NFC West: Mike Karney

Some aspire to have their work published in the most exalted academic journals. Others are more likely to find themselves wallowing in profanity-laced bounty files.

Let the wallowing begin.

Alas, the NFC West blog makes an unexpected appearance in the NFL bounty files made public Monday through the NFL Players Association. The files contain R-rated language, so if you're sensitive to such things or risking your job by downloading them, be warned.

For example, the page referencing the NFC West blog contains a large, red headline in capital letters: "Mike F------ Karney," it reads. Karney had played for New Orleans previously, but he was with the St. Louis Rams in 2009. Before the Saints and Rams played that season, someone with New Orleans put together a file using this NFC West blog entry to mock Karney, who hadn't factored into a recent Rams game.

Here's the funny part: Karney played a significant and positive role for the Rams in that subsequent game against New Orleans. The Rams averaged 13.1 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per pass attempt against the Saints from their base offense, which featured Karney.

Another page from the bounty files says "dues" were needed before New Orleans played the Rams. Another shows Rams photos, including one of then-quarterback Marc Bulger on the ground. There are pages showing what appear to be bounty payouts. Others document "kill the head" totals.

The material contains strategic information for Saints opponents, including tendencies by personnel groupings.

One page asks and answers up to 13 questions for each of the Rams' offensive position groups.

Steven Jackson was a "good screen back" while Kenneth Darby was "quick." The Saints told their defensive players that receiver Keenan Burton "can be pressed" and to "get hands on" Donnie Avery. They noted that the left tackle, Alex Barron, lined up wider on draw plays. They did not fear tight end Randy McMichael as a blocker. They said the Rams had run 71 percent of the time from base personnel when Billy Bajema was in the game.

The Saints respected Bulger's hard count and warned against quick counts between the 40-yard lines. They doubted his ball security and noted that he pats the ball right before throwing, letting defenders get a jump.

There's even a play sheet the Saints prepared for their playoff game against Seattle that season. If the term "N FRISCO SASSY/FLASH SINGLE" means anything to you, the Saints' play sheet should make for a good read.

A subsequent Seahawks-related page shows photos of Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Marshawn Lynch, "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and a soldier's view through a gun scope.

Several bullet points accompany the photos. The final two bullet points read, "Now its time to do our job...collect bounty$$$!" and "No apologies! Let's go hunting!"

Of course, the Seahawks defeated the Saints in that playoff game. The Saints have gone 5-4 against the NFC West since 2009, counting playoffs.
RENTON, Wash. -- News that Clinton Portis is visiting the Seattle Seahawks provides an opportunity to revisit the running back position heading into Pete Carroll's second season as head coach.

Portis is 29 years old and has broken down physically. He would not project as a long-term answer for the Seahawks if they did decide to sign him.

The Seahawks have visited with several veterans recently, including center Andre Gurode and fullback Mike Karney. Neither has signed with the team. There are no indications yet suggesting Portis will sign.

Seahawks starter Marshawn Lynch has missed time with an ankle injury recently. This is the second consecutive summer Lynch has missed preseason games with an ankle issue. Carroll said Lynch could play if these were regular-season games, but the team wants to be careful.

I'm interested in seeing how the Seahawks divide opportunities between Justin Forsett and Leon Washington. Lynch projects as the starter and power back on early downs, provided he's healthy. Forsett and Washington have both demonstrated value within situational roles. Washington has made strides physically in his second season back from leg surgery, commanding additional touches.

Forsett fared well as an every-down back for a few games during the 2009 season, topping 120 yards rushing in the two games he carried more than 15 times.

Quick look at Seahawks' 80-man roster

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The Seattle Seahawks reached the 80-man roster limit in effect Tuesday.

They released defensive tackle Jay Alford and safety Ricky Thenarse after making moves Monday. Acquiring defensive lineman Clifton McDonald from Cincinnati in the Kelly Jennings trade changed the dynamics at defensive tackle.

Veteran fullback Mike Karney plans to visit with the team. Signing Karney would necessitate a move elsewhere on the roster.

The chart compares current positional counts to those from Week 1 of the 2010 season.

The St. Louis Rams have also made moves to comply. A quick look at their positional counts in a moment.

On ex-Ram Karney's visit to Seahawks

August, 30, 2011
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Former St. Louis Rams fullback Mike Karney expected the Seattle Seahawks to sign him nearly one month ago.

"I packed as if I was going to training camp," Karney told the Kentwood (Wash.) Reporter back in early August.

Karney did not sign with the team at that time, but news of his latest visit to the team, reported by ESPN's John Clayton, suggests something could get done. Why would Karney make a second visit to the team in less than four weeks without a realistic shot at signing? He expected a deal the last time.

"They just converted a couple tight ends to fullback and want to see if they can give them more time," Karney said of the Seahawks in early August. "My meeting went extremely well. My physical went well. I think they just want to see if these guys can get it done. If they can't, I think I will be the first guy they call."

Karney, 30, is from the Seattle area.

Fullbacks have become a bit endangered in the NFL as teams gravitate away from traditional two-back offenses.

The Seahawks' version of the West Coast offense is expected to incorporate a blocking back and/or H-back type. Michael Robinson has been the starting fullback. Tight end John Carlson, sidelined by a shoulder injury recently, has lined up at fullback as well.

The Oakland Raiders carried two fullback types on their 2009 opening-day roster when Tom Cable, now the Seahawks' assistant head coach/offensive line, was head coach. Luke Lawton and Oren O'Neal were fullbacks for Oakland heading into that season.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Unfazed by the NFL lockout and energized by a new offense, Sam Bradford shatters perceptions of him as a young player scrambling to make up lost ground.

"We’re going to push the ball down the field," the St. Louis Rams' second-year quarterback says with some excitement. "I think we’re going to be aggressive."

Building steadily for the long term isn't the focus for Bradford and the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. They're living week to week, play to play.

It's a mindset change for Bradford and any quarterback transitioning away from a West Coast offense. Kevin Kolb is going through a similar adjustment after leaving Philadelphia for Arizona. Instead of honing a timing-based system designed to out-execute any defense, they're learning to change up their plan, sometimes dramatically, for each opponent. And they are reveling in the possibilities.

"We are not going to just keep the same stuff in from week to week and say, 'This is what we run, stop it,'" Bradford says. "We could come in and we could have 30 new plays in on Wednesday and they’re all designed to attack what the defense’s weakness is."

McDaniels retained portions of the offense Bradford learned as a rookie last season. The terminology for personnel groupings is largely the same. McDaniels also inherited most of the staff from former coordinator Pat Shurmur. But this will not be a 1-2-3 progression passing game to the degree it was last season. Bradford said he likes the changes in part because the new offense more closely resembles the one he ran at Oklahoma.

"Last year in the West Coast, you started in the same place every time, and no matter what the coverage is, you just kind of work through it and find the open guy," Bradford said. "This year, we still have progression plays where it is like that, but it’s a lot more, 'OK, if the defense gives us 2, this is exactly what we want. We’re going to work off the 'Mike' and we’re going to high-low it and we’re going to go right there. I really like that."

In another big change, Bradford will take over responsibility for making all of the pass-protection calls at the line of scrimmage. He previously leaned on his offensive line to make adjustments based on where specific defenders were lining up. That means Bradford, still only 23, will carry a heavier mental burden against a formidable schedule. The Rams play the Eagles, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints among their first seven opponents. They'll find out quickly whether Bradford is ready for the new responsibilities.

"Giving it all to me, it’s definitely a lot more, but at the same time, it almost makes it easier once you get everything figured out," he said, "because you know exactly what could happen with all the different scenarios."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesSteven Jackson's role will change in Josh McDaniels' one-back offense.
1. Steven Jackson's role. The Rams' Pro Bowl running back has been an outspoken advocate for running behind a fullback in a traditional two-back offense. Jackson realized life would change as McDaniels installed what will be primarily a one-back system. He expects a less regimented running game and less reliance on pounding the ball between the tackles. More of his receptions will come by design instead of on checkdowns, flares and the like.

"This offense allows me to open my whole repertoire of talent and put on display the things I can do outside the tackles," Jackson said. "You don’t have a fullback and I hate to lose Mike Karney, but at the same time, it allows me on a bigger stage to show my overall talent as a football player."

The Rams ran one-back offenses earlier in Jackson's career. He'll have to set up his blocks instead of relying on a fullback to clear the way. A basic play called "Big Jab" illustrates the differences. It's a strongside run masquerading as an inside-zone play to the weak side. The back must freeze the weakside linebacker with his eyes long enough for the offensive lineman to reach the second level.

"Things like that, you can’t pick up on a live game, of course, but on the coaches’ film, it makes a difference," Jackson said.

2. The thinking at wide receiver. The Rams ran out of viable receiving options during their forgettable Week 17 defeat at Seattle last season. With an ascending young quarterback in place and multiple Rams receivers coming off injuries, this offseason seemed like a good time for the organization to invest heavily in a dynamic receiver.

Sidney Rice was available, but the Rams didn't flinch when the division-rival Seahawks signed him to a five-year contract. The Rams signed Mike Sims-Walker to a one-year deal and went to camp with a mostly undistinguished group.

"A lot of people think we have to have some guy that runs 4.25 [in the 40-yard dash] and weighs 230 pounds and he’s 6-foot-5," McDaniels said. "You don’t have to have that guy. You can do it different ways and that is what we are going to try to do."

Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Sims-Walker, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas are heavy favorites to earn roster spots if healthy. Mardy Gilyard, Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander are fighting for one or two roster spots. None commands double-team attention or special game planning from opposing defensive coordinators.

Tight ends factor heavily into the Rams' plans for the passing game. The team envisions a "12" personnel grouping with Lance Kendricks and Mike Hoomanawanui at tight end with two wideouts and Jackson in the backfield. If teams stick with the base defense, the Rams expect Kendricks and Hoomanawanui to create coverage mismatches. If teams choose to play nickel, they can prepare to see a 6-foot-3, 240-pound running back coming their way. Either tight end could shift to fullback for another dimension.

3. Seeking to upgrade run defense. The Rams shelled out top dollar for only one free agent this offseason. Safety Quintin Mikell, who broke into the NFL with Philadelphia when current Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo ran the Eagles' secondary, brings a physical presence. The Rams are paying him $6.5 million per year because Spagnuolo pretty much had to have him.

[+] EnlargeQuintin Mikell
AP Photo/Jeff CurryThe Rams hope Quintin Mikell (27) can help improve the team's tackling in the secondary.
"I don't know if anyone else would be able to feel this or see this, and I can't remember when he was a rookie if he already had these mannerisms, but he plays the game like Brian Dawkins," Spagnuolo said. "His mannerisms, the way he's a knee-bender. He plays fast, he loves the game, he's matured."

Sitting in his office following a recent practice, Spagnuolo cued up a 2004 play he shows annually to defensive backs. Green Bay, facing first-and-goal from the Philadelphia 7-yard line in a 2004 game at Philadelphia, hands off to Najeh Davenport around the right side. One of the Packers' big tight ends engages No. 46 for the Eagles at the line of scrimmage. Before this year, Spagnuolo never revealed No. 46?s identity to his Rams players. It’s Mikell, far lighter than his opponent, disengaging from the block and cutting down Davenport for a 1-yard loss."

"Boom, bang, bang, get out of here, and make the tackle," Spagnuolo says, taking on the voice of narrator. "I want to teach the smaller guys that size isn't a big deal, that it's about power and leverage, and if you run fast at 200 pounds and a 300-pounder is running slow, you can do that."

The Rams gave up too many long runs last season. They're expecting Mikell and fellow defensive newcomers Justin Bannan, Daniel Muir, Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga to upgrade that area.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Gibson's development at receiver. The Rams have felt better about their restraint at receiver in part because Gibson, 24, showed up for camp ready to build on a 53-catch 2010 season. Gibson and the tough, steady Amendola have been the two best receivers in camp.

"Gibby has had a great camp," Bradford said. "He looks faster than last year. He looks more confident."

Gibson's 83-yard touchdown reception against Tennessee in the Rams' preseason game Saturday night was more than twice as long as any pass he's caught in a regular-season game.

"His route running has been great, he’s picking up schemes, learning how to block and he’s more of a complete receiver than he was," said Mikell, Gibson's former teammate in Philadelphia.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Jerome Murphy's broken ankle. Bradley Fletcher and Ron Bartell arguably give St. Louis the best starting cornerback tandem in the division, at least until Patrick Peterson gets up to speed in Arizona. Depth is a concern after the Rams lost Murphy. Al Harris, 36, adds toughness and experience, but there isn't enough depth to comfortably weather another injury at the position. The Rams would be wise to monitor the waiver wire for cornerbacks and consider potential trade options as the regular season approaches.

[+] EnlargeHarvey Dahl
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Rams expect Harvey Dahl to give the offensive line more of an edge.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Rams added veteran right guard Harvey Dahl to upgrade their talent and give their offensive line an edge. NFC West fans should remember Dahl. While with Atlanta, he enraged then-49ers coach Mike Singletary to such a degree that Singletary got into a verbal sparring match with Dahl during a game. The Rams would have reason to celebrate if Dahl's mean streak rubbed off on third-year right tackle Jason Smith.
  • Dahl's reputation as a brawler created an image in my mind of a player supplementing average talent with toughness. Dahl is better than that physically. He looks more like a tackle than a guard, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing about 305 pounds. He has thicker legs than Smith and has showed good athleticism in camp. McDaniels favors big guards.
  • Veteran newcomers have transformed the Rams from one of the NFL's youngest teams to one of the older ones, based on average age. The team took advantage of a flooded market in free agency. Most veterans signed one-year deals without salary-cap ramifications beyond this season. With so many veterans taking one-year deals around the league, a similar market could await next offseason. Teams like the Rams can have it both ways. They're relying most heavily on a young core featuring Bradford, Smith, Rodger Saffold, James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Fletcher and others. But they also have veteran depth.
  • Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood are giving Jackson something he hasn't had in the recent past: veteran backups who command respect through their accomplishments. Jackson: "Yeah, coming here, they had their hands full. I think between my mentality on the field and how I felt as a player about the organization and what I would like to see, I think I kind of showed them in a way without saying it, 'Go fill the other areas of need and I’ll take care of the running back position. I can hold down the fort and when we feel comfortable enough, then go get another running back or two.' "
  • Laurinaitis is seeking to become more aggressive now that he has a fuller grasp of the defense entering his third season under Spagnuolo. ESPN credited him with four tackles for loss in 2009 and eight last season. Laurinaitis wants that number to climb. "We would rather have tough, physical play where you are attacking downhill than being assignment perfect every time," he said.
  • Long made an interesting observation about players the Rams have added in recent years. Several were coming off recent Super Bowl victories. Fred Robbins, Poppinga and Harris are three. Long: "I don’t think that’s an accident."
  • Quinn has a chance to play about 40 percent of the defensive snaps if all goes to plan. The Rams aren't counting on him for every-down production as long as veteran James Hall remains productive. Quinn couldn't have a better mentor. Hall, 34, still goes out to practice early for one-on-one work with retired defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
  • Kendricks' addition through the draft raised questions in my mind about whether Hoomanawanui still figured prominently in the Rams' plans. He does. Bradford shot me an are-you-crazy look when I shared those thoughts with him at camp. "There is definitely a place for him," Bradford said.
  • Jackson's carries per game could fluctuate more in McDaniels' offense because so much of the plan hinges upon what the opposing defense offers. Jackson: "That is exactly what this will represent."
I'm heading over to Seattle Seahawks headquarters Tuesday afternoon before catching a flight to Arizona for Cardinals camp. In the meantime, a few NFC West-related notes and thoughts:
  • Rams running backs: The St. Louis Rams are visiting with Atlanta Falcons free-agent running back Jerious Norwood. A deal could be in the works, Tony Softli notes. Cadillac Williams is another option. Finding a backup for Steven Jackson stands as a priority for the Rams this offseason. Norwood is 28 years old and played in only two games last season, but Rams general manager Billy Devaney knows him well. Devaney and Norwood were together on the Falcons. Devaney also knows what the Rams need behind Jackson. This could be a good fit. But not everyone is sold. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has been bold in saying Jackson has a lost a step and is declining. Given his thinking, Williamson thinks the Rams need more of a workhorse back in the No. 2 role. Williamson: "Norwood is not good enough. I don't think he is physical enough or reliable enough or durable enough to be Jackson's backup. Other than that, the Rams have done great in free agency. Maybe they could still get a Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams. A big, physical back to lighten Jackson's load would be great, and you can get backs cheap now. I don't know why they would settle for Norwood. He's fast in a straight line and good in a dome, but he hasn't done anything in a long time."
  • Seahawks defensive linemen. Free-agent defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson agreed to terms with Seattle, the team confirmed. Seattle fared well last offseason by signing Raheem Brock to one-year deal for a reasonable rate. Brock had 9.0 sacks, but at age 33, he wasn't going to get a long-term deal from a Seattle team looking to go young. Wilkerson, 30, will sign a one-year deal. Will Brock return? It's possible, but I'd be a little surprised. Also for Seattle: Former Rams fullback Mike Karney is visiting, Jim Thomas reports. Oakland tight end Zach Miller already visited. No word yet on his plans.
  • Kevin Kolb signed his contract. The Cardinals made the announcement Wednesday. Kolb's deal runs through the 2016 season. The moves Arizona has made on its offensive line stand out as critical to giving Kolb a chance. Re-signing Lyle Sendlein and adding Daryn Colledge helped. Getting Deuce Lutui almost accidentally was a bonus. Lutui has more motivation to succeed after failing his physical in Cincinnati. The Cardinals would be nervous about Lutui's conditioning had they given him a big contract in free agency. Adding Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack as insurance rounded out the depth. Rex Hadnot is still there, too. Those things said, drafting a few linemen would help, too.
  • The 49ers' plan in free agency. The 49ers are taking heat for doing little in free agency. Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke are new to their roles. They've been guarded about revealing their plans. I get that part of it, but they should and probably will become more adept at explaining their approach. There's no shame in laying low during free agency. Green Bay and Pittsburgh can attest to that. But if the 49ers are going to take that approach, they could help their fans by explaining why.

OK, time's running short. I'll check in as soon as the travel schedule allows.

Note: This item initially referred to Wednesday instead of Tuesday because I'm horrible at remembering days of the week. They run together.
Running back Steven Jackson is the only player to earn Pro Bowl honors with the St. Louis Rams over the past three seasons.

Jackson
Jackson
It's safe to say he'll be the first player from any NFL team to earn a "Webby" award if the online video he helped produce beats out candidates from ESPN, Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Times and the Onion.

"A Week in the Life of Steven Jackson" was very well done, I thought, and worth watching even if the Rams aren't your team.

A few highlights, as noted in a previous item:
  • Part One. Check out Jackson's routine following the Rams' 2010 road trip to San Francisco. He gets home after 1 a.m., decompresses in an ice tub and then crawls into bed under an oxygen tent.
  • Part Two. Jackson reflects on calling teammate Sam Bradford from a surgery bed, congratulating him on being the first player drafted and assuring Bradford that he would alleviate pressure from the rookie. We see Jackson and fullback Mike Karney watching Thursday night football, with Jackson working on a lollipop. "Six-foot-2, 245 pounds, 5 percent body fat ... and he's eating a sucker," Karney jokes.
  • Part Three. The doctor at the rehabilitation clinic Jackson frequents recalls his star patient walking with his body at an odd angle while playing through a herniated disc in his back during the 2009 season. Why would Jackson fight through such an injury during a 1-15 season? Jackson says he wants opponents to know he's not going to stop coming at them almost no matter how hard they hit him.
More here.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have a big hole at safety now that Oshiomogho Atogwe has agreed to terms with the Redskins. Thomas: "In the end, Atogwe chose a coach he is familiar with in Jim Haslett, but just as important is the fact that Haslett's system probably is a better match with Atogwe's skills. He didn't have as much freedom to roam the field and maximize his playmaking skills under Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, playing more in the box -- like a strong safety would -- and being used more as a blitzer." Craig Dahl, James Butler and Darian Stewart become the Rams' top three safeties minus Atogwe. The team clearly has a need at the position now.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says a lockout would hurt the Rams in particular. Miklasz: "Yes, all 32 teams have roster issues that can't be tackled right now. But how many have a second-year QB who must learn a new playbook, get on the same page with a new coordinator and connect with a new wide receiver? Things are awfully quiet at Rams Park. Some NFL teams have spent money this offseason by re-signing their own players or players released by other franchises. But the Rams haven't signed anyone. Just the opposite; they released fullback Mike Karney and made safety and team leader O.J. Atogwe a free agent by declining to pay an optional roster bonus. There's more work to do in St. Louis than most places."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com looks at how a lockout would hurt the 49ers. Maiocco: "There can be no player movement until there is a new CBA in place. Free agency will begin only when there's a labor agreement. The 49ers are prohibited from pursuing trades for a quarterback, such as Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb or Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, until there's a new CBA. It's possible the first opportunity the 49ers -- or any other team -- will have to add players will come April 28-30 during the NFL draft. The 49ers own 10 draft picks." It's looking more like labor talks could avert a lockout.

Sam Good of 49ers.com profiles former 49ers safety Eason Ramson, who has battled through substance abuse and other problems since retiring from football. Good: "The pain started when he was a little kid and was the driving force behind everything Ramson did. From becoming a star athlete in Sacramento, to earning his scholarship to Washington State, to becoming an NFL player, and even his drug addiction. It all stemmed from the pain. Ramson isn’t sure if his father ever loved him; he never heard him say it, and it’s a question that still lingers. If he did love his son, the elder Ramson never showed it. He was a provider – food, clothes, shelter – but that was it. No bonding, no hugs, not even an occasional pat on the back. Instead of fatherly advice, Ramson’s dad told his son, 'You’re never gonna be nothing.' "

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have incentive to get a labor deal done.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has this to say about a lockout in relation to the 49ers: "Consider that seven other teams also have new head coaches, but, unlike Harbaugh, those coaches were NFL head coaches or coordinators last year. In addition, those seven teams all have more stable quarterback situations than San Francisco, which only has journeyman David Carr under contract."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider checks in with tackle Joe Staley for thoughts on the labor situation.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the recently released Chris Baker, 31, was the oldest of four tight ends on the Seahawks' roster. The team also released quarterback Nate Davis in a move that begs for some explanation. Davis was a project and it was unclear whether he would fit with the Seahawks' offense, but there was no obvious advantage to the timing of his release.

Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog notes that Baker was due to receive a $500,000 bonus on the seventh day of the new league year. That helps explain why the Seahawks released Baker now. Baker finished the 2010 season on injured reserve. Fellow tight ends Cameron Morrah and John Carlson made key contributions in the playoffs.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Matt Hasselbeck will have suitors in free agency.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals players have honored safety Matt Ware with the Ed Block Courage Award after Ware continued playing following a diagnosis showing he has Type I diabetes. Note: "Ware's return to the football field in 2010 was remarkable on multiple fronts. He has overcome Type I Diabetes and arthroscopy on his right knee following the 2008 season. His 2009 season was shortened by a knee injury that ended December 16, 2009, when he sprained his right knee ACL and MCL ligaments. Ware was first diagnosed in March of 2009 with Type I Diabetes. He had suffered from fatigue, an increase in thirst and a 15-pound weight loss during a three-week period. It was during the rehabilitation phase of his knee injury he began to experience the diabetic symptoms that slowed his workouts. His appetite had increased and his thirst mechanism was insatiable. Matt was referred to an endocrinologist for screening."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com lists Arizona players with expiring contracts.

Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald discusses the Cardinals' quarterback situation with Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio. Fitzgerald on landing a veteran or drafting a quarterback: "You can see it on both sides. You see veteran guys having success, and then you see the Matt Ryans and guys like that who come right in, Mark Sanchez, guys who can do it. I’m just about winning. We want to have success, and I know my coaches and teammates feel the same way. Whatever the way it is, I am for it."

Around the NFC West: Tapping 49ers' past

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Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and staff plan to watch videos showing former coach Bill Walsh and various offensive coordinators installing the offense used during the 1980s. Harbaugh plans to run a version of that offense. Maiocco: "The 49ers recently received a shipment of tapes and DVDs from NFL Films that contains videos of Walsh and some of his offensive coordinators through the years installing the offense. The 49ers' library of videos at the team's offices in Santa Clara had been decimated through the years with numerous coaches 'borrowing' the resources and failing to return them. But through the years, NFL Films backed up many of the tapes. The 49ers taped all meetings during Walsh's time with the club. The 49ers are currently cataloging the contents of the box, and soon Harbaugh and his staff will have a chance to view the videos."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at quarterbacks drafted recently and where NFL teams selected them.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with general manager John Schneider for thoughts on the Super Bowl. Schneider left the Packers after the 2009 season. Schneider: "I’m really excited for everybody there. I’ve compared the people in Green Bay’s building in a very similar manner to the people here. As soon as you walk into the building here, you can tell there are just really good people and a vibe in the building." Packers GM Ted Thompson left the Seahawks one year before they appeared in a Super Bowl.

Mike Salk and Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle examine four Seattle players facing uncertain futures. On Aaron Curry: "Thirty games into his professional career it is hard to find areas of real growth and development in Curry’s game. He struggles to play in space, change direction, redirect receivers, recognize schemes and concepts, and play with any level of anticipation. He can maul a tight end at the point of attack, and use his physical attributes in a straight line bull rush, but there are many linebackers across the league that can perform those duties."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, emphasized pressure as a top priority. Horton: "I'm here to say right now, the first call is going to be a blitz. No question about it."

Also from Somers: Horton made a positive first impression. Somers: "While this is his first job as coordinator, Horton handled his introductory news conference like he had been there before. He was direct, succinct and approachable. I watched him afterward conduct one-on-one interviews with local television stations. While he repeated the same message -- pressure, pressure and more pressure -- he gave each one a little something different. He remembered every interviewer's name and took the time to introduce himself to an intern. Does that stuff matter? Maybe not. But I have had the chance to interview Horton three times over the past week, twice at the Super Bowl, and was impressed each time by his intelligence and ability to convey his message."

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer says Bengals assistant Louis Cioffi will be joining Horton on the Cardinals' staff. Horton and Cioffi coached together on the Bengals. Reedy: "Cioffi, 37, joined the Bengals in 1997 as a defensive assistant. Horton was hired as defensive backs the same year and coached five seasons here. Horton was also with the Bengals are six seasons as a player and was part of the ’88 team that advanced to Super Bowl XXIII."

Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio says the Cardinals let go secondary coaches Donnie Henderson and Rick Courtright.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for thoughts on Horton. LeBeau: "There was never question in my mind he is ready to be a coordinator. He understands the A's to the Z's of defensive football and he’s an extremely bright man. He had a great rapport with the players. He was one of those players who you recognize almost instantly was going to make a great coach."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether Mike Karney's recent release means the Rams are shifting away from Steven Jackson toward Sam Bradford. Jim Thomas: "Karney already was being phased out late in the 2010 season when he didn’t dress for four games. But there’s no doubt losing Karney isn’t great news for Jackson. It’s another sign that the offense is being tilted more toward Bradford than Jackson." True fullbacks are having a harder time finding their way onto the field, particularly when they do not contribute much on special teams. Devoting a roster spot to Karney was increasingly difficult last season even though the Rams' offense did value the fullback in certain personnel groupings.

Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman checks in with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford for thoughts on learning a new offense. Bradford was attending an Oklahoma basketball game. Bradford on a potential lockout: "I think it hampers me and my teammates as much as we let it. Even though there could be a lockout, there could be a strike, we’re gonna have to get together. I think we all understand the importance of the offseason. It’s definitely way too important to let it go by without us being together."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has been spending time with quarterback Alex Smith, on and off the field. Maiocco: "Harbaugh and Smith have met several times face-to-face. And they have even gone out together to the practice field behind the team's Santa Clara complex. ... Asked whether he used his on-field interaction with Smith as a chance to work on mechanics and fundamentals or whether it was just a way to break the ice, Harbaugh answered, 'Both.'" Smith, though without a contract for the 2011 season, remains the 49ers' best option at quarterback, and that will not change until the NFL has a new labor agreement and/or holds its draft. Harbaugh might as well figure out whether he thinks Smith is salvageable at this stage.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up Kevin Kolb and Nnamdi Asomugha in terms of how they would fit with the 49ers. Barrows on Kolb: "First, the Eagles likely will be able to leverage several quarterback-starved teams against each other. Second, the 49ers are the most quarterback-starved team in the league right now. They need to increase their options -- and it's likely that the draft will be the only vehicle to do so -- before they start looking for a trade."

Michael Crabtree of the 49ers identifies Alvin Harper as his favorite receiver growing up. Crabtree: "I liked the way he caught the football, especially the way he jumped for it."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin remains in limbo amid conflicting reports about whether teams can designate franchise players.

Kent Somers and Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic say Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton is the favorite to become the Cardinals' defensive coordinator. The team also requested permission to speak with Packers assistant Winston Moss. Somers and McManaman: "The Cardinals requested permission from the Steelers on Tuesday to interview linebackers coach Keith Butler and Horton. Butler, however, is under contract for 2011, and the Steelers denied the request. The Steelers see Butler as the heir apparent to current defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, which explains why they wouldn't allow the Cardinals to interview him. Horton, 50, is working under an expiring contract and is free to take the Cardinals job, if offered."

ESPN's Adam Schefter says Horton and the Cardinals expect to get a deal done. Schefter: "It's also expected that former Steelers defensive back Deshea Townsend will be hired as an assistant under Horton, sources said."

Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com checks in with Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto for details regarding Seto's near-hiring as UCLA defensive coordinator. One report suggested UCLA pulled back its offer after Seto posted news of his imminent hiring on Facebook. Seto: "I didn't post anything on my Facebook page. They may be talking about some people close to me maybe congratulating me. Leaving messages on my wall. But I didn't write anything. My intentions were not to get the news out. Maybe I shouldn't have told as many friends and family. I was just so excited. And we were scheduled for a press conference on Wednesday."

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says Seahawks general manager John Schneider's association with Packers GM Ted Thompson helps explain why Schneider makes personnel moves unapologetically. Thiel: "Both he and head coach Pete Carroll are unafraid of personal or public sentiment when it comes to talent evaluations. If they had been in Seattle in the post-Super Bowl year of 2006, it’s doubtful they would have given Alexander the contract extension that subsequently became such a burden. He had reached his expiration date at the Super Bowl, but few wanted to believe it. So, Carroll and Schneider didn’t flinch when it came to unloading T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson or Deion Branch, vets with a lot left in their tanks (as they proved elsewhere). The Seahawks had to eat parts of their burdensome contracts in a year that management privately sought to clean out big salaries in preparation for the aftermath of what seems an inevitable stoppage next month."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest sizes up Seattle's receivers.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says a work stoppage in the NFL would be particularly bad for an ascending team with clear needs. Gordon: "This impasse is especially bad for the Rams, a potential 2011 breakout team that has so much work to do between now and September. The Rams football staff can assess their players and grade the incumbents due new contracts. Executives, coaches and scouts can prepare for the NFL Draft, too, but they can’t size up the free-agent marketplace. Which players will become free agents? Right now, the Rams can only guess. Which teams will have to move big salaries to solve salary cap problems? Without a CBA in place, that is a non-issue."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Mike Karney following the fullback's release from the Rams. Karney: "It's been an open, good relationship throughout this whole thing. I have no animosity. I'm not bitter. I'm just happy that the decision's been made and both parties can move forward. They've made a decision to fit the offense towards Sam (Bradford). And I respect that. He's a great quarterback, and obviously the future of the Rams. But it was just nice of them to make the decision early."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he sizes up the Rams' competitive status. Thomas: "I think the Rams are one good offseason away from being truly playoff competitive. That is, a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. Billy Devaney hasn't hit 1.000 as a GM, but I think we can all agree that he's been considerably better than the drafts/free agency that preceded him. Last year's free agency was pretty good, by the way: Fred Robbins was a good pickup at DT; and Na'il Diggs was a solid pickup at OLB." Acquiring Mark Clayton from Baltimore also worked out well, while it lasted. Bradford and second-round left tackle Rodger Saffold combined to give the Rams a solid draft, too.
Running back Steven Jackson and fullback Mike Karney became fast friends on the St. Louis Rams.

Jackson welcomed running behind a big fullback. Karney relished blocking for one of the NFL's most physical runners. A recent video production showed the two hanging out and watching football together.

The Rams shifted away from using a traditional fullback last season, however, and Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the team is taking a more decisive step -- beginning with Karney's release from the team. Karney turns 30 this summer. He started 13 of the 26 games he played during two seasons with the Rams.

Karney had value as a blocker in the running game, but he was not a receiving threat or strong special-teams contributor. That made it tougher to justify keeping him active on game days, particularly with rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui available to play fullback when needed.

Releasing Karney is even less surprising after the Rams hired Josh McDaniels to coordinate their offense. As Denver Broncos coach through Week 13, McDaniels used far more shotgun formations on first and second down than the Rams used over the same stretch. I would expect McDaniels to open up the offense, something that probably would have happened to a degree anyway in quarterback Sam Bradford's second season.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 16, Rams 6

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
11:27
PM ET
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams-Seattle Seahawks game Sunday night:

What it means: Seattle becomes the first team with a losing record to win its division. The Seahawks (7-9) face the New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game at Qwest Field. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The Rams also finished with a 7-9 record, but Seattle held the tiebreaker based on a superior division record (4-2 to 3-3). The Seahawks have now won five NFC West titles in the last seven seasons.

What I liked: Seattle came out aggressively and found Ruvell Martin, an ex-Ram, for a 61-yard gain from a four-receiver grouping. That was about as aggressive as it got in the first half, but at least the Seahawks made one decisive strike. Martin was wide open. The Seahawks also got their running game going, particularly in the second half, and that allowed them to control the game.

What I didn't like: The Rams seemed to forget about Steven Jackson, their only Pro Bowl player, early in the game. They looked like a team with no confidence in their ground game even though Seattle has struggled against the run. They ran an end-around that lost 9 yards. They ran Jackson up the middle from a four-receiver grouping. They got cute with a quick inside handoff to fullback Mike Karney. Seattle, meanwhile, tried to run the ball early despite the sorry state of its ground game this season. Marshawn Lynch carried for minus-4, 12, minus-3, zero, minus-5 and minus-1 yards in the first half. That comes out to six carries for minus-1 yard.

Injurie(s) of note: Seattle lost left guard Chester Pitts to a concussion. Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung returned to the game after aggravating an ankle injury.

Tomorrow's talker: We'll surely hear more about whether the NFL should adjust its playoff seeding formula.

Big revelation: Matt Hasselbeck was healthy enough to serve as the No. 2 quarterback, but the Seahawks did not start him. That surprised me. I thought Seattle would start Hasselbeck if he were healthy enough to play, or else name him the third quarterback. Hasselbeck appeared to be moving and throwing as usual during warmups.

Goat: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw a crushing interception in the fourth quarter as St. Louis was driving toward what could have been the tying touchdown. I'm not sure whether Bradford or receiver Brandon Gibson erred on this one, but the results were costly for St. Louis.

What's next: The Rams hold the 14th overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft. The Seahawks advance to the wild-card round.

Karney active for first time since Week 11

December, 26, 2010
12/26/10
11:53
AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Veteran fullback Mike Karney should be fresh for the St. Louis Rams against the San Francisco 49ers.

Karney, the starter at his position coming into the season, has not played since Week 11. The Rams had phased him out of the offense in part because Karney did not factor on special teams and it was tough to justify setting aside one of 45 game-day roster spots for a part-time blocker.

Karney is active again for two reasons:
  • Karney's replacement, Brit Miller, landed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against Kansas City in Week 15.
  • Rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui is unavailable while recovering from an ankle injury. Hoomanawanui had been lining up at fullback in addition to tight end, providing a measure of flexibility that Karney could not offer.

Rams running back Steven Jackson has expressed support for Karney over the years. He likes running behind Karney in the team's base personnel package featuring two backs and one tight end.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 22, 2010
12/22/10
4:20
PM ET
Arizona: Quarterback Derek Anderson returned to practice following a concussion, but John Skelton remains the starter. It's not yet clear whether Anderson will be the No. 2. The Cardinals placed third receiver Early Doucet on injured reserve. They could also be without return specialist and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is battling a hamstring injury. Both players play significant roles on offense for Arizona. The team likes to use Stephens-Howling and fullback Jason Wright with three wide receivers, including Doucet, on second down in particular. On defense, the Cardinals could be without veteran pass-rusher Joey Porter. This might be a good time to take a longer look at rookie O'Brien Schofield, anyway.

Seattle: Cornerback Marcus Trufant expects to play despite recent back trouble. The team is taking a cautious approach with Trufant during practice just to be safe. Defensive lineman Junior Siavii appears unlikely to play after suffering a stinger injury. Having nose tackle Colin Cole back from injury in recent weeks gives the Seahawks better depth up front.

San Francisco: The 49ers placed pass-rusher Travis LaBoy on injured reserve this week. That leaves Ahmad Brooks as the third member of a three-man pass-rush rotation. LaBoy seemed to be playing well. Linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes made it through the Thursday night game against San Diego despite playing with casts on their broken hands. Having the weekend off should give both players and the team in general a welcome chance to recover heading into the final two games. Left tackle Joe Staley continues to recover from a broken leg, but the 49ers have not placed him on injured reserve. They could get him back for the playoffs if the 49ers win the NFC West title.

St. Louis: Defensive end Chris Long did not practice Wednesday. He's expected to start despite a bruised thigh. Tight end Mike Hoomanawanui was limited and might not return Sunday, as the team had hoped. Ankle problems continue to slow him. Backup running back Kenneth Darby appears on track to return, restoring depth and options for the offense. Veteran fullback Mike Karney appears likely to be active Sunday, a change from recent weeks, because Brit Miller is out for the season and the versatile Hoomanawanui remains limited.

Matt Cassel among active Chiefs vs. Rams

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
11:43
AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has done little during warm-ups at the Edward Jones Dome.

He might play anyway.

Cassel's name was not among the list of inactive players Kansas City submitted 90 minutes before kickoff. The Chiefs named Tyler Palko as their third quarterback. The Chiefs did not immediately disclose any lineup changes. Cassel or Brodie Croyle could start at quarterback.

Cassel has already missed one game since having an appendectomy. He practiced on a limited basis during the week and did not participate fully in warm-ups at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday morning. Croyle and Palko threw intermediate routes to receivers running at full speed. Cassel tossed soft 8-yard passes to a team staffer while working off to the side.

The Chiefs' inactive list featured cornerback Mike Richardson, safety Ricky Price, fullback Mike Cox, safety Reshard Langford, linebacker Charlie Anderson, center Rudy Niswanger and defensive tackle Anthony Toribio.

Inactive for the Rams: safety Michael Lewis, cornerback Justin King, running back Kenneth Darby, fullback Mike Karney, linebacker David Nixon, guard John Greco, receiver Mardy Gilyard and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui.

The situation at running back is a little troubling for the Rams. Darby is the top backup for Steven Jackson. The team has been naming Karney inactive by choice.

Rookie Keith Toston is the No. 2 running back behind Jackson.

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