NFC West: O.J. Atogwe
With that in mind, let's take a position-by-position look at the Rams' roster heading into their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo (current roster counts listed in parentheses):
Average number kept since 2003: 2.9
Keepers: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley
Looking safe: Keith Null
On the bubble: Thaddeus Lewis
Comment: Lewis has played well enough to intrigue the Rams, but probably not well enough for another team to claim him off waivers. That makes Lewis a natural choice for the practice squad.
Running backs (5)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney
Looking safe: Kenneth Darby
Not sure what to think: Keith Toston, Chris Ogbonnaya
Comment: The Rams are carrying as many running backs as teams typically keep, but multiple spots could be up for grabs depending on which running backs become available via waivers. I'd rather list Toston, Ogbonnaya and Darby in one group until it becomes clear which backs -- and which types of backs -- hit the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya showed potential last season and looked good early in camp, but his performance hasn't carried over to exhibition games and that could cost him. Perhaps expectations were too high. Darby's toughness and special-teams contributions could help him. Toston runs hard and could land on the practice squad.
Wide receivers (9)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton
On the bubble: Dominique Curry
Also: Brandon McRae, Jordan Kent, Danario Alexander
Comment: Curry stood out as an undrafted steal during camp. He has excellent size and has showed good ability on special teams. Burton's durability should remain a concern, but that's the case with Robinson and even Gibson at this point. Gibson's value rises with Donnie Avery on injured reserve.
Tight ends (6)
Average number kept since 2003: 3.0
Keepers: Billy Bajema, Mike Hoomanawanui
Looking safe: Fendi Onobun
Not sure what to think: Daniel Fells, Darcy Johnson
Also: Dennis Morris
Comment: But wait, Fells is the incumbent starter, right? Yes, but he hasn't been durable and there's so much to like about the rookies Onobun and Hoomanawanui. Bajema is an obvious keeper for his blocking and all-around game (he has caught the ball well on limited chances). Johnson has shown toughness and blocking ability, so he could be an option if the team wants to move on from Fells. Perhaps I'm over thinking things here, but the emergence of Onobun and Hoomanawanui during camp creates dilemmas.
Offensive linemen (13)
Average number kept since 2003: 9.3
Keepers: Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg, Hank Fraley
Looking safe: John Greco, Roger Allen III
Also: Eric Young, Drew Miller, Ryan McKee, Renardo Foster, Tim Mattran
Comment: It's tough finding nine keepers here, so the Rams could be active in the waiver-claim game. Greco's versatility works in his favor. Are the Rams still high on Allen's prospects? I know they liked him last season, but that was before reconstructive knee surgery. Trading Alex Barron made sense in the big picture, but the Rams would have better depth here if Barron were still around.
Defensive line (12)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.6
Keepers: Chris Long, Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, James Hall, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott
Looking safe: George Selvie
On the bubble: Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo
Also: Ernest Reid, Eugene Sims
Comment: Durability concerns could cost Ah You. Adeyanju also could be on the bubble depending on what options the Rams have beyond their own roster. Cudjo has made a positive impression during camp and preseason. Same goes for Selvie, although an injury sidelined him part of the time.
Average number kept since 2003: 6.3
Keepers: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain
Looking safe: Bobby Carpenter
On the bubble: David Vobora, Josh Hull
Also: Devin Bishop, Cardia Jackson
Comment: Carpenter has gotten some work at defensive end. Perhaps his presence in an emergency capacity at that position could allow the Rams to keep one fewer defensive lineman, at least early. Chamberlain is probably the best special-teams position player on the Rams, enhancing his value. Hull could provide depth behind Laurinaitis because he's a true middle linebacker, whereas Vobora can back up every position. That could be a close call.
Defensive backs (14)
Average number kept since 2003: 9.7
Keepers: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Justin King, Bradley Fletcher, James Butler, Kevin Payne, Craig Dahl, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery
Looking safe: Quincy Butler
On the bubble: Darian Stewart
Also: Brett Johnson, Marquis Johnson, Antoine Thompson
Comment: James Butler's knee injury probably makes keeping Payne a higher priority. Stewart could be a candidate for the practice squad.
Average number kept since 2003: 2.7
Keepers: Josh Brown, Donnie Jones, Chris Massey
Comment: Strong group here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The first six players NFC West teams selected that year have not met expectations: quarterback Alex Smith (49ers), cornerback-turned-safety Antrel Rolle (Cardinals), tackle Alex Barron (Rams), Spencer, guard David Baas (49ers) and running back J.J. Arrington (Cardinals).
The next four players NFC West players selected -- Lofa Tatupu (Seahawks), Ron Bartell (Rams), Frank Gore (49ers) and Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams) -- have either achieved Pro Bowl status or become front-line starters.
The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers each have four members of their 2005 draft classes on their active rosters. The Cardinals have two.
The Rams found four current starters in Barron, Bartell, Atogwe and third-rounder Richie Incognito.
The 49ers found Gore and right tackle Adam Snyder, while Baas and Smith could wind up starting this season.
The Cardinals have only Rolle and backup guard Elton Brown to show for that 2005 class.
Tatupu and Gore are the only Pro Bowl players from the 2005 NFC West draft class.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ranks seventh among NFL players in fan-based Pro Bowl balloting since the league began recording online votes Oct. 13.
Fan balloting, which continues here through Dec. 9, is one part of the process. Players and coaches also vote.
A quick look at where other NFC West players rank at their positions:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects Kurt Warner to get extensive playing time against the Chiefs after sitting out the exhibition opener. Getting Matt Leinart ready for the season remains the Cardinals' top priority. Everyone know what Warner can do. Still, Warner needs to play some this summer, and he needs to work with the starters. The organization remains committed to Leinart, but coach Ken Whisenhunt has shown he's not afraid to make a change.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks like what receiver Michael Bumpus is giving them in practice (and games, for that matter, after Bumpus led the team in receiving yards against the Vikings). O'Neil: "Michael Bumpus made a pair of impressive catches in the seven-on-seven passing portion of practice. One was a diving grab behind D.D. Lewis that was especially impressive. The coaches like the way Bumpus competes, and he plays in the mold of a slot receiver who's shifty and sure-handed whereas Jordan Kent is tall, fast and his long strides make him a split end."
Bill Coats of Around the Horns says the Rams are sprinting toward the finish line as the end of camp approaches. That includes safety O.J. Atogwe, who was back at practice for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury July 28. The Rams' depth in the secondary has been a problem. They need a healthy Atogwe.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoBrian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need Steven Jackson in camp as soon as possible. Burwell: "This is a franchise in dire need of star quality because without Jackson, they will not only be horrible, they'll be frighteningly uninteresting and flirting dangerously with downright insignificance in a fragile sports marketplace."
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks need receiver Courtney Taylor to produce while Bobby Engram recovers from injury. Also: Cornerback Marcus Trufant lost a contact lens during a collision with running back T.J. Duckett.
Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says Taylor has the ability to bring big things to the Seattle offense. Mike Holmgren on Taylor: "Courtney's a pretty explosive guy. He's got great skill. He's fast. I mean, his athletic ability is special."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune expects Matt Leinart to remain in the game for the Cardinals during red-zone situations. Kurt Warner replaced Leinart in certain situations last season, but Leinart is much better equipped to handle all aspects of the offense, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want more consistency from kicker Neil Rackers, who needs to better control his emotions. Whisenhunt says the decision to release Rackers' holder last season affected Rackers more than the coach anticipated. It's always refreshing when head coaches take responsibility.
Also from Somers: Rookie Ali Highsmith is impressing at linebacker.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides a transcript from Takeo Spikes' first interview as a member of the 49ers. Spikes on playing strong inside linebacker: "The good thing about it, I played that position late in my career in Buffalo. But just defense, I played just defense my first four years in the league with Cincinnati, so that's why I'm familiar with it."
Also from Barrows: J.T. O'Sullivan keeps getting first-team reps at quarterback (hmmmm).
And this: More on Spikes and his role in the defense.
Brian Chu of the San Francisco Chronicle counted a combined five interceptions for 49ers quarterbacks Alex Smith and J.T. O'Sullivan in practice. Also: Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich will see more playing time on special teams, coach Mike Nolan said. Ulbrich has been a starting inside linebacker, but newly signed Takeo Spikes is expected to take his job.
Darren Sabedra of the San Jose Mercury News says Spikes was with his 5-year-old daughter at a carnival when his agent called with news of the 49ers' renewed interest in him. Meanwhile, Ulbrich is taking the high road when asked about the player most likely to reduce his playing time: "Takeo is a great football player and a good addition to this team. (However) it turns out, we'll all be better for it. He'll push me. I'll push him. If my role changes from defense to special teams, then I'll embrace that. If defense is where I'm asked to play, then I'll embrace that as well."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat breaks down the 49ers' offensive struggles in practice. The quarterback competition invites an in-depth analysis of every move the offense makes, and the results have not been pretty. Nolan: "If you do have one guy and you know it, obviously, you give him about two-thirds of the reps and the (No. 2 quarterback) gets the other ones. But in our case, we don't know (have an established quarterback). We're going through the process."
Also from Maiocco: O'Sullivan's increased reps with the offense appear to be more than coincidental. O'Sullivan appears increasingly comfortable in the role.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams coach Scott Linehan as saying players showed up for practice with "a chip on their shoulder" after an unimpressive showing in the exhibition opener. Coats: "The team went at it for nearly two hours in perhaps the most physical workout since the team convened at Concordia University some 18 days ago."
Also from Coats: Third-round rookie John Greco worked at tackle for the injured Brandon Gorin, while nickel back Ron Bartell worked at safety in place of O.J. Atogwe and Jerome Carter.
And this: With ticket sales lagging, the Rams want to win their home opener against San Diego, even though it's only preseason. Coats says the Rams should leave key players in the game until they produce.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covers Dick Vermeil's return to a Rams practice. Vermeil: "Hey, just being around here, I miss it. I don't miss the days I got my (butt) beat. I don't miss the days I worried about some guy holding out. I don't miss the days walking off with some guy who had a serious knee (injury). But I miss all the other things. I miss the coaches. And I miss the players."Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune examines Steve Vallos' rise from Seahawks afterthought to potential starting center. Boling on how Vallos fared in the exhibition opener: "He was hardly perfect, but he got the job done, played with high effort and enthusiasm, and showed a great deal of promise." Boling knows the subject better than he lets on. He was long snapper and starting center at Louisville during the Lee Corso years.
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times sees opportunity for younger receivers now that Seattle's Bobby Engram is injured. Brewer: "Like all good NFL teams, the Seahawks have shown the ability to withstand injuries the past four seasons. Even last season, the offense survived for long stretches without its starting
running back (Shaun Alexander), two wide receivers (Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett), and a spent tight end (Marcus Pollard)."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
MEQUON, Wis. -- The Rams made it through their scrimmage without serious injuries, coach Scott Linehan said, although linebacker Quinton Culberson "tweaked" an ankle. Culberson is competing with injured veteran Chris Draft to be the starting strong-side linebacker. The injury did not appear serious at all. I just saw Culberson walking without a limp near the locker room. With that, we visit the notebook:
- New kicker Josh Brown was perfect on five field-goal tries, hitting from 26, 38, 41, 48 and 53 yards. Fellow kicker Justin Medlock, who hopes to catch on elsewhere, hit from 25, 38, 41 and 53 yards. His 48-yard try bounced off the right upright and missed. Brown sent his kickoffs to the 7-yard-line and 1 yard deep in the end zone. Medlock's kickoffs went to the 8-yard-line and 1 yard deep. Brown wore an ice pack on his right hip after kicking, but said he was fine.
- Running back Brian Leonard welcomed rookie linebacker David Vobora to life on special teams, slamming him during a kick return.
- Orlando Pace appears to be in the best shape of his career from a conditioning standpoint, but he is still rounding into game form. Pace is at 320 pounds. He won most of his matchups with rookie Chris Long, but Long did beat him with an inside pass-rush move that would have resulted in a sack. Pace appeared out of sorts on the play. He might have moved early, and Long beat him with a quick first step and a dip of his outside shoulder as he ducked underneath and into the clear.
- Punter Donnie Jones had punts of 62 and 46 yards early in the session. Dante Hall muffed the 62-yarder. Safety Eric Bassey recovered.
- Linehan appeared to chastise defensive coordinator Jim Haslett for riding the officials, but Haslett said it was all in good fun. Haslett was barking at official Steve Freeman. The two have quite a history. They played together in Buffalo for a decade and remain good friends. Freeman was telling stories about Haslett to the players.
- Running back Antonio Pittman couldn't control a short pass in the right flat against pressure. The pass from Marc Bulger was moving quickly, but this was a play Bulger clearly wanted to hit. Pittman bobbled another pass, allowing Tye Hill to hit him and break it up.
- Rookie linebacker Marc Magro broke up a deep pass over the middle from Bruce Gradkowski to tight end Nick Cleaver. Magro also dominated as a pass rusher against newly signed tackle Julius Wilson, formerly of the Dolphins. Wilson struggled. Defensive end Eric Moore beat him for what would have been a sack on Brock Berlin. 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.
- Defensive end C.J. Ah You beat fullback Richard Owens in pass protection. Linebacker Chris Chamberlain flattened Ball, a rookie from Maryland. Tackling was prohibited when starters were on the field, but the backups beat up on each other.
- Drew Bennett got open and made catches without much trouble. The Rams have problems at safety, particularly with O.J. Atogwe resting an injury.
- The Rams used multiple combinations on the offensive line, making it tough to distinguish between second- and third-teamers. Brett Romberg worked at center with the starters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have yet to identify a clear favorite to replace Bryant Johnson as the third receiver. Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it a "free-for-all" and said exhibition games will prove decisive. Steve Breaston might have the best shot.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat marks J.T. O'Sullivan's debut as a relevant training-camp quarterback for the 49ers. Would the 49ers consider naming him their starter? Alex Smith and Shaun Hill have been battling so far, but the 49ers haven't said much about either. The longer Smith and Hill compete without distinction, the better chance O'Sullivan has to become a factor.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes at the bottom of his story that rookie Lance Ball is getting more carries than expected while running back Steven Jackson holds out. Coach Scott Linehan: "He's a really good runner, very productive in college. We felt we needed to get an extra guy that was productive at that position and when he came in, he was immediately the right kind of guy. So, we're happy to have him."
Coats also says safety Todd Johnson has been impressive subbing for the injured O.J. Atogwe, while Marc Bulger is coming off his sharpest performance of camp. But hotter temperatures made life tougher for the Rams overall. Also: Jackson has incurred $90,000 in fines for missing practices while under contract.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down salary figures for the Rams' draft class. He sees about $29 million in guaranteed money for first-round choice Chris Long, slightly more than the $26,000 in guarantees for seventh-round linebacker David Vobora. Thomas also catches up with pass rusher Leonard Little, whose injury problems have not become a factor in camp so far.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says he can't recall seeing a 49ers offense as bad as the current one in 21 seasons of covering the team. Installing a new offense every year makes life difficult, particularly during the installation process.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' quarterback play has been "ragged" during camp, but this is the time when coordinator Mike Martz expects improvement. The team appeared to be in need of an energy infusion Wednesday.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle gauges Joe Staley's mood as the offensive lineman moves from right tackle to left tackle. Staley downplays the change, but left tackles generally face tougher matchups.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post Intelligencer checks in with second-year Seahawks guard Steve Vallos, who is getting unexpected work at center. Farnsworth also puts together a 400-meter relay team comprised of Seattle's fastest players.
Bob LeGere of suburban Chicago's Daily Herald provides an update on former 49ers receiver Brandon Lloyd, now trying to polish his image with the Bears. Sounds as though Lloyd is enjoying a strong camp so far.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times describes Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as a vocal leader in a quieter camp. I haven't seen vocal leadership from less-established quarterbacks in Arizona or San Francisco.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times measures Brandon Mebane's impact on the Seahawks' defense. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu: "I don't think we make the playoffs without him."
Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says D.D. Lewis followed the Seahawks closely after leaving Seattle for the Houston Texans. He's back in the Northwest after fellow linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley left in free agency. Johnson also checks in with a Seattle secondary that seems to be picking up where it left off last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams safeties Corey Chavous and O.J. Atogwe might have a future in coaching or scouting, assuming they could stomach the dramatic pay cuts. Both recently participated in a combine-style camp for high school-aged athletes in Georgia. The NBC affiliate in Augusta, Ga., has the video.
The Rams treat Chavous as a coach on the field. He's the football equivalent of a gym rat, a guy always working to find an edge through extra study.
The NFL always has a place for older safeties who know the game. Chavous is 32. Other notable safeties in their 30s include Denver's John Lynch (36), New England's Rodney Harrison (35), Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins (34), Atlanta's Lawyer Milloy (34), Minnesota's Darren Sharper (32), the New York Giants' Sammy Knight (32) and Denver's Marlon McCree (31).