Like any team, the Seahawks need to stay healthy to have a chance. So, when defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs was put on the physically unable to perform list before the start of training camp, it was a difficult flashback to the problems of last season. The training camp loss of safety Mike Green last year signaled a trend that left the Hawks trolling for street free agents to man the secondary by the end of the season. They ended up using eight different combinations on the offensive line after having had the same five start up front in every meaningful game in 2005.
Pro Bowlers Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck missed a combined 10 games, as the Seahawks had more players lost to injuries last season than any other team that advanced to the playoffs.
During the playoffs, roughly half the players on coverage teams had been picked up as injury replacements during the season.
Tubbs missed 11 games last year and needed microfracture surgery for a knee injury. In his absence, the Hawks were almost helpless against the run, and gave up nearly 500 combined rushing yards in two losses to San Francisco.
Through the off-season and minicamps, the expectation was for Tubbs to be ready for training camp. During rehab, he appeared strong and fit, but the Hawks are taking more time to let the knee heal. The Hawks used a third-round pick on Cal's Brandon Mebane to bolster the depth at defensive tackle, but without Tubbs, they remain lean at the position. Chuck Darby and Rocky Bernard are listed as the starters in the middle now.
Tubbs could be made active at any time, and the PUP designation doesn't necessarily spell disaster for the Seattle defense. It can't be viewed as a good sign, though, that Tubbs was not ready to go from Day One. And it could have some Seahawks vulnerable to some here-we-go-again thinking as camp gets going.
"If we can stay healthy, and that's a big if, and if our best players can play their best, we're pretty solid," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I feel good about this team."
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 4: Scrimmage, 5 p.m., at Memorial Stadium
Aug. 8: Practice open to public, 9:15 a.m., Husky Stadium
Aug. 23: Camp breaks.
--Rookie cornerback Josh Wilson is in his first days as a Seahawk, but he's already spent time charting his goals. "Everybody has personal goals. My goals are with this team; what I can do to help this team get to a bigger level than where they have already been, an NFC championship, even to the Super Bowl. I'm trying to help this team fix whatever pieces they think I can help get them to a Super Bowl win. I'm not doing anything outside what they want me to do. If they want me to be whatever position, if they want me to be a cheerleader on the side, that's what I'll do until they tell me otherwise."
--Coach Mike Holmgren was delighted with the fruits of the team's offseason workouts, which had record attendance. "The impressive thing about this team is they've all come in in shape," Holmgren said. "Their weight is down, even the big guys."
--Since the Seahawks are conducting training camp at their headquarters in Kirkland for the first time since 1996, coach Mike Holmgren has reminded the players that it doesn't mean they can just trot on home between practices. "I gave them the fire and brimstone speech," Holmgren said. If he senses the players are not focusing as well as they did when they were isolated in Cheney on the campus of Eastern Washington University? "I promised them I would have them in meetings all day and night."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of things change with this (signature). You sign autographs all day but most of the time you just get the reward of the feeling that the other person gets. This time I get the reward of what I get out of it; to play football. It is more the joy of knowing that my football career is going to continue to another stage." -- Rookie cornerback Josh Wilson on signing his first pro contract.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
On the first day of camp, defensive back Jordan Babineaux injured his knee while defending a pass thrown to receiver Ben Obomanu. Babineaux has a bone bruise, and he could miss much of the pre-season. Babineaux is the team's most versatile defender, with the ability to play any secondary position at a serviceable level. He came into practice nursing shoulder and ankle injuries.
The placing of defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs on the physically unable to perform list creates further doubts about a unit that has been a chronic problem. Opponents averaged nearly 60 yards per game more rushing in the 11 games that Tubbs missed with his knee injury last season. With Chuck Darby and Rocky Bernard slotted to start at DTs now, the Hawks will continue to be undersized in the middle.
--PK Kurt Smith, undrafted rookie from Virginia, was signed as a potential kickoff man.
--LB Marquis Cooper was waived. Cooper was signed to the active roster off the practice squad last December and played in one regular season and one postseason game.
--RB Kenny James was released.
--DT Marcus Tubbs was placed on the physically unable to perform list.
--OT Jon Alston was signed as a free agent. He originally signed with the Redskins in 2005.
EXPECTED BATTLES: G/T Ray Willis vs. G Chris Gray and T Sean Locklear. Coach Mike Holmgren threw open the right side of the line for competition. Utility lineman Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack could also be in the battle, but this mostly appears to be a chance to get Willis on the field. Although a more natural tackle, at 6-feet-6, if Willis can beat out the veteran Gray, he'll be given a chance at guard. Otherwise, Locklear will be challenged for the tackle spot by Willis, now entering his third season.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: WR Nate Burleson did not produce as expected last season. If second-year receiver Ben Obomanu can continue his development, he could challenge Burleson for the fourth receiver spot.
ROOKIE REPORT: Josh Wilson, Will Herring and Patrick Ghee all made interceptions during team drills in their first practice.
INJURY REPORT: Marcus Tubbs started training camp on the PUP list. Jordan Babineaux (shoulder, ankle), Chris Spencer (shoulder), Patrick Kerney (pectoral) and Mike Green (foot) have practiced with some limitations.
More discipline. More attention to detail. Can this really be Cardinals camp? It's sweet to Cardinals former Pro Bowlers like Bertrand Berry, Edgerrin James and Anquan Boldin, all tired of watching the Cardinals underachieve. Before the team hit the field Sunday for its first real practice under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, they were convinced that things were different -- for the better. They said heightened professionalism and accountability were unmistakable during Whisenhunt's first of-season in Arizona.
"This isn't fun and games anymore," said Berry, who is attempting a comeback from two injury-plagued seasons since his Pro Bowl year, moving to outside linebacker from end in the Cardinals' new 3-4 defense. "It's not like you're on scholarship, and you're going to be here for four years or five years or whatever. This is your job, how you earn your living, and you have to approach it as such.
"Now, you have other guys whose lives basically are depending on how you perform. You have to be accountable on every single level, from the training room to the meal tables. Everything that you do now, you're doing for somebody else, and it becomes that much more important."
Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson last season was the only player in the league who had five sacks and four interceptions. He also scored on two 99-yard touchdowns -- on returns of a fumble and an interception -- making him the only player in NFL history with two defensive touchdowns 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. Wilson didn't reach those accomplishments by lollygagging, and he looked unkindly toward teammates who were allowed to give it far less effort that he did. He welcomed Whisenhunt, whose NFL roots are in Pittsburgh under Bill Cowher.
"It was something the team needed, a disciplinarian as a head coach, somebody who would really put the hammer down on the players when they needed it," Wilson said. Running back Edgerrin James tried to preach it during his first season with the team. James acknowledges now that he never sensed a follow-through from Green and his coaching staff. Consequently, many teammates disregarded the words of even a player of James' stature. "It's different when I preach it and when the coach preaches it," James said. "Now they're holding everybody accountable and focusing on the little things. As far as talent, Denny Green did a great job of bringing talent here. There is talent up and down that roster, but little things are what we have to focus on, and that's what they've been preaching.
"I think they understand it now. You had Kurt (Warner) here, he had been in a winning program. And he came in and he was saying it. And I come in and I'm saying it. And now you got coach Whisenhunt saying it. Everybody is buying into it. I don't see anybody being late, nobody missing anything. Everybody is doing what they're supposed to do." Whisenhunt said he is less surprised by that than some of the veteran players may be.
"I think they were hungry for that," Whisenhunt said. "I think this team really wants to win football games, and they feel they're talented enough to do that. I feel they want a plan they believe in."
CAMP CALENDAR: 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 replace the intra-squad scrimmage that traditionally was played in the Walkup Skydome.
Aug. 23: Team breaks camp after a morning walkthrough.
--DT Ray Blagman, an undrafted rookie, was the only player who failed to make his time Saturday in a 300-yard shuttle conditioning run. He'll be atoning with more running, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
That 99.9 percent of the team met its prescribed time in the conditioning appears to be a reflection of heightened emphasis on off-season work in the team's new weight room under the new coaching staff.
While almost all of the players made it, some didn't feel very good afterward in the 7,000-foot elevation in Cardinals camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. -- and some of the newcomers didn't get much help from the veterans.
ILB Buster Davis, the team's third-round pick, went out like a rocket in his first run but was near the back on his second, after Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin gave him false encouragement. "Quan was saying, 'Good pace, good pace,'" Davis said. "You don't just feel it in your lungs. You feel it in your whole body."
--Students across Arizona can register to win an opportunity to surprise their classmates and teachers with the ultimate "show and tell" -- Cardinals QB Matt Leinart. The NFL and JCPenney are teaming for the annual "Take a Player to School" sweepstakes. The league and the retailer will donate funds to support schools in the community, giving children the chance to benefit from programs that encourage the development of healthy lifestyles, improved social skills and enhanced academic performance. In keeping with the Cardinals' rededicated push to master the mental aspect of football, Take a Player to School centers on inspiring youth to make the most of their in-school and after school time by making smart choices and by setting academic and extracurricular goals and working to achieve them. Children 6 to 13 are encouraged to register with parental approval through Sept. 29 at JCPenney stores or online at NFLRUSH.com or jcp.com. The Arizona winner will ride to school with Leinart, go to class together and co-host a pep rally for their peers.
--FS Terrance Holt comes to the Cardinals not only with renewed hope to win a starting job -- he's battling special teams Pro Bowl alternate Aaron Francisco -- but also with a new college diploma in hand. Holt received his degree from North Carolina State in sociology in the league's Continuing Education Program. "From our experience, players with college degrees make more money during their careers, play longer and make better decisions," said NFL Vice President of Player Development and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.
--Football coach Chuck Apap of Bradshaw Mountain High in Prescott Valley, Ariz., was the Cardinals' representative to the league's annual Youth Football Summit during Hall of Fame Weekend at Canton, Ohio. Fifty-one top high school football coaches, one from each state and Washington, D.C., participated. Among topics at the Summit was a discussion on Hispanic outreach in youth and high school football, led by Luis Zendejas, Cardinals Senior Director of Community Relations and a former NFL kicker. High school football coaches registered for an opportunity to attend the Summit by entering a nomination and essay contest conducted by the NFL through its high school football Web site, NFLHS.com. Coaches submitted online essays in which they wrote about their coaching careers, commitment to youth and coaching philosophies. A blue-ribbon panel, consisting of local state representatives, reviewed the essays and made selections.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He doesn't have many rules, but like he says, you don't test him on the ones he has." -- Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin, on new coach Ken Whisenhunt.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--T Levi Brown, the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft, and the Cardinals appear to be inching closer to a contract agreement. They've agreed that the deal will be six years. They've agreed on many other elements of it. They still are hammering out numbers. Brown's agent, Joel Segal, negotiated with Cardinals general manager Rod Graves on Saturday and reported progress. "As long as we're talking, I view that as an opportunity for progress," Graves said.
--NT Alan Branch, the Cardinals' second-round pick (No. 33 overall) agreed a four-year contract. It is believed to be worth just over $5 million. Branch will battle former Michigan teammate Gabe Watson for the starting job. Last season, Branch was a mainstay on the Wolverines' top-ranked rushing defense.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald has all eyes on him as he attempts to make nice with the new coaches. Fitzgerald made no bones about his displeasure with the firing of former coach Dennis Green, a long-time friend of the Fitzgerald family. Fitzgerald once was a Vikings ball boy when Green was coach there. It took a peace offering from new coach Ken Whisenhunt to arrange their initial meeting during the off-season. Fitzgerald just missed his second 1,000-yard receiving season in 2006 and no doubt would have had it had he not missed three games to injury (946 receiving yards). But Fitzgerald's mission this season: Become a more disciplined, precise route runner.
--OLB Bertrand Berry is under the microscope as he attempts to rebound from two sub-par seasons since his 2004 Pro Bowl year, due largely to injuries. He played 10 games in 2006, eight in 2005. Compounding the degree of difficulty in the comeback: He is moving from DE to OLB in the new 3-4 defense. Berry is showing no ill signs of the pectoral injury that ended his 2006 season prematurely.
--CB Antrel Rolle faces perhaps the biggest make-or-break season in 2007. He has two career interceptions in two seasons -- not exactly the stuff of which first-round picks are made. He was the team's first-round pick in 2005.
--CB Eric Green, selected in the third round of the same 2005 draft as Antrel Rolle, when the Cardinals attempted to improve the corner position, faces a make-or-break season after being in and out of the lineup for two years. The team signed veteran free agent Roderick Hood to play opposite Rolle. Green faces quite a fight to win back the job.
EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The competition for both offensive tackle positions will be the battle of some week, although it might not be this one if first-round draft pick Levi Brown doesn't sign soon. Brown, free-agency pickup Mike Gandy and veteran Oliver Ross will compete for the two positions. They were cross-trained on each side during the off-season. Gandy is listed first on the left, Ross first on the right. The unsigned Brown is listed second on the right, but he was an All-American on the left in college. The battle among the three for the two positions, as well as who winds up on which side, should be lively once they are all on the field together. Indications from both sides are that Brown is getting close to a contract agreement with the team.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Two former Michigan players -- second-year Gabe Watson and rookie Alan Branch, will battle at NT. Both are more than capable physically, but both have skeletons in their closets. They're regarded as underachievers ... At RCB, Eric Green, who has been in and out of the lineup during his first two seasons as a pro, gets a challenge from free-agent pickup Roderick Hood. The loser likely will be the nickel back ... Veteran FS Terrance Holt, former college teammate of Pro Bowl SS Adrian Wilson, was signed during the off-season but it is no slam-dunk that he'll be in the lineup. Young Aaron Francisco, whose big-play reputation made him an alternate special teams Pro Bowler, will push Holt hard.
ROOKIE REPORT: T Levi Brown, the Cardinals first-round pick who is expected to battle for a starting position, remains unsigned but indications from both sides are that they are inching closer to an agreement. Brown will begin at the right-side backup but is expected to be in the running to crack the lineup on either side. He played the left in college, where he was an All-America at Penn State.
INJURY REPORT: The Cardinals reported to camp in reasonably good shape. DL Jonathan Lewis (migraine headaches) is expected to practice.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
He missed just one practice, and even that was something defensive tackle Adam Carriker didn't want. Acknowledging that waiting for a contract agreement was stressful, Carriker said, "You know, I am sitting at home and it could be any minute. I'm just waiting for a call from my agent letting me know when it's done." Carriker missed a team meeting that opened training camp on July 26, but his deal was agreed to in the wee hours of the next morning. He missed the team's first practice, but was on the field that evening. Asked how important it was to get the contract done, Carriker said, "It was very important. I need to get on the field. I need to learn the plays. I need to get practice time in. I need to get acclimated to the NFL."
Carriker took his spot as a starting tackle in his first practice and is intent on never relinquishing it. During the days before training camp, he was at the team's facility virtually every day working out.
"We had gotten a house and we were living at the house, so we were going to be here anyways," he said. "It was easy for me to come down here and use our equipment and use our machines, use the treadmill, use the stair climber to keep in shape and whatnot and just use the facility."
Coach Scott Linehan has been enthused about Carriker since he was drafted, and said, "He was outstanding (in the off-season). We'll see when we start playing, but I'd be really surprised if he's not a heck of a football player. That's why we drafted him and he's showed it since he's been here. I think he took about three days to go on a honeymoon and other than that he was in our building. Even when we took our break he was in here. He was here the day before we reported while he was going through contract negotiations, which was a little unusual, but it's a good sign."
Another good sign is that Carriker doesn't appear overwhelmed by having to become a nose tackle after playing end in college. He has increased his weight from 296 to 313 since the scouting combine. "I just need to learn it," he said plainly. "I didn't play it much in college. I just need to learn the position, that's pretty much all it is."
In his first practice in full pads the afternoon after signing, Carriker made his presence felt. Guard Richie Incognito and center Andy McCollum both ended up on the ground after being manhandled by Carriker. Before seeing tape of the practice, Linehan said, "I mean you have got to temper everything right? It is great to be excited. That's why we have practice and we play games. We get ourselves ready and see where we are at. It was a good first day for him. I knew he wouldn't disappoint us. He looked that way on film when he played in college."
One coach told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "He's just a beast out there."
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opened July 27 with the first practice the next day. There will be an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 4 and camp closes Aug. 19.
--Coach Scott Linehan said there will be some rotation of practice snaps in camp for some of the team's veterans. "We'll rotate some of the older guys as far as reps," he said. "Not so much today (the first day), but every third practice, we'll switch off him (tackle Orlando Pace) and (Todd) Steussie and do the same thing with some of the defensive guys like (La'Roi) Glover and Leonard (Little) and then Andy (McCollum) is another guy. Then our two receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce). I think there's a cut-off, like if you're 32 years old you get special treatment."
Said Glover, "Whenever a veteran player can hear news like that, it brings a little bit of a smile to his face. Whenever you give a veteran a bone, we really appreciate it."
McCollum wasn't sure whether to believe reporters that told him what Linehan said. "You have that documented?" McCollum wondered. "I haven't got that memo, and I doubt I will. That's OK."
--When training camp opened, Linehan couldn't help comparing his feelings to what they were last year when he stepped on the practice field for the first time as a head coach. "I was laughing with a couple of the coaches with where all of us are at from a year ago at this time and it is much different. We weren't easier on them. It was very much the same practice format that we have used and will continue to use, but there was much more attention to the important things -- when it comes to what I say is important -- which are the details of what they are doing out there on the field.
"I think our retention is great, not just because of our off-season, but because we have a lot of carry-over from a year ago. It's a new year and we will see. We aren't where we need to be to do much damage yet but we've made a good first step."
--For the second year, the club has used the slogan "I Believe" in its advertising efforts. Running back Steven Jackson arrived for camp with an "I Believe" T-shirt. Said Jackson, "I thought it was appropriate to wear it today because it's a new season, a new start." As for training camp, Jackson said, "I hate camp, but I know it's needed for the variety of guys to get to know each other, get the team all on the same page. I've had a couple of veterans say that it helps you harden your body for the abuse that you are going to take during the season. But me myself, I hate it.
"Two practices a day, that's the hard part. Once you get one practice out of the way, you're fine. Then after you take a nap between practice, you don't feel like getting up and doing the same thing over again."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He knows I'm not a big yeller and screamer, but I looked at him like, 'I didn't sleep last night; you owe me.' Not financially, but for all the heartache you gave me last night. But I trusted him. I don't think anyone doubted for a minute, to be really honest with you, that he would be here. Marc wants to help this team win a championship, and he knows that to do that, he's got to be out here." -- Coach Scott Linehan on what he told Marc Bulger after the quarterback missed a team meeting the day before signing a new contract.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
On just the second day of practice (July 28), there were only six linebackers able to practice. Chris Draft was hospitalized with a throat infection, Tim McGarigle pulled a hamstring on the final play of the evening practice the day before and Kevin McLee left the team because of personal issues. McLee, an undrafted free agent, missed the team meeting to open camp because his father had passed away earlier in the week. McLee practiced the next day, but decided to leave camp. The Rams re-signed Jamal Brooks, who was with the team in 2006 for seven games.
--CB Ron Bartell opened camp running as a first-team corner with Fakhir Brown suspended for the first four games of the regular season.
--CB Lenny Walls is working as the third cornerback because Fakhir Brown will open the season on the suspended list.
--C Andy McCollum was taking most of the snaps with the first unit as camp opened. McCollum is considered the favorite to win the starting job in competition with Brett Romberg.
--RB Travis Minor is listed as the team's backup to Steven Jackson, but it is expected that rookie Brian Leonard will overtake him by the time the season starts.
--LB Chris Draft spent the first two nights in the hospital as the result of swelling in his throat. Draft left the team's first practice with what was thought to be an asthmatic reaction and doctors discovered the throat infection.
--LB Jamal Brooks was expected to be signed because of a shortage at linebacker. Brooks played seven games for the Rams last season.
--OG Milford Brown, who was with Arizona last season, signed with St. Louis. He was released by the Cardinals on June 5.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ron Bartell, Lenny Walls and Jonathan for the starting cornerback and nickel-back jobs -- As camp opened, it's clear the job is Bartell's to lose. Fakhir Brown, suspended for the first four games of the season, didn't receive many snaps in team drills. Bartell worked extensively with the first unit, while Walls was also with the first team and was the third corner. The learning curve for the rookie Wade is being accelerated, according to coach Scott Linehan. "He will be given every opportunity to show what he can do," Linehan said.
OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: There aren't many spots up for grabs. The expected battle at center didn't materialize early as veteran Andy McCollum seems entrenched as the starter. ... WR Dominique Thompson, who has been with the team mostly on the practice squad, has looked good and could be the sixth receiver if the team keeps that many.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: TE Randy McMichael -- It was only two practices, but McMichael quickly made his presence known. He had a great catch on the second day, reaching over the back of safety Corey Chavous to pluck the ball and score a touchdown in red-zone work. Speaking of the work in the red zone, coach Scott Linehan said, "Yeah it was good. We put the offense at an advantage. The assumption is that offense moves us down and defense has got to keep us out and there are some plays made. One side is going to probably feel better about it than the other side. We'll watch the tape, but I thought from the first day out it was pretty good. I thought we really improved as the year went on and played really well in the red zone anyway and I think we've got a couple new guys that are going to make it even better."
Linehan also believes McMichael will be a big help to second-year tight ends Joe Klopfenstein and Dominique Byrd. "He is going to be a big help in that way, because he has a lot of credibility in their eyes," Linehan said. "We didn't have a veteran in that group last year. It wasn't that they were lost souls or anything, but there were not a lot of guys in that room who had been there. Along with his ability and his playing, I think he will have a really good effect on all of them."
ROOKIE REPORT: NT Adam Carriker (first round) missed only one practice after signing his five-year contract the morning of July 28. ... NT Clifton Ryan (fifth round) was working as the second-team nose tackle and got some work with the first team when Carriker missed practice. ... WR Derek Stanley (seventh round) is a longshot for a roster spot, but made two excellent catches in the morning and evening practices on the first day.
INJURY REPORT: The Rams were hopeful LB Chris Draft will be back on the practice field Monday (July 30) after being hospitalized with a throat infection.
--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is 100 percent and was taking all the snaps in practice after being limited in the off-season after shoulder surgery.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers made a point in the offseason to acquire wide receivers who could help quarterback Alex Smith and the team's lackluster passing game. But two of the team's big pickups have nursed offseason injuries that the team will monitor closely. Darrell Jackson, acquired in a draft-day trade from the Seahawks, sat out the entire offseason program with a hyperextended big toe. Jackson missed the final three games of the regular season with the injury. The conditioned was worsened, according to the 49ers, when he received a painkilling injection to suit up in the playoffs. Jackson did not participate in the offseason program because of the injury. As camp opened, he said he would be conservative with the injury. He said he was unsure whether he'd be able to make it through without any problems.
"I'm going to take some time with this thing. I'm going to take it slow," Jackson said. "Hopefully the first game of the season, I'm going to be ready."
The same goes for Ashley Lelie, whom the 49ers acquired early in the free-agent signing period. Lelie sustained a quadriceps strain on one of the first routes he ran during the team's first full-squad minicamp. When he tried to come back a month later for their organized team activities, Lelie aggravated the injury.
As camp began, Lelie said he believes he is close to 100 percent. "I expect to practice," Lelie said. "I can't wait to get out there and just play football."
The 49ers have no such questions about Arnaz Battle, who caught 59 passes for 686 yards and three touchdowns last season. Battle is a solid all-around receiver who had 23 receptions on third downs and is considered a very good downfield blocker. Rookie receiver Jason Hill was drafted in the third round. The speedster from Washington State will compete to get on the playing field, but if he matures quickly he has a chance to be a factor in the team's offense.
But while the 49ers went out to try to find a dynamic receiver, perhaps the player who could emerge into their big-play threat was acquired the previous year. Tight end Vernon Davis had a strong offseason camp, and has a chance to become a go-to target for Smith.
Davis had just 20 receptions last season but showed flashes of his potential with three touchdown grabs. He appeared more comfortable and caught the ball a lot better during the offseason than he did at any point during his rookie year.
CAMP CALENDAR: The 49ers practice at their in-season practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif. Most practices are closed to the general public, but the club has scheduled several 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.
--Linebacker Patrick Willis enters camp as the team's "starting" nickel linebacker. He will be in competition with veteran Derek Smith for the starting middle linebacker job. "I like to compete every day," said Willis, who signed a five-year contract with $12 million in guaranteed money. "I'll do whatever they ask me to do."
Willis missed the first team meeting Saturday night without a contract. He sat in his hotel room and watched game film, so he felt like he wasn't missing much. At 11:15 p.m., he received a call from his agent, Ben Dogra, instructing him to drive safely to the 49ers' practice facility to begin signing the paperwork on his contract. Willis said he knows he has a lot of work to do, and plans to spend a lot of time learning from assistant head coach Mike Singletary.
"Am I a great linebacker right now? No way, not at all," Willis said.
--Quarterback Alex Smith said he has a lot of things to accomplish during training camp, including getting to know receivers Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie. Neither Jackson nor Lelie spent much time working with the offense in the offseason due to injuries. "That'll be part of it," Smith said. "The focus is still on the offense as a whole and getting better. But that's part of it -- working with those guys."
--Smith credits a lot of his improvement in his second season to working with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who left to become Chargers head coach after the season. When asked how much Turner helped him, Smith said, "A tremendous amount."
Smith had a 40.8 passer rating as a rookie. Last year, he improved to a respectable 74.8 rating. "I thought I knew what being an NFL quarterback looked like, but I didn't have any idea," Smith said. "Norv walked in and was able to tell you what it looks like and what it's supposed to look like. He was able to communicate in that way."
New offensive coordinator Jim Hostler will keep the terminology Turner installed last season in place. He also plans to add some of the ball-control elements of the West Coast offense, which Smith learned as a rookie under Mike McCarthy.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know Patrick is working hard and getting a grasp of our system. He will get great coaching, and he will be a San Francisco 49er for a long time" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on linebacker Patrick Willis, the team's top overall draft pick at No. 11.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Although left guard Larry Allen was not on the practice field with the rest of his teammates Sunday morning for the team's first practice, the club said he promised to show up on Monday.
Third-year player Adam Snyder, considered a future starter for the 49ers, spent most of the offseason working in place of Allen. The club is confident that Snyder would be ready to step in if Allen were unavailable.
--S Darnell Bing was claimed off waivers after the Raiders released him. The Raiders tried to convert Bing to a linebacker, but he is likely to compete for a job in the 49ers' secondary.
--CB Markus Curry was signed after the 49ers lost backup B.J. Tucker for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Tucker was placed on injured reserve with the injury he sustained during organized team activities.
--TE Zachary Hilton, a four-year veteran, will compete for a backup job. He has played 18 games in his career, including 15 games with the Saints in 2005. He caught 35 passes for 396 yards and one touchdown while starting six games.
--OLB Mark Anderson, who went unclaimed in the supplemental draft, signed a two-year contract with the 49ers and will be given a chance to show his stuff in camp. Anderson faces an uphill battle to win a roster spot, but if he impresses he could earn a spot on the practice squad.
--DE Melvin Oliver underwent season-ending surgery in June to repair a torn ACL. Oliver started 14 games as a rookie. He will get paid $205,000 for his year on injured reserve, and he is expected to be ready to for on-field work in the 2008 offseason.
EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kwame Harris vs. Joe Staley for starting RT -- Harris has started every game the past two seasons but when he sustained back spasms during organized team activities, it gave Staley the opening to get the lion's share of the practice time. Harris is a former first-round draft pick, but he enters the final season of his contract. His future with the team is in doubt. Meanwhile, the 49ers traded up into the first round to select Staley with the No. 28 pick. If Staley is not overwhelmed with the rise in competition from his days at Central Michigan, he has a very good chance to win a starting job.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Michael Robinson, Maurice Hicks and Thomas Clayton will compete for the backup RB job. The 49ers need to find someone reliable behind Frank Gore, as they would like to guard themselves against injury, as well as find someone to give him some rest. Patrick Willis vs. Derek Smith at MLB. Willis is the No. 11 overall pick, while Smith is a veteran who figures to rebound from a down season. Smith had a bothersome eye problem last season that limited his effectiveness. Justin Smiley vs. Davis Baas at RG. Smiley is coming off a strong year, but he is in the final year of his contract. Smiley's future with the 49ers is in question, and Baas showed tremendous improvement in the offseason.
ROOKIE REPORT: Linebacker Patrick Willis became the final 49ers draft pick to sign when he agreed to a five-year contract that could pay a maximum of $16.655 million, including $12 million guaranteed. The agreement was reached on the eve of training camp. The other eight draft picks signed in plenty of time. Those picks are tackle Joe Staley, receiver Jason Hill, linebacker Jay Moore, safety Dashon Goldson, nose tackle Joe Cohen, cornerback Tarell Brown, running back Thomas Clayton.
INJURY REPORT: The 49ers expected all the players who were held out of offseason work to be ready -- or close to ready -- to resume on field work. The club is keeping a close eye on receiver Darrell Jackson, who did not participate in any offseason work with his new club because of a turf-toe injury he sustained late last season with the Seahawks.