NFC West: Brandon Manumaleuna
Also from Thomas: what the Rams have on defense and what they need. Thomas on what the team needs at linebacker: "A quality weakside linebacker, someone with range who can play the run and the pass, is one of the Rams' top overall needs. In an ideal world, this guy could also rush the passer. Too often the Rams got burned on outside runs because they couldn't hold the perimeter, or couldn't get to the edge in time. Too often, opposing running backs and tight ends leaked out late as receivers with the Rams slow to detect them, which meant what should have been small gains turned into costly bigger ones. Better play at outside linebacker would help shore up these problem areas."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hands out end-of-season awards for the Rams. He says it was "disgraceful" for the team to fire longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt. Miklasz: "One thing I've learned from watching the good and the bad at Rams Park for the last 16 years is this: It's never healthy for coaches to worry about things that have nothing to do with winning or losing games. It's never healthy for coaches to be insecure about having 'their' guys in place all over the building. Hewitt was loyal to the Rams because he deeply loves the franchise -- which means he was loyal to Steve Spagnuolo and to all of the men who have passed through as the head coach."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether familiarity with the Chicago Bears can help the Seahawks when the teams play in the divisional-playoff round. Safety Lawyer Milloy: "I think it always helps. We know what to expect. We beat Chicago in their home stadium, but they’re definitely a different and better team since the last time we played them."
Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks will face an improved Bears offense when the teams meet for the second time this season. Farrar: "In the second half of the season, the Bears have used pre-snap motion as often and as effectively as any team in the league. On their first play from scrimmage against the New York Jets in Week 16, the first formation was an empty backfield before running back Matt Forte and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna motioned into the backfield, changing the Jets’ interior defensive structure and loosening up the run defense enough for Forte to gain four yards. On the next play, Devin Hester’s motion from right to left forced the defensive backfield to shoft that way, which left Forte with an opening outside for an additional five yards on the ground. When extra blocking was needed, Manumaleuna might motion from inline to an I-formation or H-back look in order to give second-level protection and allow Jay Cutler to move and roll out in the pocket, and this was a major improvement."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says money isn't the only factor when it comes to the Cardinals re-signing Larry Fitzgerald. Somers: "The team needs an upgrade at quarterback to improve upon its 5-11 record this season, and to convince Fitzgerald that the offense is heading in the right direction. Fitzgerald caught 90 passes for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns this season, but he was open on numerous other occasions, and the quarterbacks had trouble getting him the ball. At this point, the Cardinals probably are doing most of the talking, and agent Eugene Parker likely is doing more listening."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the word "preliminary" in relation to contract talks can mean very little is going on substantively. Urban: "But the Cards have never been anything but sure they wanted to keep him long-term, and I have always thought his remaining in Arizona was the most likely outcome."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers will make some changes to their front office. Maiocco: "Tom Gamble, director of pro personnel, will become the team's director of player personnel. Gamble has been in the NFL for 23 seasons, the past six with the 49ers. He has worked for nine playoff teams -- five with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Philadelphia Eagles. After the promotion of Gamble, the 49ers plan to hire an experienced NFL executive to serve in a senior football advisor role."
Also from Maiocco: 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky interviews with Carolina.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at ties between the defense Dom Capers runs in Green Bay and the one Vic Fangio is expected to run with the 49ers. Barrows: "The two started coaching professional football together under (the elder) Jim Mora for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL. That team's famed 'Doghouse Defense' blitzed often and was one of the first to bring pass rushers from an array of angles. Many of the blitzes Capers uses today had their origins in the USFL 25 years ago and the experience influenced both men. The Stars appeared in all three of the league's championship games and won two of them."
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' hiring of Jim Harbaugh stands as a coming-of-age moment for team president Jed York, who understands why people are skeptical about a leadership team featuring York and first-time general manager Trent Baalke. York: "I'm 29 years old, Trent's a first-time general manager. People are going to have questions. And we haven't done anything yet. It's time to get to work."
Also from Williams: checks in with Seahawks rookie E.J. Wilson. Draft analyst Rob Rang says he probably underrated Wilson coming out of college.
More from Williams: Deon Butler has more than speed to offer Seattle's offense.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says linebacker Leroy Hill downplayed the knee injury he suffered during practice. Hill could miss some time, however. Hill has never played a full 16-game regular season since entering the NFL as a third-round draft choice in 2005. He has missed nine games over the past two seasons and he'll miss at least one more in 2010 thanks to an NFL suspension.
Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from practice, including one showing rookie Golden Tate making a one-handed grab.
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com says T.J. Houshmandzadeh was highly productive in practice Tuesday.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times was ringside for the Seahawks' most contentious practice of camp. Brandon Mebane took a swing at someone (it might have been Max Unger).
Also from O'Neil: Aaron Curry was back at practice following a concussion and determined to make a strong impression.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks formally made Russell Okung their starting left tackle Tuesday. Also, Kevin Ellison picked off a pass. Ellison appears to have a good shot at sticking in the secondary.
Also from Johns: The defense seemed to like practice Tuesday. Safety Earl Thomas: "Today was just a great day. The defensive line and O-line were battling it out. That's what we've got to have in practice. It felt good. It gave me chills in my body. I'm just glad to be part of this team. We're going in the right direction and are just looking forward to the first game."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals like having some seasoned veterans on their roster. They have 12 players in their 30s at present, including Joey Porter. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "If you watch Joey walk into a meeting room and you watch the younger players, they watch him. They look at where he sits, how he prepares, because this guy is a Pro Bowl player. So when things aren't going well, or are going well, that's where the younger players are going to look to, to see how those guys are going to handle it."
Also from Somers: Beanie Wells might not play Sunday after taking a hit to the ribs this week. Sitting out sounds like the safest strategy.
More from Somers: an early Cardinals depth chart with rookie Dan Williams listed as the third nose tackle.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals could be looking to sign a veteran at inside linebacker, where Pago Togafau worked with the starters Tuesday. Also, second-year outside linebacker Cody Brown is showing signs of progress, a very good sign for Arizona.
Also from Urban: a look at how the 7,000-foot altitude affects players at Cardinals camp.
More from Urban: Safety Hamza Abdullah fasts from sunrise to sunset during camp in observance of Ramadan.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch heads to Bears camp to check out former Rams Lovie Smith, Mike Martz, Isaac Bruce, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brandon Manumaleuna. Too bad the Bears did not bring back Orlando Pace. Martz: "This is a good football team. I love the organization. Good players. The coaching staff has a real special chemistry with this group. You know, you get in those moments where things are really good and everything kind of meshes. This has that kind of feel. Everything's just kind of -- it's hard to explain -- there's a lot of good things that could happen. We'll just see."
Also from Thomas: That was Jason Smith working with the starters during team drills for the first time this summer.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have lots to figure out at tight end. The Rams have been happy with what Billy Bajema has added, not only as a blocker but as a receiver.
Also from Coats: The Rams' exhibition opener will not be televised live in St. Louis.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams have worked on contingencies at kicker while Josh Brown rests a hip injury.
Also from Korte: Rookie George Selvie has made a positive impression lately.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says two Alex Smith completions stood out as highlights of 49ers practice Tuesday morning.
Also from Maiocco: New special-teams coach Kurt Schottenheimer had nice things to say about returners Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye says Smith will be judged on whether the team wins, nothing more, and that is one reason not to worry about a rough practice. Barrows: "Raye also said there were extenuating circumstances to Smith's day. He noted that Smith usually makes 94 throws in the morning and another 86-90 in the afternoon. He said this is the point in camp that quarterbacks get what Raye called 'arm weary'. And he also noted that both of Smith's top targets, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, were given the morning off. (That's two straight practices for Davis). One more obstacle: Smith is getting used to a new center, David Baas, who had a few errant snaps. Raye said he hoped to settle the center competition between Baas and Tony Wragge by the third preseason game."
Also from Barrows: The mystery of Kentwan Balmer continues.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com offers notes from 49ers practice, plus a photo of Dominique Zeigler's acrobatic grab over Shawntae Spencer.
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the linebackers San Francisco signed for depth.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with Baas, who is on to his next challenge. Brown: "David Baas has a knack for showing up unexpectedly, starting with the day he was born. His parents steered their Datsun into a parking lot upon realizing there was no time to make it to the hospital. Baas greeted the world just outside a bank in Tulsa, Okla. That set the tone for a life in which Baas could pop up almost anywhere." Next stop: center.
Also from Brown: notes from practice and a challenge (name the five running backs with the most rushes of at least 20 yards last season).
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the conversion to Baas at center is tougher because the team has inexperienced guards around him.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider wonders how Crabtree gets a veteran's day off in only his second season. By playing like a veteran, perhaps?
Both have good size.
Hoomanawanui, a 264-pounder from Illinois, impressed scouts with his receiving ability. He's not a burner, but could give rookie quarterback Sam Bradford a big, reliable target.
The Rams certainly needed a tight end. Hoomanawanui fills a need.
Can he play?
The Rams should find out rather quickly. Their lack of quality depth at the position should clear the way for Hoomanawanui to get significant reps through the summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks removed quite a few starters, including Matt Hasselbeck, following the first quarter of their exhibition opener against the Chargers. A few thoughts so far:
- Matt Hasselbeck: The veteran quarterback looked about how he has looked during practice, which is good. He scrambled and threw away the ball to avoid an onrushing Shaun Phillips. He found T.J. Houshmandzadeh underneath to convert on third down. He and tight end John Carlson had a miscommunication on another third-down play, leading to an incompletion even though Carlson was open.
- Aaron Curry: The Seahawks took him off the field on some third downs and also one time when the Chargers spread the field. Darryl Tapp replaced Curry on some of the plays when Curry came off the field. Curry played coverage quite a bit, without much action. He rushed from right defensive end against backups and didn't make an impact. The staff did leave Curry on the field for a third-and-3. Curry dropped into coverage. Safety Deon Grant broke up the pass. Curry did buckle Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna on the running play Brandon Mebane blew up.
- Mebane and Colin Cole: They definitely give Seattle some stoutness against the run.
- Zone blocking: The offensive line was able to spring Julius Jones for a couple of effective runs early. I also noticed fullback Owen Schmitt getting to the perimeter and going low to take out a linebacker. Nice play by Schmitt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Seattle takes a seven-game winning streak over the Rams to St. Louis for a Week 15 game that will again demonstrate how far these teams have fallen.
The last time the Rams defeated the Seahawks was also the last time the Rams won a playoff game. The date was Jan. 8, 2005. Qwest Field was the setting. Bobby Engram's inability to catch a fourth-down pass from Matt Hasselbeck in the final minute stands as the enduring memory from the Rams' 27-20 victory.
Almost four years seems like forever given how quickly things change in the NFL. When the teams met in that January 2005 playoff game:
- The Seahawks had yet to hire Tim Ruskell as team president.
- Mike Martz was the Rams' head coach.
- The Rams' offensive starters included Tom Nutten, Andy McCollum, Adam Timmerman, Blaine Saipaia, Brandon Manumaleuna, Isaac Bruce, Kevin Curtis and Marshall Faulk.
- The Rams' defensive starters included Bryce Fisher, Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy, Tony Hargrove, Randy Thomas, Tommy Polley, Jerametrius Butler, Travis Fisher, Adam Archuleta and Antuan Edwards.
- Jerry Rice started at receiver for the Seahawks.
- The Seahawks' defensive starters included Chike Okeafor, Cedric Woodard, Brandon Mitchell, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Niko Koutouvides, Chad Brown, Ken Lucas, Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin.
- The only current starters for either team who started that game were Torry Holt, Marc Bulger and Pisa Tinoisamoa for the Rams, and Hasselbeck, Engram, Walter Jones, Rocky Bernard and Marcus Trufant for the Seahawks.
- The teams combined for 809 total yards and 46 first downs