In Mike Holmgren's previous eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, the team has won four division titles and appeared in the postseason five times, but only once has the team finished better than 2-2 in the preseason. It's a reflection of his approach to preseason games, for which he and the staff spend very little to no time game-planning for the opponent. In preparation for games, they continue to work on their schemes, and spend no time in film study of what to expect from the opponent.
Occasionally, when the Hawks meet a 3-4 defensive team, such as San Diego, the offense will brush up on "odd front" blocking schemes. Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell explained that the general theme of preseason games is to "do what you do," and not worry about what "they" do.
"(Against a 3-4 team) if we didn't at least run some plays against it, then we would have no chance because it is so completely different than the 4-3." The last time the Seahawks had a really good exhibition season, in the context of won-loss record, was 1998, when they played a fifth game because of having a neutral site game in Vancouver, B.C. They went 4-1 that exhibition season and coach Dennis Erickson ended up getting fired after the season.
Holmgren tends to exercise caution with his manpower, trying to arrive at some middle ground of getting guys out there so they can develop their timing, but not too much to add undue risk. "If you're asking how much do I need to play ... none," running back Shaun Alexander said. "I think that we work well when we get a feel of each other, so I need to play enough for everybody to get that feel; for the line to know what I am thinking, enough for us to be on film so I can say, 'Okay, you see when I took this step, this is how the defense shifted. This is a pass play...' So Mack (Strong) can say, 'Okay, this is what they're going to look like when Shaun is in.' I think that we need that, so it's always a couple plays to get on film. Then we just go from there."
With sometimes as many as 11 players sitting out practices because of injuries, the Hawks certainly benefit from the NFL's cancellation of the "China Bowl," which would have added another preseason game and at least another week of training camp. And that's not to mention an extra 11,000 miles flying halfway around the world and back.
Typically, the Seahawks' starters and veterans see limited action in the opener, increasing amounts in the second game, and play most of the third game. In the fourth, they might play only a series or two, allowing them to rest for the regular-season opener, which, this year, is against Tampa Bay at home in Qwest Field.
Kurt Warner said during the week leading to the Cardinals' preseason opener that he has decided to stick it out. Despite losing the starting job last season to then-rookie Matt Leinart, Warner says he now plans to stay "as long as the Cardinals want me." He is under contract this season and next after signing for three years going into 2006.
He had considered retirement after last season, disappointed that he was displaced by the highly-paid rookie when Warner believed that he still was capable of performing at a high level. "I think the hard thing is too many people associate a starting position with a person, thinking, 'Well, he took my spot' instead of realizing a lot of times it is out of our hands," Warner said. "It has nothing to do with Matt or nothing to do with me. Too often that gets in the way.
"To allow anything to get in the way of building a relationship, I realized that was a stupid and selfish thing to do."
On his first toss against the Raiders on Saturday, though, Warner fired a 58-yard scoring strike to Bryant Johnson, verifying that Warner still has some football left and that his decision to stay until nudged out the door is a good one.
Warner played only two series -- his other pass was a 15-yard completion to Johnson -- and he was much sharper in his debut than Leinart, who consistently overthrew open receivers during his three series of work.
Warner and Leinart managed to become friends, and one of Warner's most valuable contributions to the team is mentoring Leinart, not only about life on the field but also off it. Leinart has been associated with the Hollywood A-list party life from his college days at Southern California. He also recently endured some nasty publicity from the mother of his infant son regarding Leinart's (lack of) skills as a father.
"He's kind of the wise old man," Leinart said of Warner. "Not old man, but the guy I look up to. I love Kurt to death. He's helped me so much in a lot of aspects of my life."
On another team, Warner might still be the starter. Had the Cardinals gone another way with the 10th pick overall in the 2006 draft, Warner might still be the starter for the Cardinals. His work in the preseason debut only reinforced that in his mind. "That adds to the frustration, when you feel you can do the things you need to start and you look around this league and see the guys that are out there starting," Warner said. "I have done things that people in this league will never do. If I never step on the field again, I will leave this game happy. But in the back of my mind I am hoping for one more chance."
How the Cardinals stand at backup quarterback wasn't high on their list of concerns. There were plenty of other more pressing questions in the debut of the Ken Whisenhunt coaching era, a 27-23 loss to the Raiders. The rebuilt offensive line was fair at best in front of Edgerrin James, who played only a series with three yards on two rushes. As the evening wore on, the unit improved and Marcel Shipp averaged five yards a carry.
The new 3-4 defense was effective in its debut, although there were too many of the "stupid" penalties that Whisenhunt abhors and the first unit lost a key member in outside linebacker Chike Okeafor (bicep). It is not known how long he will be out.
The new staff, itself, sputtered in its shakedown cruise. A miscommunication in sending in a play led to an interception thrown by third-string quarterback Shane Boyd that was returned for the touchdown that turned the game.
It's make or break for starting corners Antrel Rolle and Eric Green after two shaky seasons. Green fared well from the outset, making plays as Oakland went at him. But Rolle was scary bad, with soft coverage, missed tackles and a pass interference penalty in the end zone that set up a Raiders touchdown.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Every team wants to hit on its first-day draft picks. Miss on any, and it can set a team back for several years. While it's certainly early, Rams coaches are thrilled with their first three picks in this year's draft: defensive tackle Adam Carriker, running back Brian Leonard and cornerback Jonathan Wade.
The team expected Carriker and Leonard to do well, but there was some uncertainty about Wade because he'd played cornerback just one year at Tennessee. With cornerback Fakhir Brown on suspension for the first four games of the season, Wade has been getting a lot of snaps in practice as the third corner and drawing rave reviews from coaches. He continued that ascent in the first preseason game against Minnesota, although he had to leave the game in the third quarter after taking a hit to the head.
"Before he came out of the game, he really showed up," Linehan said. "First part of the game on the kickoff team, he went down and made a real sure tackle. He made a great tackle on a third down when they ran a crossing route. On the play where he got hit and came out, he made a great open-field tackle on a reverse. Those were the things that maybe there was some question on. We didn't how sure a tackler he would be."
Said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, "He's a guy that's got a lot of upside."
It's unlikely, but not out of the question that Wade could start the opener if he continues improving and starting cornerback Ron Bartell continues to battle tackling issues on receivers. As for Carriker and Leonard, Linehan said early in camp, "You're talking about two guys who were born with football pads on."
Carriker was in for 24 plays, with 16 at nose tackle and eight at three-technique. Coaches plan to use him at end this week in practice. Said Haslett, "For a guy who has never really played in there, he was a big, physical force. The good thing about him is that he asks questions when he comes off the field. He wants to learn. I think he is going to get better and better the more he is in there.
"He's a guy who will do anything that you ask him to do. He's a massive guy, and he's a good athlete. He's very intelligent. He's a down-to-earth guy. It's all about the team, it's not just about him. If I asked him to go play corner, he would probably try to do it. That's the kind of kid he is."
Haslett added about Carriker's play against the Vikings, "I thought Adam played fairly well. When he played on the nose, he did really well, and when he played at the three-technique, he did OK. The good thing about this was, it was live competition against a guy that's been a Pro Bowler (center Matt Birk). Now, he wasn't perfect. But he played pretty darn good."
Linehan talked to Birk after the game and noted, "Matt said he's a load, he's a handful and he's really a heck of a player. That's coming from a Pro Bowl center. That says a lot."
Said Carriker, "To be honest with you, after about the first series, I felt like this wasn't really any different than practice. It was good and I feel comfortable in there. It feels like home now."
With running back Steven Jackson having only two receptions in limited time, Leonard rushed for 36 on nine carries, and caught five passes for 30 yards. On the team's only touchdown drive of the game, Leonard scored on a 10-yard run and totaled 34 of the drive's 73 yards. Said Linehan, "You see what Brian brings to the table, a lot of versatility. I think he is a guy that shows that he can go in, in situations no matter if it is first down, third down, short yardage, goal line, special teams and be a heck of a player for us.
"We couldn't have scripted it better. We wanted to see him run the ball, we wanted to see him catch it and we wanted to see him protect. It was a good start."
Asked about Leonard's instincts, Linehan concluded, "That is the first thing you notice as a runner. He has great instincts. He sees the hole and gets it done a different way than Steven Jackson or guys like that, but that's not unusual. He is a guy who understands how to utilize what he does best, which is his great vision and running downhill. He makes a decision and he very rarely takes a loss of yards. He usually finishes runs with a couple extra (yards) and that is the sign of a really good back."
After all, he and Carriker were born with football pads on.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Tight end Vernon Davis is a player worth watching this season. He missed eight starts as a rookie after sustaining a broken leg. But even when he played, he often was not a major part of the 49ers' passing game after being chosen with the No. 6 overall pick of the 2006 draft. But this season he could be a huge part of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler's plan.
Whether it is in the pass or run games, Davis has shown an ability to excel this offseason. His speed, size and strength make create immediate problems for a defense in the pass game. As a blocker, his physical attributes are matched by his determination and willingness to block.
Teammate Jeff Ulbrich, a linebacker, said Davis could emerge as the best all-around tight end in the league this season. Davis' attitude was a major topic of the 49ers' first week of training camp, as he regularly seemed to taunt and antagonize his defensive teammates on the practice field.
"I don't do anything to fight guys," Davis said. "I just want to get guys going."
The biggest controversy of camp occurred during a team scrimmage when Davis got into a scuffle with 340-pound offensive lineman Larry Allen. The two had to be separated by about five teammates. For several minutes, Davis tried unsuccessfully to get back at Allen.
"We exchanged some words," Allen said. "That's about it."
Davis said what happened on the practice field, stayed on the practice field. But he offered that both parties were to blame for the fight. Since he got into the scuffle with a teammate and drew unfavorable comparisons to Terrell Owens, a former 49ers attitude problem, Davis seemed to be on his best behavior during practices.
Some players appreciate what Davis brings to the practices; while some believe he acts immaturely. But nobody lacks respect for the hard work he puts in to make himself a better player.
"I don't compare myself to T.O.," Davis said. "We're two totally different people. He's a totally different guy than I am. As far as ability to play the game, that would be a compliment. But other than that -- personality and things off the field -- I'd say I'm not like him."
Davis said he realizes that everything he has an opportunity to do on the field is a direct result of his teammates. After all, there are no singular performances in the game of football.
"I'm going to play and do my thing and show off when I catch the ball, but when it comes down to the team, I need these guys the most," Davis said.
Allen joked that if he were to get in a fight with an offensive teammate, he figured it would be with Davis. But the future Hall of Famer said he has no worries about Davis becoming more of a negative influence on the team.
"He'll be alright," Allen said. "He's young. He'll be all right."