Around the NFC West
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin arrived in San Francisco and signed one-year, $7.003 million tender as a franchise player.
Franklin held out of training camp, unhappy the team didn't give him a multi-year contract coming off his career year.
"I don't know about for him, but personally from my experience, probably (one preseason game is enough to get read)," said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "With all of the banging that takes place during training camp, I think that's the biggest thing, just getting his wind back because I think when you miss the training camp, playing the preseason games, even though some of the starters are only playing 15 plays or 16 plays, at least they're back in the rhythm and get their groove back. You can't really replicate that out here. But, he'll be fine."
The 49ers were reluctant to extend Franklin, who turns 30 this month, because his best season came last year, Franklin's contract season. Franklin has struggled with his weight in the past, and the 49ers are worried that he'd relax if he had the comfort of a long-term deal.
The downside for the 49ers, however, is that they have no long-term replacement at nose tackle. Franklin's current backup is Ricky Jean-Francois, a seventh-round pick in last year's draft who never has played the position.
"Right now he's doing a good job," Manusky said of Jean-Francois. "He's obviously on pace for exactly where we thought he would be. We're just rolling with it. The more and more he sees the picture, the better and better he's going to get. It's all in his body. He's got the physical tools, put some more weight on. But for the most part, he's doing a good job."
Travis LaBoy is making things very difficult for the 49ers' decision-makers.
LaBoy, an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 defense, spent the bulk of the offseason watching from the sideline. He was still recovering from a foot injury that cost him the entire 2009 season. And he suffered a concussion early in training camp that kept him out of practice for nearly two weeks.
While he was out, second-year player Diyral Briggs excelled. While LaBoy, 29, was on the bench against Indianapolis, Briggs stood out with an interception. He also had a sack against the Vikings. Early in training camp, the race to be the 49ers' fourth outside linebacker seemed one-sided: The team would go with the younger, cheaper, more durable option in Briggs, who is 24 and who spent half of his rookie season last year on the 49ers' practice squad.
But LaBoy has come on with a vengeance in the last two preseason games. Against Minnesota on Aug. 22, LaBoy was the defensive player of the game for the 49ers, sacking quarterback Tarvaris Jackson once and pressuring him on three other occasions. He followed that up Saturday with a blind-side sack on Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell that knocked Campbell out of the game with a shoulder stinger.
In both cases, LaBoy was going against first-team left tackles. Against the Raiders, he beat Mario Henderson up the field and then used his speed to cut inside before slamming into Campbell's back.
The Minnesota game was LaBoy's first since the 2008 Super Bowl when he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals. LaBoy began that season on a hot streak. In the opener against San Francisco, he sacked then 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan twice, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
But he suffered groin and ankle injuries that season that cost him four games. Three months after the Super Bowl -- LaBoy did not start and was credited with one tackle in the game -- he had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left foot, a procedure that included the insertion of a screw.
LaBoy sat out the entire 2009 season and 49ers trainers have been cautious with him this offseason. LaBoy, however, insists that he is thinking far more about his assignments than he is his left foot and his speed and quickness support that assertion. He admitted to feeling rusty at first but said it didn't take him long to get up to speed.
"This is not my first year," he said. "I'm not a rookie. I've been in this league a long time, so you can only see a pulling guard so many times. You really don't even have to be out there to see it."
The 49ers' starters at outside linebackers are Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson. Ahmad Brooks is currently out with a lacerated kidney, but that injury is not expected to spill into the regular season and Brooks was valuable as a third-down rusher last year. The fourth outside linebacker? What seemed like a simple decision 10 days ago now has quite a bit more intrigue, and the 49ers must think about keeping five on the active roster.
Rookie safety Earl Thomas finally showed why the Seahawks were so high on him during the scouting process leading up to this year's draft.
In the first two games of exhibition play, Thomas struggled with his assignments, getting beat deep for a 56-yard catch by Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings on a perfect pass from Aaron Rodgers on the first play of the game, and giving up a touchdown to tight end Jermichael Finley on a miscommunication with fellow safety Lawyer Milloy.
However, against the Minnesota Vikings, everything finally clicked for Thomas.
With 12:57 left in the first half, Thomas gathered in a Brett Favre pass deflected by teammate Josh Wilson and raced 86 yards untouched for the first score of the game.
"I knew I had a chance right when I caught it," Thomas said. "I caught it in stride, so I knew I had a chance to get into the end zone."
Milloy said that Thomas had been working hard the past week to put some of his struggles behind him, and it all paid off against the Vikings.
"Sometimes you need a little failure to understand you have to go back to doing the things right, and that's what this week was for him," Milloy said.
"And I like the way he responded today. You keep it simple. You don't have to go out there and make every play."
Along with the interception for a touchdown, Thomas also had another interception, and delivered a ball-jarring hit to Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin.
"We drafted him because he's a playmaker," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "He was the best playmaker in the country, and a guy we were extremely excited about being able to do big things, and sure enough that was an amazing play. He played much better tonight than he did last weekend. And I'm happy for him. He wants to be great, and he's really working hard to get that done."
Thomas' play was the catalyst for an improved effort by Seattle's defense.
After two forgettable performances against Tennessee and Green Bay, the Seahawks finally showed how they want to play once the regular season begins, with the first-string defense holding one of the best offenses in the league to just 10 points for three quarters in Seattle's 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
Seattle created three turnovers, including the big interception return by Thomas, stood firm on a goal-line stand late in the first quarter, held Minnesota (2-1) to 251 yards through three quarters and finished with two sacks.
"We were effective," said linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who got his first game action since October, finishing with five tackles and a pass deflection. "We got after the ball and got some turnovers. They got yards on us. But when you get turnovers, things happen for you."
The Seahawks led 13-10 after three quarters, but Seattle's reserves allowed two touchdowns in the final quarter, and the Seahawks fell 24-13.
"We played really solid for three quarters, and again like last week our guys that were in at the end can't hold a lead," Carroll said. "So that's unfortunate. But I saw a lot of good things.
"I'm pleased to see the defense continue to take the football off of our opponents. And that such a big deal to us."
ST. LOUIS RAMS
It's looking more and more as if quarterback Sam Bradford will be the starter when the Rams open the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 12.
The question now is who will line up as a starting receiver after Donnie Avery was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in last Thursday's game against the New England Patriots.
At the first practice Sunday since the loss of Avery, several players took turns at his spot, including Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard, Keenan Burton and Brandon Gibson.
Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "We're going to wait a little bit before we declare any of that, but certainly somebody's going to have to step up. We've got a few guys to pick from, so we'll get it figured out."
As for Bradford, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots (125.0 passer rating), coach Steve Spagnuolo wasn't ready to name him the starter ... yet.
Bradford started against New England because A.J. Feeley was sidelined by a thumb injury. Feeley is unlikely to play in the preseason finale Thursday against Baltimore, so Bradford will start again.
"I know you guys keep pushing for an answer," Spagnuolo said. "But I'm just not ready to make (a decision). I would like to see Sam put back-to-back games together. We'll make a decision shortly after that game to which direction we will go."
What is apparent with Bradford is that he bounces back from mistakes and that he likely won't be affected when the impossible to avoid tough times come. He's a quick study, and works diligently to get better every day.
Just before training camp, Spagnuolo spoke to perhaps the most important intangible that would help decide when Bradford is ready to play.
He said, "When you see the team start to mold or rally around him, that's an indicator that he's ready to step in there."
That is happening, and even the defensive players can see it.
"He's handled things wonderfully," safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. "He's committed, and he has a burning desire to be really great. That's what you like to see in a young guy. He has that something inside him that makes him need to learn more and know more so he can get better. He realizes the importance of making the offense his offense."
Asked what has impressed him the most about Bradford, wide receiver Danny Amendola said, "His command in the huddle. To have that in his first year is incredible. Plus, to have the older guys look upon him as a leader is great for him."
Bradford had made good decisions in his first two games, one in a driving rainstorm in Cleveland. However, he was going through his progressions quickly. That wasn't the case against the Patriots.
"Watching the film of the first two games, I felt like I was in the right place with the ball," he said. "(But) I never really felt like I got myself in that rhythm, I felt like I was always trying to rush through things. Tonight, before I went out there, I just took a deep breath and said, 'Stay in rhythm, do what you do.' I knew I was capable of it and think I got some throws under my belt early and got in a rhythm and just felt good out there."
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