NFC West: The Week in Review

All around the league, excitement is building as the first preseason games are in the books. Position battles are defined, and surprise players abound. Things are no different in the NFC West, one division that's experienced a very busy week!

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The passing of Bill Walsh, a mentor who gave him his first chance to coach in the NFL, caused Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren to reflect on how the game has changed. It also caused him to open up a bit about the influences that have shaped how he conducts himself as a coach.

"For me it was a time of reflection on Bill," Holmgren said of the service for Walsh, who hired him with the 49ers although he was only a college assistant at BYU. "He made quite a contribution to the league and to how all the guys that came after him do things. Whether it's practice organization or how you travel, he was pretty innovative and ahead of the curve in a lot of those things. He worked for a wonderful owner, Eddie DeBartolo, who was there and gave no limitations as to what he could do. So, that was helpful."

Holmgren's time with Walsh was not always without challenge, he said.

"As a young coach, you think you have every answer in the world," Holmgren said. "He used to be hard on me, and I reacted like most people would, and didn't like it too much. As I have grown older, I kind of understood why he did what he did. He was coaching the team, but he was also coaching me. It's absolutely helped form my philosophy on how I do things. Those were the types of things that I was thinking about."

The West Coast offense that Walsh constructed has evolved so much that Holmgren's scheme is quite different now than what the 49ers used when Walsh built a championship dynasty.

"When they talk about the X's and O's of the offense, Bill's system was a whole system -- it was not just on the field but how you traveled, your practice organization, your training camp organization; the whole running of the program, not just the X's and O's part of it."

And much of Walsh's influence on Holmgren had to do with creating an opportunity.

"I worked for Bill, but I also worked for a number of other really fine men; George Seifert and Lavell Edwards at BYU," he said. "Along the road I tried to take a little from each one of them. I've said this before, being an old high-school history teacher before my pro experience: I was a good student, I tried to learn, take notes and study from the guys that were my bosses. The biggest thing I would say with Bill (Walsh) is that he gave me my chance in the league. With my resume at the time, not many guys probably would have done that. I was not much far removed from being a high-school coach and it just didn't happen like that. He took a chance in hiring a young guy like me and I will always be grateful for that. There is a part of me that thinks that maybe I could have had a job down the road anyway but I got in a little earlier because of him."

CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 24, camp breaks.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Running back Shaun Alexander turns 30 at the end of August ... a birthday that can signal a decline in top running backs. Alexander points out that those statistical trends are for all running backs in the league. He doesn't want to compare himself to just anybody. "I think those stats are for every 30-year-old," he said. "Since I've been in the league, I've looked at the best of the best -- Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders. I've always been shooting for the guys that have those elite numbers and elite names."

--The Seahawks held a recent practice at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, a field they called home in 2000 and 2001 when Qwest Field was under construction. Those were not great days, especially 2000, when the Hawks finished 6-10, Holmgren's first losing season as a head coach. "I remember it well, and I think that transition time was hard," Holmgren said. "It really allowed us to be the team and organization that we are today football-wise. We experienced some things that maybe hadn't been experienced before, certainly I did. The culture of winning and expecting to win, being in the playoffs and challenging for the championships, those types of things had to be learned. If you remember during that time we were still trying to figure out who was going to be quarterback, we had some older fellas on the team that probably did not buy into my program to be honest, and that happens. I think we are quite different now than we were then."

--New tight end Marcus Pollard is having a strong camp as a receiver and blocker, according to offensive coordinator Gil Haskell. "Marcus Pollard is a fine player," Haskell said. "He had eight years at Indianapolis and was a really a good player. For us, we can run the outside now. He can block the corner, which we have not had since (Ryan) Hannam left.

--Veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant, who was moved back to the left side this season, is playing with more confidence than he did when he was on the right side (a move made to protect an injured shoulder). "Marcus is the steadiest player we've had here since I have been here," Mike Holmgren said. "Every corner gets beat now and then; it's just the nature of the beast. He practices, he's a good guy, he plays with intensity, and he's an unselfish player and is everything that a coach wants. I will say this, in this training camp, the one thing that we have stressed with him was the play right at the end at the ball. He has been victimized a little bit by that over the years and this camp clearly, if you have been watching it the whole time, he makes plays now. He is thinking about it and he is improving in that area. That's one position that I do not worry about, where he plays I do not worry about too much.

--The competition for the vacancy left by departed Darrell Jackson is increasing the intensity among the receiving corps. "Our wide receiver group, that was a topic of conversation this offseason," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "But Nate (Burleson) and Hack (D.J. Hackett), those guys are competing with each other and really playing well. Hack is catching the ball great. Nate's playing so fast and so explosive. It's exciting to see those guys step up to the plate. The next step is probably to feed the tight end a little bit more. That is something that we like to do in this offense and Marcus (Pollard) is new. He's a great guy, a very good player. If we get him going as well we're back offensively."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I went by Mack's yard yesterday and I saw this little fountain of youth. I noticed that thing is still pumping good, fresh water so I think Mack has about seven, eight more years. I hope so. As long as we can get him to drink it we'll be alright." -- Shaun Alexander on the play of 35-year-old fullback Mack Strong.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks cut CB Gerard Ross to make way for tight end Andy Stokes. Injuries to Will Heller (ankle) and Ben Joppru (hip) have left the Hawks short of manpower at tight end.
Stokes has spent time in camps with New England and Arizona. Ross was on the Seahawks' practice squad in 2006, but was activated for the playoff loss in Chicago.

--LT Walter Jones, nursing a tender shoulder, has been given some days off and has been held out from drills on occasion. Coaches said it's more of a precautionary measure for the 33-year-old Jones rather than a specific injury of concern.

--WR Ben Obomanu returned to practice the day after suffering a neck injury during a scrimmage. He had been taken away by ambulance, but was only shaken up.

--Sixth-round draft pick WR Courtney Taylor will miss up to four weeks with a sprained left knee. Taylor had been making a strong argument to make a roster deep in receivers.

--FB David Kirtman did little to help his chances of sticking with the club when he suffered a broken bone in his right hand.

--LB Niko Koutouvides, an important special teams player who had been having a solid camp, has missed practice time with a bruised chest.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: RG Chris Gray vs. Ray Willis. This is the hottest head-to-head challenge of Seahawks camp as the 37-year-old veteran Gray and converted tackle Willis try to earn the starting spot.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Backup running back -- The emergence of Leonard Weaver as a fullback candidate to spell or replace Mack Strong, and a third-down back to take touches away from Maurice Morris, is an interesting development that could change the look of the offense as they move toward the regular season.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Marcus Trufant. Trufant continues his aggressive play, which was highlighted by an interception against receiver D.J. Hackett in which Trufant reached over Hackett's head and pulled the ball away from him.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Josh Wilson had a tough day in his first NFL preseason game, getting beaten on a touchdown pass by Chargers receiver Malcolm Floyd. He did, however, recover a fumble in the game. ... DT Brandon Mebane showed his ability to rush the passer, getting pressure on Charger quarterback Billy Volek. ... WR Courtney Taylor lost ground in his battle to make the roster as a sprained knee will keep him sidelined for up to four weeks.

INJURY IMPACT: Nine players didn't make the trip to San Diego for the preseason opener: WR Courtney Taylor (sprained knee), TE Will Heller (ankle), TE Ben Joppru (hip), FB David Kirtman (broken hand), OL Floyd Womack (hamstring), DT Craig Terrill ( knee), DT Marcus Tubbs (on PUP, knee), LB Niko Koutouvides (chest) and DB Jordan Babineaux (knee).


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Cardinals running back Marcel Shipp is accustomed to taking a back seat -- to Michael Pittman, Thomas Jones, Emmitt Smith, J.J. Arrington and now Edgerrin James. Shipp, who made it as an undrafted rookie from Massachusetts in 2001, has seen a parade of high draft picks and high-priced free agents come and go.

They all got a chance at his expense.

Yet every time one of them faltered and Shipp got his chance, he made the most of it. Shipp led the team in rushing three out of four years through 2005. It very likely would have been four out of four had he not suffered a serious knee injury that wiped out his entire 2004 season. Enter Edgerrin James, and Shipp once again was scrambling to find a niche. Shipp carried only 17 times last season in coach Dennis Green's finale. Shipp could have left. He was an unrestricted free agent last winter. But he re-signed, believing he would be a better fit in coach Ken Whisenhunt's run-first offense.

And Shipp has, indeed, found that niche. He is James' top backup, offering a change of pace with his powerful bursts between the tackles. Shipp ran seven times for 35 yards in the preseason opener at Oakland, leading the team.

"Everything is moving the way it is supposed to," Shipp said. "I love this type of offense. I'm just going to play hard every night and see where it gets me." Shipp also has emerged as the short-yardage/goal-line back.

And now he has a surprising new role: Kickoff returner. He and Arrington are the deep men, although rookie Steve Breaston still might change that. But coach Ken Whisenhunt said he loves having Shipp deep so he can block if the ball goes to the other returner.

CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 23 -- The Cardinals break camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., after a morning walkthrough. The remainder of preseason preparation will be at the Cardinals' training facility in Tempe, Ariz.

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin likes what he's seen of Ken Whisenhunt and his new coaching staff so far. Practices have been relatively short but intense with a minimum of injuries. There haven't been many two-a-day loads. "We get work in, but he takes care of his players," Boldin said. "We have learned a lot. That was the thing I wanted in a head coach -- attention to detail, holding guys accountable."

--QB Matt Leinart was a huge disappointment in the preseason opener, consistently overthrowing open receivers in his three series of work -- the first two three-and-outs. Leinart went five of 11 for 50 yards. "We'll clean it up," Leinart said. "I'm not worried about my throws. Mentally I just want to be sharp. "Camp has gone by fast, and coach Whisenhunt has taken care of us. I think the grind part is kind of over. Once you get to the first preseason game, then it's three days of workdays, travel and games. We just have to get through this and pretty soon Monday Night Football will be right around the corner."

--One of Whisenhunt's mantras has been "No stupid play." The defense apparently didn't get the message. The first unit had three penalties -- unnecessary roughness, offside, pass interference in the end zone -- that contributed to an Oakland score. That is precisely what Whisenhunt doesn't want. "I thought we had a chance to swing momentum when we had penalties," Whisenhunt said. "But in the end I wasn't displeased. I don't want to dismiss the good things we did. We had opportunities to make plays. We just didn't get it done."

--CB Antrel Rolle is on the hot seat and he knows it. The spotlight's glare will only intensify after his poor showing in the preseason opener in which he played soft on receivers, missed a big tackle and set up a Raiders touchdown with a pass interference penalty in the end zone. "I definitely have to show what I have," Rolle said. "The critics are looking for the same things I am looking for myself. I am my worst critic. I have to go out and make the big plays. That's what we need." Rolle, a first-round pick in 2005, had one interception last season. The criticism extends to the CB position in general, although Eric Green had a strong debut opposite Rolle.

"I know watching tape from last season that they were not very disciplined in their technique and that was one of the things we wanted to emphasize," Whisenhunt said. "I have seen a lot better play from them. They have been closer to some balls. They have broken up some passes." New secondary coach Teryl Austin is attempting to simplify the corners' technique.

--Whisenhunt, who conducted a field-goal kicking competition between offensive and defensive linemen after one OTA session in the spring and canceled the finale in favor of a team trip to a bowling alley, continued to mix in surprises for his players by canceling Wednesday morning's training camp workout so they could go to a movie together. "It is a changeup, that's for sure," Whisenhunt said. "It was one of the things I learned from coach (Bill) Cowher. This is a small reward for their hard work. I'm sure you have heard the cliche, 'Throw them a bone.' That's what it was. It was something we could do as a team. Anytime these guys can spend time together outside the football field, I think it builds chemistry."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We can't have those penalties. That is not smart, disciplined football. We talked about it on the sideline, and it is a good learning experience. We are going to get better at that." -- Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt, on his first-unit defense's snafus that led to an Oakland touchdown in the preseason opener.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Tight end remains one of the areas of concern on offense and little happened in the preseason opener at Oakland to begin sorting it out. The position is critical to coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense, which is based on run first. Tight end/H-back plays a far greater role than in the past, as does the fullback. But fullback appears to be in capable hands with Terrelle Smith. Leonard Pope has the starting tight end spot nailed down, it appears. The search for his backup remains troublesome to the coaching staff. Troy Bienemann is the early leader for the No. 2 spot. Whisenhunt is looking for stronger blocking from everyone at the position.

"He is a great resource. He is watching the film and he is critiquing you," said Bienemann, referring to Whisenhunt's playing days as a tight end. "He knows what is going on -- the mental mistakes, the missed assignments. I think we know what to do. It's a matter of putting them into action."

--QB Kurt Warner, the 36-year-old backup, fired a 58-yard touchdown pass on his first attempt in the preseason opener, serving notice that he is ready to push Matt Leinart, who was not sharp in his debut.

--QB Matt Leinart did not look sharp at all, often overthrowing open receivers, caused in part by Oakland's pass rush. He went 5 of 11 for 50 yards.

--WR Bryant Johnson, a speedster who averaged 18.5 yards a catch in 2006, opened preseason play with a 58-yard scoring catch from Kurt Warner. Johnson's speed for that big-average yardage is the perfect complement to starting receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who are more skilled but not as fast.

--RT Levi Brown, the first-round pick who remains on the second unit, came off the ball well in the second half and threw some nice blocks.

--DE Darnell Dockett played well in his new role outside after three years at "under" tackle in Dennis Green's defense. But a stupid penalty for unnecessary roughness, precisely the kind of play new coach Ken Whisenhunt is attempting to eradicate, hurt the defense during a Raiders scoring drive.

--CB Antrel Rolle got off to a poor start with a pass interference penalty in the end zone that set up a touchdown, a missed tackle on another long gainer and generally soft play off the line.

--CB Eric Green made three plays in the Raiders' opening drive when they went at him, and turned in a solid game with good coverage and tackles.

--DL Chris Cooper continued his strong camp with six tackles, two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble vs. the Raiders. He remains on the second unit but will be a valuable veteran rotation player who can play multiple positions.

--K Neil Rackers, a pro Bowler in 2005 when he broken NFL season field-goal kicking records, booted a 59-yard field goal on the final play of the first half in the preseason opener at Oakland, an indicator that he is ready to shake off a down year in 2006. He made all three of his tries vs. the Raiders.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: NT Gabe Watson's reduced weight and new resolve were evident in a solid performance during his debut with the first team. Watson was noticeably quicker, enabling him to make more plays in the running game. He has not, however, cemented the position. Second-round pick Alan Branch also was solid with the second unit. This battle is expected to go down to the final week of the preseason -- and perhaps beyond.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: FS Aaron Francisco got the start in the preseason opener largely because he has been with the team longer. But free-agent acquisition Terrence Holt is still neck-and-neck with Francisco for the starting job. Both players, however, suffered injuries during the game that could set back their competition. Francisco has a sprained ankle, Holt sore ribs.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: ILB Pago Togafau, an undrafted rookie from Idaho State who is listed third-team on the depth chart, made six tackles in the preseason opener at Oakland after backup ILB Monty Beisel left with back spasms.

ROOKIE REPORT: T Levi Brown, the Cardinals first-round pick, was solid in his preseason debut. He still is chasing starter Oliver Ross. ... NT Alan Branch made some plays but has some distance to close before he is ready to unseat Gabe Watson from the first unit. ... ILB Buster Davis, a third-round pick, and WR-KR Steve Breaston, a fifth-round pick, also had impressive preseason openers.

INJURY REPORT: OLB Chike Okeafor suffered a bicep injury in the preseason opener at Oakland and will undergo an MRI to determine the seriousness. Okeafor played well last year is having an excellent camp. His backup, Darryl Blackstock, hasn't played much.

--C Nick Leckey, the starter late in 2006 who now is behind Al Johnson, has a sprained knee ligament and likely will be out two to four weeks.
--ILB Monty Beisel, the backup to Gerald Hayes, left the preseason opener with back spasms.
--FS Aaron Francisco has a sprained ankle and is day to day.
--FS Terrence Holt has sore ribs and is day to day.
--FB A.J. Schable had surgery to repair a fractured right foot and will be out at least until late September, making him a strong candidate for injured reserve or an injury settlement. He was backing Terrelle Smith.
--DT Jonathan Lewis sprained a medial collateral knee ligament early in camp and is expected to miss at least one more week. He was working as a backup.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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He started showing up early in training camp, being around the ball consistently, taking advantage of a situation where several linebackers missed practice time because of injuries. Quinton Culberson is young and inexperienced, but he is making coaches stand up and take notice. An undrafted free agent from Mississippi State, Culberson began his college career as a cornerback, was switched to safety and only played linebacker his final two years.

Now, he stands a decent chance of making the Rams' roster. "He has great instincts and a lot of natural talent to play the position," coach Scott Linehan said.

Asked about the good things being said about him, Culberson responded, "I'm not going to get hyped up about it. It feels good that people do see that I'm playing real hard and working to try to make this team.

"Once you get on the field, no matter if you're first round or second round, fifth round or seventh round, everybody gets an opportunity. It's just how you do when you get your turn."

He has done well when that turn has come, working often with the second team. After his performance in the preseason opener against the Vikings, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, "He's got a natural nose for the football. Even when he doesn't know the hell he's doing, he makes a tackle. Those guys are hard to find, a linebacker like that. I really like the kid."

Added Linehan, "He is one of the many bright spots with our young players. I think what we have seen through camp and now in his first preseason game, the guy just shows up. He always seems to be around the ball. He had a great open-field play, a pass break-up. A legitimate NFL play when he broke up that pass and then showed up on some plays on defense, starts getting tackles. He really had a really good game in special teams. He is continuing to impress."

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opened July 27 with the first practice the next day. There was an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 4. Camp closes Aug. 19.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Searing temperatures caused the Rams to move most of their daytime practices inside during the last week. That was expected to be the plan this week, with highs still around 100 on a daily basis. "It's the hottest spot in the country right now," coach Scott Linehan said. "One of the precautions you take with extreme heat is to have an alternative plan. When it's 100 degrees out, and you're pushing towards 105-110 in the heat index, it's (something) to really pay attention to."

Because the Rams hold training camp at their own facility, they have the ability to practice inside. For space reasons, the offensive and defensive linemen do individual drills outside, then come inside for the "team" parts of practice. Still, it wasn't exactly cool inside. "We want to be able to work the guys and get in shape," Linehan said. "We want them to feel it. It's designed that way, we don't want it too cool."
After one inside practice, rookie defensive tackle Keith Jackson said of starting work outside, "We come in here and it's like, 'Oh man, they've been living lovely.' We've been outside for about 45 minutes and it's feeling real good."

--In a mild surprise, Brett Romberg started at center in the team's opening preseason game against Minnesota instead of Andy McCollum. McCollum played in just one game last season because of a knee injury and Romberg started the final three games of the season there. Coach Scott Linehan said this was the plan all along and nothing to do with the fact that McCollum missed practice two days before the game because of the stomach flu. Linehan said McCollum would start this week against San Diego.

"Based on Brett finishing the year as the starting center and Andy coming back off injury and not knowing where he was going to be, we decided that going into training camp," Linehan said. "I think as we get into the preseason, especially after this game, I think there will be a clearer picture as to who is leading."

--Coach Scott Linehan successfully challenged a second-half incomplete ruling of a pass to wide receiver Derek Stanley, in which the ball bounced up in the air. The officials ruled the ball had hit the ground, but on review it was determined the ball bounced off a Minnesota defender's hand without touching the ground. However, Linehan almost failed to get the red flag out in time "My feeling initially was that the ball came up awful funny," Linehan said. "It seemed like it might have bounced off of somebody or somebody's hand. We were looking at the review. The officials were adamant that it hit the ground. There was a little doubt in my mind. I didn't see it. I only saw how the ball came up. We got a pretty good look at the review, right before we were going to snap the ball. I had to get through five or six things in my pocket to find my red flag. That will never happen again. I think I threw everything. I'm surprised I didn't rip my pants off. I don't know if they have me on film on that one. I'd like to burn that copy. It was pretty embarrassing."

Asked what is in his pocket, Linehan said, "You know, I had my wallet, my cell phone ... actually had my pocket buttoned, because before the half, they said don't throw the flag, so I buttoned it to make sure I didn't throw the challenge flag. Usually, (equipment manager) Todd (Hewitt) takes it out, so I had it buttoned and didn't unbutton it. The flag is usually out so you can grab it, but the flag had been tucked in and I didn't check it. I need to make it part of my checklist to make sure my flag isn't tucked in too deep. It was a great situation and a really unique challenge. I'm not sure how many times you will see that. That is as close as they come on a big play."

Stanley ran for a touchdown after the catch, but because the play was blown dead, the Rams were given the ball at the spot of the reception.

--With DT La'Roi Glover sidelined by a hip injury, second-year DT Claude Wroten played a lot of snaps against Minnesota. Asked about Wroten's play, coach Scott Linehan said, "I think he showed he is a much improved player from a year ago. His minuses came in the run game. We graded pretty tough on those young players all across the board. Last year, I don't think Claude would have graded as high as he graded this game. He always shows up in the pass. He has a great get-off. He is a penetrating defensive tackle. Where he needs to continue to improve and has improved is playing the run. I think it was a good start for him."

The Rams hope Wroten can be productive so Glover can be limited to 25-30 plays a game. Asked about that being a reality, Linehan said of Wroten, "I think it is a great role for him. I have no reason to believe that it is going to not work."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He finished the season last year playing on a bum leg. He's had to take it easy during training camp. We've been real diligent in our efforts to try to get him back and able to play 100 percent. I don't think he's there yet, but he's showing signs that he's close." -- Offensive coordinator Greg Olson on WR Torry Holt, who had two receptions for 26 yards in the preseason opener.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LT Orlando Pace, coming back from a torn triceps injury suffered last season, started and played with the rest of the first team on their two early possessions. Said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, "He's slowly but surely getting back to form. At the start of training camp, he was somewhat reluctant to use that left arm. But as camp's progressed, he's become more and more comfortable with it. We saw him using his left arm (against the Vikings), and there were no limitations there. So, we're excited about that."

WR Fred Gibson was added to the roster to replace Lamart Barrett, who was placed on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. Barrett was waived injured and reverted to injured reserve when he cleared waivers. The Rams are trying to work out an injury settlement with him. Gibson was a fourth-round pick of the Steelers in 2005, whom coach Scott Linehan got to know when he was on Miami's practice squad that season. Gibson had been released by the Falcons on July 30.

--WR Dominique Thompson suffered two displaced ribs against Minnesota Aug. 12 and is expected to miss two weeks of practice. Thompson was making a bid for a job as the team's sixth receiver.
--C Brett Romberg started against the Vikings after starting the last three games of the season there. Romberg will not start this week against San Diego as Andy McCollum gets the nod.
--C Andy McCollum, coming back from a knee injury, did not start in the preseason opener against Minnesota, but will start this week against San Diego.
--DT Claude Wroten played a lot of snaps against Minnesota with La'Roi Glover bothered by a hip injury. Wroten is being counted on to play a lot this season.
--DT La'Roi Glover aggravated a hip injury in pregame warm-ups before the Minnesota game, and did not play.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Brett Romberg vs. Andy McCollum for starting center -- This competition might be closer than anticipated. While Romberg played well at the end of the 2006 season, it was thought McCollum's experience would give him an edge. Romberg did well in two possessions against Minnesota as the starter. McCollum will start this week against San Diego. Whoever starts in Week 3 against Oakland will probably get the opening-day nod.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: QB Brock Berlin played against deep reserves, but still drove the team down the field for the winning field goal against Minnesota. Berlin completed five of six passes for 60 yards on the drive, including a 21-yard strike to rookie Derek Stanley for a key first down on third-and-14. Ryan Fitzpatrick still has the edge, but Berlin could be gaining on him. ... RB Kay-Jay Harris had a nice 17-yard run and stood out in the competition for the No. 3 running back spot with Travis Minor and Rich Alexis. ... Recently signed OG Milford Brown played with the second team at right guard, and is fighting Claude Terrell for a backup job.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Derek Stanley -- The seventh-round pick from Wisconsin-Whitewater had four receptions for 61 yards and also looked good on kickoff and punt returns. He would have had more yards had a reception not been first ruled incomplete before being overturned on a replay challenge. Asked if Stanley's play was surprising, coach Scott Linehan said, "I don't know if it was surprise. I think we have always felt that he has that ability. I think that the game not seeming too big for him was encouraging and he did a nice job of coming in and doing some returning and making some plays as a receiver. It was a heck of a heads up play on that one play. A lot of rookies would have just stopped right there and not kept playing. He just kept playing and it ended up being a completed pass. I wish they wouldn't have blown it dead. That would have been a great touchdown to put in the books. He showed me something."

ROOKIE REPORT: NT Clifton Ryan (fifth round) is steadily improving and will likely be the backup nose tackle. ... NT Keith Jackson has an uphill climb to make the roster unless the team keeps five tackles and three ends. If released, the team hopes he clears waivers and can be added to the practice squad. ... C Dustin Fry is in a battle for a job on a deep line and could also end up on the practice squad. ... PK Kevin Lovell has little chance of unseating Jeff Wilkins, but he had to open some eyes around the league by hitting two fourth-quarter field goals (39 and 40 yards) to first tie and then win the game against Minnesota. Lovell not only made the field goals, but he drilled them down the middle.

INJURY REPORT: WR Dominique Thompson was in competition for a sixth receiver spot, but suffered two displaced ribs against Minnesota and will likely be out two weeks. After being injured on a hit by Vikings S Mike Doss, Thompson came back in the game. "That was a tribute to his ability to handle that," coach Scott Linehan said. "It had to be extremely painful." As for the injury affecting Thompson's chances of making the team, Linehan said, "It's going to give other guys opportunities, but it doesn't dispel our feelings about him. He's done enough at this point where if he were to be in that spot that he's competing for, he'd do a nice job."

DT La'Roi Glover was limited in practice during the week because of an injured hip and then aggravated it in pregame warmups. Glover did not play against the Vikings. Others that didn't play against Minnesota were WR/KR Dante Hall (hamstring), LB Tim McGarigle (hamstring), LB Raonall Smith (shoulder) and OT Ken Shackleford (knee). All of those players returned to practice Sunday (Aug. 12). Not practicing was WR Dane Looker, who was kneed in the back against the Vikings.

RB Brian Leonard bruised his ribs against Vikings but practiced Sunday, as did CB Jonathan Wade, who was hit in the head against the Vikings, but got clearance to work after having a neurological exam in the morning.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Coach Mike Nolan said he prefers to keep five wide receivers on the 49ers' final roster, but there seems to be some support for keeping six at that position. The 49ers released Antonio Bryant, who led the team in receiving yards, shortly after last season. Nolan said Bryant did not fit in. The 49ers compensated for losing Bryant by acquiring Darrell Jackson in a trade from the Seahawks, signing Ashley Lelie and drafting Jason Hill in the third round. The existing corps of receivers appears stronger than last season, too. Taylor Jacobs has been the most consistent receiver through the offseason program and training camp, and second-year player Brandon Williams has made significant strides from a year ago.

Currently, incumbent Arnaz Battle and Darrell Jackson are listed as the team's starting receivers.

"The competition has been brought on by the additions of Darrell Jackson, Ashley Lelie and the maturity of Taylor Jacobs," Nolan said. "I don't want to leave out Arnaz Battle because he's already established to us that he can play."

Bryan Gilmore was the 49ers' No. 3 receiver a year ago. Despite playing more than half of the team's offensive snaps last season, Gilmore caught just eight passes for 150 yards. This season, he might have a difficult time earning a spot as one of the team's top six receivers.

"There are about six or seven guys who I think are competing pretty hard for five spots," Nolan said. Jackson and Lelie were the biggest question marks during the months leading up to training camp because injuries kept them from participating in most of the offseason program.

Jackson sustained a turf-toe injury late in the season with the Seahawks that kept him out of the final three regular-season games. He was held out of the 49ers' offseason work to allow his toe to heal. Lelie sustained a pulled quad muscle on one of the first routes he ran during the post-draft minicamp. When he tried to return for organized team activities several weeks later, he aggravated the injury.

Jackson and Lelie have gotten off to good starts in training camp, as both has shown the reasons the 49ers pursued them in the offseason. Jackson, a seven-year veteran, gives third-year quarterback Alex Smith a veteran target. Lelie has shown a presence as a vertical threat.

"He's definitely a threat," Nolan said. "You can see why his (yards per) catch average is so high. Typically, when he's going up for a ball with another player, he's been pretty successful."
Jackson was consistent with the Seahawks. In 2005 he played just six games, but in his other six seasons he averaged 67 receptions for 993 yards.

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. Camp breaks Aug. 22.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Running back Michael Robinson said he had put himself in danger because he had let his weight drop dramatically in a short period of time. Robinson dropped 13 pounds the first three days of practices after reporting to camp at 227 pounds. He left practice on July 31 with dehydration, but did not learn the extent of his condition until later.

"I didn't know how serious it was," Robinson said. "They kind of helped me mentally. They didn't tell me, so I wouldn't get worried. But it could've been real bad.

"When you get dehydrated, it starts affecting other organs," Robinson said. "I was so dehydrated that the blood wasn't getting to my kidneys."

Robinson took six bags of intravenous fluids during his six-hour hospital stay. Then, he required two addition bags the next day. Tight end Delanie Walker and tackle Jonas Jennings have also be treated for dehydration during the first two weeks of camp.

--Rookie receiver Jason Hill showed his toughness when he rebounded after a big hit across the middle from safety Dashon Goldson to catch a 30-yard pass down the middle on the next play of practice.
"It's huge, especially being a rookie," Hill said. "It's not about the last play, it's about the play ahead. I felt I was focused and locked in."
Said Goldson, "He doesn't shy from contact. He's a tough kid."

--Coach Mike Nolan believes the 49ers are at a disadvantage this season. League rules state that full squads can report to training camp no earlier than 15 days before that club's first exhibition game. Because the 49ers' first exhibition game came Monday night, the 49ers were among the last teams in the league to report. Therefore, the 49ers will have fewer practices this summer than most NFL teams.
"We're not getting ready for the preseason opener, we're getting ready for the regular season," Nolan said. "Let's all start at the same time."

--Nolan would like to hold joint practices and even scrimmages during summer with another team. He and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan talked about it during the spring, but they could not work out the logistics. Nolan said wanted to scrimmage the Raiders last year but the Raiders balked. Nolan said he asked then-coach Art Shell, with whom he is friends. "Art didn't give me the 'no,'" Nolan said. "That came from someone else. That person is still there."

--The 49ers received league approval to wear their 1980s "throwback" jerseys to honor Bill Walsh in the regular-season opener, Monday, Sept. 10, against the Cardinals.

--Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam vet who later was part of four Super Bowl teams with the Steelers, spoke to the 49ers during a team meeting. The 49ers have guest speakers regularly during training camp.

--Rookie defensive end Ray McDonald of Florida got off to a strong start in training camp, but his play dropped a little bit during the second week of practices.
McDonald appears ready to give veteran Marques Douglas a battle for the starting job at right end. McDonald figures to see plenty of action in the base defense, as well as bumping inside to rush the passer on nickel downs. "I do expect him to do some things," Nolan said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would say confidence. I think the biggest thing is there are a lot of little details that we have to work on. We're not trying to get guys to play fast. Some of the younger guys might be going in the wrong direction but they're going fast. I think when you're talking about guys have to practice harder, guys who have to run faster, then you're talking about the wrong things." -- 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary on the difference from last year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers are searching for a reliable backup nose tackle among the players on their roster. They do not expect to have starter Aubrayo Franklin during the exhibition season, so they'll get a long look at the backups. Isaac Sopoaga, entering the final year of his contract, has experienced consistency problems in the past. Also, the 49ers don't know exactly what they have in rookie Joe Cohen. Ronald Fields and Sam Rayburn could also get a few snaps at nose tackle, as the 49ers prepare for the regular season.

--OL Adam Snyder saw most of his work at left guard during the offseason, as Larry Allen stayed away from the team's practice facility. But with an injury to backup left tackle Patrick Estes, Snyder has moved to left tackle to back up Jonas Jennings.

--OL Harvey Dahl has played right tackle for most of his time with the 49ers. But after injuries on the offensive line forced some juggling, Dahl has found himself as a backup at left guard, too.

--OL Tavares Washington, who missed a week with a knee sprain, returned to the practice field at right tackle. He had been seeing almost all of his action at guard.

--DL Ronald Fields has been seeing first-team snaps at left defensive end, as Bryant Young has sat out almost all of camp with a sore back. But Fields has started seeing some action at nose tackle as the 49ers look for answers behind injured Aubrayo Franklin.

--OLB Mark Washington has showed some athletic ability through two weeks of training camp. Although a roster spot is unlikely, he could figure into the picture with a spot on the practice squad.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Ashley Lelie vs. Taylor Jacobs for No. 3 wide receiver -- Behind starters Arnaz Battle and Darrell Jackson is a lot of competition for playing time among the 49ers' receivers. Based on how they have performed thus far in training camp, the top two candidates for the No. 3 job appear to be Lelie and Jacobs. The 49ers awarded Lelie a $2 million signing bonus in the offseason, so they appear willing to give him every chance to win the No. 3 job. But Jacobs has looked better than any receiver on the roster through the first couple weeks of camp. Coaches say that Jacobs might be the most talented receiver on the roster. With a new outlook on life after he coped with the loss last year of his 10-week-old daughter to sudden infant death syndrome, Jacobs appears as if he is putting it all together on the playing field.

OTHER BATTLEFRONTS: Derek Smith vs. Patrick Willis for the starting job at MLB. Smith is the veteran who knows his assignments inside-out. Willis has been perhaps the most impressive defensive player in camp thus far. Smith might start the season in the base package, with Willis coming in on third downs.

--Michael Robinson, Maurice Hicks and Thomas Clayton are in competition for the backup RB job. The 49ers need to find someone reliable behind Frank Gore, who might not play in the exhibition season due to a broken hand. Robinson and Hicks are clearly ahead of Clayton at this stage.

--Kwame Harris vs. Joe Staley at RT. Harris, the incumbent, started every game the past two seasons. He is strong as a run-blocker and not as consistent in pass protection. Staley, a rookie, has shown good feet and strength. Staley has a legitimate chance to emerge as the starter.

--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. It looks as if Smiley will win the job, but Baas might be used for a series or two a game.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Not only does he bring a fire to the practice field with his intense attitude, Banta-Cain is always in the middle of the action. He dominated a intrasquad scrimmage with his pass-rushing. The club is expecting big things from him this season. Assistant head coach Mike Singletary said he has been so impressed with Banta-Cain that he expects 10 sacks, at the very least, from the free-agent pickup from the Patriots. Banta-Cain is being counted upon to be a huge part of the 49ers' conversion to a 3-4 defense.

ROOKIE REPORT: Linebacker Patrick Willis showed his ability to play laterally during his career at Ole Miss. But the 49ers have been blown away with the way he reacts downhill and makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. Whether he is starting or not, Willis will be a huge factor in the 49ers' defense this season. ... Right tackle Joe Staley has played so well in practices that some in the organization believe it's a slam dunk that he will be starting ahead of incumbent Kwame Harris this fall. ... Receiver Jason Hill has shown gradual improvement since camp began. He is tough-minded and catches the ball very well. Although he might have a difficult time working into the mix initially, Hill will make the team and has a chance to be a contributor as the season goes on. ... OLB Jay Moore is working as a backup. While his pass-rush and run skills appear good, he has a lot of room for improvement with his pass coverage. ... Defensive end Ray McDonald struggled a little in practice last week, but he still figures into the mix. He is competing against Marques Douglas for playing time, and should be a factor in the nickel pass rush. ... Nose tackle Joe Cohen has been up-and-down thus far in camp. The 49ers want to see more from him, especially after starter Aubrayo Franklin went down with a knee injury. ... Safety Dashon Goldson is a big hitter who said he feels restricted at practice. He was looking forward to putting on the pads against an opponent. ... Tarell Brown appears to be the team's No. 4 cornerback. He could find himself in a key role if an injury occurs in the secondary. ... Running back Thomas Clayton is the No. 4 running back, as he has not made a strong move to challenge Michael Robinson or Maurice Hicks for the backup job.

INJURY REPORT: Running back Frank Gore returned to practice in a limited role with a broken right hand. He might not see any action during the exhibition season, though, as the club wants him to be completely healed and healthy for the regular-season opener. ... Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is likely to miss the entire exhibition season with a partially torn MCL in his knee. Just a few days after the injury, Franklin was seen walking around with minimal discomfort. The injury did not require surgery. The club expects him to be ready for the start of the regular season. ... Backup tackle Patrick Estes sustained a high left ankle sprain and is expected to miss approximately 10 days. ... Defensive lineman Bryant Young has experienced soreness in his back that has kept him out for all but a couple practices this summer. Young said he is being held out mostly as a precaution.

 


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