NFL Nation: Damon Huard

LockerAP Photo/Elaine ThompsonWashington quarterback Jake Locker didn't appear to do anything to hurt his draft status at his pro day on Wednesday.
SEATTLE -- The guest list for Jake Locker's pro day at the University of Washington offered up a few surprises.

Former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, in town on business, dropped by the Dempsey Indoor facility. Former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira, in town for a meeting related to his role as interim head of Pac-10 officials, also attended.

Former Washington quarterbacks Warren Moon, Damon Huard, Brock Huard (working for ESPN), Hugh Millen, Cary Conklin and Sonny Sixkiller were there.

The quarterback-needy Tennessee Titans sent a large contingent featuring vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and pro scouting director Lake Dawson. Keith Gilbertson (Cleveland Browns), Randy Mueller (San Diego Chargers), Bob Ferguson (Indianapolis Colts) and Mike Sheppard (Jacksonville Jaguars) were among the former Seahawks staffers in attendance.

The Seahawks' current decision-makers and most of their coaches drove over from team headquarters, no surprise given the proximity and coach Pete Carroll's ties to Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, his former USC assistant.

But if the Seahawks' division rivals have any interest in Locker, they hid that interest quite well. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers did not send representatives, to my knowledge. They certainly did not have any high-profile staffers in attendance. That comes as a bit of a surprise given their obvious needs at quarterback and Locker's potential availability early in the second round, if he slips outside the first.

"I never read anything into which teams attend pro days," Locker's agent, David Dunn, said on the field following the workout. "I've had too many players selected by teams that weren't at pro days or didn't even visit with players."

Fair enough, but teams generally pay closer attention to quarterbacks. The 49ers sent Jim Harbaugh to Blaine Gabbert's pro day at Missouri. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt ran Auburn's Cam Newton through various throws at a recent workout.

"With quarterbacks, you want to be able to touch and feel and see how they are as people as well as athletes and players," Dunn said.

Locker was not the only Washington prospect performing for scouts, but he was the main draw. He did nothing obvious to damage his draft stock during the workout. He completed all but a couple of passes while showing fluidity in his drops and a short delivery, according to scouts who agreed to speak in general terms and not for attribution.

"I've never nitpicked a guy like I've nitpicked Locker," one of them said. "The guy is a winner, and at the end of the day that has to count for something."

Locker has been working with former NFL quarterback Ken O'Brien to bring his hand over the top more quickly when delivering the ball.

The controlled environment was set up to make him look good. No NFL coaches or personnel people asked Locker to perform unscripted throws. They watched Locker zip the ball with ample velocity and accuracy most of the time, save for a couple high throws that his overworked wide receiver, D'Andre Goodwin, snatched away from his body.

"I'm focusing on the fluidity of the drop, getting my feet in the right spot and just bringing the hand over the top as quickly as I could, rather than dragging my hand," Locker said afterward. "I have a tendency to do that sometimes. I want to bring my hand over the top and really point that finger at my target. I have been spinning the ball a lot better and it's been coming off my hand a lot better."

Locker's relatively low completion percentage at Washington and his inexperience running a pro-style offense have raised questions about his readiness for the NFL. Can he read defenses? Can he throw accurately and on time from the pocket? To what degree did a weak offensive line and receiving corps hamstring him in college?

I've heard differing opinions from scouts as to how well Locker would fit with the NFC West teams that need quarterbacks (Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco).

"A lot of people seem to have him pinpointed to Seattle at No. 25, but I don’t think that makes any sense at all," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "It works for people who do not know the X’s and O’s of it all. At 25, he has some value. He went to school in that area. It is easy to say that is a good fit, but I think Seattle is going more and more to a pure West Coast offense, and Locker doesn't fit the West Coast offense at all."

The Cardinals pick fifth and the 49ers pick seventh, earlier than Locker is expected to come off the board. Seattle is one of the few quarterback-needy teams picking later in the first round, when Locker figures to become a more likely selection.

"Jake seems to be an acquired taste," Dunn said. "The more you watch him on film, the more that you are around him, the more you like him."

How well Locker would fit with the Seahawks could hinge on the degree to which Williamson is right in his assessment of how Seattle's offense will evolve.

New coordinator Darrell Bevell comes from the Andy Reid/Mike Holmgren branch of the West Coast offense, a branch that relies more heavily on short, precise passes. Before Bevell replaced Jeremy Bates, the Seahawks had been running Mike Shanahan's version of the West Coast system featuring more quarterback movement, hard play-action fakes and deeper throws requiring greater arm strength.

Carroll, who attended the workout Wednesday, has said the Seahawks do not plan to significantly diverge from the system they ran last season. But it's plausible to think that Bevell's background could steer them away to some degree.

"You do have to be a precise passer in a Bill Walsh, traditional West Coast offense," Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFL Draft Scout, said from the Dempsey Indoor facility. "But I like any offense that is going to use Jake Locker's mobility as an asset rather than just keeping him pinned in that pocket. If you can use his legs as a weapon, that is where he has been his most accurate. He made significant improvements in his accuracy from the so-called pocket in this workout, but at the same time, his strength remains throwing on the move."

Rang said he would draft Locker in the first round as long as the team in question has a veteran starter in place.

I stood next to Moon, the retired Hall of Famer, throughout the workout. Moon said he sees the NFL game evolving to favor quarterbacks with mobility. Life for traditional pocket passers is getting tougher, in his view. Locker's athleticism and scrambling ability separate him from most prospects. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, a time that holds up against those posted by some wide receivers. But quarterbacks must also succeed as pocket passers to make it in the NFL.

"Locker is pretty accurate outside the pocket," Williamson said, "but as far as going 1-2-3 and getting it out, having good footwork, hitting a guy in stride, he is terrible. I don’t see that fit at all. I do not think he is going to be the precise passer Harbaugh is looking for, either. I can see someone like Arizona being really interested in him in Round 2. They might like a more 'toolsy' guy, like a Ben Roethlisberger."

Williamson sees Locker appealing to a coach such as Shanahan, who might see Locker as a cross between Jay Cutler and Jake Plummer, two quarterbacks Shanahan coached in Denver. That's the type of quarterback Seattle was seeking when Jeremy Bates was coordinating their offense. It's the type of quarterback the Seahawks might still value if Bevell installs the type of system Carroll has favored previously.

"I don't know in the NFL right now if people run different offenses," Sarkisian said. "It's so much of a copycat league and everybody runs so many things that are similar that it's hard to say that New England is different than Pittsburgh that is different than Seattle that is different from the Chargers. They all have their focal points, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of similarities. Things will be tailored for him [Locker], like they are for every quarterback, but I just think he fits in as an NFL quarterback."

Rare err: Tom Brady INTs a limited edition

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
4:40
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Tom Brady and Brodney PoolJim Rogash/Getty ImagesTom Brady, left, has gone a remarkable 319 attempts without an interception this season.
Mere mention of the stat elicits astonished replies. Professional athletes and coaches -- grown men who have seen a few things in their day -- stammer in awe.

"That's ... That's ... That's ... That's something else," Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found the number "mind-boggling," and he owns a Harvard economics degree.

"It's ... I mean," Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said before a contemplative pause to gather his thoughts. "It blows my mind a little bit, to be honest with you."

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has thrown four interceptions this year. He hasn't misfired once since Oct. 17, a record span of 319 attempts and counting.

Brady has been the ultimate mistake minimalist. With one game left in a phenomenal season, he could finish with the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback to start more than 10 games.

"Even the best quarterbacks have something they give away," New York Jets safety Brodney Pool said. "He really doesn't. It's hard for opposing DBs to get a clue. He's very smart. He knows where to go with the ball and knows the weaknesses of the coverages.

"You can try to hold a coverage, but even if you trick him one time he'll come back the next time and you won't know what hit you."

Brady has a 0.84 interception percentage. The NFL record of 0.41 was set by former Brady backup Damon Huard with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. Huard threw one interception, but that was with 10 starts and only 244 attempts.

Carr
Carr
Pool
Pool
Brady's interceptions have been limited to two games. If the Dolphins don't pick him off Sunday in Gillette Stadium, then Brady will join Steve DeBerg as the only quarterbacks not to be intercepted in 14 starts. DeBerg also threw four interceptions in 1990, but Brady already has 32 more attempts than DeBerg had that year.

Pool and Carr comprise half the membership of the exclusive "I Intercepted Brady In 2010 Club." Also in are Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and former Ravens safety Ken Hamlin, now of the Indianapolis Colts.

Hamlin
Hamlin
Cromartie
Cromartie
Neither Pool nor Carr keeps the footballs from his big plays. In retrospect, Pool says he regrets not hanging onto his Brady ball.

"You know what?" Pool admitted. "I thought about that after the game: 'Man, that was Tom Brady. That's pretty special.' I should've kept it."

That baby was a limited edition.

"I don't keep any balls," Carr said. "A ball is a ball to me. It probably would end up lost in my house, laying around somewhere."

That's right. Carr's chances of losing that ball -- even with nobody trying to steal it -- probably would be higher than Brady's.

"Sport Science" examined the likelihood of a quarterback not throwing an interception in 319 straight attempts.

Since Brady's last interception, quarterbacks around the league have thrown 296 of them, 2.9 percent of all attempts. Based on those averages, the chances of dodging an interception on 319 straight throws would be 0.00837 percent -- or one in 11,947.

Math is one thing. Where a fellow quarterback such as Fitzpatrick or an opposing coach like Sparano has comprehension problems is when they consider how Brady has skirted all those happenstances that cause interceptions.

A tip, a bobble, a defender hitting the quarterback's arm as he throws, a receiver falling down, a badly gripped football in the snow, a wind gust altering trajectory just enough ...

Brady's season is even more incredible when considering the Patriots receivers are second only to the Detroit Lions in drops this year. ESPN Stats & Information has charted 36 drops for the Patriots and a league-worst 11 for Wes Welker.

"A tipped ball has haunted us three or four times this season in different ways, whether it's just fluttering up in the air or lands on the ground," Sparano said. "To think that not one of those -- not one of those things -- is happening in 300-plus attempts is pretty impressive."

Most of the four interceptions Brady did throw weren't his fault. Three of them were deep balls. Two were long passes to Randy Moss, who's no longer on the team. Moss twice tipped the ball into the air before Pool swooped in and made a tippy-toe grab at the sideline. The play originally was ruled incomplete and overturned on video review.

Hamlin fielded Brady's last interception, a Hail Mary skyball that sailed 48 yards through the air and into the end zone on the last play before overtime against the Ravens.

Since that play, Brady has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,536 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Carr stressed that interception-avoidance isn't about luck with Brady. He's a great quarterback within a proficient offensive structure. The Patriots often have a lead and rarely play from more than one score behind, erasing the need for Brady to force throws late in games.

"It's more quarterback than system," Carr said. "If you put any other quarterback in that system, he's not going to have that streak. You put Brady in any system and he's going to be successful."

Joe Montana threw at least seven interceptions each season he made 10 starts. Dan Marino never threw fewer than nine interceptions in any season he started at least 10 games.

John Elway had double-digit interceptions every year he played. Brett Favre threw a career-low seven interceptions once as a starter, but never fewer than 13 interceptions any other season.

Peyton Manning has a pair of four-interception games this year. Drew Brees has one also.

A search of Pro-Football-Reference.com turns up seven Hall of Fame quarterbacks with at least seven "quadriception" games on their ledgers since 1960. George Blanda had 18, Joe Namath 15 and Terry Bradshaw 12.

Brady owns five four-interception games.

Yet he's one game away from closing out a four-interception season.

Criminy, the Patriots' defense has returned that many interceptions for touchdowns this year.

"He doesn't stare down receivers like some quarterbacks do," Carr said. "He looks off receivers when he does throw the ball down the field. When the receiver's not there, he's going to throw the ball away. When it's time to take a sack, he's going to take a sack.

"He has confidence that 'Hey, if the throw's there I'm going to make it. If it's not, we're going to live to play another series, and we'll score then.' He takes what the defense gives him."

Brady hasn't thrown any interceptions on passes that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air, ESPN Stats & Information notes. And before you dismiss that zero as unimpressive because those are higher-percentage throws, keep in mind Drew Brees has thrown 12 interceptions in this range. Eli Manning has thrown 13.

Brady has 358 passing attempts of 10 yards or shorter. Every quarterback with at least 115 attempts in this category has been intercepted.

Carr noted Brady didn't make a mistake on his interception, a deep pass over the middle to Welker. Carr said the Ravens tricked Brady by doing something unexpected.

But when asked to recount the play, Carr showed deference to Brady's and the Patriots' shrewdness. The Ravens might meet the Patriots again in the playoffs.

"I'm always thinking ahead," Carr said with a chuckle. "I know how smart Brady and them are. They'll read the article. Somebody in the organization will go back and watch the film and get a little bead on that. They're always looking for that advantage."

Dolphins on 15th starting QB since Marino

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
4:21
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Buffalo Bills fans thought they had it rough, trying to find a semblance of quarterback stability since their Hall of Fame quarterback retired in 1996.

With Tyler Thigpen about to become the Miami Dolphins' third starting quarterback of the season, it's time to dust off that long list of quarterbacks to have started since Dan Marino hung up that weird boxing-boot cleat after the 1999 season.

Thigpen will be the 15th quarterback to start a game for Miami since Marino retired.

Only twice in those 11 seasons has a quarterback started all 16 games. Those "perfect seasons" came seven years and 11 new starting quarterbacks apart. The Bills at least had Drew Bledsoe starting 48 straight games from 2002 through 2004.

This will be the fourth season in which at least three quarterbacks started for the Dolphins since Marino retired.

2000: Jay Fiedler (15), Damon Huard (one)

2001: Fiedler (16)

2002: Fielder (10), Ray Lucas (six)

2003: Fiedler (11), Brian Griese (five)

2004: A.J. Feeley (eight), Fiedler (seven), Sage Rosenfels (one)

2005: Gus Frerotte (15), Rosenfels (one)

2006: Joey Harrington (11), Daunte Culpepper (four), Cleo Lemon (one)

2007: Lemon (seven), Trent Green (five), John Beck (four)

2008: Chad Pennington (16)

2009: Chad Henne (13), Pennington (three)

2010: Henne (eight), Pennington (one)

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson


It is being reported that Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel has an MCL sprain in his knee and is expected to miss two to four weeks.

Cassel was hurt when he was sacked early in the game against Seattle on Saturday.

The Chiefs start the season Sept. 13 at Baltimore. It may be difficult for Cassel to heal and get enough practice time in before that game.

Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen are the top backups. Croyle has been running with the No. 2 offense, but Thigpen spelled Cassel when he was injured. The team didn't play Croyle against Seattle.

Croyle seemed to be a better fit for new coach Todd Haley's system than Thigpen, who is more of a freelancer.

Cassel's injury is a major disappointment for the Chiefs. The team has centered its franchise on Cassel, who was given a contract extension that will pay him $40 million in the next three years.

The injury is also concerning for the Chiefs because it further illustrates the Chiefs' problems on the offensive line. Last year, both Croyle and Damon Huard were lost for the season.

Cassel had been on the run most of the preseason before being hurt on the sack.

Now, it looks like the Chiefs may have to turn to a backup quarterback once again.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals

Division Camp Previews
Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
Friday: NFC West | AFC West

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Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates
Training camp site: Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, Ariz.)

Campfires: Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't afraid to make first-round draft choices earn their starting jobs. He benched Matt Leinart coming out of camp last season, then made talented rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wait until near midseason before becoming a full-time starter. The trend could continue this summer as rookie first-round choice Beanie Wells practices with the Cardinals for the first time.

Wells projects as the long-term replacement for Edgerrin James at running back, but Ohio State's late graduation prevented him from participating in minicamps and organized team activities. That means the adjustment period for Wells could take a little longer. Expect Tim Hightower to enter camp as the tentative starter.

Meanwhile, the situation at tight end remains a mystery. Arizona is carrying six tight ends on its roster, one behind the league high. Ben Patrick, the player coaches have tried to develop as a player versatile enough to help as a receiver and blocker, faces a four-game suspension to start the season. That could open the door for Anthony Becht, Leonard Pope or Stephen Spach to seize the starting job. I don't see a clear favorite, particularly with Patrick serving a suspension and Spach coming off knee surgery.

 
  Jeff Mills/Icon SMI
  Will Beanie Wells be able to avoid the injuries that plagued him in college?

Camp will be a downer if ... Wells doesn't immediately prove he can avoid the long list of injuries that affected him in college. Arizona needs a more dynamic runner to run its offense the way Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Russ Grimm want to run it. Wells has the physical ability to provide that missing element. Can he stay on the field and will he fight through some of the ailments that await every running back in the NFL?

The preferred scenario would include Wells breaking a few long runs during the preseason, setting up the play-action passing game that worked so well for Arizona when the team showed more balance in the playoffs last season.

Camp will be a success if ... the reconfigured coaching staff takes control of the team and helps Arizona build on the momentum from its Super Bowl season.

Whisenhunt has stressed continuity during the first two years of his tenure. He kept the same five starters on the offensive line even though right guard Deuce Lutui had penalty problems and center Lyle Sendlein sometimes struggled while playing through a shoulder injury. While the approach worked, continuity wasn't an option for the coaching staff once the Chiefs hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley head coach.

Whisenhunt's decision to fire quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shook up the staff considerably more.

Warner will miss the rapport he enjoyed with Haley. The two appeared inseparable at times and the relationship seemed to benefit Warner on the field. Can the newly configured staff fill the void or otherwise find ways to keep Warner and the offense rolling?

Money men: Key players Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett want lucrative long-term deals.

Franchise player rules will force Dansby to wait, and he should be content "settling" for a one-year franchise deal worth nearly $9.7 million. The volatile Dockett has also committed to letting his play do the talking, a good sign for the team.

While Boldin put aside his concerns to produce last season, his situation bears monitoring. Another year without a new contract probably equates to a higher frustration level. Boldin, generally the consummate pro, might have a harder time dealing with the situation -- particularly if the team fails to meet expectations.


San Francisco 49ers
Training camp site: 49ers headquarters (Santa Clara, Calif.)
 
  Kyle Terada/US Presswire
  Can Shaun Hill distinguish himself to claim the starting QB job?

Campfires: The 49ers have quite a few position battles for a team that finished strong and feels good about its chances for contending within the division.

The quarterback race will rightfully command the most attention. Coach Mike Singletary said the players will know whether Shaun Hill or Alex Smith should be the starter, at which point Singletary will merely affirm what they know. That means Smith's status as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 will not afford him any advantage in the competition. Hill's 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter over the last two seasons gives him the edge.

On defense, Dashon Goldson would have to flop or suffer another injury for the older and less athletic Mark Roman to take back his job at free safety. Dre Bly has the edge over Tarell Brown at right corner. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers' first-round choice in 2008, could push for a starting job at left defensive end.

Camp will be a downer if ... both quarterbacks flounder and veteran Damon Huard appears to be the best option. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the scenario isn't as laughable as it should be. Neither Hill nor Smith distinguished himself during the competition a year ago. Even if Mike Martz was playing favorites when he installed J.T. O'Sullivan as the starter, the fact remains that O'Sullivan enjoyed the strongest preseason of the three.

The new offensive system should better suit Hill in particular, and the 49ers have declared this quarterback race a two-man affair, ruling out Huard as a contender. Still, after years of backing up Trent Green, Tom Brady and Dan Marino, Huard wound up starting three of the first five games in Kansas City last season when the unaccomplished Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were his primary competitors.

Camp will be a success if ... Hill validates his 7-3 record as the 49ers' starter, right tackle Marvel Smith makes it through training camp healthy and the push toward a full-time 3-4 defense validates Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson as promising pass-rushers.

Hitting on all three of those might be asking a bit much, but getting two of them right might be enough, particularly if the 49ers feel good about the quarterback situation.

On the receiving end: It's a little surprising to see the 49ers emerge with their deepest group of receivers in years after committing to Singletary's smashmouth approach. The change to Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was all about making smarter use of the players general manager Scot McCloughan and former coach Mike Nolan had acquired in recent years.

That meant -- and still means -- forging an identity in the ground game. Yet, while receivers Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Josh Morgan will not be battling Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for Pro Bowl berths this season, they do give the 49ers better potential than they've enjoyed recently.

Singletary's smashmouth roots should not and likely will not dissuade the 49ers from making frequent use of those receivers.


Seattle Seahawks

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  The Seahawks must get Matt Hasselbeck through training camp unscathed.

Training camp site: Seahawks headquarters (Renton, Wash.)

Campfires: The Seahawks weren't going to pretend that first-round choice Aaron Curry would have to prove himself in camp to earn a starting job. They put the fourth overall choice in the lineup from the beginning. No suspense there.

Most positions in Seattle appear settled. The situation at receiver should produce intrigue with Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and rookie burner Deon Butler fighting to get on the field with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson. Injuries will probably help sort out the situation. Burleson is returning from ACL surgery. Branch is entering his first full season since undergoing his own ACL procedure.

Don't be surprised if rookie second-round choice Max Unger pushes for playing time somewhere in the interior of the offensive line. He projects as the long-term starter at center if Chris Spencer plays out his contract and leaves following this season.
If Spencer holds the job, Unger figures to find his way onto the field in one of the guard spots, perhaps this year.

Camp will be a downer if  ... quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's back injury flares up at any point along the way. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks say the quarterback has long since overcome the problems that helped limit him to seven starts last season. They didn't know the extent of the problem a year ago when they assured fans that Hasselbeck would be fine for the regular season. The issue is under control now, they say, but the very nature of back injuries should raise at least some concern heading into a pivotal season for the organization. 

Camp will be a success if ... Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney put to rest concerns about their long-term health. Beyond the obvious injury storylines, this camp becomes a success for Seattle if Curry validates coach Jim Mora's opinion that the linebacker's pass-rushing abilities are indeed far stronger than anticipated on draft day.

Seattle badly needs to restore its pass rush to better compete against the Cardinals' passing game in a broader effort to overtake Arizona in the division. Kerney is the key, but the Seahawks are also counting on pressure from other sources: Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and possibly Leroy Hill. Significant pass-rush help from Curry would offset Julian Peterson's departure while making it easier for the Seahawks to justify having drafted a linebacker fourth overall.

Learning curve: By all accounts, the two years Mora spent in the background watching Mike Holmgren operate should leave him better prepared to handle his second head-coaching job. The way Holmgren handled everything from players to the media differed quite a bit from the more freewheeling approach Mora displayed with the Falcons.

Lessons learned? Yes, but it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks' leadership -- operating without Holmgren for the first time since 1998 -- will respond under pressure if things go wrong early.


St. Louis Rams
Training camp site: Rams Park (Earth City, Mo.)

 
  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
  Will Marc Bulger be able to regain his old form behind a revamped offensive line?

Campfires: The Rams need to figure out what they have at receiver, linebacker and left cornerback after overhauling their roster.

Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Drew Bennett, Trent Green, Anthony Becht, Corey Chavous, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Brian Leonard, Gary Stills, Jason Craft, Ricky Manning, Fakhir Brown, La'Roi Glover, Dane Looker, Travis Minor, Dante Hall, Nick Leckey and Brett Romberg were among the former starters and role players cast aside in the makeover.

None was irreplaceable. Getting rid of them was the easy part. Identifying and developing adequate replacements will take time.

Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble.

Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them. 

Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons.

The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.

Fantasy spin: Running back Steven Jackson should not hurt for opportunities now that the Rams have landed a 320-pound center (Brown, free agent from the Ravens) and a 258-pound fullback (Mike Karney, late of the Saints). The Rams will try to develop their young receivers, but rarely should any of them represent a more formidable option than Jackson. And if he gets some luck with injuries, look out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Previously: The draft and meaningful free-agent signings have passed. Trades remain possible, but less likely as training camps approach. Barring a surprise or two, what you see on NFC West rosters is pretty much what you're going to get for the 2009 season. Where are the Rams, 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals most vulnerable?

Today: I've weaved my thoughts into the conversation and posted the results below. Thanks for participating. We'll begin with the defending NFC champion Cardinals, followed by the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu can feel a difference in how the team is practicing under new coach Jim Mora. The team focused more on pursuit drills during its recent minicamp. Tatupu: "A little hard work never hurt anybody. Not to say we weren't working hard before, but I feel the difference in the practices. And I tell you one thing, we'll be one of the best conditioned teams in the league. So it won't be for a lack of effort if we suffer any losses." 

Also from Williams: He checks in with new Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks Arizona State tackle Eben Britton could help the Seahawks' offensive line, and that Seattle could have interest in him if Britton slips past the middle of the first round.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Tatupu is seeking redemption following a 4-12 season in 2008. At least he no longer challenges opponents to fights following defeats.

VanRam of Turf Show Times looks at what might be one of the worst NFL drafts at the top, according to analysts. VanRam: "Trading down would be great, but it just doesn't seem like a very realistic possibility. That might depend on USC QB Mark Sanchez's draft stock, which seems to be rising based on comparison to [Matthew] Stafford. If conventional wisdom emerges that he's the better NFL QB, taking him at #2 isn't a stretch, which means the Rams could possibly lure a QB hungry team into a trade."

The 49ers' Web site provides a transcript of Damon Haurd's interview with reporters after the team signed the backup quarterback. Huard on head coach Mike Singletary: "I like him a lot. I think he's very honest, straight-forward. He tells it like it is and as a player, you appreciate that. Everyone respects him, not only as a coach, but for what he did as a player. I think when your head coach is a former player and has been through those battles that we've all been through, he understands the experience and knows how to treat the players. He knows how to relate to the players. I think at the end of the day that just makes you a better football team."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says pass-rusher could be the 49ers' biggest need heading into the draft. Draft analyst Rob Rang: "Cody Brown of Connecticut is getting a lot of attention in the third or maybe fourth round. If you want to go up a round, probably Clint Sintim of Virginia. He played on one of the very few teams that run a 3-4 defense in college. He was coached by Al Groh, so he's going to come in and be more pro-ready than a lot of guys. So he makes some sense."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee explains why he thinks the 49ers will not draft Aaron Maybin with the 10th overall choice. Barrows: "For one thing, he's an underclassman who started only one full season at Happy Valley. GM Scot McCloughan prefers seniors. More concerning, however, is Maybin's size. He weighed in at 249 pounds at the combine in February but played at Penn State at a much lower weight, about 235 pounds."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are visiting with college running backs, no surprise. Donald Brown, Knowshon Moreno, Shonn Greene and Chris Wells could interest them.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 sizes up the Cardinals' all-time offensive line. Dan Dierdorf, Ernie McMillan, Conrad Dobler and Ken Gray make the cut. Still undecided: whether Bob DeMarco or Tom Banks will be the center. I never saw either man play. Hopefully I'll remember to ask someone who did.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ralph Barbieri of KNBR radio provoked testy responses from 49ers coach Mike Singletary by repeatedly asking him about Kurt Warner after Singletary kept telling him he wanted to cover other topics. The interview ended on a friendly note. Along the way, Singletary said Shaun Hill was the 49ers' starting quarterback -- for now. Singletary: "I would envision at some point in time we make a decision on whether Shaun Hill is going to be the starting quarterback or whether it is going to be Alex Smith. But I can tell you right now, today, based on what he did last year, he is the starting quarterback." Damon Huard will be strictly a backup, Singletary said.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are optimistic about their defense after dropping the "hybrid" from their hybrid 3-4 scheme. We will probably find out more definitively whether Manny Lawson can become a strong outside pass-rusher. The 49ers envisioned him as someone for which opposing quarterbacks would have to account at the snap.

Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith threw the ball relatively well for a man coming off such a long layoff. His arm strength and throwing motion appeared fine. Maiocco: "This was a good minicamp for Dashon Goldson, Manny Lawson, Brandon Jones and Alex Smith."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Vernon Davis' over-the-shoulder grab from Shaun Hill was a highlight. Barrows: "I paid careful attention to the end-of-practice, sideline-to-sideline gassers the team was running. Once again, Patrick Willis, Alex Smith, Reggie Smith, Lewis Baker and Goldson were among the winners. Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Chilo Rachal and Ahmad Brooks brought up the rear."

Also from Barrows: Justin Smith hopes the 49ers can become a top-10 defense. Meanwhile, the team is about two weeks away from being able to use the massive training hill under construction at Singletary's urging.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News provides additional details on the hill. Brown: "Singletary used to run hills himself during his playing days, as did Hall-of-Fame teammate Walter Payton. The 49ers' Jerry Rice was famous for his sprint work in the hills of San Carlos. Singletary said that athletes who trained that way 'were a cut above some of the other competition around the league and had a long playing career.'"

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says Hill remained anonymous during the offseason despite emerging as the 49ers' best quarterback in 2008.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary plans to make the 49ers work -- hard -- during their offseason program. Crumpacker: "Singletary cautioned his players at the end of the season that they had better be prepared to work when the offseason program began. So it was in a minicamp Friday and Saturday when the players were put through 50-minute circuit training sessions featuring short sprints, change of direction, lateral movement and running with weighted bags."

StrictlyFootball of Niners Nation looks at Frank Gore's declining production and weights two primary factors: injuries and instability at quarterback. The 49ers expect to draft a bigger back to carry some of the load.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 sizes up California center Alex Mack as a potential Cardinals draft choice. Andrew602: "Regardless of whether he stumbles or not, Mack will become the anchor of the line for whoever drafts him. He works hard in the weight room and is always trying to improve his skills. Once he polishes certain aspects of his game, he will be able to start for a team if they needed him too."

Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog wonders how closely the Seahawks were looking at Knowshon Moreno during the pro day featuring Matthew Stafford. Staton: "The only marker you could place against Moreno is that he isn't a four-year starter. But let's be honest, how many running backs are these days? He played two solid years for a big school in a pro-style offense. That should be enough compensation."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com questions the Seahawks' wisdom in letting fullback Leonard Weaver leave through free agency. The team could sign Justin Griffith instead.

Chris Harry of the Orlando Sentinel checks in with former Rams coach Jim Haslett, who is coaching the Orlando franchise in the upstart UFL. Haslett: "I know that when I was in my office on a Thursday night that I would sit there and watch a Division I-AA game if it was on. And I'm like a lot of people -- people love football I'm going to have fun with this." Jay Gruden is serving as Haslett's offensive coordinator. The story says UFL coaches will earn around $500,000 per season. That's less than Haslett would have earned as an NFL defensive coordinator, but still great money, obviously.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines sweeping changes to the Rams' offensive line following the team's decision to release Orlando Pace. Stick with me here. The tentative plan would be for right tackle Alex Barron to take over at left tackle. Left guard Jacob Bell would move to right tackle. Second-year pro John Greco would take over at left guard. Free-agent addition Jason Brown, signed to a reworked contract Tuesday, takes over at center. Richie Incognito would remain at right guard. Selecting a starting left tackle with the second overall choice in the 2009 draft would change the picture again.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the quarterback race between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith also includes newly signed 49ers veteran Damon Huard. While the point is valid -- J.T. O'Sullivan emerged unexpectedly last offseason -- the organization won't be deferring to Mike Martz this time.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks the 49ers should install Hill as their starting quarterback from the beginning of the 2009 season. Maiocco: "The best way to handle Smith is to ease him back in. Hill should be the starter from Day 1. Generally, the most popular player on a team is the backup quarterback. At some point, Smith will probably get an opportunity to prove himself in that backup role. When that chance comes, he will be afforded a longer leash."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle frames Smith's situation as an undefined reflection of the 49ers' undefined leadership. Ratto: "More intriguing, though, is the notion that this might be undefined rather than unfinished business that confronts Smith. He framed the competition as Smith v. Hill, but there is no real reason to think it might not be Smith v. Hill v. Unnamed Future Figure, or that it is a true competition between relative equals."

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's fresh start might not look like one from the outside. Killion: "Fans might not recognize that fresh feeling, at least not at quarterback. That competition looks like a do-over of 2006: Smith vs. Shaun Hill with Damon Huard in the role of Trent Dilfer. And, of course, there's a new offensive coordinator to break in. But since the 49ers are lacking bright ideas in regard to quarterbacks (instead taking a weird run at Kurt Warner) and they're unlikely to tie up another first-round pick on a quarterback, why not keep Smith in the fold? They might as well see if they can get something out of their enormous investment."

Peter King of SI.com says he expects the Cardinals to trade Anquan Boldin, probably to the Eagles. King: "The Eagles and Giants, two receiver-needy teams, are in position to deal for Anquan Boldin, who I continue to say will not be a Cardinal by July. Philly has [picks] 21, 28 and 53, the Giants 29, 45 and 60. I find it hard to believe the Eagles won't trade for Boldin. Very hard. He's a perfect fit, and they've got the cap room to sign him." Boldin played his worst game of the 2008 season during a blowout defeat at Philadelphia, but he's still one of the best receivers in the league.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals are interviewing candidates for their pro personnel department.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up Northern Illinois outside linebacker Larry English as a potential Cardinals draft choice. Hawkwind: "Basically the case for English is the same as the case for Clint Sintim, he's a guy who will upgrade the pass rush and provide depth at outside linebacker. He doesn't have the experience that Sintim has with playing upright, but his upside is a bit higher. If the Cardinals feel like rolling the dice and going with a high upside, higher risk type of pick, English could be the guy in the first round."

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com checks in with Calais Campbell as the second-year pro prepares to replace Antonio Smith in the Cardinals' lineup at defensive end. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks the Cardinals will miss Smith. More on that in a future blog entry.

John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Darryl Tapp's 2008 season with the Seahawks. The reviews are favorable. Morgan: "Tapp is solid exactly as he is. He's consistently disruptive, able to beat about any type of tackle, and not so bad in run support as to be a liability. Tapp has a great first step, good dip, good inside move, good rip and a capable bull rush, plus the kind of suddenness to convert penetration into a sack. He makes those around him better."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' Jim Mora was the only NFL head coach to attend the University of Washington's pro day. Mora is a UW alumnus, of course.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could pursue Gus Frerotte to rejoin the team as Marc Bulger's backup. The Vikings were 8-3 last season when Frerotte started, but the quarterback tossed more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (12). Aging backups are nothing new in the division now that Damon Huard has replaced former Ram Jamie Martin in San Francisco. I expect the Seahawks and 49ers to strongly consider drafting quarterbacks in the first few rounds.

VanRam of Turf Show Times sizes up the Rams' offensive line. For example: "[Jacob] Bell's play and loss of bulk left more than a few fans questioning the move, but getting some stability in the middle and a solid off-season of workouts and bulking up should put minds at ease over Bell's presence on the line. To the right of Jason Brown, the situation is still pretty fluid. The Rams tendered an offer to last year's starter, Richie [Incognito], but he didn't finish the season on a high note in terms of his attitude. However, it's not unreasonable to think that the new regime can't fix that."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat prepares for the WCC basketball tournament in Las Vegas by flushing 49ers-related facts from his brain. Highlights: Manny Lawson and Vernon Davis are signed through the 2010 season, contrary to previous reports; Isaac Sopoaga is likely moving back to nose tackle while the newly signed Demetric Evans battles Kentwan Balmer for the starting job at left end; and the team might be counting on Lawson to help the pass rush.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have no interest in signing Terrell Owens, contrary to prevailing wisdom.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation revisits Owens' big catch for the 49ers against the Packers in the playoffs following the 1998 season. I remember the game well. I was standing on the sideline about even with the 49ers' offense when Steve Young made that clutch throw and Owens made the grap (thanks in part to the hit he took, which pinned the ball to his body, according to some). I was covering the Seahawks at the time and interested in that game because I knew Mike Holmgren would become a candidate to coach the Seahawks if Green Bay lost.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals should release Edgerrin James now that the running back is taking shots at the organization. Boivin: "His darts have turned into arrows, and this organization is all about exorcizing the bad karma that for so long defined the Cardinals." General manager Rod Graves:"I would certainly rather not see negative comments from any of our players about not wanting to be here."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com addresses rumblings about Anquan Boldin possibly seeking a new agent. The longer a player struggles to get his way in a heated contract dispute, the more vulnerable the agent becomes to other agents. It's a brutal business that way.

John Morgan of Field Gulls takes a closer look at Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson. He generally likes what he sees: "Wilson will add a little muscle weight and lose a little speed, but from a tools standpoint, the next few years probably represent Wilson's peak. The most improvement will come from skills growth. That's tricky to project. Ball hawk corners can go poof in an instant. The interceptions disappear and suddenly their cover skills are exposed. It's encouraging that three of Wilson's four picks came on good coverage, because being in the right place at the right time on a tipped or errant pass is not repeatable."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

  Huard

KJR radio's Dave Mahler checked in with new 49ers quarterback Damon Huard for an interview about what Huard expects in San Francisco.

KJR has made available the full audio here. I'll provide a few highlights here:

Huard on his role with the 49ers: I don't think any real role has been defined, other than you have a chance to come to camp and compete. You never know how these things unfold. They were in that predicament last year with all the quarterbacks they had. I'll just go to camp, put my best foot forward, work hard, learn the system and see where the chips fall. I think the sky is the limit in some ways.

Huard on the 49ers' offensive system: Believe it or not, it's very similar to what I did here for four of my five years here in Kansas City. Some of the terminology and different things. I know Jimmy Raye, the offensive coordinator, is a guy who likes to run the rock and lots of play-action pass. Some of that stuff is kind of my forte. This last year, the Chiefs kind of changed over to more of a college-style spread offense, running the pistol and bootlegs and all these fun things. Being the 36-year-old dinosaur that I am, I really didn't kind of fit that mold. I think this will be more of my style in San Francisco.

Huard said he has not yet met with Mike Singletary. His familiarity with the offensive principles could help him compete for the starting job and mentor some of the younger quarterbacks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Kansas City Chiefs signed one of their more important free agents, safety Jon McGraw.

McGraw, a key special-teams player, will be entering his third season with Kansas City and his eighth NFL season.

The Chiefs also signed linebacker Darrell Robertson, who was on New England's practice squad last season. He had 11.5 sacks during his collegiate career at Georgia Tech and he will have a chance to make the Chiefs' roster. The team is in dire need of pass-rushers.

The Chiefs still have plenty of salary-cap room remaining and are considering several free agents, particularly on defense.

Meanwhile, former Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard had some interesting things to say during a Seattle radio interview. Huard, who the Chiefs did not want to bring back, signed with San Francisco this week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News provides a full transcript of KNBR's interview with 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan regarding Kurt Warner, Jay Cutler, Damon Huard, Matthew Stafford and Terrell Owens. McCloughan defends the team's pursuit of Kurt Warner as a win-win.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are taking a look at Cardinals free-agent cornerback Eric Green. Barrows: "If the 49ers somehow landed Green, they would have one of the deepest cornerback corps of any team in the league. Nate Clements and Walt Harris are the starters."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind links to KTAR's interview with Cardinals general manager Rod Graves regarding Warner, Bryant McFadden, Drew Rosenhaus, Anquan Boldin, Edgerrin James and the draft. Graves on what helped the Warner deal get done following the quarterback's visit with the 49ers: "After the trip, we both recognized that we needed to get something done and that is when the negotiations really started." Next up for the Cardinals, according to Graves: Trying to sign Karlos Dansby to a long-term deal and opening talks with Adrian Wilson.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Warner's finger is not broken, although the quarterback is wearing a wrap on it.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times summarizes KJR's interview with Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill, who apologizes for his offseason arrest on a marijuana charge.

Also from KJR: An interview with Seahawks receiver Nate Burleson regarding T.J. Houshmandzadeh's recent signing. Burleson: "I would love to see him flourish in this offense. I would love to see him catch 60, 70, 80 balls because I know if he is out there attracting that much attention, other guys on the field are not going to be looked at as threats and we'll be able to do damage. I really don't care for numbers too much. I'm not a guy that wants to go out and say, 'Throw me 120 balls so I can be at the top of the league in catches.' I just want to go out there and make plays with the ball in my hands. You can give me 35 catches and I guarantee I'm going to go out and try to find the end zone at least 10 times."

D.Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says free-agent Rams center Brett Romberg is visiting the Falcons. Romberg's future in St. Louis took a hit when the Rams signed free-agent center Jason Brown to a long-term agreement. Right guard Richie Incognito could serve as the backup to Brown if necessary. Romberg and fellow 2008 Rams center Nick Leckey are unrestricted free agents.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will show no interest in Terrell Owens.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

News is popping in the AFC West:

The Denver Post is reporting that the Broncos have resolved their contract issues with running back J.J. Arrington and have agreed to terms again. The team and Arrington had agreed to a deal on Friday but it fell apart on Saturday.

Denver now has three new running backs in Arrington, Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan. The addition of the veterans may mean it will be difficult for youngsters Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis to get extensive playing time.

Expect Buckhalter, Arrington and Jordan all to play fairly extensive roles. Jordan may be the short-yardage back and Arrington the third-down back.

  • The Houston Chronicle reports that Houston matched the offer restricted free agent receiver David Anderson received from Denver last week. Anderson likely would have been a No. 5 receiver with Denver.
  • Former Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard is headed to San Francisco. The Chiefs had no plans of bringing back Huard, who was a starter at times the past few seasons.
  • Denver has kept defensive lineman Kenny Peterson. He may be the only in-house free agent new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels keeps. The team thinks Peterson will fit in Denver's new 3-4 defensive alignment.

Interestingly, Peterson is the only holdover who knows McDaniels. The two were actually high school teammates in Canton, Ohio. McDaniels was a senior and Peterson was a freshman.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Damon Huard is no Kurt Warner, but he might be a better fit for the 49ers' offense. If the 49ers sign him, as Matt Maiocco expects them to do, Huard gives the 49ers a quarterback with enough starting experience to provide insurance at the position.

 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  Adding a veteran quarterback such as Damon Huard would allow the 49ers more options at the position.

The 49ers appear in position to bring along a drafted quarterback slowly if they decide to select one with the 10th overall choice or elsewhere in the early rounds.

Former 49ers starter J.T. O'Sullivan likely will not return. He visited the Bengals this week. Alex Smith could factor into the race for the starting job if the team can sign him to a more workable contract. With Huard on board, the 49ers become less dependent on Smith as they consider their options for 2009.

Shaun Hill showed enough last season to stick around as a backup and possibly a starter, but the 49ers' refusal to name him the starter tells us where he stands in the team's long-term plans. Health and age permitting -- Huard turns 36 in July -- there's a good chance Huard will be the best quarterback on the 49ers' roster in the short term.

Here was the Scouts Inc. breakdown heading into the 2008 season:

Huard is an 11-year veteran who has good size and arm strength. He is a limited athlete and operates best from the pocket. He has been a backup most of his career, but was given the chance to lead the Chiefs in 2007 before sustaining an injury. He has had some durability problems in the past and his lack of elusiveness in the pocket only adds to his health concerns. He can fit the ball into short and intermediate areas effectively when he can use his weight transfer in a clean pocket. He can be a streaky passer with good accuracy. Huard is a smart player who can read coverages well, but has limited throwing capacity. He can't create effectively when the play breaks down and certainly doesn't have the tools to carry a club. Huard is best as a mentor to a young signal-caller and as backup who can finish a game.

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