NFC West: DeMarco Sampson

2012 NFC West practice squad eligibility

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
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NFL teams can begin forming practice squads once eligible players clear waivers Saturday.

A look at which players released by NFC West teams have eligibility:

Arizona Cardinals

Eligible: Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, Steve Skelton, Quan Sturdivant, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Brandon Williams, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Williams.

Not eligible: DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley, Stephen Williams, Clark Haggans, Russ Hochstein

St. Louis Rams

Eligible: Cornell Banks, Tim Barnes, Tom Brandstater, Mason Brodine, Aaron Brown, Sammy Brown, Kendric Burney, Ben Guidugli, Cory Harkey, T-Bob Hebert, Jamaar Jarrett, Nick Johnson, Joe Long, Deangelo Peterson, Chase Reynolds, Scott Smith

Not eligible: Vernon Gholston, Bryan Mattison, Jose Valdez, Kellen Clemens, Ovie Mughelli

San Francisco 49ers

Eligible: Derek Hall, Joe Holland, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cam Johnson, Matthew Masifilo, Anthony Mosley, Kyle Nelson, Al Netter, Chris Owusu, Nathan Palmer, Mike Person, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Michael Thomas, Kenny Wiggins, Michael Wilhoite

Not eligible: Eric Bakhtiari, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson, Brett Swain

Seattle Seahawks

Eligible: Pierre Allen, Allen Bradford, Kris Durham, Cooper Helfet, Rishaw Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Kyle Knox, Cordarro Law, Pep Levingston, Ricardo Lockette, Sean McGrath, Kris O'Dowd, Josh Portis, DeShawn Shead, Vai Taua, Korey Toomer, Lavasier Tuinei

Not eligible: Phillip Adams, Deon Butler, Paul Fanaika

Note on eligibility

Straight from the collective bargaining agreement:
"The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad:
  • "players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience;
  • "free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s).

"An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.

"A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and been a member of the club's Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season.

"(For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)"

Arizona Cardinals cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
8:40
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Most significant move: Clark Haggans failed to make the cut after five-plus seasons with the Cardinals. He could always re-sign at some point if the Cardinals need depth at outside linebacker. He'll be cheaper at that time, given that veteran contracts become guaranteed once a player is on the roster for Week 1.

For now, though, the Cardinals are moving forward with Quentin Groves as a primary backup behind starters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Brandon Williams was thought to be part of that mix as well, but the Cardinals waived him with an injury designation, citing a shoulder problem. Williams will revert to injured reserve unless the Cardinals reach an injury settlement with him. A settlement would allow Williams to sign with Arizona or another team once he's healthy.

It's a good sign, ultimately, that Arizona feels good enough about its outside linebackers to proceed without the 35-year-old Haggans. After a certain point, every team should develop enough young depth to threaten older, declining players. In this case, however, I'm not sure Arizona has a viable replacement for him. Groves showed promise, but he has zero sacks over the past three seasons.

Onward and upward: None of the players released by Arizona jumps out to me as someone sure to catch on elsewhere. That is because the Cardinals found a way to keep 11 defensive backs, including all their best corners. Had A.J. Jefferson or Michael Adams hit the market, both would have attracted interest. The same would have been true for Greg Toler, most likely.

Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Russ Hochstein, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Quan Sturdivant, Ronald Talley, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Isaiah Williams and D.J. Young were released. No big surprises there. Haggans could catch on somewhere.

Quarterback Rich Bartel landed on injured reserve, as did running back Javarris James. Stephen Williams was waived/injured with an Achilles' injury.

What's next: The Cardinals could use help at offensive tackle and outside linebacker. They decided against designating Levi Brown as a player eligible to return from injured reserve later in the season. That means Brown will not return from his torn triceps until next season. D'Anthony Batiste heads toward the season as the projected starter at left tackle. Another candidate, Young, struggled during preseason and received his release Friday.

The Cardinals are paying for missing on 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown, an outside linebacker. They're counting on Acho and Schofield to carry the full load, but there's little depth behind them. Schofield must prove he's durable in a full-time role after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
This link will take you to the next NFC West chat, set to begin at 1 p.m. ET.

A few leftover questions from last week focused on which wide receivers each NFC West team will keep when initial 53-man rosters come into play Friday.

My projections heading into the final preseason games call for six wideouts to make each roster initially: Any injuries suffered Thursday night could affect the outlook.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters continues with projections for the Arizona Cardinals' offense.

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Safest bets: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton

Leading contenders: Ryan Lindley, Rich Bartel

Longer odds: none

Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was ready with a quip when asked to pinpoint when the team would like to have its quarterback competition settled. Two years ago, he said. Instead, Kolb and Skelton figure to battle deep into the exhibition season. The Cardinals have five preseason games to use for evaluation. Bartel's grip on the No. 3 job could be ending after Arizona used a sixth-round pick for Lindley.

Running backs (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.2

Safest bets: Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, Anthony Sherman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

Leading contenders: Alfonso Smith

Longer odds: William Powell, Javarris James, Jared Crank

Comment: The Cardinals have been banking on Wells and Williams returning from knee injuries. Neither participated fully in offseason workouts or practices. Wells' agent said the team was playing it safe with his client to maximize Wells' availability in 2012. The team did not make lineup contingency plans in case Wells or Williams isn't ready or suffers additional injuries. It's Wells and Williams or bust at this point. Sherman is developing into a first-rate fullback. Stephens-Howling has been one of the better special-teams players around. Smith also has value on special teams if the Cardinals decide to keep a fifth back in Week 1, as they have done for the past four seasons.

Wide receivers (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.1

Safest bets: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet

Leading contenders: Isaiah Williams, Stephen Williams, DeMarco Sampson, Jaymar Johnson

Longer odds: LaRon Byrd, Stanley Arukwe, Tre Gray, Gino Crump

Comment: The Cardinals have never kept fewer than six wideouts on their Week 1 roster since Whisenhunt became coach. They kept seven in 2009. Arizona appears to have excellent quality through its top four options at the position. Fitzgerald is an all-time great and in his prime. His presence should help free Floyd to produce as a rookie first-round draft choice, provided the team's quarterbacks do a better job finding open receivers. Floyd's arrival signals Roberts' move to the slot, where the Cardinals think he's ideally suited. Doucet was productive from the slot on third down last season.

Tight ends (6)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.2

Safest bets: Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler

Leading contenders: Jim Dray, Steve Skelton

Longer odds: Martell Webb

Comment: This position should become a strength with Housler's expected emergence as a fast, athletic receiving threat. Again, the Cardinals are counting on Kolb and/or Skelton to find the open receivers they missed too frequently last season. Age and injury concerns follow the 32-year-old Heap into his 12th season and second with the Cardinals. His $2 million salary would not appear to put him at significant risk, provided Heap bounces back this season. King exceeded expectations as a receiver last season. The Cardinals had never kept more than three tight ends on their Week 1 roster until last season, when they kept four.

Offensive linemen (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.7

Safest bets: Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Adam Snyder, Jeremy Bridges, Bobby Massie

Leading contenders: Senio Kelemete, D'Anthony Batiste, Nate Potter

Longer odds: D.J. Young, Braeden Clayson, Ryan Bartholomew, Scott Wedige, Chris Stewart, Blake DeChristopher

Comment: Sendlein and Colledge give the Cardinals two solid contributors on the perimeter. The team is counting on Brown to build upon the improvement he showed at left tackle late last season. Brown does appear determined to shake his negative reputation. Questions abound on the right side of the line. Snyder appeared headed for a backup job somewhere when the Cardinals gave him $3.5 million per season, including $5 million up front, to start at right guard. Pairing Snyder with Bridges or Massie on the right side would seem to invite trouble. Perhaps the Cardinals know something others do not. Can line coach Russ Grimm develop the young talent Arizona added through the draft?
Lots going on with the St. Louis Rams.

First, thanks to @Gofastleft for pointing out a story suggesting the team has asked for a retractable roof as part of its proposed renovations to the Edward Jones Dome.

Charles Jaco of Fox2now.com says experts generally suggest a price tag between $200 million and $300 million for retrofitting a stadium with such a roof. Jaco: "The Rams lease at the dome says the team is free to leave St. Louis in January 2015 if the dome is not among the top facilities in the National Football League. The Rams rejected an offer from the Convention and Visitor’s Commission to spend $124 million to upgrade the dome, half from taxpayers, half from the team. And this is their counter-offer. If the CVC rejects this proposal, which is pretty likely, then both sides go to arbitration June 15." Noted: Details for the various proposals become public Monday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details changes in the Rams' scouting department. Thomas: "The process is well under way, with general manager Les Snead bringing two Atlanta Falcons scouts into directors' positions in the front office. Falcons pro scout Ran Carthon is joining the Rams as director of pro personnel; Falcons area scout Taylor Morton is coming to St. Louis as director of college scouting. The Rams didn't have anyone with the title of director of pro personnel last season, so technically, Carthon isn't replacing anyone. John Mancini, who has been the Rams' director of college scouting for the past two years, is being retained with the title of assistant director of college scouting."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers thoughts on Michael Crabtree's development through three seasons. Maiocco: "While fans expect 1,000-yard seasons from a player chosen with the No. 10 overall draft pick, the 49ers' offense is not one that features the outside receivers. Some view Crabtree as a bust. I am certainly not in that camp."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at how rookie LaMichael James could change the 49ers' offense. Lynch: "At Oregon, he played in a spread and most of his carries came from a shotgun quarterback. That could continue with the 49ers. With the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins the team is showing signs of opening up the offense. Going into the shotgun frequently, could put James on the field more often. But for that to be the case, James will have to prove he’s more of a Darren Sproles than a Dexter McCluster. The revelation of just whom James will be, will start this Friday at the team's rookie minicamp."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the sorry recent history of the No. 81 jersey in San Francisco, asking whether there's been a T.O. curse.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains how receiver Larry Fitzgerald pushes teammates to work harder. Fitzgerald: "I'm just an extremely self-motivated person, that's all. Every day I am trying to run faster, jump higher, lift more. I have always been that way. Especially young guys like (Ryan Williams) … yesterday Patrick Peterson, we had a squat competition. I do it with (receivers) DeMarco Sampson, Jaymar (Johnson). I am into that. I love the competition, no matter if it is on the field, the basketball gym, the bowling alley, competition always makes the cream rise to the top. So I love to compete."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with offensive line coach Tom Cable for thoughts on why the team drafted defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy with an eye toward converting Sweezy to offense. Cable: "It was his demeanor, first and foremost. His intelligence. His toughness. And how he played on defense."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Red Bryant is determined to fulfill expectations after signing a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant: "A lot of guys get big contracts and they kind of go in the tank because you get comfortable. I feel like not so much to justify it, but I have bigger expectations than just a contract. You hear that all the time, but I definitely want to be a guy that when my playing days are over with and they think about the Seahawks, they think about big Red Bryant."

710ESPN Seattle passes along comments from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll regarding Russell Wilson's arm strength.

The protocol becomes the same for nearly every freshly minted NFL draft choice, from first-round quarterbacks to seventh-round punters.

Not long after their selections, their new employers will connect them to local NFL reporters via conference call.


A surprise awaited the Arizona Cardinals after the team made Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd the 13th overall choice in the 2012 draft.

Floyd's college coach, Brian Kelly, made an unsolicited call to the Cardinals, availing himself to media questions regarding his former player.

Kelly has vouched for other players, including Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Harrison Smith. A college head coach certainly has a recruiting interest in getting his name out there in association with prominent draft choices.

But in publicly testifying for Floyd, whose draft file includes three three alcohol-related incidents and a resulting team suspension, Kelly extended himself to an extent that wasn't necessary. It was a notable early marker for the Cardinals, who have never drafted a player with such significant baggage since Ken Whisenhunt arrived as head coach in 2007.

Floyd could not have scripted Kelly's testimonial more favorably:
  • On Floyd in general: "Well, a kid who got his degree in three-and-a-half years from Notre Dame. Probably in my 23 years now as a head coach, the best practice player that I've ever had. He just has a passion and a love for the football."
  • On Floyd as a teammate: "Whether he is getting the football or not, he is a guy who has never complained. He certainly always wants the ball in critical situations. He has never been a diva, if you will, in terms of not getting his catches. If we're successful and we're making plays, he's on the other end making blocks. That's why it was such a pleasure to coach the kid."
  • On what changed in Floyd following a suspension: "To have an opportunity to come back and play at Notre Dame and get a degree and be successful in the NFL, he had to make some choices. And he made some great choices. Now, you've got a young man who had been through some adversity, has handled it, has been humbled because of it and the best is in front of him now."

Authorities cited Floyd for underage drinking in 2009 and 2010. A DUI conviction last year made for three alcohol-related incidents in three years, raising obvious questions about judgment and the potential for a more serious problem.

College programs can become enablers for troubled star athletes. Handing millions to those troubled athletes usually doesn't help.

Those are generalities. Floyd's situation stands on its own. Whether he has a problem or carries a heightened risk cannot be known for certain.


The Cardinals' decision to draft Floyd was an organizational one, with team owner Michael Bidwill, a former federal prosecutor, participating directly in the vetting process.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team asked tough questions, thought Floyd provided honest answers and felt Floyd made a positive statement by returning to Notre Dame for his senior season amid quarterback uncertainty that could have hurt Floyd's status.

"I just basically told them it was a bad decision," Floyd told reporters following his selection. "I learned from it and I moved on. I know I can't be like every other college student, just doing what a college student does, because the spotlight is on me. They wanted to see if I had improvements since that time, and I have."


There is less uncertainty over the Cardinals' on-field plans for Floyd. They anticipate him becoming their flanker opposite split end Larry Fitzgerald, who had been the most recent first-round wideout chosen by Arizona. With Floyd projecting as a starter, Andre Roberts becomes a candidate for additional playing time from the slot, where Early Doucet was already a factor for the team.

Fitzgerald and Floyd present matchup problems with their size alone. Both are nearly 6-foot-3. Floyd weighed 220 pounds at the scouting combine. Fitzgerald weighed 225 upon entering the league in 2004. He has preferred playing at a lighter weight recently.

Size matters for receivers in the NFC West, a division featuring punishing safeties and Pro Bowl credentials in the secondary. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Adrian Wilson, Patrick Peterson, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Cortland Finnegan and Quintin Mikell come to mind immediately.

"You could consider Mike to be still a raw receiver in that he can get better in all the technical elements in route running and things of that nature," Kelly said of Floyd. "He is certainly a guy that attacks the football and attacks defenders and blocking -- he is an outstanding blocker."

Any rookie open to input from veteran players stands to benefit from joining a team with strong leadership at the player's position. Fitzgerald sets an impeccable standard for the Cardinals' receivers and the team in general. From that standpoint, Floyd couldn't have found a better working environment.

2012 NFL Draft Machine: WRs catch on

March, 31, 2012
3/31/12
10:34
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The recently activated 2012 NFL Draft Machine lets us quickly play around with various mock scenarios.

The other eight divisional bloggers and I are working on one for publication Monday.

I'm picking for the NFC West teams and couldn't help but notice how frequently wide receiver factored into the decision making for the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in particular.

Justin Blackmon was an obvious consideration for the Rams at No. 6. Michael Floyd entered into consideration for the Cardinals at No. 13. The 49ers do not pick until No. 30, making it less clear which wideouts might be available.

The chart shows current wide receivers for NFC West teams. The Rams' Danny Amendola is a restricted free agent. The others are signed and active.

Enjoy the draft machine. I'll break out my thoughts on NFC West possibilities when our mock runs Monday.

Thoughts on Kevin Kolb's potential return

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
3:51
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The Arizona Cardinals have listed quarterback Kevin Kolb as questionable for the team's game at St. Louis in Week 12.

Kolb has missed the last three games while recovering from toe and foot injuries.

If Kolb does play, I'll be watching to see whether he can improve his rapport with receiver Andre Roberts in particular. The chart shows Kolb's stats lagging on throws to Roberts, the Cardinals' starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald. His NFL passer rating is best when throwing to tight end Jeff King. Backup quarterback John Skelton's rating when targeting Roberts (64.6) is about the same as when he targets other receivers (63.8).

Both Kolb and Skelton have fared well when throwing to Early Doucet. Skelton has completed 10 of 14 passes for 126 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 93.2 rating on passes to Doucet. Kolb has a 103.4 rating when targeting Doucet.

Thanks to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information for running these breakdowns.

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Injuries, opposing defenses and game situations influence receiving totals from week to week.

So do quarterback changes.

The chart shows reception and yardage totals for Arizona Cardinals players in each of their quarterback's past two games. John Skelton is coming off games against St. Louis and Philadelphia. Kevin Kolb played most recently against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Skelton faced easier competition and won both games, making clutch plays in fourth quarters. Toe and foot injuries continue to sideline Kolb. I would expect him to resume as the starter when healthy -- unless Skelton leads Arizona past 8-1 San Francisco in Week 11.

The numbers seem to confirm perceptions that Skelton appears more comfortable than Kolb to this point. He's been more proficient at getting the ball to Arizona's secondary wide receivers, especially Andre Roberts. My thought was that a quarterback more comfortable in the offense might stick with plays longer, allowing him to find secondary receivers. Kolb has bailed on some plays too early.

Facing lesser defenses also can make a quarterback more comfortable. Skelton hasn't had to worry about Terrell Suggs or Troy Polamalu coming after him.

I'm heading to San Francisco for the Cardinals' game against the 49ers. Skelton's performance in that game should answer questions about the position in Arizona. This will be Skelton's first start of the season against one of the better defenses in the league.

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Doug Baldwin proving doubters wrong

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
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No team in the NFL thought Doug Baldwin would quickly emerge as one of the most productive young wide receivers in the league.

We know this because the 32 NFL teams drafted 28 wide receivers in 2011, but not Baldwin.

NFC West teams drafted five of them, but not Baldwin.

Austin Pettis (third round, St. Louis), Kris Durham (fourth round, Seattle), Greg Salas (fourth round, St. Louis), Ronald Johnson (sixth round, San Francisco) and DeMarco Sampson (seventh round, Arizona) have combined for 22 receptions, 195 yards and no touchdowns.


Baldwin, signed as an undrafted free agent from Stanford, has 20 catches for 330 yards and two scores even though he played sparingly in the season opener.

How surprising is Baldwin's production? His college coach, Jim Harbaugh, surely did not see it coming. Harbaugh's 49ers were seeking a slot receiver in the draft. They went with Johnson in the sixth round partially because the 49ers' receivers coach, John Morton, coached Johnson at USC. There was no shame in the selection; the draft guides I saw rated Johnson over Baldwin.

Johnson failed to earn a roster spot. Baldwin is leading Seattle in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He caught eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown during the Seahawks' 36-25 victory over the New York Giants in Week 5. His 55-yard touchdown reception against the 49ers in Week 1 helped Seattle erase most of a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.

Among Seattle rookies, only Joey Galloway, with 349 yards in 1995, has gained more receiving yards than Baldwin through five games, according to ESPN Stats & Information (Hall of Famer Steve Largent had been second with 313 yards through five games in 1976).

Baldwin was initially reluctant to bite when I asked him how much motivation he gets from knowing his own college coach could have drafted him or signed him, but did not.

"There is definitely motivation that comes out of that," Baldwin said. "Obviously, I went undrafted, so there is motivation from that as a whole, but definitely motivation."

Baldwin's college career was up and down. He became disillusioned with his diminished role as a junior, as the Pensacola News recounted in a story available via PDF.

"He is one of the most mentally strong people I have ever met," said 49ers tight end Konrad Reuland, a rookie who played with Baldwin at Stanford and lived with him for a time. "He had his ups and downs at Stanford. He always battled back from any kind of injury or setback that he had. He’s just mentally tough. He went through a year where he didn’t play very much and came back the next year and was our best receiver."

Baldwin appears ideally suited for the slot. The Seahawks, despite having already had their bye week, rank eighth in the league with 203 plays featuring at least three wide receivers. Baldwin's presence helps account for some of that.

The Seahawks want him on the field and value what he offers from the slot in particular. So far, Baldwin has nine receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown from the left slot, seven receptions for 114 yards from the right slot and four receptions for 91 yards when lining up outside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"In terms of physical ability, he is one of the quickest guys I have ever seen in and out of his breaks," Reuland said. "He’s got those cat-like reflexes and just explodes in and out of his breaks."

Baldwin has also proved he can bounce back from big hits, whether from opposing defensive backs -- one such hit drew a $15,000 fine -- or from the NFL teams that decided he wasn't worth drafting.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times weighs Red Bryant's impact on the Seahawks' defense. O'Neil: "There might not be a bigger player on Seattle's defense than Bryant, something as figuratively true as it is literally accurate. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive end's presence made all the difference in the run defense last year." Earlier: What losing Bryant and Colin Cole meant to the Seahawks' run defense last season.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is excited about Josh Pinkard's prospects at strong safety in the next preseason game. Starter Kam Chancellor will not play. Farnsworth: "With Kam Chancellor sidelined by a sore foot, Pinkard will start at strong safety in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Broncos in Denver. If his performance on the practice field this week -- and especially today -- is any indication, the second-year safety is ready for the challenge and the opportunity."

Also from Farnsworth: The Seahawks' tight ends can do pretty much everything.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Pinkard overcame three ACL injuries while at USC. Williams: "Pinkard is part of a fierce battle for a roster spot at safety that includes veteran Atari Bigby, along with fifth-round draft pick Mark LeGree and undrafted free agent Jeron Johnson." It'll be tough to keep Johnson off the roster based on what we've seen to this point.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals as the team breaks training camp. On Kevin Kolb: "Kolb has been everything coaches hoped. His physical skills are obvious, but he's also picked up the offensive system quickly, and his teammates like him. Keeping him healthy is paramount."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com updates the team's injury situation heading into the third preseason game. Urban: "Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t rule out anyone for Saturday’s game save for cornerback Michael Adams (knee), although he acknowledged quarterback John Skelton (ankle) was unlikely to go (and Adrian Wilson, of course, won’t be out there.) There are some question marks. Rookie receiver DeMarco Sampson tweaked his hamstring Wednesday and sat out Thursday. Tight end Rob Housler (groin) is getting better but he missed a second straight day."

Also from Urban: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will spend game days in the booth, not on the sideline. That is the plan for now after Horton tested out both options during preseason. Horton: "When you are up there you can evaluate everything yourself. I just wanted to explore all avenues, and make sure there wasn’t a better way to do something."

More from Urban: wrapping up Cardinals camp. Patrick Peterson: "As a rookie, I don’t think I have had enough of the NFL experience. It’s a business and you have to move on, and (the season) is up on us right now."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs through the Rams' roster with an eye toward which players are likely to earn roster spots. He's putting Donnie Avery in the "safe and sound" category, with rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas fighting for roster spots. I'd be mildly surprised if the Rams cut one of their rookie draft choices at the position. I could also see the Rams keeping their eye out for a veteran interior offensive lineman.

Also from Thomas: a look at Pettis and Salas. Thomas: "Normally, a third- and fourth-round pick is bulletproof during the cutdowns as rookies in this age of the salary cap. Unless the player is injured or an outright disaster, teams don't want to swallow the signing bonus by cutting the player. With the new rookie pay system in effect, the signing bonuses are lower this year across the board. But lower enough to make it easier to cut a mid-round draft pick? Probably not."

More from the Post-Dispatch: five things to watch in the Rams' third preseason game, including safety Darian Stewart.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says there's a good chance Ben Leber, Brady Poppinga and Stewart will start the preseason game against Kansas City.

Also from Wagoner: The Rams are seeking greater consistency in their next preseason game.

More yet from Wagoner: keys to the Kansas City game.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com explains why Jim Harbaugh wants the 49ers to get first-team reps for backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Harbaugh: "Just looking forward to what's going to happen during the season, I'd rather have Colin ready and experience football with the starters, against the starters and National Football League savvy before we have to get to that point."

Also from Maiocco: Braylon Edwards has made an effort to develop a rapport with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. It's less clear whether Smith and Michael Crabtree have connected well enough. Their lockers are much closer in proximity this season.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Brit Miller could beat out Moran Norris as the 49ers' starting fullback. Barrows: "The 49ers have three options. They can keep Norris and not Miller, a seventh-round pick. They can keep both Miller and Norris, or they can keep the rookie and cut the veteran. Miller is faster and more fluid than Norris, 33, and would allow the 49ers to be more versatile on offense. Norris, however, has more experience at what a fullback primarily needs to be good at -- blocking." Norris is the oldest player on one of the NFL's youngest offenses.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Chilo Rachal gave up burgers for salmon in his efforts to improve his conditioning for the 2011 season. Branch: "Rachal has already met one goal: At 304 pounds, he's certainly lighter. He lost about 10 pounds during the course of the 2010 season and dropped about 30 more during the offseason, thanks to a diet loaded with fish and grilled chicken. In an effort to avoid In-N-Out runs, he paid a company to deliver his health-conscious food daily. Rachal says his extreme makeover has relieved his once-aching joints."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says it's pretty clear Ahmad Brooks will win a starting job.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Kaepernick's footwork appears to be improving.
Ryan Williams' confirmed season-ending injury will prevent the Arizona Cardinals' 2011 draft class from reaching its expected potential this season.

Williams, injured while carrying the ball against Green Bay in the Cardinals' preseason game Friday night, was pushing Beanie Wells for playing time. He projected as a potential starter, perhaps as early as this season.

The Cardinals should still expect significant contributions from their 2011 draft class.

It's an upset if Patrick Peterson doesn't take over as the starting left cornerback early in the season.

Third-rounder Rob Housler needs seasoning as a blocker, but his receiving skills have stood out during preseason. He caught a touchdown pass in the opener and led Arizona in receptions with five against Green Bay.

Anthony Sherman made an immediate positive impression at fullback early in camp. He caught a pass for a 6-yard gain on third-and-2 against the Packers.

David Carter went from projected defensive end to No. 2 nose tackle early in camp.

Receiver DeMarco Sampson, the Cardinals' seventh-round pick, has continued to produce during preseason games after impressing during camp practices. He had three receptions for 68 yards against the Packers, including one for a 45-yard gain.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2011 draft class, sorted by order chosen.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic examines the Texas roots of the Cardinals' quarterbacks. On Kevin Kolb: "Once, he was walking with his future wife when they encountered an angry western diamondback. Kolb took off his boot, put it at the end of stick and dangled it in front the snake. According to a published report, the snake struck the boot 10 times before giving up the battle. Kolb then picked up the snake, took out his gun with the other hand and shot the snake in the head. He removed its rattles with a pocket knife, keeping them as a good-luck charm. He was 17 at the time." Kolb struck me at training camp as the sort of person teammates could rally around. These sorts of stories reinforce that feeling.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along thoughts from Cardinals receivers coach John McNulty regarding wideouts not named Larry Fitzgerald. McNulty on Stephen Williams: "He's one guy who would have benefited from being around all (off-season). The main thing was to get power in his legs, so he could change direction a little bit better. He's already a fast guy. And he definitely strengthened his legs, his lower body from the hip down. He's a more powerful guy. He was raw to start and he's always a guy who wants reinforcement, like, 'Is this O.K.?' Rather than just letting it go. Lately, he's let it go a little bit, particularly in the game."

Also from Somers: New rules will affect returners such as LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookie Sam Acho, not second-year pro O'Brien Schofield, worked with the starters at outside linebacker when Joey Porter received a veteran's day off. Urban: "Maybe coaches just wanted to get a look at Acho with the first team. But I don't think it would be off-base to assume they want more out of Schofield. I'm not saying he's had a poor camp, but he hasn't stood out, either. But it's early and pass-rushers have a hard time making a statement in camp, where hitting quarterbacks is prohibited and tackling is permitted only occasionally. That right outside linebacker spot will be an intriguing one to watch Friday night against the Packers."

Also from Urban: DeMarco Sampson keeps pushing for a roster spot at receiver.

More from Urban: another take on what awaits returners.

More yet from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald makes the spectacular appear routine.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea says Alex Smith's strong day of practice didn't mean backup Colin Kaepernick struggled. Maiocco: "Kaepernick took over for the two-minute drill and led the first-team into field-goal range for the end-of-half situation. Kaepernick completed 5 of 8 for 40 yards, including a spike to stop the clock. On a third-down play from the 15, outside linebacker Aldon Smith got a 'sack' against the attempted pass protection of running back Anthony Dixon."

Also from Maiocco: Smith's thoughts on playing before the home crowd at Candlestick Park during Week 2 of the preseason.

More from Maiocco: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on "separation" at quarterback.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on the 49ers' interest in Matt Hasselbeck as a free-agent passer they could have signed to compete for the starting job. Hasselbeck indicated his choice came down to the 49ers and Titans, but I'd be surprised if the 49ers were offering anything close to what Hasselbeck got from the Titans, who had a bigger need for a veteran.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News explains why it was so unlikely for the 49ers to make a competitive offer to Hasselbeck. Kawakami: "He went for three years, $21M to Tennessee, and I reported at the time of the negotiations that the 49ers were not likely to get into a bidding war for Hasselbeck. I think the 49ers viewed Hasselbeck as a 1/1A deal with Smith -- not as a clear starter -- which meant they had to fit him into a smaller salary scale. There’s no way they would’ve given Hasselbeck $7M per for three years when they were already, by that time, committed to paying Smith $5M."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers running back Frank Gore claims to feel six years younger than his actual age. Spoken like a 28-year-old running back seeking a long-term contract extension. Gore: "Hopefully, it will get done before the season. If it doesn't, I've just got to go play and if I have to be a free agent, I'll be a free agent."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com profiles 6-foot-4 cornerback Brandon Browner, who played previously in the CFL. Said secondary coach Kris Richard: "Yes, he can cover. He has attributes that are uncommon. Typically a guy that size, you would think he’d have trouble getting in and out of breaks. But Brandon has shown the ability to get in and out of breaks. So the attributes that you look for in a corner, you’re finding. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has Seahawks tackle Russell Okung in mind when he checks in with two doctors for thoughts on high-ankle sprains. "No one's prone to this," one of them says.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at Seahawks cornerback Jesse Hoffman, a former running back seeking to become an NFL rarity: a white cornerback. Marcus Trufant: "It’s all about ability, and that’s all the way around the field at every position. No matter what complexion you are, as long as you can go out there and ball, I think you’ll be all right. He’s good. He actually had some good plays in the preseason game last week. So he’s just trying to build on that and get better."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has this to say regarding the transition from head coach back to coordinator: "This has been great for me. We're blessed to have the opportunity to work in this profession every day. The group of guys and the coaching staff has made this transition for me unbelievable. ... Focusing on the offense, trying to get better on that side of the ball, coaching the quarterbacks is really something I love to do."

Also from Coats: a Rams injury update noting that Steven Jackson rested a sore hip.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on the Rams' situation at cornerback during a recent chat: "The Rams need to find one or two corners because they'll probably take five or six into the regular season. They had veteran Rod Hood in for a visit last week, but it's my understanding they told him they wanted to look at some of their younger corners for now. (Dionte Dinkins, Tim Atchison, Jeremy McGee, etc.) But trust me, the Rams are keeping their eyes open for corners."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com takes a closer look at the Rams' depth behind Jackson. Jerious Norwood played for Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.
NFC West wide receivers are casting longer shadows these days.

Division teams have added three wideouts standing at least 6-foot-3 this offseason, led by Sidney Rice in Seattle and Braylon Edwards in San Francisco.

The NFC West now has more receivers listed at 6-5 than it has listed at 5-10.

Seattle is likely to field the tallest starting tandem, with the 6-5 Mike Williams opposite the 6-3 Rice.

The 49ers are the only team in the division with fewer than four receivers standing taller than 6-1. The St. Louis Rams have five. Arizona and Seattle have four apiece.

I've gone through rosters and broken out NFC West receivers by listed heights:
The chart breaks down NFC West teams by receiver height.

The Rams have eight receivers standing at least 6-1, no surprise given offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' history at the position.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kevin Kolb will probably play a little longer than a starting quarterback usually would when the Arizona Cardinals open their exhibition season. Kolb wants to play, of course, but also realizes mistakes will be made after only six days of on-field preparation. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "It’s not like he’ll be wide-eyed. He’s been through this before." Protecting Kolb stands out as the biggest concern. Offensive lines have had little time to jell. The Cardinals have new starters in both guard spots.

Also from Urban: Whisenhunt details what held back the Cardinals' running backs in 2010, and what he wants from them this season. Whisenhunt: "On runs, it was not being able to make a single defender miss. In the NFL, that’s what you have to do. Make guys miss, because you can’t block everybody. There were a couple times we were in the open field and we had an opportunity to make a big play and we got brought down and that was unacceptable."

More from Urban: Rookie receiver DeMarco Sampson has impressed.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates Rashad Johnson's efforts to gain an expanded role within the Cardinals' defense. Adrian Wilson's injury cleared the way. Somers: "A third-round pick from Alabama in 2009, Johnson's inconsistency has kept him from more playing time, although he showed improvement from the first year to the next. Johnson set about to change his career course this offseason by first changing his body. He worked out for three months with Wilson and several other Cardinals defensive backs. He still weighs about the same, 204 pounds, but Johnson's body fat percentage decreased from 17 percent to 7.8 percent."

Also from Somers: Cardinals safety Hamza Abdullah is headed to the White House for a dinner celebrating the end of Ramadan. Somers: "Getting through the first preseason game in Oakland on Thursday will be a big relief for coaches, who are working with 51 new players on a 90-man roster. Of that 90, 24 just started practicing last week."

More from Somers: Larry Fitzgerald hurdles a spectator at camp, and former Vikings coach Brad Childress visits the Circle K where he worked after getting fired from a job at Northern Arizona University.

More yet from Somers: a look at Cardinals position battles. On nose tackle: "Dan Williams is listed as the starter, but coaches believe he's out of shape. Rookie David Carter has had a nice camp, and veteran Nick Eason can swing from end to tackle, too." Is reporting to work in good physical condition too much to ask from a young professional athlete?

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says a chest injury is limiting Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have signed rookie cornerback Jared McGee.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring his thoughts on whether the Rams' moves in free agency reflect short-term goals. Thomas: "Remember, 8 of the 11 free agents signed so far are one-year deals. So there's no guarantee how many of them will be back in 2012. Of the 11 outside veteran free agents, Zac Diles is 26, Mike Sims-Walker is 26, Quinn Ojinnaka is 27, Jerious Norwood just turned 28, Dan Muir is 28, Cadillac Williams is 29, Craig Dahl just turned 30, Quintin Mikell is 30, Brady Poppinga is 31, Justin Bannan is 32, and Al Harris is 36. So they're spread out kind of all over the spectrum. But I think your overall point is valid. But the sheer number of free agents signed shows the Rams are trying to get over the hump in terms of at least making the playoffs."

Also from Thomas: the Rams' situation at receiver remains muddled.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers 49ers practice notes, including one about rookie tight end Konrad Reuland making a push for a roster spot. Reuland appears to have strong hands. He made plays on the ball Tuesday. On one play, Reuland impressed even when unable to finish the catch. He dove for the ball and got both hands on it despite hard contact from a defender.

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' depth chart. Ted Ginn Jr. dropped a couple passes Tuesday, but otherwise has been one of the more impressive receivers in camp, Maiocco notes. Maiocco: "Ginn has put together the most-impressive camp of the widouts. Josh Morgan has been inconsistent, though he did have a nice leaping catch of 30 yards in a two-minute drill Monday. Braylon Edwards is not listed as a starter because he just arrived in town after signing a one-year, $1 million contract. Based on his practice Monday, Edwards looks ready to leap into a starting role. Michael Crabtree and Dominique Zeigler are not listed on the depth chart because they are ineligible to practice or play until being removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Patrick Willis is embracing a chance to rush the passer more frequently.

Also from Inman: Frank Gore offers thoughts on the 49ers' offense. Gore on Alex Smith: "You can tell the (offense's) energy is different. You can see it in Alex. He looks really confident. He's able to go. ... Alex is going to be really good in this offense."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers rookie Aldon Smith, despite showing flashes of athletic prowess, remains a work in progress while learning the team's system.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says rookie Byron Maxwell continues to impress. Coach Pete Carroll: "He’s been really special the last two or three days. He looks very competitive. He’s tough. He’s tackled well. He’s got a nose for the football. He’s really bright. He’s really picked things up. He’s right in the mix of this with the young cornerbacks."

Also from Farnsworth: a look at quarterback Josh Portis' winding path to the NFL.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times updates the Seahawks' cornerback situation. O'Neil: "Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond project as the team's starting cornerbacks currently. Thurmond has been out the past week, which has left Kelly Jennings playing with the first-unit defense. Then there are the rookies Maxwell and Richard Sherman, a fifth-round draft choice out of Stanford. At 6 feet 4, Brandon Browner is the tallest defensive back Seattle has in camp and someone Carroll has praised for the length he brings to his press coverage."

Also from O'Neil: a look at the positions where Seattle has had the most players start since 2006. Yes, Steve Hutchinson's name comes up.

More from O'Neil: Can Golden Tate bounce back from a disappointing rookie season? Carroll: "He's caught more balls than anyone on the practice field since camp started. He's highly competitive, and we're going to find a way to really have him help us. I think it's a different setting for him entirely."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks rookie cornerback Richard Sherman, who has so far fared well using the bump-and-run tactics Seattle prefers.

Also from Williams: Tarvaris Jackson will start the exhibition opener Thursday night, but a toe injury will prevent receiver Mike Williams from playing.

More from Williams: The Seahawks plan to keep Portis around in some capacity.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says Red Bryant and Kris Durham will miss the Seahawks' exhibition opener. The team expects Bryant to return next week.

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