NFC West: Ken Norton Jr.

Irvin making big moves at linebacker

October, 31, 2013
RENTON, Wash. -- A lot of surprising things happened Monday night at St. Louis, but maybe the biggest shocker was seeing linebacker Bruce Irvin do his cornerback imitation.

And it was a good one, coming up with an interception on a deep sideline pass, just like his buddy Richard Sherman often does.

Irvin was step-for-step with Rams receiver Brian Quick, who came out of the backfield to force Irvin to cover him on a speed route outside. Irvin was right there for the pick, not bad for a guy who was seen only as a pass-rushing specialist.

[+] EnlargeBruce Irvin
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBruce Irvin's interception Monday night showcased the versatility the Seahawks first saw in him.
“I played quarterback in high school,” Irvin said. “I just waited for my opportunity to show I could be more than a rush end.”

The Seattle Seahawks gave him that chance by moving him from defensive end to linebacker this season. But Irvin missed the first four games while suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing-drugs policy, so no one knew for sure how the move would work out.

A lot of doubts about Irvin’s ability to play linebacker were erased in St. Louis when he had nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble to go with his surprising interception.

“Bruce had a fantastic game for us,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He was all over the place. He just looked really comfortable playing the position and all of the different things that we’re doing with him.

"If there was a thought that this was an experiment at one time, it’s totally working out and we’re really excited about what he’s doing. He’s a gifted athlete.”

The Seahawks took a lot of criticism when they drafted Irvin in the first round last year. Many experts said it was a reach and a gamble on a player who had a troubled past before he made it to West Virginia as a major college player.

“But Pete has recruited me out of junior college,” Irvin said. “He saw a kid that had a lot of baggage and personal issues, but a guy that if he surrounded him with a lot of positive things, he could get great production out of him. I will always thank Pete for taking a chance on me. He believed in me, and that means a lot.”

Irvin was seen as a bit of a ‘tweener’’ by many draft experts – too small to play defensive end and too bulked up to play outside linebacker.

“In the process of him getting prepared for the draft, some scouts worked him out at linebacker,” Carroll said. “The results were them saying he doesn’t have what it takes to play linebacker. They said he was uncomfortable with it and a fish out of water.”

Irvin doesn’t remember that workout, but Carroll never believed it, anyway.

“I heard that and I totally dismissed it,’’ Carroll said. “I’d already seen him do stuff that was like a defensive back playing defensive end. He showed those things in college, so I didn’t buy into that. I don’t know what happened in that workout, but it must have been horrible. I can’t imagine the drills they put him through that would show that.”

Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton agreed with Carroll and wanted to give Irvin a shot this season at moving to linebacker. Irvin is thankful for the chance. He felt his days were numbered as a defensive end.

“In order for me to keep up with those huge linemen, I would need to put on 20 or 30 pounds,” Irvin said. “I’m a speed guy. Playing linebacker gave me the chance to use my speed and make plays. I tell Ken Norton every day, ‘You saved my career making me a linebacker.’ I just want to keep working hard so he’ll know he made the right decision.’’

That seems obvious now, but an interception on a deep sideline route was more than anyone expected. Irvin said he got a little help on that play from free safety Earl Thomas.

“He told me to look out for the wheel route,” Irvin said. “I really look up to Earl. He’s our leader out there.”

Irvin’s teammates believe in him. So do his coaches. A cornerback-like interception on a deep pass was a bonus.

“That was my first one ever like that,” Irvin said. “I think this shows I’m capable of doing more than just coming in on third down to rush the passer. I like to prove people wrong.”
RENTON, Wash. -- It’s hard to tell who is more exciting about Bruce Irvin coming off of suspension, Irvin or Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr.

Norton was asked if Irvin will make a difference for the Seahawks' defense.

“Absolutely,’’ he said. “I’m mean, that’s Bruce Irvin, a first-round pick. That guy does everything. They are going to be chanting his name. You are going to see what we’ve been missing.”

Norton believes Irvin is a bit of a changed man since his four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

“He really understands what he did wrong, and he’s very happy to be back,” Norton said. “Sometimes absence make the heart grow fonder. He appreciates this game a little bit more. He was in the building at 6 [Wednesday morning] studying. It’s great to see him with that type of attitude. Sometimes things have to happen to you in life to appreciate it.”

Norton said the team has no plans to ease Irvin into the mix.

“We’re gonna put him right in there,” he said. “There’s no waiting. He’s gonna jump right in there and we’re exciting to get him going. It’s like having a new toy.”

But Irvin, who led all rookies last season with eight sacks, is learning a new position, moving from defensive end to strongside linebacker.

“This is his first year playing linebacker, so there’s still some development,'’ Norton said. “But when you look up 'linebacker' in the dictionary, his face shows up. He’s gonna do it all. He’s gonna rush the passer, he’ll play the run and he’ll be buzzing to the flat and flying around. We’re expecting a lot of him. We have a plan for him and he’s gonna shine.”

Seahawks sign a quarterback from the 49ers: The Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers are now even this fall when it comes to claiming each other’s draft choices.

Seattle now has a third quarterback, having claimed rookie B.J. Daniels, the 49ers' seventh-round draft pick out of South Florida, off of waivers Wednesday. To make room, the Seahawks released rookie linebacker John Lotulelei.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear the 49ers valued Daniels and his future with the team, and had every intention of signing him to their practice squad. “We have a plan for him,” Harbaugh said.

Apparently, so do the Seahawks, and they know the feeling of losing a guy they wanted to keep around. Before the season began, Seattle released receiver Chris Harper, a fourth-round draft pick, hoping to add him to the practice squad. But the 49ers added him to their 53-man roster.

Aldon Smith's November for the ages

November, 29, 2012
Aldon Smith's transition from situational pass-rusher to full-time outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers has given him additional responsibilities -- and opportunities.

Smith, who needs one sack to break Reggie White's sack-era record for most in a player's first two seasons, has done more than improve his raw sack total. He has also collected more sacks per dropback.

We can easily point to his 5.5-sack game against Chicago as skewing the numbers, but top pass-rushers have big games on occasion. Michael Strahan had a four-sack game against St. Louis while setting the single-season record with 22.5 sacks in 2001. Derrick Thomas had a seven-sack game against Seattle when he finished the 1990 season with 20 sacks.

Smith, with 16.5 sacks, is now on pace to break Strahan's record.

Last season, Smith had all 14 of his sacks while playing as part of the 49ers' sub packages. He has collected 15 of his 16.5 sacks this season from those same packages. Becoming an every-down player has helped Smith add 1.5 sacks to what he might have otherwise gotten without a role change, we might say.

By the way, Smith was named the NFC's defensive player of the month for November. He had nine sacks in three games for the month. That included 1.5 sacks over the past two games while playing in the 49ers' base defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

According to the NFL, Smith had 18 tackles and two forced fumbles in November, and he is the first 49ers player since Ken Norton Jr. in 1995 to win the monthly award for defense in the NFC.

Around the NFC West: History lessons

November, 27, 2012
A few NFC West history lessons coming out of Week 12:
  • Seattle, with its 24-21 defeat at Miami, became the eighth team since 1940 to lose a game despite committing no turnovers, forcing at least one and returning a kickoff for a touchdown. The Seahawks are the 14th team over that span to lose with no turnovers and a kick-return score, regardless of whether the opponent committed a turnover.
  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson became the first rookie to complete 16 consecutive passes in a game. He's also the first rookie to post an NFL passer rating of at least 125 in three consecutive games.
  • St. Louis rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins became the first Rams player with two pick-sixes in a regular-season game. Aeneas Williams did it during the postseason against Green Bay. Jenkins is the first rookie from any team with two pick-sixes in a game since 1960.
  • The San Francisco 49ers, in beating New Orleans, had two pick-sixes in one game for the first time since current Seahawks assistant Ken Norton Jr. had two of them against the Rams in 1995.
  • The 49ers' Aldon Smith needs one sack to break Reggie White's record for the most over the first two seasons of an NFL career since 1982, when sacks became an official stat. Smith has 30.5. White had 31.

Back in a bit. Happy Tuesday.

A quick spin around NFC West rookie camps in search of notes to file away:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Tight end Steve Skelton, brother of quarterback John Skelton, might have a shot at earning a roster spot this season. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic made that observation. Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler and Jim Dray would outrank Skelton on the depth chart at tight end. Those four stuck on the initial 53-man roster last season. Arizona had opened with three tight ends on its roster in every other season since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Quarterback Alex Smith took the time this offseason to work on his mechanics. Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details. Some offseason stories can be overblown (players adjusting their workout routines, etc.). This one intrigues because the coach Smith consulted has worked with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and other top quarterbacks. An assistant coach once told me Brady had better mechanics entering the NFL than any quarterback he had evaluated. Mechanics matter a great deal for quarterbacks. Brady remains close to perfect in that area. The question for Smith or any quarterback is whether he'll revert to bad habits under pressure.
  • St. Louis Rams: The team has high expectations for rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens. Quick, a second-round choice from Appalachian State, was supposed to be raw. Nick Wagoner of called Quick "smooth and more polished that expected" during the first practice of camp. Coach Jeff Fisher singled out Quick's "good hips" relative to his size (Quick is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds). The plan has to be for Quick in particular to develop quickly enough to help right away. Initial reports suggest the Rams are optimistic on that front.
  • Seattle Seahawks: I forgot to mention second-round pick Bobby Wagner in my report from Seahawks camp Friday. His body type was notable. Wagner is shorter than the prototypical linebacker. He also appears thicker through his lower body. The Seahawks pointed to his 4.4-second speed when they selected him. Position coach Ken Norton Jr. was noncommittal when asked whether Wagner, a middle linebacker, could project to the outside (K.J. Wright would play the middle in that scenario). The staff would prefer to keep Wright, a 2011 fourth-round choice, on the strong side. That is where fifth-round rookie Korey Toomer projects as well. Toomer's athleticism jumped out right away, including when he picked off a tipped pass.

These are day-one impressions, so they come with all the usual disclaimers. It'll be interesting to revisit them during the season.

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

April, 10, 2012
A few notes on NFC West coaching staffs after the St. Louis Rams announced theirs for 2012 in a news release Tuesday:
  • The Rams are not listing suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on their staff. They did not mention him in the news release. They did not list a defensive coordinator. Coach Jeff Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis will presumably take the lead. Secondary coach Chuck Cecil has also been a coordinator.
  • Williams' son, Blake, coaches the Rams' linebackers.
  • The Cardinals have 3-4 fewer assistants than the other teams in the division. I've noticed that to be the case in recent seasons. Staff sizes can vary. Arizona has one more than the NFL listed for New England heading into the most recent Super Bowl.
  • Every team in the division has an assistant head coach. Two serve as offensive line coaches. Another coaches special teams. Assistant head coaches might earn more money than they otherwise would, but the title does not distinguish them from other assistants in relation to hiring protocol. The title affords no additional protections against losing an assistant to another team, in other words.
  • Paul Boudreau is the Rams' offensive line coach. His son, also named Paul, is assistant special teams coach. They are not Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., however. It's not yet clear how the Rams intend to differentiate between the two. Middle initials?
  • Niners offensive assistant Michael Christianson is also coordinator of football technology.

The chart lists full-time assistants, not interns or administrative assistants. Strength-and-conditioning coaches aren't involved in football strategy, but I have listed them.
RENTON, Wash. -- Retired three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Norton Jr. faced newly enshrined Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk six times during their playing careers.

Faulk finished those games with 134, 126, 103, 83, 61 and 6 yards rushing. Faulk topped 200 total yards in one of those matchups. His teams went 5-1 in those games, including four times in 1999 and 2000, when Faulk's St. Louis Rams were peaking and Norton's San Francisco 49ers were caught in transition.

Norton, now linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks, offered thoughts on Faulk following practice Saturday:
"Really special guy. The fact that he could do so much, you never were sure what he was going to do. You knew he could run really well, he had really good patience behind the line of scrimmage and one-on-one, almost impossible to bring down. And he was always thinking. He was a thinking man. He would not put his head down and just go. He was thinking about what he was doing and he knew what I was thinking. It was really a challenge every time I played against him.

"His versatility, he was a running back when he was in the backfield and a wideout when he was not. He could run routes, he had great hands, he had great body movement and position, he could read the defensive coverages. He was like a coach on the field.

"I just remember him being on that turf, just really special. He had Barry Sanders in him, he had a little Marcus Allen in him, he had a little Emmitt Smith in him and then he had all that made him Marshall. He had some coach in him, too. He was just really a challenge and it was an honor to play against a guy like that."

Free agency and training camps have taken some of the spotlight away from Hall of Fame proceedings this year. It's been fun taking some time to appreciate one of the all-time greats.
RENTON, Wash. -- Seeking pay reductions from proud athletes qualifies as one of the more awkward NFL realities.

Teams essentially tell players they no longer value their services as they had at some point in the past, but they would still like that player to stick around and give his very best anyway.

The St. Louis Rams have done this with left guard Jacob Bell, who might remain with the team anyway.

Also this week, the Seattle Seahawks have asked middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu to cut his pay, Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times reports, and that one remains unresolved. Tatupu isn't just another highly paid player left over from the Seahawks' previous regime. He played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC. His current position coach, Ken Norton Jr., also coached Tatupu in college.

Tatupu, cast as undersized coming out of USC, has long been driven by those who have doubted him. The Seahawks' request, though unsurprising to someone assessing the situation coldly from the outside, comes as a challenge to his pride. I'd expect a quick resolution and would not be surprised if Tatupu turned down the Seahawks' request.

The injuries Tatupu played through last season required surgery to both knees. He's 28 years old and has worn down, but his $4.2 million scheduled base salary for 2011 hardly seems exorbitant by NFL standards for a team with ample salary-cap space. This isn't a situation like the one San Francisco faced with Nate Clements, whose contract was scheduled to count more than $17 million against the cap.

I'm not sure what Seattle would gain if Tatupu declined the reduction and Seattle released him. Tatupu is a leader on defense and a player whose presence has, by all accounts, helped the team get more from fellow linebacker Aaron Curry. He's no longer a Pro Bowl player, but does his salary appear all that exorbitant?
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along thoughts from John Clayton on Seattle's options in free agency. Clayton: "I think by [Tuesday] Tarvaris Jackson could be agreeing to a deal that's going to make him a Seahawk. ... Everything I heard today, he's on a fast-track waiting for that offer and he's willing to take it."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have told Stacy Andrews they play to release the veteran tackle. Andrews had an outside shot at becoming the right tackle until the team used a first-round draft choice for James Carpenter. Andrews' salary was a factor. He was scheduled to earn $5.25 million, plus a $500,000 workout bonus. The team will have to pay $100,000 of that workout bonus if it releases Andrews before Friday. Teams can begin releasing players Thursday.

Also from O'Neil: a look at the Seahawks' priorities in free agency. O'Neil: "The team's preference remains re-signing Matt Hasselbeck, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks are inclined to increase the offer they made him in March. In fact, it's quite possible -- perhaps even likely -- they'll hold firm." My understanding is that the offer made before free agency likely will not be there now.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks need to make a decision on Hasselbeck. Brewer: "The Seahawks' challenge is to find the best placeholder until they identify their next franchise quarterback. In this case, it might be more enticing to give someone new a chance rather than stick with the old guy. Can the Seahawks do better than Hasselbeck? It's debatable. Can they do worse? Oh, that's the scary part of this movie."

Ben Malcolmson of posts photos Rod Mar took around team headquarters as the team prepared for free agency. Ken Norton Jr., Pete Carroll and John Schneider were among those making the cut.

Clare Farnsworth of looks back at the Seahawks' 2002 season. Farnsworth: "Matt Hasselbeck led the NFC in completion percentage (.637) and was second in passer rating (87.8) while throwing for 3,075 yards and 15 TDs in 10 starts."

Christian Caple of rounds up reported contract agreements for Seattle involving rookie free agents.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune catches up with Lofa Tatupu and Golden Tate on the golf course. They were playing in a charity tournament in Tacoma. Tatupu said the team should could win another NFC West title with Hasselbeck. Tatupu: "Absolutely. With the knowledge he has and our new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell coming in and his scheme, it kind of takes him back to from what I’ve heard the Holmgren era, and puts him in that true West Coast system, where he gets to his timing routes. And there’s nobody better than Hasselbeck when you give him protection and a running game, which from my feeling with what we did in the draft, with our first two picks being offensive linemen, I think they are building on trying to get him that protection and get him comfortable. As far as I’m concerned, when you get him protection and get him in his zone, I don’t think there’s much better."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune considers whether Seattle should bring back Hasselbeck. Boling: "As for his place in the market, Hasselbeck is more valuable to an established team lacking only a quarterback than to a Seahawks team rebuilding in so many areas. Another club could easily woo him with a longer and more lucrative deal. It’s clear he’s not the long-range answer here, so he might relish the chance of getting another shot at a ring with another club, despite his often-stated affection for the community."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals for thoughts on free agency and the trading period. Whisenhunt: ""It's going to go from zero to 100 from a working perspective for us. It's going to be 24 hours a day, seven days a week just because of the volume of what you have to get done."

Also from Somers: setting the scene at Cardinals headquarters. Somers: "The second floor of the Cardinals' Tempe facility could look more like a call center Tuesday than the offices of coaches and front-office executives. It's the first day of negotiations for free agents and trades, and by the time the football people see their families again, the kids will have grown a foot, gone off to college, or both. Practically everyone who knows a 3-technique from a 3-iron is being called into duty as the NFL begins its mad season at 7 a.m."

More from Somers: Cardinals players will begin reporting Thursday. They'll head to training camp at Northern Arizona University on Friday.

Darren Urban of passes along a photo showing Larry Fitzgerald on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the Rams to practice beginning Saturday. Coats: "Although nothing is official yet, it looks as if the St. Louis Rams will have their first training camp practice on Saturday -- two weeks before their preseason opener vs. the Colts on Aug. 13 at the Edward Jones Dome. Rams players would report for physicals and other pre-camp activities on Friday. The team will hold training camp at Rams Park for the third year in a row."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams players are ready to dive back into work. Guard Adam Goldberg: "I think here in St. Louis we have a great football season ahead of us, I just hope to be a part of it. I love the locker room. I love my teammates. I love playing for Spags. I love my line coach (Steve Loney). I'm excited to play in (offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels' system. I think it'll be explosive and dynamic. So this is obviously a great situation for me. Then again it's a business, so we'll have to see how things work it."

Nick Wagoner of outlines the Rams' upcoming schedule. Wagoner: "The Rams cannot hold a padded practice until Monday, August 1. In addition, they will not hold an actual practice until Saturday as Friday is for reporting, physicals and meetings."

VanRam of Turf Show Times rounds up reported contract agreements for the Rams.

Matt Maiocco of lists undrafted free agents expected to sign with the 49ers. On Notre Dame nose tackle Ian Williams: "In nine games last season, he recorded 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He played against Stanford throughout his career, and said that experience of playing against Jim Harbaugh's team every season was beneficial."

Also from Maiocco: Harbaugh has some nervous energy heading into 49ers camp. Harbaugh: "We had scheduled two-a-days as part of our plan, but the plan has changed. There are new rules that will go into affect this training camp. There's been a lot of thinking, how best to manage the time we have. The teaching, the quality reps on the field, who can do that best will get the leg up. It takes some thinking through."

More from Maiocco: thoughts on Hasselbeck and the 49ers. Maiocco: "Why would the 49ers add Hasselbeck via free agency? The answer is simple: The 49ers believe Hasselbeck would be an upgrade over Carr and he could supply serious competition for Alex Smith."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at undrafted free agents expected to sign with the 49ers. On Stanford center Chase Beeler: "CBS Sports ranked him as the 15th-best center in the draft. Earned second team All-Pac-10 Conference honors in his first season as Stanford's starting center after taking over for Alex Fletcher ... made a smooth transition from left guard to the center position ... started all 13 games and played a key role on a line that allowed the fewest sacks (7) in the Pac-10 and helped pave the way for the top rushing attack in school history (2,837) ... earned second team All-Pac-10 academic honors ... recipient of the Vardell Award as the player who best combines athletics and academics."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers a transcript from Harbaugh's media session. Harbaugh: "As I understand it, our own unrestricted free agents will be allowed in the building tomorrow right up until the time that we start training camp on Thursday then they will not be in the building until Friday when they can sign. That’s the way I understand the rule."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News also reports from Harbaugh's news conference. Harbaugh: "I can’t tell you how good it’s going to be having those guys in the building, face to face, knee to knee, smelling their breath, just getting to know them and letting them know me. That’s what I’m looking forward to most."

Around the NFC West: Jackson's backup

August, 12, 2010
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch finds one guy who thinks the Rams don't necessarily need to add a veteran running back. Steven Jackson: "Having a veteran at this point of the game now, I don't know if it's as big a concern as everyone is making it to be. I feel great physically. The younger guys are coming along just fine. And if we continue to stay healthy, I don't think it'll be a concern." Jackson has bounced back strong from back surgery, but injuries have affected him in recent seasons. Chris Ogbonnaya did show promise late last season.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams linebacker Larry Grant likes moving to the weak side, away from opposing tight ends. Coats: "Another potential bump in Grant's journey popped up in May, when the Rams acquired linebacker Bobby Carpenter from Dallas for tackle Alex Barron. Carpenter spent the spring with the starters at weakside linebacker. During training camp, though, Grant has supplanted Carpenter at the 'will' position, with James Laurinaitis in the middle and free-agent pickup Na'il Diggs at strongside linebacker, or 'sam.' All three are ex-Buckeyes."

Also from Coats: Steve Spagnuolo took the Rams to a movie.

More from the Post-Dispatch: Oshiomogho Atogwe wants back on the field for the Rams.

Clare Farnsworth of says Leon Washington keeps making progress toward a successful return from a broken leg. Farnsworth: "If you didn’t know he was coming off a serious injury, you wouldn’t know it by watching him practice."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits Matt Hasselbeck's 2009 season and agrees with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who says the quarterback tried too hard last season. Hasselbeck tried too hard because the team around him wasn't very good. Improve the team and Hasselbeck won't feel the pressure to make plays.

Also from O'Neil: highlights from Seahawks practice Wednesday.

Greg Johns of checks in with Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who says David Hawthorne is a "rising star" at linebacker. Hear that, Leroy Hill?

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune seeks clarification from former Seahawks safety Deon Grant regarding comments about the team's 2009 training camp wearing out players. I do remember players saying they wore down some during camp. That's not a concern this summer.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers observations from Seahawks camp. Boling: "I haven’t been to every practice, but I haven’t seen a great deal out of Lawrence Jackson to cause me to jot down notes. What do you think the odds would have been, on the day of the 2008 draft, that fourth-rounder Red Bryant might be starting ahead of first-rounder Jackson?"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are making Beanie Wells work to earn the starting job from Tim Hightower. There's plenty of time and also nothing stopping Wells from getting more carries, even if Hightower is the starter. I'd expect Wells to start more games this season if healthy, however. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Tim is versatile, he's tough, and he runs well with the ball," Whisenhunt said. "And we have a lot more information about Tim in different situations than we do with Beanie. The way we've set things up with our team, Beanie's got to earn that. Beanie's working hard to try to do that. That's what you want."

Also from Somers: Darnell Dockett expects to get a new contract sooner rather than later.

More from Somers: Matt Leinart looked good during the afternoon practice Wednesday. Big deal? Hey, it beats the alternative.

Darren Urban of says Dockett wants to leave a legacy of hard work.

Matt Maiocco of says receiver Dominique Zeigler continues to impress at 49ers camp. I did see him make impressive catches last week.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' reputation for holding tough practices in pads can be misleading sometimes. No question about it. I didn't see anything unusual by NFL standards. Even the nutcracker drills were modified to emphasize technique more strongly, and linemen were not participating.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Michael Crabtree has a sore neck after landing hard in practice.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers are running out of patience with defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer.

Taylor Price of says the team is preparing for the Indianapolis Colts.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Balmer as saying he plans to return and his absence is overblown. Balmer: "People are making a big deal about nothing. I feel like the 49ers could do a better job of saying that, but it's not my place to say."

Also from Brown: Tony Wragge's thoughts on playing center after Eric Heitmann's injury. Wragge: "I’m ready to go. It is a process of getting reps in practice. Eric was out early in training camp with another injury and David (Baas) was obviously sidelined also. So I got a lot of reps in the first week of double-day, full-pad twice a day. I felt like I took advantage of them and I’m still looking forward to taking an advantage of the opportunities that I get."
RENTON, Wash. -- News and notes following the first training camp practice of the Pete Carroll era in Seattle:
  • Receiver Mike Williams checked in at 233 pounds and passed a conditioning test requiring receivers to run 20 sprints of 60 yards in 8 seconds apiece. Williams' body fat is also down. This is a big deal for Seattle because Williams is so obviously talented -- if only he could stay in shape. He's stayed in shape to this point and made an impact in practice. Seattle fans used to seeing undersized corner Kelly Jennings bounce off Larry Fitzgerald of the division-rival Arizona Cardinals instead saw Jennings bounce off the 6-foot-5 Williams, who snatched the ball cleanly and didn't seem to notice Jennings.
  • Williams appeared to be in an affable mood. After spotting rookie receiver Golden Tate speaking with reporters, Williams broke into the conversation and jokingly asked Tate to carry his shoulder pads. Everyone got a laugh out of it.
  • One-on-one pass-rush drills are a staple of NFL training camps and one of the more entertaining and instructive drills. I did not see the Seahawks hold any Saturday and it's looking like line coach Alex Gibbs prefers to have the line work together -- exactly as they'll need to do when running his zone scheme. The scheme depends on all five players working together, so there's less emphasis on individual matchups.
  • Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has no reservations about Matt Hasselbeck's ability to run bootlegs, which are a staple of the new offense. I'll develop this angle later in camp, but it's important for Hasselbeck to move well -- and Bates thinks it's a non-issue based on what he's seen.
  • Deion Branch made a few impact plays, including when he stayed with a deflected ball, made the grab and turned upfield. It's good news for Seattle that the oft-injured Branch is practicing to open camp, but we'll want to see how his surgically repaired knee holds up over multiple practices.
  • Players wore shoulder pads and shorts with helmets. Some wore full-sized pads, not the lighter "shells" players often wear with shorts. There was a fair amount of hitting, particularly with running backs. Quinton Ganther ran over one defensive back whose jersey number was tough to see.
  • Leon Washington participated in individual drills and was limited the rest of the time. He did not run with the ball during team drills. Washington said the plan is to ease back into a full workload. Coaches are monitoring his participation.
  • Rookie Walter Thurmond participated wearing a brace on his right knee. I didn't see him do much, but he was out there and in pads. Thurmond is coming off serious knee surgery. Fullback Owen Schmitt, cornerback Josh Pinkard (knee) and newly signed offensive lineman Chester Pitts (knee) opened camp on the physically unable to perform list. They count against the 80-man limit but cannot practice without first passing a physical examination. Schmitt had his left elbow wrapped.
  • Linebacker David Hawthorne, the NFL's last unsigned exclusive-rights free agent, signed in time to practice.
  • Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck described the atmosphere under Carroll as "fun, fresh" and invigorating. At one point this offseason, Carroll asked Hasselbeck and No. 2 quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to find a receiver so they could work on various throws. The receivers had just finished running, however, so Hasselbeck didn't ask one of them to participate. The 58-year-old Carroll wound up running routes for both quarterbacks despite a bad knee. Hasselbeck said he sensed Carroll was trying to throw the balls back to the quarterbacks with more velocity than Hasselbeck or Whitehurst had shown -- an example of the coach's competitiveness.
  • Hasselbeck also described an "old-school, new-school" feel. On the old-school side, linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. told the team Friday night that curfew was at 11 p.m. and the hotel where the team was staying would be turning off the in-room phones at that time. The 34-year-old Hasselbeck said he took the information in stride, but some younger players weren't sure what Norton was talking about. They had grown up with cell phones and had no use for hotel phones, anyway.
  • Temperatures were in the 50s at practice and breezes off nearby Lake Washington added a chill to the air. Players said they were hoping for warmer weather this afternoon.
  • Thomas and fellow first-round choice Russell Okung remained unsigned. Okung's absence made it tough to evaluate combinations on the offensive line. Ray Willis worked at left tackle with the starters. Mansfield Wrotto worked at left tackle with the second unit. They need Okung, in other words. They might also need Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture knee surgery.
  • About 1,500 fans watched practice from a hill adjacent to the practice field.
  • The Seahawks' roster lists Hill at 238 pounds and Lofa Tatupu at 250 pounds. Those are not official. Tatupu appeared trimmer to me. Hill appeared heavier.
  • Cornerback Kennard Cox put a big hit on receiver Ben Obomanu.
  • Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, acquired from the Tennessee Titans, certainly looks the part. Seattle lists him at 6-5 and 320 pounds. Note: He left practice with a wrap on his left knee at one point. Not sure of the severity.

Carroll did not address reporters following the morning practice. The team practices again at 7 p.m. ET. I'll be heading to Arizona for a few days at Cardinals training camp beginning Sunday. The plan is to check back at Seahawks camp next week.
Thanks to those who kept the NFC West chat moving Thursday. The transcript is here. Highlights below:
Chris Fiegler (Latham, NY): How do you think that Sam Bradford will do as the quarterback for the St. Louis Rams?

Mike Sando: Bradford seems to have the right overall makeup to weather the storm that awaits. He's going to get beaten up this year and he's going to struggle some. I think he'll hold up mentally. We'll see how well he holds up physically. The key for Bradford is having a strong organization around him. He needs continuity on the staff. He needs the right staff. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took the unusual step of calling for the team to reassign quarterbacks coach Dick Curl. I tend to agree based on what I've heard from a couple NFL quarterbacks who have played under him. The odd thing is that Curl succeeded Terry Shea in Kansas City (indirectly) and St. Louis (directly), yet Shea was the guy Bradford and other quarterbacks have hired to get ready for the draft.

Willie (South Bend): From what I've been reading from the reports from minicamps and OTAs, it seems to me that we are going to have a two new starters at wide receiver. I think Mike Williams will start at flanker and Golden Tate will be the split end. I say this because Mike Williams has the physical size that both Carroll and Jeremy Bates like at flanker, and Golden has the speed to stretch the field. I know it's early, but Mike Williams has been running with the first unit and Golden won't be a real threat if he's only on the field as a situational player. What's your thoughts on this? PS: No, I don't think much of T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Deion Branch and I don't think the coaches do, either.

Mike Sando: Reading about minicamps and OTAs is essential for anyone following teams closely, but the important thing is to read only so much into what you read. Otherwise you might emerge from this offseason thinking Alex Smith is Johnny Unitas, the 49ers will never field a punt successfully, the Cardinals will never attempt another pass and Steven Jackson will be unable to take more than one or two hits. Let's see what Mike Williams and Golden Tate do in August before anointing anyone just yet. Few rookie receivers step in right away and do what Michael Crabtree was able to do last season, or what Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were able to do in Arizona. I do think Seattle will covet size at receiver, and I do think the new leadership will want to go young. I also think Williams and Tate will contribute this season. But I also need to see more.

Brian Staley (Frederick MD): Thanks Mike for the Chats and Blogs. In your opinion what team in the NFC West do you feel has the strongest coaching staff? Some teams made some small changes, while others have cleaned house. Thanks mike.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals get the edge in this category because Ken Whisenhunt has proven it. The Rams' staff has the most to prove: Pat Shurmur, Ken Flajole, even Steve Spagnuolo. For the 49ers, Mike Singletary still has to prove himself over time, and we need to see more from Jimmy Raye too. Pete Carroll has questions to answer. I think Carroll did a nice job putting together a strong staff featuring Alex Gibbs, Ken Norton Jr., Jerry Gray and the potentially up-and-coming Jeremy Bates. I still come back to Arizona with Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, at least for now.

Tully (Irvine, CA): Mike, great blog. I am a longtime 49ers fan. I have heard that Nate Clements is doing some personal training in Arizona. Can you explain what exactly is going on and why he is doing this. He was signed from the Bills a few years backc as an "elite corner" but things haven't panned out that way for him. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Players routinely train in Arizona or elsewhere during the offseason. Teams have put more emphasis on attendance rates at their offseason conditioning programs. I think teams just like keeping close tabs on their players. That's why we have all these minicamps and OTAs spread out through the offseason. Some vets aren't going to play that game. They'll get ready on their own terms. You worry as an organization if that player hasn't been a self-starter. Deuce Lutui's situation in Arizona comes to mind. But with a Nate Clements, you know he's going to report in shape.
The Seahawks have a largely new coaching staff and lots to sort through even before training camp.

This is a good time for rookies and veterans to make a positive first impression on the new staff, and to figure out how they'll fit. Even 15-year vet Lawyer Milloy decided it was important to sign in time for the postdraft camp.

That's why it's a little curious for the team to tell linebacker Leroy Hill to stay away for the first two minicamps, ostensibly to let Hill get his personal life in order following a recent domestic-violence arrest. The team also reportedly didn't want Hill to become a distraction.

That could be all that's at work here, but the circumstances are also consistent with what happens when a team is considering whether to keep a player at all. At the very least, Hill cannot afford another misstep.

Keeping Hill away in the short term makes good business sense for Seattle. The team could have been liable for all or part of Hill's $6 million salary this season if he reported to camp and suffered a serious injury. Keeping Hill away prevents that from happening. In the meantime, hard-charging new linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. can figure out whether he thinks the team can proceed at linebacker without Hill. Will Herring and David Hawthorne played pretty well at times last season. The team also signed linebacker Matt McCoy, who had been with Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley at Tampa Bay.

Hill's long-term future with the team was already muddy in May 2009, when he signed a long-term deal that gave the Seahawks an easy out after two seasons. The abolition of a salary cap for the 2010 season made it easy for the Seahawks to bail on the deal even earlier. Hill's subsequent domestic-violence arrest and plea deal in a marijuana-possession case could even give Seattle grounds to recoup bonus money paid on the deal if the team decides to move on without him. The absence of a salary cap also makes it easier to trade Hill.

The deal featured a $5 million salary in 2009 and a $2 million option bonus for 2010. The option bonus was triggered early enough for $400,000 in annual proration to count against the 2009 cap. If the Seahawks decided to part with Hill to save that $6 million in salary, they could conceivably try to recoup $1.6 million of the $2 million option bonus.

I don't think the Seahawks are to that point in their thinking. It's just something to keep in mind when mapping out the possibilities.

Observations from Seahawks practice

April, 30, 2010
RENTON, Wash. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Seahawks' first post-draft minicamp practice Friday:
  • Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh underwent hernia surgery recently. He's expected back in a couple of weeks.
  • Former 49ers Roderick Green and Joe Toledo are participating in Seahawks camp on a tryout basis.
  • Former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell told reporters covering the Bears that he had no plans to bring along any Seattle personnel people to his new job as personnel director in Chicago. The Bears' situation appears less stable and by extension less appealing than the situation in Seattle right now.
  • First-round choice Earl Thomas will be a coverage safety for the Seahawks, basically playing center field. That makes sense because Thomas looks like a cornerback out there. He is listed at 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds. Starting corner Marcus Trufant goes 5-11 and 197.
  • Speaking of Trufant, he made a statement with two impressive interception returns, jumping routes on passes from Matt Hasselbeck to Deon Butler. Trufant had trouble recovering from back issues last season. He appeared flexible and nimble Friday.
  • Receiver Deion Branch is sidelined after having surgery to clean out a knee. The surgery was considered minor, but any lingering knee issues are a concern for Branch.
  • Rookie second-round choice Golden Tate was one of the stars of practice. He made a leaping grab down the middle between Trufant and safety Jordan Babineaux, then followed up by getting behind cornerback Josh Wilson for a catch up the left sideline. Tate later used his body to shield Wilson from the ball, making another grab. Tate dropped one pass.
  • The offensive staff crammed far more plays into the team session than might be typical. Coach Pete Carroll keeps score, too, periodically announcing whether the offense or defense is leading.
  • With most of the 101 signed or tryout players participating, competition was the No. 1 theme.
  • First-round choice Russell Okung made a positive impression in run-blocking drills. He crouches low to the ground, helping with leverage.
  • Second-year linebacker Aaron Curry was offside a couple times, but I didn't necessarily take that as a bad sign for the team. Curry appeared very active. That's a good idea as long as linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. is out there. Norton is one of the more vocal coaches on the staff and he's not afraid to let players know how they are performing.
  • Newly acquired running back LenDale White appears slimmer than I would have expected. White said he weighs 225 pounds. Carroll thought White's weight was closer to 217. Either way, White appears to be in shape.
  • Safety Lawyer Milloy said he signed in time for the post-draft camp because he thinks he'll have a better chance to play this year in a role more suited to his skills. Players sound optimistic about the new staff's ability to use personnel. That was supposed to be a theme last season, but the results weren't there.

Players wore helmets but no pads for this practice. It's important to remember how much things change once players put on the pads. A week or two into training camp is when it becomes easier to tell which players are truly on their way to making an impact.

Setting the scene on draft day

April, 22, 2010
RENTON, Wash. -- You aren't the only one biding your time til the NFL draft begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

NFL people are waiting, too.

The Seahawks have set up their draft-day media center in a defensive meeting room. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is among those here to see how Seattle uses two of the top 14 choices in the draft (no other team has more than one pick that early). ESPN's Brock Huard is hosting a radio show for 101ESPN Seattle from a table nearby. Another former NFL and University of Washington quarterback, Hugh Millen, is here for 950KJR.

Former 49ers linebackers Ken Norton Jr. and Jeff Ulbrich walked past recently as part of a group featuring former Seahawks cornerback Kris Richard. All three are assistants under Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. They've got time to kill.

We're about an hour away from putting St. Louis on the clock.

Should be a fun night.

Update: ESPN's Shelley Smith is here also. She filed this report:
The buzz is starting to pick up at the Seahawks' facility. Just popped into Pete Carroll's corner office with an amazing view of Lake Washington and its own bathroom! He was on the phone talking to his son, Brennan, and then later walked down the hall into the cafeteria to grab a cookie.

A bunch of players were around this morning, working out, watching film. One was Mike Williams, the former USC wide receiver who just signed a one-year contract with the Seahawks. Another was former Oregon center Max Unger, who was headed home to see where his fellow Ducks would land.

Most of the coaches went home early last night and stayed away until lunchtime, some getting a quick workout in in the massive weight facility, which has garage-like doors that open onto the three outdoor practice fields and a hill strength coach Chris Carlisle uses for conditioning.

The draft room is around the corner from where we, the media, are hanging out drinking coffee. I'm told it will contain just a few people to keep it orderly and quiet. That said, I'm sure the noise factor will start to heat up as the first round nears.