NFC West: 2011 NFL preseason Week 1

Rookie Lance Kendricks keeps strengthening the St. Louis Rams' belief that he can become an integral part of their offense, even as a rookie.

The second-round draft choice from Wisconsin won over quarterback Sam Bradford right away in training camp.

Kendricks won over a broader audience Saturday night with five receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown during the Rams' 33-10 victory over Indianapolis in the preseason opener.

Kendricks made four of his five receptions on third-and-5 or longer. He lined up just outside and behind right tackle Jason Smith before catching his touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the 6 on the Rams' first possession.

Kendricks stood up in his stance, ran across the formation and cut past linebacker Kavell Conner to make the reception at about the 2-yard line. He turned upfield and in the same motion secured the ball in his outside arm. Cornerback Jerraud Powers tried to take out Kendricks at the legs, but Kendricks ran over him and then through safety Melvin Bullitt.

Whether the Rams have sufficient front-line talent at wide receiver remains a subject for discussion. Kendricks' pass-catching ability increasingly must figure into the mix.

Three things revisited: Rams-Colts

August, 13, 2011
Looking back on three things discussed here heading into the St. Louis Rams' 33-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in their preseason opener Saturday:

1. A Rams victory: This was the easiest part to predict. The Colts were 4-22 in the preseason since 2005. They were without Peyton Manning. The Rams couldn't have scripted this one much better. Their new strong safety, Quintin Mikell, picked off a Colts pass early. Their new tight end, second-round choice Lance Kendricks, caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford for the game's first points. Rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn was active, hitting quarterback Dan Orlovsky to help force a punt. Even kicker Josh Brown got in on the fun, connecting on a 60-yard field-goal try.

2. Signs of separation at receiver: Nothing doing here. Kendricks produced, but he's a tight end, not a wide receiver. Danario Alexander nearly had a 3-yard touchdown reception and an acrobatic grab for a big gain. He couldn't finish either play. Bradford played into the second quarter, but never found a rhythm with his wideouts. He threw to the end zone on one play when his wide receiver, Brandon Gibson, cut off his route. The Rams are learning a new offense. It might have shown there.

3. New blood at linebacker: Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga made their debuts for the Rams. I don't have a great feel for how they played. The newly signed Ben Leber did not play. Veteran Na'il Diggs appeared to get away with pass interference. Chris Chamberlain wasn't as fortunate. Poppinga and Josh Hull were trailing a 33-yard completion to Colts tight end Tyson DeVree. Not sure what happened there.

So much for emphasizing player safety.

Alex Smith, making his first exhibition start under a labor agreement featuring added protections for players, took a brutal pounding Friday night.

The New Orleans Saints hit him hard on each of the 49ers’ first three offensive possessions. Defensive end Will Smith drilled Smith twice. Safety Roman Harper tagged him on a blitz.

There wasn’t much the 49ers could do to combat the pressure packages New Orleans sent at the 49ers early in the game. Smith has been practicing in the 49ers’ new offense since only Aug. 4. The 49ers are installing a new offense. They're worried more about lining up right and executing center exchanges cleanly than game-planning for blitzes.

The Saints, meanwhile, benefit from a superior roster and excellent overall continuity. Their defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, loves to punish quarterbacks.

This was a bad combination for the 49ers. No wonder they've asked Colin Kaepernick to hand off so frequently since Kaepernick replaced Smith a few minutes ago. The Saints lead, 10-0, early in the second quarter.
A few thoughts on Kevin Kolb's exhibition debut Thursday night with the Arizona Cardinals:
    [+] EnlargeArizona's Kevin Kolb
    Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREKevin Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards, including a 43-yard connection with Larry Fitzgerald.
  • All was good for the Cardinals once Kolb's deep pass for Larry Fitzgerald produced a 43-yard gain along the left sideline. The pass wasn't exceptional, but the results were welcome. Fitzgerald caught the ball between his left hand and helmet. Kolb and Fitzgerald connected again later. "For a first game, especially with the limited amount of work of we had, that’s exciting," coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters.
  • Kolb, who completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards, showed very good mobility when scrambling for a 15-yard gain. His personality showed on the return trip to the huddle. Kolb bumped Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt and said something to him playfully. They were teammates at the University of Houston.
  • Kolb wasn't taking many chances with injury. He threw away the ball quickly to avoid early pressure. He did step up against pressure and take a sack when when he might have been better served throwing away the ball. Overall, though, Kolb avoided obvious mistakes and seemed comfortable. Whisenhunt: "First of all, he is very smooth in the huddle. We didn’t have any problems with getting to the line of scrimmage, running down on the play clock. He operated the offense and he knew what he was doing. He made some good reads and made some good throws. For it to be this early in the process with him, I am very excited about that."
  • The Raiders' second-team defense stopped a drive from Kolb and the Cardinals' starting offense near the goal line. Kolb: "I think it went pretty good. All of us got to work out some kinks, they got to get used to my cadence in a live-game setting, getting out of the huddle. There are a lot of things that you can’t duplicate in practice. We are learning as we go. We would have liked to put that (second drive) in the end zone but I think, overall, it was successful."

The Cardinals' next exhibition game is Aug. 19 at Green Bay.

Early read: How long Okung could miss

August, 11, 2011
Two high ankle sprains, one to each leg, nearly derailed Russell Okung's rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks.

Early indications suggest his latest ankle injury is similar.

"It's in that area," coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game, according to Danny O'Neil.

Last season, Okung suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 21 against Green Bay. He did not play in a game until Oct. 3, a span of 43 days. Okung suffered a high sprain on his other ankle Oct. 24 against Arizona. He did not play in another game until Nov. 21, a span of 28 days.

Seattle opens its regular season Sept. 11, 31 days from the injury suffered Thursday night.

We do not know for certain the extent of the damage or how long Okung might need to recover. But if the timetable is similar to the ones Okung followed previously, he would be returning sometime during the first three weeks of the regular season.

Observation deck: Seahawks-Chargers

August, 11, 2011
Observations from the Seattle Seahawks 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game Thursday night:

  • Losing left tackle Russell Okung to an ankle injury on the fifth offensive play ruined the night for Seattle. X-rays were negative, the team said, and it was not immediately clear how long Okung would be sidelined.
  • The Seahawks need Okung. Building up the offensive line has been Pete Carroll's top priority as the Seahawks' head coach. Carroll has sought highly acclaimed line coaches to lead the unit, going with Alex Gibbs and now Tom Cable. The team has used two first-round picks on tackles in Carroll's two seasons as coach, most recently taking a right tackle (James Carpenter) over a quarterback (Andy Dalton) in an effort to build from the inside out.
  • The offensive line struggled badly last season, so even modest success in an exhibition game counts for something. Carpenter had some rough moments in pass protection, but he helped clear the way for a third-and-1 conversion early. He played deep into the third quarter, as did right guard John Moffitt. The experience was valuable for both rookies.
  • Rookie linebacker K.J. Wright recognized a screen play quickly and tracked down the receiver for a decisive tackle. Two other Seattle rookie draft choices, linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Mark LeGree, provided bit hits. Smith chased on his play and finished strong. LeGree broke up a pass with his hit. LeGree also secured Seattle's victory by breaking up a pass in the end zone on the Chargers' final play.
  • Two more rookie notes: Defensive end Pep Levingston batted down a pass on third-and-long, while undrafted free agent Jeron Johnson broke up a pass. Johnson also made a third-down tackle in the backfield off the left edge. And he combined with LeGree on the Chargers' final play.
  • Seattle’s quarterbacks were under siege early and didn’t have many opportunities to make big plays. Tarvaris Jackson moved effectively, as anticipated, and scrambled for a first down up the middle amid heavy traffic. But the offense had no rhythm. That was expected. Jackson and other players with new contracts began practicing only one week ago.
  • Backup Charlie Whitehurst gained momentum as the third quarter progressed. His strike to tight end Dominique Byrd for a 29-yard gain stood out. What did we learn about him Thursday night? Not much. Whitehurst has produced at times during past exhibition games (214 yards, 107.0 rating in the 2010 opener). He completed 14 of 20 passes for 115 yards in this one, with no touchdowns, interceptions or sacks. His rating was 84.4.
  • Third-string quarterback Josh Portis built upon the positive impression he made early in training camp. He showed a good feel for the game, moving away from pressure and finding tight end Anthony McCoy for a 6-yard touchdown. This performance should build confidence for Portis. Coaches and teammates were enthusiastic in their support for him following the touchdown pass.

Okung's status is the note that matters most stemming from this game. If Okung misses an extended period, the line will have a harder time against teams with strong right defensive ends (Seattle faces Justin Smith and the San Francisco 49ers on the road in Week 1). The team might also have to keep a tight end near the formation for blocking help.

Seahawks' Russell Okung hurt again

August, 11, 2011
Russell Okung's bad luck with injuries continued Thursday night.

The Seattle Seahawks' left tackle limped off the field following the Seahawks' fifth play against San Diego in the exhibition opener for both teams.

I watched the play several times and could not see what happened from the one camera angle available.

Okung injured his right ankle during the second exhibition game last season. He injured the left ankle during an October game against Arizona. Both were high ankle sprains, which are more severe than lateral ones.

Okung was favoring his left left ankle when leaving the field Thursday night.

The Seahawks used 10 starting combinations on their offensive line last season. Okung, the sixth player chosen in the 2010 draft, was back to health this summer. The team added Robert Gallery in free agency and James Carpenter in the draft, all to solidify a line anchored by Okung.

I'll add injury details as they become available.

Tyler Polumbus replaced Okung for the rest of the Seahawks' first possession. The team is about to take possession for a second time.