NFC West News & Notes - 6/16/07

In this week's News & Notes: The NFL finally lets Mike Nolan get suited up, the Seahawks get defensive (again), the Cardinals put forth their training camp strategy, and Scott Linehan makes a promise he hopes he'll be able to keep.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks' focus in free agency and the draft was, once again, on the defensive side of the ball. But it's crucial for them to remember that the Seahawks' offensive output dropped eight points a game last season from 2005.

Add to that the departure of receiver Darrell Jackson (traded to San Francisco) and tight end Jerramy Stevens (unsigned as a free agent), and the Seahawks are without players who scored 14 receiving touchdowns last season.

The eight-day June minicamp did not necessarily provide answers to how the Seahawks will succeed in rejuvenating the passing attack. Deion Branch was moved to flanker to make better use of his quickness in motion. But Branch missed a week of camp because bad weather in the Caribbean caused a late return from his honeymoon.

Nate Burleson, who finished with a meager 18 catches after being picked up from Minnesota last season, had a number of dropped passes during this minicamp. One receiver making a strong impression was last year's seventh-round pick, Ben Obomanu, who several times earned shouted praise from coaches for diving catches or bringing in the ball in heavy traffic.

Tight end Marcus Pollard is expected to replace Stevens, but there's little experience among the group of candidates for the second and possibly third tight end job.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks had planned to spend a final year at training camp in Cheney on the campus of Eastern Washington University, but when the preseason game in China was announced, it forced the Seahawks to plan for training camp at their Kirkland headquarters. Once the China trip was aborted by the NFL, the Seahawks were left with no choice but the continue with the plans to stay in Kirkland on the campus of Northwest University.

"They are staying here," Holmgren said. "We're not calling it 'Holmgren's Happy Vacationland.' It is training camp. We are going to have coaches on campus every night. I am going to stay here. I have to do what I do because that is what I have done for so many years. The players are in the dorm. We will tuck them every night."

--The month between the June minicamp and the start of training camp is the only extended period the coaching staff gets off during the year. "I am going to ride my motorcycle a little bit," Holmgren said of his plans. "On 4th of July, we usually have a family reunion in California at my cabin down there. Little things, little trips. (Wife) Kathy is working now so she is messing up our vacation plans. I have to stick around for her."

--Having training camp in western Washington instead of the eastern part of the state doesn't make much difference to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "The weather is definitely nicer here," Hasselbeck said. "The ground is probably softer. In a way Cheney had its benefits also. There were some nice things about Cheney. Either way it is training camp and it is going to be tough."

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"If you ever needed to know that losing a football game is not the end of the world, it's times like this. This is what reminds you of the things that are really important and what are the things you need to truly value in your life." -- Seahawks fullback Mack Strong on his wife dealing with the deaths of five family members in a recent car accident.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Coach Mike Holmgren thought some tweaking of the Seahawks' offensive scheme was timely. How did he know? "If I find myself kind of standing at practice and going, 'Oh, boy, if I have to look at that play (another time) I might faint,' then I know it's time to throw in some new stuff for sure," he said.

Holmgren said it's a process he goes through every few years, just to change things up. "In the era of free agency, it is a little more problematic because you have a little more roster change," he said. "A lot of it has to do with how much your quarterback can handle. I would say this is probably the first time we've done it (in Seattle)."

MEDICAL WATCH: Linebacker Lofa Tatupu was limited toward the end of minicamp practices with a sore hamstring. Holmgren said that most of the players who missed time because of injuries or rehabbing -- Marcus Tubbs, Patrick Kerney, Mike Green, Jordan Babineaux, Michael Boulware, Floyd Womack -- will be ready to compete at training camp.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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There won't be any surprises when the Cardinals line up for their first training-camp workout at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on July 29. "Basically where they've been lining up is how we'll start camp," coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the closing Organized Team Activity last week. That doesn't mean it will stay that way for long. There will be at least two players on each side of the ball pushing hard with a realistic chance to crack the first team.

First-round draft pick Levi Brown ended voluntary workouts on the second unit at right tackle. That should last only as long as it takes Brown to get to camp in pads. What remains to be seen are how much time Brown might miss during contract negotiation and whether the staff will leave him on the right side to compete with Oliver Ross or move him to the left to compete with Mike Gandy.

And if Brown were to emerge on the left, would Gandy then move to the right and push Ross to the sideline? And tight end Troy Bienemann caught the coaches' eyes during the spring. He comes to the Cardinals after having never appeared in an NFL game because of a string on injuries elsewhere. Tight end remains the position where the Cardinals are uneasy. They want veteran help to complement second-year Leonard Pope.

"Troy's kind of a guy who has laid the groundwork to get (a roster spot)," Whisenhunt said. "So you get into camp, and he makes a couple of plays like he's made and he shows that he can block. Then you're automatically going to want to move him up quickly."

The big question defensively is which big-body former underachieving Michigan nose tackle replaces the recently-cut Kendrick Clancy. It shapes up as a battle between Gabe Watson, who played sparingly as a rookie because he was grossly overweight (he has dropped 35 pounds) or second-round draft pick Alan Branch, who was regarded by most scouts as a top-15 talent in the draft but who fell out of the first round over questions about his consistency.

It was a gamble for the Cards to shed Clancy, a bit undersized for the middle of a 3-4 line, and rely on Watson and Branch.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cardinals return to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for their 2007 training camp. Players report the night of Friday, July 27. The first practice is Sunday, July 29. The Cardinals break camp on Thursday, Aug. 23.

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt and staff plan 28 practices during their first visit to the challenging 7,000-foot elevation at the base of the San Francisco Mountains. There will be no traditional intra-squad scrimmage. Instead, along the way will be "Red & White" practice from 11:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, which will conclude with a live goal-line session. Before practice, there will be a full-team autograph session. Whisenhunt also plans two Wednesday night practices, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8 from 7 to 9 p.m., outside at NAU's Lumberjack Stadium.

The coaches prefer to not scrimmage in the Walkup Skydome on an artificial surface, as past Cardinals teams have done. All practices are outside on the fields just east of the Skydome. When thunderstorms roll in, then the team practices inside the dome. All practices at NAU are open to the public. Admission and parking are free.

--Whisenhunt said he plans to play it very vanilla during preseason games as he gets his first read on his players in live action vs. another team. "I'm more interested in playing base stuff so we can see how our guys match up one-on-one against the other team, against other players," Whisenhunt said. "So you can get a better evaluation."

--The biggest negative of spring work is that TE Ben Patrick, the seventh-round draft pick, had a hamstring injury that precluded him from practicing. And tight end is a position of need, where a player has a chance to really make his mark. "That's unfortunate, but hopefully he'll pick some things up mentally," Whisenhunt said. "Santonio Holmes missed all the OTAs last year (in Pittsburgh), and he had a decent rookie season."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're always asked whether your preseason objective is to try to win the game, or not win the game and play guys. We're going to work on things in training camp that we're not going to show in preseason games because we don't want teams to see them." -- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, on his philosophy regarding preseason games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--None of the Cardinals' five drafted rookies has signed a contract. In fact, negotiations haven't even really begun yet for the first-day players. The Cardinals still may have to cut a player or two, or restructure a couple of contracts, in order to sign the first-day players.

--Don't look for the Cardinals to scheme during preseason games. Coach Ken Whisenhunt will still be attempting to learn exactly what he has when he gets his first look at his players against another opponent. Running base offense and defense is the best way to make those evaluations, Whisenhunt said. "We're not going to scheme. We're just going to say, 'This is what we're going to run,'" Whisenhunt said. "Sometimes it will match up and be OK, and sometimes it won't. I want to play well and look good, but it's always beneficial when you're going into that first (regular-season) game running things the other team hasn't prepared for."


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Rams coach Scott Linehan, entering his second season as a head coach, was clearly more comfortable in his second minicamp than his first. That's to be expected. Linehan experienced the requisite ups and downs last season, as the Rams got off to 4-1 start, lost seven of their next eight games, then won their final three. During the losing stretch, and after a particularly troubling 15-0 loss to Carolina, he turned over the play-calling to offensive coordinator Greg Olson.

There is now right or wrong way, as several NFL head coaches call their own offensive plays, including a few that plan to do that this year as Linehan did in 2006, in their first year as head coach.
Linehan just feels this was the best move for him and this team. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It was a matter of growing. And becoming the head coach. Not being the guy who got the head-coach job that's still the offensive coordinator. That's a big transformation. As the head coach, you are accountable, and you can set the standards, and you have to be knowledgeable in all areas, so you know when things need to be shaken up and adjusted on offense, defense and special teams. But if you hire someone to be a coordinator, then let them do their job.

"And you have to be willing to listen. I've encouraged our coaches not to be thin-skinned, just like I shouldn't be. If you think your way is the only way and you're not the problem when things aren't going well, then that's when things really start to disintegrate within. That's what I learned the most last year. Not so much giving up the play-calling, but maybe being the guy who got the job because he was an offensive coordinator, and who was trying to figure out how to be the head coach while he was still the coordinator. You have to become the head coach and take on more of a role throughout the entire team."

He maintained an even keel through the losses, just as he did when the team was winning. "There's going to be some good days, and some trying days," he said. "It's easy to be sky high when things are good. It's hard to be consistent when things aren't going well. Being steady gets you through to another level. You don't disintegrate and go the other way and cause other people in our group to implode.

Bottom line is, if you take accountability as a team, it gets you through the tests and the stress. That starts with the coach." Linehan will spend some of the down time between now and training camp attending games being played by his sons. His family has quickly become part of the St. Louis community.

Still, knowing the reality of being the child of a coach, Linehan said his 12-year-old son Matthew recently asked a favor of his dad. Said Linehan, "He told me to win a bunch of games and get to the Super Bowl, because he wants to stay in St. Louis at least long enough to graduate from high school."

NOTES, QUOTES

--CB Tye Hill missed all three days of the minicamp because of a staph infection on the back of his leg. "It's nothing really major, just something that's got to be taken care of," said Hill. "It could be from a bug bite or an ingrown hair, something like that. The important thing now is just to heal it." Four years ago, five Rams players were affected with staph infections, causing missed games and practices. "We talk about (them) all the time, almost to the point of being paranoid about it, which is OK with me," coach Scott Linehan said. Hill was still able to attend meetings, and was treated with an IV when the infection was diagnosed and then medicine.

--CB Lenny Walls, signed to a one-year contract in the off-season, had a lot of extra reps in minicamp with Tye Hill sidelined by a staph infection. Walls is 6-4, and coach Scott Linehan likes his size and "his long arms. It's hard on receivers getting off the line of scrimmage vs. a guy that utilizes his size. Ask Torry (Holt) and Isaac (Bruce) that one. The fact that he's played and started a number of games and has a background playing at a high level for some good defenses helps too."

--QB Marc Bulger grew up in the Pittsburgh area and is a good golfer, so he's familiar with Oakmont where this year's U.S. Open is being played June 14-17. Bulger planned on attending.
"I know the course," Bulger said. "I'd rather watch it on TV, but you have to say you went." He said he once shot a 76 there, but noted, "It wasn't from the tips (back tees) and the rough wasn't like it is now. If I broke 100 now, I'd be happy."

--After undergoing knee surgery in February, wide receiver Torry Holt took it relatively easy during off-season workouts. But, at the conclusion of minicamp, Holt is enthused with how he feels. "I was really excited in how things turned out this final day here," he said. "Today (Thursday), I turned it up a little more than the past couple of days, but I'm excited. I still have some soreness inside where I had the meniscus cleaned up, but that's going to be there. It's just a matter of me getting more reps and running more and reintroducing the knee to those types of cuts that I am used to doing. I think I will be fine.

"For the most part, things are on schedule. I've got one more month to heal up and really strengthen it before we start training camp. So I'm going to try to take full advantage of it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You guys know Torry. He's an unbelievable player, but he's really an unbelievable person. What you hear sometimes isn't really what it is. But perception is reality with him. He's a big-time, high quality, one of the best receivers in the game and it's hard to find a better person. You don't see that as much as you'd like to around the league. I'm proud he's on our team. I admired him before I got here and now that I know him better it's all real and that makes it even more impressive." -- Rams coach Scott Linehan on WR Torry Holt.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MEDICAL WATCH:
OT Orlando Pace and DE James Hall participated in minicamp minus the red jersey they had been wearing throughout off-season workouts. The red jersey is a reminder to teammates that any contact is off limits. "Orlando and James, we want to kind of test their limits a little bit now as opposed to waiting," coach Scott Linehan said. "It's good for their confidence."

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, who had shoulder surgery, still participated with a red jersey, but is expected to be ready for training camp. DT Tim Sandidge, allocated to NFL Europa, returned from overseas after being placed on injured reserve late in the season because of a knee injury. Sandidge was at minicamp, but did not participate.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Receiver Darrell Jackson does not seem too concerned he has been unable to get on the practice field with his new teammates this off-season. Jackson has been held out of the 49ers' on-field program to let his turf-toe injury heal. The former-Seahawk sustained a badly hyper-extended left big toe Dec. 10 against the Cardinals. He was inactive for the final three regular season games and played sparingly in the Seahawks' first playoff game before leading the team with four catches in a season-ending loss to the Bears.

The 49ers acquired Jackson in a draft-day trade with their division rivals for a fourth-round draft pick. When asked if Jackson expects to be ready for the opening of training camp, he said, "I expect to play now, but I'm following their (team athletic trainers) timetable and doing what's best for me."

Still, Jackson admits he still feels discomfort in the toe. He said surgery has not seriously been discussed. The 49ers believe Jackson is on schedule to step on the field for the opening of training camp. He did not have a structured rehabilitation program with the Seahawks.

Jackson and the 49ers' other new veteran receiver, Ashley Lelie, have not done much this off-season due to injuries. Lelie sustained a quadriceps strain on one of the first routes he ran in the team's first minicamp. He has rarely seen the field since. He tried to return on the first day of the Organized Team Activities, but he aggravated the injury.

Quarterback Alex Smith has not had much of an opportunity to develop an on-field rapport with two veterans expected to be among his top targets this season. "Obviously, D-Jack won't be going until camp," Smith said. "With Ashley, I think we got enough with him throwing on air, now it'll be a feel for him when a guy's on him."

Jackson said the process of developing chemistry with his quarterback is something that takes place over time, so he said missing a couple months in the off-season won't be a big deal in the long run. "His job is to hit the open receiver and my job is to run the route and get open," Jackson said today. "As far as chemistry and having the same timing, that'll come as the year goes on.

"That comes with time. You don't get it in one day; you don't get it in one week; you don't get it in a training camp. It comes over time. Some people pick it up early, and some people it takes two or three years to develop chemistry."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Mike Nolan has been granted permission to wear a suit for all eight 49ers regular-season home games this season. When asked if he'll eventually be allowed to wear the attire for all 16 games, Nolan said, "We'll see." The league made the announcement after Reebok, the official sideline clothing supplier for NFL coaches and players, took a lot of heat for their role in preventing Nolan and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio from wearing a suit for more than just two games. The NFL said it was their decision all along, and not Reebok's.

Niners fans were rallying for Nolan to wear a suit for the team's season-opener, a Monday night game against the Cardinals. There still appears to be support for the movement, but it would be a show of support for Nolan instead of a protest against the NFL and Reebok. "If they're louder because of it, that would great," Nolan said. "Whatever excites the fan, I'm all for. Like I said, my focus is on winning games this fall. Anything that generates enthusiasm and participation in the game and all that is great. It's part of the fan experience."

--Nolan said he has wanted to wear a suit to show his "respect for the NFL, the 49ers and the coaches who have done it in the past." The gesture is even more poignant because Nolan's father, Dick Nolan, wore a jacket and tie on the sideline throughout his 11 seasons as a head coach. The gesture is more poignant now. Dick Nolan is battling Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer.
"It's not directed solely because of my father," Nolan said. "I love my father. My father knows that. I don't need to do something like this to prove it."

--The 49ers are not actively seeking to trade offensive linemen Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley, Nolan said. Both are in the final years of their contracts, and are far apart from the 49ers in extension talks.
"It's our anticipation and hope they that they'll be with us this fall, and hopefully longer," Nolan said.

--WR Marcus Maxwell continues his impressive play in NFL Europa. Maxwell headed into the final regular-season week ranking first in the league, among qualifying receivers, with 17.0 yards per reception. He is second in the league with seven touchdowns, fifth in receiving yards (459) and eighth in receptions (27).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really haven't thought about him that much. The guys that have been practicing, even the guys that are new and may be a long shot, at least you think about them a little bit. But when the guy hasn't set foot on the field, it's out of sight, out of mind, from my standpoint." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on where injured Ashley Lelie stands among the team's other receivers.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Newly signed defensive lineman Sam Rayburn is learning a new position, but he does not envision a difficult transition. "It doesn't seem like it will be too difficult," Rayburn said. "I'm just moving one man over. I think I can handle it." Rayburn was a defensive tackle during his four seasons with the Eagles. He signed with the 49ers a month after being released. The 49ers plan for him to compete for a backup spot behind Bryant Young at left defensive end.

MEDICAL WATCH: Backup cornerback B.J. Tucker sustained a torn pectoral muscle and will undergo season-ending surgery. His rehabilitation will be four to six months, coach Mike Nolan said. ... Defensive end Melvin Oliver will undergo season-ending surgery on the ACL in his right knee.


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