On draft day, Seahawks offensive coordinator Gil Haskell seemed almost giddy about the player taken in the sixth round: receiver Jordan Kent. "My favorite pick is Jordan Kent," Haskell said. "He's 6-5 and fast."
"Fast" might not be adequate to describe Kent. A track All-American at Oregon, Kent has run a sub-47 second 400 meters, has medaled at the NCAA championships on sprint relay teams, and also long jumped in excess of 25 feet. Oh, and he also lettered in basketball (his father, Ernie, is Oregon's head basketball coach) and football. But even Haskell and Kent's strongest supporters would admit that he's going to be a project as he only started playing football in 2005.
"It was something I always wanted to try to do but I never got the chance in high school," Kent said. "I figured I would give it a shot ... I had nothing to lose. The more I played it, the more I kind of fell in love with the game and everything about it, from the competitiveness to the team aspect of it."
Kent made 44 catches as a flanker at Oregon in 2006, while also serving as a threat on reverses. As one of the rare Division I athletes to letter in three sports, Kent faced a decision regarding which might provide the best chance of making a living.
"When I looked at the three sports, (football) was probably my best chance," he said. "I did track all right, but you have to be at the world/Olympic level to really make a living at it. And in basketball, I was a good role player, but it wasn't going to be anything that would lead to the NBA or anything like that. After a while, football just seemed to make the most sense."
Kent sees his skills in track and basketball having some obvious carryovers to football. "With track, it is the speed. For someone who is 6-5, I have pretty good speed. I can stretch the field. My quickness comes from basketball. All those years of working defensive drills and the footwork of basketball really helps with the foot speed."
He laughs now when he recalls his father's first reaction to his decision to try out for the Oregon football team. "He thought I was crazy," he said.
CAMP CALENDAR: July 26, rookies and quarterbacks report. July 28, all players report. July 29, first practice. Aug. 4, scrimmage, 5 p.m. Memorial Stadium. Aug. 8, open practice, 8:45 a.m. Husky Stadium. Aug. 24, camp breaks.
--Wide receiver D.J. Hackett, coming off a 45-catch, four-touchdown season, will step into the starting role now that Darrell Jackson is gone to San Francisco.
"I was very happy with Hackett's progress last year," general manager Tim Ruskell said. "I thought he came in there and just really developed his game to another level. The coaches are excited about him and he is ready to take on a bigger role. Every year since I've been here, he has just gotten better and better. Who knows where the limit is there?"
--Rookie guard Mansfield Wrotto concedes that there aren't too many offensive linemen with such formal given names. Born in Liberia, Wrotto's parents emigrated when he was young to avoid civil strife. But the handle "Mansfield" isn't going to last long in the NFL. "When I was at the combine, I introduced myself to one of the coaches from the Raiders and he said Mansfield was too formal," Wrotto said. "He said he was going to call me 'Manny' and I just went with the flow."
--One rookie with limited experience at his position is outside linebacker Will Herring, who played three seasons at Auburn at strong safety. The linebacker reads are "just so much different than at safety," he said. "Run-pass recognition is a lot different from 12 yards back to five, and that is one thing that I definitely feel like I improved on."
Herring converted to linebacker as a senior to fill a weak spot in the lineup, and could see the growth on a weekly basis. "I developed my instincts as a safety; at linebacker, it was a growing process from Game 1 to Game 13 ... and I felt like I was a different player by the end of the season," he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is the nature of change in the NFL and we have to keep it going and realize it is a new team every year and just try and get to know each other as fast as we can." - Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on the number of new players on the offensive unit.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks and representatives for kicker Josh Brown were unable to reach a deal on a long-term contract extension, leaving Brown to play this season under the one-year franchise tender of $2.078 million.
Brown kicked four game-winning field goals in 2006. Of his six misses in 31 attempts, three were blocked as Brown worked with a new snapper (Derek Rackley) and holder (Ryan Plackemeier).
Defensive back Rich Gardner and center Nick Jones were released.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--OG Mansfield Wrotto: 4/124; $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009), and $550,000 (2010) and a $417,000 signing bonus.
--LB Will Herring: 5/161; $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009), and $550,000 (2010). and a $163,000 signing bonus.
--WR Courtney Taylor: 6/197; $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009), and $550,000 (2010) and a $90,000 signing bonus.
--WR Jordan Kent: 6/210; $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009), and $550,000 (2010) and a $73,000 signing bonus.
--OG Steve Vallos: 7/232 $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009), and $550,000 (2010) and a $46,000 signing bonus.
The Cardinals have had four winning records in a quarter century (5-4 in 1982, 8-7 in 1983, 9-7 in 1984, 9-7 in 1998). They have won one playoff game in a half-century (20-7 at Dallas in January, 1999). They haven't won as many as 10 games in 30 seasons (10-4, 1976). And they are on their eighth head coach in 20 years.
Yet unlike his predecessors, first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't preaching the need to change a culture as he heads into his initial training camp. "I don't worry so much about changing the culture," Whisenhunt said. "I think if you are consistent in approach in preparing for the games and have a handle on the players there are enough good guys on the football team that want to do it the right way and it will take care of itself."
The roster has been upgraded. Most of the players are from winning pedigrees in college or at other pro stops. The Cardinals play in a second-year, state-of-the-art facility, where the Super Bowl will be played in February. It is sold out for the season, just as it was in its debut year, largely to ticket holders hoping to claim Super Bowl tickets in a lottery.
In Whisenhunt and Co., the Cardinals have a staff full of coaches who won a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh. "There are things in place," Whisenhunt said. "We have a lot of good young football players. We have a good young quarterback. And we retooled the weight room. There are a lot of things from a new perspective that people are excited about, even the players. It makes it easier for them to buy into your program."
Whisenhunt is making bold moves. He is switching the defense to a 3-4. He has retooled an anemic offensive line. He'll have Edgerrin James running behind a fullback for the first time in years in hopes of building a sound rushing threat to complement one of the league's strongest passing threats. Indeed, a lot to be excited about. But nearly every other newcomer through the Cardinals coaching turnstile has gone to his first camp touting a renewed effort to win. And each has been spit back out a loser. As former defensive end Simeon Rice once said on his way out the door, the Cardinals are an NFL backwater, and it's hard to argue.
Whisenhunt's first training camp will be about setting a tone, creating a mindset and paddling out of that NFL backwater - and one of his first steps isn't making him popular. Some players are griping about the team's first activity at camp: a 300-yard conditioning test - six 50-yard dashes -- in a prescribed combined time based on position on Saturday (July 28). It's a tough opening at the team's camp at 7,200-foot elevation in Flagstaff, Ariz.
CAMP CALENDAR: July 27: All players report to Flagstaff, Ariz. July 29: First practice at Northern Arizona University, 1-3 p.m. Aug. 1 and Aug. 8: Practices from 7-9 p.m. under the lights outside at Lumberjack Stadium. These workouts, which are open to the public, replace the intra-squad scrimmage that traditionally was played in the Walkup Skydome after the opening week of camp. Aug. 23: Team breaks camp after a morning walk-through.
--QB Matt Leinart has begun to flex his marketing muscle, locally and nationally. He is to appear in a DirecTV spot that he shot with the Mannings - Archie, Olivia, Peyton and Eli. In the spot, Peyton and Eli return home to find that their parents have taken in Leinart. Olivia serves Leinart lemonade while the Manning dog curls up at Leinart's feet. Leinart also has a shot a promo with Terry Bradshaw for FOX's pre-game show, and he's added Arizona's Desert Schools Federal Credit Union to his endorsements, according to Chuck Price, one of Leinart's agents.
--In Leinart and backup Kurt Warner, the Cardinals have a formidable 1-2 combination at quarterback. But the two quarterbacks at the bottom of the depth chart going into training camp -- Shane Boyd and Toby Korrodi -- have stronger arms than the two at the top.
--There are few better than 2007 Pro Bowl SS Adrian Wilson, the only player in the league who had five sacks and four interceptions last season. Wilson had two 99-yard TDs - on returns of a fumble and an interception - making him the only player in NFL history with two defensive TDs of 99-plus yards in a season. All of that came a year after he'd set a league record among defensive backs with eight sacks on safety blitzes. But who starts at free safety alongside Wilson has left him torn. Wilson marvels at the progress of Aaron Francisco, who built a big-hit reputation on special teams and in one season developed from a practice-squad undrafted rookie into a Pro Bowl special teams alternate last season.
"It's a credit to him for hanging in there and working hard," Wilson said of Francisco. "He found his niche early and he came in and he did what he needed to do on special teams. It earned him some recognition for the Pro Bowl and that's big for a guy of his caliber." But the Cardinals acquired Wilson's longtime friend and former college teammate Terrence Holt in free agency. When Holt became available, it was Wilson who suggested that the Cardinals pursue him.
"I thought that he would be the guy that we would be targeting and I just mentioned it," Wilson said of his friend. "I was hoping that they would give thought to what I was telling them.
"He's very vocal. He definitely pays attention to details and I think that's what you need when you're dealing with younger guys." Holt goes to camp atop the depth chart.
--DT Alan Branch was smarting after falling from a projected first-round draft position to the top of the second round, where the Cardinals gave up two draft picks to move up to select him, despite his reputation as an under-performer at Michigan. They're banking that he will play up to his first-round talent. Branch goes to training camp No. 2 on the depth chart, behind former college teammate Gabe Watson, but most observers expect Branch to make a quick move and win the starting job.
"They showed a lot by sacrificing what they did," Branch said. "They made a huge trade that they could have got some help in other areas. They showed a lot of confidence in me, and I'm going to try my best not to let them down."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was nice and I am looking forward to doing more this season. I have a lot more confidence. The more plays you make, the more confidence your teammates have in you, and that boosts your confidence that much more." - FS Aaron Francisco, on being a special teams Pro Bowl alternate last season, and now challenging veteran Terrence Holt for the Cardinals starting free safety job.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--ILB Buster Davis, the Cardinals' third-round draft pick, agreed to a three-year contract worth $1.725 million. Davis received a signing bonus of $610,000 and salaries of $285,000, $370,000 and $460,000, making his 2007 salary-cap figure $488,333. He is expected to back up starting ILBs Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby and play special teams this season. Although Davis is not big (5-9, 239 pounds), his reputation as a hitter is. At Florida State he was the team leader with 109 tackles last year -- 57 solo -- and had five sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. It was the third year that Davis led Florida State in tackles.
The Cardinals already had signed KR/WR Steve Breaston, their fifth-round pick, and TE Ben Patrick, their seventh-round pick. Their only remaining unsigned draft picks are OT Levi Brown, selected in the first round, and DT Alan Branch, chosen in the second.
Joel Segal, Brown's agent, said he and the Cardinals have had "preliminary, positive" contract talks.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB Buster Davis: 3/69; $1.725M/3 yrs, $610,000 SB; 2007 cap: $488,333.
--WR/KR Steve Breaston: 5/142; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Ben Patrick: 7/215; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams were jolted two weeks before the beginning of training camp when word arrived that starting cornerback Fakhir Brown had been suspended four games for violating the NFL policy on drugs of abuse and alcohol. The substance in Brown's case is not known, but he will be able to participate in training camp and play in preseason games before his suspension officially begins Aug. 31.
Said coach Scott Linehan, "I'm disappointed for the team; we're losing a guy we were counting on for the first four games of the year. And I'm disappointed for Fakhir, but it's the policy. We just hope that the necessary things are done to alleviate whatever the problem is."
The question for camp is how coaches will deal with Brown in practice, since they have to get other players ready to not only start, but play nickel back in passing situations. Prior to the suspension, Brown was slated to start at one cornerback spot with second-year man Tye Hill at the other. Ronald Bartell, Lenny Walls and rookie Jonathan Wade were expected to compete for the nickel spot. Now, there are two jobs open, at least for the first four games of the season.
The team's first four opponents are Carolina, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Dallas. Bartell started seven games as a rookie in 2005 and played nickel back last season. Walls has started games with Denver and Kansas City during his career. Added Linehan, "It creates an opportunity for great competition at the other corner spot opposite Tye."
Wade might have the most natural skill of any of the contenders, but was sometimes undisciplined in college. Linehan said of Wade, "We'd be pretty young if Jonathan played there, but still it's a chance for him to compete and for us to see where he's at." Hill started 10 games as a rookie last year after being selected with the 15th overall pick in the draft.
--With training camp set to open July 26 and the first practice the following day, the Rams have signed all of their selections except the first two picks: DT Adam Carriker and RB Brian Leonard.
The latest rookies to agree to deals were NT Clifton Ryan and C/G Dustin Fry, both fifth-round picks, and OT Ken Shackleford, a sixth-round choice.
--Coach Scott Linehan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he had spoken with defensive tackle Claude Wroten, who was involved in a June incident during which he allegedly kicked the door open of a former girlfriend's apartment at Louisiana State University. "Some of the particulars are still a little gray with that whole situation," Linehan said. "I think it'll all be worked out before camp starts."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The guys are more comfortable. You can see it." - Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett on players adjusting to their second year in his defensive system.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--CB Jonathan Wade: 3/84; $1.63M/3 yrs, $516,375.
--C Dustin Fry: 5/139; terms unknown.
--NT Clifton Ryan: 5/154; $1.244M/3 yrs, $129,000 SB; 2007 cap: $328,000.
--OT Ken Shackleford: 6/190; terms unknown.
--NT Keith Jackson: 7/248; $1.143M/3 yrs, $28,200 SB.
--WR Derek Stanley: 7/249; $1.143M/3 yrs, $27,900 SB; 2007 cap: $294,300.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
It didn't take long for 49ers first-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler to figure out what he should emphasize after replacing Norv Turner in February. The 49ers' offense ranked 26th in the league on third downs with a 34.4-percent success rate. Inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the 49ers were 29th, scoring touchdowns just 41.7 percent of the time.
"Look at all the teams and it becomes apparent, you have to play well on third downs and in the red zone," Hostler said. "Every year, the head coach slaps those statistics up on the board. If you're not very good on third downs and you're not very good in the red zone, you're not going to make the playoffs."
Last season, nine of the top 10 teams in the league in third-down efficiency made it to the playoffs. The top five teams in red-zone offense also qualified for the post-season. Just about every day the 49ers hit the practice field in the off-season, the club worked on at least one of those areas. Hostler also spent a lot more time in the classroom working on concepts to be used in those areas. Quarterback Alex Smith is working with his third offensive coordinator in three NFL seasons. Mike McCarthy installed the West Coast offense in 2005, before he landed the head coaching job with the Packers. Last season, Turner implemented the digit system, which is more of a vertical passing game.
Hostler plans to merge the two systems. The terminology of the digit system will remain intact, but there will be more balance with elements of the West Coast offense - more three-step drops and intermediate passes. The 49ers hope Smith's completion percentage will rise from 58.1 a year ago. They also expect better production on third downs and in the red zone with more of a ball-control passing game.
But Hostler said he plans to keep the vertical passing attack as the main part of the offense because of Smith's strengths. "He can throw the ball down the field," Hostler said. "He's adapted to seeing down the field. It's a little more like what he did in college. The West Coast was a big change for him."
CAMP CALENDAR: The full squad reports together on Saturday, July 28, with the first practice scheduled for the following day at the club's Santa Clara, Calif., practice facility. Most practices are closed to the general public, but the club has scheduled 10 free open sessions. (Tickets are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis via www.49ers.com.) There will be an intra-squad, controlled scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 4. Camp breaks Aug. 22.
--Rookie offensive tackle Joe Staley does not have to worry about missing valuable practice time due to a contract stalemate. The 49ers and Staley hammered out the details on a five-year, $8 million contract that pays the No. 28 overall selection $5.6 million in guaranteed money, according to his agent. The deal could max out at $10.9 million. "It was extremely important to get this done," said Rick Smith, Staley's agent. "Joe has a chance to make a significant contribution right away. He definitely will be given a chance to compete."
Staley got his chance to work a lot with the first-team offense during the 49ers' organized team activities last month. He is expected to have a good opportunity to beat out incumbent Kwame Harris for the starting job at right tackle.
--The 49ers head into the week before training camp "99 percent certain" that veteran guard Larry Allen will report for another season. Allen, apparently, gave retirement some thought in the off-season. Allen speaks regularly with running back Frank Gore, but is said to be excited about the coming season. Allen received a $4 million signing bonus last year as part of a two-year contract. If he decided not to play this season, he would likely have to reimburse the 49ers some of that money. Allen is not expected to play beyond this season.
--Veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer suited up for all 16 games last season, but did not get on the field, as starter Alex Smith took every offensive snap. Dilfer, 35, said he wants to get a little more time in the exhibition season to be ready in case he's needed this season. Dilfer said he plans to speak with head coach Mike Nolan about an increase in playing time this summer. "He can do whatever he wants with me. He's the boss," Dilfer told MediaNews. "I'm just going to express that I would like to play a little more in the preseason, just to make sure I'm sharp."
--Receiver C.J. Brewer wanted to go to NFL Europa this spring, but he was not allowed access into the league because of a problem with his physical. When Brewer reported for training camp, he was turned away when the league's medical staff said he did not have an ACL in his left knee. Brewer said he tore his ACL in '03 and underwent surgery. The knee has not bothered him since, he said. He said the examination was done at a facility that "wasn't exactly state of the art." Brewer spent all of last season on the 49ers' practice squad and reported no problem whatsoever with his knee. "It's not loose, and nothing bothered me all last season," he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The players we've added are exceptional. They're intelligent guys, and they're all good locker-room guys. I'm excited to play with all those guys" - 49ers inside linebacker Brandon Moore on the team's many defensive acquisitions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers do not expect much difficulty signing their remaining draft picks. First-rounder Patrick Willis and third-round selection Ray McDonald might be among the last ones to sign, possibly either the day before camp or on the day camp begins. The 49ers added a couple players to fill out their 80-man roster. Tight end Zach Hilton and defensive back Markus Curry will compete for spots on the team this season. Hilton has played in 18 NFL games, including 15 (with six starts) in '05 with the Saints. He caught 35 passes for 396 yards with one touchdown. Last season, he was twice waived by the Jets and did not suit up for any games.
Curry played the first two games for the Chargers last season, but was waived and placed on the practice squad. He was released just hours after being arrested on suspicion of committing domestic violence. The charges were later dropped. The 49ers waived safety Jermaine Hardy and placed cornerback B.J. Tucker on injured reserve to open up two roster spots.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--OT Joe Staley: 1/28; $8M/5 yrs, $5.6M guaranteed.
--DE Jay Moore: 4/104; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Joe Cohen: 4/135; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Tarell Brown: 5/147; terms unknown.