NFC West: Marques Hagans

Larry Fitzgerald's arrival with the Arizona Cardinals via the 2004 NFL draft serves as the starting point for the latest item looking at recent NFC West choices.

Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions, far more than any other NFC West receiver over the last seven seasons.

In fact, the wide receivers with the most receptions for the Cardinals' division rivals during the same time period -- Torry Holt (St. Louis), Bobby Engram (Seattle) and Arnaz Battle (San Francisco) -- have long since moved on. I ran across Engram in the 49ers' main lobby Wednesday; he's a quality control coach with the team.

History tells us receivers carry more risk than some other positions. For every Fitzgerald, there seems to be a Koren Robinson, David Terrell or Troy Williamson -- high picks that never came close to realizing their potential. Mike Williams' revival with Seattle last season was an exception.

The charts break down every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2004. Will the St. Louis Rams add Julio Jones to their list of drafted wideouts?

As in the past, I'll preface each chart with thoughts from the teams' perspectives.

Immediate needs don't matter so much when front-line talent is available ...

Time to start finding replacements for veterans who might not fit into our plans (Terrell Owens for the 49ers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for the Rams) ...

These guys might not start, but every team needs secondary options in the passing game ...

We're getting late enough in the draft to consider grabbing a receiver while a few with decent potential remain on the board ...

Time to fill out the roster and hope we find depth for special teams ...
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee addresses during a chat whether 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would rather be a backup in San Diego or have a shot at starting for San Francisco. Barrows: "At the end of the season, I would have said, yes. but Jim Harbaugh has been whispering sweet nothings in Smith's ear for the past two months. That might make Smith more apt to return, and just as important, might make the fans more receptive toward Smith. That is, if Jim Harbaugh, who after all is a quarterback guru and who is on a honeymoon period, likes Smith as the quarterback, shouldn't we (I'm putting myself in the position of the fans) listen to what he says. I also think that Smith might want to be a starter for one more season in SF than a backup to Rivers for the next eight seasons ... We shall see. Thanks for tuning in." In general, the longer the lockout continues, the more it makes sense for players to return to their 2010 teams. That might not apply to Smith and the Chargers because San Diego wouldn't need to get Smith ready for regular-season snaps. But if Smith wants a fresh start, he can get one, to a degree, without leaving the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh's presence has to make that possibility intriguing.

Also from Barrows: a look at outside linebackers the 49ers could consider in the second round.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Ryan Mallett's lack of mobility could make him a bad fit for the 49ers.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with retired pass-rusher Jacob Green, whose BBQ offerings have helped raise more than $420,000 at auction for cancer research over the past five years. Farnsworth: "The former Pro Bowl defense end and member of the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor stole the show -- or auction -- at an event Saturday night to benefit the Puget Sound affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. Two attendees bid $45,000 each to have Green work his grill magic, and spin a few tales of the Seahawks’ early days, for parties of 20."

Also from Farnsworth: Five members of the 35th anniversary Seahawks team were undrafted. Six spent their full careers with Seattle.

More from Farnsworth: Mack Strong edged John L. Williams for a spot on the anniversary team. Strong: "I had tremendous respect for John L. -- how he played the game and what he meant to this organization. When I came out to Seattle, I’d only heard of three people on that team -- Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and John L. Williams. So, just being able to play with him was a huge honor and I feel like I learned a lot about how to be a pro just from watching him. So to be in the category with him is a real high honor for me."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Randy Moss casually listed Seattle among the teams he would consider joining for the 2011 season. It wasn't clear if he mentioned Seattle for any reason, however.

Darren Urban of offers thoughts from Ollie Matson's niece regarding the letter Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill sent to Matson's family for use at the Hall of Famer's memorial ceremony. Said the niece: "It was amazing how blown away everyone was to receive this letter. It was so personal."

Channel 5 in Phoenix says the couple that won a free home as part of a University of Phoenix Stadium promotion is moving into their new digs. The promotion hinged on the Cardinals returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown during a home game. It happened in the home opener against Oakland last season when LaRod Stephens-Howling broke a 102-yarder.

Ray Brewer of the Las Vegas Sun says Rams running back Steven Jackson will be enshrined in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame for his efforts at Eldorado High School. The story includes a photo showing a much skinnier Jackson carrying the ball in a high school game. Brewer: "Jackson rushed for 6,396 yards and 81 touchdowns during his high school career at Eldorado, leading the Sundevils to the Sunrise Regional crown in 2000 and a state runner-up finish. He went on to spend three years at Oregon State, rushing for 3.625 yards and 39 touchdowns in 36 games, while adding six rushing touchdowns and seven on returns. His 4,545 all-purpose yards are second-best in Oregon State history. He capped his career with a five-touchdown performance in the Las Vegas Bowl, then announced he was turning professional in the media interview room at Sam Boyd Stadium."

The Columbus Republic says former Rams receiver Marques Hagans has taken a job as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia, where he played from 2002-2005.
Draft-chart value retention rates, 2004-2007
2007 .905 .977 .757 1.000 .897
2006 .971 .933 .032 .998 .832
2005 .641 .980 .916 .865 .477
2004 .946 .244 .769 .132 .377
Totals .873 .851 .570 .687 .678

Posted by's Mike Sando

If the Rams no longer acknowledged their 2006 draft class, would that mean it never existed? As the team seeks ways to conserve resources, will it omit from future media guides all references to the ill-fated class?

In looking for ways to assess the carnage, I compared draft-choice retention percentages for NFC West teams to NFL averages. All draft choices are not valued equally, however, so I chose to look beyond simply how many players remained on their original teams from various draft classes.

Instead, I used the draft-value trading chart to assign values for each choice exercised from the 2004 through 2007 drafts. I then totaled values associated with players who remained on their original teams. By dividing this total by values for all choices each team exercised, I arrived at a retention percentage for those four drafts.
Round Overall 2006 Rams Pick Point Value for Pick Still on Team?
1 15 Tye Hill
1,050 No
2 46 Joe Klopfenstein
440 No
3 68 Claude Wroten
250 No
3 77 Jon Alston
205 No
3 93 Dominique Byrd
128 No
4 113 Victor Adeyanju
68 Yes
5 144 Marques Hagans
34 No
7 221 Tim McGarigle
4 No
7 242 Mark Setterstrom
1.2 Yes
7 243 Tony Palmer
1.1 No

The results show up in the second chart. The Rams, after parting with early 2006 choices Tye Hill and Joe Klopfenstein to comply with the 75-man roster limit, retained only 3.2 percent of their original draft investment for 2006.

That was easily the lowest figure in the league for the 2006 draft (Denver was next at 21.2 percent). Hill was the 15th overall choice, worth 1,055 points on the value chart. Klopfenstein was the 46th choice, valued at 440 points.

Overall, the Rams used 2006 picks worth 2,181.3 points on the draft-value chart. They have 69.2 points remaining on their original investment -- the combined draft-day value of No. 113 overall choice Victor Adeyanju (68 points) and No. 242 overall choice Mark Setterstrom (1.2 points).

The league-wide totals will shift as teams trim rosters, but there's no getting around the futility of that draft for the Rams. It's also worth noting that the players were only partly at fault. Failures at the organizational level complicated some of those players' efforts to succeed.

Practice-squad update: Rams

September, 1, 2008
Rams eligible for
practice squad
Pos.Current Status
Brock BerlinQB53-man roster
Chris LongDE53-man roster
John GrecoOL53-man roster
Donnie AveryWR53-man roster
Roy SchueningOL53-man roster
Chris ChamberlainLB53-man roster
David VoboraLB53-man roster
Derek StanleyWRPractice Squad
C.J. Ah YouDLPractice Squad
Russ WeilFBPractice Squad
Marc MagroLBPractice Squad
Lance BallRBPractice Squad
Dustin FryOLPractice Squad
Darius Vinnett
Practice Squad
Mark LeVoirOL53-man roster (Pats)
Marques HagansWRPractice Squad (Chiefs)
Julius WilsonOLPractice Squad (Bucs)
Cortney GrixbyDBWaived
Nick CleaverTEWaived
Marcus RileyLBWaived
Donovan RaiolaOLWaived
Henry SmithDLWaived
Willie WilliamsDLWaived
Matt CaddellWRWaived
Tanard DavisDBWaived
Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams have filled seven of eight spots on their practice squad. Cornerback Darius Vinnett was the notable addition; he previously slipped through the cracks when I listed Rams players with practice-squad eligibility.

Derek Stanley provides needed practice depth at receiver. Injuries continue to affect that position for the Rams.

The Patriots' signing of Mark LeVoir to their active roster surprised me. The Rams lack depth on the offensive line after placing Mark Setterstrom and Brandon Gorin on injured reserve. But the Patriots' might be even more desperate for help at tackle. New England has considered everyone but Bruce Armstrong as potential stopgaps at the position this summer. We'll see how long LeVoir lasts.

Update: The Chiefs signed Marques Hagans to their practice squad. Earlier in camp, a scout for another team asked me if I thought Hagans would earn a roster spot. Hagans' potential as a return specialist had caught his attention. 

Julius Wilson obviously has some talent. He went from the Dolphins to the Rams to the Bucs' practice squad in a short time period. Scouts must see potential.

I watched Wilson struggle terribly during the Rams scrimmage.

As noted then: "Defensive end Eric Moore beat [Wilson] for what would have been a sack on Brock Berlin. [Marc] Magro tossed Wilson to the outside and surged forward for what would have been a free shot on Berlin. Shortly thereafter, running back Lance Ball was gliding along for what should have been an easy touchdown, but a linebacker slammed him to the ground in front of Wilson as Ball crossed the goal line.

Rams eligible for
practice squad
Pos.Probable Status
Brock BerlinQBKeeper
Chris LongDEKeeper
John GrecoOLKeeper
Donnie AveryWRKeeper
Roy SchueningOLKeeper
Chris ChamberlainLBKeeper
David VoboraLBBubble
Derek StanleyWRBubble
C.J. Ah YouDLBubble
Russ WeilFBLikely cut
Marc MagroLBLikely cut
Cortney GrixbyDBWaived
Lance BallRBLikely cut
Nick CleaverTEWaived
Marcus RileyLBWaived
Donovan RaiolaOLWaived
Dustin FryOLLikely cut
Julius WilsonOLLikely cut
Henry SmithDLWaived
Mark LeVoirOLLikely cut
Willie WilliamsDLWaived
Matt CaddellWRWaived
Marques HagansWRWaived

Posted by's Mike Sando

The Rams' released 10 players in anticipation of the 53-man roster limit, which goes into effect Saturday.

I've singled out eight of them on our chart of Rams players with practice-squad eligibility. The eighth and ninth players released, veteran safety Jerome Carter, and cornerback Tanard Davis, have no such eligibility.

Expect the Rams to make their remaining cuts before the 6 p.m. ET deadline Saturday.

The Rams are carrying 66 players once they move Steven Jackson to the active roster from the exempt list.

Die-hard alert: Updated roided-out NFC West rosters here.

Earlier: The chart shows each of the Rams' players with practice-squad eligibility, according to the team.

Practice-squad rules can be confusing, and exceptions sometimes apply to relatively experienced players.

I've categorized each player based on his perceived likelihood of earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Those are rough characterizations. Teams still have not made decisions. It's conceivable that a player listed as a "keeper" could face his release.

(Read full post)

Practice-squad report: Rams

August, 29, 2008
Rams eligible for
practice squad
Pos.Probable Status
Brock BerlinQBKeeper
Chris LongDEKeeper
John GrecoOLKeeper
Donnie AveryWRKeeper
Roy SchueningOLKeeper
Chris ChamberlainLBKeeper
David VoboraLBBubble
Derek StanleyWRBubble
C.J. Ah YouDLBubble
Tanard DavisDBLikely cut
Russ WeilFBLikely cut
Marc MagroLBLikely cut
Cortney GrixbyDBLikely cut
Lance BallRBLikely cut
Nick CleaverTELikely cut
Marcus RileyLBLikely cut
Donovan RaiolaOLLikely cut
Dustin FryOLLikely cut
Julius WilsonOLLikely cut
Henry SmithDLLikely cut
Mark LeVoirOLLikely cut
Willie WilliamsDLLikely cut
Matt CaddellWRLikely cut
Marques HagansWRCut

Posted by's Mike Sando

The chart shows each of the Rams' players with practice-squad eligibility, according to the team.

Practice-squad rules can be confusing, and exceptions sometimes apply to relatively experienced players.

I've categorized each player based on his perceived likelihood of earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Those are rough characterizations. Teams still have not made decisions. It's conceivable that a player listed as a "keeper" could face his release.

As noted: Rosters spots are serious business for NFL players lacking job security. For some, the next 30 hours or so will determine whether they'll earn $17,352.94 per week or whatever the real world pays.

The minimum NFL salary is $295,000. Players get paid in 17 installments, one for every week they spend as a paid member of the organization.

NFL teams must trim rosters from 75 players to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. Teams can establish eight-man practice squads beginning Sunday. Practice-squad players earn a minimum of $5,200 per week during the regular season and playoffs.

Once a player signs with a practice squad, he can practice with the team. He becomes eligible to play in games only if a team signs him to its 53-man roster. Practice-squad players are free to sign with any team's active roster at any time during the season.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic takes a stab at the Cardinals' 53-man roster. He favors Sean Morey over Lance Long for the sixth receiving spot. He saves a spot for Pat Ross because the team is low on depth at center. He can't find a spot for Joe Tafoya. He makes room for Monty Beisel and Ali Highsmith.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says safety Eric Bassey might have earned a roster spot after forcing a fumble in the Rams' final exhibition game. I figured Bassey would make it anyway given depth issues in the secondary. Center Nick Leckey was the only projected opening-day starter to play for the Rams in this game.

Also from Thomas: Running back Steven Jackson can void the final two years of his new six-year deal by averaging 1,200 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving over the first four seasons.

And this from Thomas: The Rams' radio headsets did not work against the Chiefs. Coach Scott Linehan: "We are running plays like they do in high school."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' special teams struggled against the Chiefs. That can happen with so many backups playing. Kicker Josh Brown missed a 40-yard field-goal try. That would have been no big deal in the past, but money changes everything. Coats: "In a downpour, Brown pushed the ball wide right, a rare miss for the highest-paid kicker in NFL history."

Also from Coats: Marques Hagans caught four passes for 47 yards in a last-ditch effort to secure a roster spot at receiver.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with the Seahawks' bubble players. The situation at receiver continues to intrigue. Farnsworth expects Bobby Engram and Deion Branch to miss the regular-season opener.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune expects Justin Forsett to play extensively with the Seattle starters tonight. The rookie running back has been working with the first unit in practice this week. Forsett appears headed to the practice squad if the Seahawks cut him.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times describes Seahawks receiver Ben Obomanu as confident despite weak preseason stats. Obomanu, who is on the bubble for a job at receiver, put it this way: "Catching passes in a preseason game doesn't always tell the story of whether you're doing a good job." Obomanu caught eight passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the 2007 exhibition season. Each of those figures led the team. He earned a roster spot but was not active for the regular-season opener.

Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star covered Trent Green's return to Arrowhead Stadium, but there wasn't much to see. The Rams gave Green three snaps, then replaced him with Brock Berlin.

Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read takes a closer look at the team's receivers. How bad were they last season? Well, three NFL players finished with more receiving yards than the 49ers as a team in 2007. Brown lists the current receivers in this order: Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Arnaz Battle, Josh Morgan, Ashley Lelie, Jason Hill, Dominique Zeigler, Cam Colvin, Jerard Rabb and Robert Ortiz. I might put them in this order: Bruce, Battle, Johnson, Morgan, Hill and Lelie. And I do think the 49ers want to keep six, a good number for the Mike Martz offense.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider projects five receivers hanging around on the 49ers' cutdown to 53 players. At other positions, he expects Moran Norris and Marcus Hudson to miss the cut.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee outlines positions of interest heading into the 49ers' final exhibition game: receiver, fullback, outside linebacker and defensive back. He thinks Roderick Green and Tully Banta-Cain will stick around.

Also from Barrows: an in-depth look at the 49ers' defensive linemen. He sticks up for rookie first-round choice Kentwan Balmer. I see his point. Balmer plays a low-profile position (defensive end in a 3-4 scheme). He's not going to gain much notice even if he's playing well. Ask Bryant Young. He became invisible when the 49ers went from 4-3 to 3-4, but that didn't mean he was playing poorly. The position simply specializes in grunt work.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says this is a brutal time of the year for players on the bubble. But as J.T. O'Sullivan has proved, persistence can pay off. NFL teams have waived O'Sullivan five times, Maiocco notes.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' starting offense might play only a series in the exhibition finale. FitzGerald's bubble players include: Norris, Thomas Clayton, Ashley Lelie, Roderick Green, Larry Grant, Marcus Hudson, Zeigler and Brian de la Puente.

DraftRoundPickTeamRookie WRStartsRec.Yds. TD
2003254ARIAnquan Boldin161011,3778
200413ARILarry Fitzgerald 16587808
2003117ARIBryant Johnson8354381
20025149ARIJason McAddley8253621
20057226ARILeRon McCoy4181911
20034124SFBrandon Lloyd 1142122
20034106STLShaun McDonald110620
20075142ARISteve Breaston08920
2004131SFRashaun Woods071601
20076197SEACourtney Taylor05380
2003374STLKevin Curtis14130
2007376SFJason Hill0160
20055174SFRasheed Marshall01-10
20076210SEAJordan Kent0000
20077249STLDerek Stanley0000
2006384SFBrandon Williams0000
20065144STLMarques Hagans0000
20067218ARITodd Watkins0000
20067249SEABen Obomanu0000
20056192STLDante Ridgeway0000
20057223SFMarcus Maxwell0000
2004377SFDerrick Hamilton0000
20045157SEAD.J. Hackett0000
20036197SFArnaz Battle0000
20037224SEATaco Wallace0000
2002395STLEric Crouch0000

Posted by's Mike Sando

I put together this chart as a companion to the earlier entry on rookie receivers. This shows rookie stats for every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2002. Eighteen of the 26 started zero games as rookies. Only four reached 20 receptions as rookies. Arizona has been the only team to draft productive rookie receivers with any consistency.

A quick look at the NFC West's rookie receivers and their likely prospects for 2008:
  • Arizona: Injury problems prevented third-round choice Early Doucet from seriously challenging for the No. 3 job vacated by Bryant Johnson. Doucet should play in a reserve role. Undrafted free agent Lance Long appears headed for the practice squad if he doesn't earn one of the final roster spots. Long has impressed in camp.
  • San Francisco: Sixth-round choice Josh Morgan has been the surprise of camp. He could figure into the rotation if the 49ers continue to suffer from injuries. Undrafted free agent Cam Colvin appears headed for the practice squad.
  • St. Louis: Second-round choice Donnie Avery and fourth-rounder Keenan Burton should play more than most rookies at the position. Avery adds value as a return specialist. Undrafted free agent Matt Caddell has one catch for 5 yards during preseason.
  • Seattle: Undrafted free agent Michael Bumpus has played well enough to land on the practice squad if, as expected, he misses the cut.
The receiver position in general has confounded NFL teams. John Clayton explored some of the reasons in a previous column. As Clayton discovered, NFL teams have developed only six Pro Bowl receivers since 2001.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the Rams' depth at receiver, noting that Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams, Derek Stanley and Reche Caldwell might not earn spots on the 53-man roster. Thomas sees veteran Dane Looker as the likely sixth receiver.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses Adam Goldberg's value to the Rams as an offensive lineman with experience at all five spots. Goldberg has started at left tackle recently, giving Orlando Pace a rest. The photo accompanying this story doesn't inspire confidence, but coach Scott Linehan says Goldberg has played well this summer.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat checks in with backup Rams quarterback Trent Green, who will start the final exhibition game -- against the Chiefs, one of his former teams. Green needs the work after attempting only eight passes during the first three exhibition games.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Jerry Rice as "expecting [49ers rookie receiver Josh Morgan] to do some great things this year."

Also from Brown: Ashley Lelie's uncertain future heading toward the 53-man cutdown. Lelie has 21 career receptions of at least 40 yards. Can he be a deep threat in Mike Martz's offense?

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers haven't seen enough from their receivers to know how they'll react during the regular season. Injuries and even illness have kept players off the field. Morgan will miss the final exhibition game.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle describes 49ers guard Tony Wragge as an inspiration to players fighting for roster spots. The Cardinals cut him three times. Wragge played in the Arena League and even took a job at Home Depot before finally earning a spot with the 49ers.

Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider expects Justin Forsett to get plenty of work in the final exhibition game. Forsett might need an impressive performance to earn a roster spot. The practice squad could be the most likely option.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with new Seahawks long snapper Jeff Robinson, who isn't very new at all. The way Boling breaks it down, Robinson could earn more than $5,000 per snap this season. Boling: "The fact that his wife is a physical therapist and dietician is a key to his readiness, he said. While she's busy running their business, a wellness center named '5focus' on South Lake Union, Robinson has been staying nimble by chasing down their 16-month-old daughter, Mae Louise. It should enhance his coverage skills."

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune saw Seahawks center Chris Spencer fall down twice while making routine blocks in his first practice back from injury. Spencer expects to make his preseason debut Friday night against Oakland.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks signed Robinson to snap after Tim Lindsey suffered a back injury against the Chargers on Monday night. Lindsey had replaced Tyler Schmitt, who also suffered a back injury.

Also from Farnsworth: highlights from practice, including two touchdown catches by John Carlson. The rookie tight end could have a big season.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune breaks down the Cardinals' position battles at receiver and linebacker. Sean Morey, Jamaica Rector and Lance Long could be fighting for the sixth receiving spot. Ali Highsmith, Brandon Moore, Matt Stewart and Monty Beisel could be fighting for two spots at linebacker.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals feel good about third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre, who learned the offense with Pittsburgh and has completed 76.7 percent of his passes during the exhibition season.

Also from Somers: Kurt Warner gets the start in the final exhibition game. Still no announcement on who starts the regular-season opener, but giving Warner time with the first-team offense puts him in a favorable position.

Plenty of intrigue in receiver races

August, 9, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

WR on roster today10

Races are heating up at receiver as teams work through their exhibition schedules.

I'll put the NFC West races in perspective with a little help from the graphics department.

The chart shows how many receivers NFC West teams have kept on their opening-day rosters over each of the last five seasons. The bottom row shows how many receivers each team is carrying now.

Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are the starters. Steve Breaston tightened his grip on the No. 3 job by catching three passes for 50 yards in the opener, including a 34-yard grab. Rookie third-round choice Early Doucet is resting a sore hamstring, but the Cardinals will save a roster spot for him. Jamaica Rector and Jerheme Urban each caught four passes against the Saints on Thursday night. Lance Long has enjoyed a strong camp. Sean Morey, the fourth receiver last season, is fighting for a spot. Also in camp: Ahmad Merritt and Jemalle Cornelius.

St. Louis: Torry Holt and Drew Bennett are the starters. Second-round choice Donnie Avery and fourth-rounder Keenan Burton will make the team. Veteran Dante Hall has value as a return specialist. Dane Looker always seems to find a way to stick around. Reche Caldwell and Derek Stanley could be in the mix for a sixth spot. Stanley has value as a returner. Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams, Shaine Smith and Matt Caddell have a chance to state their cases when the Rams open their exhibition schedule at Tennessee tonight. Avery has a hip injury and probably won't play.

(Read full post)

Observations from Rams camp

August, 1, 2008

Posted by's Mike Sando

 AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
 Marc Bulger looks to bounce back after completing just 58.5 percent of his passes in 2007, a career low.

MEQUON, Wis. -- The quarterbacks, plural, are the first thing you notice about the Rams after spending two days watching the 49ers practice.

Marc Bulger and Trent Green command the ball and the offense. Arizona and St. Louis have four quarterbacks who would likely start for San Francisco. That makes this division a little harder to figure. The 49ers appear very good on defense and special teams. They will improve offensively with Mike Martz as coordinator. But it's tough to know how much the 49ers' offensive personnel might limit them. If Martz makes that offense even average, the 49ers are competitive.

Back to the Rams. Specifically, a few thoughts after watching the morning session at Concordia University:

  • Bulger is heating up. He throws darts on target in the face of the rush. Granted, he knows the defensive players aren't going to hit him in this setting. If you hit Bulger or most other quarterbacks, they aren't the same. But the dump pass he threw to Antonio Pittman against the rush was perfectly placed and delivered on time.
  • Tye Hill knocked down an end-zone pass to Drew Bennett. Great play, right? Well, almost. The ball hit Hill square in the hands in the vicinity of face level. He did not come close to catching it.
  • Bulger looks like a leader. Even when Brock Berlin was running the offense, Bulger stepped toward the huddle between plays to slap fives with a teammate. Not a big deal, but those are the types of things I look for at a practice. Demeanor and body language matter at quarterback.
  • Receivers Matt Caddell and Marques Hagans dropped passes today. The Rams do not have a clear-cut No. 2 receiver, but they have several players who might not be bad as the fourth or fifth receiver. Derek Stanley made a couple of plays on the ball, including a diving grab.
  • The usual one-on-one pass-rush drills weren't as extensive as I had hoped. Coaches were working with offensive linemen on picking up twists and the like. Rookie John Greco did stand out a bit in the one-on-one drills. He locked up Adam Carriker on consecutive pass-rush plays, holding his ground well. Greco was drafted as a tackle. He might project as a guard. Either way, the Rams think he could develop into a contributor.
  • Chris Long gets in the offensive tackle's face very quickly. There was nothing cute about his rushes in the pass-rush drill this morning. He went right at tackle Julius Wilson, recently signed from the Dolphins. Coaches worked with Long on finishing plays, with an emphasis on how he uses his hips. 
  • Clifton Ryan did beat Greco in a pass-rush drill. A scout familiar with the NFC West told me last night he compares Ryan to Seattle's Craig Terrill. Both are high-effort defensive tackles. The scout called them "gutty and quick" three-technique defensive tackles.
  • Former San Diego, Green Bay and Indianapolis defensive end Blaise Winter looks like he could still play at age 46. Winter is working with the Rams' strength-and-conditioning staff. He also worked with some of the offensive linemen after pass-rush drills. He demonstrated techniques to re-establish proper hand placement, including a vicious move with the elbows. Players seemed to respond well to him. Winter is a motivational speaker. As his site says, "In a world where people are in need of the personal touch Blaise Winter reaches for the soul."
The Rams have another practice late this afternoon. I'm looking forward to their scrimmage Saturday.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers counseling for Anquan Boldin and the Cardinals as their contract impasse simmers. Somers: "If Boldin performs at his usual level while taking the high road and allowing his agent to be the bad guy, the Cardinals will be under pressure to give him a deal comparable to (Larry) Fitzgerald's. And if they don't, they'll be forced to trade him to try to get value for one of the league's better receivers." We're a long way off from that. As the story notes, Boldin has three years remaining on his current deal.

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains why former Rams linebacker Brandon Chillar hasn't unseated Brady Poppinga as a starter in Green Bay. McGinn quotes an NFC personnel evaluator this way: "Chillar is a better athlete than Poppinga and will probably make more plays. He's an old-school, traditional outside linebacker. He can stack. But the reality is, if you've got those other two (A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett), you don't need a third guy to make a lot of plays. You just need him to be in the right spot." Poppinga is apparently more reliable than Chillar that way, which is to be expected because Poppinga has been in the Packers' system longer.

This Associated Press story about Marc Bulger concludes with an interesting quote from the Rams quarterback, who is apparently asserting more leadership now that longtime teammate Isaac Bruce is catching passes in San Francisco. Bulger: "It was tough before when Isaac would run a wrong route or something. I'd say something and he'd give you the Isaac look, so I kind of kept my mouth shut. I think now with some of the younger guys and even some of the older guys, they respect me now, because they think I have a better grasp of the offense than anyone in there. I have been in it for such a long time, and with knowledge you can have that confidence."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at Seahawks offensive lineman Mansfield Wrotto, who is suddenly getting work at center with the first-team offense. The Seahawks drafted Wrotto in 2007 with the fourth-round choice they acquired from San Francisco in the Darrell Jackson trade. If Wrotto develops into a contributor, we'll have tangible evidence of what already appears obvious: Seattle's new line coaches know how to develop younger players.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the Rams' situation at receiver, with an eye toward Derek Stanley. Coats: "The Rams probably will employ six, and Torry Holt, Drew Bennett, plus draft picks Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton, almost surely are safe. If the team doesn't have the luxury of keeping (Dante) Hall strictly as a returner, then the last spot probably will come down to Stanley, Reche Caldwell, Marques Hagans, Dane Looker and Brandon Williams."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a look at the Seahawks' situation at running back. Julius Jones and Maurice Morris are both starters, coach Mike Holmgren hedges. The trend in the league has been to sharing carries, but there's an old saying some coaches stand by: running back by committee means you don't have anyone worthy of the job.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sets the scene as the Seahawks put on pads for the first time this summer. Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell:"It's as elemental as it sounds. It's just a different game."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat checks in with Rams left tackle Orlando Pace, who wants to leave the game on his own terms. Rams coach Scott Linehan is taking the optimistic view on Pace's recent injury troubles. He attributes them to bad luck, which he says usually doesn't stay bad. Unless you're the 2007 Rams, who couldn't get a break.

Chrissy Mauck of caught up with former Bucs, Ravens, Seahawks, Browns and 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer, who dropped by 49ers practice. Said Dilfer, now an analyst for ESPN: "I hope if I have a legacy at all with the 49ers that it was that I taught them a little bit about football, but most importantly, showed them what it means to be a great teammate at the quarterback position. In our room, we always emphasized that we couldn't be successful unless that room knows how to compete, but at the same time, help support and be a cheerleader for one another. We always made sure we had an absolute blast working hard and getting better and knowing that this thing is about wins and losses, not your personal achievements."