NFC West: Melvin Fowler
I counted nine former NFC West players among the 60 chosen in the 2010 UFL draft Wednesday (story here).
Tony Parrish's love for the game might be admirable and it's his business how he wants to earn a living. As someone who admired his contributions to the 49ers years ago, though, I had a hard time picturing the former ball-hawking safety, out of the NFL since 2006, playing out his career with the Las Vegas Locomotives at age 34.
Parrish won a UFL championship with Las Vegas last season.
The chart breaks out UFL choices with NFC West ties. Former Cardinals coach Dennis Green is coaching the Sacramento Mountain Lions. Each team was allowed to protect 20 holdovers from last season heading into the 2010 draft.
Fowler didn't last. The Cardinals cut him. Detroit signed him. Fowler still hasn't played in an NFL game since 2008.
That context should help Rams fans from getting too excited about the team's addition of former Bills tight end Derek Fine, recently claimed off waivers. Fine's addition is still a move worth monitoring, based on the potential he has shown when healthy. Unlike Fowler, an older player with 60 regular-season starts, Fine has played in only 18 games over two NFL seasons.
Before a knee injury ended Fine's 2009 season, Allen Wilson of the Buffalo News had this to say about him:
"Fine gives the Bills a bigger and more physical body at tight end than (Derek) Schouman or (Shawn) Nelson offers. A 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, Fine should be an asset in the running game because he is a tenacious run blocker who plays with good strength, leverage and technique at the point of attack. He's also an underrated receiver. He doesn't have the same burst to separate from defenders like Schouman or the speed and raw athleticism that Nelson possesses. But Fine has very reliable hands, runs good routes and has shown the ability to make himself an available target by finding soft spots in coverage."
The Rams were happy with backup tight end Billy Bajema, late of the 49ers, last season. They probably need to replace Randy McMichael, who is scheduled to become a free agent. Fine, a fourth-round pick in 2008, helps their numbers at the position while giving them another prospect to develop.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
I've gone through the initial NFC West cut lists -- those players released at the 53-man deadline -- to see which ones have returned to their teams or caught on elsewhere.
The chart shows results for Arizona.
Veteran safety Aaron Francisco signed with the Colts. Receiver Onrea Jones signed with the Redskins' practice squad. Arizona re-signed four players to its practice squad.
Four others -- Wilrey Fontenot, Chris Vincent, Carlton Medder and Pago Togafau -- were injured when the Cardinals released them. All but Fontenot have reached injury settlements, leaving the roster. Fontenot remains on injured reserve. Update: Fontenot has also reached an injury settlement.
Some veterans on the list might have an easier time finding work after Week 1. Rules require teams to guarantee salaries to some veterans who are active for Week 1 and then released.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider examines reasons why the 49ers might be better -- or worse -- than in the recent past. He predicts an 8-8 record. Lynch: "The 49ers should be better because they'll have a consistent message from their coaches and the team should be motivated under [Mike] Singletary. Their defense, passing and running games should be better. Also, their philosophy of fundamental, mistake-free play should win them games in the division. But such a strategy won't win in the long term, and overall, the 49ers don't have the talent to pull it off."
Former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis points to Glen Coffee, Chilo Rachal, Aubrayo Franklin and Andy Lee as the 49ers' most valuable players during the exhibition season. Davis: "Rachal has had strong drive blocking and an attitude for physical play throughout the preseason. It’s easy to tell that he is starting to hunt for people when he pulls around. He comes around the corner not looking to run the play but looking for people to maul. That’s what you want in a guard."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' stated intent to run the ball 60 percent of the time.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides short summaries for the 49ers' practice-squad players. He calls linebacker Diyral Briggs the "most intriguing" player on the practice squad. Barrows: "Now all he has to do is hit the weight room with the same passion with which he played Friday's game in San Diego."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News offers 49ers-related notes heading into the regular season. Brown: "Any sign of high-scoring games means the 49ers are in trouble. This team is designed to grind away and play tough defense, not match play for play in a shootout."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals went with backup center Ben Claxton over Melvin Fowler in an upset because Claxton had superior size to hold up against interior defensive linemen. The decision surprised me based on Fowler's experience and some of Claxton's performances in one-on-one pass-rush drills early in camp. One thing about offensive linemen in Arizona: They tend to improve under line coach Russ Grimm.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Michael Adams and LaRod Stephens-Howling overcame size concerns to stick on the Cardinals' initial 53-man roster. Adams: "I feel I worked hard enough to be in a position to make it. But I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment because I have been here long enough to see people come and go, and today or tomorrow could be my last day."
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind wonders if the Cardinals' backup linebackers have enough experience, among other concerns.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks' 4-0 record during the exhibition season might mean nothing.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says it's important for the Seahawks to reestablish dominance at Qwest Field, beginning with their game against the Rams. O'Neil: "Seattle established itself as a place where the fans loved to scream and opponents hated to play. Coach Mike Holmgren even awarded Seahawks fans a game ball in November 2005 after the crowd induced a flurry of false-start penalties by the Giants."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says rookie Nick Reed is focusing more on special teams now that he's earned a spot on the initial 53-man roster.
Also from Farnsworth: a quick look at the Seahawks' first opponent of the regular season. He puts left tackle Alex Barron "on the spot" after Orlando Pace's departure.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sizes up the Rams' new offense, which hopes to establish an identity outside the West Coast label.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could wait until after the first regular-season game before signing a receiver. Signing a veteran backup for the opener could force the Rams to guarantee the player's salary for 2009. Also, defensive tackle Adam Carriker is frustrated by his latest injury.
Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring little faith in the Rams' defensive tackles. Thomas: "I hate to say it, but Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis might be better than anything the Rams currently have at DT."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com looks at the Rams' aggressive approach to overhauling the roster. Gordon: '[General manager Billy] Devaney and [coach Steve] Spagnuolo wanted to wedge as many developing players as was feasible on the 53-man roster. They passed on a long line of bigger name players -- on their roster and on the waiver wire -- to make this happen."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat calls the Rams' receivers the "Teen Squad" because their jersey numbers are in the teens, and the receivers have youth on their side.
Turf Show Times' ram_rod is anxious to see how prepared and motivated the Rams appear in their season opener.
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com gives the Rams a 5 percent chance of winning the NFC West this season. The way St. Louis forced turnovers during the exhibition season means what, exactly? Glad you asked.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Biggest surprise: There weren'y any big ones. Undrafted rookie linebacker Reggie Walker did beat out veteran Victor Hobson. The team kept seven receivers for now, including Lance Long, after injuries affected Early Doucet, Anquan Boldin and (previously) Steve Breaston. I would not expect the Cardinals to keep seven receivers all season, a reminder that this is the team's initial 53-man roster, not the final one.
Arizona sought to upgrade its secondary through the draft and free agency. That spelled the end for veteran safety Aaron Francisco. I thought the team might keep veteran center Melvin Fowler as insurance. Rookie returner LaRod Stephens-Howling stuck around, costing fullback Tim Castille a chance to continue with the team. Tight end Leonard Pope's demise had been on the horizon for a while and it was a bad sign when he was playing deep into the second half of the fourth exhibition game.
No-brainers: The team also released quarterback Tyler Palko, receiver Steve Sanders, receiver Ed Gant, cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, running back Chris Vincent, cornerback Jameel Dowling, fullback Reagan Maui'a, guard Trevor Canfield guard Carlton Medder, defensive end Alex Field, defensive tackle Keilen Dykes, tackle Oliver Ross, receiver Onrea Jones, defensive tackle Rodney Leisle, linebacker Chase Bullock and linebacker David Holloway. Canfield, chosen in the seventh-round, was the only 2009 draft choice released.
What's next: The heirarchy at tight end will continue to shake out, with Dominique Byrd essentially getting an extended tryout while Ben Patrick serves a four-game suspension. The team still could use a backup center with some experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals have gotten dramatically younger at running back this offseason. Edgerrin James and Terrelle Smith are gone, leaving Tim Hightower and Dan Kreider as the only current Cardinals running backs with starting experience.
The team kept three halfbacks and two fullbacks on its Week 1 roster last season. Nine other teams also kept more than one fullback for the opener.
Hightower, Chris Wells, Jason Wright, Kreider and Tim Castille entered camp as the likely choices for those spots, should the team keep five. LaRod Stephens-Howling would have to significantly liven up the return game to earn a spot, most likely.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the Cardinals might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the 49ers.
Here's a quick look at which Cardinals players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoJim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams running back Steven Jackson is adjusting to a physical camp. Thomas: "Chris Chamberlain diagnosed the screen play quickly from his weakside linebacker spot, knifed through traffic and dropped the ballcarrier with a brutal shot around knee level. It was one hellacious hit. It just so happened that the ballcarrier was Steven Jackson. ... In those first moments after contact, it looked as if coach Steve Spagnuolo stopped breathing."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat checks in with Rams safety and franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe. Atogwe: "I believe leaders lead by example first. That means being a professional in what you are doing, knowing your job and doing your job. And from there, other guys will raise their level of play to do exactly what you are doing."
Also from Korte: thoughts on Jackson's close call, plus an update on how Jackson is digesting the offense. Jackson: "It's really a lot of hard work on me at nighttime, to make sure I know the different formations, because I can be the 'X' receiver at any time, as well as a running back."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have generally avoided injuries despite a physical start to camp under Spagnuolo.
Also from Coats: Spagnuolo might be a sharp guy, and he is, but he won't be writing a column about emerging technology or social networking trends anytime soon.
VanRam of Turf Show Times looks at best- and worst-case scenarios for the Rams' cornerbacks.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with new Cardinals backup center Melvin Fowler, whose parents live "about 12 minutes" from University of Phoenix Stadium. Sounds like Fowler was biding his time and hoping for this chance. He said he had other offers. Also, Somers thinks Dominique Byrd has a chance to earn a roster spot after a strong first week, while Matt Leinart is showing more zip on his passes.
Also from Somers: Cornerback Bryant McFadden was back at Cardinals practice after resting an ankle injury.
More from Somers: Keilen Dykes' absence from the practice field and surrounding area could signify a more serious injury, which would hurt the Cardinals.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals' defense emerged with bragging rights following an under-the-lights practice in Flagstaff.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says second-year Cardinals running back Tim Hightower is noticeably quicker after dropping weight.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along additional details about Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant's back injury. Coach Jim Mora: "He came out of a break, reached for a ball, got in an awkward position when he reached for the ball and it kind of locked up on him. Just one of those things."
Also from O'Neil: Seahawks receiver Deion Branch rested his surgically repaired knee Thursday night. The knee was sore. A bad sign? Not necessarily. But it's obviously not a good one.
More from O'Neil: Seahawks guard Ray Willis tends to be the one involved in fights and scraps at practice. Willis doesn't smile when O'Neil asks him about this.
Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks are counting on Julius Jones to carry most of the load at running back. Mora on the ground game: "In the zone scheme, there's an element of patience and then burst, and it looks like all of them are starting to get the feel for being patient and then putting their foot in the ground and one cut and go. It's a work in progress. It takes a while. They have to learn how to work with their offensive line, with the tight ends, when to make the cut, the timing. But it appears that they're getting a feel for it."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks offensive lineman Max Unger passes the "eyeball test" and could project as a Robbie Tobeck type in terms or athleticism. Boling: "Tobeck was a little smaller than the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Unger. But Tobeck had far better athleticism than he was given credit for, and although he was glib and a noted prankster, you could always tell that, inside, he had the competitive ferocity of a bull terrier."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary has no plans to reduce contact in practices after several players suffered injuries. Crumpacker: "Having several starters out means some players are getting more reps than they normally would. Tony Wragge stepped in for Baas at left guard and Ahmad Brooks is getting time at Haralson's outside linebacker spot on the weak side."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat updates the Micheal Crabtree situati
on by saying there's nothing to update. On the quarterback front, he's still going with Shaun Hill as the favorite.
Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith is pushing Hill for the starting job. Maiocco: "Smith is healthy and throwing the ball impressively on intermediate and deeper pass routes. Hill's forte is pinpoint passes on the underneath throws."
More from Maiocco: Smith's best is better than Hill's best, but exhibition games will be critical in determining which quarterback prevails.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says offensive lineman Joe Toledo is having a strong camp. Toledo is eligible for the practice squad.
Also from Barrows: Singletary was actually pleased with a practice. That must represent progress.
More from Barrows: The 49ers have been pushed around in the past, but they probably will not cave to Crabtree's demands, which Barrows considers excessive.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says during a chat he's a "big admirer" of second-year 49ers receiver Josh Morgan, who has so far faced no threat from Crabtree for supremacy among young receivers.
Also from Brown: Rookie linebacker Scott McKillop enjoys steady feedback from Singletary and the coaches during practice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
No doubt, the Cardinals' backup centers struggled in those drills. That's pretty typical, though. Centers are often a little more nimble than other offensive linemen, at the expense of power. My one note on Raiola from Cardinals camp included the line, "78 blew up 50" to reflect Alan Branch defeating Raiola.
Fowler started the first five games with Buffalo last season before suffering an injury against San Diego. His replacement, Duke Preston, played very well against Jamal Williams in a victory over the Chargers. Preston remained the starter. Fowler became a free agent and remained unsigned until now. His agent, Eric Metz, also represents Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. Folwer, 30, has started 60 regular-season games. Raiola, 26, had no starts.
The Scouts Inc. report on Fowler reads this way:
This looks like an upgrade for Arizona, at least on the surface, and something the Cardinals probably needed to do.
Fowler is six-year veteran who has been a very steady performer in the middle of the Bills' offensive line. He has above-average size and strength, but wins with quickness, technique, intelligence and toughness. Fowler does a great job to snap and step quickly while taking proper angles to gain leverage. He has good hand use and foot agility to stay connected. He can slam and chip well to the second level or scoop offset-defenders with great quickness and technique. He doesn't have great power to get movement on the larger defensive tackles in the league and can be walked back some when one-on-one verse bull rushers. He has excellent flexibility and understands how to set and reset quickly to recover as the play unfolds. He has excellent instincts and a tremendous feel for the game, making all the line calls up front. He reacts quick to changing fronts and blitzes to keep Buffalo's offensive line in the best blocking schemes. Fowler has been very durable over the past few seasons and has become a mainstay on this improving Buffalo offensive line.