SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
When the 49ers drafted Nate Davis in 2009, they knew his learning curve was not going to be a straight line. The Ball State quarterback had a form of dyslexia, meaning he would need extra time to soak in the sophisticated Xs and Os of the NFL.
Now that Davis is entering his second season, however, coach Mike Singletary wants his rate of progression to become more rapid. The 49ers want Davis to vie for the No. 2 job with veteran David Carr, but there is much work to do before there's a competition.
"He's coming, not as fast as he would like, not as fast as the coaches would like, but he's coming," Singletary said. "I think the biggest thing with Nate is to figure out how he learns and get that burning desire to whatever it takes to be out here and to get it done. I know he can do it. It's just a matter of him doing it. Time will tell."
Davis, to his credit, talks about his learning hurdle with surprising candor. He acknowledges that his dyslexia can make even the basics difficult. In barking out plays, he sometimes confuses left and right. But he puts in extra work. He shares a house with receiver Dominique Zeigler and the two will spend nights in the living room with their playbooks cracked open, going over and over plays.
Davis agreed with Singletary's assessment, but added that he's a different quarterback than the lost rookie who struggled behind the scenes last year.
"There's no comparison," Davis said. "I was just playing backyard football."
His backyard football looked just fine in the preseason, when Davis' strong arm and nimble feet made an impression on fans. The fifth-round pick completed 29 of 49 passes for 314 yards and an 83.2 passer rating -- with only a limited grasp of the playbook.
In response to Singletary's comments during the organized team activities in early June, Davis said: "He's the head coach. And now I've got to put more into it. That's what it all comes down to."
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said he is mostly pleased with Davis' progress. The team has worked hard to give the former Ball State star the best possible learning environment. They concluded that Davis works best when he can learn things visually, so there's an extra emphasis on film room work.
The biggest hurdle now, Raye said, is that Carr is getting the bulk of the backup snaps during the summer workouts. The 49ers want to get Carr up to speed in their playbook, too, in anticipation that he'll be the top candidate to backup smith.
"(Davis') progress has been impeded by the fact we have an additional quarterback, but I think his progress to this point has been OK," Raye said. "I would hope that he will be in competition with David Carr for the backup spot in August. I would hope that would be the case."
Now, Woodson sees 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis on the verge of the same transformation. Woodson visited the 49ers' practice facility recently and spoke with Willis about the next step in his evolution.
"The thing with Patrick is that when his leadership increases, this team as a whole will come along with him," Woodson said.
Willis is already revered in the locker room. He is the first 49ers player to start his career with three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons since Ronnie Lott made four straight starting in 1981. But Willis is naturally on the quiet side and his leadership efforts have been a work in progress. Especially early in his career, he left the talking to the veterans.
"I've always been a firm believer that you respect your elders," Willis said. "But I guess I'm getting up there a little bit."
Woodson, who played for the 49ers in 1997, came to Santa Clara on assignment from the NFL Network. That's when he pulled Willis aside and explained how he watched Lewis mature from productive youngster to the voice of the franchise.
"Ray grew into it," Woodson said. "He became more vocal. What Patrick needs to stand is that even though his teammates are his friends, sometimes the truth doesn't always feel good. Sometimes you have to hold guys accountable.
"Willis is to the stage now where knowing the defense is going to help him. He's going to know when the nose tackle is out of position. He's going to know when the edge is out of position. And it's going to be up to him to say so."
The NFL credits Willis with 9.7 tackles per game since 2007, the most on the NFL during that span. (Jon Beason of the Carolina Panthers and D'Qwell Jackson of the Cleveland Browns are tied for second at 8.7 tackles per game.)
In 48 career starts, Willis has 10 or more tackles 36 times. A year ago, he won the team's Bill Walsh Award as the team MVP. Now, he's starting to understand that the locker room belongs to him, too. During OTAs, Willis took rookie linebacker Navorro Bowman (Penn State) under his wing and is doing his best to set the tone in terms of work ethic.
As Woodson noted, Lewis and Willis share jersey No. 52. He expects similarity to keep growing from there.
"They have the same qualities," he said.
Seahawks' head coach Pete Carroll has preached his central theme of competition since taking over the team in January. So why would the team's battle for the starting running back job be any different?
Carroll previously stated that although quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is the starter, he will have to win the job over newcomer Charlie Whitehurst. And it's no different for last year's starting running back Julius Jones, who is sharing time with the first unit during offseason workouts with third-year player Justin Forsett.
"We're leaving this thing wide open," Carroll said. "There's no reason to call it. Julius has done everything he needs to do to represent. He's done a beautiful job so far. Justin continues to do real well, too. I love the way he's showing out here. Those guys are certainly in the one-two spots. Whoever is first, it doesn't matter to me right now. I can't tell and I don't care. Right now we're just playing football."
Jones has been through this before. He lost playing time to Marion Barber in Dallas before leaving in free agency three years ago. Former Seattle Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell signed Jones to a four-year, $12 million deal that will pay him $2.45 million this season, with the hopes that the 28-year-old could effectively replace an aging Shaun Alexander.
However, Jones has failed to help Seahawks' fans forget the former league MVP. In two seasons, Jones has rushed for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns.
Part of the reason Jones struggled has been continuity. He's playing for his fourth different head coach this season and learning a new offense for the fourth straight year heading into the 2010 season.
However, Jones will be playing in the zone blocking scheme for a second straight season, and is approaching the upcoming season as if he is the lead back in the competition.
"Always, man," Jones said, when asked about being the lead dog. "Every running back has that mentality. I know I do. I've had that ever since I've been playing, and I will continue to have that."
One person Jones will not have to worry about is LenDale White, whom the Seahawks waived two weeks ago. The Seahawks received White and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson in a draft day trade with Tennessee. White was considered the frontrunner for the starting running back job before his release. Carroll said the release of White was a football decision, and that he did not fit into Seattle's plans moving forward. White is expected to receive a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy.
"It was just time to move ahead," Carroll said. "I think he needs to go somewhere else and find a spot. And it wasn't going to be here. That's it."
At 5-8 and 195 pounds, Forsett showed flashes of being capable of becoming an every-down back last season. He started two games when Jones was out with a bruised lung, and finished with 619 yards on 114 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
"I couldn't have asked for a better situation," Forsett said. "I'm getting an opportunity and everybody's fighting for the job. It's open competition, and every time you get competition everybody's level is going to rise a little bit. We're getting better every day and fighting every day, so it's going well."
Former New York Jets' running back Leon Washington, whom the Seahawks received in a draft day trade, is expected to be ready for training camp after suffering a gruesome leg injury last season and likely will be a factor in who starts at running back.
Carroll also likes what he sees from UW Huskies product Louis Rankin. And free agent pickup Quinton Ganther, who played for Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith in Washington, has been a pleasant surprise, with his ability to play fullback.
Tate and a friend were involved in a late-night incident at Top Pot Doughnuts in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. According to the initial report, Tate and his friend slipped into the store at 3 a.m. Saturday and had some doughnuts and took keys to the facility so they could later regain entry.
"A buddy made the mistake of going in, grabbing a couple," Tate said. "He came out, we ate them. There's nothing much to the story other than that. I'm very apologetic to it. This is the wrong type of media I want to bring to this organization. I apologized to the team, the coaches and even Top Pot. As of now I think that's the end of it."
The storekeeper called the police once she noticed they were in the store. Tate, who lives in the building in which Top Pot is located, was questioned by the police along with his friend, but later allowed to go free with just a warning.
Tate accepted responsibility for his actions and said his friend was the one who slipped into the store and stole the doughnuts and the keys. However, 911 audio of incident being reported obtained by TMZ seemed to indicate Tate was the one in the store grabbing the doughnuts and keys.
"They're irresistible," Tate said. "It was kind of a foolish mistake that won't happen again. But if you ever want some maple bars, that's the place to go."
According to Mark Klebeck, co-founder of Top Pot Doughnuts, Tate and his friend gained entry into the bakery after a door was left open by an employee who had left to use the restroom.
Top Pot recently brokered a deal to sell doughnuts and coffee during Seahawks and Sounders games at Qwest Field. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also addressed the Tate issue.
"I'm not disappointed in the guy being at a doughnut shop when they've got maple bars like Top Pot has," Carroll quipped. "However, under the circumstances I think they were closed, or something like that, or they were trying to close or whatever. So that's definitely wrong, and we've talked about it and addressed it. And he's most remorseful and all of that.
"But I do understand the allure of the maple bars."
Besides the embarrassing incident, Tate also received some interesting news this week -- he was drafted in the 50th and final round with the seventh-to-last pick of the Major League Baseball draft by the San Francisco Giants.
Tate played center field for Notre Dame his first two years at the school, and also was drafted in 2007 coming out of high school in the 42nd round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Tate hit .262 with three stolen bases in 18 games for Notre Dame his freshman year. He batted .329 as a sophomore and scored 45 runs.
"Kinda weird I was just drafted to the mlb! Huh! Interesting," Tate posted on his Twitter account.
A former UW quarterback and now a receiver in the NFL, Stanback was waived by New England and recently claimed by the Seattle Seahawks. Stanback appeared in six games for the Patriots last season catching three passes for 22 yards.
In 2008, Stanback appeared in eight games for the Dallas Cowboys, mostly as a kick returner, making 10 returns for 208 yards with a long of 58 yards.
NFL coaches have been trying to figure out how to use Stanback, who has elite athleticism but isn't a great fit for any position. He once placed fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference 100-meter finals. And coach Pete Carroll is familiar with Stanback, having recruited the Garfield High product as head coach at USC.
Carroll proposed an interesting role for the former quarterback when asked about Stanback this week.
"He can offer some help to do some things if we needed it at the quarterback spot to salvage a few situations," Carroll said, adding that he was "anxious to see what he offers us."
The team also announced the signing of undrafted free agents defensive tackle Barrett Moen and defensive end Will Tukuafu. Moen and Tukuafu add depth to a position of need for Seattle, as they attempt to create a better pass rush this season.
The Seahawks created room for the four players by releasing tight end Michael Allan, wide receiver Patrick Carter, linebacker Kevin Dixon and safety Quinton Teal. Moen played four seasons for the University of Minnesota. The Seahawks have now signed three of the team's nine draft picks.
However, Houshmandzadeh ran routes and caught some balls after practice this week. Houshmandzadeh is expected to be ready for the beginning of training camp at the end of July.
"I'm good," Vickerson said. "I'm feeling better each day and hoping I can get in some team drills with guys and get after it."
ST. LOUIS RAMS
In your mind's eye, the memories will never die. They were all there to see in the video tribute put together by the Rams and played prior to Isaac Bruce's retirement press conference Wednesday.
Monday, the Rams traded a conditional draft pick to the 49ers for Bruce so he could retire under contract to the organization that selected him in the second round of the 1994 draft and for which he played for 14 of his 16 NFL seasons.
Two days later, the usually stoic Bruce fought back tears and spoke with raw emotion about what it meant to play for the Rams. In fact, after being introduced by former teammate D'Marco Farr, Bruce stood silent for a few minutes, while he gathered himself.
"Normally, I like preparing for everything," he said early in his talk. "I didn't prepare for these tears so I didn't bring Kleenexes with me today."
At one point, Lupe Rodriquez, the husband of part-owner Lucia Rodriguez and who was sitting in the front row of the auditorium, went to the podium and handed Bruce a handkerchief.
Bruce said, "When I got here, this organization, it wasn't the brightest at the time. I think they were coming off a very bad, poor season. I felt like the draft that we had in 1994, not a lot of people paid attention to it. There were questions not only about the first-round pick, but also about myself. But just hearing all that, I chose to continue to walk by faith. I chose to speak life to what seemed like a lifeless situation. I heard a wise man say once before -- some of you may know him, Jack Snow. He kind of pulled me aside and he said that there's a big-time tradition here with the Los Angeles Rams, with the Rams themselves. He was telling me that he nearly got in a fight with a guy, some media personality, when they were downing his team, his organization. That kind of stuck with me. He said 'his team' and 'his organization.' When he said that, it kind of hit home, and I was right on the same page with him, because the moment I got here, I claimed ownership to this organization.
"I will never be too big not to clean up around this place, pick up a piece of trash, or I would never be too small to do anything else needed by this organization. I've always thought it was the greatest organization in the league, and I would never do anything or say anything to tear down my own house with my words or with my hands."
Released by the Rams in March, 2008, Bruce then acknowledged the feelings he had playing for the rival 49ers for two seasons.
"The two years I was away, I kept tabs on this organization," he said. "I played against this organization. I played against these players. The funny thing is I found myself encouraging them when things didn't look bright for them. I'd look down and see myself in a different color uniform, and it was honestly just, to me personally, it just wasn't right."
His uniform No. 80 will be retired in a ceremony prior to the Rams' Oct. 31 game against the Carolina Panthers, and the team will wear its throwback jerseys that day, the ones worn by the Rams during their 1999 championship season and the one worn by Bruce as he hauled in the 73-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner that won the Super Bowl.
Bruce recalled being given that No. 80 in 1994 and in mentioning the influence of former Rams receivers coach Henry Ellard, said. "I have to mention this guy, because the funny thing is, in 1994 they brought me in to replace him. They gave me his number, No. 80. Myself, I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' I always said if they desired to retire No. 80, it would have to be Mr. Tom Fears first, Henry Ellard second and Isaac Bruce third."
Finally, Bruce got surprisingly bold for a guy that rarely drew attention to himself with words. He said, "In closing, I'd just like to say thank you St. Louis, to the city of St. Louis, to the Rams organization, for allowing me to do this, to bring me back here in this fashion and in the manner in which you did. I'm grateful for it, and hopefully I've represented you in the way that seems fit. I'm honored. Thank you for drafting me, for allowing me to play for you. Thank you for the opportunity to make the playoffs, to play the Super Bowl and to represent this organization in Canton."
He knocked on the podium's wood as he verbalized his feelings about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When asked whether he thinks about being a Hall of Famer, Bruce said, "I'd be standing here lying to you if I said I didn't. I know there isn't a criteria, but that's my belief. I do believe that in the next five years, we'll be loading up trucks and we'll be heading to Canton."
Bruce and Warner will be first-time eligibles in 2015, and it's possible tackle Orlando Pace will also be if he doesn't sign with another team after being released by the Chicago Bears.
Last week, SportsBusiness Journal reported that the NFL was getting closer to approving Kroenke as owner of the Rams, while giving him a grace period to sell the teams he owns in Denver. The publication said the NFL had yet to agree whether to allow the Denver teams to be sold to family members.
Monday's comments from Kroenke seem to indicate he expects such approval. Kroenke said his plan is to have his son Josh be the owner of the Nuggets, while he didn't specify whether Josh, or his wife, Ann, would become the Avalanche owner. Josh Kroenke, who played basketball at the University of Missouri, has been an executive with the Nuggets for several years.
Kroenke's statement said, "Our son Josh has been involved with many of our organizations for several years and that family continuity remains a priority. My family looks forward to owning the Rams, Nuggets and Avalanche for years to come while being compliant with all stipulations set by the NFL. Our family remains committed to fans in St. Louis and Denver."
As for the Rams, he said, "After meeting with the NFL Finance Committee and Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, we recently submitted a proposal to the league regarding the St. Louis Rams' Partnership agreement and our right to buy the remaining 60 percent of the franchise. Although no final decisions have been made, we are pleased with the progress we have made to this point. We will continue to respect the Rosenbloom family and the league and its processes as we work to finalize a transaction in the coming months.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently told SportsBusiness Journal, "Stan would be a great partner. I would like to see him in the room. We are trying to find a way for him to solve the problems."
Denver Broncos owner Patrick Bowlen said, "I have no issues with Stan."
"It (the handwriting) was on the wall," Hovan said after his first practice with the Rams Thursday. "When you take two kids at your position in the first two rounds, you become expendable. That's the nature of the business. I don't take offense to it, it's nothing personal. One door closes and I'm grateful another door opens."
Hovan was a first-round pick in 2000 with the Vikings, the same year Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins was picked in the second round by Minnesota. In Tampa, he had a relationship with Kevin Demoff, who is now the Rams' executive vice president of football operations.
"I believe I can bring veteran leadership and a presence to the locker room," Hovan said. "Whatever coach (Steve) Spagnuolo asks of me, I'm there to do."
Hovan should be a better fit in the Rams' defensive style.
He said, "It's an attacking defense. Last year was not my best year. They played a two-gap and that's not my style. I get up the field. This defense suits me a little bit better where there is pursuit and I can relentless."
"It was frustrating because I'm not in school anyway," Gilyard said.
While acknowledging he has a lot of catching up to do, Gilyard said, "I feel I'll be caught up by the time the rookies leave. I have to stay focused and keep pushing. That playbook looks like a phone book, like the yellow pages.
Said McRae the day before Bruce's retirement ceremony, "I wore his number in high school. When I got here and saw that jersey hanging in my locker, my eyes lit up. He's a legend, a great player."
When it was mentioned to McRae that he might not have the number much longer, he said, "I found out today."
At the start of minicamp, McRae was wearing No. 83.
Atogwe has been a free agent for more than a week, and various reports have put his asking price on a long-term deal at $7 million a year.
"I am very, very hopeful," Spagnuolo told nfl.com. "I am doing this (crossing his fingers) and I'm on my knees all the time hoping that this thing works out.
"Our hope all along was to try and get a deal done with O.J. to keep him on the Rams. We want him to stay here, and I think he wants to be here. It's ongoing and we're very, very hopeful."
The Rams have balked at paying that $7 million figure, and it appears other potential teams feel the same way. The latest club official to comment is Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who said, "I'm very happy with the safeties we've got on our team right now. Very happy."
Monday, 49ers coach Mike Singletary said, "Right now, we're going forward with what we have. We're happy with the safeties that we have now and I'm just going to leave it right there."
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