The development of one cornerback named Kelly (Jennings) made another cornerback named Kelly (Herndon) expendable for the Seattle Seahawks. The 2006 first-round pick out of Miami, Jennings is penciled in as the starter at right corner as the Hawks work through their last minicamp before training camp opens in late July.
The 30-year-old Herndon started 31 regular-season games for the Seahawks and broke a Super Bowl record with a 76-yard interception return for a score in Super Bowl XL. Herndon went down with an ankle injury before the final game last season. Veteran Marcus Trufant moves back to the left corner position to make way for Jennings. Trufant played left corner in his early years with the Hawks. After several injuries to his right shoulder, he was moved to the right side, a position that was expected to better protect his "outside" shoulder.
The Seahawks saved a million dollars by cutting Herndon. Using their second-round pick in the recent draft on Maryland's Josh Wilson made the Hawks more comfortable with their depth at corner.
"I think we saw enough last year to see he is a good football player," Holmgren said of Jennings. "He really is a very competitive guy. Now that Herndon is gone it is pretty much his position to lose. He is fine. I think in your second year playing the corner position, he comes in with more confidence. He played against some very good people last year and should be fine."
Holmgren suggested that Herndon's release was less related to Jennings' advancement than to Herndon's desire to be a starter.
"We didn't do one because of the other," Holmgren said. "They both can play. Herndon did some good things for us. Kelly Jennings looked as though he can play. We feel comfortable with him playing and confident in his ability to play but that didn't have a lot to do with releasing Kelly Herndon. (Herndon) sees himself as a starter and two corners start, even though the third corner plays a lot. He was never a problem or anything. We want guys that are really enthusiastic and are really happy about their situation as best we can. We did what we did."
Although he's 35, tight end Marcus Pollard is anticipating a big season in his first year with the Seahawks. He caught a meager 12 passes with Detroit last season in an offense that didn't exploit his receiving skills. Coach Mike Holmgren saw Pollard as the kind of player who could pull in 45-50 passes a season. After having worked in two minicamps with the Hawks, Pollard agrees.
"Forty or 50 balls is definitely (feasible)," Pollard said.
That would threaten the Seahawks' record for tight ends, which is 46, set by Itula Mili in 2003. Pollard's career high was 47 with Indianapolis in 2001. "I feel I'm more involved," Pollard said of his first impression of the Seahawks' attack. "I feel like I'm a big part of the running game, passing game, pass blocking. I feel like I'm a key cog in the wheel making everything go. Here, I think I've got an opportunity to really make an impact catching balls, blocking and doing all the things that get us to the Super Bowl."
--Holmgren declined to specifically comment on the allegations that Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is involved in dog fighting. But he admitted that dog fighting was "beyond my realm of understanding." "That is so far removed from my world," he said. "I have a wonderful dog. I can't imagine doing anything like that. I know very little about it other than what I read. Clearly, it would upset me if it was true. That is all I know about it."
--Holmgren isn't about to baby the rookies or new players when it comes to knowing the playbook during minicamps. "We are throwing in a bunch of new stuff this week," Holmgren said of the June minicamp. "I challenged the coaches to do that. With our team, our base stuff most of the guys know it in their sleep. We don't always execute it perfectly but they know it. Now, I want to challenge them and get them thinking a little bit about some new stuff so when we get to training camp in July there is some retention there."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is quieter. There are not as many jokes. It is a different group. We miss Tobeck completely. Obviously we are going to miss him as a player, but the show has to go on I guess. It is a big void losing a personality like that." -- Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on the retirement of team joker/center Robbie Tobeck.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Hawks are working around several absences during minicamp. Veteran fullback Mack Strong has missed time to attend a funeral for five members of his wife's family who died in a car accident.
Receiver Deion Branch was on his honeymoon. Defensive end Darryl Tapp missed because of family reasons. With Strong gone, Leonard Weaver is getting a chance to show himself as a potential replacement when Strong retires. Weaver had impressed as a rookie but missed last season with injury. After the release of cornerback Kelly Herndon, the Hawks added a lineman, Kyle Williams, a rookie free agent from USC.
MEDICAL WATCH: Utility offensive lineman Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack had arthroscopic surgery on both knees but is expected to return in time for training camp. Safety Marcus Green (Lis Franc surgery) is easing back into drills after missing all of last season. DE Patrick Kerney (pectoral surgery) was held out of drills during the first week of minicamp. C Chris Spencer (shoulder) is participating in individual work but being held out of "team" drills.
Cutting starting nose tackle Kendrick Clancy suddenly has elevated second-year nose tackle Gabe Watson to the first team, where he is expected to get a strong challenge from his former college teammate, Alan Branch. Most observers expect the rookie Branch, a second-round pick, to take the job during training camp, although Watson dropped more than 30 pounds this off-season and appears ready for the battle.
That is among a multitude of changes in the Cardinals' defensive front seven as they complete their allotted organized team activities. In the 3-4 alignment, which they plan to use extensively, Darnell Dockett is left end, Antonio Smith right end. Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby are the inside linebackers. Converted ends Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry are the strong and weak outside linebackers, respectively.
The Cardinals do not plan to abandon their old 4-3 alignment. When they use it, it's Berry at right end and Darryl Blackstock, a converted outside linebacker, at left end. Hayes is the middle linebacker with Okeafor and Dansby at the strong and weak outside spots, respectively.
The team also made changes up front on the offensive side. The first unit, tackle to tackle from the left: Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Al Johnson, Deuce Lutui and Oliver Ross.
Of course, that's likely to be the case only as long as it takes rookie tackle Levi Brown, the Cardinals' first-round pick, to get to training camp in pads. Brown could make the first unit on either side and send Gandy or Ross to the bench.
"I commend the guys on how they've worked and the participation we've had. This has been a good start," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We've had a lot of good things on the practice field during the off season and the next stage for us is training camp. There is a lot of optimism right now, but once again we haven't done anything yet. We haven't played a game and we still have a lot that we have to learn about ourselves.
"That is one of the tests as a team. A lot of what we do in training camp is going to be dependent on how they come back in shape. I think they've seen how far they've come with the off-season program, so I anticipate they'll continue to work during this period. That is where you build that trust with the team. They have to understand their responsibilities as an individual to continue to be in shape."
The release of three veteran players this week is a clear indication that the Cardinals are headed in a new direction under coach Ken Whisenhunt. But it was hardly a surprise. There had been hints for weeks that the Cardinals were headed this way.Starting nose tackle Kendrick Clancy, who was asked to take a pay cut and refused, was atop a growing list of players at his position and he was having a difficult time staying there. Bigger, stronger younger players -- including Gabe Watson and rookie Alan Branch -- are reedy to make a move. Clancy was cut.
Left guard Milford Brown, a 12-game starter last season, suddenly became a backup after an infusion of tackles that caused Reggie Wells to be moved back to left guard, where Brown had played last year. Brown, too, was asked and refused to take a pay cut. And he, too, was cut.
And fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, the starter the past three seasons, is hardly the classic road grader at his spot. He's a fine receiver who no doubt will latch on with a West Coast offense somewhere. But Whisenhunt wants a lead blocker for Edgerrin James and the Cardinals now have a few stockpiled. Ayanbadejo no longer fit in. He was cut.
"Any time you have a change in coaching, your philosophy is going to change," Whisenhunt said. "We're doing some things different offensively and defensively. We discussed restructuring so it would be more in line with what we think their roles would be."
--OLB/DE Bertrand Berry was already learning one new position this off-season. The former Pro Bowl DE is converting to OLB in the Cardinals' new 3-4 defensive schemes. Now Berry is learning a second position: broadcaster. He is among 20 current and former NFL players who will be involved in NFL Broadcast Boot Camp June 18-21 at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
The program is being directed by the NFL Broadcasting Department and will cover a wide range of topics with instructors from all of the NFL's broadcasting partners -- CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, Sirius Satellite Radio, Westwood One Radio, as well as local radio and TV. It will include hands-on work in areas including tape study, editing, show preparation, radio production, control-room operation, studio preparation, production meetings, field reporting and game preparation. Each player also will tape segments as a studio and game analyst and will take part in a networking session with television executives.
"We continue to look for ways to help educate players and develop their skills for post-NFL careers," said NFL Vice President of Player and Employee Development Michael Haynes. "The NFL's broadcasting partners' support of this program will provide our players with a foundation for understanding the sports broadcasting business."
Player enrollment criteria include previous participation in NFL Player Development programs, prior media experience, essays and NFL playing experience.
Among professional broadcasters working the camp are James Brown of CBS, Dick Vermeil of ESPN and the NFL Network, and Ron Jaworski of ESPN.
--The Cardinals may not be in the Super Bowl but they certainly are seeing, and benefiting, from the power of the Super Bowl. For the second straight year they have sold out all of their season tickets at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played in February. Cardinals season-ticket holders are eligible for a Super Bowl ticket lottery. The Cardinals have set aside 3,000 single-game tickets for each home game. Those on the season-ticket waiting list get first shot at those before the general public gets its chance in July.
The prospect of getting Super Bowl tickets has been a dangling carrot in the Phoenix area, where the Cardinals traditionally were at the bottom of the league in home attendance before they moved into their new building last year. Of course, by missing out a couple of weeks ago to host the 2011 Super Bowl -- Dallas got the nod over Arizona -- the Cardinals might actually have to put a winner on the field in coming years to keep the turnstiles clicking.
At least until they are awarded their next Super Bowl to host.
--It remains to be seen whether QB Matt Leinart can avert further shoulder injuries like the one that sidelined him in the season finale and blister foes in coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense. But Leinart did blister his fingers taking batting practice with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he was joined by Whisenhunt and WR Anquan Boldin. Leinart actually knocked a couple out of the park. And he had blisters on his hands to show for it the next day at a Cardinals Organized Team Activity workout.
Whisenhunt and Boldin each hit several to the warning track but none over the fence. One of Leinart's shots traveled 400 feet. "I haven't played baseball since I was 13 or 14 years old," Leinart said. "This was a blast. It is kind of like being a kid again, walking out into the ballpark to take batting practice in a big-league stadium. I'll tell this story for a long time and the homers will get longer every time I do."
--Leinart attended nearly every off-season workout and practice. He did not throw well early, coming back from late-season shoulder injury that did not require surgery. "I was more confident and comfortable as practices went by," he said. "The biggest thing as you learn a new offense is trust, because concepts are the same but routes may be run differently and the landmarks might be different. So we really have to trust each other and that's something we've built in the last month."
--As the Cardinals took the field for what they thought would be their final "voluntary" practice, Whisenhunt called a huddle and told them, "Guys, you've been working hard and you've earned this. Today is going to be our first annual 'We Ain't Practicing, We're Going Bowling Tournament.'" Whisenhunt later explained, "You get into a little bit of a grind with these practices, and we've had such good participation that you want to give them a little reward for doing that"
Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, a frequent bowler, said, "I wanted to go home and get my ball. That's an advantage when you have your own ball because you're used to the finger holes in it. I am used to the lanes, but if I had my ball I would have more of an advantage."
It shouldn't have been a great surprise to the players, though. At the end of one organized team workout, Whisenhunt conducted a field-goal kicking contest between the offense and defense. After another, he had a punt-catching contest between linemen from each side of the ball. "Competition increases when they get into any kind of situation like this," said Whisenhunt. "Anytime those competitive juices are flowing, especially in a team environment, that's what we're trying to get these guys together and form some chemistry. This is just another way of doing it."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's not the prototype fullback you're looking for. We had some young guys in here we really wanted to get a feel for. That's ultimately what it came down to. I wanted to give 'Femi' a chance to get with a team that maybe better matches his skills." -- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, on releasing FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo, a three-year starter who is more of a receiver than the blocker that Whisenhunt wants at the position.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Reggie Terry was hired as the Cardinals' Director of Football Administration. Terry spent the past seven seasons at Syracuse on the football operations staff. He joined Syracuse in 2000 as Director of Football Operations and Player Development and was promoted to Associate Director of Athletics for Football Operations in 2006. Terry is working on his Ph.D. in higher education. He worked with the New York Jets in 1996 as an intern in the football operations department and with the NFL's Management Council as an intern in 1997.
--FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo, the starter the past three seasons, was released because his skills do not match those that coaches on the new staff want at the position. They are looking for the classic blocking FB. Ayanbadejo is more of a receiver.
--LG Milford Brown, a 12-game starter last season, was released largely because he refused to take a pay cut. Brown appeared to be headed for the bench when Reggie Wells was moved back to LG from RT, where Wells started late last season. Miami has expressed interest in Brown.
--NT Kendrick Clancy, the starter last season, was released largely because he refused to take a pay cut. A bit undersize and challenged by two younger, bigger players with more upside -- Gabe Watson and Alan Brach -- Clancy was in danger of losing his job. Clancy quickly signed with New Orleans.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
It was only a matter of time, and that time came June 5 when the Rams finally released cornerback Jerametrius Butler. A fifth-round pick in 2001, Butler became a starter in 2003, but suffered a knee injury early in training camp in 2005 and missed the entire season. He was ready for the start of camp in 2006, but suffered an early hamstring injury that cost him key time.
When the season opened, Travis Fisher and Fakhir Brown were the starters, and eventually first-round pick Tye Hill started when Fisher was injured. Butler played in just six games and was often inactive. He was a no-show for the team's entire off-season program. During the off-season, the Rams signed veteran corners Lenny Walls and Mike Rumph, and also used a third-round pick on Jonathan Wade. Ron Bartell also showed improvement in 2006, his second season.
"It was a business decision, and we felt comfortable because of other guys at the position," coach Scott Linehan said. "It's the best for him to go out and get a fresh start. Some guys that have been here have taken advantage of opportunities. It's nothing personal." Within two days, Butler had signed with the Redskins, the team that gave him an offer sheet worth $15 million when he was a restricted free agent in 2004. The Rams matched the offer, which included a $4 million signing bonus. He will count $667,000 against the Rams' cap this year and $1.33 million in 2008.
Said Butler, "I'm excited to be in Washington. Three years ago, (they) gave me an offer sheet and the Rams matched it on the last day. Finally, I'm here. Yeah, they've got a few DBs, but I'm just happy I've got an opportunity to come to a team that wants me."
--The Rams concluded their OTA days Thursday (June 7), and will hold their mandatory minicamp June 12-14. Asked about what he hopes to accomplish in minicamp, coach Scott Linehan said, "Our goal after Thursday (June 14) is to be ready mentally and assignment-wise to go play a game. Then, in training camp, you hope to develop your team attitude and toughness."
--The release of cornerback Jerametrius Butler was good news for rookie running back Brian Leonard, the Rams' second-round pick.
Leonard had originally been assigned uniform No. 36, but with Butler gone, Leonard was able to get his No. 23 jersey, the number Leonard wore at Rutgers.
--Coach Scott Linehan said the team will be careful with wide receiver Torry Holt during training camp this year. Holt is entering his ninth season and turned 31 on June 5. He had arthroscopic knee surgery early in the off-season and skipped the Pro Bowl. Said Linehan, "He made a big commitment. He missed the Pro Bowl because he wanted to accelerate his rehab. He's at a point in his career where we've got to manage it and make sure he's able to finish a long, grueling season."
--Left tackle Orlando Pace, coming back from a torn triceps suffered during the 2006 season, took some limited reps with the first unit in the team part of practice. Pace and defensive end James Hall, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury while with the Lions last season, have both been cleared for contact work.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Three years ago, we made a real attempt to try to get Jerametrius. Everything we saw at that point, we really liked. He made some great plays on the ball." -- Redskins coach Joe Gibbs on the addition of former Rams CB Jerametrius Butler.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Defensive lineman Sam Rayburn is coming to the 49ers at an opportune time. When Rayburn agreed to sign a one-year contract with the 49ers, one of the players he figured to be in competition against was Melvin Oliver, who started 14 games for the 49ers last season.
Oliver, however, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Organized Team Activities. He will miss the season with the injury. Rayburn, who played defensive tackle in his four seasons with the Eagles, is expected to compete for a backup job at left end behind Bryant Young.
The defensive line was considered one of the team's weak spots throughout this off-season. The club signed Aubrayo Franklin, a backup with the Ravens, to give the 49ers their first true nose tackle in more than a decade. While some draft pundits thought the 49ers would select Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker with the No. 11 overall selection, the club instead went with linebacker Patrick Willis. They addressed the defensive end position in the third round with the selection of Ray McDonald of Florida.
Last year, the 49ers kept eight defensive linemen on their 53-man roster. With the conversion to a 3-4 defense, the club figures to retain fewer players at those spots this season.
"You need to have five, for sure," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Some teams will have six; some will have seven." Currently, Young, Franklin and right end Marques Douglas are lining up with the first unit during OTAs. Defensive ends Ronald Fields and McDonald, a third-round draft pick, are working with the second team, along with nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga.
The 49ers could keep as few as five defensive linemen because they have several outside linebackers who are capable of playing on the line, too. Tully Banta-Cain, Parys Haralson, Roderick Green and Jay Moore are slated to play outside linebacker, but each has experience at defensive line, too. Also, the 49ers have the option of moving Damane Duckett back to defensive line. Duckett played six games last season but was moved to offensive tackle this off-season.
--Nolan, frustrated with his freedom to wear clothes what he wants on the sideline, lashed out at Reebok, the official clothing supplier for the NFL. Reebok has told Nolan that he and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio can again where suits on the sideline for just two games this season. "I'd feel a lot better if they just put it to rest and let me just do it all the time," Nolan said. "Because it's ridiculous they don't. We're trying to send the right message all the time. And it's ignorant for them not to recognize that. Reebok's never had more attention given to them."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that the thinks Nolan looks good on the sideline in a suit. But Goodell, apparently, has very little power when it comes to determining what coaches can wear. "It's Reebok," Nolan said. "Reebok pays the league for the rights to do it. ... Roger has enough on his plate right now (with the league's conduct policy). (But) I think it does sort of lean toward the conduct issue."
Nolan wants to wear a suit, in part, as a way to honor his father. Dick Nolan, a former NFL head coach, wore a suit on the sideline. Dick Nolan is in declining health, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, as well as prostate cancer.
--Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen has spent very little time this off-season around the 49ers' complex. He has not participated in the team's off-season conditioning program, eschewing a potential $100,000 bonus. And he will not attend three weeks of organized team activities due to personal reasons, coach Mike Nolan said. Allen is not considering retirement, nor does he have an issue with his contract, Nolan said. "We've spoken and we'll continue to speak," Nolan said.
"He's working out and staying in shape. So I'm not concerned too much about that right now. Larry's got a $60,000 (weight room) at his own house, so he probably doesn't want to waste it."
--Nolan has said he wants to limit Frank Gore's carries to fewer than 300 this season. He carried 312 times last year, setting a franchise record for rush attempts in a season. With Gore signed through 2011, it only seems reasonable that the 49ers would want to limit his touches. But Nolan mentioned this week that Gore could touch the ball 20 to 25 times a game.
"I'm going for quality, not quantity, so we'll see," Nolan said.
--Center Eric Heitmann returned to the practice field earlier than expected when he was cleared to participate in OTAs. Heitmann sustained a broken right tibia in a late-season game at Seattle. He underwent surgery later that night. When asked if his recovery is ahead of schedule, Heitmann said, "I'd say so. It's been 5 1/2 months and it's typically a six-month rehabilitation."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The one thing about Darrell is that he's much more accomplished than those other guys, as an NFL receiver -- even (Ashley) Lelie, he's much more accomplished than him. Not that I'm not concerned about it because that body language and that chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver are so important. But at the same time, I think (Jackson) will catch up and make up the ground quicker than the others." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on veteran receiver Darrell Jackson missing on-field work while rehabilitating a turf-toe injury from last season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers do not have any interest in adding veteran fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, whom the Cardinals released. The 49ers are on the lookout for help at fullback, where they have no proven backup behind starter Moran Norris. But the 49ers are also reluctant to have a veteran salary behind Norris. Last year, 11-year veteran Chris Hetherington did not play after starting the first two games of the season when Norris established himself as the starter.
The 49ers have two converted linebackers vying for spots on the roster at fullback. Zak Keasey, who played linebacker at Princeton, has spent two seasons on the 49ers' practice squad as a fullback. Also, the club moved Steve Dildine, an undrafted rookie from Washington State, to fullback for the first week of organized team activities.
The 49ers could also use running back Michael Robinson and tight ends Delanie Walker and Billy Bajema at fullback, if needed.