NFC West: Jamie Dukes
Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams running back Steven Jackson commended students for participating in a reading drive. Jackson told students reading helped him overcome a fear of public speaking. Jackson: "Thanks to some good teachers and my mom and dad, I overcame the fear and became an avid reader. My passion for literacy has continued."
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat shows where Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, among others, measured up at the 26-27-60 formula for quarterbacks. The formula favors college quarterbacks with at least a 26 on the Wonderlic, 27 college starts and a 60 percent completion rate. Smith hit in two of three categories. Hill hit in none. Drew Brees and Sam Bradford were among those hitting the mark in all three categories, but so was Max Hall.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the new rules for kickoff returns could help the 49ers. Maiocco: "The 49ers were the worst team in the league last season on kickoffs. Their return teams ranked 29th in field position -- both in returns and coverage. Moreover, the 49ers have sustained some significant injuries the past two seasons on kickoffs. Jeff Ulbrich's career ended in 2009 when he sustained a concussion while trying to break a wedge. Dominique Zeigler (torn knee ligament), Will James (concussion) and Phillip Adams (broken ankle) saw their seasons end with major injuries on kickoffs."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee passes along comments from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding top quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL draft.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt declined to discuss reports suggesting Arizona could have interest in Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb. Somers: "I would be surprised if the Cardinals were willing to give up the fifth overall pick in the draft. If the Eagles hold out for that, I don't think a deal will be done."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team supports the new rules for kickoffs, according to club president Michael Bidwill. Bidwill also offered thoughts on receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is heading into the final year of his contract. Bidwill: "He’s been very clear that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. We’ve been very clear that we want to take the necessary steps to make sure that happens. We’ll get it done. I’m confident of that."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on whether the Seahawks should bring back quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. O'Neil: "It's not an easy decision by any means, and if you built an argument around not bringing Hasselbeck back and pointed to his performance in early December as the reason, I could say I disagree, but it would be tough for me to say you're flat-out wrong. You would just have a different assessment. I just think it's so hard to find a guy capable of running your offense at a high level that it's much worse to pull the plug too early as opposed to too late. Re-signing a starting quarterback in the NFL isn't cheap. Letting one with tread on the tires walk away can prove way more costly, though."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks' return specialist, Leon Washington, has come out against rules changes governing kickoffs. Washington: "It's going to take a lot of strategy for the coaches to come up with a plan for how to take advantage of the opportunities you do have," he said. "I think as a returner you have to really study the game, study the kickers and try to approach the game from that angle. Hopefully it doesn't go through but if it does, special teams coaches have to really, really prepare themselves and really game plan around how to take advantage of when you do have opportunities because early on in the season when kickers' legs are feeling good and strong, they're going to be kicking out of the end zone. But later in the season, there's going to be a few chances where you do have opportunities."
Also from Henderson: NFL Network's Jamie Dukes wonders why the Seahawks haven't showed interest in Matt Leinart. Coach Pete Carroll would know Leinart better than most would know him, so no one can accuse Seattle of making an uninformed decision.
Bryan McIntyre of scout.com summarizes Schneider's interview with Mitch Levy of 950KJR Seattle. Schneider on the need for more pass-rush help: "That’s definitely a concern for us, there’s no question. We’re going to be active [scouring the wire]. Right now, we’re excited about some young guys. We’re excited about [Chris] Clemons, he’s doing some real nice stuff. The guy we got from Philadelphia. [2010 seventh-round pick] Dexter Davis has some pass-rush ability. Ricky Foley, who we signed from the CFL, is a good special teams player and a very active pass-rusher. But, it’s definitely an area, I think if you talk to 9 out of 10 teams in the league, they’d say they’re looking for a pass-rusher, too, so we will continue. We hold the sixth spot in the claim order right now. We’ll continue to talk to other teams about possible trades, and try to work that wire and to continue to upgrade this team, not only at the pass-rush position, the 'Leo' position, I guess, for us, but at every position."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says second-year receiver Deon Butler continues to make strides during organized team activities. Butler: "I feel like I’ve been working on running routes and getting better each day. Today, it just happened that a lot of opportunities went my way. I was the first read in a lot of the progressions, so it just turned out to be a good day."
Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from OTAs.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times shows where the Seahawks' rushing offense has ranked relative to the rest of the division over the past five seasons. O'Neil: "If Pete Carroll's history at USC is any indication, the lead back could change from month to month and from game to game. Consider that over the past four seasons total there wasn't a single back who had more than five 20-carry games."
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times checks in with running back Leon Washington, who has this to say about his recovery from a broken leg: "I can only move forward. I can't live with regrets. I live by the quote, 'Man is not alive if he lives with regrets.' Right now, I think the greatest lesson I can show my two little boys is that, 'Hey, Dad bounced back from a compound fracture and was able to get back on the field and have a successful career.' That's my goal."
John Morgan of Field Gulls compares Clemons to Colin Cole in that both might be a little more one-dimensional than a starter should be.
Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are counting on Joey Porter for more than pass-rush help. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Besides the good play, a part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Joey is because I know the way he works in practice, I know the way he works in the weight room, I know what kind of teammate he is, and that type of leadership is what's important."
Also from Gintonio: a look at Cardinals rookie quarterback John Skelton, who never thought he'd wind up playing college ball at Fordham. Skelton: "I never even heard of Fordham until I went up there. I visited Columbia [where his uncle played quarterback], Fordham and Holy Cross, schools that you don't really associate football with, but to go up there and learn about the storied tradition of Fordham, Vince Lombardi and everything, it was a good school to be a part of."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Nehemiah Broughton has a chance to become the Cardinals' fullback this season. Whisenhunt: "It’s a position that is hard to find guys. Nehemiah has good size [at 6-foot, 255 pounds] and is very athletic. He came in and worked hard for us. I am excited to see how he develops because obviously, it’s a position where we need someone to do it. You are looking for someone to step up and he’s got a little bit of a leg up because of the work he did with us last season."
Also from Urban: photos of players laughing as linebacker Clark Haggans fields a punt during practice, avenging an embarrassing drop from last offseason. Also: "One play did stand out today that I noticed during 11-on-11. Matt Leinart threw a dart into a seam that safety Matt Ware was sitting on, arms open, waiting for an interception. Then suddenly Steve Breaston burst back on the ball, making the catch in front of a stunned Ware and sprinting upfield. It just underscores the timing needed with some of these passes."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom, who had this to say about Stan Kroenke's bid to buy the team: "Stan will help us fulfill our desires to stay a part of the organization's family, so to speak, whether it's through community activities or just being huge fans of the team."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it appears as though Kroenke's efforts are gaining momentum. Burwell on Rosenbloom: "The world of ownership in the NFL has changed dramatically since current owner Chip Rosenbloom's socialite mom and millionaire dad got into the family business more than 50 years ago. The need for participating in this high-priced playground now is no longer millions. It's billions. Rosenbloom and his sister Lucia are millionaires, not billionaires. They don't have the deep pockets to stay in the NFL ownership club for an extended period of time."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with third-team Rams quarterback Keith Null.
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams are much more comfortable in their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo: "There’s a huge comfort level there. I felt that, and I actually jotted something down on my notes here that we’re certainly ahead of where we were last year defensively with the communication and getting things set and people feeling comfortable. Defenses are reactionary, so when you eliminate the learning curve of thinking instead of reacting, you usually play better defense. They play faster, so I think we’re getting there."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says he's eager to see rookie running back Anthony Dixon once the 49ers open training camp. Maiocco: "During his two days of practices last week, he showed some nice moves and a burst of speed for a 235-pounder. He also appears to be a capable pass catcher. His biggest chore will be learning and performing all of the blitz pickup assignments RBs coach Tom Rathman will throw at him. My first impression of Dixon is that his style reminds me of Kevan Barlow, a 238-pound back who did a bit more dancing than his 49ers coaches wanted to see from him."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes a recent NFL Network discussion between Mike Lombardi and Jamie Dukes regarding the 49ers. Dukes: "This 49ers team is ready. The defense is there. It's ready to make things happen. Offense, you've got weapons. You've got [Michael] Crabtree, you've got [Vernon] Davis, a Pro Bowl tight end. Think about it. Crabtree is gonna be I think an exceptional player. He's a young guy who's learning the system. Then I think Ted Ginn is going to give them something not only in the kick-return game but also I think as a third, second or third, wide receiver because he's such an explosive player."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
TAMPA, Fla. -- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt won't be helping NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes acquire Super Bowl tickets even though they played together for the Atlanta Falcons during the 1980s.
The jovial Dukes made a lighthearted request for tickets during Whisenhunt's morning news conference Wednesday. Whisenhunt informed his former teammate that Dukes might have stood a better chance if he had been a little kinder to the Cardinals on the air. Dukes tried to get in a word about having backed the Cardinals in the wild-card round, but Whisenhunt wasn't swayed.
Dukes might have a better chance securing tickets from NFL Network teammate Deion Sanders, who once said he would sell his pair if the Cardinals advanced to Super Bowl XLIII.