Arizona: Inside linebacker Gerald Hayes enters the season on the physically unable to perform list. The Cardinals will need rookie Daryl Washington and St. Louis Rams castoff Paris Lenon to hold up against Steven Jackson. On offense, the Cardinals might need their depth at running back. A knee injury kept Beanie Wells from practicing Wednesday. Wells plans to play. Missed practice time can be important for a young running back, especially when that running back is trying to win the coaches' trust across situations. Whether Wells practices Thursday could be important. The Cardinals can count on Tim Hightower in protection. Hightower is going to start whether or not Wells is available. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald participated fully in practice Wednesday, as promised, after using most of the exhibition season to recover from a knee injury. The Cardinals gave linebacker Joey Porter the day off, but he's expected to start.
St. Louis: A knee injury has sidelined veteran safety James Butler, who was limited in practice Wednesday, but the Rams have pretty good depth at the position as long as Craig Dahl and Oshiomogho Atogwe remain available. Jackson's surgically repaired back hasn't been an issue through training camp. He's added upper-body muscle and weighed 244 pounds. The Rams look healthy on paper, but eight of their current players finished last season on injured reserve (receiver Laurent Robinson, Atogwe, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, snapper Chris Massey, tight end Daniel Fells, guard Jacob Bell, defensive tackle Gary Gibson and defensive end C.J. Ah You). How well will those players hold up in their first regular-season games back?
San Francisco: Ahmad Brooks, arguably the 49ers' best situation pass-rush threat, is still recovering from a lacerated kidney. He will not play against Seattle. Receiver Michael Crabtree (neck) missed every exhibition game, but rust wasn't a problem for him when reporting deep into the season a year ago. This game also marks tight end Vernon Davis' return to live action following the knee injury he suffered during the first exhibition game. Continuity was a point of emphasis on offense for the 49ers this offseason, but quarterback Alex Smith hasn't enjoyed much game action with Frank Gore, Crabtree and Davis this summer. Throw in a hostile environment with two rookie offensive linemen and the 49ers face some challenges.
Seattle: The Seahawks will play their first regular-season game under Pete Carroll without the first player Carroll drafted. Russell Okung would have been the starting left tackle. Expect the Seahawks to help Okung's replacement in pass protection. They might need to help both tackles at times. That could affect tight end John Carlson's opportunities as a receiver. Seattle was probably going to use two tight ends more frequently anyway. That makes more sense with Okung sidelined. Chester Pitts could start at left tackle, but he's better suited to guard and hasn't played since suffering a knee injury in Week 2 last season. Pitts was limited in practice Wednesday. Tyler Polumbus could start at left tackle Sunday.