Shaun Alexander has racked up nearly 9,000 yards rushing in seven NFL seasons. He has led his team to a Super Bowl. He is a former league MVP. But touchdowns are what he covets as much as anything and more than most things. He once scored five before halftime during a Seahawks victory over Minnesota in 2002. He scored at least 15 in an NFL-record five consecutive seasons, setting a league record with 28 back in 2005.
Alexander scored only seven last season. That had to hurt him more than the foot fracture that kept him on the sideline for six games.
The foot is healthy now, and Alexander is working harder this off-season in an attempt to regain the form he showed during his run into the record books. He stayed in Seattle this off-season and participated in the team's conditioning program, something he hadn't done in the past.
"I'm excited," Alexander said. "My goals are still high and they are as high as they have ever been."
He'll need more help from his offensive line. Before last season, Alexander's rushing totals had increase every season since 2002. The Seahawks' line was also improving, but personnel issues precipitated a dramatic drop-off in 2006. Some of those issues remain, particularly if center Chris Spencer has trouble coming back from shoulder surgeries.
The line will have two and possibly three or four new starters from the group that carried Seattle to its only Super Bowl. Coach Mike Holmgren has opened up the right side of the line to competition.
"It's going to be a fun year," Alexander said. "We've got some new blood in here, that's what I call it. It kind of changes everything around a little bit. I think sometimes some fresh faces and little different schemes are good for us. And I think that is what we're going through right now."
The Cardinals are moving on to the advanced level of their new coach, Ken Whisenhunt, during voluntary Organized Team Activities over the next few weeks. Elements such as nickel packages and red-zone packages are being implemented. The team has now been through two minicamps under the new staff but attendance among the veterans remains nearly perfect during voluntary workouts.
There are 38 new names on the roster from the end of last season. Twenty-five of those include draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents and 13 are veterans who signed via free agency.
"Now, we're trying to add more things, so it is going to be a challenge to see if we can maintain the same consistency and tempo in practice," Whisenhunt said.
That is especially true given that summer desert heat has arrived in the Phoenix area with triple-digit temperatures by early afternoon.
"I really like the foundation we have in place right now as far as the way they're practicing," Whisenhunt said. "If we can continue to do that and eliminate some of the mistakes we're going to have a chance.
"We still have our two-minute drill and a lot of installation yet to come. And there are things we need to work on which will give us a good foundation for training camp."
Among the new Cardinals are 25 rookies. Getting a chance on the practice field is difficult to come by.
"Part of this process is to make a point that they're going to have to get a mental rep," Whisenhunt said. "A lot of times they're going to have to run a play that they may physically have not gotten a rep on and I think part of being a pro means you are expected to succeed in that situation."
ST. LOUIS RAMS
There were 32 players at the Rams' rookie minicamp, which ended two days before the rookies began working with the veterans in Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
Also in attendance were three non-rookies: wide receiver Marques Hagan, linebacker Tim McGarigle and tackle Drew Strojny.
Hagans is the most intriguing because he was a quarterback in college and was the Rams' fifth-round pick last year. It was hoped he could progress quickly to at least compete for a job returning kicks, but it didn't happen. Hagans spent the entire season on the practice squad, but is now back trying to earn a spot in a year where the Rams traded for kick returner Dante Hall.
"I'm definitely a lot further than I was last year, having a chance to be a receiver for a full year," Hagans said. "But at the same time, I still know I've got a long way to go."
Recalling his experience in 2006, Hagans said, "There were definitely days I wanted to cry. But I had to take it as a learning experience. It's very hard to come from college into the NFL and play on this level. But it's definitely hard to switch positions and expect to play in one year."
The Rams' receiver corps is deep with Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Drew Bennett, Dane Looker and Hall. So, Hagans had no problem being at the rookie camp. He said, "I didn't even think twice about it. I jumped at the opportunity. So it wasn't like a slap in the face or anything like that. I was already looking forward to it, for the chance to get more work."
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
After adding three receivers in the off-season, the San Francisco 49ers suddenly have the deepest group of wideouts they've had in the post-Terrell Owens era. Still, quarterback Alex Smith might have to wait a while before he can throw to all of them.
At the team's recent minicamp, the top two receivers were 2006 holdovers Arnaz Battle and Bryan Gilmore. That's because off-season acquisitions Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson were nursing injuries.
Jackson is still recovering from a toe injury that kept the former Seattle Seahawk out of the final three regular season games last season. He won't be back until training camp in late July. Lelie, meanwhile, strained his right quadriceps on the first day of minicamp. The injury is not serious and the speedy Lelie said he plans to be on the field when the team assembles for organized team activities, or OTAs, on June 4.
A third receiver, third-round draft choice Jason Hill of Washington State, spent the minicamp like the rest of the 49ers' rookie class -- mostly watching from the sideline.
Jackson, who caught 63 passes for 956 yards last season, is expected to be Smith's top option in the upcoming season. That means the young quarterback will have had three No. 1 receivers in each of his three seasons. Brandon Lloyd was the 49ers' best receiver during Smith's rookie year in 2005 while Antonio Bryant was the top option last year.
Coach Mike Nolan said it was critical for Smith to spend time on the practice field with his new wideouts.
"Having coached wide receivers and understanding the dynamics between the quarterback and wide receivers, it's really key when a quarterback really understands the wide receiver," Nolan said.
"Everybody runs a curl route, but they don't run it the same. Everybody runs a comeback or post, but they don't run it the same."
Smith said that when everyone is healthy, he expects to have more targets than he's ever had. Tight end Vernon Davis also will be a top option, and second-year receiver Brandon Williams put on a good performance at the minicamp.
"It's (important) that your No. 3 receiver is better than their No. 3 defensive back; that your No. 4 is better than their No. 4," Smith said. "That's going to be our best matchup. That's where we're going with the ball."
NFC West News & Notes - 5/20/07
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