NFC West News & Notes - 6/2/07

In today's News & Notes: The Cardinals try to avoid making the same mistake twice, the Seahawks hope they have the horses to replace key losses, the Rams try to keep cool, and the 49ers walk the character line with two late-round picks.


The Seahawks announced the release of cornerback Kelly Herndon on Friday. The Toledo graduate and undrafted free agent was signed to a five-year, $15 million contract by the Seahawks before the 2005 season. Herndon was set to make $2.5 million in base salary in 2007.

In his two seasons in Seattle, Herndon started 22 of 32 regular-season games, including all 16 in 2006. He was regarded by most observers as a physical, heady player with limited coverage ability. In their past two drafts, the Seahawks have made a cornerback their first selection - Miami's Kelly Jennings in 2006, and Maryland's Josh Wilson in 2007.

For the Seattle Seahawks, June minicamp offers two weeks and eight practices to answer innumerable questions before training camp opens in late July. Last year at this time, the Seahawks were coming off a Super Bowl season, and although they made all the appropriate comments about being sufficiently motivated and well-positioned to make a return, problems lurked. The offensive line was aging, and players lost on the market (Steven Hutchinson and Joe Jurevicius) were going to be more difficult to replace than they could have imagined.

The unknowns at this point mostly relate to health and how quickly and effectively new talent can assimilate.

Question No. 1: Where does quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stand in his rehabilitation from off-season surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder? In the first minicamp, Hasselbeck's play validated the staff's claim that he was far ahead of schedule. He ran well, appeared fit, and threw with adequate, if not impressive, velocity. This camp will be the next step in his return.

Coach Mike Holmgren protected Hasselbeck's left side by having him skip plays that would have required him to hand the ball off with his left hand. "Hopefully I can be much better at throwing the ball and also more involved," Hasselbeck said before the June minicamp. He's returned to a weight regimen to strengthen the shoulder since the end of the first camp.

Question No. 2: Where does running back Shaun Alexander stand in his recovery from the foot problem that sidelined him for six games last season? Despite a false-alarm scare that was created by overzealous reporting during the first minicamp, the back's foot is fine, and he may be in better shape than he's been in for years. Alexander and his wife welcomed their third baby and he decided to stay in Seattle this off-season, allowing him to participate in workouts at the team headquarters. In the first camp, Alexander reported that he was below his usual spring-time weight. He ran without any problems.

Question No. 3: Which receivers will step up and replace the 14 touchdown receptions pulled in last season by the recently departed Darrell Jackson and tight end Jerramy Stevens? Bobby Engram, who missed nine games with a thyroid condition last year (causing his receptions to drop from 67 to 24), appears to have returned to full speed. Ideally, the Hawks would like to see the 6-foot-2, 200-pound D.J. Hackett take over Jackson's role. Hackett finished with a modest 45 catches last season, but was clutch late in several games. The two newcomers last season, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson, both need to elevate their games. Burleson was bothered by a hand injury early, and Branch was an early season addition that did not benefit from going through training camp with the Hawks.

Question No. 4: Will the new corps of safeties be able to put an end to the big plays the Hawk defense surrendered last season? In the first minicamp, Deon Grant and Brian Russell looked comfortable in their roles. Free safety Ken Hamlin was not retained and strong safety Michael Boulware was benched for chronic mistakes. Boulware is still in the mix, as is Mike Green, who missed all last season after a training camp foot injury. Green returned to very limited action in the first minicamp.


--Although quarterback Matt Hasselbeck appeared ahead of schedule in his shoulder rehabbing at the team's first minicamp, he concedes it's a lengthy process.`"It is mostly throwing ... getting my arm into throwing shape," Hasselbeck said. "That will be the hardest thing, much like a starting pitcher. There's another component to it; that's a lot of running and agility work and being able to avoid tackles and get first downs ... being quick and explosive and that kind of stuff, and I am nowhere near that. So, I have a lot of work to do."

--New Hawks secondary/assistant head coach Jim Mora is uniquely qualified to assess the potential impact of free agent defensive end Patrick Kerney, having coached him in Atlanta.`"He is a relentless pass rusher," Mora said. "He is a relentless worker. He is one of those guys, when we were in Atlanta together, and I wanted to show players what I meant by great effort, I would put (video of) Pat on. I think people in Seattle will really start to appreciate that."

"Everybody's been calling me 'Slim.' " -- Running back Shaun Alexander on his fitness level this off-season.


No big NFL games have been won in June. Coach Mike Holmgren promised to take a conservative approach to bringing back injured Seahawks for the team's last minicamp before the start of training camp. "Let's let them heal up, particularly the veteran players," Holmgren said. "Then, hopefully, we can get through the season and we don't have the same problems we had last year."
Among the group expected to be eased back into action when camp opens at the end of July is a critical component of the Seahawks run defense that was often ineffective last season -- tackle Marcus Tubbs. The former first-round draft pick will be out at least until the start of camp as he continues to rehab after microfracture surgery on his knee. Although he's not been in drills with the team, the 324-pound Tubbs looks leaner and stronger than last season.

Safety Mike Green (foot), defensive back Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), safety Michael Boulware (shoulder) and offensive linemen Chris Spencer (shoulder) and Tom Ashworth (hip) will join Tubbs in a slow and cautious return to action.


The Cardinals may have whiffed in the 2006 draft on one underachieving former Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman, Gabe Watson, although Watson worked hard in the off-season, dropped a ton of weight, and may yet salvage his career. But then they followed in the 2007 draft by selecting another underachieving former Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle, Alan Branch.

Like Watson, Branch was graded with first-round talent by most scouts. And like Watson, Branch fell out of the first round because of issues about what he's made of. The rap was that Branch took off plays and wasn't always his dominating best when Michigan needed him most. The Cardinals hierarchy evidently believes it can bring out Branch's potential. If Branch plays to his ability-level, he will be a strong challenger to unseat Kendrick Clancy for the starting nose tackle job.

"Actually, as a group the D-line has really taken me under their wing, which has been great," Branch said. "A lot of times guys don't want others taking their job. Every time I do something wrong on the field they tell me what I'm supposed to do and encourage me to do better."

Watson, meanwhile, will struggle to hold a roster spot, even though he's now leaner and supposedly meaner, at a position where a logjam is building. Branch, the 33rd pick overall at the top of the second round, said he views his slide to the Cardinals as fortunate.

"I really fell into a great situation because this is a young and upcoming team," Branch said. "We've got a new coach (Ken Whisenhunt) and you can tell in people's eyes that they want to win and they're willing to do whatever it takes. I am just glad to be in this situation.

"I just want to get to know the plays a little better and be able to fit in with the defense a little bit better because it's new techniques, new defensive plays, and it's just hard to remember because you keep going back to college days."


--The Cardinals are putting in their two-minute offense during voluntary workouts, and the initial attempts haven't been memorable. But that also is to be expected, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Anytime you put in something new like that you're going to have some mistakes and have some guys that are maybe a little bit tentative because they're not sure," Whisenhunt said. "Those types of practices tend to look a little bit sloppier, but the reason you do that is when you get to training camp, hopefully it won't be that way."

QB Matt Leinart, of all people, didn't seem to have a grip and was erratic during the drills.

--CB Matt Ware is working at safety in nickel packages.

--WR Bryant Johnson, the team's No. 3 receiver and the speedster of the group, has a hamstring injury. Sean Morey has worked as No. 3 and Micheal Spurlock as No. 4 in Johnson's absence.

--Whisenhunt already is making his mark with the players with his bent toward levity at the end of a hard workout. He ended one voluntary practice last week with a 25-yard field-goal kicking contest between the offense and defense. LB Darryl Blackstock and CB Eric Green, who'd taken a step towards salvaging his career with a big interception during the practice, connected to give the defense the win. RB Marcel Shipp made one for the offense. Whisenhunt isn't afraid to roll the dice, and he let some of his biggest names take part in the kicking, including receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, and safeties Adrian Wilson and Aaron Francisco.

After an earlier workout, Whisenhunt had conducted a punt-catching competition between members of the offensive and defensive lines.

--After workouts, the team's 25 rookies -- including 20 who were undrafted -- have one-hour seminars focusing on financial and life skills through the Player Development Program. All players are welcome but the sessions are required for the rookies. "They're teaching us how to control our money," said T Levi Brown, the Cardinals first-round pick. "They have given us a lot of statistics on guys who come into the league as high picks, and three years later that same guy is living on the street broke." The average career of an NFL player is 4.1 years.

--The Cardinals may open training camp in Flagstaff on the last Friday in July, two days earlier than the previous three years Coach Dennis Green preferred to open on the last Sunday in July, forfeiting two allowable days. Previous coaches Vince Tobin and Dave McGinnis had opened on Fridays.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like to think that I model my game after Richard Seymour because he's so versatile and he's a smart player. He played every single position on the defensive line for New England. I like to think of myself as a player like that. When I learn plays, I learn every single play across the board. I try to figure out what the linebackers are doing. I just want to be a student of the game, and that's what Richard Seymour is." -- Cardinals rookie DL Alan Branch.


--The Cardinals are about to start signing drafted rookies, and they'll then need to get rid of a few players on the roster to make room under the salary cap. Who might go?

They are overloaded at NT -- Kendrick Clancy, Gabe Watson, and Ross Kolodziej -- with another coming in, second-round pick Alan Branch. They suddenly have depth at FB, as well, and may find veteran Obafemi Ayanbadejo expendable because he is more of a receiver than a blocker. The Cardinals, about $2 million under the cap, also may restructure some contracts to create salary-cap space to sign rookies.

--TE Tim Euhus (6-5, 249), a former fourth-round pick by Buffalo who also played at Pittsburgh, signed a one-year contract as the team attempts to build depth and quality around young TE Leonard Pope. Euhus has 24 NFL appearances, including eight starts. The team also drafted TE Ben Patrick in the seventh round but he has sat out voluntary workouts because of a hamstring injury. Veteran TE Troy Bienemann, who has never played in an NFL game because of injuries, was signed. The Cardinals were spurned last winter by free agent TE Reggie Kelly, who re-signed with Cincinnati.

--WR Evan Prall was released.


It's very warm in St. Louis now, as the team goes through their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and gets ready for training camp. For tight end Randy McMichael, this is the way he likes it after spending the first part of his career in Miami. Of course, it's different than the day he arrived in St. Louis after signing with the Rams in March. "It was 87 when we left, and I get here and it's snowing," McMichael said. "It's an adjustment, but it's not a big deal."

It's also not a big deal that McMichael is going to a new team because Rams coach Scott Linehan was the Miami offensive coordinator in 2005. "When I had an opportunity to come here, I jumped on it," said McMichael, who signed with the Rams shortly after being released by the Dolphins. "I think it's a great system with a lot of playmakers that's going to elevate my game to another level. I'm excited to be a St. Louis Ram, and I'm just trying to start off on the right foot, get to know the guys and just find out where I fit in."

Still, McMichael was surprised when Miami cut him rather than pay a $3 million roster bonus. "It was a real shock to me and my family," he said. "But it's the NFL; you've just got to always prepare yourself for it. I'm not upset about it."

While some question McMichael's blocking ability, Linehan isn't in that group. "The thing he really doesn't get credit for is, he's a very, very good blocker in the run game and in the pass game," Linehan said.

McMichael said he worked on that part of his game, especially in the year he played under Linehan. "I really concentrated more on the blocking aspect of my game," McMichael said. "I think one thing that I can bring to the table is that I can pass-block one-on-one with defensive ends and I can run-block one-on-one with defensive ends. So the offensive linemen can stay inside and worry about the inside guys."

Knowing the system helped when on-field work began. Said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, "Randy kind of came in and hit the ground running. He's been real good out there." As for how much McMichael will see the ball in an offense that features running back Steven Jackson as well as wide receivers Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Drew Bennett, quarterback Marc Bulger said, "I'd rather have that problem than trying to find one guy. I'll make them happy. We'll definitely have the most talent on our side of the ball since I've been starting."


--One of the Rams' under-the-radar signings was the addition of safety Todd Johnson, who played last season for the NFC champion Bears. "I made a lot of friends there, and to see that team grow the way it did and turn into a contender was something fun to be a part of," Johnson said. "But I'm excited about the change." Johnson said he picked the Rams because "They were 8-8 last year and finished strong. A few plays here and there, and they were in the playoffs and in the thick of things. That's what I'm really excited about. I felt comfortable with where this team was going."

Coach Scott Linehan said he especially likes what Johnson brings to the table on special teams. While offensive coordinator with the Vikings, Linehan faced the Bears twice a season. "You had to make sure you blocked him," Linehan said. "You see a guy who also has the ability to go in if something happens to your starting safeties and play well. He also understands his role, to be the best backup safety he can be and the most effective special teams player you have on your roster."

--One of the team's priorities before the season is to lock up quarterback Marc Bulger to a long-term contract. Bulger's current deal has one year remaining at a salary of $3.95 million. Said Bulger, "I'd love to finish my career here. I know we're really, really close to getting something done, and I want to be a part of it."

Things might not be that close to being completed, but the Rams want it to happen. Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, when asked about the timing of a new deal, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "As far as we're concerned, the sooner the better." Concluded Bulger, "I know when I got my first deal, it was definitely comfortable to know that, 'OK, I'm going to be here at least for so long.' I think they want to keep the core group together, and they've done a good job of that. Hopefully, I'm in those plans."

Bulger's career completion percentage is 64.4, while Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's is 64.0. Manning's career passer rating of 94.4 isn't far ahead of Bulger's 91.3. Bulger has even averaged more passing yards per start than Manning, with 270.5 to 261.

"Yeah, my kids were a little upset about that. I missed it, too. Hopefully we can get back and make that trip again." -- OT Orlando Pace on he and his family missing the Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii last year because he was on injured reserve with a torn triceps.


The 49ers did not let reputations and past problems stand in the way of selecting two players on the second day of the draft. Even after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced his crackdown on player conduct, the 49ers selected two players -- cornerback Tarell Brown and running back Thomas Clayton -- in the draft who had much-publicized run-ins with the law.

"I am confident in our decision because we don't take character lightly on our football team," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.

"I don't think the objective of the commissioner is for everyone to run scared. I think his objective is to tell everyone, 'Take care of your shop and I won't have to, but if you don't take care of your shop, I will.' I couldn't agree more. We'll take care of our shop, believe me."

Brown saw his draft status drop from a first-day selection to point in which the 49ers selected him in the fifth round. He was suspended for a game at Texas his senior season after being arrested on weapons and marijuana charges. He was also arrested on marijuana charges leading up to the draft. All the charges were subsequently dropped. The 49ers met with Brown and felt confident that they were getting a player who would not give them any problems.

"Coach Nolan is big on character, and I feel that we're going to have a great relationship," Brown said. "Everything else is going to take care of itself. It won't be a problem. ... Before this incident I had never been in trouble. Now I have a great situation."

Clayton had a checkered final two seasons at Kansas State. He was suspended for a game after being convicted of misdemeanor battery stemming in which he struck a parking official with his car after driving away while the a wheel lock was being positioned on his car. Clayton also wound up in the doghouse after the fifth game of his senior season due to a reported poor relationship with head coach Ron Prince. The 49ers chose him in the sixth round.

"I went through a little situation my junior season, which I think I learned from," Clayton said. "Looking back on it, I know it was a mistake. But I think once teams got an opportunity to speak with me and get to know me, they knew that I'm a quality guy."


--The 49ers have already signed three of their nine draft picks, and they've started preliminary discussions with first-round choices Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. The 49ers have signed outside linebacker Jay Moore, defensive tackle Joe Cohen and cornerback Tarell Brown to four-year contracts. In signing those players to four-year contracts, it gives the team one more season to strike a long-term extension. With coach Mike Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan in charge, the 49ers have been aggressive about identifying the players they want to retain and signing them to extensions before their contracts expire.

--Offensive tackle Joe Staley did not know where he would begin his NFL career when he participated in the Senior Bowl in January. But he figured it would not hurt him to get to know his position coach. The 49ers coached the Senior Bowl's South squad, the team on which Staley was assigned to play despite hailing from Central Michigan. He built a nice rapport with 49ers offensive line coach George Warhop.

"I stayed after a couple of days to pick his brain because I didn't know who I was going to be picked by," Staley said. "We kind of built a little relationship and I'm looking forward to working with him again."

--Because Nolan has been pleased with the near-perfect participation in the club's offseason conditioning program, the 49ers will not hold a second minicamp nor will the club use all of their allotted days of organized team activities. The 49ers will begin OTA's next week, and will hold four days of practices for the next three weeks. Those 12 days of OTAs is two fewer than the maximum 14 in which the NFL allows.

"I got to say us. We beat the NFC West champions twice last year, in the Seahawks, and I was a big part of their success from a wide receiver standpoint. Bringing my stats and ability over here might put us over the top." -- 49ers receiver Darrell Jackson, formerly of the Seahawks, on who he believes is the favorite to win the NFC West this season.


The 49ers will keep their eye on the waiver wire, as they figure to pick up another player or two before the start of training camp. One position where the 49ers would like to add someone is fullback. The 49ers are happy with starter Moran Norris, but they don't have any proven depth behind him. The only other true fullback on the roster is first-year player Zak Keasey, who spent the past two seasons on the practice squad.

The 49ers could be interested in Obafemi Ayanbadejo, if the Cardinals release him before the start of camp. Currently, the 49ers can use running back Michael Robinson as a fullback, along with tight ends Delanie Walker and Billy Bajema. Top Stories