NFC West: Jerome Carter
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The first six players NFC West teams selected that year have not met expectations: quarterback Alex Smith (49ers), cornerback-turned-safety Antrel Rolle (Cardinals), tackle Alex Barron (Rams), Spencer, guard David Baas (49ers) and running back J.J. Arrington (Cardinals).
The next four players NFC West players selected -- Lofa Tatupu (Seahawks), Ron Bartell (Rams), Frank Gore (49ers) and Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams) -- have either achieved Pro Bowl status or become front-line starters.
The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers each have four members of their 2005 draft classes on their active rosters. The Cardinals have two.
The Rams found four current starters in Barron, Bartell, Atogwe and third-rounder Richie Incognito.
The 49ers found Gore and right tackle Adam Snyder, while Baas and Smith could wind up starting this season.
The Cardinals have only Rolle and backup guard Elton Brown to show for that 2005 class.
Tatupu and Gore are the only Pro Bowl players from the 2005 NFC West draft class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoBrian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need Steven Jackson in camp as soon as possible. Burwell: "This is a franchise in dire need of star quality because without Jackson, they will not only be horrible, they'll be frighteningly uninteresting and flirting dangerously with downright insignificance in a fragile sports marketplace."
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks need receiver Courtney Taylor to produce while Bobby Engram recovers from injury. Also: Cornerback Marcus Trufant lost a contact lens during a collision with running back T.J. Duckett.
Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says Taylor has the ability to bring big things to the Seattle offense. Mike Holmgren on Taylor: "Courtney's a pretty explosive guy. He's got great skill. He's fast. I mean, his athletic ability is special."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune expects Matt Leinart to remain in the game for the Cardinals during red-zone situations. Kurt Warner replaced Leinart in certain situations last season, but Leinart is much better equipped to handle all aspects of the offense, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want more consistency from kicker Neil Rackers, who needs to better control his emotions. Whisenhunt says the decision to release Rackers' holder last season affected Rackers more than the coach anticipated. It's always refreshing when head coaches take responsibility.
Also from Somers: Rookie Ali Highsmith is impressing at linebacker.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides a transcript from Takeo Spikes' first interview as a member of the 49ers. Spikes on playing strong inside linebacker: "The good thing about it, I played that position late in my career in Buffalo. But just defense, I played just defense my first four years in the league with Cincinnati, so that's why I'm familiar with it."
Also from Barrows: J.T. O'Sullivan keeps getting first-team reps at quarterback (hmmmm).
And this: More on Spikes and his role in the defense.
Brian Chu of the San Francisco Chronicle counted a combined five interceptions for 49ers quarterbacks Alex Smith and J.T. O'Sullivan in practice. Also: Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich will see more playing time on special teams, coach Mike Nolan said. Ulbrich has been a starting inside linebacker, but newly signed Takeo Spikes is expected to take his job.
Darren Sabedra of the San Jose Mercury News says Spikes was with his 5-year-old daughter at a carnival when his agent called with news of the 49ers' renewed interest in him. Meanwhile, Ulbrich is taking the high road when asked about the player most likely to reduce his playing time: "Takeo is a great football player and a good addition to this team. (However) it turns out, we'll all be better for it. He'll push me. I'll push him. If my role changes from defense to special teams, then I'll embrace that. If defense is where I'm asked to play, then I'll embrace that as well."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat breaks down the 49ers' offensive struggles in practice. The quarterback competition invites an in-depth analysis of every move the offense makes, and the results have not been pretty. Nolan: "If you do have one guy and you know it, obviously, you give him about two-thirds of the reps and the (No. 2 quarterback) gets the other ones. But in our case, we don't know (have an established quarterback). We're going through the process."
Also from Maiocco: O'Sullivan's increased reps with the offense appear to be more than coincidental. O'Sullivan appears increasingly comfortable in the role.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams coach Scott Linehan as saying players showed up for practice with "a chip on their shoulder" after an unimpressive showing in the exhibition opener. Coats: "The team went at it for nearly two hours in perhaps the most physical workout since the team convened at Concordia University some 18 days ago."
Also from Coats: Third-round rookie John Greco worked at tackle for the injured Brandon Gorin, while nickel back Ron Bartell worked at safety in place of O.J. Atogwe and Jerome Carter.
And this: With ticket sales lagging, the Rams want to win their home opener against San Diego, even though it's only preseason. Coats says the Rams should leave key players in the game until they produce.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covers Dick Vermeil's return to a Rams practice. Vermeil: "Hey, just being around here, I miss it. I don't miss the days I got my (butt) beat. I don't miss the days I worried about some guy holding out. I don't miss the days walking off with some guy who had a serious knee (injury). But I miss all the other things. I miss the coaches. And I miss the players."Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune examines Steve Vallos' rise from Seahawks afterthought to potential starting center. Boling on how Vallos fared in the exhibition opener: "He was hardly perfect, but he got the job done, played with high effort and enthusiasm, and showed a great deal of promise." Boling knows the subject better than he lets on. He was long snapper and starting center at Louisville during the Lee Corso years.
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times sees opportunity for younger receivers now that Seattle's Bobby Engram is injured. Brewer: "Like all good NFL teams, the Seahawks have shown the ability to withstand injuries the past four seasons. Even last season, the offense survived for long stretches without its starting
running back (Shaun Alexander), two wide receivers (Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett), and a spent tight end (Marcus Pollard)."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
We've already broken down the Rams' various position battles and overall roster. Now comes the fun part: watching these battles play out. The Rams open their exhibition season at Tennessee tonight. A few things to monitor:
- Leonard Little. The Rams' left defensive end finished last season with one sack. From afar, his career appeared to be waning. The Rams think otherwise. They expect Little to enjoy a resurgence now that his surgically repaired toe is healthy. This team's defensive line can be very good, particularly rushing the passer, if Little reemerges as a force from the outside.
- Drew Bennett and the receivers. The Rams' opponents have had to worry about Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce for the better part of a decade. Holt is the only receiver opponents fear now that Bruce is playing for San Francisco. Bennett is a known quantity. Second-round choice Donnie Avery probably will not play tonight. Let's see if fourth-round choice Keenan Burton can get our attention. He made headlines early in camp.
- Orlando Pace. Keep him healthy. That's all that matters now. Losing Pace would deliver a severe psychological blow after what the offensive line went through last season.
- Antonio Pittman. The Rams miss holdout running back Steven Jackson. Pittman can make them feel better in the short term by showing he's ready to start.
- The safeties. Eric Bassey and Jerome Carter could be fighting for a roster spot. The Rams might need to watch the waiver wire at this position.
- Chris Long. The first-round draft choice is making progress. He will start at right defensive end. Here is what Long told me last weekend: "A couple days ago, I think there was a point where I had a couple of revelations here and there. Technique-wise, I fixed some things that help me just kind of play more (as opposed to thinking). Stance things, steps, hands."
The Rams' rosters is pretty straightforward. We see relatively few position battles. That can change if a player emerges unexpectedly during exhibition games. The Rams lack quality depth in quite a few areas. An injury at linebacker or along the offensive line would hurt.