don't think he is going to need one, but we have to let it quiet down just a little bit and see if it will respond to a new kind of rehab."

Losing Spencer for a lengthy period would test the Seahawks' depth on the line. Veteran right guard Chris Gray would move to center, a position he played several years ago. Injury-prone veteran Floyd Womack would be the favorite to start at right guard, with backup right tackle Ray Willis also getting a look there.

The Seattle line remains in transition this season even if Spencer is healthy. Veteran center Robbie Tobeck, a team leader who made the line calls during games, recently retired. Rob Sims became the starting left guard 13 games into last season.

One could make the case that Seattle is still recovering from Hutchinson's loss. The team tried to sign free-agent guard Kris Dielman from San Diego, but that didn't work out. That leaves Seattle with a few young players to develop at the guard position, but nobody obviously better than their elder statesman.

Gray turns 37 this summer, but he has never been more valuable. The team gave him a $900,000 signing bonus on a two-year deal during the offseason, a large raise for the often underappreciated veteran.

"I told him, 'If you sign your contract, I won't even practice you very much,'" Holmgren said. "Now, he thinks I lied to him because he is our starting center."

Getting Spencer healthy is a top priority. The team wants him back on the practice field this offseason so he can gain needed experience while meshing with Sims, the new left guard, and the rest of the line.

--Oregon receiver Jordan Kent is one of the more intriguing prospects at the Seahawks' postdraft minicamp. He stands 6-feet-4 and brings tremendous athletic ability to the position, having been a 25-foot long jumper in college, where he also played on the basketball team.

Kent is participating in camp even though he remains somewhat limited by a toe injury that required surgery.
"The fact that he was out here doing what he was doing actually is remarkable," coach Mike Holmgren said. "You won't really see the real Jordan Kent until training camp."

--Second-round pick Josh Wilson remains focused on learning the defense and getting acquainted with teammates. He laughed when asked about the NFL contract that awaits.

"I have as much money in my pocket right here as I do in my bank account," Wilson said, reaching into an empty pocket. "I don't really know anything about money. I just play the game and that will come."

--Veteran receiver Bobby Engram said he'll miss Darrell Jackson, the longtime teammate Seattle traded to San Francisco during the draft. What will Engram miss?

"The day-to-day camaraderie in practices," he said. "We worked hard but had a lot of fun. ... We just had fun. And I'm going to miss whipping him in pool. That's why he got out of here."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is enthusiastic. He is a bright young man. He seems to be happy to be here. He is probably going to make a lot of money, so life is good for Josh right now." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on his first look at CB Josh Wilson, a second-round pick from Maryland.


Under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals' goal is to be a more physical offense with a stronger running game.

Whisenhunt has vowed to craft such a team by adding the types of players who have track records at it, including first-round draft pick Levi Brown, a massive tackle who is known as a mauling run-game blocker.
Whisenhunt has told running back Edgerrin James that he anticipates calling 600 or so running plays and that the ball will be in James' hands on most of them.

But don't forget that Whisenhunt also has a mischievous streak in him. He made his name on the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers with his crafty play calling, which included a healthy dose of gadget plays.

That being said, the only person happier than James with Whisenhunt's potential play selection is Pro Bowl wideout Anquan Boldin, who loves to not only run the ball off reverse action but who also likes to throw it.

Whisenhunt has compared Boldin to Pittsburgh's Hines Ward. Like Ward, Boldin played some quarterback in college. Under Whisenhunt, Ward moved around the formation, ran reverses and threw passes.

Boldin has gone so far as to suggest that he would make a fine change of pace back when James grows weary of all those rushes Whisenhunt is telling him he'll get.

"I don't have to throw the ball, just put me in the backfield a couple of times and let me run it, I'll be OK," Boldin said.

With newly acquired fullback Terrelle Smith leading the way?

"Who me? Running behind a fullback? I wouldn't mind an extra blocker, but just put me in the 'I' by myself and I'll be OK," added Boldin.

--The Cardinals have scheduled their annual Fan Fest for May 12 at the team's Tempe facility. An autograph session for kids 12 and younger will take place before practice, from 2:45 to 3:15. The team will practice from 3:15 to 5 p.m. It will be the first day of the team's three-day mini-camp. The afternoon practice will be the club's second of the day.

--The Cardinals will make their first national television appearance of the year on May 14 as part of the NFL Network's tour of mini-camps.
Inside Minicamp will run on May 14. Some players and coaches will wear wireless microphones for the one-hour show.

--The opener is still four months away and already QB Matt Leinart is scrambling.

Three times in five days Leinart was nabbed by photo speed enforcement on a freeway leading from his Chandler home to all the enjoyable things he has found to do in upscale Scottsdale.

He also tripped a photo enforcement camera on a Scottsdale surface street.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was 6-foot and had a size 14 shoe in fifth grade." -- OT Levi Brown, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick, who grew up to be 6-5, 323 pounds.

The team hopes to find another player like QB Kurt Warner, RB Marcel Shipp or FS Aaron Francisco among this year's sizable class of undrafted rookies signed this week. The team had only five draft picks and consequently signed more undrafted rookies than usual:

--CB Michael Adams (5-8, 178) from Louisiana-Lafayette had 40 tackles (24 solo), one interception, one sack and three passes defensed in 10 games.
--CB Travarous Bain (6-0, 175) from Hampton started 20 games in two seasons with the Pirates after transferring from Miami (Fla.) prior to his junior year. Bain had 47 tackles, six interceptions and 19 passes defensed.

--RB Steve Baylark (6-0, 225), from Massachusetts -- where Shipp played -- was the third player in Division I-AA history to have four 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

--DT Ray Blagman (6-2, 321) from Connecticut started all 12 games last season for the Huskies with 36 tackles (12 solos).

--FB Tim Castille (5-11, 234) of Alabama played in all 12 games in 2006 as a senior with 40 carries for 120 yards and five touchdowns.

--G Tim Downing (6-4, 305) from Ohio State was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes at right guard, starting the last 24 games of his career, including the national championship game vs. Florida.

--FS Will Gulley (6-3, 220) of Houston led the Cougars with 105 tackles (66 solos) in 2006, also collecting five interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 13 starts.

--G Jon Hameister-Ries (6-6, 308) of Tulsa started in 27 consecutive games his last two seasons in college.

--LB David Holloway (6-2, 230) of Maryland, whose father Brian was an NFL All-Pro with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders, started 12 games at middle linebacker last year and was the third-leading tackler on the team with 70.

--G Brian Johnson (6-4, 307) from Louisiana State appeared in 44 games (28 starts) in his career for the Tigers.

--FS Brandon Keeler (6-3, 215) of Eastern Washington finished his collegiate career with 34 starts in 43 career games, collecting 243 (161 solos) tackles to rank 10th in school history.

--QB Toby Korrodi (6-3, 233) from Central Missouri completed 211 passes on 325 attempts (64.9 percent) for 2,797 yards and a school-record 29 touchdowns and only five interceptions as a senior in 2006 when he was named a Division II All-American.

--WR Evan Prall (5-11, 185) from East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University set school records for catches (236), receiving yards (4,093) and touchdowns (50), while also earning the record for all-purpose yards (5,666).

--P/K Ricky Schmitt (6-2, 192) from Shepherd punted 41 times for a 42.7 yard average last season with 12 punts inside the 20, and had eight kickoffs go for touchbacks.

--C Lyle Sendlein (6-2, 305) of Texas, a Scottsdale Chaparral High product, started the last two years of college career at center after playing as a guard in 2003-04. A consensus All-Big 12 first-team selection as a senior.

--FB BranDon Snow (6-0, 242) of Penn State was primarily a blocking back during his Nittany Lions career.

--LB Pago Togafau from Idaho State is coming off his third consecutive year leading the Bengals in tackles with 116 stops in 2006 and 361 career tackles.

--WR Matt Trannon (6-6, 235) of Michigan State made 44 receptions for 518 yards and three touchdowns while appearing in 10 games for the Spartans as a senior in 2006.

--T Elliot Vallejo (6-7, 315) of California-Davis started 32 consecutive games, including all 11 games in 2006 at right tackle. He started college at UCLA in 2002 before transferring the following year.

--FB Roshon Vercher (5-11, 245) of Fresno State was the lead blocking back for four straight 1,000-yard rushers.


There are a lot of games teams play with the minds of players entering the draft each year. But defensive tackle Adam Carriker is glad the Rams were honest with him.

After the Rams selected Carriker with the 13th overall pick in this year's draft, Carriker wasn't surprised.
"As for getting picked at No. 13, I'm very pleased, but I'm mostly just excited to be going to the Rams," he said. "I took a visit out there a couple of weeks ago and they showed a lot of interest. They actually told me if I was there at No. 13 they would take me. You can't always believe everything teams tell you then, but the Rams were true to their word."

Aside from his physical ability, the Rams like Carriker's versatility, as well his team-oriented attitude.

Before the draft, Carriker acknowledged that he had no idea what position he would end up playing, knowing that it depended on what team selected him.

"A lot of teams like me as a 3-4 end because of my size," he said. "I'm obviously used to the 4-3 end and the 4-3 three-technique is fine with me, too, because I like being closer to the quarterback. One of the things teams like about me is my versatility. Some teams even mentioned they would play me at nose a few plays. I can do any of that.

"It really doesn't matter to me. Whatever teams want from me, I'll do. I did it at Nebraska and had no problem with it. If they want me to play three-tech, want me to play a 4-3 end, 3-4, whatever, I'll play."

In high school, he actually was a 230-pound quarterback, but also played defensive end.

"The team needed it," he said. "That just turned out to be my thing, I guess."

His "thing" with the Rams to start will be at that three-technique position, where more pass rush can be generated.

Said Carriker, "From the conversations I've had with the coaches, I think the Rams are planning to use me pretty much as a defensive tackle and maybe at nose tackle a little bit or a three-technique player. I'm totally fine with playing any of those positions and I remember when I visited with them a few weeks ago, that's what they talked about doing. They asked me if I thought I could play inside and if I was willing to do that and I said yes. It's no problem at all for me. I may have to get my weight up to 310 or 315. I'm at 305 right now so I don't have too far to go."

The Rams have talked about tweaking the defensive scheme and using left and right tackles at times.

Carriker is just looking forward to the team's rookie minicamp next week and getting back to playing football.

"These next few months are probably going to be a blur for me," he said. "I'll probably be confused for the first couple of practices trying to learn a new system. But eventually I'll catch up and things will start to click."

--One of the undrafted free agents the Rams signed was Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, who is under 6-0. He is intent on proving that his height doesn't matter. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who measures 6-0, wasn't picked until Baltimore made the selection with the final choice of the fifth round.

"I understand that that's just the way it is," said Tate of the way he is viewed by scouts. "Everywhere I've played, I've always had success. It doesn't matter how tall you are or how big you are."
Tate noted that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is right around 6-0.

"If he's taller than me, it's not by much," Tate said. "Everyone wants to look at the negatives, especially with a business like that. They just want to say, 'He's not tall enough. He's not good enough.' "

Tate got to know former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, who was 5-10, and communicated with him after signing with the Rams.

Tate said, "It's easy to relate to somebody like that. He and I, we've gone through a lot of the same situations. A lot of the same stigmas, too. Making it in the NFL isn't about the size of your shoes. It's about the size of your heart."

--Coach Scott Linehan was pleased with how the draft process worked, considering it was the first year on the job for Tony Softli, the team's vice president of player personnel, who was hired last June.

"It was outstanding," Linehan said. "Tony does a great job at what he does. He's got a lot of experience in the draft room and knows how drafts go. I have to give Tony credit. More adjusting probably had to come from him than it had to come from us, which I understand because I've been in that boat, too."

Softli said he liked the fact that Linehan immersed himself in the entire process, attending numerous workouts at Pro Days.

"Every head coach has a different process that they use," Softli said. "The process Scott used was good with me because I wanted him to come out and see these guys, to see them live. (When) you get out to the school and talk to the coaches and see him in his environment and go through the process again and talk to him again it's huge. How Scott went about that I was all for. It was a good working relationship."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "His claim to fame coming out of college was his knockdowns and pancake blocks, and those kind of things. You've got to have a little nastiness in you to do that. Some guys 'position block' and do a good job of that. But this guy likes to take it to another level. I don't mind those qualities, especially at that position." -- Coach Scott Linehan on C/G Dustin Fry, one of the team's two fifth-round draft picks.


The 49ers have paid particular attention to their receiving corps this offseason. Three of the team's projected top four receivers are newcomers to the team.

"From top to bottom there is great skill level," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "There is going to be a lot of competition for those spots. They all can run and make plays."
The 49ers jettisoned enigmatic receiver Antonio Bryant in the offseason. They signed Ashley Lelie as a free agent and drafted Jason Hill of Washington State in the third round. The following day, the 49ers traded a fourth-round pick to the Seahawks for Darrell Jackson.

Jackson, who was bothered late last season with a turf-toe injury, did not participate in the 49ers' only minicamp. But at some point in the offseason, Smith looks forward to working with the seven-year veteran.

"The chemistry depends on the two individuals," Smith said. "It's hard to say how it will take place before you practice. I've heard a lot about Darrell from Trent (Dilfer), so I'm looking forward to working with him."

A year ago, Arnaz Battle led the 49ers' wideouts with 59 receptions. He had a solid season, catching 23 passes on third down. Bryant's 733 receiving yards led the team. The 49ers have not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003.

"It's important just to have the threat of the passing game," Smith said. "It's a key to have that big-play potential to help out our running game. We've certainly had our ups-and-downs in the passing game, but I'm definitely excited about where he's headed.'

Jackson is expected to compete against Battle for the team's starting job at flanker, while Lelie and Hill will battle for the starting job at split end.

--Veteran linebacker Derek Smith's starting job appears to be in jeopardy after the club drafted Patrick Willis of Ole Miss with the No. 11 overall selection in the draft. Smith and Willis will compete in training camp for the staring job at the "mike" linebacker.

"He sounds like a good kid -- nice, respectful guy," Smith said. "I'm sure he's a great athlete as well and a great football player if they took him that high. That's the way the NFL works. I think he'll make our team better."
--Damane Duckett has spent three seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman, but he willingly made the conversion this offseason to offensive tackle.

"The more you can do, the longer you stay in this league," Duckett said. "If I can play offensive line and play good, and if I can play defensive line and play good, that's good."

--New defensive line coach Jim Tomsula marvels at the commitment he has seen this offseason from veteran Bryant Young, who typically shows up at the team's practice facility at 6 a.m. to work out.

"If you didn't know better you'd think he was an undrafted free agent trying to do everything he could to win a spot on the team," Tomsula.

--Oscar Lofton, 69, announced his retirement after 15 years with the 49ers as a college area scout in the southeast and south-central regions.

"I've either played, coached or scouted most of my life and football has been great to me," said Lofton, who lives in Hammond, La. "I feel very fortunate to have been part of the 49ers. I'll mostly miss the camaraderie with the guys I've worked with and the guys out on the road. There are some bonds you make that last a lifetime."

Prior to joining the 49ers in 1992, Lofton spent six years as a scout for the National Football Scouting Combine (1986-92). He began his career in football as an end for the Boston Patriots in 1960.

Vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan retained Lofton when he took over two years ago.

"He's a quality guy, highly respected on the road and I knew him well before I came here," McCloughan said. "He's a great person, a hard worker and as a longtime coach before he got into scouting. He really understands what the whole process is about."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody is young and eager, except for Bryant Young, and ready to take that next step. I think we're ready to compete for the division and make a playoff run." -- 49ers receiver Darrell Jackson, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Seahawks.

Running back Maurice Hicks, who did not sign an offer sheet with another team as a restricted free agent, returned to the 49ers with a one-year, $850,000 contract.

The 49ers signed rookie free agents defensive end Zach Anderson (Louisville), quarterback Luke Getsy (Akron), tight end Zac Herold (Nebraska-Omaha), cornerback Sammy Joseph (LSU), punter Ken Parrish (East Stroudsburg), defensive end Darius Sanders (Oregon) and receiver Dominique Zeigler (Baylor). The team also added first-year kicker MacKenzie Hoambrecker (Northern Iowa).

Safety Jake Patten (Virginia Tech), long-snapper William Delahoussaye (La.-Lafayette), linebacker Steve Dildine (Washington State) and offensive lineman Sean Estrada (Penn) earned tryouts. Top Stories