NFC West: Luke Willson

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks haven't gotten a lot of production out of their 11 drafts choices in 2013, but one who has stood out is tight end Luke Willson, a fifth-round draft from Rice University.

Willson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, has 18 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown as the team's No. 2 tight end to Zach Miller.

Willson
"He's been a fantastic draft pick for us," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said about Willson. "To play so early and contribute in such a variety of ways, and he's really just getting started. He's a tremendous prospect for us for the years to come."

Carroll also believes Miller has been a great influence on Willson.

"Zach is a tremendous pro," Carroll said. "It's his work ethic, toughness, attention to details and his versatility. Whatever you ask of him, he does really well with great pride. All of our players could grow from that. Zach is a great example of that.

"Luke has tremendous talent. He has speed and strength and catching ability and range and all of that. But to make yourself a great pro, it's those other elements that you need to really bring the package together. Zach really does demonstrate that on a regular basis. He's a great leader and a great role model for Luke, and Luke is a great kid too. There is nothing to keep him from being the same style player in the years to come."

Rice had two tight ends drafted in 2013. Vance McDonald was selected in the second round by San Francisco, but has been a disappointment this season for the 49ers with only eight receptions.

What is it that made the Seahawks feel Willson was the Rice tight end that wanted instead of McDonald?

"Not everybody knew about him," Carroll said of Willson. "He hadn't done a whole lot, but we saw the talent. We saw the range of ability, but it was really [Seahawks GM] John Schneider's knack of understanding where he would get drafted that made him so valuable to us.

"At that spot [the fifth round], that's as good a pick as you could make. I think it was just a set of circumstances that made him available to us. I'm not comparing him to the other fella at all. It's just when we had that pick at that time it turned out to be a great opportunity, and Luke has made that come to life."

Five Seahawks under the radar

November, 24, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks have their share of limelight players who receive plenty of recognition nationally, like quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas.

Here are a few players who don't receive that type of praise but who have contributed to the 10-1 record:

Best rookie: Tight end Luke Willson was a steal as a late fifth-round pick. Few people had heard of the 6-5, 250-pound Canadian who played college ball at Rice -- another example of GM John Schneider's ability to find quality players other teams overlook.

Willson
Willson has 12 receptions for a 14.2-yard average per catch. The Seahawks knew he could catch and had good speed, but he has performed better as a blocker than most people expected.

He started two games when Zach Miller was out with a hamstring injury, but officially, Willson has started seven games because the Seahawks opened with a two-tight end set, showing their confidence in Willson.

He is an all-around athlete who played, hockey, soccer and baseball in high school, including a stint on the Canadian Junior National Team, along with football. But he also is a brainiac (typical of Rice grads) who had a 4.0 GPA.

Best new position: It's Bruce Irvin moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. After missing the first four games due to a PED suspension, Irvin stepped into his new spot and made an immediate impact with a sack in his first game back.

Irvin
Irvin's speed has enabled to do things at linebacker that he didn't do at defensive end, like intercepting a pass 30 yards downfield in the game at St. Louis.

Irvin has 28 tackles (20 solo), two sacks, five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Irvin loves playing linebacker and believes he can do more things without constantly taking on huge offensive tackles.

Most underrated player: This one will surprise you. I'm going with punter Jon Ryan, the other Canadian on the Seahawks. Ryan doesn't rank among the league leaders in yards per punt, which is a misleading stat in regard to a punter's value.

Ryan's success comes from how high he kicks the ball. Returners appear to wait forever for the ball to come down, so they don't get many opportunities to gain any yards after the catch.

Only 11 of his 44 punts have been returned. But here's the eye-popping numbers. The 11 returns totaled a measly 15 yards. And one of those was 10 yards, so the other 10 totaled only 5 yards.

Eighteen punts were downed inside the 20. Ryan completely shut down the best punt returner in the league -- Marcus Sherels -- last week against Minnesota. All Sherels could muster was three fair catches. On the other two Ryan punts, one was downed at the 7 and the other went out of bounds at the 20.

Ryan is a major field-position asset for the Seahawks.

Best offseason acquisition: Now this is a tough one because Seattle has three new players -- Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett -- who have made a big difference on the defensive front line, but I'll go with Bennett at defensive end.

Bennett
Bennett is tied with Avril for the team lead with 6 1/2 sacks, but he also has 16 quarterback hurries and 20 tackles.

Avril missed the first game of the season with an injury and feels like he's just starting to find his rhythm. He has three forced fumbles, including one on a sack in the Minnesota game.

But McDaniel also is a good pick from his defensive tackle spot. He has 44 tackles, including tying his season-high with seven against Minnesota when coach Pete Carroll singled him out as having his best game.

Honestly, I'm good with picking any of these three guys. They have dramatically improved the defensive front for Seattle, which was one of the team's top priorities after last season.

And, of course, I haven't even mentioned receiver Percy Harvin, who could win this category by the end of the season.

Best return: Some would say defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, whom I listed earlier this week as the most pleasant surprise on defense this season since he came back in Week 2 after being released at the end of preseason.

But my pick here is fullback Michael Robinson. He has helped throw some key blocks for Marshawn Lynch in the last three games, but maybe just as important is his leadership in the locker room and the respect he has from all his teammates.

As this young team heads toward a possible Super Bowl run, having a veteran leader like Robinson is a big asset to keep everyone pointing in the right direction.

Carroll hopeful Browner, Avril can play

September, 11, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who has a hamstring injury and didn’t play in the season opener, did not practice Wednesday. But coach Pete Carroll is hopeful Browner can play Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers in the Seahawks' home opener.

Avril
Browner
“He is going to run today and he’s going to practice [Thursday],” Carroll said. “He’s been running all week. It looks like he’s got a good chance to make it back. We will try to do it right and not push it too soon. But tomorrow will be a big day for us to understand [if Browner is ready], and we will go all the way to Friday to see how he responds. So we won’t know for a while.”

Defensive end Cliff Avril, who also missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Carroll also is optimistic about Avril’s chances of playing Sunday.

“Cliff is good possibility if he makes it through the week,” Carroll said. “He practiced well enough last week. He was very close to playing [at Carolina]. We are planning on him being part of it this week unless he has some kind of setback we can’t foresee. So that would be a nice little boost to get him back in the game.

“But I thought O.B. [O’Brien] Schofield did a very good job playing the Leo [defensive end] spot for us. He rushed well, had a nice sack and a couple of good pursuit plays. He really did a good job starting for us for the first time.”

Defensive end Chris Clemons, the team’s leading pass-rusher last season who is recovering from offseason ACL surgery, returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.

“He’s still working his way into that position right now,’ Carroll said before Wednesday's session. “He’s going to practice today and it’s the first time that he’ll go and get live snaps.”

Brandon Mebane was a bit of a surprise on the injury list Wednesday with an ankle problem. He did not participate in practice.

Wide receiver Sidney Rice (knee) was limited in practice, but he is expected to play Sunday. Rookie tight end Luke Willson, who is listed with an oblique injury, was a full participant in practice, but the Seahawks signed veteran tight end Kellen Davis Wednesday as a third tight end if needed.

Taking stock of 2013 NFC West picks

September, 3, 2013
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Eighty-six of the first 88 players drafted in 2013 remain on 53-man rosters entering Week 1. The two exceptions play for NFC West teams.

The Arizona Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, chosen seventh overall, suffered a season-ending leg injury during preseason. He is on injured reserve. The San Francisco 49ers' Tank Carradine, chosen 40th overall, remains on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a knee injury.

Twenty-five of 39 NFC West choices this year remain on their original teams' 53-man rosters. That includes all seven picks for the St. Louis Rams and seven of nine for the Cardinals. The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks had a higher number of picks arranged lower within each round, and fewer open roster spots to accommodate them.

Injuries have left six picks from the division on various injured lists. Three of the Seahawks' top five picks will not help the team anytime soon. That includes Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams (injured reserve) and cornerback Tharold Simon (reserve/physically unable to perform). Percy Harvin, who cost Seattle its 2013 first-round choice, is also injured.

Five 2013 draft choices from the division landed on their original teams' practice squads. One of them, fourth-round choice Chris Harper, subsequently left his original team (Seattle Seahawks) to sign with the 49ers' 53-man roster.

Three picks from the St. Louis Rams and one from the 49ers are scheduled to start in Week 1. Cooper would have started for the Cardinals if healthy.

Harper wasn't the only NFC West draft choice to land on another team. The 49ers' Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round choice, wound up with Kansas City after the Chiefs claimed him off waivers.

NFC West rookie review: Snap leaders

August, 18, 2013
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A few notes on playing time for 2013 NFC West draft choices after each team played its second game of the exhibition season:

Seattle Seahawks: Seventh-round choice Michael Bowie played extensively yet again and remains on course to earn a roster spot as one of the backup tackles. He and undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey are combining to give Seattle much greater depth on the line than the team enjoyed in previous seasons. ... Fifth-round tight end Luke Willson blocked effectively against Denver. ... Tharold Simon remains sidelined by injury, making it impossible for him to compete for relevance at cornerback, the position where Seattle might have its greatest depth.

San Francisco 49ers: I was struck by how many special teams snaps third-round outside linebacker Corey Lemonier and sixth-round inside linebacker Nick Moody played. Both figure to contribute in that regard. ... Quarterback B.J. Daniels inserted himself into the conversation with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien in the race to become the No. 2 quarterback. Having both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick was a luxury last season. Now, the 49ers are like most teams: in big trouble if an injury knocks out their starting quarterback. ... Too bad second-rounder Vance McDonald was hurt. He flashed ability in the preseason opener.

Arizona Cardinals: Second-round inside linebacker Kevin Minter has been overshadowed at times, through no fault of his own. I noticed him right away during camp practices for the hits he was delivering on special teams. The Cardinals are happy with him. ... The starting offense went 10 plays longer than it had in the preseason opener, giving first-round pick Jonathan Cooper welcome reps. Arizona needs Cooper and its offensive line up to speed for quarterback Carson Palmer to connect on the deeper passes coach Bruce Arians favors. ... Running back Andre Ellington had a 24-yard run and a 28-yard kickoff return, a pretty good debut.

St. Louis Rams: I wondered on draft day whether Zac Stacy would factor as the potential starting running back. That obviously isn't going to happen right away. Stacy missed this game to injury and hasn't seriously challenged Daryl Richardson for the starting job. ... The Rams need to develop young offensive line depth, so it was good for Barrett Jones to get 37 snaps. ... Nick Wagoner has the full Rams rookie review for those seeking a deeper look.

Seahawks rookie review: Snap leaders

August, 10, 2013
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A quick look at the Seattle Seahawks' 2013 draft class following the team's exhibition opener against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium:

RB Christine Michael, second round, No. 62 overall. Michael carried 16 times for 89 yards and had a 24-yard run late in the game. His quickness was evident. This performance suggested the rookie could help the Seahawks this season. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin could make carries scarce for Michael and other backs, however.

DT Jordan Hill, third round, No. 87 overall. Hill seemed close to making plays without finishing consistently. He did apply pressure to the quarterback. Hill finished the game with one tackle. He played more snaps on defense (44) than any of the team's other draft choices. Officials flagged Hill for illegal use of hands.

WR Chris Harper, fourth round, No. 123 overall. Harper gained 8 yards on his lone reception. He was open another time, but the Chargers pressured quarterback Tarvaris Jackson into throwing to fullback Derrick Coleman instead.

DT Jesse Williams, fifth round, No. 137 overall. Williams faced double-team blocking more frequently than I would have anticipated. He played 28 percent of the defensive snaps and did not factor on the stat sheet.

CB Tharold Simon, fifth round, No. 138 overall. A foot injury caused Simon to miss the game. He has not practiced with the team during camp to this point. Seattle's quality depth at corner means Simon faces a tough fight upon his return.

TE Luke Willson, fifth round, No. 158 overall. Willson caught two passes for 16 yards, including a 15-yarder to convert on third down. His inability to catch a pass on another third-down play killed a drive. Willson played 16 snaps on offense and 10 on special teams. Only Jameson Konz (11) and Jeremy Lane (11) played more snaps on special teams.

FB Spencer Ware, sixth round, No. 194 overall. Ware matched Michael in offensive snaps with 27. He carried seven times for 32 yards (4.6 per carry) and a touchdown. He had a 20-yard run to go with his 6-yard scoring run.

G Ryan Seymour, seventh round, No. 220 overall. Seymour played 22 snaps (39 percent). That ranked third among the three offensive linemen Seattle drafted in 2013.

LB Ty Powell, seventh round, No. 231 overall. Powell ranked second on the team with six tackles while playing 31 snaps, or 46 percent. He made a tackle for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter, taking down Chargers running back Fozzy Whittaker, a player San Diego claimed off waivers from Arizona.

G Jared Smith, seventh round, No. 241 overall. Smith played 30 snaps. I wasn't watching him closely enough to take note of his contributions.

T Michael Bowie, seventh round, No. 242 overall. Bowie and undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey give the Seahawks a couple of promising young tackles to develop. Both seemed to play well in this game. Bowie played 44 snaps on offense, matching Hill for the most scrimmage snaps for a 2013 Seattle draft choice.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Seattle Seahawks' 2013 exhibition opener, a 31-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium:

1. Return specialists. The Chargers didn't do much to help the Seahawks identify their next kickoff returner. Seattle returned only one kickoff all evening, with cornerback Jeremy Lane gaining 21 yards on that play. Not much to go on there. Cornerback Walter Thurmond nearly scored on a punt return that gained 46 yards. Receiver Perez Ashford had a 27-yard punt return. Corner Will Blackmon had a 19-yarder. Seattle was set in the return game with Leon Washington last season, but the team released him after acquiring Percy Harvin, who subsequently underwent hip surgery and is out indefinitely.

2. Backup QBs and a guy taking their handoffs. Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson both outplayed Chargers backup and former Seahawks starter Charlie Whitehurst. Jackson was especially impressive, completing all but one of his nine attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yarder to Stephen Williams. Jackson was accurate on that deep pass and on a separate 41-yarder to Williams. Quinn nearly took a safety early in the game before rebounding to find Jermaine Kearse for an 11-yard touchdown. Quinn completed 6 of 11 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. The No. 2 job behind Russell Wilson is Jackson's to lose, in my view. He only strengthened his position with this performance. In the backfield, rookie second-round choice Christine Michael carried 16 times for 89 yards, breaking free for a 24-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He looked good.

3. Rookie TE Willson. The Seahawks are looking for rookie fifth-round pick Luke Willson to develop into a solid second tight end to pair with starter Zach Miller. Willson could not come down with an early third-down pass from Wilson. He did catch another pass for a 15-yard gain and third-down conversion, this one from Quinn. Cooper Helfet made the most impressive reception by a Seattle tight end, diving to make a 23-yard reception.
A recent radio conversation with John Clayton, Brock Huard and Danny O'Neil touched on tight end Zach Miller, a player the Seattle Seahawks would have a rough time replacing.

Miller isn't the best or most valuable player on the team. He doesn't play a glamor position such as quarterback or running back. But through a combination of his own talent, the way he fits on his team, his demonstrated reliability and the depth existing behind him, Miller appears especially important heading into training camp. Every team in the NFC West has players fitting the mold. We single out four of them here:
  • Miller, Seahawks: Miller has missed only three games in six NFL seasons and has never played fewer than 15 of 16. He caught eight passes for 142 yards in the Seahawks' divisional-round playoff defeat in Atlanta last season. The Seahawks once envisioned Miller and former starter John Carlson playing together. Rookie Luke Willson projects as the second tight end this season, but there's little chance he could provide the toughness and blocking Miller offers as a nearly every-down player. Another potential backup, Anthony McCoy, was lost to a torn Achilles tendon. The team signed former Falcons tight end Michael Palmer on Tuesday to fill out depth. Sean McGrath returns from last season and is also in the mix.
  • Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers thought they needed Boldin even before they lost leading receiver Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles tendon. They really need him now. Boldin, like Miller, is a tough player and willing run blocker. He projects as the only proven, reliable and healthy wide receiver on the roster. The team plans to develop A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette without relying too heavily on any of them before they've proven themselves capable. Boldin has missed only four games over the past four seasons, impressive for an older player (32) with hard miles.
  • Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals: Dansby last played for the Cardinals during the playoffs following the 2009 season. He was a reliable, productive linebacker for the Miami Dolphins over the past three seasons before rejoining Arizona this offseason. Top inside linebacker Daryl Washington will serve a four-game suspension to open the season, so the Cardinals need Dansby to help them get through that patch. They could also use Dansby to set an example for some of the younger players, including rookie linebacker Kevin Minter, a second-round choice.
  • Scott Wells, St. Louis Rams: Wells is a sleeper pick. The Rams would have to scramble if they lost other players, including James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan. Wells, who missed nine games last season, hasn't been as reliable lately as the other players featured here. He deserves mention, however, because the team doesn't have another center ready to go. Robert Turner left in free agency. Rookie Barrett Jones isn't yet healthy and may need time to develop. Wells is the veteran center St. Louis acquired to lighten the pre-snap load for quarterback Sam Bradford. He's easy to overlook with so much focus on new left tackle Jake Long and all the speedy skill players St. Louis added. I'm just not sure what the Rams would do without him.

Who gets your votes? I tried to avoid going with obvious, superstar type players such as Larry Fitzgerald (or even Justin Smith of the 49ers, who was clearly indispensable last season).

John Clayton's latest "Inside the Huddle" video leads with the Baltimore Ravens' expected shift to an offense featuring multiple tight ends more prominently.

We could see some evolution in the NFC West as well.

Among the considerations:

Arizona Cardinals: The Indianapolis Colts ranked among the NFL's top 10 teams for most plays using at least two tight ends last season. Bruce Arians, the Cardinals' new head coach and offensive play caller, was running the Colts' offense then. Arians favors tight ends over fullbacks, so Arizona should see its tight end usage increase without biting into playing time for the Cardinals' talented wide receivers. Rob Housler led NFC West tight ends in receptions last season, but his impact was muted within a struggling offense. He and veteran Jeff King are the top two tight ends. Arians figures to use both of them together and in various places, including the backfield.



St. Louis Rams: Jared Cook's arrival in free agency changes the position fundamentally for the Rams. The team transitioned away from using a fullback last season. Cook will figure prominently into the offense as a receiving tight end, lining up in the slot and on the perimeter. He and incumbent tight end Lance Kendricks figure to play extensively together in a one-back offense featuring three-plus wideouts with regularity.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers lost some flexibility when second tight end Delanie Walker departed in free agency. Using a second-round choice for tight end Vance McDonald signaled the team's intention to continue using a second tight end in tandem with mainstay Vernon Davis. Using additional tight ends frequently could carry additional appeal while veteran receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham recover from injuries. Crabtree figures to miss much of the season. Manningham is expected to be available earlier. McDonald has a big opportunity.



Seattle Seahawks: Zach Miller will continue to play just about all the time, but it's fair to question how much playing time secondary tight ends Luke Willson and Sean McGrath might command. Percy Harvin's arrival puts the Seahawks in better position to use three wide receivers. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks also operate from a two-back offense at times. Using additional wide receivers and running backs leaves less room on the field for tight ends, at least in theory. The Seahawks aren't going to stray from their offensive philosophy, but there are some personnel-related matters to sort out during training camp, including how much a second tight end might play.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A first-year player who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps:

Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Cooper, LG. Cooper moved into the starting lineup right away. The team moved incumbent left guard Daryn Colledge to the right side. Arizona also released incumbent starting right guard Adam Snyder. Guards generally don't stand out until players put on the pads. Cooper has stood out for his athletic ability. The Cardinals thought they were getting the most athletic guard in the draft, and Cooper has looked the part to this point.

St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR. These practice sessions without pads are set up for wide receivers with great speed. Austin is that type of receiver. The differences in speed between NFL players can be imperceptible within a position, but those watching the Rams practice could see the difference between Austin and the typical wideout. All the usual disclaimers about running around in shorts apply, of course, but the Rams drafted Austin largely for his speed. They haven't been disappointed so far.

San Francisco 49ers: Ricardo Lockette, WR. Lockette made his NFL debut in 2011, but he still qualifies as a first-year player under the league's classification system. The receiver position is in focus anyway because Michael Crabtree's injury opened the door for others to seize playing time. Injuries have prevented veteran wideout Mario Manningham from practicing altogether. Another wideout, Kyle Williams, has been cleared only for individual drills. Enter Lockette. He has been living with and working out with quarterback Colin Kaepernick off the field and developing chemistry with him on it.

Seattle Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE. The fifth-round choice from Rice caught just about everything thrown his way when OTAs got going. He has had some ups and downs since then, but the Seahawks are high on him. Veteran backup tight end Anthony McCoy landed on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon, giving Willson every opportunity to work his way into the No. 2 role behind Zach Miller. Seattle could become more of a three-receiver team with Percy Harvin joining a group featuring Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and impressive (so far) rookie Chris Harper. There will still be room for formations with two tight ends. It's looking as though Willson will play.
The St. Louis Rams quietly added 6-foot-7, 280-pound tight end Zach Potter in free agency earlier this month.

Potter's addition gives the Rams three tight ends with at least five starts in the NFL last season. Lance Kendricks had 14, all for the Rams. Jared Cook had five for the Tennessee Titans. Potter had five for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Rams can feel pretty good about their depth at the position.

What about the Seattle Seahawks? Zach Miller is the only tight end on the roster with starting experience. He had 15 starts and played 814 snaps last season. Sean McGrath is the only other tight end on the roster to play a single regular-season NFL snap -- ever. He played eight snaps last season.

The chart shows combined 2012 starts and snaps for current NFC West tight ends. The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers might have the best two starting tight ends in the division, but none of their backups has even one NFL start.

San Francisco used a 2013 second-round choice for tight end Vance McDonald. Seattle used a fifth-rounder for tight end Luke Willson.

Dave Grosby, Bob Stelton and I discussed the implications for the Seahawks during our recent conversation on 710ESPN Seattle.
NFC West teams naturally expect more from earlier draft choices such as 2013 first-rounders Jonathan Cooper, Tavon Austin, Eric Reid and Alec Ogletree.

All four of those early choices could wind up starting in 2013. It's an upset if they do not.

Last year, 92 of the 135 players (68.1 percent) drafted in the first four rounds started at least one regular season. Twenty-five of the 118 players (21.2 percent) drafted in the final three rounds found their way into the starting lineup.

With that disparity in mind and with rookie camps having concluded Sunday, I've singled out five late-round picks from 2013 with a shot at making at least one start as a rookie, in my view. Who else comes to mind from your vantage point?
  • Jesse Williams, DT, Seattle Seahawks. Williams, taken with the fourth pick of the fifth round (137th overall), was the first player any NFC West team selected over the final three rounds. He has a relatively clear path to the starting lineup after the Seahawks decided against re-signing veteran Alan Branch. Seattle did select another defensive tackle, Jordan Hill, in the third round. However, Hill projects more as a pass-rusher at this point. Williams projects more as a run defender on early downs. Free-agent addition Tony McDaniel could be the player standing between Williams and the starting lineup. McDaniel has five starts in seven NFL seasons.
  • Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams. The Rams plan to use a committee of running backs. They traded two sixth-round picks to Houston for the fifth-round choice (160th overall) they used for Stacy. The team lacks an established starter after parting with Steven Jackson. Isaiah Pead, a second-round choice in 2012, projects more as a change-of-pace back. Daryl Richardson, a seventh-rounder last year, will also compete for playing time. There's a chance Stacy will emerge as a primary back on early downs. Terrance Ganaway would be the other power runner on the roster.
  • Luke Willson, TE, Seahawks. Wilson was the third of three fifth-round picks for Seattle and the 158th player taken overall. He is not going to beat out starter Zach Miller. However, Willson has a shot at emerging as the No. 2 tight end. And if that happens, he could find his way into the lineup for games when Seattle opens with two tight ends. Coach Pete Carroll singled out Willson as one of the more impressive players at the rookie camp.
  • Stepfan Taylor, RB, Cardinals. Arizona has Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams at running back. Both would presumably start ahead of Taylor if healthy. However, Mendenhall missed 10 games with Pittsburgh last season. Williams missed 11 games. So, at least on the surface, Taylor could have a shot at starting through injuries. He's the first running back the Cardinals have selected under coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim.
  • Spencer Ware, FB, Seahawks. Ware still has to earn a roster spot. There are no guarantees that will happen. If he does, however, Ware might be the only fullback on the roster, which would give him a clear path to the starting lineup whenver Seattle opened in a two-back personnel grouping. I wouldn't rule out Seattle finding a way to keep incumbent fullback Michael Robinson as well as Ware if the decision made sense from a special-teams standpoint and if the team felt it could go lighter at another position, such as linebacker. Carroll sounds high on Ware, but the team also values Robinson.
Good morning, NFC West.

Rookie minicamps came and went over the weekend with players generally meeting expectations, to hear their coaches rave. That was understandable for reasons Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians explained when analyzing Jonathan Cooper, the guard his team selected in the first round.

"He showed up in good shape and he looks like the player that we thought he would be," Arians told reporters. "Offensive linemen, you really can’t tell until you put pads on. He moves around just like we thought he would because it looks like the combine out there right now."

These camps resembled the combine in a couple ways. Players wore shorts and no pads. Also, rules prevented veteran NFL players from participating. That complicated efforts to determine how players might fare during actual games, but these first glimpses can be affirming nonetheless.

Initial reports suggest the two drafted tight ends from Rice, Vance McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers and Luke Willson of the Seattle Seahawks, made favorable first impressions catching the ball. We heard much more about Willson, but that shouldn't come as a total surprise because the Seahawks, unlike the 49ers, opened all their practices to local media.

None of the draft choices appeared to suffer a significant injury. The St. Louis Rams lost undrafted free agent C.J. Akins to a torn Achilles tendon. Akins, a receiver from Angelo State, was expected to undergo surgery this week.

The 49ers' Lawrence Okoye, the Olympic discus thrower from Britain, looked the part physically, according to reports. Some of the offensive linemen in camp reportedly matched up well with Okoye in drills. But when the 49ers participated in feats of strength, Okoye launched a medicine ball over his head and backward some 18 yards in the air.

"That was about nine yards farther than anyone else," Matt Barrows wrote. "The tower at San Jose International is still wondering what was showing up on its radar."
RENTON, Wash. -- A few notes after watching the Seattle Seahawks' rookies practice on a clear, 75-degree day at team headquarters along the Lake Washington shoreline:

  • Veteran presence: Veterans were not allowed on the field, but Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman showed up about 20 yards offshore -- on a personal watercraft. For a few minutes, photographers had their backs to practice while they snapped away, their cameras trained on the Seahawks' brashest player. Not that Sherman likes attracting attention. "Was that Sherm?" head coach Pete Carroll quipped, adding in jest that he thought he'd seen workaholic quarterback Russell Wilson peeking over the hill on the other side of the field, away from the water.
  • [+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
    AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenBarred from attending, veteran corner Richard Sherman watched Seahawks rookies from the water.
    Lots of faces: Seattle had 67 rookies in camp, including 38 players attending on a tryout basis. There were 12 draft choices and 17 players signed as undrafted free agents. Printed rosters have seldom been so helpful.
  • Wilson's legacy: Carroll opened a morning staff meeting by showing video of Wilson struggling with some of the basics, including center exchanges, during the rookie camp last year. Wilson finished the season with a playoff victory and an appearance in the Pro Bowl. Carroll wanted to put into perspective the first day of rookie minicamp so his coaches wouldn't get down on a young player for struggling early.
  • Tight end stands out: The recently released tight end Darren Fells was among those trying out. He caught passes consistently, but fifth-round choice Luke Willson was the tight end standing out most demonstrably. He beat safeties in coverage to make catches on the run and separated from defenders. Carroll singled out Willson as impressing him. Carroll: "Luke stood out today. He has really good speed and it showed. Caught the ball really well. That was probably the brightest spot that you could really see a guy jump out on. That was a really good first impression."
  • Inside job: Third-round choice Jordan Hill and fifth-rounder Jesse Williams worked together at defensive tackle, sometimes with seventh-rounder Ty Powell lining up in what appeared to be the "Leo" position. Hill and Williams are roommates. Hill played at Penn State, Williams at Alabama. Both played in tradition-rich programs led by old-school coaches, at least until Bill O'Brien succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State. Carroll's new-school approach comes through loud and clear in the music playing over speakers during practice. Hill said that "wasn't going on in my first three years" at Penn State. "I just enjoy, you get to be yourself," he said.
  • Scruggs update: Second-year defensive end Greg Scruggs underwent reconstructive knee surgery Thursday after suffering a non-contact injury while planting awkwardly during a training drill. It's too early to know whether Scruggs could factor at all during the 2013 season.
  • Not much to go on: Players wore helmets, jerseys and shorts for practice. No tackling or hitting was allowed. Coaches encouraged defenders to make a quick attempt at stripping the ball from runners before letting them proceed upfield. This was not football, in other words. However, coaches were able to see players move. Second-round running back Christine Michael stood out for his quickness, balance and for the primal scream he let out after running to the end zone on one play. Michael also stood out for his biceps. He practiced in a No. 33 jersey with no sleeves.
  • No vets around: Years ago, before the current labor agreement went into place, teams held mandatory camps for veterans and rookies at this time of year. Only rookies are allowed under the current agreement. That made it impossible to compare rookies to the players they'll challenge for roster spots and playing time.
  • Smith at center: Seventh-round pick Jared Smith worked at center. He could project at guard, too. The Seahawks are converting him from defensive tackle, a transition J.R. Sweezy made last year. Carroll singled out Smith's quickness. He also praised seventh-round guard Ryan Seymour for having good feet.
  • Harper's hands: Carroll liked what he saw from fourth-round receiver Chris Harper. Carroll: "He caught the ball beautifully. He really has great hands."

That's it from here. Every team in the NFC West is holding its rookie camp Friday through Sunday. I would expect each team's coaches to come away excited about new players. That's a good thing. Draft choices come as-is, without receipts. There are no refunds.
The NFL's rookie wage scale has diminished the negotiating part of contract negotiations.

As a result, the Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they had signed seven draft choices. The San Francisco 49ers announced they had signed five of theirs. The Arizona Cardinals announced they had signed four of theirs.

Players can participate in rookie minicamps with or without signed contracts. The process is largely a formality at this point. There's less tension between players, agents and teams as training camps approach. Rules prevent players from renegotiating their rookie contracts until they've played three seasons, warding off the issues that can arise when a player outperforms his contract.
The St. Louis Rams have yet to announce signings of draft choices. That is not a big deal.

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